By / Dec 27

As children fill their time during Christmas break and are exposed to their friends’ new devices, many parents are thinking anew about the gaming and technology options for their kids and how the digital world is shaping them, for good or ill. Brent Dusing, founder and CEO of TruPlay, answers questions below that help Christian parents think through bringing video games into their homes.  

Jill Waggoner: How does time on devices affect kids?  

Brent Dusing: On average, children are on their screens for 52 hours a week. Anxiety, suicide, and depression rates are at all-time highs for kids, which mirrors the rise of social media. The average age of males exposed to pornography is 11. While 62% of Americans over 40 believe in God, only 33% of Gen Z (the youngest generational cohort) do. That is a crisis. And it all has to do with the messages and intake they’re getting on screens. 

Devices are mobile, and kids are everywhere with them, so parents have less and less oversight and input. Content can also be exposed to children from their friends. You might have your own household rules, but once your child gets on a school bus and goes to school, you have little to no control over what they see. Your kid could be over at a friend’s house or at a sports practice when they are exposed to inappropriate content from someone else.  

This should be a growing concern for parents, as children in today’s world spend more time online than ever before. In a survey of 1,600 U.S. teens and tweens conducted in May 2022 by The Institute for Family Studies and the Wheatley Institute, the data revealed that kids ages 11-18 play online for an average of 10 hours per day, not including watching television. When the content children are engaging with is not age-appropriate or safe for their developing minds and hearts, this can have a profound impact on their mental wellness. And yet, many parents are still not closely monitoring which games and apps their kids are using. Most have good intentions, but don’t know how to effectively shield their kids from harmful content, nor do they know where to find healthier options. 

If you’re an adult and you care about the next generation, you feel an obligation to act like an adult and protect children. We are supposed to do our best for children and that is not the way society is going today. As a Christian, you should care about the health, well-being, and spiritual maturity of children. There’s a lot wrong with our society, and children are always the victims. They are always the ones at the bottom as these negative effects trickle down. 

Our mission at TruPlay is bringing positive, awesome, world-class, fun entertainment to kids right where they are on a screen just like Jesus met people where they are. There’s a real God who loves them and wants children to know they’re special. There is real value in the Bible inspired by a wonderful God, and there’s hope and truth to be found. There is truth in Jesus Christ and that’s the message we want to send out. 

JW: What type of content is found in many video games that would be inappropriate for children? Is there a rating system that helps parents navigate this? 

BD: Many video games let gamers sell drugs, shoot police and innocent people, or engage with sexual content. There’s a lot of really gory and violent content, and those kinds of things dehumanize people. There is a rating system, but it’s easily circumvented by kids. The rating system is also hard for parents to discern what rating is deemed appropriate for their child. Not every parent has the time and the bandwidth to parse through all of it and play every video game or watch every cartoon ahead of time. It’s not necessarily realistic to expect that the parent is going to be able to have the time, but there are ways to stay involved in what our children are taking in online.  

Be encouraged it’s not all bad news online—there are gaming experts with deep industry experience committed to making high-quality digital entertainment for today’s kids and their parents. As you subscribe, download, and engage with safe content, you also support a demand for it. You don’t have to compromise on fun or entertainment to enjoy the world of digital entertainment. You just need to choose your sources wisely. 

JW:  What are the positives of video games that would encourage parents to consider them? 

BD: Video games do have real intellectual challenges, so they really are a way to build intellectual skills. They also build reaction time. There’s a lot of pilot and military training that takes place essentially with simulated games. Video games are a great way to tell stories and immerse people into worlds and narratives. Also, video games are a form of entertainment that helps contribute to enjoying life and having fun. Video games can be educational, and these claims are backed up by research

JW: What are the risks of online gaming where players can interact with other players? How should parents monitor this? 

BD: Since 2016, CyberSafeKids, an Irish charity that empowers children, parents, schools, and businesses to navigate the online world in a safer and more responsible way, has surveyed 38,614 children aged between 8 and 13. The organization conducted research in the 2021–2022 academic year to track the digital trends and usage of 4,408 children ages 8-12 years old. 

The research, released in September 2022, revealed the following staggering statistics:  

  • 26% of children have seen or experienced something online in the last year that bothered them, 
  • 29% of those children kept it to themselves rather than reporting it to their parents or someone else, 
  • 20% state that they have seen something online that they wouldn’t want their parents to know about, 
  • 64% of children said that they’d been contacted by a stranger in an online game, and  
  • 26% report that they have friends and followers that they don’t know offline.  

In terms of social channels, they can be harmless fun, but there have been many incidents of sexual predators getting connected to children. Kids also can be vulnerable to bullying online, which can lead to children being susceptible to suicide.  

Ultimately, the most important thing is to monitor what kind of content the children are exposed to. Using parental controls on phones, tablets and laptops can help prevent exposure to harmful content. In addition, parents can help keep their children safe by taking these steps:

  • Talk regularly to your children about their online presence and let them know they can come to you with any concerns.                
  • Supervise their digital activities or participate with them when possible. 
  • Set age-appropriate limits on what kind of content they can view or interact with online. 
  • Seek out games and other content that are safe, healthy, and uplifting. 

Parents do have a choice as to what their kids engage with online, and their attention to it is critical. 

JW: What are healthy boundaries and parameters you would encourage for play time? 

BD: I think that families have to set their own parameters and boundaries with their children. For my family, we do allow some screen time, but we limit our children to 30 minutes a day during the school week and on weekends, there’s a little more time. We also have expectations for our children around grades, homework, sports practices, chores, and other responsibilities. 

We have given our children very clear guidelines around content choices. I think content choices are actually more important than the amount of screen time that a child is given. Parents should not feel guilty about their kids being online. There are many benefits and solid reasons for kids to spend time online, yet parameters are important. Households can implement healthy boundaries for how much screen time children are permitted each day. And at the end of the day, parents can collect phones and electronics from their children before they go to bed or keep phones in common areas of the house. 

By / Jul 27

What makes a family distinctly Christian? And if you are a parent, how do you raise your kids in a way that’s truly Christian at its core? The Bible says the chief Christian difference is not political or ethical or social, though being in Christ surely guides a family in those areas. No, our foundational trait is that we live not by our strength but relying on Jesus: “The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20).

If morality or ideology or healthy habits made life Christian, our approach would be simple: Try hard. Think straight. Do right. But faith is an offbeat path with practices that feel unnatural: Receive from God. Trust his Word. Follow him. Rest in Jesus. Most Christian parents find it harder to lead their families in that—in faith.

Examples of faith 

More often than the Bible defines faith, it gives us examples of faith. For instance, like Jacob who wrestled with God, we should grab on and not let go until the Lord blesses us as he sees fit (Gen. 32). Like Hannah who was childless and mocked, we should pray with many tears and give our worldly hopes back to God (1 Sam. 1). Like blind Bartimaeus who was told to hush, we should cry even louder to the merciful Son of David who is our only chance (Mark 10:46-52). But my favorite faith example may be Peter.

In Matthew 14, Peter and Jesus’ other disciples were facing hard times. Their ministry colleague John the Baptist had just been murdered, and when they tried to respond by getting some rest away from the crowds, more than 5,000 people followed them. Jesus multiplied a few loaves and fish to feed that crowd, showing the compassion and provision of God despite all that had happened. But the disciples remained fixated on their worldly situation. Mark 6:52 explains, “They had not understood about the loaves.”

Jesus would teach them about faith. He sent them off in a boat without him while he went to pray. Then as they struggled on the sea, he came to them, walking on the water and speaking the best words any of us might hear: “It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Matt. 14:27). Peter answered, “If it’s you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus told him to come, and Peter climbed out of the boat and started walking on the water.

Life of faith

Those steps are an impressive example of faith. Faith looks beyond the dangers and troubles we can see in the world around us, believing who Jesus is. what he can do, and how he’s better in every way. We model faith each time we pray about anything. We model faith when we obey God even though the worldly consequences look stormy. We model faith when we open our Bibles daily and go weekly to worship because we know how much we need God’s Word and his people. We model faith when we live boldly for Jesus, even taking some risks, because we know he rules the world and loves us to our core. By God’s grace, kids who learn faith become both humble repenters and brave missionaries.

Failures of faith 

But Peter’s example includes another side of faith that’s even more important. When Peter saw the wind swirling around him, he became scared and started to sink. He cried out, “Lord, save me!” (v. 30). That simple prayer is the essence of Christian faith. In his dire need, Peter’s gut reaction was not to yell to his comrades in the boat but to call on the strong arm and quick compassion of Jesus.

Of course, Jesus saved Peter and brought him to the boat, showing us that faith is not just for brave achievers but also for doubters and failures. Jesus is the true hero of this story and of any walk of faith. Think about it: the moment in the story when we sense Peter is most secure is not when he’s successfully walking to Jesus alone, but after he’s failed and Jesus has had to save him, while he’s with Jesus walking back to the boat.

Whether we have failed morally, or failed to act bravely, or failed to love our kids or spouse or neighbor, modeling faith means we cry out to Jesus for help and forgiveness. It is the instinct to go to Jesus especially when we feel beaten down and unworthy. Faith means we are quicker to pray than to scold, we more readily admit sins than hide them, and we thank God for our Christian growth instead of showing it off. That will make an impression on our kids. They will learn to remain settled and joyful in Jesus even when they encounter dangers in the world and ugliness within themselves.

Steps of faith

So as a parent, what can you do to lead your family in faith?

Live close to Jesus. Faith-filled parenting comes from being a faith-practicing parent. In your personal life, give time to prayer, the Bible, and worship so that you get to know the outstretched hand of Jesus and can give control of your kids over to him. When you fail at this and are feeling far from God, go back. That’s when he’s most eager for you to come near again.

Show your kids Jesus. Make it a family habit, natural and expected, to stop and pray whenever concerns about anything come up. Read, listen, and talk about Jesus regularly and often. Also make it your role as a parent to be your household’s most visible repenter, often letting your kids see how you admit you have sinned, are saddened by it, and decide to obey God anew—in his strength and under his forgiveness. Again, you will frequently fail to create this environment and keep these habits. Those are times to beg Jesus for help, which is faith too.

Step out of the boat sometimes. Now and then as God puts needs in front of you, have your family do something for Jesus even though you feel scared or ill-equipped. As you step into your task, pray about it and recruit prayer from others, and listen to God’s Word. You might be surprised by what God does. Or maybe things will go badly and you will seem to sink, but if you do, it will be an opportunity to reach for the comforting grip of Jesus. Either way, you will learn faith.

Ultimately, we need the Spirit to fill our hearts with faith, and we need God, in his amazing grace, to give our children eyes to see it and hearts to believe it. As we stumble along in faith as parents, we can rest assured that the work needed to lead our kids in faith depends on One infinitely stronger and more faithful than we are. 

Editor’s note: Bible quotations are from the CSB.

By / May 3

Adoption is a beautiful picture of the gospel, but in this world, it’s fraught with a mixture of grief and gladness. In addition, particular joys and challenges can enter the picture when a family grows by cross-cultural adoption. In light of this, Brittany Salmon’s new book, It Takes More than Love: A Christian Guide to Navigating the Complexities of Cross-Cultural Adoption, is a welcome encouragement and guide for adoptive families or those who are seeking to support those who have adopted. Below, Salmon answers questions about the unique and practical aspects of cross-cultural adoption. 

Alex Ward: You start your book by saying you have a love/hate relationship with adoption because it’s “joy and suffering and loss and gain and hope and disappointment all in one.” How did your adoption story shape how you see adoption in this way? 

Brittany Salmon: It’s an odd thing for an adoptive parent to say they have a love/hate relationship with adoption, isn’t it? However, it’s true. I love parenting my children. It is such a gift! But I hate that in order for me to get to be their mom, they had to walk through the trauma of being separated from their first families. 

Adoption happens because brokenness exists in our world, and I felt that acutely the first time we were in the hospital meeting our son. I remember the heaviness of watching his first mom say goodbye, and my heart broke into a million pieces as she left the hospital without him in her arms. “It’s just not supposed to be this way,” I cried. I remember the heaviness of rocking him at night, singing to him, knowing that mine wasn’t the voice and the body he was used to hearing those months in utero. And yet, as our family grew and another one seemingly shrank, I learned to hold both joy and sorrow at the same time. Our joy and love for our son didn’t have to erase the sorrow that came along with it; both could coexist together.

AW: Recently, there has been considerable discussion about how much race and culture on the part of prospective adoptive parents should be considered. Bethany Child Services made news when they recommended acknowledging that a purely colorblind approach does a disservice to the child. At the same time, others criticized the move as capitulating to an ideology that sees white parents acting as “saviors.” How should parents think about their own race and culture when adopting transracially and how that may shape or affect a child?

BS: Well first off, I think we all need to acknowledge how complex of an issue this is, and in our current political climate it is easy to make this issue a polarized one. It requires a lot of nuance to fully understand the many complexities of cross-cultural families and the identity development of cross-cultural adoptees. 

However, as we’ve now listened and learned from adult adoptees, we can openly say that in adoption there is no room for a savior mentality or colorblindness. These are two separate ideologies that are indeed harmful to adoption communities. I’m not here to debate that, as the Bible affirms that we have only one savior, and his name is Jesus, and our God is a gloriously creative God who made all mankind in his image. 

So in answering your last question — how should parents think about their own race and culture when adopting? — the great part is that we all come from a culture and ethnicity that we can celebrate! Because every person who walked the Earth was made in the image of God, we can celebrate how each of us uniquely reflects the goodness of a creative God! For example, I’m Hungarian American, and one of the Hungarian dishes I grew up eating is called Turos Csusza. It’s one of my kids favorite dishes, and I tell them about my grandpa who was Hungarian American. One of our sons is half Puerto Rican, so I’ve been doing my best to master a delicious Arroz con Pollo. It’s more than just meals, but we’ve learned that if we’re going to be a multicultural family, we can’t live a monocultural life. And so we make space in our families to embrace all of our unique and God-given cultures. 

AW: How would you encourage parents who adopt transculturally to immerse their children in the culture of their birth? What does that look like practically, and why is it necessary? 

BS: Like I said above, if you’re called to be a crosscultural adoptive family, you’re called to live a multicultural life. And the great thing about this is that we get to choose where we spend our most valuable resource: time. We get to choose where our children attend schools and where our families attend church. We get to choose which sports and extracurricular organizations our families are a part of. We get to choose who we invite over for dinner and who we do life with.

For the multicultural family, I believe you must be intentional about doing life in spaces where your children can build genuine relationships with people who share their same ethnicity. In my book, I break down representation into three specific tiers, but the most important tier is ensuring that your child has racial representation in their real life and everyday community. 

AW: I doubt that when people are thinking through the adoption process, the question of haircuts comes up often. But you devote an entire chapter to the question of hair, beauty, and affirmation. What about these seemingly mundane tasks is part of the larger challenge of transcultural adoption? 

BS: I think one of the things that has stood out the most when talking with and learning from adult adoptees is how ill-equipped some of them felt to care for their hair. Many of them had stories about how they didn’t know how to take care of their hair or skin, or how their parents shamed them when they started exploring beauty practices outside of their parents’ Eurocentric beauty standards. Or worse, they had memories of their parents bemoaning how hard or horrible it was learning how to take care of their hair. 

I devoted an entire chapter to this topic because it is so much more than just hair care; it’s learning how to affirm your child’s beauty and giving them the tools to take care of themselves. Doing this is another way we can honor our children’s ethnic heritages rather than erase them. And from a biblical perspective, taking care of our bodies can be seen as a form of worship. For the adoptee, honoring their culture’s beauty standards can be a part of embracing their God-given racial identity.

AW: In the book you urge potential adoptive parents to consider the cost of adoption, and one literal cost that you bring up is the need for a specialized adoption counselor. Why do you think that counseling may be needed for the entire family, not just the child who experienced trauma? And is the fact that everyone needs counseling a reason to think we aren’t qualified to adopt? Should people have it all together perfectly before starting this process?

BS: Well first off, you should know that I think all parents should consider counseling. Every single person who walks this Earth has suffered and experienced heartache, many have experienced trauma, and I think it’s incredibly wise and healthy to pursue godly counsel. There is a stigma with counseling that it’s only for a certain type of person, and I would argue that it’s for all of us. I’ve used counseling for a number of different seasons in my life, not just the traumatic ones.

However, I do think when you’re walking through trauma or wrestling with past traumas, it’s wise and helpful for everyone involved to seek godly counsel from licensed professionals. And since adoption is birthed from trauma, it can be helpful for the whole family to get the tools they need in various seasons. 

For example, if a child joins a family and they have regular tantrums, issues with food, outbursts, etc., it is not only helpful for parents to receive counseling and learn how to parent in a trauma-informed way, but it’s helpful for the siblings in the home to also have a counselor to walk with them through witnessing angry outbursts they might not be used to. Also, some siblings of adoptees express frustration or the feeling of being left out because their parents’ attention is hyper-focused on helping a child transition into their home. Having a trauma-informed and adoption-informed counselor can be greatly beneficial for the whole family to process the changes needed to welcome a child. 

AW: I think that for most parents, they know that they won’t be perfect. They hope and plan, but seem to know that there are going to be days when they drop the ball. For parents who are honestly just struggling to know what they don’t know when it comes to transracial adoption, I think that fear of doing something wrong is probably even higher. So how did you handle it when you got something wrong?

BS: Every adoptive parent I know has gotten something wrong at some point. So if there was time, I would take every parent wrestling with shame out to coffee and would tell them this: Shame is a dirty liar, and conviction is a tool that God uses to prompt us to change. Which one are you feeling? 

You see, shame can keep us focused on our failures, whereas conviction pushes us toward repentance and change. It pushes us to do better, for our kids’ sake and the glory of God. So we don’t give a lot of time and mental space to shame. Instead, since we know that all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we repent of our sins and then we use conviction as a catalyst for righting our wrongs. We’re going to make mistakes as parents. We know that going into parenthood, so we can be free from the fear or shame that Satan might use to paralyze us. And we can rest in the freedom of serving a God who calls us to live lives of repentance. 

AW: Is there anything else you would recommend people do as they are either considering transcultural adoption or are trying to serve those who are? What other resources would be helpful, and what practical steps can our churches and families take?

BS: I love the phrase, “You can’t know what you don’t know.” And I think it applies to this question. One of the greatest things people who are considering cross-cultural adoption or supporting those who are adopting can do is to start their educational journey now. That’s why I wrote one chapter specifically for families and friends supporting adoptive families. If communities and prospective adoptive families start learning and listening well before a child is placed into their home, they will be better equipped to handle some of the hard aspects of adoption that their family and community will experience at some point in their journey. 

As for some practical steps our churches can take? My biggest piece of advice for churches would be if you’re going to encourage your families to step into foster care and adoption, let’s make sure our churches are equipped to serve them! Two great steps would be: (1) to make sure your Sunday school curriculum and resources for children represent and support all the children in your congregation, and (2) consider partnering with local child welfare agencies and have trauma-informed training for your volunteers that work with children. 

By / Nov 18

When I was growing up my family had friends with two sons. Both boys had the same genetic disorder, and they were not expected to live a long life. They were constantly in and out of the hospital and back and forth to doctor’s appointments. The oldest, Billy, and I shared a birthday. He presented me with a birthday present every year. 

One particular summer when I was 7 or 8 years old, our family received news that Billy’s younger brother, Stevie, had died. Within the next couple of days we were sitting in pews, remembering my friend.  

I don’t remember having any long conversations with my parents about why Stevie had died or asking them what happens after death. Growing up in church, I was reminded on a weekly basis that we could die in a car accident or Jesus could come back within the hour. I knew that our souls were at stake if we hadn’t trusted Jesus. I was told Stevie was in heaven, and I believed it. 

As a child and young adult, I believed that grief could only be felt because of a physical death. I did not know that grief could also be experienced because of the death of a relationship, lack of expectations being fulfilled, the loss of a job, tragic health diagnosis, or something stripped away that one expected to keep for a long time. In my late 20’s as I experienced more of life’s suffering, I began to experience grief in various ways.

When grief visited our family 

My husband and I have six children. Three of our children have died and gone home to the Lord. Our second son was born prematurely and passed away the day after he was born. My oldest was 2, and he was too young to remember everything that happened. His memories are what we have told him and the pictures we have shown him. As our son has gotten older, he has wondered what it would have been like to have a younger brother closer in age with him, but grieving wasn’t tangible for him until six years ago. 

Six years ago, our youngest son, Boston, was taken home unexpectedly because of a car accident. Boston was 4 years old. He was the bookend to our crew — vibrant, fun, hysterical, and the sweetest 4-year-old on the planet. My older children at the time were 11, 10, and 8. 

The morning of the accident, we all woke up in good moods, ready to face the day. But by the end of the day, our family was beyond devastated, wondering how we would all wake up the next morning. We did wake up the next day, but we awoke to a heavy weight of grief that had replaced our joyful son. 

As the dust settled after Boston’s funeral, my husband and I knew our family was encountering something that none of us knew how to navigate. When our second son passed away, my husband and I were the two grievers in the house. Our two older children were simply too young at the time to recognize what was going on. But now, we had three remaining children who had just experienced a very traumatic event. They’d lost a dear sibling, and we had to figure out how to parent our children in the midst of our own individual grief. 

Grieving as an adult is rarely done well, and often a child experiencing the same grief can get lost. So, how do we care for kids when they are grieving? Here are three encouragements.

First, give them Jesus.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Grief is hard. There’s no easy answer to it. My response to grief has been different than my husband’s, and each of our remaining children have had their own unique responses as well. There are no rules when it comes to grief. Grief can rip all the rules away and laugh at them. 

But as believers, we have comfort in our grief — the One who knows it best. Jesus experienced grief when encountering the Father’s wrath on the cross. He experienced grief when his friend Lazarus died. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3a). In other words, Jesus knows. 

Others know, too. And their experiences and stories — particularly their experiences of Jesus’ comfort — can be a catalyst in helping our children work through grief and suffering. Our kids are not alone. Someone has gone through a similar experience before them. Here is an example of a conversation that can be had between a mother and her daughter after a tragic experience.

. . . Steph looked at her mom and said, “You too? Do you have scary dreams too? You’re afraid of today?!”  Forcing a smile her mom replied, “Oh yes! After losing your brother I’ve constantly battled with being afraid. Everyday I have to remind myself of the truth. Sometimes every hour. One of your tasks at school is to memorize Psalm 23. As you were practicing verse 4, I took a few minutes to listen, then read the words on the page . . .” 

Steph’s mom continued and closed her eyes like she had to remember something before she quietly began to say, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. For you are with me.” Steph’s mom sat as the smile grew on her face. The words washed over her again as she was reminded of what they meant. Then, as she slowly opened her eyes, Steph’s mom looked at her and asked, “Who is the “you” in the passage?” Steph thought for a minute, “God? Jesus?” 

In the Bible, we find Jesus in every story — from the Fall to King David to Nehemiah being tasked to rebuild the wall and beyond. Jesus is a constant comforter to his people. I find peace in knowing that he is a consistent Comforter to us and to our children when we adults are a hot mess.

Second, we don’t have to have it all together.

My kids need to know that I struggle too. I struggle deeply and have a lot of hard days. In the midst of those days, I need to ask them to give me grace, but I also need to recognize my children’s pain and not blow it off. It is beneficial for our children to see us grieve, whether it’s the loss of a marriage, a job, a house, a friendship, or a parent or sibling diagnosed with COVID-19. It is okay for our children to see us cry, to see us struggle and to see us wrestle with God. It’s okay for them to see us wonder and ask why. 

Why is it okay for us to not have it all together? It’s okay because our transparency will, in turn, give them the freedom to be honest and wrestle without fearing judgement from parents. We must let our children ask the hard questions. We must be okay when we don’t have the answers, and we must trust that God’s sovereign hand is with them in and through both the joys and the griefs. Let’s think again about Steph and her mother: 

Steph’s mom smiled and said, “Yes. David is scared too. In this psalm, he’s writing to remind himself of who his God is. He’s remembering that his God takes care of him and loves him and comforts him when things are scary — when he’s terrified to go to bed or to wake up the next day. God is with David just as he is with us at night during bad dreams and during the day when we struggle with circumstances that trigger our grief, or with fear when Dad comes home late.”

“The words of this psalm tell us the truth of who God is even when we are struggling to believe. It tells us that he is there to save us. He will use his word to comfort us — you and me. Always. We have nothing to fear because he is with us, even when it is hard to remember that.” 

Steph sat and listened to her mom talk. She realized that her mom probably struggles just as much as she does but hasn’t let on. Her mother lost a son and she lost a brother. It was hard for both of them. They both struggle with fear, and they both need God’s Word to remind them that God protects and comforts them in their moments of fear and doubt.

Notice in the example that when Steph’s mom is honest about her grief, Steph begins to understand that her mother struggles just like she does. That brings us to the next point.

Third, we are in this together.

Our children need to understand that they are not in their grief alone. They need to know we are with them and that we are for them. But most of all, they need to know that Jesus is for them. We need to continually remind them — despite our own grief — that we are there for them when they need to work through their emotions. 

One evening I picked up my daughter from her small group and as she entered the car, I said, “How was it?” She sighed heavily and replied, “A couple of weeks ago, a friend told me that she was grateful that my brother died.” 

Ooof. Even as an adult, those are damaging words to hear. I caught my breath and let her continue without saying anything.

“That really hurt. I know she was trying to be encouraging, because she said something about Jesus working in our lives, but I didn’t really hear that part too well. It just hurt. Why would someone say that!”

I could tell that hot, angry tears were on their way, and I didn’t blame her. Hot tears were filling my eyes as well. Many people don’t know what to say to those who are suffering — just think about all of the missteps Job’s friends made. When it has been years since a death, divorce, or whatever considerable loss you’ve experienced, many folks believe the pain must be gone. However, to the person who has experienced the loss, the memory can be very fresh. A comment like the one my daughter heard can tear a scab off of an old wound and cause the grief to gush freely again. 

My daughter wanted to confront the girl. I told her, 

“Thank you for telling me. You could’ve kept that inside and you didn’t. I understand that you want to respond and tell her how she hurt you. Sometimes being honest with a friend can be a loving way to help them to better care for people who are hurting. But sometimes when we do that, folks don’t always understand where we are coming from. If we’re still feeling hurt and the other person has never experienced something similar, the situation can get worse before it gets better. There have been a lot of times since the accident that people have said really hurtful things to Dad and me. Do you know what we did? We came home and talked to each other, cried with one another, and fled to Jesus. We have to remind ourselves that people sometimes don’t know simply because they have not been in our difficult shoes. I am so glad that you told me this. Do you know why? Because . . .”

My daughter joined me, “We are in this together.” 

We need to remind our children and ourselves that despite what is going on in our lives and our world, Jesus is bigger than the circumstances. He promised us in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” Jesus told us that we would suffer with sickness, brokenness, and death. He died for this, and he is sovereign over it. 

As Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Thankfully, this world is not all there is. Because we have a secure future, we are able to give the gift of hope to our children even as we grieve together. We can remind them (and ourselves) that we will one day see things fully. 

Right now things are fuzzy and out of focus, full of pain and just plain hard, but when we are physically with our Savior, the scales will come off of our eyes, and we will see him, know him, and be fully known. Because we have Jesus, hope remains even in our pain. Let’s believe that he is enough for us and our children as we walk the road of grief with them. 

By / Sep 23

“Parenting isn’t for wimps.” That’s how Jimmy and Kristin Scroggins open their book, Full Circle Parenting: A Guide for Crucial Conversations. In the chapters that follow, they show you why. But more importantly, they show you how to approach parenting with wisdom, grit, and gospel focus.

They do so with the recognition that “Christian parents have to have rock-ribbed convictions, nerves of steel, tender hearts, and open arms—all accompanied by a fantastic poker face” (3). This sort of honesty is refreshing, because when it comes to books on parenting, all too often we’re met with content that is laughably formulaic. A three-step strategy that offers a fast track to turning your child into a Christian, an honor-role student, and homecoming king is sure to sell copies. The only downside: it’s never that simple.

Not only that, but in the publishing world it’s mystifyingly easy to find marriage books written by near-newlyweds, or parenting books from authors who are looking forward to their child’s upcoming graduation — from kindergarten. Instead, the best sorts of books in this vein are from those who are further along and offering wisdom that only comes from experience and tempering. Jimmy and Kristin Scroggins offer precisely this sort of wisdom, and, frankly, are precisely the kind of parents I would want to emulate myself.

Over the course of the book, the authors work through a series of topics that will be of use to any parent: sexuality, technology, peer pressure, realities of substance abuse, bullying, and how to have challenging conversations. Throughout these topics, several things in particular stand out.

Full-Circle Parenting is realistic

Jimmy and Kristin Scroggins provide a remarkably clear-eyed view of the challenges that come with parenting, particularly in chapter two, which lays out a Christian vision for parenting, and chapter three, which outlines how children themselves are complex. Throughout, the authors explain how sin warps both parents and children. Children, for example, are going to act in stupefyingly inconsistent ways — even “good” kids. Like the pediatrician reassuring the anxious young parents, “Oh, that cough you heard is completely normal and you needn’t worry,” Jimmy and Kristin Scroggins remind us what we should expect when we approach parenting.

Full-Circle Parenting is gospel-focused

Additionally, Full-Circle Parenting moves beyond a vision of what’s to be expected, to how we may address each of these topics in the context of the gospel. Each of the subjects the authors cover are placed in the context of the 3 Circles tool — which traces God’s design for our lives, the sin which leads to brokenness in our lives, and the remedy of repentance and belief in the gospel that allows us to recover and pursue God’s original design. This tool, originally conceived as a tool for evangelism and gospel presentation, is endlessly helpful when applied to issues of parenting and the Christian life as well. These aren’t “Jesus bits” tacked on at the end of a chapter but rather than main thread that weaves together everything the authors say on a given topic. Grounding each one in the context of God’s design, sin, repentance, and flourishing is not only helpful and practical but exactly what a Christian book should be.

Full-Circle Parenting is timeless

Thankfully, this book does not provide granular advice on how to block harmful websites or how to utilize particular apps to track location or whatever the case may be. As necessary as this sort of information is, these technologies move far faster than the publishing industry does. Instead, Full-Circle Parenting writes from a decidedly 21st-century context, but one that speaks to issues in ways that will be still be relevant 10 and 20 years from now. Instead of, for example, providing a specific age and kind of phone to provide to one’s children, the authors talk about the principles dictating how they use phones, who is responsible for them, how we should think about technology, and how we can model what we prioritize in our own lives. This kind of counsel does not suffer from an expiration date.

Full-Circle Parenting is practical

Perhaps the most noteworthy element of Full-Circle Parenting is just how endlessly practical it is. Throughout the book, there are sample conversations of how to address situations with one’s children and scripts to give to children to help them navigate difficult conversations. There are innovative ideas, like “sibling time” in chapter seven, which details specific ways Jimmy and Kristin have sought to create a culture of togetherness and friendship within their family. There are candid admissions about how they counsel their children to deal with peer pressure and bullies. Most importantly, there are gospel principles throughout which will continually remind readers of the foundational issue (and solution) behind every problem.

In all, Full-Circle Parenting succeeds most notably in providing an honest and compelling vision of what it takes to parent faithfully: both gospel and grit. It focuses on the importance of creating an environment where families can thrive, modeling a life that children can emulate, and providing a tool that parents in all life stages can use to think clearly and biblically about how to shepherd their children faithfully and point them to the gospel. Parents should read it; pastors should stock their shelves with it; and churches should give it away regularly.

One of things on social media I regularly enjoy is when Jimmy Scroggins posts video clips of athletic coaches talking about discipline, strategy, effectiveness, skill development, and growth, or any number of issues. When he does, he often adds a single line of commentary above: “Pastors should learn from coaches.” In their new book, however, Jimmy and Kristin Scroggins are themselves the coaches — outstanding ones we should all learn from.

By / Aug 23

The news about the Taliban taking over Afghanistan is nearly unavoidable, and rightly so. We are watching a horrific human rights atrocity happen before our very eyes. Our children are likely seeing the images but are not as tuned in to this historic event, and that’s OK. But as Christian parents, it’s important that we teach our children to mourn with those who mourn. Here are three things my husband and I did with our children to help them understand what is happening right now and how Christians should respond.

Find a good news source

I’ve found that listening to news for children can be an effective way to introduce them to complex world topics. While we will often show them video footage of current news at times, some events feel too weighty for children to watch. So, we chose to listen to this podcast from the BBC while we ate supper. A podcast allows us all to listen while doing something else (like eating a meal) which makes it seem more natural and less forced. 

We listened to the first 10 minutes or so of the episode and paused when needed. This segment included a few fascinating interviews with those being directing affected by these events, including a female activist who refuses to leave Afghanistan out of a commitment to the women and girls that she has mentored and led over the years; and a journalist in neighboring Pakistan. The news felt even more real and pressing to them because of the ability to hear from people halfway around the world. 

Allow plenty of time for questions

Our children are 13, 11, and 9, and they had a lot of questions. Who are the Taliban? Are they like Al Qaeda? Why are the U.S. troops leaving the country? Why are we in Afghanistan? My husband and I had read a few articles that day and watched several clips online about the horror happening, so we tried our best to explain what we were seeing. But most of the questions they asked were not cut and dry. We had to answer “I don’t know” several times and explain to them that some things are more complicated than we’d like them to be. 

Ultimately, we made every effort to point our children back to the fact that we need to pray for the Afghan people because God is the only one who can fully understand and deliver them. We also tried to humanize things for them so that they could better understand how to pray for the Afghans. We told them that some people were so desperate to leave the country that they held onto the tires of evacuation planes in hopes that they would be able to survive, only to fall to their deaths. We wanted them to think about what it would be like to feel that desperate. We’ve found that it’s always good to help children cultivate empathy for others, especially in a crisis like this.

Pray together

The final thing we did as a family was to pray. My husband read Micah 6:8 and talked to our children about the injustice that is happening in Afghanistan and why it’s right that we pray for justice. I then picked five things we could pray for and let each member of the family pick their topic. Since we have five people in our family, it made sense to identify that number of topics. This makes praying a bit easier and helps us avoid generalities. 

These are the things each one of us prayed:

  • The U.S. government, military, and President Biden: Our 11-year-old son prayed that God would give President Biden and the generals involved in the military wisdom to do what is best and to help the people of Afghanistan. 
  • The Taliban: Our 9-year-old son prayed that these people would stop doing wicked things and that God would soften their hearts toward the Christians living in Afghanistan. 
  • Women and children: Our 13-year-old daughter prayed for women and children to be protected and that their value would be seen by those who seek their harm. 
  • The church in Afghanistan: I prayed for our brothers and sisters in Christ that live in Afghanistan and asked for the Lord’s protection, while also asking God to give them courage to endure and face possible persecution and execution. 
  • The country of Afghanistan: Jesse prayed for the Afghan government, for justice, and for God to bring structure to the chaos. He closed our time in prayer with some reiterations of what we all had said, thanking God for his sovereignty in this moment and always.

You can also find another ERLC prayer guide here

If you are a parent, especially a parent of elementary age children and older, I encourage you to talk to your children about big world news like this. If you’re like me, you will probably feel inadequate. But, we can trust that God is working on our children’s hearts through our imperfect efforts. 

Our time together didn’t go as I’d planned, though. While listening to the podcast, we still had to deal with real family issues. We had to stop a few times to deal with relational conflicts that occur at any family dinner table. And in between listening to the podcast and our prayer time, we had to deal with a child that was mad about someone eating their food. This is real-life parenting.The kids were not perfectly enraptured with the podcast or our answers. Sometimes I could tell their minds had wandered off. But we were faithful in the moment to model empathy for another people group, and to take those concerns to the Lord. That is all we can do as parents. I encourage you to trust God with your inadequacies as you walk your kids through important moments in our culture. 

By / May 27

A few weeks ago, a pastor friend who supervises children’s ministry staff at his church reached out to me and asked, “If you were coaching a children’s ministry leader on event planning and communication, what tips would you give them?” My friend’s question is a great one. After all, children’s ministers have a lot of people with whom they need to communicate. 

When planning for events or ministry initiatives, it’s important to be on the same page with other church staff. On at least a weekly basis, it’s necessary to have regular communication about the service schedule and weekly teaching plan with your volunteers. And speaking of volunteers, it’s essential to have a clearly communicated assimilation process — application, background check, interview, and training — for those who desire to begin serving in the ministry for the first time. Oh, and I haven’t begun to talk about the need to communicate with parents, to promote events through regular announcements, and to think intentionally about how your ministry might use social media as an equipping resource.

Many children’s ministers stepped into their ministry roles with backgrounds in education — even Christian education — but fewer of us had training in event planning and administration when we began. We might know how to interpret the Bible and teach the next generation, but we have a lot to learn about managing a ministry. 

With these realities in mind, I forwarded my friend’s question to several organized ministry leaders that I know. Here are their encouragements:

First, begin your communication about events or ministry initiatives as early as possible. 

Sandra Peoples, who is a disability consultant for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and a women’s and disability ministry leader at Heights Baptist in Alvin, Texas, told me, “At our church, anything that’s going on the calendar needs to be requested at least two months in advance. It gets discussed and approved at staff meetings. Then, we begin the planning process.” 

I love Sandra’s idea of a two-month planning minimum, but for larger, church-wide events like vacation Bible school or a community harvest festival — or with any communication of events in a very large church — the communication will need to start even earlier. In his article, “Leadership and Church Size Dynamics: How Strategy Changes with Growth,” Dr. Timothy Keller makes clear that an increasing redundancy of communication is even more necessary as a church grows. Keller writes, “Without multiple forms and repeated messages, people will feel left out and complain, ‘I wasn’t told about it.’ You know you’ve crossed into a higher size category when . . . informal communication networks (pulpit announcements, newsletter notices, and word of mouth) are insufficient to reach everyone.” Once that is the case more lead time is necessary to communicate effectively; fluency is the goal. As Heather Thompson, communications director at Paradox Church in Ft. Worth, Texas, told me, “When you are tired of saying it, that may be just the beginning of people starting to get it.”

Second, as you plan the event, use a checklist. 

If you’ve purchased a vacation Bible school director’s guide or any sort of event planning kit from a Christian publisher, you’ve likely discovered that those kits contain planning timelines or checklists that begin up to a year in advance. Peoples told me that an event planning checklist her church uses includes details like “room setup, registration, graphic design, turning on the AC, and getting keys to whoever needs them.” But the checklists also cover matters of communication. 

In fact, director’s guides and resource kits may even include sample email communication for volunteers and parents or promotional materials such as videos, posters, mailers, and graphics for the church bulletin or social media. One of the great things about these kits is that they not only give you these resources for communication, they also tell you exactly when in the planning process to use them.

When planning an event without any sort of pre-set guide or kit, I’ve often taken a planning checklist that I’ve used before (for an event like child dedication, for example), and then I’ve adapted it as a template for the new event. I just make any necessary adjustments (e.g., enough recruiting lead time for events that require more volunteers) and then follow the checklist step-by-step.

Third, be consistent with your regular communication. 

Consistency with the channels you use to communicate will help the parents in your church and the volunteers who serve in your ministry know where to find the information they need. If, for instance, you’re consistent with sending out the children’s ministry schedule and curriculum via email each Tuesday morning, teachers will learn to look for it on that day in their Inbox. It can be possible to use too many communication platforms, narrowing your communication to one landing page on your website and the most used social media platforms can make your communication more clear.

Jared Crabtree serves as pastor of Families at Redeemer Fellowship Midtown in Kansas City, Missouri. He told me that his team works to have a presence on Facebook and Instagram that follows a regular schedule — ”typically a video with one of our staff or leaders teaching hand motions for the lesson memory verse on Mondays and something like an activity or resource for families on Wednesday or Thursday as well as regular volunteer highlights.” 

I love that the Redeemer team is intentional about celebrating volunteers, because, as Thompson told me, “Regular communication should not just revolve around announcements, promotions, or policies. Great communication is an ‘encouragement channel’ that celebrates what you value; it’s consistently communicating your vision and values for your team and the people you serve.”

Sandra Peoples highlighted another reason for a consistent communications schedule or planning checklist. It minimizes decision-making. “You don’t have to think of everything every time,” she said. “Make one decision that you can apply over and over when possible. I do this in dozens of ways. I have assigned days for posts on social media and a schedule for what I want to share; I also wear the same shirt every Monday, and we always have the same meals on the weekends.” 

I get it. We have Taco Tuesdays and Tuscan Thursdays (pizza or spaghetti) every week at the Kennedy house! As Peoples told me, “It may feel restricting for creative types at first, but then they realize how much brain space they have for the things that really matter when they put the rest on auto-pilot.” Planning in advance when you’re going to post on social media gives you the opportunity to be more deliberate about what you say and the tone with which you say it. It also gives you the time to have a well-rounded plan that addresses each of your target audiences — parents, children, and team members. Planning ahead gives you the opportunity to be prayerful, deliberate, and intentional.

Finally, make event planning and communication a team project. 

Rachel Mills and Alix Carruth, who serve with Crabtree at Redeemer Fellowship, run one of the best children’s ministry Instagram accounts I’ve seen. To help with consistency, they’ve put together a shared spreadsheet that maps their regular social media posts, and they use Slack, a team communication app, to share ideas for headlines. Carruth told me, “We alternate days of posting on Facebook and Instagram, but we meet every two weeks to plan for two weeks in advance so that we can be two weeks ahead.” 

Working together makes Mills and Carruth’s work lighter. Teamwork makes the dream work! It provides built-in accountability, too. Whether you’re leading a children’s ministry as a volunteer, serving as the only staff member, or part of a larger team, it’s important that you find others in your church who can help you bear the communication load.

All leaders communicate, and as Proverbs 25:11 (NKJV) says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” If you are a children’s ministry leader, you have a unique communication burden due to the numerous communication channels you have to manage — with fellow church staff, volunteers, parents, and the congregation as a whole. It’s one that can be carried with God’s help. By prayerfully planning ahead, using a checklist, being consistent, and working with a team, you can communicate in a way that’s gentle, intentional, and effective. 

By / May 21

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss Dr. Moore resignation from the ERLC along with his move to Christianity Today, views on masks guidance, the latest on Israel and Hamas, Texas signing a six-week abortion ban, and SCOTUS taking up Mississippi case. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Jordan Wootten with “How do we make sense of modern culture? An interview with Carl Trueman about The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self,” Ethan and Michaela Holsteen with “The importance of the church when dealing with disability and grief: How one family leaned into community after their child’s diagnosis with Cri du chat Syndrome,” and Jared Kennedy with “3 subtle sins to warn your kids about: Any why it matters when wrestling with sexual temptation.”

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Russell Moore to Join Christianity Today to Lead New Public Theology Project
  2. Onward.
  3. Mask guidance
  4. Latest on Israel and Hamas
  5. Texas governor signs into law bill banning abortions at six weeks
  6. SCOTUS takes up MS case

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By / May 19

Rob was heading off to college, and he planned to room with a high school friend, Jack. But one phone call threatened those plans. As Rob drove home from youth group one Wednesday evening, his phone began to vibrate. He looked down to see that it was Jack, and he immediately thought that was odd. Jack sent regular texts, but he wasn’t much for long conversations. So, as soon as Rob pulled into the driveway, he called his friend back. The voice on the other end of the line shook. Jack had called to confess he’d been hanging with a number of gay friends. He was struggling with same-sex attraction and even same-sex sexual intimacy. He’d called Rob out of respect. Jack wanted Rob to know before they roomed together.

Rob had grown up in a conservative family and community. For that matter, he’d grown up in a conservative part of the country. Jack’s voice shook for a good reason; he knew this was a risk. Frankly, the confession shocked Rob. Repulsed, he took a posture of judgment. Rob was polite on the phone, but he didn’t go room with Jack as they’d planned. And when the two young men got to school, Rob avoided his struggling friend. The sad irony of that reaction was that Rob’s lust and sexual sin was equally disordered. His pattern of desire was different, which somehow made his sin seem more excusable, but his depravity was no less.

The Bible tells us that we are all sinners (Rom. 3:23). Fornication, adultery, homosexual behavior (same-sex sexual and romantic intimacy), and active transgender expressions such as cross-dressing and gender re-assignment are all sinful results of the fall (Matt. 15:19; 1 Cor. 6:9–19). God calls all Christians to repent from such actions by turning away from them in the power of the Holy Spirit. Homosexual lust, sometimes called same-sex attraction, and gender identity confusion are disordered desires, and they are also a result of the fall (James 1:13–15). God calls Christians to repent from evil desires by walking in confession (1 John 1:9) even though such desires may persist throughout a believer’s life.1See the excellent explanation of this reality in statements 4 and 5 of the “Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality to the Forty-Eighth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America,” https://pcaga.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/AIC-Report- to-48th-GA-5-28-20-1.pdf.

The short epistle of Jude warns against those who excuse all such immorality. Jude is a loving, spiritual father. He wants what is best for each member of God’s church. He begins his letter with regret, saying that he’d wanted to write and encourage the beloved with good news about their shared salvation. But instead, he felt compelled to warn them to fight against false teaching (Jude 3). As parents, we must be willing to speak to our children in the same way. Even when it’s awkward or difficult, our kids need warnings and encouragement to stand against sinful temptation and the world’s lies.

Jude 4 summarizes the heart of his warning:

For certain individuals, whose condemnation was written about long ago, have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

We must see what Jude is not saying here. He’s not condemning everyone who has disordered desires — or who commits sexual sin — to hell. In fact, Jude’s letter ends with hope for those entangled with lust (Jude 22–23). Instead, Jude rebukes those who excuse sin and justify them- selves (just as Rob did with his potential roommate). False teaching and immorality aren’t just out there in the world. Jude says they’re inside the church. Sin is a disease that’s inside each one of us.

Three types of false voices 

Jude warns against three types of false voices. Let’s look at each one and put ourselves under the microscope. Do we see these tendencies in ourselves or our kids? If so, we must heed Jude’s warnings and fight for our kids’ faith by speaking his words of warning to them as well. 

First, beware of discontentment. When we’re discontent, we fail to believe that what God has given us is enough. Contentment is not circumstantial. It’s theological. Any time we give in to sexual immorality or a desire to define our identity on our own apart from God’s design, we’re demonstrating a lack of happiness and satisfaction in God. Our desires are out of order, that is to say, our strong affections for self, sex, or power are stronger than our affections for God and his ways. It does not matter whether lustful desires are heterosexual or homosexual in nature, choosing to follow strong, competing sinful tendencies demonstrates our failure to delight first in God. 

Allowing a discontented heart to reign within us without confessing this as sin is dangerous. God rescued Israel from slavery and oppression in Egypt. They were given a great salvation, but they grumbled and complained in the desert. As a result, a whole generation died in the wilderness (Jude 5). Whether it’s through his examples of the fallen angels or the perverse people of Sodom (Jude 6–7), Jude shows us a pattern: discontent leads to destruction.

From an early age, kids need to work through the disappointment of not getting what they want. When a child can’t have another piece of chocolate before bed, it’s an opportunity for them to learn that their parent knows best. Help your kids learn to find satisfaction in what they’ve already received. And model for your kids what it looks like to bring your wants and desires to the Lord in prayer (Matt. 7:7–12). Don’t be afraid to pray with them for good desires you know you might not get. Then show them what it looks like to choose satisfaction in God’s answers and obedience to him whatever comes. The secret of contentment lies in depending on Christ for strength even when we are weak (Phil. 4:12–13).

Second, stop making excuses. Jude’s opponents claim they don’t have to obey God’s law, because, according to Jewish custom, it was mediated by angels (Acts 7:53; Heb. 2:2)2See other Jewish sources in Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1983), 58. and not given directly by God himself. Jude sees this argument for what it is: an excuse (Jude 8). God’s Word is clear. They just don’t want to obey it.

We still make excuses today. The Bible is plain. Same-sex sexual lust and intimacy is sinful (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9-10). However, some say this is harsh and would openly affirm same-sex sexual relationships even while they claim to follow the Scriptures. When read- ing a clear verse like Leviticus 18:22, “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable,” they make excuses: “Old Testament law doesn’t apply today. It came from Moses, not Jesus.” But that is the same tune Jude’s opponents played.3Kevin DeYoung carefully reviews arguments like these and gives careful biblical responses in his book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).

Help your kids see the world’s excuse-making for what it is. And more importantly, help them see when they are tempted to excuse their own sin. When we make excuses, we attempt to lessen the blame or guilt we’re due for our immoral behavior and desires. Rob, in my story above, may have known from youth group what the Bible taught about homosexuality. The trouble was he’d excused his own lusts.

I can still remember when I first confessed my own struggles with lust to a friend in seminary. He asked me, “Have you practiced regular confession?” And he quoted 1 John 1:7 to me: “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” I thought to myself, “Does God really mean that?” All the excuses rolled through my head. My pathway to repentance was to admit my guilt and submit to God’s authority.

Still, I have regrets. There have been times when my own hypocrisy has crippled efforts to genuinely care for others. One writer describes how this is a common problem in the church:

Many gay people sense a double standard when Christian leaders routinely (and loudly) denounce same-gender sex while quietly ignoring morally lax attitudes toward other areas of sexual ethics. In an era when pornography and serial monogamy are both common occurrences, some gay people . . . feel hurt, mis- understood, and judged when Christian leaders harp instead on the evils of the “gay agenda.”4Nate Collins, All but Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender, and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 9.

We must stop having a different standard for others than we do for ourselves. Only awareness and honesty about our own sin will empower us to speak the truth with credibility to our gay, lesbian, and transgender neighbors.

Finally, beware of sin’s empty promises. Jude says the false teachers came in like a thundercloud but never brought rain; like a dead, hollow tree that never bore fruit; like a wandering star, no use for navigation (Jude 13). Here’s the thing about sin: it talks a good game, and it can be fun in the moment, but the promises are empty.

Our culture glamorizes relational happiness. Young girls grow up on Disney love stories, believing marriage is a fairy tale of unending personal intimacy. Young men fantasize about an indulgent honeymoon. As parents, we want relational joy for our kids too. We all want the glory of fulfillment and love. If fulfillment is the goal, it can be tempting for families to accept their child’s gender transition or their desire to pursue a romantic same-sex relationship without any qualification. Some parents feel that if they don’t affirm their child’s desires and support a same-sex partnership or gender transition, they’ll be robbing their child of a life of joy.

But true wholeness isn’t found in temporal relationships. It’s found in Christ. Christ doesn’t guarantee that besetting conditions will be resolved simply because of faith. Rather, living as a Christian in a broken world sometimes means persistently battling with desires that are contrary to God’s plan. But we do not do so without hope of reward or final healing (Luke 18:29–30). 

Jude tells us the way broken people must fight the good fight of faith: “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (Jude 21). We remember God’s love and wait on Jesus. On the last day, we’ll see that he is better than what we long for here.

*For a more in-depth treatment on teaching your children about sexuality, grab this e-book, A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Your Children About Gender: Helping Kids Navigate a Confusing Culture.

  • 1
    See the excellent explanation of this reality in statements 4 and 5 of the “Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality to the Forty-Eighth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America,” https://pcaga.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/AIC-Report- to-48th-GA-5-28-20-1.pdf.
  • 2
    See other Jewish sources in Richard J. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word Books, 1983), 58.
  • 3
    Kevin DeYoung carefully reviews arguments like these and gives careful biblical responses in his book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015).
  • 4
    Nate Collins, All but Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender, and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 9.
By / Apr 15

If you were a child of the evangelical 1980s and 90s, you likely saw a VHS tape containing a morality tale. Whether it was McGee and Me, Quiggly’s Village, or a plunger-headed cucumber fighting rumor weeds and fibs from outer space, you were told tales of the dangers of lying, envy, and other numerous sins with the help of cartoons, puppets, and animated vegetables.

I don’t remember all the plot lines of such shows, but I do have vivid memories of great tragedy befalling the protagonists when they committed various vices that spun out of control.

While there’s a place for discussing the merits and drawbacks of such entertainment, the aim of cultivating virtue—and warning against vice—is very appropriate. It smacks of the philosophy of the Proverbs. You might say Proverbs was written, among other things, as a warning to young people against vices. The sage tells the young man to avoid joining gangs for a false sense of belonging. Wisdom creates a hedge for the youth against the deadly allure of illicit sex.

Now this is important. Stories cultivate moral sensibility. In her book On Reading Well, Karen Swallow Prior makes this case deftly: when we read books well, we practice moral judgments and further develop our own moral convictions. Stories reduced to mere morality tales are not good literature, but all narratives when told truthfully will develop our understanding of virtue.

How much more does history, when told truthfully, serve us—and our kids—with the formation of virtue.

History is full of women and men who exhibit virtue. And unlike morality tales, these history-shaping men and women live in a very real world, a world like our own. To quote Voltaire, “History doesn’t repeat itself. Man always does.”1Quoted without source attribution in Barabara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror (New York: Ballantine Books, 1978), xiv. No matter what era we study, we are still gripped by our shared imago Dei. Our humanity connects us with figures across history. Indeed, humanity gives us access to models of virtue, and examples of vice.

For every virtue has at either extreme a vice. If the path of virtue is a road, then on each side is a ditch. Virtue is about staying on the road, and not walking into either ditch. If virtue is about keeping to the center, vice is found in among the cattails.

Arius’ overgrown ambition

History has many figures among the cattails. One of them was a man named Arius, and there are three things you should know about him:

First, he was handsome, gifted, and a golden-tongued teacher. He was an influencer. If Twitter was a thing back in 300 A.D., Arius would have had the blue check.

Second, Arius is an example of the failure of temperance. Arius served under Alexander, the man who held office as the bishop of Alexandria, arguably the most important church office in the ancient world at the time. Arius wanted that office, and his ambitions birthed in him a jealousy that eventually overtook him.

Third, in his jealousy, Arius began making up lies about Alexander. And then things got really out of hand. Consider gathering your kids in the family room, or my favorite—around the campfire—and telling them this tale: 

The young jealous Arius dug up an old heresy, one we now call modalism, and he accused Alexander of denying that God is one in three persons. Alexander tried to reason with Arius. This first charge was an easy charge for Alexander to defend, but Arius’ jealousy carried him to the next phase, and the rumor weeds grew. 

Next, Arius stirred up other bishops and the people. Arius began to explicitly teach that Jesus was not God from eternity. He famously said, “There was a time when the Son was not,” effectively denying Christ’s full deity and saying the Son was a created being. Then, Arius went even further and said that the Spirit was not God.

And as if this wasn’t enough, Arius worked hard to recruit allies to his cause. He used his gifts to gather around himself a group that aligned with Arius’s innovative teaching. To complicate matters, all this took place during the rule of Constantine, the newly converted Christian emperor. Constantine had hoped to use Christianity to reunite the faltering Roman empire. The last thing Constantine wanted was for his Church to split over what he saw as a petty theological issue. 

So what began with Arius’ unbridled ambition and jealousy grew into an enormous political controversy. Constantine called a meeting, inviting 1,800 bishops from across the empire, representatives from the Christian East and West. 

The meeting took place in modern day Iznik, Turkey, a city that was then called Nicaea. Roughly 300 bishops actually came, which is a rather good turnout considering how costly and time consuming such a journey would have been in those days.

The meeting was long. We’re talking March-to-August long. The council determined that Arius had indeed diverged from the Church’s teaching, and they affirmed a statement from which the Nicene Creed we recite today originated. Arius, along with his followers that wouldn’t yield, were banished. 

Now, if only that were the end of the story. The trouble is that the Council was unable to fully uproot Arius and his followers’ vices. The proud man and his adherents regrouped, and many (though not Arius) found ways to wiggle back into church fellowship. They used clever words, avoiding language that was condemned at Nicea, without actually changing their heretical theology.

Athanasius against the jealousy weed

Just five months after the Council of Nicaea, Alexander died, and a young man named Athanasius was elected as his successor. He had served as Alexander’s assistant, and he’d played a critical role at the council. 

Athanasius was a man of virtue. He wasn’t a brash man but was known instead for being gentle and pastoral in his approach. And yet he took the Arian threat seriously. He held tightly to the truth of the Scriptures and the deity of Christ without yielding to the political pressure to merely keep the peace. 

Athanasius’s commitment to truth made him a problem for Arius and his followers. They saw him as an enemy to be thwarted. But because of Athanasius’ virtue, they were hard pressed to find an accusation that would stick. Nevertheless, they tried.

One of the factions of Arius’ followers went so far as to fake a man’s death, hide him in another city, produce a severed hand (probably from a real corpse), and then claim that Athanasius had maimed and killed the man with sorcery. This attempt to remove Athanasius from power only failed when authorities were able to produce the alleged victim and reveal that he was still alive with two hands!

This wasn’t the end of the story. Arius and his tribe were successful in their attempts multiple times. He was forced into exile on five different occasions by four different emperors.

But when we take a close look at how Athanasius withstood these trials, we see the role of virtue in his life. One critical virtue he demonstrated was fortitude. His commitment to truth was resolute. He endured in faith in spite of banishment and fleeing for his life. Despite these continuous trials, he stayed the course, maintaining his conviction in the deity of Christ and his commitment to the true God made flesh. 

There is some scholarly debate, but most likely Athanasius’ magnum opus, On the Incarnation, was written during his first exile. Those who argue against it being written at this time point out that Arius isn’t mentioned in this work. I think it’s more likely Athanasius had his eyes set on a different prize—the purity of the Church. 

Athanasius wanted God’s people to know the beauty and majesty of the God who saw fit to dwell among us. He wanted the world to know that the exalted God who created the universe came to dwell on earth as a human. To paraphrase a lengthier passage from On the Incarnation: Just as the prestige of a city is raised when a great king dwells in it, how much more is the human race, when the God of the universe takes on flesh.2Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation, translated by John Behr, Popular Patristics Series (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 69. In his writings, Athanasius was clear, and he shows us where true virtue is found—only when we are rooted in Christ. 

Athanasius wasn’t alone in his biblical convictions about the person of Christ. There were many other leaders and fellow believers who gave him aid and shelter in his exiles, but the well known phrase Athanasius contra mundum, “Athanasius against the world,” is fitting because it captures the gravity of the pressure he faced and the virtue with which he stood.

Meanwhile, Arius—our man caught in the cattails of vice—who enviously desired the throne of Alexandria, found himself at the end of his life upon another more ignoble throne. While Arius’ case was under consideration for his readmittance and welcome into the fellowship of the church, he experienced a pain in his bowels, entered a public latrine, and immediately died upon the toilet. 

When Constantine heard this news, he immediately concluded that Arius was a scheming liar, because—in his view—no man of God would die such an ignoble death.

Arius, in his jealousy, sought fame and influence at the expense of virtue, and it led to his destruction. By contrast, Athanasius, a man of Christ-centered virtue, suffered intrigue and exile but found a prize more valuable than rubies. Nothing could take him away from the pearl of great price he found in Christ. 

Just as Arius serves as a somber warning against the dangers of unchecked vanity, envy, and pride, so also Athanasis serves us and our kids as an example of Christlike humility and a tenacious and humble refusal to compromise on the truth. 

Passing along church history from generation to generation

In Psalm 78, Asaph tells us of the importance of passing down the story of the faith from generation to generation. The psalm focuses on telling children about acts in history “so that our children should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God (v. 7).” 

Often when we cite this passage, we think about passing down the stories of our faith that we find in the Bible. But it’s also wise to tell our children about the works of God throughout the history of the church, of the men and women who endured many trials with faithfulness and of those who failed by giving into vice.

We need resources to help us do this well. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Christian History Made Easy by Timothy Paul Jones. Covering the span of church history this book has full color pictures and illustrations. It also includes the fun stories and legends that kids love (like the tall tales of “Saint Nick” punching Arius in the nose).
  • Light Keepers is a fantastic series that tells the stories of historical figures through the lens of childhood in a way that captures kids’ imaginations. 
  • Super Heroes Can’t Save You. Todd Miles cleverly breaks down Trinitarian and Christological heresies into gripping stories from history, and clear explanations of doctrine—using superheroes! If you think church history and theology are boring, check out Miles, he’ll change your mind. 

Let’s tell our children stories from our shared Christian history. When we tell them the story of Arius’ jealousy and Athanasius’ fortitude, we aren’t just telling kids morality tales of vice and virtue. We are giving them a framework for how to view the entirety of history through the lens of God’s grace. In the stories of men and women who lived lives of virtue, we’re teaching our kids about how God has shown himself faithful across hundreds of years. When we tell them about the works God has done through men and women with Christian virtue, we are strengthening their hope in the God who gives grace to the humble and fortitude to those who depend on him. 

  • 1
    Quoted without source attribution in Barabara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror (New York: Ballantine Books, 1978), xiv.
  • 2
    Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation, translated by John Behr, Popular Patristics Series (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 69.