Planting Seeds

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity. ~Psalm 133:1 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. ~Romans 12:10

Our God is relationship oriented. The very essence of the Gospel is his offer of relationship through Jesus Christ’s death for our sins. He calls us as parents to impart to our children the importance He places on relationship. The way we love one another is the display of the Gospel to the world. We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) To speak consistently and clearly on the value of loving one another well is an imperative from Him. The culture we live in says that sibling rivalry and squabbles* are normal; just ignore them, don’t engage and they will mostly stop; children do it for the parent’s attention; they’ll grow out of it, etc.  No, I don’t think they will.

Encourage God’s love to grow between siblings – training them in righteousness applies real life here. There will be few relationships that will trigger flesh in a child more than a sibling. Welcome this. It is our opportunity to begin talking with our child about the Gospel. Just like in marriage, the intimacy of family life will highlight our natural desires for self.

It is also an opportunity to cast a vision before them in terms of why God purposely placed them in this family and in this order. Spend time looking at the why question that springs from their lips. Don’t run from the dislike they may spew at another. Sit in it with them, help them discern the lie they have welcomed regarding that sibling and begin instead to help them rewrite with God’s truth.

I think sometimes as believers we have bought the lies of the enemy that say siblings don’t have to like each other just because they happen to be born into the same family. Really? Where is God’s sovereignty in that? Do we really get permission to throw out the commands to love one another because we are “accidentally” born with annoying people? Or will we embrace the transforming power of God’s love that teaches how to love the difficult because we have been deeply loved? Do we understand that God has a purpose for our children as big sister, younger brother, etc to learn the truths about His love and lean/depend on Him to help them love and care for someone else. This walk right now as a child who follows Jesus will lead and prepare them for what He has planned for them as an adult.

We can break up fights and tell kids to stop yelling/hitting and if we stop there, we are missing the discipleship of our child. If all we do is fuss at the fussing, we will never help our child examine their heart as to what motivates their action or response. They may conform to our edict of no fighting, but the heart remains unchanged apart from Gospel application. Behavior can just go underground as resentment, bitterness, and ultimately hatred. And it will stunt their walk with a loving, forgiving God.

We have the rich opportunity to walk with our children in learning how to love intentionally the way we have been loved – forgiving fully, expressing frustrations in a way to seeks resolution and peace, and acknowledging their own contribution to the argument and why they are motivated to respond in sin.

 

*Now I readily understand the sin of man can cause deep fissures/utter violations within families – let me be clear, when a family is torn apart by mental illness, sexual violations, or physical violence, as a parent you must act for the safety of your child. I am not speaking of these times.

The Vine, the Vinedresser, and me

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. ~John 15:5

Have you ever felt worthless in God’s kingdom? You look at your body of work and all you see are errors, mistakes, sins and defeat? You cannot get a handle on your tongue; you are not patient with your family; every time you turn around you are faced with another way you have sinned against another or God.

We have a child who right now is in a crisis of faith. They are in a season of pruning, but they believe they are in a season of failure. They look at the way their sin seems to explode all over the place, and they want to hide it, stuff it back in, cover it up with niceties or retreat. Poke them a little bit about one of these errors, and they may explode in anger. There is apathy, a mask they wear to act as if they don’t care how many areas are in shambles. And when you tread just a little through these first layers of defense, there is profound discouragement and fear. The aching knowledge of their inability to “do it” and concern over being perfect, checking the boxes they have laid out for themselves, creates a huge emotional chasm. And only Jesus Christ Himself with all His grace, His mercy, and His love can fill it. The Gospel must become a lifeline, not just for salvation but for daily, minute to minute life.

Salvation for this child is not in question. They are completely secure in knowing Jesus Christ paid the penalty for their sins, and they would absolutely tell you how vital He is in their life. But just like a Galatian from years ago, they have decided that their walk everyday is theirs to do, to somehow muster up the right combination of fruits either to prove to God how much they love Him or to add to their salvation. The wrecking of their carefully ordered life exposes the limits they have placed on God’s great grace, as if it is merely that little bit more we need to get over the hurdle when added to all the good acts we do.

Many times I too have walked in these ruts of the faith, tripping as I focus not on Him but on what I carry, making sure I don’t drop anything, or dirty these clothes I have placed over my clothes of righteousness. And when I see my life wrecked, I wonder how He could love me. But just like this child, it is an opportunity to once again see the depths of His love for me, the grace that gushes like a tidal wave, and to tightly hold to the One who is at work, refining and changing me more and more into His image.

Pruning is an important part of the walk of faith. Jesus draws the parallel boldly in John 15 – He sets up very clearly that He is the Vine, his Father is the Vinedresser, and we are branches. A vinedresser has one goal with his plants – to maximize the fruit as he shapes its growth. In pruning vines, the goal is to maximize the amount of one year old growth or wood because only in 1 year old branches is fruit made. Older wood produces only leaves and shoots. A vine dense with older wood has little fruiting wood and poor air circulation which leads to fungus and disease. So every year 70-90% of growth needs to be removed in the winter. Also the vinedresser wants to shape the vine’s growth on a structure conducive to the harvesting of the fruit.

God actively prunes the believer, slicing through lies, cleaning off dead or nonproductive areas, shaping our hearts and minds. He uses hardship, suffering, crises of faith, but through all of these events, he uses His living and active Word. Hebrews 4:12 says that his Word discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart. We can trust that God desires us to be completely dependent on Him, not just for salvation, but for everyday walking with Him. He prunes us back, tightly leaving us right up against Jesus the vine, in the position of abiding, clinging to the source of life. And it is the position that is most desirable because in the pruning I learn anew that I don’t have to perform or carry the right things to Him. His love flows through me, His truths become my own, His ways of righteousness grow in me creating fruit for His kingdom and His glory. So my child, welcome the pruning for this is where your intimacy with Jesus will grow, and be glad He cuts away your self sustenance. Let the truth of His love and grace flow through you, filling you with peace as you rest in Him.

The Need to Meet

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. ~Hebrews 10:24-25

 

As a mom I have the privilege of walking with my children in the deepest parts within if they will allow. In a conversation with one of them the other day, when they were brave enough to crack open their heart and lay out their battles, I was struck by how common the battle really is. This one was aching, churning, and warring within over the lack of spiritual fruit and the feelings of worthlessness and doubt.

In this passage from Hebrews, the author has just stated that we can come before God confidently because of Jesus Christ’s blood shed for our sin – our faith is assured, our hearts clean from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with His water. We are to hold tightly to the Gospel because Jesus is faithful. He who justifies will continue to sanctify us, and one day He will return and we will be with Him eternally. But it’s easy to waver. It’s easy in the moments of the day to see sin, to see failure, and accept the enemy’s lies of defeat or discouragement.

If I can encourage you in one area, it would be to listen intently and pray fiercely in moments of discipline with your children. Be willing to be up long past your bedtime in order to allow the Holy Spirit time to hack off the calluses on your child’s heart to expose the soft tenderness underneath in which He works. Dwell with your children there in their exposure, not as the one who has it all sorted out but as a fellow sinner redeemed by His grace, seeking to walk out the faith He has given in the daily mess of life.

I am not one who is quickly convicted and repents with vigor; the Holy Spirit is patient, often tender, and works with me on my sin to bring me to repentance on issues. So why do I think that my young believing child is going to do an about face in ten minutes? I shouldn’t because I fully believe that most of the time they will hide behind an apology without delving into the motivations of their heart and allowing the ugliness of their sin to be seen and met with grace. Many days I have to remind myself to slow down and take the time to ask probing questions and really listen to the answers. Invest the time.

This verse is a bedrock verse for me in terms of discipling my children. I know we often quote this in order to support going to church, but I think it aptly applies to parenting and discipling anyone.

  • Let us consider – In the Greek, the meaning here is to think up and down, exactly, attentively; to fix your eyes or mind upon. Let me consider my child, let me spend the time praying for the Holy Spirit to enlighten me to the climate of their heart, the winds of doubt or fear that may be blowing, the storm that may be quietly occurring underneath a thin layer of protection.
  • how to stir up one another to love and good deeds – to stimulate or incite in another the agape love solely based in the Holy Spirit and from which actions flow. Parenting and discipleship are not about behavior correction. It’s about pointing or directing that child to the truth of the Gospel in direct opposition to the lies of this world and calling them to walk in faith.
  • but encourage one another – parakaleo in the Greek; to make a call being up close and personal; to admonish or exhort; there is a legal connotation to this word – to make an exhortation from a close place that stands up in God’s court. This encouragement must come from intimacy, and intimacy grows with time invested.

So I want to encourage you – if we were across from each other at coffee or lunch, I would exhort you to spend time with the One who intimately knows your children, seeking His truth for their lives. Fight the impulse to make other things more important than seeking the heart of your child. Ask the quiet questions about their faith and listen intently to what they know and what they believe. Point them to the Word, to direct truths that meet their doubts or fears. We do not grow their faith – that is the work of the Holy Spirit. But we can walk together with them in their journey, encouraging and cheering them on. The laundry can wait.