Monday, May 30, 2011

What would Jesus protest?

I was reading about that horrible cult led by Fred Phelps. I am truly repulsed by this man, and ashamed at the reproach he has brought to the name of Christ.  (It's one thing to be a sick, hateful jerk, it's another to be a sick, hateful jerk and claim that Jesus made you do it.)  I hate that people look as his brand of vitriol and associate it in any way with my Savior.  I hate that this "preacher" takes verses from the Holy Scriptures and misuses them.  It makes me ill.

I know we are called to evangelize.  But when I read the Scriptures, especially the words of Christ, I hear a different command than the one Fred Phelps is hearing (which is, apparently, "insult folks into the kingdom").  I read the words of my Master and hear that I am to share the Good News.  I hear that I am to share a message of reconciliation between an unrighteous sinner and a Holy God.

I understand that people must repent and realize their sin before they can be reconciled.  I reject the watered down self-help gospel that does not require repentence.  But I fail to see how calling names and claiming every bad thing that happens to America is a divine judgment is evangelism.  Is this man making converts?  Are sinners being reconciled with their God through his teachings?

Now I realize the Mr. Phelps is a pretty extreme example of a Christian picketer.  I realize there are many others who have picketed at Pride parades and abortion clinics and other places who do not hold to the vile teachings of Mr. Phelps.

But I still wonder what Jesus would picket.  I wonder if He would be standing anywhere holding a sign of condemnation.  And if He did, wouldn't it be in front of a "church" like Mr. Phelps'?  In the Gospels Jesus saved His most scathing criticism for self-righteous religious folks. To the sinner He reached out with salvation, to those who thought themselves righteous He lashed out with condemnation.

If the Church is truly the hands and feet of Christ, shouldn't we be reaching out, promoting reconciliation and healing?  Shouldn't we be bringing people to the Savior so He can restore shalom (wholeness) to their lives?  Isn't the Good News more than just a judgment or a "don't" list?   Have picket signs ever caused a sinner to turn, or do they simply strengthen the resolve of the foolish to continue on their merry way towards destruction?

I understand that we cannot stand for sin in our own lives, but isn't the Church most effective when we allow God to cleanse us first and then reach down into the pit and help folks up?   I realize that the Cross is a stumbling block and the ways of God seem foolish to man, but can we let the Cross be offensive enough without adding the shame of our own nasty, hateful behavior? 

I am not saying that we should be soft on sin.  I am not saying we should lie about things that offend God.  I am not proposing that we seek to please people with our words instead of Christ, or that we should allow our feelings to dictate our stance on subjects of morality.  But I am saying we should clean house first.  Focus on our own hearts and our own sin.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Called to judge?

So apparently I'm becoming adept at stirring the pot.

My last post led to a 75 comment long stream on Facebook.  Some folks really agreed with me,  while others adamantly defended the Pearls.  Some folks called me judgmental and called into question my behavior as a Christian.  

So my question here is, are we allowed to judge as Christians?  When?  Why?  Are there limits?

Nearly everyone is familiar with Matthew 7:1, "Judge not, or you will be judged,"  Offer an opinion on nearly anything that someone else doesn't like and you will be smacked in the face with this verse.  But what does it really mean?

If we continue down the passage we read, " For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?   How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?   You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."   A companion verse is Luke 6:37, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven."

Reading these, and knowing what my Savior said to the hypocritical, hyper-judgmental religious leaders of the day, it is easy to see that we are not to judge other people.  I am not to look at another person's heart and condemn them.  I should follow Jesus' teachings and treat others the way I would like to be treated,  forgiving them as I would like to be forgiven.  We know from the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:21-35), that it angers God greatly when we, who have been forgiven an unpayable debt, hold others accountable for the comparatively small offenses they have committed. 

So it seems pretty obvious that we must develop a policy of charity towards others since we desire charity for ourselves.

But the issue becomes more murky when we start talking about behaviors and teachings. 

Pope John Paul wrote that Adam and Eve mistakenly thought that they could choose right and wrong.  In reality, God alone can determine if something is right or wrong, good or evil.  We only get to choose which side we will stand on (Josh 24:15,  Matt 12:30.)   Will we agree with God or pretend that we get to determine what is sin?  It's a form of idolatry, really - enshrining one's own self and one's own opinion greater than God's.  Because when we refuse to agree with God and call sin sin, we are really telling Him that we could do a better job - that our judgment is better than His. 

So, for example, when we call abortion a sin, we are not being judgmental in a way prohibited by Scripture.  Instead, we are siding with God, who hates murder and the shedding of innocent blood (Prov. 6:17, Ex. 20:30).  I am not judging a woman's heart when I say that abortion is sinful.  I am agreeing with God, who creates life and despises the killing of innocents.   To say otherwise would be to tell God that I have better judgment than He does.  (I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that's a bad idea.)

Teaching is a whole 'nother ball of wax.  Teachers are held to a very high standard of accuracy and faithfulness to the Gospel (Titus 1:9 and 2:1, Gal. 1:6-9).   We are repeatedly admonished to evaluate teachings to make sure they line up with the Gospel (Acts 17:11).  We should endeavor to separate our feelings about a teacher as person from our evaluation of their message.

I am sure the Pearls are kind and meek.  My husband greatly enjoyed his time with the couple and was very blessed when Debi watched his movie and gave him a review. But I have a duty to separate those warm feelings from an honest evaluation of their teachings in light of revealed Biblical truth.  And I find the books lacking in the Spirit of grace that I see the Bible.  I also find them to be full of judgments and Law that will not bring life, but bondage.

I do not believe I am sinning in judging or evaluating the teachings of the Pearls.  I have not judged their hearts, after all, I have simply judged the teachings that they have presented to the body of Christ.  I would argue that not only is this an allowable practice, but an essential and beneficial habit for a maturing believer.

PS:  I should add that the teacher's platform matters as well.  The Pearls have presented themselves as Biblical child-rearing experts.  This means they must be evaluated using stricter standards than someone who is just sharing informally about their parenting philosophy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

REAL parenting joy

So yesterday I shared my reservations about GKGW.  Thank you for your comments.  I realize that many loving parents do use Babywise and don't sabotage their milk supply.  I realize that doing GKGW doesn't mean your baby will scream in his crib for an hour until he vomits.  Many caring parents use Babywise with common sense and do just fine.  I thank those parents for extending grace to me when I say that it did not work for us.

And now I'm on to another Christian parenting book that is popular in my circle.  No Greater Joy Ministries, a fundamentalist Christian ministry that puts out several popular parenting and marriage books.  I have read To Train Up A Child No Greater Joy (Vol. 1-3), Rebekah's Diary, and Created To Be His Helpmeet.   They were all interesting reads, and did contain nuggets of helpful truth.  But in the end, I cannot recommend them.  My husband always encourages me to chew up the grain and spit out the straw, but at some point the grain-to-straw ratio becomes unpalatable.  And the poisonous nature of some specific straw (is my metaphor breaking down here?) makes it dangerous to ingest.  (Just ask the two children who died because of its teachings.)

Let me explain.

My husband has dined with Michael and Debbie Pearl and says that they are kind, meek, loving people.  I have some issues with their doctrines (KJV only, water baptism only, sinless perfection, etc), but I don't doubt that they genuinely love Jesus and desire to strengthen families.  What I do doubt is their method and their general feelings about child-parent relations.

The Pearls say that their methods will work 100% of the time.  If you end a spanking before you have achieved 100% outward submission and repentance in your child, you have failed.  Which will make it even harder to break your child the next time.  If your child flees from you, you should stalk them, hold them down and beat them.  When you are spanking them, you should act like it's a big joke and pretend you have lost count of how many licks you have given and jest that you must start over.  You should wear your switch around your neck so your children are always reminded of your authority.   BUT, if you are steadfast and continue to whip your child until they repent, every single time they disobey, with utter impunity (and a smile on your face!) you will have completely happy and obedient children. 

Most rational, thinking, loving people can read that and realize it is a load of hogwash (not to mention disgusting!).  There is NO guarantee of a perfect outcome.  God has disobedient children, who am I to think that I am a better parent than He?  What we must do is PRAY!  Often and in earnest!  Ask the Lord what we should do and teach our children the Word from an early age.

But there are folks out there who do not have this common sense check in their spirits.  Well-meaning, Christian folks who read these books and fall under a load of condemnation for their children's faults.  Who read these books and think, "If I just spank more/harder/more consistently......if I just break my child's will....then I will have an absolute guarantee of their success!"  And so they throw rational thinking to the wind and end up with dead children.

I understand the draw of a guarantee, but as attractive as that thought is, there is no biblical precedent for this.  Instead we must draw near to God in faith and work with Him to train our children and LOVE them into the kingdom.

In addition to the sickening descriptions of spankings in the book,  the entire premise of the parent-child dynamic seemed off to me.  It, and books like it, seem to promote a ruler-serf mentality with children and parents.  I am no permissive parent, and firmly believe that this is the time to be my child's parent - friendship will come later.  However, I see no reason to be my child's adversary.  I want to be his coach, his teacher, his cheerleader.  The Bible says we are co-heirs with Christ.  We are growing in grace and wisdom together and I see no reason to assume antagonism between my children and myself.   Yes, there are times when they must submit to my leadership as the mother of the home.  But they are also my brothers and sisters in Christ, and we, as a family unit, are trying to follow hard after Him. 

I didn't want to write this.  I had read parts of the Pearl's books and liked them.  But when you know better, you do better.  And I know better now.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Baby Unwise

I've really been enjoying Three Moms and a Podcast, a podcast where my friend Kaysie and two of her buds dish about different mothering issues.  A few weeks ago they talked about the-book-that-shall-not-be-named (aka, Babywise), and I've had a lot of thoughts rolling around in my head regarding GKGW and programs of its kind.

I've mentioned it before, but when Nate was born, I thought this book was gold.  We followed it like it was child-rearing manna from Heaven.  Sure enough, he slept through the night by 8 wks, even though he was 4 wks early.  But at a very high price - his early sleeping habits, coupled with scheduled feedings during the day and a full-time night shift work schedule, cost me my milk supply.  By 5 months it had disappeared. 

We used the program again with Susannah.  And by 6 months I was struggling again.  I managed to make it to 9 months, supplementing heavily with formula, when I became pregnant with Abigail.  I tried nursing her while pregnant but she was no longer interested. 

Abigail's time at the breast started roughly.  She was born 7 wks early and was only 4 lb 7 oz when we brought her home from the NICU.  She never latched well and by 12 wks she'd weaned completely.

With Luke I was determined to do something different.  I knew that God had made me to nurse.  I had sweet toothless babies and breasts to feed them, but for some reason "God's way" wasn't cutting it.  I was drying up far before it was time for weaning.  So I went to a breastfeeding support group as soon as Luke arrived.  At first I was skeptical.  All these hippie ladies sitting in a room with nursing toddlers kind of scared me.  And when I mentioned how I didn't know how to boost my supply while doing Babywise, a hush fell across the room.

"You know," the lactation consultant (now my dear friend, Mellanie) said, "your baby didn't come with those instructions imprinted on him.  He just knows he's hungry."  I immediately went on alert.  I knew about those no-schedule, family-bed marsupial parents.  I'd been warned about them in my GKGW class.

But I kept coming back.  And I saw that these ladies really loved their kids too.  And many of them loved Jesus as well.  And that GKGW wasn't God's way.  It was a way that some Christians raise their children.  And while it wasn't wrong in and of itself, neither was it right or holy or somehow perfect. 

And I threw out the book.  I still kept the basic routine of eat-play-sleep, but I let Luke set his own schedule.  And he nursed past a year, almost all the way through my pregnancy with Gabriel.   Gabriel, too, nursed for over a year and my supply was plentiful.  Leah Claire is 8 months old.  She still wakes a couple times a night, but she's exclusively breastfed and happy.  My supply is abundant and since we cosleep it's not a big deal to drowsily nurse her in the night.  (Frankly, with the noise and craziness of our daytimes, it's a special time for the two of us).

My point is not that Babywise is one hundred percent wrong, though I do have serious caveats about a book that undermines natural milk production and made me numb my soul to my maternal instinct to comfort my child.  My point is that it is not God's way.  Neither is Sears', or Pantley's, or anyone else.

When we were born again, God filled us with the Holy Spirit.  As we became mothers, that same Holy Spirit empowered us to mother our children.  We must listen to the still, small Voice of the Father and ask Him how we should mother, not some silly book.  We should rely on the natural instincts that our Creator gave us to care for our little ones.  And we should pray, often and earnestly, that He would fill us to overflowing with knowledge and wisdom to raise our children in the way that they should be raised (this may come as a shock to you, but not all kids are the same - my kids might have different needs than yours.  That's why an omniscient God gave them to me!).

So let's give each other grace.  I won't call my way perfect or anoint it with the "God's way" moniker if you will do likewise.  Let's pray and support and encourage each other to seek the Father about raising all our kids to follow Him all the days of their lives.

Stay tuned - tomorrow I'll tackle No Greater Joy.  

(PS, thank you to my sisters for not punching me out, in Christian love, when I repeatedly gave them copies of the book.  You know, back when I thought it was God's way.)

(PPS, now I'M the hippie, co-sleeping marsupial mom)

Monday, May 09, 2011

Inspired to Action: Maximize Your Mornings.

So, I'm realizing that I fritter away half the day by being unprepared.  I don't have all my lessons planned.  I don't have the kids' chores planned.  I haven't had my quiet time.  I haven't exercised.  I haven't prayed.  And I spend half the day playing catch up and becoming emotionally and mentally exhausted because I'm trying to figure out what I need to do while I'm trying to do it.

So I'm committing to change.  I'm committing to get up early.  6:30.  And spend 1 hr praying, running and planning before the kids wake up.  I'm participating in the Maximize Your Mornings challenge .   I hope you will consider doing it too.