Gospel-Drenched Discipline

Gospel-Drenched Discipline

If I’m going to be completely honest (which I recommend I should) then I have to admit that it happened on accident. Our son is nearly three years old. For the last year, we have put him in timeout when he doesn’t obey or listen. The typical scenario looks like us telling him something, him not listening, us getting his attention and telling him again, him not obeying, us encouraging him to obey, him not obeying, us warning him of discipline if he doesn’t obey, him not obeying and then us putting him into time out. Timeout meant that he sat facing the wall for 2 or so minutes until we would come back to him and say, “OK Asa, timeout is over. Let’s talk.”

The rub came the day that Asa responded to “Timeout is over” with “No, me stay in timeout.”

“Uh, what do we do now?” I said to Tish with a confused look on my face. How is timeout effective if our son wants to stay in timeout?

This happened a few times and we wondered what route to take. One day Asa’s Apraxia Therapist explained to us that children with Apraxia often benefit from time to sit and think on their own and that when given that time, they respond well.

So we decided to change up our timeout approach and try it out. The next time Asa needed a timeout I said, “Asa, you are not obeying so there is discipline. You are going to timeout. But listen bud, whenever you are ready to obey daddy, then you can come out of time out and tell me. When you do, I’ll be here with a hug and a kiss and timeout will be over. OK?”

I sat him in that corner and I walked about 10 feet away to do what I was doing. About 30 seconds later Asa says, “Daddy, me all done now.” “Ok bud, come here!” And I held out my arms to receive him with a smile on my face. He jumped up and ran to me with a smile and we talked about how he needs to obey and then we did what we were supposed to do in the first place.

The next day I had to put Asa in timeout again, this time he took over 3 minutes before saying, “Daddy, me all done now.” But he said it and we reunited in a joyous hug.

That’s when it hit me. This accidentally discovered way of discipline was so gospel-drenched that I could hardly contain myself.

When God’s children disobey, their sin does separate them from their Father. Not in a way of justification, they are still his children. But in a way of discipline. The Father disciplines those he loves. Yet, the Father doesn’t sit his children in timeout and say, “I’ll be back in 2.5 minutes to get you.” Rather, the father stands, looking out over the horizon for his son and his daughter to come running home and when they do, he runs to meet them, with arms open and face aglow. He welcomes them with a hug and kiss, and the relationship is reconciled unconditionally. We see this in the story of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32).

The way we discipline our children matters. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to use our parenting as a means by which to implant the seed of the gospel deep into the heart of our children. Do not let your moments of discipline be separated from this gospel-proclaiming responsibility. Take the opportunity to think through how you discipline and how you restore your child.

There is a puddle of gospel truth dripping from rightly administered discipline. Let’s splash in that puddle with our kids.

Note: This post does not intend to persuade you to do timeout exactly like we do, rather, it is intended to help you intentionally think through how you discipline and restore within your family.

3 Standards for Faithful Counseling

3 Standards for Faithful Counseling

I have often compared my natural counseling ability (or should I say, desire) to the Geico commercial with the former drill sergeant throwing a tissue box at the client on his couch. You may be thinking, “Wow, that is a terrible attitude for a pastor to have.” And I would agree with you. That is why I said, “my natural counseling ability (or desire).”

In God’s grace, he called me to pastor a church. You cannot pastor and ignore the responsibility to counsel the people of God. The very nature of shepherding is one of gently leading the people, and this often takes place in one-on-one or group settings of counseling through decisions, grief, doubt, depression, fear and restoration from sin in a pursuit of holiness. By nature of my calling I have had to embrace counseling others and have, through much prayer, come to enjoy meeting with the people God has sent to my church to shepherd.

It is truly a joy to sit in a room and walk with God’s people through counseling.

My calling as a pastor is not the only way God has warmed my heart to counseling. He has also allowed me to find much understanding of, victory over and healing from my own sin and sin done towards me through counseling. Lastly, God allowed me to marry a woman who is now a counselor. Every week she sits with around 20 people (some who are followers of Jesus and some who are not) and she helps them understand, overcome and find healing through the power of the gospel as well.

Because of these three situations (being a pastor, having gone to counseling and being married to a counselor) I am often asked who I would recommend as a counselor or what kind of counseling I would recommend.

There are three standards that I look for in a counselor in order to ensure that the counseling experience is both faithful and truly helpful.

The first two standards are essential in all counseling relationships and situations. The last one is essential for some counseling situations.

Biblically Saturated
As a pastor, I know that ultimately my wisdom and my words are flawed. On any given day I can give terrible counsel. I also know that my words are never authoritative. However, as a believer in the inherent, infallible, and authoritative Word of God, I can trust what scripture says to speak to the sin, hurt, and brokenness of any person on any occasion. The Bible does not give bad advice. It never counsels poorly. Therefore I believe that if a counseling session is to be faithful and truly helpful it must be saturated in scripture.

Note: Just because scripture is used in a counseling session does not mean that scripture has been used rightly. I’ve heard far too many people use scripture out of context, twist the meaning and wrongly apply it which can cause more damage than good. Therefore, one must be a true student of the scriptures in order to rightly apply the scriptures to the counseling situation. I support rightly interpreted and rightly applied scriptures in counseling.

Gospel Centered

All counseling needs are in response to the brokenness caused by sin in our lives. Sometimes that sin is our own and sometimes that sin is that of another, but there will never be a counseling topic that is not the result of sin. Before sin there was no need for counseling. Before sin there was no judgement, no abuse, no violence, no harassment, no abandonment, no selfishness, no trauma, no death, and no shame. Adam and Eve had no marital conflict before sin. Sin is the cause of all brokenness and hurt in our world.

Therefore, the only answer to any and every counseling need is the gospel. It is true that you can learn techniques to manage your stress and anxiety, and it is true that you can learn better communication and listening skills with your spouse, and it is also true that there are times someone may need medicine or another intervention to bring stability in order to further deal with the brokenness that is present. However, one should never look to medicine, communication skills, stress releasing techniques or similar treatments as the answer for the counseling need. These are only tools which help to manage symptoms while the cure is being applied to the root of the issue; sin.

Ultimately the gospel must be applied to the life of the client in order to heal the root and bring eternal change. Therefore, I believe that in order for a counseling session to be faithful and truly helpful it must be gospel centered.

Note: If there was no need of counseling before sin, then there will be no need of counseling after Jesus returns either for he will make all things new. There will be no more sin and without sin, there will be no more brokenness. Praise God my wife will have to change careers in eternity!

Professionally Equipped
I said that the first two standards are essential in all counseling settings. In other words, whether you are seeking counseling from a friend, a pastor or a professional counselor, I would suggest that you must find someone who is scripture saturated and gospel centered to encounter truly faithful and helpful counseling

I also said that the third standard is essential for some counseling situations.

There are some situations that I, as a pastor, am not fully equipped to speak into. Someone who has experienced extreme trauma (perhaps from war, sexual abuse, or a tragic death) will likely need someone more experienced and more equipped than I am to provide their counseling. There are counselors who are professionally equipped, whether that is through clinical counseling training or biblical counseling training, who better know how to listen for the right things, ask the right questions and apply the right treatment so that Bible saturated and gospel centered counseling can be applied to the heart of the person.

My wife has often said that her clinical training in counseling provides her the tools to apply the truth of the gospel to the deepest roots of the person rather than simply applying the gospel to the branches.

Therefore, I believe that for some counseling sessions to be faithful and truly helpful, the counselor should be professionally equipped to apply the gospel to the root of the need.

Note: I would caution against going to a professionally trained counselor who does not saturate their counseling in the truth of scripture and find the ultimate cure for all issues in the gospel. All the professional training in the world will not provide true life-change for the soul if it is separated from the truth of scripture and the life of the gospel.

Receiving Christmas

Receiving Christmas

I should have a trophy on my shelf that says, “Worlds Worst Waiter.” By “waiter” I don’t mean the person at the restaurant that brings your food. I was actually ridiculously good at that (and prideful about it). I’m referring to simply waiting in life. Patience is a virtue, and it’s a virtue that I have had to learn throughout life.

When I was a child we would spend Christmas Eve at my grandparents house every year. The tradition was that after dinner the entire family would crowd into my grandparents living room and grandma would crawl (quite literally some years) under the tree and get out the gifts to give to one person at a time. Three children, three spouses, and 8 grandkids meant this took forever to open your presents. So my cousin and I would “sneak” into the living room during dinner and get our presents out and hide them behind the chair we were going to sit by so we could open our presents quicker. No one was fooled. No sneaking had been accomplished. But we did get to cut down our waiting time.

One year we took this to the extreme. We found out presents wrapped in a bedroom closet at Thanksgiving. Like any seven year old boy, we thought we could open them, see what we got, and rewrap them unknown to others. So that’s what we did. 

We were incredibly surprised that Christmas Eve to be given all of our presents FIRST! Finally, everyone was getting with our plan. But when we opened them, they were all empty boxes. Every one of them. The last one with a note: “To little boys who peak.”

Now, we eventually received our gifts, but we also received a lesson that year. Waiting is not a bad thing.

But as I look back at my life, waiting wasn’t my worst skill — receiving was. I was worse at receiving than giving. I know this because I do not remember a single gift I ever received on Christmas Eve with my family. Not a single one. I do however, vividly remember that one gift that I did not get. A laser tag gun. All of my cousins had brothers to play with, so they got laser tag. I had a sister, and so laser tag eluded me that year, which meant that the remainder of Christmas Eve night and the rest of Christmas vacation, all of my cousins played laser tag while I watched.

I don’t remember a single gift I received, but I vividly remember that which I did not receive.

Unfortunately, many of us are bad receivers. For whatever reason, we do not recognize, appreciate and remember what God has given us. We don’t remember what he’s given us in our family, we don’t remember what he’s given us in our health, our jobs, or our friends. Most of all, many of us go day after day and year after year without truly remembering what we’ve received in Jesus.

As I studied Luke 2 this year, I saw 4 responses of a true receiver of God’s gift of Jesus. I hope that you’ll receive these and thus that your receiving of Jesus this Christmas (or whatever season you read this in) will be strengthened and you’ll find joy in God’s gift to you.

• Mary Received Jesus by Treasuring and Pondering upon him. (Luke 2:19)
• The Shepherds Received Jesus by Glorifying and Praising God for him (Luke 5:20)
• Simeon Received Jesus by being Content with whatever else he received (Luke 2:28-32)
• Anna Received Jesus by being Thankful and Declaring him to others (Luke 5:36-38)

May we be people who see Jesus as the greatest gift ever given and may our lives respond by; treasuring and pondering him, glorifying and praising him, becoming content in all other things, and by being overcome with thankfulness to the degree that we must declare him to others.

Let’s be good receivers of Christmas this season.

Rules of Life Part 1: Yearly

Rules of Life Part 1: Yearly

My family is not so different from yours. We are busy. I am a pastor. My wife is a counselor and though part-time, she sees around 20 clients a week right now and works 2.5 days including 2 nights until about 10 p.m. We have a daughter who is 18 and a high school senior. Everything that comes with senior year, jobs, and college prep is taking place there. We have a son who is three. Toddlers keep you busy enough, but Asa has also had extensive medical issues including Clubfoot and Apraxia which means there has seldom been a month in his life that we were not either at Children’s Mercy or Specialized Therapy 1-2 times a week. Our life is busy.

In the midst of this busyness, it was vitally important that we create rules of life to help guide us. These rules are based on convictions that we have biblically and personally for what life and family is to look like. They are rules built on those convictions with an end result in mind. The way in which these rules are practiced may change from season to season, but the rules remain because they are guide posts to help our family not get off course.

As we began to develop these rules, we crafted them into four focuses: yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily rules. Over the coming weeks, I’ll write on focused areas of rules in hopes that perhaps something of the gospel-intentionality we have learned may encourage your family to practice the intentionality of rules of life as well.

Note: We, in no way, feel as if we have figured this out or arrived. We do not expect anyone to do exactly what we do or how we do it. We do, however, want to encourage our readers to think intentionally about how you spend your days, weeks, months, and years to best declare and display the gospel within your family and to those outside your family.

A great resource if you are desiring to explore rules of life more is Crafting a Rule of Life by Stephen Macchia.

Yearly Rules of Life

Rules of life are intended to help our family be intentional in our gospel-fluency. Therefore when we think about yearly rules of life, we want to think about ways to build gospel conversation and gospel reflection into our yearly schedule. Some of our rules are original, and some we’ve learned from others. Here are a few of the rules we’ve built into our year.

Resurrection Rest

Easter is a busy day for pastors. Our churches often spend more time and energy on the Easter gathering than a typical weeks gathering because Easter is proven to be the most attended day of the year by those who are unchurched. Our church usually has a church-wide picnic that afternoon. So our families’ celebration of Easter begins with gathering with our church family that morning. Then we’ll go home and crash for a few hours that afternoon. Sunday night we’ll have a feast as a family and with friends. At this feast we will celebrate the bread of life that is our resurrected Jesus. The climax of Resurrection Rest, though, falls on the Monday after Easter. Easter Monday is a mandatory day of rest for our family. This means that we don’t work and we don’t go to school. We rest. Why? Because the gospel response to the resurrection is rest. Because our Jesus rose from the dead, he now sits at the right hand of God the Father making intercession on our behalf. Because he is making intercession on our behalf, we can rest for we need not try to earn a presence before our Father. It has been granted by the risen Son.

Family Vacation

Yes, even family vacation is a rule of life and it is gospel-opportunity. When we go on vacation as a family we get to teach our children the Biblical call to rest spiritually as well as the Biblical responsibility to care for our souls and our bodies through physical rest. Lastly, it helps us teach our children that you can worship our creator through enjoying the creation and life he has given us.

Fall Festival

At the beginning of Autumn, we take a weekend and celebrate our annual fall festival. My wife makes a feast including stew and home-made-bread. We celebrate the coming of death. Yes, the coming of death is something to be celebrated. As leaves and grass begin to die, Autumn gives way to the coming spring which will bring life. Death is not something to be feared, but embraced for through death comes life. This allows us to remember that as Christians we celebrate death. We celebrate the death because through his death, Christ purchased life for us. We celebrate death because through faith in Jesus we die and find life. This is demonstrated through baptism (buried with Christ and risen to new life). Lastly, we celebrate death because through Jesus we do not have to fear the end of our physical life, but can look forward to the day we pass from this life through death and into eternal life. We conclude this celebration by enjoying life on Saturday as we partake in the great pumpkin patch adventure.

Celebration of Light

We love to decorate our house for Christmas. My wife makes the inside of our home a peaceful winter-wonder land. We don’t just wake up one day and say, “Let’s decorate today.” Instead, we have the day on our calendar all year long. We look forward to that day. We decorate the house throughout the day but we refuse to turn on any Christmas lights throughout the day. As the kids (and parents) see the tree going up and the garland wrapping around the bannister, yet no lights come on, there is a growing anticipation of the coming light. We talk about how the people of Israel waited thousands of years for the coming light of the world. We talk about how we are no longer waiting for the light to come for Jesus was the light of the world and we now celebrate the light that has come while at the same time, awaiting the light that will come again. That night, after the house is decorated and ready, we order in the best pizza we can have delivered, we put on our pj’s, and we turn on the lights! Finally! The year-long anticipation that had built to a point of nearly uncontainable excitement had been worth it. The light is more beautiful and more peaceful than we thought. We sit and eat pizza and watch our first Christmas movie of the year as we enjoy the lights. 

What about your family? What are your yearly rules of life that help you to intentionally declare and display the gospel to your family?

Books I’m Reading in 2018: Part One

Books I’m Reading in 2018: Part One

Each year I will read between 30-45 books. Here are a few of the books that I am looking forward to reading in the first half of 2018. Some of these are re-reads for me and some are new reads.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles Than Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul Tripp

The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church by Timothy Witmer

Reformed Dogmatics: Abriged in One Volume by Herman Bavinck

Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray

Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation by Joel Beeke

Practicing the Power: Welcoming the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Your Life by Sam Storms

The Pastor’s Justification by Jared C. Wilson

Gospel Wakefulness by Jared C. Wilson

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