Raising PG Kids in an X-Rated World
November 5, 1989
Art Linkletter was right. Kids do say the darndest things. The other night this scene unfolded at our house. It was 10 P.M. and Joshua and Mark had just returned from the swimming party at Concordia College. Joshua walked in, flopped on the couch and said, “I think Doug and I could be good friends.” At that moment Mark came charging in with a big announcement: “Guess what, Dad? I jumped off the high-dive.” Both boys then proceeded to tell me about their adventures in the pool.
Eventually it was time to go to bed. Mark looked up at me and said, “I lost one of my socks.” Then he said, “I lost my underwear. It got wet and I dropped it on the parking lot at church and I think a car ran over it.” Joshua spoke up and said, “It’s lucky I had an extra pair in my pack.” I said, “You mean Mark is wearing your underwear?” “No, I had an extra pair of Mark’s underwear. I don’t know how it got there.” At which point, Mark looked at his big brother and said, “You saved my life.” And off to bed they went.
It was not a big moment. In the history of our family it rates no more than a footnote. Nothing important was at stake—unless, of course, you’re the one without the underwear. It is simply a snapshot from the family album of two brothers growing up together.
The Case Of The Missing Candy Bar
I was happy to hear about it because we recently made up our family rules. There are only three of them:
1. Always Tell The Truth
2. Always Take Care Of Your Family
3. Always Do Your Best Every Single Day
Those rules aren’t original with me, and they aren’t inspired either. But they do cover most of the situations of life, including some unforeseen mishaps at the swimming pool.
Lest you think that life at our house is like Leave it to Beaver or My Three Sons, I hasten to say that we have our share of problems. Earlier in the week we had a major crisis because someone was stealing Halloween candy. In particular, someone was stealing the Snickers bars out of Mark’s bag. He came into the kitchen with tears in his eyes. At that same moment I heard footsteps quickly going up the stairs. Guilty footsteps. “JOSHUA!!!” The footsteps stopped and I heard them coming down the stairs, slower this time. “Did you take Mark’s Snickers bar?” No answer, but a very guilty grin on his face. I studied the young felon for a moment, pondering what fate he should suffer. Before I could pronounce the verdict, another voice spoke up, “Mark, I have to confess. I ate one of your Snickers, too.” It was Marlene. She was grinning and I don’t think she felt very guilty about it either.
Two thieves in my own house. I hardly knew what to do. I finally decided to let Mark spank Joshua on the theory that when you don’t know what to do, just don’t get involved. Justice was eventually served and tranquility restored.
It’s A Different World
But it still sounds like life is easy. It’s not. Sometimes you discover that your kids know a lot more than you think they do. The other night we were eating supper and the conversation skipped from subject to subject. Somehow the subject got around to boys and girls. One of the boys blurted out, “I know what sex is.” He proceeded to tell us and I blushed when I heard it. It wasn’t right, but he described something that I had not heard about when I was 18. My boys are five, seven, and ten. They know so much more about life than I did when I was their age. They hear so much more than I ever heard. And they think nothing of it.
It’s not surprising, though. Our kids are growing up in a far different world. Kids in the thirties grew up during the Depression when times were hard and everybody had to work and a dollar was a lot of money. Kids in the forties grew up with World War II, Frank Sinatra, and Bogie and Bacall. Kids in the fifties grew up with black and white television, “I Like Ike,” hula hoops, and a kid from Tupelo, Mississippi named Elvis Presley. Kids in the sixties grew up with the Beatles, LSD, Vietnam, and violence in the streets. Kids in the seventies grew up with Charlie’s Angels, disco, Saturday Night Fever, and the Doobie Brothers. Kids in the eighties are growing up with Crack, AIDS, MTV, PeeWee Herman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nintendo, and Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s a different world out there.
Raising Kids Then And Now
Is it harder to raise kids today? We could get a good discussion going on that question. After all, raising kids is never easy. And no matter where you live and no matter what decade it happens to be, there are always difficulties. But in many ways, things are more difficult these days. Consider this: Back in the 1940s, public school teachers reported that the biggest problems they had with students were as follows:
1. Running in the hallways
2. Chewing gum
3. Improper clothing (wearing your shirttail out)
4. Making too much noise
5. Not putting paper in wastebaskets
Now here’s the same list as reported by public school teachers in the 1980s:
3. Personal theft
5. Drug Abuse
(Source: Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World, Zig Ziglar, pp. 24-25)
The only comment that is necessary is the obvious one: Times have changed and they haven’t necessarily changed for the better. Our kids see more, they know more, they experience more, they grow up so much faster. And to make matters worse, the pressure we put on them as parents is much greater. In the old days, Mom was almost always home. Nowadays Mom is probably working forty hours a week. She works to help make the mortgage payment. Or worse, she works because Dad left the family a long time ago.
In the old days we had the nuclear family. Unfortunately, the nuclear family has been blown apart and now we have broken families, single-parent families, blended families, and latch-key kids. The divorce rate in America is nearly 52%, but that’s not the worst of it. Among baby-boomers, it is nearly 70%. And what have the baby-boomers produced? A generation of kids who see their Mom or Dad every other weekend and for four weeks in the summer.
It’s Worse Than You Think
So, yes, I think it is harder to raise kids in today’s world. This is truly an X-Rated world. In the next twelve months 500,000 children and teenagers will attempt suicide. Many will actually try it; thousands will succeed. Over one million teenage girls will become pregnant; almost half of them will end their pregnancies by abortion. In the next twelve months twelve million teenagers will take some form of narcotics. Over three million young people will experience a serious drinking problem. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Our Sacred Promise
Some of you hearing these words may say, “If it’s as bad as all that, maybe we should just give up and not have any more kids.” In fact, I’ve actually heard older adults say that they are glad they raised their children twenty or thirty years ago.
But that doesn’t help those of us who have children now and those of us who will have children in the years to come. Should we throw up our hands in despair?
The answer, of course, is no. We can’t and we won’t. We can’t because we have children the Lord has entrusted to us. We won’t because we have promised not to give up. These are the words of our church covenant: “We do, therefore, in his strength promise … that we will not omit private and family worship or neglect to conscientiously train our children and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” That is a sacred promise. We must keep it no matter what it costs.
What The Bible Says
If you know your Bible, you know that the last phrase of that statement is taken directly from the Ephesians 6:4. Here is the whole verse: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” What do those words really mean? There is a negative side and a positive side. On the negative side Paul says, “Do not exasperate your children.” It’s a word that means to stir them up, to provoke, to tease unmercifully, to embitter. It’s like taking a sharp stick at poking it at someone until they finally get angry. It’s so easy to exasperate your children. You do it through unjust rules, inconsistency, faultfinding, nagging, nitpicking, harsh punishment, and favoritism. On the positive side he says that we should “bring up” our children. It actually means to nourish with tender care. We are to see that our children are like tender plants and we are to treat them accordingly. They come marked “Special Delivery—Handle With Care.”
The Bible uses two words to describe that special handling. One is the word training. You train your children when you teach them the principles they will need when they grow up. It really means education. You are to educate your children. Which means that all Christian parents are really Christian educators and that the home is really a laboratory where the principles of godly living are worked out on a daily basis. Your home is the best school your children will ever attend and you are the best teacher they will ever have. In that sense, we are all home schoolers. The second word is instruction. It literally means to put in the mind. We are to put in the minds of our children what they need to know. That includes such things as the truth about the birds and the bees (and all the other animals of the field); it also includes teaching them the difference between right and wrong and the values we hold as Christians. It also means instructing them in the fear of the Lord.
To do all of that will not be easy. Sometimes you must discipline. Sometimes you must encourage. Sometimes you must do both at the same time. A little girl was sent to her room for talking back to her father. A few minutes later the father found a note on his favorite chair. It said, “I hate Daddy.” His wife said, “Don’t do anything rash. Think before you say anything.” So he thought for a moment and, when his daughter had gone to sleep, put a note under her pillow that said, “Daddy loves you.” The next morning when he came down for breakfast he found the same note on the breakfast table. These words were written on the back, “I love Daddy, too.”
There is one other thing to notice about raising children. Paul says we are to do it “in the Lord.” Don’t skip that little phrase. It means that behind Mom and Dad stands the Lord Jesus Christ. He stands behind you to watch you, to guide you, and to bless your efforts. When we nourish our children with education and instruction, he blesses our efforts.
But it’s not easy. I’ve got a cartoon that shows a mother raking leaves in the yard. Two children are standing a few feet away and the little boy says to the little girl, “This is my mom. I’m slowly driving her out of her mind.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It isn’t easy, but the rewards in the end are worth it.
Three Simple Steps
Having said all of that, still the question remains: What practical steps can we take that will help us raise our children in an X-Rated world? In answer to that question, I would like to suggest three things that you ought to do for your children every single day. These things are not magic, but they will work if you do them every day.
Number One: Pray For Them. It is amazing how many Christian parents skip this simple and obvious step. Let your day begin with a time of prayer for your children. Pray for them by name. Pray for the things they are facing at school. Pray for their walk with the Lord. Pray for God is give them good friends. Pray for wisdom and grace to be a good father or mother. Pray for their health and safety. Let your prayers for them be a regular part of each day.
Praying for your children is important because your prayers will stay with them forever. They will remember that you prayed for them and that memory will be a blessing and a strength to them when they are grown and you are gone.
Number Two: Play With Them. Here is a simple fact. Your children need you to play with them. They need to have a tickle fight with you. They need for you to carry them piggy-back around the room. They need to play basketball with you. They need to play Trivial Pursuit with you. Your little girl needs for you to take her on a date to McDonalds. Your little boy needs you to throw him up in the air. (He also needs you to catch him on the way back down.)
Your children need to be touched by you, not just in discipline but also in love. And part of that loving touch is the time you spend playing with them.
Sometimes parents say, “Well, I just don’t have the time.” And that’s true. You don’t. You’re so busy making money, or making contacts, or opening new accounts, or traveling a new territory, or meeting a new client, or writing a new proposal, or teaching a new class, that you don’t have the time to play with your children.
But 10,000 years from now, will it matter how many new clients you got in 1989? What difference will it make whether you closed that new account? In the ultimate scheme of things, is a BMW worth more than a Skylark?
But 10,000 years from now it will still matter whether or not you took the time to play with your children.
Number Three: Praise Them. Two days ago I attended a seminar in which the speaker urged us to go around putting “10s” on people. He explained it this way. At the Olympics, the judges reports the scores on a scale of 1-10: 5.5, 6.2, 8.3, 9.6, and so on. The highest score you can get is a perfect 10. It means there are no flaws in your performance. The speaker encouraged us to give our people a “10” every time we see them.
That applies so well to the task of raising children. Our kids grow up in a world that never gives them a “10.” They come home feeling like a 6.2 on the way to a 3.1. We need to let them know that the minute they come in the house, they are a “10.” Just by coming in the door. That’s all. It doesn’t matter what happened at school, or what their friends said or didn’t say to them. We need to let them know—It doesn’t matter. When they come through that door, we ought to grab ’em, hug ’em, look ’em right in the eye and say, “You’re the best son, the best daughter, in the whole wide world.” If they don’t believe it, hug ’em again and say it again until they do believe it.
Remember, it’s not our job to tear our kids down. The world does a good job of that. It’s our job to build them up and make them believe in themselves. So make sure you give your kids a “10” every single day.
The Bottom Line
My whole sermon can be summed in one sentence: We need once again to recapture the biblical perspective on raising God’s children. Children are our highest privilege, our heaviest burden, and our greatest opportunity.
—They are our highest privilege. There is nothing more important we can do.
—They are our heaviest burden. There is nothing more difficult we can do.
—They are our greatest opportunity. There is nothing more satisfying we can do.
All of us long for immortality, to be remembered after we are gone, to make a mark, to affect the world for good. We have that chance with our children. The greatest thing we can do for the world is to present our children some day as Christian men and women.
Someday all the things we are working for—the money, the success, the prestige—all of it will crumble into the dust. But what we do for our children will last forever.
Kids Under Construction
A few years ago Ann Ortlund wrote a book entitled Children are Wet Cement. How true. Cement hardens a little more each day. Once it hardens, you have to break it to change it.
—That’s why we have Sunday School
—That’s why we have Children’s Choir
—That’s why we have a club program
—That’s why we have a youth ministry
—That’s why we spend so much money and so much time
—That’s why our coordinators call and call and call
—That’s why you see kids all over this church
Wet cement. Today they can be molded and shaped for Jesus Christ. Tomorrow they will be set for life. The day after tomorrow they will be gone. While they are here, while we have them, we give them the best that we have.
God bless every Sunday school teacher, officer, and worker. God bless our club leaders, our choir leaders, our youth leaders. God bless those who change diapers in the nursery and those who drive our teenagers as they search for Batman.
And God bless every mother and every father raising your children for God.
Eternity In Your Hands
Why do we work so hard? Why do we spend so much money? Why do we throw everything we have into the battle? We do it for two reasons. First, because this is an X-Rated world. Our kids face temptations we never dreamed of when we were growing up. Second, because the littlest child has an immortal soul. Jesus died for every boy and every girl. When we kneel and pray, when we stand and teach, when we help and guide, when we reach out and hug a child, we are touching eternity. That little boy, that little girl, that teenager, all of them are going to live forever somewhere. Each one is an eternal soul made by God. Each one is destined for glory or for destruction.
When you hold the life of a child in your hands, you are touching eternity, destiny, immortality.
There is no greater work we can ever do.
Father, we are so busy these days that we hardly see our children. We have so many really important things to do that our kids get shoved to the side. Forgive us, Lord. Forgive us for misplaced priorities. Forgive us for giving so much at work that we have nothing left to give when we get home. Forgive us for believing that our children need money more than they need us. Grant us a new vision of what is really important in life. We pray these things in the name of Jesus who loved the little children, Amen.