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How to Raise Positive Kids in a Negative World, Part 1

From the series Effective Parenting in a Defective World

On today’s edition of Living on the Edge, Chip begins a new series, “Effective Parenting in a Defective World.” If you long to strengthen the relationships with your children and increase the joy in your parenting journey, the first step begins here.

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Well, without a doubt, these are very, very difficult days to raise kids. I will never forget the phone call I received a number of years ago. It was Tyler’s dad.

And on the other end of the phone, he said, “We found Tyler laying on the floor of his bedroom, and he’s dead.” And I had known a bit of the journey. Tyler was a really bright, likable kid. Got in with the wrong crowd and

These are a mom and dad with good jobs who go to a Bible-believing church that are seeking to raise their kids in a way that they think honors God. They figure their kids have a few ups and downs as all kids do, gets in with the wrong crowd, does some experimentation, they discover it, they go through rehab, they work through some things, they do family counseling.

Tyler is okay. And then a moment of weakness, he has a relapse, gets some bad heroin – he’s gone. I mean, that for me, changed as a pastor, that really changed the dynamic of parenting. The stakes are so high and when a lot of you grew up, you could make a few small mistakes and there were some consequences, but nothing like that.

And now your kid can click on a site, make a wrong decision, be at the wrong place at the wrong time, get bullied at school – there’s a world that makes it very, very difficult to be an effective parent in a very defective world.

Psalm 127 says, “Children are a gift from the Lord,” and then it goes on to say that they are your great reward. My experience is: the stewardship that you have of raising a child is the most sacred, important stewardship of your life. Your children will be your greatest challenge, they will be your greatest joy, they will be your greatest pain, and then through all the process, God’s desire is they are your great reward.

As you open your notes, I’d like you to follow along. We are starting a new series called, Effective Parenting in a Defective World. And I think one of the things I hear from parents, especially when things get a bit hard is, “Well, you know, we had these issues when I was a kid,” and we unconsciously think that the world that your kid is growing up in is a lot like your world. And let me tell you, it’s completely different.

The shift of morality in the last ten years alone, the shift of disintegration in the family, the culture, the educational system, the world that they live in, the landscape underneath your kids is moving so rapidly, you really need to be on your A game and really understand God’s plan and how to cooperate with it, because your kids are living in a world that moves fast, is bombarding them, and is more evil than in the past.

And so a parent’s challenge is not to protect your kid and create some bubble that they can never get hurt. But your challenge is to discover how to help your child navigate through this world, deeply anchored in God’s love, understanding his or her purpose, and becoming a change agent in the world and discovering that God really wants to use them to change the world, not necessarily be protected from it.

As you look at Scripture, the world may be difficult, but it has always been difficult – at times, much worse. And in one of the most difficult periods of all human history, God decided that He would use a teenager to bring into this world – Mary, fourteen, fifteen, maybe sixteen years old.

In one of the most perverted cultures, Persia, Daniel was a teenager, and was at the heart of changing the future of the world. David, as a teenage boy, when all was going against Israel, tackled a giant. And I could go on and on and on.

We have great hope, we have a great God, He is greater, He is stronger, He is powerful. But you and I have a job, as a parent, to equip our kids to be those kind of kids.

And so the big question I think parents are asking: How do you raise positive kids in the negative world?

I get four principles that help you raise positive kids in a negative world. Here’s what you need to understand. If I could have an overarching, let’s talk about parenting, these are big, timeless principles. You apply these if you have two-year-olds; you can apply these if you have twenty-two-year-olds. You apply them differently, by the way.

Principle number one: Effective parenting begins with positive, clear-cut objectives. Positive, clear-cut objectives. In your notes, I would like you to make a little squiggly line with an arrow, and then draw a little circle with some circles inside of it, and make a target.

See, parenting begins with having a crystal-clear target. If you don’t know what you’re aiming at, my father always told me, you’ll hit it every time. So what’s the target? What’s the goal? What are you trying to do as you nurture, develop, provide boundaries in the lives of your little boy, your little girl, or not so little boy or girl? What is the target? What are you trying to accomplish?

Ephesians 6:4 gives us the answer, and I love it in the Phillips translation. Notice it says, “Fathers,” negative command, “don’t overcorrect your children or make it difficult for them to obey the commandment.” Positive command, “Bring them up with Christian teaching and Christian discipline.”

Notice it says, in parenting, dads, you need to have a strong, influential role. The number one correlation between about the eight or ten worst things that are happening in our culture are all related to either passive or father-absent homes. I don’t understand it all, but it’s the way God designed it.

So we, as men, have to understand, you don’t do it all, but we have got to be actively involved. And then it warns us that when we get actively involved, we tend to overcorrect, we tend to come on a little too strong.

Positively, it says, “Bring them up with Christian teaching and Christian discipline.” Underline, bring them up, and then put a box around, Christian teaching, and a box around, Christian discipline.

The word, “bring them up,” in the ancient Greek was the physical development of a child, classical Greek literature, you would read this word, it would be the strength and the physical development of a child.

In later Greek literature, it meant the total education of a child: the moral, physical, relational, spiritual development. What do you need to do to nurture or bring them up or develop them? By the time the apostle Paul uses this word, he is basically saying, “As a Christian parent, your goal is to not overcorrect, but by contrast, spiritually, morally, relationally, and physically help them become who God wants them to become.”

And then he says, “You have two tools in your toolbox.” You have Christian teaching and Christian discipline. We will develop these further. Christian teaching is what you say. It’s what you teach. It’s what you instruct, informally and formally.

Christian discipline is what you do. Other than modeling the life, you only do two things with your kids: you say certain things and you do certain things. And so he says, “That’s the target.”

I call this, “The Principle of Focus.” My biggest concern with parents and, believe me, I have four grown kids, we had many ups and downs. I came from an alcoholic home; my wife came from an alcoholic home. So all I am going to tell you is I had no clue about how to do what I am going to tell you.

But I passionately dug in and asked God to show me. And the biggest danger I always had was parenting out of fear. I have lived in places that were really dangerous. I lived in places that I just described – my kids lived there. But God says parenting out of fear doesn’t work. You need to parent out of focus, a clear target.

So what is the target? I would like to challenge you to think about God’s dream versus what I call, “the human dream,” or, “the American dream,” or our personal dream for our kids.

God’s dream, you can write down, “Romans 8:29.” We often quote verse 28, especially when you’re going through hard times, “For we know that God works all things together for the good, for them who love Him, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

The very next verse talks about the process that He uses, and His goal is to conform your sons and your daughters to the image of Christ. In other words, God’s dream, are you ready? This is how simple, He wants your kids to be like Jesus. He wants them to be Christ-like.

The Bible word that we don’t use a lot, He wants them to be holy. Not holy as in weird, okay? Not holy as in they just don’t know how to relate to people. Holy as in set apart for Him, morally pure, understanding His love, counter to the culture. That is the target for your child.

Now, human, and especially American culture, the target is for your child to be successful and happy. And this isn’t just out there. This is us. The culture just, we are bombarded with, If you really are a good parent, you want your kids to be happy. So that’s why you give them “Happy Meals,” right?

And they deserve a break today. And if all their friends are getting to do something you don’t want them to be left out, because they wouldn’t be happy! You want them to be happy, happy, happy, happy, happy. And so you don’t want to hurt their feelings and you have been bought and you have been sold a bill of goods that says: Good parents make your kids happy.

And the way you understand happiness is not just emotional happiness, but they will be happy if they will be successful. And so if you have a three-year-old who is not in a soccer league, you need to get with the program. And they need to learn piano and guitar and you better check out and see if ballet might be part of what they should do.

And then they are on this team and hopefully they will make the traveling team. And by sixth grade, you need to get an SAT tutor. And they will really be happy if they get in a really good, I mean, not just a good university, but a great university. And so, if you would take all the time and energy and money that you spend helping your child be successful in athletics and in sports and in school, and all the money and time and energy you spend on their moral and spiritual development, you tell me, you tell me in your own parenting journey, where does the energy go?

And here’s what I can tell you, if your child has a passionate love for God and they become holy and they become others-centered and kind and disciplined and non-narcissistic and care for people who other people don’t care for and be others-centered and have a passion to love and walk with God, I will guarantee, beyond happiness, they will have joy. And they will have impact and they will have purpose.

But many of you could tell me the story, and I have pastored for a little over thirty years, I could read a list of who’s who of kids who are extraordinarily successful from really good, Christian homes, that they went away to college and you know what? They don’t care about God and they don’t care about you and they care about themselves. And you know what? In your greatest and most sincere intentions to make them happy, happy, happy – they got the weird idea that the whole world was about them.

And whenever they are not happy, that life is not fair. And in their little, superficial faith that they had, of, if God didn’t make them happy and He didn’t come through, well, they get mad at Him.

And we’ve got a generation of about seventy percent of those coming out of our Bible-teaching churches who, four or five years after college, don’t really have anything to do with God and we wonder why.

Effective parenting begins with a crystal-clear target. Your job as a parent, more than their success, more than their happiness, is to help them be holy. And that requires a lot of courage, it requires intentionality, it requires a plan. And, by the way, it’s not easy.

And you’ll not only be unpopular with unbelievers, you’ll be unpopular with a lot of Christians. But there is a great reward, an amazing reward. Principle number one, boy oh boy, you know what, you guys? Could we just stop for a minute?

What I just shared, you’re thinking, Man, if this is the beginning of this series, I’m in really big trouble. Let me tell you, there is great hope and that’s part of why we are doing it, and part of why you have to get with some other parents, and part of why we have to support one another.

At some point, shouldn’t we look at the quality of what is happening in the lives and the homes and the children that we are producing who love God, and say probably what we are doing is not working?

The second principle, second principle: Effective parenting demands that we practice what we preach, that we practice what we preach. The apostle Paul is writing to a church that is near and dear to him, the Corinthians, but they are group that is kind of hard. They have a lot of struggles, they have a lot of dysfunctions, they have a lot of baggage, and they have a lot of super apostles that are coming in and coming out and telling them, “You ought to live this way and you ought to live that way.”

And so he writes a very personal letter to them talking about, “Look, I am your spiritual father, okay? There are a lot of people who will tell you stuff. I am your spiritual father and in the midst of all this confusion, I want you to listen to me very, very carefully.”

And so he writes as a father to spiritual children, and I think there is a great application for us, as parents. It’s 1 Corinthians 4:14 to 16. He says, “I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you as my dear children.” In other words, this is from a warm heart. He’s not down on them.

“Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For in Christ Jesus I came became your father through the gospel.” In other words, “I care for you more than anyone else. I was the conduit of God’s grace that brought spiritual birth.

Now, here is the application. “Therefore, I urge you to imitate me.” And if you would just put a little word, write the word, mimic, M-I-M-I-C, above it. And you now know one Greek word. That’s the word. Mimic. Imitate.

He’s saying, “I want you to pray the way you saw me pray, I want you to work the way you saw me work, I want you to forgive people the way you saw me forgive people, I want you to passionately follow Christ the way you saw me do it, I want you to use your money and your time and your energy the way…just mimic me. Follow me as I follow Christ.”

See, you can’t impart what you don’t possess. The most important principle of all parenting, you can almost mess up in every area, but if you are what you want your kids to become, here’s the deal, they are going to be, for better or worse, a lot like you.

Jesus stated it in Luke 6:40, “A student, when he is fully trained, will be just like his teacher.”

Here’s what you need to get, and for some of you, this will be really, really helpful. Our junior high, our children’s ministry, a Christian school that you may send your kid to, a mentoring group, a small group, a Christian coach – what I want you to know is all those people are wonderful, tiny, little helpers. But the teacher of your child is you.

The person that God will hold responsible for, “what did your child learn?” and, “what did they receive?” is not the church, not a Bible study leader, not a school. It’s you!

And here’s the research. My background was in all the social sciences and one of the great heroes of research was a guy named Albert Bandura. And all of his work was in the area of what he called “modeling.” The number one, and most powerful socialization of a child is modeling.

And that is psychology-speak for, “You talk like your mom and dad, you eat like your mom and dad, your values are like your mom and dad, you’ll be prejudiced like your mom and dad, you’ll be passionate about things like your mom and dad.”

Your kids, in your home, the environment of your home and your life is the most powerful thing your kids, even in their teen years, even in their young adulthood – you are the most powerful influencer. You have to be what you want them to become.

If you don’t get anything out of this whole series, see, when I do that, I start thinking to myself, Oh my. That’s scary. Isn’t it? If you play it out?

Would I want my kids to forgive people the way I don’t forgive people? Would I want my kids to drive a car the way I drive my car? Would I want my kids to have those white lies on the phone like, “Tell them I’m not here,” the way I have white lies on the phone? Would I want my kids to handle their priorities and money the way I handle my priorities and money? Here’s the deal. They will.

I came across an ancient quote, it’s Anonymous, it says, “Let every father remember that one day, his son will follow his example instead of his advice.” Right? It’s the principle of modeling. More really is caught then taught.

And so, one of the things that has motivated me as a parent, and I didn’t know what I was doing. But I got motivated and I have these mental pictures and this is a different picture where I lined all my kids up on the couch when they were small and I basically heard myself say, “Okay, I want you to drive exactly the way you see me drive. I want you to spend time with God and pray the way you see me spend God. I want you to deal, when people say bad things about you, I want you to, are you ready? I want you to respond the way you see me respond.”
And all of a sudden I just went through those areas. And it was the greatest motivation to walk with God and be a man of God. And, by the way, just before you get into, Oh, I’ve got to be perfect and if I’m not perfect, my kids are going to turn out…

Believe me, you are not perfect. They already know that. You know what they need to learn? They need to learn how to be authentic and loving and you know how they learn that is when you’re driving in a way that you realize, Oh my. When stuff comes out of your mouth that you go, Oh, that is not what I want to come out of their mouths.

You know what you do? You own it. And I cannot tell you how many times, even when they were small, I would have to get down on one knee and look one of my kids in the eye and say, “What you did was wrong. And I love you, but I can’t accept that behavior. We don’t do that here. But I love you. But how Daddy corrected you, the way his voice got loud and the anger that you could feel, I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”

See, you know how your kids learn to walk with God? It’s not that you have it all together. They see where you make great progress and they see how you deal with it when you fail, so they understand how to receive forgiveness and to own their stuff when they fail, because they will.

There is a target that has to be crystal clear: I want my kids to be holy like Christ. My energy, my plan, my intentionality. Some of you have plans for their academics, don’t you? If their sophomore, we haven’t visited any colleges yet? Or you want them to be a good athlete, my lands, we don’t have a personal coach yet? And a strength trainer? And nutrition drinks? And lifting weights? Right?

And because they have to make the traveling team and they have to have a scholarship and they…

You have a plan and many of you, your whole life revolves around either academics or sports or music. Well, if all you want to do is produce athletes or musicians, great! Or people that get in good schools.  But what does it profit a child if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his or her soul?

They become successful, spiritual washouts, with parents whose hearts are broken, who don’t have relationship, who question and wonder, What in the world went wrong?

Principle number three. The target is clear, the teacher is you, but all learning happens in an environment. Principle number three is: Effective parents build relationships that bond.

You want to have superglue between your heart and the heart of your child. You are going to go through difficult times. The world is going to bombard them. They are going to have peer influence, there’s going to be all kinds of technology, they are going to be bullied, they are going to be afraid, they are going to have different personalities. You’re going to have one that is compliant and you can look at them like that and they say, “Oh, yes, whatever you say, Mom or Dad,” and you’re going to have one that it doesn’t matter what you say, you ground them for thirty-five years, whatever, and they just look at you and say, “Is that all you got?”

And you’re going to have difficulty. So what you want to do is you want to build. And, by the way, it is never, ever, ever, ever too late. But it’s most, most, most effective when you start as early as possible.

You want to build relationships with your kids that bond your heart to their heart, because what you want them to do is not want to disappoint you, because they know you love them and they love you, instead of some set of rigid rules and performance orientation that they need to measure up.

The apostle Paul gives us a picture of these kinds of relationships as he talks to a church and, literally, from Scripture tells us, “This is how mothers love and this is how fathers love.”

1 Thessalonians chapter 2, he says, “But we were gentle among you” – how? “like a mother,” circle the word, mother, “caring for her little children.” He says, “This is how we treated you.”

“We loved you so much, that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God,” not just the content, not the truth, “but our own lives as well” – why? “because you had become so dear to us.”

Would you underline the words: gentle, caring, loved, share, dear to us? He is saying, “We loved you,” and this is how a child needs a mother’s love. There is a tenderness, there is a nurturing, there’s a commitment, there’s a pouring out your life that builds relationships that bond.