Should We Call Our Children Bad?

I’ve read countless articles and heard several well-meaning friends and family advising that parents should never call their children “bad.” Whether we admit it or not, we sometimes say it to our children especially when frustration sets in. Sleep-deprived parents of hyperactive toddlers know it too well. Yet parenting experts say that calling children “bad” will give them a bad rap. And when they hear it long enough, they will eventually believe it to be so about themselves.

Why are these parenting gurus so worried about children regarding themselves as “bad” persons? The alternative, they say, is to tell children that they have not been good. Therefore, the aim is to “be good” and “do good” because, after all, we are good people; and that is the mindset that we would like to protect and preserve at all costs.

Photo taken from American Red Cross IL

The concept of man born as “good,” which is largely Confucian and theologically Pelagian at heart, has clouded the minds of parents and has created confusion in the hearts of our children. This view has so infiltrated mainstream parenting and has crept into Christian circles unawares.

Why is that so? Because the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ has been predominantly missing in our churches. What is taught in the walls of present-day churches isn’t that Jesus was born to save sinners from sin and misery through his suffering and perfect obedience, but moralism. It’s the be-good-do-good model that Huffington-Post-esque articles call us to emulate.

Sociologist Christian Smith coined the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and identifies this as the belief system held by a majority of American teenagers:

  1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about one- self.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when he is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Because of this pervading moralistic orientation, even Christian parents are driven to believe that the aim is to affect behavioral change, i.e. do-good-be-good. But there can be no real change, unless the heart is transformed. The only way the heart can be transformed is through the miraculous work of regeneration by the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus.

The problem then is not whether or not we call our children “bad” per se. The issue at hand is whether or not we realise the sort of worldview we are passing on to our children with the secular parenting influences we carry. There is a huge disconnect in what the Scriptures require of us and the way we live out its implications simply because we have not been hearing the Gospel all along.

As Christian parents, how do we apply the implications of the Gospel in the way we raise our children? How do we impart the truths of Scripture without invoking anger in our children? How do we lovingly instruct them, that in fact, we are all evil, born in sin, having no desire for truth within (cf. Psalm 51:5), without scarring them for life?

9781433520099Elyse Fitzpatrick has summed this up in her book, Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus, quite well:

Every way we try to make our kids good that isn’t rooted in the good news of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ is damnable, crushing, despair-breeding, Pharisee-producing law. We won’t get the results we want from the law. We’ll get either shallow self-righteousness or blazing rebellion or both (frequently from the same kid on the same day!). We’ll get moralistic kids who are cold and hypocritical and who look down on others (and could easily become Mormons), or you’ll get teens who are rebellious and self-indulgent and who can’t wait to get out of the house. We have to remember that in the life of our unregenerate children, the law is given for one reason only: to crush their self-confidence and drive them to Christ…

Most of us are painfully aware that we’re not perfect parents. We’re also deeply grieved that we don’t have perfect kids. But the remedy to our mutual imperfections isn’t more law, even if it seems to produce tidy or polite children. Christian children (and their parents) don’t need to learn to be “nice.” They need death and resurrection and a Savior who has gone before them as a faithful high priest, who was a child himself, and who lived and died perfectly in their place. They need a Savior who extends the offer of complete forgiveness, total righteousness, and indissoluble adoption to all who will believe. This is the message we all need. We need the gospel of grace and the grace of the gospel. Children can’t use the law any more than we can, because they will respond to it the same way we do. They’ll ignore it or bend it or obey it outwardly for selfish purposes, but this one thing is certain: they won’t obey it from the heart, because they can’t. That’s why Jesus had to die.

Sinful hearts need Jesus. Our children need Jesus. And so do we.

Celebrating Advent at Home

The Advent Wreath

We celebrated the First Sunday of Advent last Sunday at church. My husband, who is also the lead pastor began by saying, “Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world;
 the one who follows me will not walk in darkness but have the light of life.’ We light this candle as a sign of the coming light of Christ… The Advent wreath is a circle with no beginning and no end. 
It is a symbol of God’s unending love and faithfulness.” At the end of the candle lighting, the congregation responded with, “Come, Lord Jesus, our light and our salvation. 
Let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

Advent at Pilgrim

Advent Wreath at Pilgrim Community Church

For three consecutive years now, the lighting of candles during our worship have been part our tradition ever since we started our Advent preview services last December in 2012. The lighting of Advent candles for four Sundays leading up to December 25 or Christmas Day, visually depict the longing we have for the coming Christ, who is the Light of the World. Advent simply means “coming”.

First Peter 1:10-12 is a clear description of what we look back to during Advent. For four weeks, it’s as if we’re reenacting, remembering the thousands of years during which God’s people were anticipating and longing for the coming of God’s salvation, for Jesus… Even God’s men who foretold the grace that was to come didn’t know “what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating” (v. 11). They were waiting, but they didn’t know what God’s salvation would look like…

We Christians on this side of Jesus’ birth are a God-blessed, happy people because we know God’s plan. The centuries of waiting are over. We have the greatest reason to celebrate.

Our spiritual redemption came to us with the baby of Bethlehem. Nonetheless, as Romans 8 says, “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemp- tion of our bodies” (v. 23). There is suffering and tragedy still, even for Christians. Someone we love is dying. We may be in pain. Sometimes we have trouble believing God’s promises. In other words, our redemption is not complete. We are waiting for the redemption of our bodies—waiting for Jesus’ second advent, for him to come again.

So here we stand in the middle. Advent is a season of looking back, thinking how it must have been, waiting for the promised salvation of God, not knowing what to expect. And at the same time, Advent is a season of looking ahead, preparing ourselves to meet Jesus at his Second Coming.

–Noël Piper, Treasuring God in Our Traditions, 77-78.

J and I managed to bring the tradition of the Advent wreath and candles to our home even before our little one was born. The Christmas season has been too commercialized, that much of the themes surrounding the celebrations have nothing to do at all with the incarnation of Christ. So we’re extremely careful about the holiday decors we display.

Advent Calendar

The first time I saw an Advent Calendar was at our German professor’s home while I was at seminary back in 2006. I had the privilege of being part of his Care Group, and was asked to babysit three of his kids for one night, as he and his wife attended a Christmas celebration at the German embassy. Continue reading

Our Favorite Baby/Toddler Books

Not a lot of people know that we had a “no screen time” policy during our little one’s first year of life. K started watching TV only in the recent months, but we still limit it to a few minutes per week. It is not merely the ill effects of media exposure to young children, but my husband and I really want K to enjoy playing without any frills. We also want to actively instil the love of books and learning to her at a young age. Toys get old really fast. But books, they’re a different story. Books take you to different places and they stay with you forever.

We are fortunate enough to live so close to a bookstore. So during some afternoons, K and I would take a walk and drop by the bookstore to scout for some new drop-ins. She absolutely loves those visits!

I get asked by friends, on a few occasions now, if I had any book recommendations for babies and young toddlers. We love the classics, and thankfully, K enjoys them as well. So here are our favorites, with some old, and some new…

Continue reading