What if we lose our schools?

What if tomorrow it was announced by the IRS that any school maintaining a doctrinal or philosophical statement against same sex relationships would lose its non-profit status and be subject to the same taxes any for-profit business is expected to pay? For some people that may not seem like a big deal. For some it may seem like a justified change. But for Christian schools and the families sending their kids to them, it’s a disconcerting thought. What would happen to our schools? What would it mean for our children?

The Supreme Court is still deliberating what many are calling a landmark case about same-sex marriage. At the end of last month, during verbal arguments, the Solicitor General in charge of making the case in defense of same-sex marriage stated that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, when it comes to religious schools and tax-exempt status, “It is going to be an issue.”

What does that mean? Does it mean that all schools with doctrinal statements opposing same-sex relationships will be brought to heel? Does it only mean that there would be some complicated hoops to jump through? Who will this affect, and how?

Some might call it a slippery slope argument to say that churches running grade schools and high schools will be threatened; right now that discussion is focused mainly on religious colleges with married student housing. But the trend has never been in the direction of more religious liberty when it comes to this issue. Is it that far-fetched to think that the people who want to fundamentally change the mindset of a nation would come after institutions where children are molded?

So let’s run with the possibility for a moment and consider what we might do if Christian schools were forced to pay taxes as for-profit organizations. How would this affect their futures? Sadly, many schools would probably be rendered inoperable; the cost of running them, coupled with a drop-off of support due to the lack of tax-deductible gifts, would force many schools to shut their doors. Or come up with a completely different way to operate.

None of this should worry us, of course. Christian parents who want to raise their children to be disciples of Jesus don’t need a Christian school to do so. See, no matter how much pressure the world puts on us, they can’t really take away Christ or his Word. Parents are still the primary spiritual teachers of their children. They’ll still bring their children to the cross. They’ll still read the Word. They’ll still pray for and with their children, and encourage them in their faith. Even if parents are the only way children will know their Savior, that is enough.

Of course, I sincerely hope and pray that it doesn’t come to this. The ability for parents to put their kids in a Christian school is a great blessing, and a resource that we are very thankful for. But we don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know what God will allow.

However, parents shouldn’t wait until we lose the blessing of Christian schools to be making a conscious effort at home. Parents are still the primary spiritual teachers of their children. It’s still important – necessary, even – for them to bring their children to the cross, to the Word, to pray for and with, and to encourage their children, even if their children go to a school where these things happen. Parents, let’s act like the only way our children will know their Savior is through us – even if it isn’t the only way.

Bible Study for Boys (Review and Suggested Use)

Frugal Fun for Boys is a pretty cool website if you have boys, with lots of great ideas for activities and ways to encourage and build up your sons. I was a little excited when last week I saw that they are planning a Bible study series designed for boys, to encourage them in their daily walk and help them to grow up to be godly men. The first was released today, and I’ve had a chance to look it over. I’d like to offer my thoughts on it, as well as some suggestions for how parents can put it to good use.

Summary of the Study

This first Bible study is focused on the importance of being a diligent worker and not being lazy, slothful, or a sluggard. It has five days’ worth of activities that include readings from Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and Proverbs. Activities range from fill in the blanks and questions drawn from Scripture to journaling and reflecting on personal behavior, and even drawing a picture illustrating what the Proverbs are describing. The study can be found on this page and involves a couple clicks to download a printable form.

The good

  • The study relies on Scripture and uses passages that are possibly not as familiar to all children; they aren’t your typical memory work passages that kids will learn in Sunday School or Christian Day School. This means that boys going through the study will be delving deeper into the Word than just touching on well-known passages.
  • The variety of activities is an awesome way to keep it engaging, especially for boys who probably don’t need another piece of “homework” to do. It also makes it inclusive of different learning styles and talent levels.
  • The explanations of the Scriptural wisdom is very appropriate for the passages. They don’t try to shoehorn meaning into the passages that isn’t there, but rather just draw out what the passages say and how they apply to our lives.
  • I love that they included journaling as an activity concept (but I have some thoughts on their approach below). Application questions can only take learning and growth so far. To actually assimilate a concept into your life you need to process it personally, and journaling is a very effective way to do that.

The not-so-good

  • Holy Law based Bible studies, Batman! This study has zero Gospel involved in it. To be fair, the page where you pick up the printable study does have at the bottom of it a single bullet point about pointing your kids to the cross. But in the wider context of the whole study and all the stuff on the page before it, that does feel a little like a token Gospel and not a predominant undercurrent. You can kinda forgive that kind of thing when you have a study that is intended to use the Law as a guide. The problem I have with this is that the study is actually designed to really expose a young man’s guilt over his potential slothfulness. The cure the study offers is just to try harder. It’s sort of the Veggie Tales syndrome – good Biblical wisdom and morality, but missing the most critical component of Gospel motivation. The truth is, the Law by itself only breaks us down, and while it might sometimes change behavior, it doesn’t change the heart. The Gospel is what truly changes us from within.
  • The presentation is pretty stark. I get that it’s a homebrewed thing and doesn’t have any kind of big budget behind it, so you can forgive it not having fancy graphics and well designed clip art. But since it is aimed at boys, I think it needs a more appealing visual style.
  • Call it a minor point, but I did not care for the Day 1 activity of listing excuses and work well done. The main reason is because the nature of excuse making is that we try to justify ourselves, so encouraging a boy to write down both his excuses and his victories could easily just turn into him writing down all of the reasons he feels perfectly justified in making his excuses, and patting himself on the back for doing well. Or he will internalize his failures and not be able to think of things he’s done well, making him feel like a failure. Either way, it’s a risky activity.
  • Another really minor and picky point, but I feel like there should have been some suggested answers for some of the stuff. A spiritually mature and well learned parent could probably guide their child through it successfully, but some parents feel like they really struggle to dig deep into Scripture. Giving them the resources to help their kids along is critical for keeping them doing it.

Suggestions for use

Despite those not-so-good things being pretty significant shortcomings, I think it’s a fair start and a worthwhile concept. So, if you’re not going to reinvent the wheel and create your own study for your kids, and you’d like to make the most of this one, here are my suggestions:

  • Get the Gospel into it. The study begins with a story about a young man failing to live up to his father’s expectations. What a perfect place to contrast the way that Jesus lives us to all of the Father’s expectations on our behalf! Point to Luke 2:51 where it says, “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them” and talk about how Jesus’ obedience to his parents was credited to us. Then talk about how Jesus wept in the Garden at the thought of having to go through the suffering of the cross, but still did it because it was his Father’s will. Let that set the tone, and then throughout the week point your child back to those stories as the undergirding principle – You don’t have to do it to be right with God, Jesus already did it to make you right with God.
  • Invest your own time. If you’re going to use this well, I think it’s going to take as much time for you as the parent as it will take for your child. And that’s okay. You’re investing in your child’s character and future. But don’t shortcut yourself. Spend the time to make sure you feel confident about how you would answer all the questions and be able to help your son work through these things.
  • Teach your son to journal reflectively. If you’ve never done this before, it might be hard to teach, and the temptation would be to just use what they have provided. But as I said, I don’t think the activity the way they’ve set it up is effective. Reflective journaling is the process of saying, “What do I see in myself and what do I want to change?” A starter point for reflective journaling is always to simple describe the days activities, without commentary on the rightness or wrongness of them. After they’ve written that out, then they can comment on where they missed the mark or the standard of Jesus’ perfect example (usually just describing the events will help them see that clearly), how it feels to know that Jesus has hit the mark in their place, and what they hope to do better.

I believe that this concept of Bible studies for boys is a great one, and I am interested to see what else the folks at Frugal Fun for Boys bring out. I hope that future studies bring home the Gospel a little more clearly. Time permitting, I intend to keep reviewing their stuff and making my own suggestions. Blessings on your parenting!

New Opportunity for Parents

For the last few years I’ve been using the PREPARE/ENRICH system in working with couples. I recently had someone share with me that after working with me and using this system, she and her husband really feel in love again and like they are friends again. Premarriage couples that I work with also feel like they are really confident going into marriage after working through it. This stuff works.

Which is why I’m super excited about a new thing that LifeInnovations – the folks behind PREPARE/ENRICH – have come up with. It’s the P/E Parent Version, and it works similar to the regular P/E system. The couple takes an online assessment which compares their answers and provides feedback – just like P/E – but the questions and the feedback relate to your parenting, to your concerns about your children, and to relations throughout the family, not just between husband and wife. The feedback will show you as a couple the strengths you have, the areas where you need to grow, and gives you some idea of your parenting style and what it means. It also helps identify the difference between normal kid behavior and legitimate concerns, and the things that most stress you out in your family life. Finally, it has a new workbook of activities and conversations to help couples grow.

I’m not trying to sell anything for LifeInnovations or P/E here. I’m just a really big fan of their stuff and I believe they know what they are doing. The Parenting Version has gone through its own research process to verify that it does legitimately work for people who use it. I’m eager to start working with it.

Here’s the good news for you – if you’re a member of my congregation, this is readily available to you. There is a cost ($35/couple), but any family that can’t afford that price right now but would benefit from it just needs to let me know about that, and we have funds to help. We want to help families grow. And if you’re not a member? Well, let’s talk. I have worked with premarriage couples via video chat, even people I had never met in person. I am willing to help, as my time allows.

I hope and pray this becomes yet another great opportunity to see families enriched and become stronger, and experiences more of the joys and blessings God has given to families. To learn more about PREPARE/ENRICH, go to their website: http://www.prepare-enrich.com

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A note: I don’t usually use my blog posts as a place to “sell myself”, so I want to be sure it’s clear that I don’t ask or expect payment for my services to any family as a counselor. I am a trained Pastoral Counselor with a Master’s in Family Life Education, and I work for a church as a Family Minister. As such, I serve on behalf of my church and my Lord, and take joy in doing so. 

How Can I Change My Spouse’s Parenting Habits?

I have to confess something: I have all too often thought about my wife, “You know, if she would just do things a little differently in this situation, she’d have more success with the kids. If she would just listen to my parenting advice and put it into practice once in a while, I bet she’d be less stressed with the kids. If she would just read some of the books I’ve read, I know she’d find more joy in her parenting.”

I think these things because, after all, I have a master’s degree in this field. I read marriage and parenting books as a hobby. I listen to CDs and podcasts by parenting experts. I pray almost every day asking the Lord to make me a better father, and I spend a lot of time self-analyzing my parenting behaviors. So obviously – obviously! – whatever advice I have for my wife is going to be very useful and should be taken into account, right?

But then there are weeks like this one, where she is out of town and I’m solo parenting my kids. If I’m such a parenting guru, shouldn’t that mean that a week home alone with me will transform these boys into the paragon’s of godly pre-manliness we strive for? Well, what do you think the reality is?

No, it would seem that as much as I can go off to work for a day, fill my head with great ideas and spill them out into planning, come home and sit on my high horse of wise counsel, the fact is that in the trenches, I still struggle.

But we all have that tendency to look at our spouse and say, “I think you could be doing it better. And by better, I mean my way.” This is especially true when we’ve just learned some really great tactics or finally grasped some awesome parenting philosophy. And I want to be clear, those things are not worthless. In fact, I honestly do believe that there is a lot of value to things I have read and learned about parenting that I feel so inclined to share with my wife.

The question, though, is this – what is the best way to get those things across to your spouse? That’s a question I wrestle with often, because I don’t want to make my wife feel threatened by coming on strong, but I do want to encourage her when I see room for improvement. Just like I want her to encourage me to do better when I’m not bringing my best. So what do we do?

I got an email today from the folks at Love and Logic that put it very well, and I’d like to share the text of it. Very worth the read, and a great reminder on this subject:

Jennifer wrote to me, saying that her friend gave her one of my audio CDs called Love and Logic Magic When Kids Drain Your Energy. She went on to tell me that all she has to do now is to put her hand on her forehead and the oldest child tells his sister to shape up because Mom’s fixin’ to have an energy drain. She raved about how much fun she was having with the techniques she’d learned.

Giving me an example, she said, “Yesterday on the shopping trip, my 13-year-old daughter was getting pretty heavy into her newly acquired teenage angst, doing all she could to let me know how clueless I was. Just when I was about to say something, her older brother leaned over and said, ‘Cool it, Jess! Mom’s got her hand on her forehead!’ He saved the day for all of us.”

I was glad to read that it was working for her, when she continued to write, “But now I have to get my husband to buy into Love and Logic.”

Uh, oh, I thought. This is not the kind of thing that usually ends well. I don’t know many spouses who react well when being told that they need to change the way they are parenting. I immediately thought about that wise old sage who said, “You can’t make someone mad and sell them something at the same time.”

I wrote back to encourage her not to try to get Dad to change his parenting techniques. Telling someone that they are wrong, or that they don’t measure up, is a good way to trigger some resistance.

Her husband might find himself interested in what she’s doing if he sees her having an easier time with her own parenting. It would probably be best to encourage Dad to parent in his own way while she experiments with Love and Logic techniques to see if it makes her own job easier.

Listening frequently to her CDs when he might accidentally hear them might help. The odds for success are always better when someone buys in on their own, just as she did.

In other words, the next time you feel like you need to tell your spouse what to do differently, stop, take a deep breath, and think about how you can let it be his or her own idea. Be willing to support and offer the resources, but let them come to it. Parenting is intended to be a two person job, so make sure that you’re working together as a team, even when one of you needs to work on something.

And God said, “Let there be boys”

I love having two boys in my home. They are often loud, sometimes make obnoxious noises, routinely turn the living room into an impromptu WWE ring (even though they have been told at least a couple thousand times that this is not allowed), can turn anything into a gun, are mostly against lentils, love to sit and read hunting magazines (even though they don’t hunt) and fishing magazines (even though their patience with fishing lasts about 72 seconds), invent incredible stories mixing Marvel superheroes with Rescue Heroes and Batman and Luke Skywalker, and are both training to become Jedi. They are the two coolest kids in my life, and I never, ever want them to stop being the people they are. So it makes me sad when I’m reminded that our culture does not value boyishness the way that I do.

Forgive me if that sounds a little dramatic. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, take a look at this video:

As though to punctuate the point this video makes, recently a boy got in trouble at school for thinking a cloud looked like a gun. No, I’m not making that up. You can read about it here.

Continue reading “And God said, “Let there be boys””

Time for some educating about Prom

Have you heard of the high school student who was suspended from school for asking Miss America to prom? It sounds a little ridiculous, but the real story isn’t all that out of line. He went against a direct instruction by the school administration, who didn’t want him disrupting their event of having her speak at the school. His suspension was about defying authority – however benignly – and how the school has to handle disciplinary issues.

That being said, it didn’t take long for a feminist with a voice – Amanda Marcotte, who was previously associated with John Edwards – to declare that the student’s punishment is just, not because of authority and defiance issues, though. She declared that his actions amounted to sexual harassment.

As disgusted and flabbergasted as I am by her opinion, I can almost understand it. After all, when I was in high school it was not considered out of place for a guy to get a hotel room for the night for himself and his date on prom night. Too few people at my high school ever batted an eye at the notion that if a guy shelled out plenty of money for prom, he should receive sexual favors as a reward. I haven’t spent a lot of time studying prom culture – promology? – since my high school years, however, my general impression is that things have not really changed for the better. So if a woman feels that asking a girl to prom is tantamount to asking for sexual favors, well, maybe she isn’t too far off the mark in this day and age.

Continue reading “Time for some educating about Prom”

Your marriage matters to your kids

Maybe by now you have heard of the high school girl suing her parents for child support and college tuition. The story is somewhat convoluted, with a bit of a “he said, she said” finger pointing sort of flavor to it. No surprise. The blame game is as old as humanity. But the judge in the case recently found that yes, indeed, parents have a right to enforce rules on their teenagers, and no, those teenagers do not then have the right to run away and sue their parents if they don’t like the rules.

Sounds alright, but a detail in all of this debacle jumped out to me, and one that I think isn’t getting due attention. According to the court documents, in the months leading up to the girl running away from home the parents had been separated, after a rather extended period of marital strife.

Let me rephrase that for emphasis: The parents had a long period of unresolved conflict and were separating over it, and then their daughter ran away. Correlation does not imply causation, but am I the only one seeing some strong connection here?

Continue reading “Your marriage matters to your kids”