Is it True?

We live in a world that is hyper-political and completely tribal. As I type this, there is now a mask-wearing tribe and “non-maskers.” We have successfully politicized public health and a worldwide pandemic. We also live a world that values experience over and above objective truth. Truth is relative, and experience is authoritative.

We have a generation that is ruled by their emotional response to any given situation, yet they have failed to stop and ask, “Is this true?” Truth is not relative; there is objective truth. As Christians, we believe that objective truth is the Word of God. We have to teach our kids to check their ideas, information, and presuppositions against what the Bible tells us the truth is. We do this by pointing them back to scripture over and over again. We do this by personally showing them how we filter our political, moral, and spiritual decisions based on what the Bible says over what someone tells us we should say or do as an “Evangelical Chrisitan.”

Clarifying for our kids what is true will help them properly filter information that they are given or come across on their own. If they are not clear on what is true, they will believe a lie. If they don’t have an external filter for the truth, they will believe things about God and themselves that aren’t true.

The next thing we have to do is confront your child’s emotions with truth. Often times our kids will be upset because another kid or a sibling said something that was hurtful. The first question I ask is “Is it true?” They usually say no. I then say then don’t worry about it. With the emotional tripwires exposed we then discuss why they said what they said and how we can be a better friend or sibling as a result.

Our kids are growing up in a world where “lived experience” is how “truth” is established. The problem with our experiences is that divorced from objective external truth they become tyrannical and subjective. Our experience is meant to reveal our sinful hearts and our need for a savior not to justify our own sinful responses to those who have hurt us.

Our experiences are meaningful and diverse but they are not authoritative. It is only when those experiences are filtered through truth outside of us that they are properly understood.

Lastly, as we are holding fast to the truth as seen in the Word of God but do so with humility. We have to listen to others before we speak. Raw truth devoid of charity is rarely transformative. We need to model to our kids how to interact with and pray for those with whom we disagree. We live in a world that will cancel you for the slightest infractions of social norms. We as Christians must forgive and model forgiveness not because of our experience alone. We have experienced forgiveness but because the objective Word of God demands it. If you do not forgive you will not be forgiven.

KB recently on his Instastory said it better than I can.

This is the church.
We will rebuke you when you are wrong.
We will forgive you when you repent.
But we will not cancel you when you are down…for Christ did not cancel us.

Cancel culture is not kingdom culture. We don’t just applaud the righteous we restore the fallen.

KB

Why is what KB saying true? Because of the lived experience of all truth in the son of God made a way for us to be reconciled to God and restored to each other. That is the truth our kids need every day. We can be restored to one another because we have been reconciled by God. May we live our lives in light of that truth for our Good and God’s glory.

My Kid Got a Phone For Christmas! Now What?

One common question I get from parents is around cell phones and screens. Parents want to know how much time is too much. They want to know how to filter content and protect their kids from harm. Their concerns are valid. In fact, parents who are concerned about the onslaught of social media and wired devices are the exception. Most parents today did not grow up as digital natives; they remember what the world was like before it became digitized.

The concerns around screen time are not only valid but are more severe than first realized. The empty streets that used to be filled with kids playing sports and riding bikes to stave off boredom are apparent all around us. The evidence of our kids sitting in front of screens is seen in the rise of childhood obesity. What is a newer revelation for parents is the connection between social media usage, screen time and mental health. A recent study has shown that “High users of screens were also significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. Fourteen to 17-year-olds spending 7+ h/day with screens (vs. 1 h/day) were more than twice as likely ever to have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety. High users are also twice as likely to have been seen by a mental health professional and to have taken medication for a psychological issue.”

So what do we do? In this ever-connected age, we feel helpless to fight this wave of connectedness. That, in reality, is producing a generation of kids who are more connected than ever but filled with more anxiety and loneliness than ever.

What do we do?
Delay, Filter, and Monitor.

Delay – giving them a phone

You should delay giving your kids a cell phone for a bit longer than you feel comfortable. The benefits of waiting outweigh the convenience of being able to reach your kids whenever you want to reach them. I initially thought we would wait until sixteen when they start to drive. We ended up changing to 13 when they began taking long bus rides to sporting games for school. I didn’t want our kids looking on with other kids watching whatever their neighbor was watching. I wanted to be about to filter and monitor what they were consuming digitally.

Delay – letting them on social media

Kids who have a cell phone have texting and calling at their disposal. In the study I referenced earlier, the majority of the anxiety and depression seem to be linked to the use of social media. Kids need to be kids. Kids don’t need the anxiety of knowing they have been left out. Or be on the receiving end of comments on their Facebook or Insta that are hurtful. They don’t have the maturity to know that what they post is not private, and it survives forever even when they “delete” it from their wall. 

Filter using iPhone settings. 

Anything that requires a plug to a wall has a backdoor to the internet. Apple has made some excellent improvements to keep your kids safe. From the “Screen Time” section of your child’s phone, you can control who they talk to, set limits for apps, set downtimes when phone access and app access is limited. You can also share their settings to your phone. From your phone, you can then control the restrictions of your child’s phone from anywhere. 

Adding restrictions to an iPhone a brief guide

1. Click on settings
2. Click on Screen Time

3. Once in screen time, you will see options for each of the ways you can restrict your child’s phone.
1. Downtime – allows you to set bedtimes for your child’s apps and Phone access.
2. App Limits – will enable you to limit a particular app or family of apps like “games” to a set time of use. 3. Communication limits – limits who they can talk or text and when they can do so.
4. Always Allowed this allows certain apps to be accessible at all times.
5. Content & Privacy – This section limits adult sites, language thresholds, and as well as what level of movies you would like your kids to watch on their devices. It also allows you to keep them from making changes to the password of their phones. This means that they can’t remove your thumbprint of face recognition without putting a password you create.
For a more in-depth guide to iPhone parental controls click here.

Filter using My Circle

With My Circle, you can choose appropriate (or block inappropriate) content by age. Customize settings to filter for individual family members and then apply to social media, videos, and games for both apps and websites. You can also make the internet stop for every family member (or just one). Tap Pause when it’s time to get going on homework, or if someone hasn’t cleaned their room. Hit unpause when you’re good to go. Lastly, you can check out sites visited and filtered throughout the day. Or go back as far as you like. And even set a Filter directly from the History view.

Monitor – Your Kids’ phone manually.
Have access to their phones and check their text messages and other activities on their phones by looking through their phones randomly on a regular basis. This is not an invasion of privacy this is responsible parenting. If your kids object to this or give you any reason not to trust them with the phone you provide. TAKE THE PHONE AWAY.

Monitor – Your Kids’ phone automatically.
If you want to monitor your kids’ text messaging automatically you can use Bark.us. Or if you didn’t head my advice and you caved and let your kids get social media you MUST get Bark. Bark connects to 24 platforms to monitor text messages, emails, and social activity for signs of harmful interactions and content. Click here for an overview of what Bark monitors. You get automatic alerts via email and text when Bark’s algorithms detect potential risks, so you don’t have to comb through every post and text.

Bottom line: Parenting isn’t easy don’t give up because the digital problem is so overwhelming. Fight for your kids they need you now more than ever.

Are Our Kids Going to be Ok?

I came across a video the other day that as a parent of four digital natives shook me. It was an ad where three generations of a family were asked: “When you were a kid what did you do for fun?” The resulting answers are sobering, to say the least. Watch the video below and we will talk after.

Smartphones are a gift in that they allow us to present with those we love. They are no longer a gift when they isolate and separate us from those who God has entrusted into our care. They make life easier but rather than provide more time to love those God has placed us with the very device that frees us and our time turns on us and devours the very time it freed for us.

Andy Crouch says it this way in his book The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place “Technology, with all its gifts, poses one of the greatest threats ever conceived by human society to the formation of wise, courageous persons that real family and real community are all about.”

Technology is not evil when it serves us. It becomes devastating when we serve it. The single most devastating element of Technology is it isolates us and creates for us a virtual community of people who we can only know casually and never know intimately. We call people who share the same political ideals on twitter friends and go months without driving across town for a barbeque with the best man from your wedding.

We were made for presence, but so often our phones are the cause of our absence. To be two places at a time is to be no place at all. Turning off our phone for an hour a day is a way to turn our gaze up to each other, whether that be children, coworkers, friends, or neighbors. Our habits of attention are habits of love. To resist absence is to love neighbor

– Justin Early The Common Rule

Parents this is something we have to get right. Yet it is something that is so difficult because the very devices choking our children have a stranglehold on us as well. We have become so pleasure focused and pain averse we don’t even see the fact that we are numbing ourselves and making ourselves unable to feel unable to love the very people God has placed us in community with. We are unable to be present because we have forgotten who we are.

When we can’t answer the question of who we are in silence, we can’t answer it in public either, and our insecurities spill out into the world in the form of manipulations. We hide our confusion behind a posture of perpetual offense. If we are opposed to someone or something, that’s enough to create our identity for the day, which is to say we use others so that we can get the temporary identity we need. We don’t know who we are, so we make others feel the pain of our insecurity.

– Justin Early The Common Rule

Parents if we want our kids to answer the question of what did you do for fun as a kid differently we have to give them a different example. We have to give them a better story. Rather than teaching our kids to numb their pain electronically teach them, they were made for the love of God and love of neighbor. Kids remember what they see far more than what you tell them.

“Imitation is a far stronger principle with children than memory. What they see has a much stronger effect on their minds than what they are told”.

– J.C. Ryle

If we want our kids to live a different story we have to practice the gospel and preach the gospel. To apply the gospel to the lives or your kids you need to know what they are facing so you can point your kids to Jesus. The problem in so many families is parents are too distracted scrolling Instagram to listen to their kids and kids are to distracted by games to talk. We need to give our kids the gift of boredom. When you are bored you eventually create a creative way of escape. This is how kids develop critical life skills. When you as a family put down your devices your kids will get bored they will eventually start talking to you and you will actually listen because you are bored too.

Our electronic addiction is not the worst problem our world has faced because there have been many others that are far worse. It is, however, one of the more sinister problems because so many of us don’t see it as a problem. We were meant to be more than the amount of like we can manufacture with just the right angle of our selfie. We were meant for real lasting eternal connections with the family God has placed us in.

At the end of his book challenging families to rethink how they use technology, Andy Crouch ends with this sober challenge to be present.

We are meant to build this kind of life together: the kind of life that, at the end, is completely dependent upon one another; the kind of life that ultimately transcends, and does not need, the easy solutions of technology because it is caught up in something more true and more lasting than any alchemy our technological world can invent. We are meant to be family—not just marriages bound by vows and the children that come from them, but a wider family that invites others into our lives and even to the threshold of our very last breath, to experience vulnerability and grace, sorrow and hope, singing our way homeward. We are meant not just for thin, virtual connections but for visceral, real connections to one another in this fleeting, temporary, and infinitely beautiful and worthwhile life. We are meant to die in one another’s arms, surrounded by prayer and song, knowing beyond knowing that we are loved.

We are meant for so much more than technology can ever give us—above all, for the wisdom and courage that it will never give us. We are meant to spur one another along on the way to a better life, the life that really is life. Why not begin living that life, together, now?

Andy Crouch

So how do we change our kid’s story? Here are a few practical suggestions.

1. Filter your internet – Our family uses Circle by Disney it is a game-changer.
2. Limit your time – decide how much time is appropriate for adults and kids and keep each other accountable. – We don’t use screens at all on the Lord’s Day and when we come home from school and work we put our phones in a box still on so we can have undistracted availability.
3. Turn off all notifications – I did this a while back and it has been a game-changer for me. I only get notifications of text messages that’s it.
4. Delete apps that take up lots of your time. – I enjoy social media but when I look at my screen time report on my phone and see that I am spending more time than is wise for me to spend or am in a season I need to focus, rather than deleting the social media accounts I just delete the apps on my phone that make them so easy to access.
5. Remind yourself that restraint and control create freedom, not oppression. – You are free to use your phone for its many good purposes when your phone isn’t using you. The control allows you to love God and love neighbor. It allows you to treat your phone as a good gift rather than as a poor functional savior.

Here are a few resources I have found helpful.
The Tech-Wise Family
The Common Rule
Parent Chat
Liturgy of the Ordinary
You Are What You Love

Why I Teach My Kids Not to Believe in Luck.

In the month of March this while our youngest child was in Kindergarten my wife knew that her class would be making crafts and setting leprerhacon traps. And in anticipation for St. Patricks day my wife talked to my youngest daughter about what she was going to write down on her paper when they asked why she is lucky. My wife asked my youngest why are you lucky? She said “Mom, we don’t believe in luck” My wife smiled and thought to ask “Baby, what do we believe?” Our youngest looked at my wife and said: “Providence..we believe in Providence.” My wife beamed and said “You just melted your father’s heart” and she did. (Disclaimer: We are not super parents. We taught her this but we also taught all the other kids this and they never said this at five it’s just who our youngest is.)

In Greek mythology the Greek goddess of luck is Tyche. She gave people who served her good fortune and when things didn’t go your way she is to blame. The Romans referred to her as Fortuna “fortune”. The difference between these understandings of their gods and the one true God is the Greek and Roman gods handed out good and not so good fortune but they did so indiscriminately or in response to human action. The God of the Bible the one true God isn’t caprcious or trite he doesn’t just hand out blessings or punishment based on a whim rather he does what he does according to the preordained plan of God.

Luck is a resignation to fate. Fate is very different than providence. I love the way Spurgeon explains the difference between the two.

“I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of . . . leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.”

When Spurgeon was challenged that this is nothing but fatalism and stoicism, he replied,

“What is fate? Fate is this – Whatever is, must be. But there is a difference between that and Providence. Providence says, Whatever God ordains, must be; but the wisdom of God never ordains anything without a purpose. Everything in this world is working for some great end. Fate does not say that. . . . There is all the difference between fate and Providence that there is between a man with good eyes and a blind man.”

Charles Spurgeon

Luck says whatever is…is. Providence says whatever God ordains must be. When kids understand the providence of God when bad things happen they know it wasn’t by chance and it wasn’t random like with the Greeks and Romans it is a personal God working everything out for our good and His Glory. When things go well we don’t say we are lucky but God did what we can not explain or understand he fought for us and because this is true we are filled with huimily rather than pride. Luck says things happen randomly providence says that every particle that floats in space is where it is because we have a caring loving thoughtful creator who knows that for our world to work best that particle must be exactly where it is.

Providence gives us confidence in difficulties and humility in our triumphs. Because the outcome of our lives is not ultimate because of our effort or cosmic randomness it is the result our plans but ultimately God’s direction. Kids need the assurance providence gives. In a world that is increasingly chaotic kids need to know that whatever God ordains is right.

A song I listen to often that talks abut God’s providental care is called “Whateer My God Ordains is right” I hope it ministers to you as you read it as it does to me when I sing it.

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Holy His will abideth.
I will be still whate’er He does,
And follow where He guideth.
He is my God,
Though dark my road.
He holds me that I shall not fall
Wherefore to Him I leave it all

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
He never will deceive me
He leads me by the proper path,
I know He will not leave me
I take, content,
What He hath sent
His hand can turn my griefs away
And patiently I wait His day

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Though now this cup in drinking
May bitter seem to my faint heart,
I take it all unshrinking
My God is true,
Each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart
And pain and sorrow shall depart

Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Here shall my stand be taken
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken
My Father’’s care
Is round me there
He holds me that I shall not fall
And so to Him I leave it all

Fellow Christian you are what you are where you by the grace and mercy of a providential God who is working everything in your life for your good and His Glory. We have no need for Luck we have the unceasing providential care of a loving God.

How Do We Train Our Kids to Stand Firm

Liturgy, Theology and Love

In our country, we do not have armed guards forcing us to step on the face of Jesus. We do, however, have a secular culture and progressive Christians. They ask us to trample on scripture and tradition in order for us to find acceptance to their table of tolerance. The modern movement away from orthodoxy has the taste of Japanese guards saying to our youth, “Trample, Trample,” and the voice of the serpent saying, “Did God actually say?” Our kids are not being crushed by atheism they are being seduced by secularism, materialism, and individualism.

“Love, which we would consider an “ultimate” love could be described as that to which we ultimately pledge allegiance; or, to evoke language that is both religious and ancient, our ultimate love is what we worship. The reasons we emphasize that this is a matter of love is to signify that our orientation to what’s ultimate is not primarily on the order of thinking. It’s not what I think that shapes my life from the bottom up; it’s what I desire, what I love, that animates my passion.”  James K.A. Smith

We are not primarily what we think or even what we believe. We are primarily, as Smith says, what we love. So how do we raise kids who will not trample the faith handed to them? How do we not just inform the minds of our kids but also help them form their loves?

  1. Biblical Theology – Kids need to understand the Bible is about God, not about them. They need to see the broad sweeping themes of sin, redemption, and restoration. They need to see Jesus on every page of the Bible. If Christianity is only ever theological facts to be memorized and not a God to be adored, culture wins every time. We need to give our kids a Biblically faithful picture of a God of who is holy and loving. Biblical theology is not just information, but the understanding that all of scripture is the unfolding story of God’s love for us. Properly communicated, it should warm our hearts and fill our minds with wonder.  – Great interview with Paul David Tripp on recapturing awe. 
  2. Systematic Theology – Kids need to understand that the Bible is more than a story. It is that, to be sure, but it has practical implications for how we live. Biblical theology doesn’t answer life’s difficult questions. It shows us the beauty of Christ. Systematics shows us the implications of that picture of beauty. Here is a post I wrote that has resources I would recommend for this.
  3. Devotional Life – Kids need to learn the discipline of daily practice that both inform and form their love for God. This is best taught by modeling to our kids that devotion is not something earned or which merits grace but is the natural byproduct of the grace freely given. Here is a post that gives resources for family devotions. 
  4. Embodied faith – Faith is more than an idea and belief. If faith is not manifested in love, it is seen as a faith that tramples and devours. Our faith is seen in our practices and in our love for others. The liturgies of our churches need to reinforce the love of God so that it creates places where faith and trust will be outside the reach of the snake’s lies and the guard’s insistence to trample.

A faith that lasts is one that is marked by an embodied love and worship of a God who came down made himself small and embodied sacrificial love and resurrection power. That is the kind of faith our kids need.