Matthew Hosier

Observations on Theology, Culture and the Hosier family

Thursday, 8 November 2012

PARENTING, PART 7


The gospel in the messiness of life
One of the best pieces of parenting advice I ever received was at a parenting seminar I attended as a youth worker before ever I had children. One of the elders of my church told parents at that seminar never to ignore the questions children ask because of embarrassment, but to always answer them and use them as an opportunity to apply the gospel. The example he gave was when walking down the street with his young daughter and seeing a page of a porn mag on the pavement. The natural parent reaction in such a circumstance is to walk quickly on and deflect any questions the child might ask – instead, the gospel thing to do is to listen to the child’s questions without embarrassment and then answer them in the light of the gospel.

It has been especially in the area of sex that Grace and I have found this to be the case. We live in a highly sexualised culture and this means we parents have to be ever-ready to bring gospel clarity to questions about sex. It means we have been far more frank and upfront with our kids at a younger age than I would have wanted to be, but this has been demanded of us because of the culture in which they are growing up – a culture in which they are surrounded by soft-porn on every advertising hording and store front; where many of their friends come from broken homes; and where some of their friends are growing up in homes with same-sex partnerships.

In a culture like this we should never flunk a question out of embarrassment. Instead we should use every opportunity to reinforce what the gospel teaches about the dignity of humans made in the image of God; about the sanctity and goodness of marriage, and of sex within marriage; about the reality and destructiveness of sin.

It’s not just sex of course – that’s just the obvious example. There is much about our society that is messy, but the gospel always has an answer for the mess, so we parents need to become skilled gospel preachers. We need to show our kids how the gospel offers a better way to live – not just a more moral way to live but a better way; one that is more satisfying, more joy-filled and more worthwhile.

In the end, that is what the gospel is all about: Life, and life in all its fullness!

Being clear about the gospel also helps resolve tricky decisions that parents have to make. For instance, our youngest daughter (aged 8) was this year asked to a Halloween party by a school friend – what were we to do? Of course, as Christians we are unenthusiastic about Halloween (and as a Brit I resent the import of another unwelcome American activity!) and our initial response was that she should not go. However, thinking it through some more we felt that it was ok for our daughter to go, and in the result we were glad she did.

How did the gospel influence this decision?
1. We knew that there was an ‘innocence’ about the party – it was just one of the mum’s organising a party for her daughter, not a coven! As gospel people we have a sense of proportion.
2. We knew we needn’t be fearful about occult influences on our child anyway, because “greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world.” As gospel people we are confident of God’s power at work in us.
3. We did not allow our daughter to dress as a witch. As gospel people we are free not to conform to the expectations of others.
4. Our value of relationships trumped our natural dislike of Halloween parties. As gospel people we work hard at building connections with others.

Grace went to the party along with our daughter and was glad we made the decision we did as it was an excellent point of connection with other mums and gave her some great opportunities to talk about parenting.

Similarly, we put pumpkins outside our front door (which we would do anyway at this time of year as we grow them to eat and they need to be dried off first) but we carve a cross rather than an ugly face. And we have sweets ready to give to trick or treaters, as they are mostly the children of our neighbours and we want to win them rather than alienate them.

So, approaching Halloween from a gospel perspective transforms it from being an evening to dread or hide away from, to something we can in some measure bring light to. Parenting involves making lots of decisions – let’s make them in response to the gospel!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

PARENTING, PART 6


Our families and God’s mission through the church
Some of the practical things Grace and I have found helpful in catching up our kids in this are:

Take children to prayer meetings
Often parents will use their children as an excuse not to go to prayer meetings (“Oh, I need to make sure little Jonny gets his sleep”). While we have worked hard at making sure our kids have sensible bedtimes, we have found it is worth sacrificing a bedtime every so often for the greater benefit of our children being part of a praying community. Having our kids at prayer meetings does them good, even if they are not fully engaged in the praying, it is good for them just to be there and observe adults praying, and so learn to pray. Also, it is good for the adults present – it encourages them and is a visual reminder that the church is an all-age family.

Practice hospitality
Our kids have grown up being very used to having lots of people through our house. While this can be demanding, it also has all kinds of benefits. It teaches the value of community and the priority of working out what it means to be part of a church. It teaches them to share and be generous – especially if our guests bring their own ‘demanding’ children with them. It gets them used to mixing with people of different ages and backgrounds, which in turn helps them grow in social confidence.

Teach them good manners
I find it disappointing if I visit a home with children in it who do not know how to greet a visitor or hold any kind of conversation. If I walk into a house and the kids stay glued to the TV or their video games and don’t make any effort to acknowledge my presence that is a sure indication that they are the real gods in that family. We need to teach our children to show respect to visitors, especially adult visitors. Basic politeness is a pretty basic part of Christian discipleship and is something all our children should be capable of, regardless of how shy or confident they may be. This politeness should then extend to things like being able to sit at a meal table properly. This is not just me being old fashioned – it is part of our families being welcoming places to the wider family.

Get them serving
Jesus is the ultimate model of what humanity is meant to look like, and Jesus came as a servant. For our children to embrace their humanity fully they need to learn how to serve, and the primary place of serving is in God’s house – the church. So as soon as you can, get them serving at church! Different churches will have different policies and opportunities for this, but there are many different ways our children can serve in church. My three oldest kids (15, 13 & 11) all serve practically on Sundays – welcome team, song projection, crèche. Get them doing it!

Encourage risk
One of the strongest natural impulses for parents is to say, “Be careful! Don’t do that!” Now, obviously we should not do things that deliberately endanger our children, but we need to train ourselves to encourage our children to take risks. Risk-free Christianity is no Christianity at all and if what we train our children in is nothing but caution it is unlikely that they will grow into adults who risk anything for the gospel. This may keep our families nice and cozy and safe, but it does nothing for Christ’s mission through his church.

As a father of girls I have worked hard at encouraging them to take physical risks. (The parents of boys will probably have to work at encouraging other kinds of risks!) I figure that if they have been encouraged to try climbing a tree they will be more likely to take a risk of faith when Jesus asks them to do something that doesn’t look “careful.”

And of course, as well as helping them get caught up in the mission of the church, kids that are not afraid to risk things, are well-mannered, helpful, and socially confident are much more likely to make a success of life generally then those molly-coddled and idolised kids from the family-as-god family.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

PARENTING, PART 5


The gospel rather than the god of family
The next parenting issue to consider looks very different from the previous one of our hyphenated sins. However, it is every bit as much an example of idolatry and the gospel challenges it just as strongly. This is the idolatry of family, where the family itself becomes god to us.

As gospel people we need to understand the primacy of the family of God over our flesh and blood families. The classic biblical example of this is found in Matthew 12:46-50:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

In this account we see Jesus placing a higher value on the church than on his immediate family. This is something that is then worked out through the rest of the New Testament story, both in the practical ways the early church was meant to function and in the apostolic teaching about our union with Christ and with one another. What this means for us is not that we should neglect our flesh and blood families (the Bible is clear in its warnings against that too) but that we shouldn’t make a god of our family and should set a high priority on our engagement with our spiritual family, through the local church.

What, then, are the danger signs that we are making our family into an idol? In practice we see this happening when everything revolves around the kids. This is not hard to spot – it is when your conversation is always about the children; it is when you do not attend church activities because the children have got other activities that you are taking them to; it is when all your hopes and fears seem bound up in your kids; it is when the whole of family life is organised around the desires and whims of the children; it is when the kids priorities dictate family priorities; it is when other people at church begin to assume you will say “no” to anything that might in any way impinge upon what your children want to do; it is when your Facebook status updates are normally about the kids. (Another top tip here: Don’t post about your kids achievements on Facebook. If your kids are doing better than your friends kids then it will only make your friends feel fed up; and if your kids achievements are not so impressive as those of your friends then they will feel smug. In both cases the sin of your friends hearts is being exposed, but you have a responsibility not to tempt them to sin!)

Here’s the thing, even if you are blind to it, your idolatry will be clear to others. Just ask them!

Instead of succumbing to this idolatry we should catch our kids up in God’s mission through the church. We should help them to see the priority and primacy of the church and the fact that while we will not always be part of our flesh and blood family, we will for all time be joined into Christ’s great family, through his flesh and blood.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

PARENTING, PART 4


The gospel rather than hyphenated sins

Being a parent is about dying to self. Children have a way of constantly intruding on our lives and in doing so expose the idols of our hearts. They make it very clear what our ‘hyphenated sins’ are – those things where we put ‘self-‘, ‘my-‘ or ‘me-‘ first. Things like these:
·       Time
·       Comfort
·       Energy
·       Respect
·       Money

Very often there will be sin in the actions of our children, but the reaction this provokes in us reveals much about the state of our own hearts. For example, if our kids constantly intrude upon ‘me-time’ there may be a discipline issue that needs to be worked on; but equally our own sin is being exposed if the reality is that we are making an idol out of having time to ourselves.

Our society very often views children as a lifestyle accessory. This is one of the reasons why people tend to delay having children to later in life than has historically been the case. We do this in order to do the things we want to do without kids ‘getting in the way’, which itself reveals the idolatry of self in our hearts. Then when we do have children we expect them to perfectly fit in with our will and wishes and to merely compliment our lifestyle choices. Instead, we find that children have a will and wishes of their own, and make all kinds of uncomfortable demands upon us. What we find is that being a parent is to be a servant, and we don’t like this!

This position of servanthood is merely an extension of what we experience in marriage, in which we are called to serve one another, “For better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer.” Sure, where our children are sinning we need to help them see their sin and find forgiveness in Jesus. We need to help them apply the gospel in their own lives. But the first thing to deal with is our own sin, our own idols.

So, which hyphenated sins are you prone to? And what does the gospel say in response?

Friday, 2 November 2012

PARENTING, PART 3


What does Christian parenting look like?
My practical parenting top tip is to build regular points of regularity into family life. This advice is good for all parents, Christian or not. In fact, lots of the practical parenting advice available is helpful, whether you are a believer or not. This is because parenting is simple, and a lot of it can be worked out by the application of simple common sense. It is a role God designed humans to be able to handle, not something this is alien to us. This being the case, what does specifically Christian parenting look like? In what ways is it different from any other kind of parenting?

The obvious distinctive of Christian parenting is the obvious distinctive of all Christian life – that we live by the gospel. This means we need to consistently trust Jesus as our Saviour and apply the demands and claims of the gospel to every circumstance; including parenting.

Parenting is a constant test of our commitment to the gospel as there are often occasions when we will be tempted to ‘fix’ things through other means, or to respond to challenges in a way that does not reflect the gospel. As Christian parents we need to live as those who have ‘come out of Egypt’ – we have been set free from slavery to sin and death and are to parent in the light of this. Fundamentally, this means that we are to worship Jesus and no other gods. The challenge of parenting is that we are presented with many idols which will demand our worship. Sometimes these idols are obvious, but often they are subtle, and we need to become adept at identifying them, in order that we might destroy them!

The gospel rather than idolatry
Think back to the question I asked earlier about what are currently your greatest parenting joys, challenges, hopes and fears. What does the gospel have to say to each of these things? One way to answer this question is to think about the sin potential for each, because each does hold the potential for sin. If we are to identify the sin we need to identify the idolatry that lies beneath it, and the gospel disbelief that underpins that. Then we can think about how the gospel can overcome our sin.

Here are some examples of what I mean…

Issue
Joy: Pride in a child’s accomplishments at school
Potential idolatry
Making the child an object of worship
Gospel disbelief
I don’t believe that no matter how my child performs I am counted as worthy by God.
I am looking for ‘salvation’ through people complimenting me on how talented my child is.
What part of the gospel do I need to believe?
That God’s grace is sufficient for me no matter how my child performs.
That Jesus is truly God and is to hold the centre of my affections.


Issue
Challenge: Child’s refusal to truly repent when they do something wrong
Potential idolatry
Maybe the need to always receive respect and be acknowledged as being in control
Gospel disbelief
I don’t believe that as a parent I am God’s representative – rather, I think I am God!
Or, maybe, I don’t believe that I am as bad as my child, and have been hugely forgiven by God, because if I did I might be more forgiving to my child.
What part of the gospel do I need to believe?
As someone who has received grace I need to give grace.
I need to believe that Jesus is ultimately in control, not me, and that he can be trusted.



Issue
Hope: That my child will ‘do well’ in life
Potential idolatry
Worldly success
Gospel disbelief
I don’t believe that true greatness is found in emulating the humility of Christ
What part of the gospel do I need to believe?
That there is a great and eternal reward for those who are faithful to Jesus, that far outweighs any earthly achievement – that Jesus truly is the pearl of great price.


Issue
Fear: My daughter will end up getting pregnant when she is a teenager
Potential idolatry
My need for social respectability
Gospel disbelief
I don’t believe that Jesus has dealt with all my shame at the cross and that no charge against me can stand
What part of the gospel do I need to believe?
Firstly, that there is no reason why my children are fated to make bad decisions, but that I can trust Jesus for my family.
Secondly, even if my kids do make bad decisions Jesus is not ashamed of me, but calls me his brother (Hbs 2:11)

Having seen my examples, do the same exercise yourself for your parenting joys, challenges, hopes and fears.