Brainstorming on Parenting (after five kids)

I have five children. Their current ages are nine to eighteen.  I love being a dad.  It is one of my very favorite things.  I think I have become a good one. How do I know? I really like all my kids, and they seem to like me too.  Of course, I also love them.  I would love them even if I didn’t like them, but I do like them.  

Here is some brainstorming on how this came about: 

  1. I see myself as an image bearer of God.  Furthermore, I am a redeemed image bearer because Jesus saved me and gave me his Spirit.  This has many implications, but importantly for this topic, it has caused me to like myself a lot.  Why wouldn’t I?  God does.  He has made me, and made me clean.  I am so thankful.  I’m not perfect, but I seek to grow, and will seek to grow until I’m out of time for growing—either dead, or with Jesus at the judgment.  
  1. I see everyone else around me as image bearers.  This impresses me to no end.  This means I will not be justified to dominate any of my fellow image bearers.  This means that all my relationships are horizontal, not vertical (except the one with God.  He is higher than us. He created us out of nothing). But other humans are my impressive equals.  If they are messed up, they could begin growing by the grace of God and by concrete biblical principles applied with power through the help of the Holy Spirit, a gift of God in Christ.  It also means, btw, that I would not allow a fellow image-bearer to assume any power over me personally.  If he or she is a vested authority from God, such as the cop who pulls me over for speeding (right?  —- because he represents the state, who in a sense represents the God who has empowered them to make and keep laws, and protect his people (Romans 13)) I will obey them because I obey God. So there is no one to fear, and there is no one to dominate us, or be dominated by us.  
  1. Therefore, I also see my kids as impressive fellow image bearers.  I am in awe of them because I am in awe of the God who created them.  And therefore, I will not dominate my kids.  I will, however, wield my vested authority as God’s servant (Ro 13:4-5).  I will make rules and enforce them as God’s agent.  But, that doesn’t leave room for anger or insecurity on my part to get in the way of my job.  It’s not personal.  
  1. This means that I can focus on what is most important and that is building our loving relationship. If I don’t have to personally dominate them, then they don’t have to feel that they were dominated, and they don’t have to rebel. Do you think your kids won’t rebel if they feel dominated by you? Think again. They will definitely rebel, and you will start to dislike them as much as they dislike you.
  1. Another way to say this is that I respect my kids, and I make sure they respect me and their mother. I don’t do this by dominating them, but by personally not putting up with any, at all, of any kind, words, tone, body language, disrespect. I say, “hey bud, I respect you, you need to respect me, especially because God says your life will be awful if you dishonor your parents. So, I love you, I’m not personally threatened (this is important, although I don’t actually say that part), but you are going to have a consequence for the disrespect (or disobedience). And then I give them one. It is how I can respect them, teaching them that consequences have actions, even for saved Christians.
  1. I spend an inordinate amount of time teaching them to think in principles, have courage, love the truth, and make their own choices whenever possible.  If I have to pull rank on them, I say, “I’m only going to tell you what to do until you are eighteen, so I’m going to take advantage of that while I can.”  
  1. I never ever take our disagreement personally, and I pastor them to do the same.  I have no problem with them disagreeing with me.  We’ll talk, and then if I have to pull rank, they understand that I would not do that if I didn’t have to, and if they don’t like it, just wait until they are grown and they will no longer have to deal with it. 
  1. It also means that I hold my kids with an open hand.  They don’t belong to me, but to God.  My job is to teach them the truth by instruction and example.  This means I am responsible TO them, but not FOR them.  I’m sure this is where most of us screw up in our responsibility of leadership in any sphere (I am also a pastor in a church).  I’ve heard it said it’s like that old adage, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  I think it’s better said, “You can lead a horse to water but IF YOU MAKE HIM DRINK IT YOU ARE COMMITTING EVIL AGAINST HIM.”  When you force personal will and power on another human, you dehumanize them.  I’m not talking about the consequences from breaking rules.  I’m talking about any yelling, manipulating, rewarding behavior that makes a kid behave the way you want them to. Instead, teach them to make their own choice whether-or-not to obey and avoid the consequences or disobey and face them.  That preserves both their dignity and your relationship with them. Isn’t this the way God Fathers us? 

Bonus: Consider never saying, “Good job (or especially good boy or good girl)” to your kids. It sets you over them in a dominating way that makes you the judge of their personally. They will learn to love pleasing you, instead of loving to do a job well done for the sake of it. It also creates a fixed mindset. I want them to have growth mindset (see Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset).

If I can think of anything else to say, I’ll post a part 2. Feel free to comment if you disagree. We can sharpen each other.

A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 1, Horizontal vs. Vertical Relationships

Relating to Others

In the beginning God created a man.  He was alone. God said that it was not good that the man was alone, so he gave him a wife.  You might think that having a wife was the answer to the problem.  It was not. It was the beginning of the answer. It was step one.  But the real answer came about two hundred years later when these two had built a society.  God made man in his image to lovingly relate to other people.  Adam and Eve had to create other people, who would create other people, who would create other people. In their long lives they had time to see most of the known world populated with their family before they died.  This was God’s plan when he said in Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” 

Part of being human, then, is doing life with others.  God in himself is three persons, so he could not make man, who is one person, like him in his image without giving him community. So that is what he did, starting with Eve.  Then he gave him children, grandchildren, great grandchildren for many generations.  These families formed communities.  After the flood and the Tower of Babel, these communities spread over the face of the earth.  Now there are continents, countries, regions, states, cities, suburbs and villages, neighborhoods, and households.  At every level the principles of relating to one another are the same, but the distance between people is closed as you work your way inwardly, both because of the number of people at each stage, and the geographic location of people in relation to one another. Even in our modern globally connected world, this still applies.  

So it is important for the Christian, the image bearer, to learn the principles for relating at each of these levels. Psychologists have said that every emotional problem humans face is an interpersonal relationship problem. Remember my earlier post about the man who escaped his problems by hiding in the woods for over twohttps://formyownsake.com/2020/05/https://formyownsake.com/2020/05/15/manifestations-of-a-broken-image-pt-3/ decades. He knew all his problems were interpersonal relationship problems, but he just didn’t know what to do about it. God helps us if we are willing to listen and do the hard and courageous work of transformation. If we allow God into our lives in these areas, relationships will become a source of joy and a part of our abundance of life.

Horizontal vs. Vertical

In the kingdom of satan, relationships are hierarchical. Everybody knows it. Jordan Peterson, a psychologist of recent internet fame, says people are like lobsters, looking for their place in the status ladder, always challenging for a position higher. He is completely correct. In this world it is ‘dominate or be dominated.’ Human history is the history of who dominated whom. Many of us are evaluating people as soon as we meet them. Unconscious or consciously we are asking, “How do I measure up to this one? Could I win a fight with him” (Guys ask this, women might ask, “Am I prettier than her”)? Our real question is, “Am I any good?” And the vast majority of us will use the people around us to answer that question.

This is what the disciples were getting at when they argued about who was the greatest.  Yet somehow they knew Jesus wouldn’t like it (Mk 9).  This is what James and John were getting at when they had their momma come and ask Jesus to give them the two highest positions in their kingdom.

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:20-28).

After telling them that they have no idea what kind of burden such a position would bring, that of drinking from the same cup of suffering as Jesus, he says to the disciples who were indignant because they didn’t think to get their own moms involved to get them a position (not really, but maybe),“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.”  Notice he doesn’t say that they are too domineering, or that the Gentiles necessarily abuse those who they lead. What he says is they lord it over them, which means they take a position of lordship, and they “exercise authority.” They take a position of authority.  What’s so bad about that?  It sounds perfectly natural. There are leaders, and there are followers.  Don’t there have to be?  Well, yes, and no. 

Jesus says, “It shall not be so among you.” You will not lead that way. You are different from the world. The world does what is perfectly natural for people and lobsters, but you are not natural people, you are spiritual people, supernatural people. Your relationships will not be characterized by dominance.  Your identity will not be characterized by your place in a hierarchy.  This will have massive implications for how church should be done, but rarely is.  Jesus has made a powerful statement about the way humans are to relate to one another.  

Even in a situation where positional authority is recognized, personal authority is not proper.

In short, no man should have another man as his leader, meaning, as a person who can dominate that man with his personal power, especially not in the Church. Early twentieth century psychologist, Alfred Adler called this the difference between horizontal relationships, and vertical relationships.    

According to God, all relationships should be horizontal, except for our relationship with him.  That one is completely vertical. His ways are higher than our ways. His glory is and always will be greater than our own.  He is in charge, we are not in charge of anything except what he alone gives us charge over.   But with other people, it is a different story.  When I am face to face with another man or woman, we are equals in dignity. We are equals in intrinsic value.  Why? Because we are both created in God’s image, and that is a great honor.  We don’t share dignity with animals. They are lower than us.  Even the majestic ones who would eat us, are considered by God to be lower than us (Gen 1:26).  In a relationship with an animal, all humans rank above them.  Your dog is not your son.  He is your dog, and he will thrive if you treat him like one.  But the people in your life should be treated as humans, equals, and you should expect, demand, that they will treat you the same. 

Are their hierarchies?  Yes. Are their rulers and governments? Yes.  Does God call us to obey authority? Yes.  Ok, so how then are these people over us our equals?  

Because their authority over you is not personal, and has nothing to do with who you are intrinsically.

It has to do with what power has been vested in them by God.  If the state gives someone authority over you, like a police officer, then it is actually vested by God.   If the company gives a manager authority over you, then it is vested by God. It is true that the company CEO or board of directors is the one who gave that manager authority over you, but it is institutional, and limited in scope.  You may have to submit to him concerning the job, but only under certain moral parameters, and only according to what is reasonable under the contractual agreement that you have with the company.  Though this is your boss, you have a horizontal relationship because you are trading value for value.  You might be allowing him to direct you, but only if he (or she) keeps up his end of the bargain and pays you what he agreed to pay you, and treats you in a way that is appropriate.

Being in a horizontal relationship with this person means that he or she is not better than you just because their institutional position is higher.

Even the police man only has authority over you within certain parameters. The laws of the United States don’t give him absolute power over your life. The laws, in fact, protect the individual from the power of the state. The state, including the police officer, must be just, or they lose their authority. Your relationship with the police, the judge, or the President of the United States, is horizontal. They are not personally over you. They are not better than you intrinsically. They may be more competent, for now, or they may represent a higher institutional authority than you, and representing the institution, they represent God so long as their rules are just, which means that they are in accordance with Scripture and logic, whether they acknowledge that or not. But, they are not over you.

But why do we feel like they are? Because it is natural to feel that way. It is natural in our flesh to feel our lack in the face of a stronger personality. That is why Jesus had to teach the disciples a way of thinking about leadership that went opposite of the world’s way. Not so with you. You will not “exercise authority.” No using natural means to gain power over others. No standing between people and God, which is what happens when one lords it over another, and exercises personal authority, human, natural authority.

The head of Christ is God. The head of man is Christ. 1 Cor 11:3-13 says it is disgraceful for a man to wear a head covering, because it is a sign of authority, such as a wife would wear who has a husband, who is her “head.” But no man has another human as his head. No man is to have another human standing in between himself and God. Some of those in ministry see themselves as holding that position, we’ll discuss this more in a future post, but for now I’ll say they are sorely mistaken, and they do a great disservice to the people they serve if they think that way. Jesus said it would be different in his Church.

I will continue this series in several parts about relating to other people. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow to continue the conversation. I welcome your comments.

Manifestations of a Broken Image Pt 3

In the first two posts we talked about some common ways that our brokenness negatively affects our ability to bear the image of God in the way that he originally intended when he dreamed up and created mankind to reflect him and represent him on the earth. Because of sin we have never been able to pull it off, but because of Christ we can begin to learn what God intended for us, and we have the tools: truth, redemption, the Holy Spirit, and the example of Jesus to make it possible.

But today I want to explore some of the more insidious ways that our broken image can manifest so that we can not only watch for signs of these in our own hearts, but also know them when we see it in others around us. 

Crooks

A crook is a person who does not understand that according to the true knowledge of good and evil handed down by God, it is an abomination to steal from others.  As we said in an earlier post, God institutes the sacredness of property rights in the Ten Commandments.  In order to elevate one’s status, some will become thieves of one kind or another, whether by breaking in and stealing physical property, online theft, identity theft, scam business practices, false advertising, cheating, or other such activities.  This violates the very principles we’ve been discussing about the sacredness and dignity of human beings.  God says our stuff is our stuff to dispose of any way we see fit, hoping we will look to him for direction.  Crooks deny his existence by denying the necessity to follow his ways and by trampling his image in their victims. 

Liars

A glance at Scripture may make it seem like it is a sin to be rich. But a careful and balanced study of the Bible will show that the issue is not how much money one has, in itself a neutral thing, but how one acquires it, and what one does with it.  Many of the passages that seem to condemn wealth assume that those with wealth will have gotten it by means of oppression (Ja 5:4).  Indeed, to acquire wealth by oppression violates the principles we’ve been discussing. It fails to see the inherent dignity of the oppressed and is wicked. 

Closely related to crooks are liars. Remember we are discussing the manifestations of the shame that began in the garden (Gen 3:10). Why do people lie? They lie in order to project a false image, or to gain something. If when we were kids, we were expected to be perfect, at least outwardly, we may have discovered that lying was easier than being good. In a sense, this whole blog is about being good, but not like you think. Not looking good. Not pleasing anyone. Not gathering other people’s opinions that you are good, but actually being good, which is a major key to the abundant life of being a glorious image-bearer. Since no one teaches us that as kids, we find out that the rewards are for looking good, and getting other people to recognize that. Well that is difficult, but we can short-cut the process by lying when we fall short. This can go with any of the other categories of the manifestations of shame.

Recluses

Any of the above characters could choose to escape all that shame and interpersonal complexity by becoming a recluse. There was an article in GQ called “The Strange and Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit” (Aug 5, 2014; Finkel). Christopher Thomas Knight lived in the woods of central Maine for twenty-seven years.  He was affectionately known to the locals as the North Pond Hermit, and when he was finally caught stealing by the police, he admitted to around forty robberies over the years.  He’d go into the town when he needed food, or batteries, or clothing, fattening up on Smarties and Oatmeal pies in the fall against the harsh Maine winters (never lighting fires to avoid being seen).  

When they finally caught him it eventually came out that, while he felt a fair amount of shame for being a thief, it was ultimately worth it to him because it meant that he could avoid interacting with people.  When he was twenty years old, he had just had enough. Not that he’d had a bad life, but interpersonal relationships made him anxious and uncomfortable, so he ran, and though it was really tough to survive out there in the woods all those years, he said the anxiety and stress just stopped the day he left, and started up again the day he returned, twenty-seven years later.  But God made us to be in relationships. It is healthy and good to become a self-reliant person who is emotionally resilient enough to spend lots of time alone, but not forever.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his book, Life Together, “Let him who is not in community beware of being alone” (pg 77).  

The recluse can manifest on a spectrum, like any of these.  Some just have a tendency to stay home and avoid people most of the time.  Some go into the woods for twenty-seven years.  But either way, it is still a function of our brokenness when we are unable to deal with being around other people. 

Tyrants

Tyrants come in all shapes and sizes, but what they have in common is that their favorite mode of coping with people is to dominate them. Jesus was clear that God created us for what psychologist Alfred Adler called, horizontal relationships.  No one is meant to be above us, and no one is meant to be below us.  This does not mean we cannot have or be a boss, a teacher, a police officer, or some other such authority. Christians are called to submit to authority (Ro 13:1). But none of that is ever meant to be personal authority. If we have authority over another person, there is some higher entity that they are actually submitting to: the state, who has the power to protect rights; the company, who has the power to fire, or promote; or even the parents, who are invested by God.  

But no person is supposed to dominate another person because it violates that person’s selfhood. It does violence to the image of God in them.  A Tyrant, because of his shame, will seek personal power over people, rather than trade value for value as a servant leader.  A boss, a parent, a friend, or the worst, a pastor, may use you to soothe their insecurity and the anxiety of their self-doubt by seeking dominance over you.  

But this is the broken image of leadership as God intended it and as Jesus described it to his own status-hungry disciples (Mk 10:42-44).  All relationships should start with the acknowledgement that here before you is an image-bearer of the Almighty.  To seek dominance is to destroy that image.  The techniques vary from obvious and physically violent, to subtle and highly manipulative. Either way, as Jesus said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you.” (Mk 10:42-43 emphasis mine).  

Followers

On the opposite end, are the extreme followers.  There could be no tyrants if there were not those who were prone to give over the keys to their identity and their responsibility for thinking to these tyrants.  People long for heroes and infallible leaders, because they long for God.  Many people did not quite get what they needed or wanted from an earthly Father, and so they are susceptible to any fatherly type of tyrant.  Others just like having someone to trust in, who will take care of them, of everything, and sometimes, who they can blame when things go wrong.  

You don’t have to look all the way to the cults like Jonestown and Waco. There is some level of a sinful willingness to follow in every sphere of human life, and at most otherwise good churches.  Consider the teenager who lets the cool kids get him into trouble. Why is he doing what he knows to be wrong? Because of the powerful desire to follow the one who will give him status by association.  Isn’t this what happens in spiritually abusive churches?  Men and women seek status, so they seek to hitch themselves to the highest status leaders in the church. These followers will eventually become tyrants if they can, and for the same reason.  

Gangs, online communities, clubs, secret societies, and pretty much any grouping of people has great potential for this sort of thing, but none is more destructive than when it happens in a government. The extreme version of this might be seen in fascist (Hitler) or communist (Mao) countries, but even democratic political systems will bring out the sinful tendency to want to give over thinking responsibility to an all powerful leader who has tapped into a need in the masses and become a cult of personality.

So What Do We Do?

These are just some of the ways that our sin manifests to break down the image of God inside us and derail us from living the life we were made for and to live for God, ourselves, and others. Sometimes, to look around, or to even look at yourself can feel hopeless. Does anyone come to earth and live like an image-bearer, fulfilling the purpose God had for humanity when he lovingly created us? There was one. And his work on earth has made possible the restoration of us all, if only we will have eyes to see what he has done, and ears to hear what he has said. His name is Jesus. He knows you and loves you, and he was everything he is calling us to be.