The power of story to communicate truth (godly parenting)

The Power of Story

A tricky situation

Some years ago, one of my daughters was a bit sweet on a boy who lived in our local neighbourhood. At first, I thought she was just going out to play with his sisters, but then I could see that she was openly flirting with the lad even though she was only about eight years old at the time.

Whenever she saw him, she would go outside and hang around. But it wasn’t until a chance observation that I realised this boy was treating my daughter appallingly. In addition to his nasty behaviour toward her, he was using her affection to get her to do whatever he wanted. I tried talking to her about the issue, but she just couldn’t see it.

Why lectures don’t work

In the West we pride ourselves on Greek logic and rational thinking. Christians in particular are caught up in this and so we teach truth via clear explanations and facts.

But it doesn’t work.

Be honest. How many sermons can you remember? How many lectures from your parents can you remember? In fact, how many of your university lectures can you remember?

If you do remember anything then I can pretty much guarantee it is because you remember a story or illustration or you remember how you felt.

You see information is great for the mind but it doesn’t engage the soul.

Facts are dry and don’t engage the heart whereas stories draw you in and teach concepts in a much deeper way than ever “objective” facts could hope to do. This is the Hebrew way of life – sharing their collective redemption story with their children.

For example, telling their children the story of Israel’s redemption through the Passover meal (Ex 12:24-27) or telling their children the story behind the memorial stones placed by the river Jordan (Josh 4:2-7).  Indeed much of the Bible is written as narrative/story of God’s interaction with people and then Jesus primarily taught truth through parables.

Stories, unlike facts, draw us in and invite our participation whether they’re true or fictional.

A great example of this is the story of the Prodigal Son (Lk 10:25-37). What more needs to be added to the narrative that would help us understand the Father’s love? It perfectly carries the message as is.

You see parables aren’t merely illustrations for the message – they are the message.

It is imperative that we let the story do its job and don’t reduce it to a moral.

Those who tell the best stories will have the most power.  Many criticised C S Lewis for “wasting time” writing the Narnia books.  But history tells us the power these stories have had in shaping and inspiring people.

This is why Hollywood holds so much power – they are telling stories which influence people far more than a church that simply shouts truth.  This is also why “Christian movies” have often been weak: they are so concerned about getting the message across clearly that they neglect the story.

How a story set my daughter free

Facts and warnings weren’t reaching my daughter and so I needed something else that would communicate the danger of giving her affection to someone who was mistreating her.

So I made up a story called “The Princess and the Crocodile” where a princess who loves animals wants a crocodile but her father refuses saying it won’t be a good pet because it won’t love her back.  So she decides to go to the river and…well, let’s just she gets in a sticky situation…

This opened her eyes to the reality of her situation and now five years later, I’ve expanded the tale, and have released it as an ebook to help other parents teach their children to realise how precious their love is.  It is my prayer that it will help children to only give their heart to those who will value it.

You might also enjoy this post on speaking to children’s hearts (not their minds).

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Hugh Hefner I’m sorry for what we did (godly sexuality)

Hugh Hefner

Last night Hugh Hefner, founder of the Playboy empire, died aged 91.

Many in the media are mourning his loss as he was someone who “advocated free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom” and many men are joking that it’s the only death in history where no one will say “he’s in a better place now”.  This is despite the appalling way he treated some of the women in his ‘care’ that girls like, Izabella St James and Holly Madison, are only now starting to reveal.

What are we, as Christians, to make of this man?

Too often we are quick to condemn and despise him for the way he has led so many astray. So much so, that the magazine was losing about $3m annually as its content pales in comparison to what is now available online.

The truth is slightly less black and white. It’s like the parents cursing the next generation for “going off the rails” whilst ignoring that they raised them.

Both Hugh Hefner and his contemporary Alfred Kinsey were raised in Strict Methodist Homes. Kinsey went on to publish “Sexual behaviour in the human male” in 1948 which contained biased research and promoted his view that delayed sexual experience was psychologically harmful and Hefner started Playboy in 1953 and donated millions of dollars to change sex laws and fought a series of cases that lead eventually to Rowe vs Wade and legalised abortion.

In Hefner’s “Christian” upbringing, sex was taboo—the body inherently tainted and “sinful.” Hefner, says that “There was absolutely no hugging or kissing in my family” and so he started Playboy magazine as “a personal response to the hurt and hypocrisy of our puritan heritage.”

You can see the hurt of this expressed in this quote from him in Playboy, Jan 1974:

“The Puritans thought they could simply repress man’s sexual nature, and they reaped a whirlwind as a result. Their code of sexual morality — which became America’s — was nothing more than a set of rules laid down by people who believed that all pleasure was suspect.”

In fact his parents were simply continuing the long tradition that has plagued the history of sexuality in the Church which says sex is holy but it is not good.

What is the consequence of this repression of the goodness of sexuality. Well, as Christopher West puts it so eloquently in his excellent book Fill These Hearts:

“A person can starve himself for only so long before the choice becomes clear: either I find something to eat, or I’m going to die…That’s why the culture’s “fast-food gospel” – the promise of immediate gratification through indulgence of desire – inevitably wins large numbers of converts from the “starvation diet gospel”. I don’t know about you, but if the only two choices are starvation or greasy chicken nuggets, I’m going for the nuggets”

The children rebelled and said sex is good and not holy.

Neither one is correct but we flip-flop between repression and rebellion.

Why is this? CS Lewis puts his finger on the cause:

“[The devil] always sends errors into the world in pairs–pairs of opposites. And he always encourages us to spend a lot of time thinking which is the worse. You see why, of course? He relies on your extra dislike of the one error to draw you gradually into the opposite one. But do not let us be fooled. We have to keep our eyes on the goal and go straight through between both errors.”

We as Christians need to get the balance right – it’s so tempting to repeat the same mistakes of our parents and their parents before them, especially as this world becomes more depraved.

Our God given sexuality, like fire, is powerful.  But just like a fire if we don’t light it then the house gets cold and people crave warmth from anything and if we light it outside of the fireplace then we’ll burn our house down.

We must teach our children that our God given sexuality is both good and holy and give them a vision that is so much brighter and purer than anything the world has to offer.

Hugh Hefner, I’m sorry that we preached a gospel that wasn’t a gospel at all but only man-made rules that seem wise but are powerless to bring any change to what we feared (Col 2:20-23).  I’m sorry we then condemned you when you rebelled against one lie and embraced another.  I’m sorry we preached one thing in public but did another in private and never owned up to our faults but kept it all hidden.  Forgive us.

I also recommend Christopher West’s compassionate post on this topic.

Dealing with bad language (godly parenting)

what to do when my child uses bad words
*CONTENT WARNING*
This post will use the bad language that one of my children said.
The purpose is that you can experience the horror but still see how to respond in a godly way.

“I have to teach you a great new card game the boys taught me at my camp!” my eldest boy said excitedly at the dinner table, “It’s called cocksucker.”

Time stood still.

“I’m sorry?” I managed to splutter whilst chocking on a piece of potato.

“cocksucker” he said again.

Maybe my wife and I had misheard, “cobsucker?” I asked hopefully.

“No, COCKsucker,” he said again.

OK….he clearly means the very word we wished he had never mentioned to all of us.

Now the main problem with being a Christian parent is that we can all too easily react to the world’s darkness rather than acting from a Kingdom perspective. The light is so much more powerful than darkness – and so we don’t need to be afraid of what our children pick up. But we do need to turn on the light and help them see things in the light of truth.

I wanted to shout “how dare you use that filthy language in my house!”

Now whilst this would have vented my anger and satisfied my righteous indignation it wouldn’t have helped my son (or the rest of the children gathered round the table) what that word meant and why it was unsuitable. Nor would it have helped him make good choices in the future.

Instead he would have learnt to not share his excitement, to keep quiet about words he hears at school or (in this case) “Christian camp” and then go and seek answers elsewhere.

I want my children to come to me and ask me about what they pick up in the world so that I give (what I hope is) godly wisdom and advice.  This means that I first have to become unshockable like Jesus.

Jesus often knew what people were up to (eg the woman at the well Jn 4:17-18 and Jesus anointed by the sinful woman Lk 7:39) and he hung out with tax collectors and sinners (Mt 9:10) and would have heard coarse language from these common people.  Yet we don’t see any mention of him reacting or being shocked by sin.  Why?  Because sin is no threat to him – he is a threat to sin.  He knew since the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8) that sin was a defeated enemy.

So I needed to have a calm and candid conversation with our son that went something like this: “cock is a slang word for a man’s penis.  It’s used to describe how it’s not something precious made by God but something that is used to go anywhere and do anything just like a cockerel struts around and does what he wants.  So you can see what cocksucker will mean.  However, the phrase cocksucker us used to say that they will do want they want and you must suck it up – you must be their slave.”

My son went rather pale at this point when he realised how they had treated him.

“So I think they weren’t being very kind to you.”

My son received this information and was then able to make a wise choice about the word and to his credit he calls the game President instead.

Now in our case it was clear that he had no idea what the word meant.  Sometimes a word might be said to see what reaction it gets or as deliberate defiance.  The first time it occurs we need to have a conversation like the one above and then subsequent times it occurs we can take appropriate disciplinary action.

Good word bad word project

Walker Moore in his excellent parenting book “You want to pierce what?” (which was developed further in his “Rite of Passage Parenting”) talks about the “good word bad word” project he did with his sons.  He got a big bit of paper and divided it into two columns – one for good words and the other for bad words.  Each evening they would discuss words they had met at school that they were unsure about their meaning.  He asked them not to repeat a word they’d heard at school until that point in the day he had told them the meaning and they could decide which column they would go in. If it was a bad word then they chose two good words to replace it and put them in the good word column.

In three years we had every swear word in the English language on the chart.  Eventually we had no more words to add to the bad word column. It’s amazing the communication barriers that go down when you are writing down filthy words with your children.  We also, however, wrote words that carried confusing meanings.  We were able to talk about subjects like homosexuality and abortion before our children reached nine years of age!  Opening up this kind of communication gave my children the knowledge that their parents would not over-react or be shocked at anything they wanted to discuss…without this project, my boys would have endured years of seeing Dad seethe with anger over words they heard at school, and the only lesson they they would have learned would have been, Don’t say the bad words in front of Dad.  Instead they learned that there are things that are good and things that are bad, and they must developed the skills to know the difference.

These skills were then applied in other areas of their lives.

Summary:

  • Firstly, let’s not be naive and think our children won’t encounter these words in their lives – we cannot shelter them from the world – indeed we are supposed to be in the world (but not of it) not separated from the world in a bubble. How can we be salt and light if we keep our salt and light separate.
  • Secondly, let’s not react to bad words – Jesus is more than able to save sinners and cleanse us from every wrong doing.
  • Thirdly, let’s train them – disciple them – and give them the tools they need to make great choices.

If you enjoyed this post then you may also enjoy another post I wrote called “Parenting with faith or with fear”.

Are you cursing God’s gift to you and your children?

Blessing or cursing

Would you curse a gift from God?

“Of course not!” I hear you say, “After all, every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).

Would you curse a gift that God has given your children?

Again I’m sure you would say no.

But the truth is, we often do.

Our bodies are gifts from God.

“Ah yes John, but sin has entered the world and brought sickness”

True, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the correct functioning of our bodies as designed by God. Specifically I’m talking about periods and nocturnal emissions.

How often do ladies complain about their periods and say to their daughters: “You’re so lucky you haven’t got them yet!”

That is cursing our daughters. We are giving them a fear of becoming women. We are also telling them that God has made something horrible. That God is not good.

How often do us men say nothing to our sons about nocturnal emissions? How often do we leave them confused and feeling ashamed of this natural function?

We are cursing our sons. We are letting them think bad of something good. We are letting shame infect their sexuality – which causing them to either embrace shame as an identity or to reject their sexuality as horrible. Neither is blessing God’s gift to them.

We need to celebrate our children becoming women and men. We need to help them embrace God’s calling (which includes their bodies) for their lives.

But how can we do this?

As I have mentioned before the first principle* is to affirm the goodness of our bodies.
For my daughters I would have a conversation something like this:

“Would you put a new baby in a cot with dirty old sheets?”

To which my daughters would reply “Of course not!”

“Absolutely. We always give a new baby fresh clean sheets. In the same way, every month your body changes the sheets of your womb to get ready for a new baby. It throws away the old ones which come out of your ‘gina (our abbreviation for vagina) as a period.”

In addition, I want to mark their first period as a special moment in their life. And so we talk about when they have their first period daddy will take them out to a restaurant of their choice to celebrate. We often talk about this and discuss where they might go and what they might choose to eat. It creates such an anticipation in them and last week I had the pleasure of talking the second of my daughters out for her meal. She had such a blast and I have never seen anyone eat quite so much.

For my sons I would have a conversation something like this:

“Suppose you’ve got a brand new phone with GPS tracking to use on a mountain climb. Would you check that it works before you start your journey or would you just turn up and try it on the day?”

To which my son would (hopefully) reply “I’d check it.”

“Absolutely, checking it works is a good strategy to ensure that we don’t have problems on the day. In the same way, God has designed your body to check that your willy works for when you are married. When you’re sleeping it tests it out by making sperm and shooting it out. This means that you’ll wake up with sticky stuff in your pants but it’s a sign that your body is working well.”

In addition, I want to mark what could be a source of shame as a special moment in their life on their journey to becoming a man. However, my eldest son who likes food says he’d much prefer to go to a skate park to celebrate. So be it.

But as Christians we can go further than just celebrating our bodies as good. For we are made in God’s image and so our bodies are also holy.  And this was the second principle.

You see everything was made to glorify God and so that means that our bodies tell us something about the nature of our God. The aspect I want to focus on here is how our bodies reflect the redemption story.

Jesus death has brought cleansing for our sins. Specifically it is His blood that cleanses us for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22).

This is the first part of our new birth as Christians – we are forgiven and made holy so that we are a fit dwelling for the Holy Spirit.

This is the meaning of a woman’s period. The shedding of blood symbolises Christ’s blood being shed to bring forgiveness of our sins. In fact, the Hebrew word for female (nĕqebah H5347) comes from the root word meaning pierced (naqab H5344) and we know that Christ was pierced for our transgressions (Is 53:5).

Every month women are given a physical reminder of the cost of our redemption – which is easy to lose sight of in our sanitised world far removed from animal sacrifice or killing animals for food.

After the period is complete a Jewish woman would have their mikveh, a ritual bath as the rite of purification. This is our baptism by water symbolising our repentance and death to sin and our old way of life.

The second part of our new birth as Christians is that we are born again of the Spirit (Jn 3:3). Just like God breathed his breath = Spirit into Adam to give life to his mortal body, so too Christ’s Spirit is given to us to give us new life. We receive Christ’s imperishable seed† (1 Pet 1:23) we become Children of God (Jn 1:12-13; 1 Jn 3:1,9) and ultimately receive new imperishable bodies from that seed (1 Cor 15:38, 42,44).

This is the meaning of the man’s sperm. The Greek word Paul and Peter use for seed is sperma (G4690). The ejaculation is symbolising the new life that Christ gives us. And in the same way that children grow up in the image of their parents (Gen 5:3) by genetics and can’t do anything to change that, we grow up into the likeness of God through the fruit of this same spirit (Gal 5:22-23) – it is a fruit – a natural consequence of being his children. In fact, the Hebrew word for male (zakar H2145) comes from the root word meaning remember (zakar H2142). It can mean “to mark (so as to be recognised)” which would reflect the fact that the Spirit marks us out as Christians, but it can also mean “a call to remembrance” which isn’t just a mental ascent but a call to action – which is why it is used when referring to circumcision as well as man or God taking action when they remember something. This speaks of how faith without deeds is dead – we are called to live out our new life. We are called to like our true Heavenly Father‡.

In the same way that only together do male and female make up the complete image of God (Gen 1:27), only together do they symbolise the full story of our salvation.

Father, forgive us for the ways we have disparaged our bodies because we have lost sight of the true meaning. We renounce and break off any curse that we have put on our bodies or our children’s bodies. We bless our bodies in Jesus’ name and receive them as a good and holy gift from you. Help us to celebrate the gift of our bodies, let us cry out to you in praise for how they speak to us of the forgiveness and new life you offer us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

*Click here to be taken to the overview of how to teach your children godly sexuality.

†If you want to dive deeper into this aspect, I recommend Steve Bremner’s book “The Imperishable Seed of Christ: Understanding The Believer’s Spiritual DNA”

‡I am aware that there are many other nuances in these Hebrew words but I hope this gives a glimpse into the richness of the meaning of periods and sperm.

Dad, are willys rude (teach your children godly sexuality)

Are willys rude

I was walking with my youngest son to the garage to pick up our car from its service when he asked:

“Dad, are willy’s rude?”

“Not at all – God made them so they can’t be rude.”

“But when I say willy at school I get told off. So they must be rude.”

I could see the logic.  I also had to do some on the spot thinking….

“OK. What’s the coolest present you can imagine?”

He thought for a while and then replied “A minion’s pizza!”

I have no idea what that is – and frankly neither did he – but it combined two things that he loves together so it must be cool.

“So imagine one of your friends gives you a minion’s pizza and you throw it on the floor. And your friend says ‘That’s so rude!’”

“So is a minion’s pizza rude?”

“NO!!!!”

“But they said it was. So it must be rude.”

“It’s not rude”

“Well why did they say it was then?”

“Because I of what I did with it.”

“Exactly. God made willys and so they’re not rude – but you can do rude things with them like talk about them in a bad way. So just like we treat a special cool gift like a minion’s pizza in a special way – we need to treat our special cool gift of willys in a special way too.”

This kind of conversation captures the two principles of teaching godly sexuality – we affirm it’s goodness and we affirm its holiness (and also here and here).

Just affirming one of these two would lead to disaster whether that be worldly hedonism or religious repression.  So it’s important to express both.

I hope this conversation proves helpful – if you want to add your thoughts below then please do so – or if you want a godly answer to a question your child has asked then do also comment below.

Speak to the desires of the heart (teach your children godly sexuality)

So one of my boys kept lifting up the skirt of one of my girls to see their knickers.  An excellent opportunity to talk about godly sexuality with them I thought…

4

So true to form I followed the principles I give in my workshop and talked about the goodness and the holiness of sexuality with them.  How it’s a good and beautiful part of a lady made by God but it’s also a special part and so we need to treat it with honour.

However he kept on doing it, despite talking about its specialness and despite disciplining him for repeatedly doing it.

I know, I know, I should have called out to God for help sooner – but sometimes we have to get desperate before we find ourselves on our knees actually listening – but He’s so gracious that when I did he gave me the wisdom I needed:

“Speak to the desires of the heart”

You see the trouble was that I was saying all the right things but I was talking to his logical mind rather than his desires.  And if we want to see change then we need to address the desires:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

But the question is: how do we address desires in a godly way?  In the same way as we teach any other aspect of godly sexuality; we talk about the goodness and the holiness of our desires.

You see God made him a boy and so there is a godly fascination and yearning in him for to complete the whole image of God:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mt 19:4-6 emphasis mine)

The holiness is the fact that this fulfillment occurs in a covenantal relationship and this yearning is a shadow of our yearning for Christ (Eph 5:32) who is the “desire of all nations” (Hag 2:7).

Since he was only about 5 at the time, I had to keep things a bit simple, so I began:

“There’s something really interesting about girls, isn’t there?”  He nodded.  “God made girls attractive to us so that we really want to find out more.”  I could see that I now had his full attention.

“And that means that there’s something in us that wants to see their knickers.”

“But God made seeing a girl’s knickers to be something special for marriage just like you only get presents on special days like Christmas.”

Now it’s tempting to stop here, but doing so means that we are expecting them to conquer desires by self-effort which is law not grace. So now we need to offer to pray for them:

“But in the same way it’s hard to not open presents until Christmas day, it’s hard to stop looking at knickers.  So we need Daddy God’s help.  Can I pray with you?”

He nodded and the rest is history.

You see affirming the goodness of our children’s desires speaks to their reality, only then can we begin to steer these desires towards their intended goal.

Repetition is important (teach your children godly sexuality)

Children with a burnt cooking chicken in the kitchen. Smoke. Fac

So here I am, I’ve given workshops to parents about how to teach godly sexuality to their children.  I live these principles in my own life.  I don’t shy away from talking about sex and regularly have God-focussed conversations with my children about how our sexuality is good and holy.

It’s all too easy after you’ve had one conversation with your children about sex to pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on a job well done.  But just because you had “the talk” doesn’t mean they actually understood what you said.

This was brought home to me when one the mother of a friend of my youngest son said he had told her son that babies were made by the man peeing in the woman’s china.

I was mortified.  I was also humbled and repented of my self-satisfaction.  I learnt an important lesson that day:

Repetition is important, repetition is important and did I mention repetition is important.

I mentioned in a previous post about how talking about sexuality with our children should be “the talks” and not “the talk”.  Well this is another reason why.

It’s just like discipleship – understanding is something that happens gradually over a period of time it’s never a one-time brain dump.

Father may we never tire of sowing into our children’s lives until they grow into a mature knowledge of you, your creation and your nature.