Parents, you need to read this book

I’ll let the author make the case for herself but as a father of six and a full-time education pastor who regularly interacts with other people’s kids, I have to say that I found this book compelling.

reset-your-childs-brainIn the introduction to her book, Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time, integrative psychiatrist Victoria Dunckley observes:

In a mere ten-year span from 1994 to 2003, the diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children increased forty-fold. Childhood psychiatric disorders such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, and tic disorders are on the rise. Between 2002 and 2005, ADHD medication prescriptions rose by 40 percent. Mental illness is now the number one reason for disability filings for children, representing half of all claims filed in 2012, compared to just 5 to 6 percent of claims twenty years prior.

Now consider that this rise in childhood psychosocial and neurodevelopmental issues has increased in lockstep with the insidious growth of electronic-screen exposure in daily life . . . Children aged two to six now spend two to four hours a day screen-bound — during a period in their lives when sufficient healthy play is critical to normal development. Computer training in early-years education–including in preschool–has become commonplace, despite a lack of long-term data on learning and development. And according to a large-scale survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2010, children ages eight to eighteen now spend an average of nearly seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen–a 20 percent increase from just five years earlier. (2-3)

Even if you end up disagreeing with Dunckley that Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS) is contributing to (if not causing) an increasingly broad spectrum of behavioral and/or developmental disorders, you will certainly benefit from knowing the pitfalls that accompany unregulated screen-time for children. I’ll let the author make the case for herself but as a father of six and a full-time education pastor who regularly interacts with other people’s kids, I have to say that I found this book compelling.

Although not a major focus of the book, parents would also benefit from the counsel that Dunckley provides concerning communication and discipline. A good bit of content is universally applicable. For example:

It’s very easy to get caught up arguing and debating whether there’s a problem and whether this is the right solution–which is exactly what you don’t want. Children will always have more energy than you, so it’s to their advantage to keep you engaged. It’s to yours to keep it short! (164-165; emphasis added)

And my personal favorite:

Who knows, but considering the current trend is wearable computing, the next wave of devices might make today’s screen-time problems seem laughable . . . So be wary when the next new technology comes out and steer clear of adding new devices to the home. It’s harder to have and give up than never to have at all. (240-241; emphasis added)

It may not be a fun read but it’s necessary. So take a look but be prepared: the diagnosis and prescription are not for the faint of heart.

In the marriage debate, we are not like King Canute

“We are not engaged in a desperate attempt, like King Canute, to turn back the tides of social affairs.”

I was prepping for some premarital counseling when I came across this gem from Christopher Ash in 2003. With boundary lines constantly changing, this is good counsel:

…marriage (as a part of the created order) exists as a significant institution in the world whether or not societies conform to its free constraints. So when as Christians we seek to persuade society about this moral order, we are not defending the institution of marriage, as though the God-given institution of marriage were under ontological threat . . . it is not within the power of humankind finally to destroy created order. It was given to humankind in creation, it stands above human history and the human will, and finally it will be restored and transformed in the new heavens and earth. No institution that is part of the created order can be destroyed by human disobedience. Human nonconformity leads not to the destruction of the order, but to judgment on human beings. No Christian movement needs to defend marriage: rather we seek to protect human beings against the damage done to them by cutting across the grain of the order of marriage. That knowledge takes a burden off our shoulders . . . we are not engaged in a desperate attempt, like King Canute, to turn back the tides of social affairs.

-Christopher Ash, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God, 81-82

Why Christians aren’t ‘nice’

‘Nice’ is the new ‘love.’

Near the end of a 2012 discussion of his book Coming Apart, Charles Murray touched on the difference between raising kids to be nice versus raising kids to be good. You can take a look and reflect for yourself (watch 39:06-40:12) but I wanted to draw attention to this statement in particular:

Being nice is a way of moment to moment not creating trouble. It is not a way of inculcating standards and behavior that will get you through tough times.

Now this was in the context of child-rearing but  Murray’s point is one that I have groped for when discussing the pseudo-Christian response to today’s sexual revolution. To wit, nice is the new love.

What the social engineers demand is that Christians be nice–that we acquiesce; go along to get along. Protests notwithstanding, the last thing they want from us is love unless they get to define it. In the new moral order love isn’t so much “patient” as it is “permissive.”

Yes, “love is kind” (1Cor 13:4). But keep reading. “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth” (1Cor 13:6). And that’s why love isn’t always “nice”–because it rejoices in the truth. Love asserts that some things are right and some things are wrong. Love insists there is a fixed moral order that has been transgressed. Love says what we would rather not hear and rejects what we would rather accept.

And so the Christian who truly loves becomes a troublemaker. And troublemakers will never be considered nice.

Nonidentical twins: legalism & antinomianism

Legalism and antinomianism are, in fact, nonidentical twins that emerge from the same womb.

Some counter-intuitive insight:

The root of [Eve’s] antinomianism (opposition to and breach of the law) was actually the legalism that was darkening her understanding, dulling her senses, and destroying her affection for her heavenly Father.

…what the Serpent accomplished in Eve’s mind, affections, and will was a divorce between God’s revealed will and his gracious, generous character. Trust in him was transformed into suspicion of him by looking at the “naked law” rather than hearing “law from the gracious lips of the heavenly Father.”

…legalism and antinomianism are, in fact, nonidentical twins that emerge from the same womb.

…legalism and antinomianism seem to be simple opposites–all that is needed, it seems, is right doctrine. But the more basic issue is: How do I think about God, and what instincts and dispositions and affections toward him does this evoke in me?

It cannot be too strongly emphasized, therefore, that everyone is a legalist at heart. Indeed, if anything, that is the more evident in antinomians.

-Sinclair Ferguson, The Whole Christ

Let the Christian remain in the world

The value of the secular calling for the Christian is that it provides an opportunity of living the Christian life with the support of God’s grace, and of engaging more vigorously in the assault on the world and everything that it stands for.

Let the Christian remain in the world, not because of the good gifts of creation, nor because of his responsibility for the course of the world, but for the sake of the Body of the incarnate Christ and for the sake of the Church. Let him remain in the world to engage in frontal assault on it, and let him live the life of his secular calling in order to show himself as a stranger in this world all the more. But that is only possible if we are visible members of the Church. The antithesis between the world and the Church must be borne out in the world. That was the purpose of the incarnation. That is why Christ died among his enemies. That is the reason and the only reason why the slave must remain a slave and the Christian remain subject to the powers that be.

This is exactly the conclusion Luther reached with regard to the Christian’s secular calling during those critical years when he was turning his back on the cloister. It was not so much the lofty standards of monasticism that he repudiated, as their interpretation in terms of individual achievement. It was not otherworldliness as such that he attacked, but the perversion of otherworldliness into a subtle kind of “spiritual” worldliness. To Luther’s mind that was a most insidious perversion of the gospel. The otherworldliness of the Christian life ought, Luther concluded, to be manifested in the very midst of the world, in the Christian community and in its daily life. Hence the Christian’s task is to live out that life in terms of his secular calling. That is the way to die unto the world. The value of the secular calling for the Christian is that it provides an opportunity of living the Christian life with the support of God’s grace, and of engaging more vigorously in the assault on the world and everything that it stands for.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Visible Community”, The Cost of Discipleship

Mini-musings: parenting books

I’m no connoisseur of parenting books but I’ve read a few. Here are some random thoughts.

I’m no connoisseur of parenting books but I’ve read a few. Some random thoughts:

  1. No one book has the corner on parenting wisdom. The only Father who could provide the definitive parenting manual didn’t and I doubt anyone else can.
  2. I’ve yet to find a “rosetta stone” in print for even one of my kids let alone all six. No one has kids just like mine so how could they have all the answers I’m looking for? 
  3. I can’t remember any specific tips or actionable intelligence from the books I’ve read. What I do remember is much more broad–a general perspective or overall philosophy which may/may not be helpful.
  4. What my wife and I learn outside of the books is greater than what we’ve learned inside of the books. For better or worse, our parents and our own experience have been the richest parenting guides.
  5. A renewed emphasis on the centrality of gospel & grace, while helpful, sometimes leaves the impression that law & discipline aren’t essential for Christ-like parenting. The only perfect father on record gave his children laws for their benefit (Psa 19:7ff; Gal 3:24).

‘God gave them up’ is not a passive statement

Our plight is more hopeless than we dare to imagine. Judgment isn’t on the distant horizon; our judgment has already begun.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity… Rom 1:24 {ESV}

Before his grand unveiling of the gospel, Paul must set the stage for the presentation. The setting is bleak to say the least.

Mankind is characterized by truth suppression on a massive scale. He denies the undeniable–that he owes his existence to a Creator–and by self-delusion he worships creaturely things as if they are worthy of honor (Rom 1:18-24).

But suppression and delusion isn’t just done in sin, it’s done for sin. After all, if I make the god I also make the rules.

As a result, God “gave them up/hands them over” to the very impurity and passions they seek. But what does it mean for God to hand over?

For some time now I assumed a passive interpretation. That “hand over” implies “let go.” But as Doug Moo explains in his commentary on Romans, a passive interpretation isn’t the best interpretation for the following reasons:

  1. Paul’s use of “hand over” has its roots in the OT where God is said to “hand over” Israel’s enemies (or vice versa) to be defeated in battle (Exod 23:31; Deut 7:23).
  2. the Greek verb for “hand over” is used in an active sense in the NT in a variety of ways: handing over things to people (1Cor 13:3), handing over people into judicial custody (Mat 26:15), handing over Christian tradition (1Cor 15:3)

That said, when Paul says that God “handed them over” his language signifies an act of divine judgment not a mere withdrawal of divine influence (i.e. no longer preventing or restraining man’s sin). Illustratively, Moo concludes :

. . . the meaning of “hand over” demands that we give God a more active role as the initiator of the process. God does not simply let the boat go — he gives it a push downstream. Like a judge who hands over a prisoner to the punishment his crime has earned, God hands over the sinner to the terrible cycle of ever-increasing sin. [emphasis added]

All of this is in keeping with what we find on the lips of Jesus & John the Baptist:

“He who believes in [the Son] is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” (Jn 3:18-19)

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”(Jn 3:36)

Our plight is more hopeless than we dare to imagine. Judgment isn’t on the distant horizon; our judgment has already begun. There’s no avoiding judgment because we’re already in it. But what if the same God who handed us over would hand over someone else in our place?

That would be good news.

Romans 8:32-33   He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

 

Devotional books

Following up on the previous post, if you’re looking for some devotional material to go along with you Bible reading I have two recommendations:

  • The Valley of Vision (Arthur Bennett) is a collection of prayers drawn from Puritan writings. The prayers have no dates assigned to them (i.e. no reading plan) & you won’t find any Scripture references–they supplement your Bible reading. The entries are brief but unbelievably rich. I’ve found these readings very profitable when I’m feeling dry or in need of a spiritual jump-start.

 

  • For the Love of God (D. A. Carson, 2 vols) offers a systematic reading plan through the Bible. The reading schedule is more ambitious than the all too common verse-a-day devotionals. If you keep to the reading plan you would read through the NT and Psalms twice and the rest of OT once–you can do it in one year (2chpt/day) or two (4chpts/day). Each day’s reading has one page of “commentary” from Carson that seeks to provide “a framework for what the Bible says.” [This content is also offered free online as a blog.]

Hope you find this helpful. Feel free to comment with your own recommendations.

About the previous post…

{Note to self: Firing off a one-and-done post on a heated debate needs to include some sort of statement clarifying the intentions/thoughts behind said post.}

Just to clarify:

1) Christian celibacy is to be celebrated. I wish all single Christians, regardless of sexual orientation, would practice celibacy in the absence of marriage.

2) The Church has no caste system. Those who battle homosexual desires are not lesser Christians, and same-sex attraction will be a lifelong struggle for some Christians.

3) Scripture never identifies the Christian by inordinate desires and/or “besetting sins.” In fact, the biblical witness consistently stresses the Christian’s identity is found “in Christ” (not in the flesh).

The previous post didn’t mean to denigrate a legitimate struggle (i.e. same-sex attraction, homosexual desires). It does, however, question the legitimacy of elevating any struggle to identity status.

In short, I’m just not convinced that the human condition has changed so much over two millennia that the Church now needs a taxonomy of the saints.

Too weak and fuddled to shake off Nothing

The Christians describe the Enemy as one ‘without whom Nothing is strong’. And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.

. . . It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing.

-C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters