Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A good reminder

If, on the other hand, you meet a person who is not thus prepared, a person who as yet has no conviction of truth of the gospel and perhaps no idea, or even a false idea, of what the gospel actually is, it is worse than useless to try and stampede him into a snap 'decision'. You may be able to bully him into a psychological crisis of some sort, but that will not be saving faith, and will do him no good. What you have to do is to take time with him, to make friends with him, to get alongside him, to find out where he is in terms of spiritual understanding, and to start dealing with him at that point. You have to explain the gospel to him, and be sure that he understands it and is convinced of its truth, before you start pressing him to an active response. You have to be ready to help him, if need be, through a spell of seeking to repent and believe before he knows within himself that he has received Christ, and Christ has received him. At each stage you have to be willing to go along with him at God's speed. But that is God's business, not yours. Your business is simply to keep pace with what God is doing in his life. Your willingness to be patient with him in this way is the proof of your love to him no less than of your faith in God. If you are not willing thus to be patient, you need not expect that God will favour you by enabling you to win souls.

J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Friday, January 25, 2008

Parenting Conference

I you are in the Huntsville, Al our church is holding a Parenting Conference. Ramona and I will be doing one of the breakout sessions for parenting teenagers (imagine that).

If you are interested, you can get more information at our church web site at the parenting conference page. The cost is only $10 per couple for materials. The two main speakers are Tim Keeter and Paul Lamey both who are excellent teachers. Men who will faithfully open God's Word to you about the subject of parenting.

The Class I am teaching

My brother asked about the class I was teaching in the comments of the previous post.

I am currently teaching a class called The Fundamentals of the Faith on Sunday mornings at our church. It is a class for new/young believers where we systematically cover the basic doctrines of the faith. We also cover some basic areas of practice such as bible study, prayer, etc. I am teaching most of the classes, but we will bring in others to teach from time to time to give me a break and to let other qualified men have a chance to teach.

We are using as our primary doctrinal text a book by Wayne Grudem called Bible Doctrine. It is a good basic description of all the major doctrines and a number of significant minor doctrines. There are a couple of places where Professor Grudem teaches a different understanding of a particular doctrine than we would at our church. However, those differences are on what we would consider minor doctrines.

At the rate I am going, the course will probably run for about two years as we try to go slow and allow for questions and discussion. By that time we may very well have a new crop of students so I can see the class going on indefinitely.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

It has been a while

It has been a while since we posted. I recently had an commenter ask that we continue because of the help we have been. I don't know that I can start full time blogging again. Along with the remaining eight kids (three are out of the house now), I am now teaching a Sunday School class and taking a class at our church, along with my work schedule.

However, we certainly want to help any of you who are out there who may be struggling with your adopted children. So, we would be willing to answer you questions here. If your question can be asked in a general way, post a comment here and we will try to respond.

If the question is more personal in nature, you can either leave an e-mail address here or look at my profile and send me one from there and I will try to get back to you.

By His Grace


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Education Question

Bob has enrolled in an online biblical counseling course and is staying busy with that, so I thought I would post an education question that someone asked and both of our responses to it.

Just as we're ready to start our new year of Bible & worldviews studies, I'm having some second thoughts... Not about studying the Bible or even necessarily about studying other worldviews. The program we've chosen for our daughter this year takes a high schooler through ancient literature and simultaneously stands it up against the Bible, so you're reading both at the same time. Lots of questions to ponder; lots of Francis Schaeffer help w/ reasoning; lots of Bible. Excellent stuff. However, in reading an excerpt from a book called "Heart of Wisdom" (re: the Hebrew model of education), the author asserts that it is not necessary to read the whole Iliad and Odyssey in order to find its fallacies. She points out that you wouldn't allow your children to spend a lot of time w/ people who would talk to them about unbiblical or immoral things--why would you allow them to do the same by reading an author whose whole worldview is antagonistic to yours? Isn't it the same thing?

So how much of Iliad & Odyssey is enough? Do I have to read all of Harry Potter to find its worldview? Do I have to read any of it? Does a doctor try to experience every disease in order to understand it or does he just observe it from a careful vantage point in order to recognize it?

I completely see her point! My children are going to and already do see things all around them that are antagonistic to the gospel of Christ, and my thinking is that, like a bank teller, if we spend our time studying the real McCoy, we can spot fake tender w/out blinking! So why would I subject them to Homer's complete teaching?

I'm asking in the context of high schoolers, but truly, is it necessary for me as an adult to read it all either? What about Philippians 4:8?

How much is enough?

Ramona's reply:
We have ten kids at home, nine of whom are teens, so I have a wide variety of experience from which to draw from for this question. To a great degree, it depends on the spiritual maturity and discernment of the child or person. We have one daughter (age 16) who recently wanted to spend the night with a friend and go to church with her the next day. This daughter is very susceptible to outside influences and we chose not to allow her to go to another church without us there to help her understand what was going on. However, another 16 year old daughter is very mature and discerning. She works with folks who are gung ho about the Harry Potter movies, so she asked if she could read one of the books so she could discuss it intelligently. This daughter is NOT easily influenced, but she did want to understand "where they were coming from" in their discussions of the subject matter. She read it and her comment was that it was "fluffy" and not at all interesting compared to CS Lewis. She also told us how the books were much different than the movies. The children are not as disobedient and rebellious in the books as they are in the movies, for instance. Not all of our kids would have been able to make these distinctions. As a matter of fact, some of them might have tended to pick up the beliefs and/or habits of the people in this book, so we would not have allowed all of our 16 year olds to read this particular book (although our 11 year old probably would have done fine with it!).

I would suggest that, as a parent, you should try to understand your child's level of discernment and judge how "deep" to go into the subject matter according to that. If you see them start flailing, back off a bit. Do remember that the goal is to prepare them to thrive in a sinful world, where they will eventually be surrounded by these books, movies, etc. that you are teaching her about right now. It is best for her to learn to defend her beliefs while in your "greenhouse" rather than putting her out in the storm unprepared. Just keep a close eye on her and increase the scriptural influences if she is not growing straight and strong, though!

Bob's response:
Let me add something to what my wife said. When we adopted Jennifer she was 14. Because of that we had no reason to expect to have her more than five or six years. In fact, we had her five and a half years before she got married and moved away. She and several of our others that we adopted did not have much schooling in their native countries, and were having to learn a new language on top of that. We have had to think long and hard about what it means to educate a child like this.

Having done that let me propose this as the purpose of education: To teach WISDOM. Facts are nice and necessary to achieve true wisdom,but they are not the purpose of education, wisdom is. What do we need to obtain wisdom:
1) The ability to learn God's Word.
2) The ability to learn about the world around us.
3) The ability to reason from what we have learned in #1 and #2.
4) The ability to apply what we have learned to our own lives
5) The ability to communicate what we have learned to others.Thus we believe that it is more important to give children the tools for learning than it is to fill their heads with a group of unrelated(at least to them facts). Given the tools they can learn on their own after they have left your house.It sounds like you have the basic right idea, but perhaps keeping the focus on learning HOW to deal with these things rather than the WHAT will help keep her training in focus.Let me suggest that she would be far better off having dealt with a small amount of material in depth than a great deal of material in a shallow manner. If she encounters something new, she can always apply those skills to the study of it. However, without the tools she won't know how to deal with something new if it comes up. Not that there is really anything new, but it often comes wrapped in a new package. Hope that helps.

If anyone is interested in more, let me know. The conversation did go a bit past this, but including the rest of it would make for a very long post. If there is enough interest, I can make another post, though.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Suffering for the Elect

When you adopt a child at an older age, you may be the first person to ever bring discipline and authority into their lives in any meaningful way. You become to them the embodiment of the Law. It is not surprising then when they act according to their nature. They may be rude, rebellious or even call down curses upon you as one of my daughters did. Over time they can bring a great deal of suffering into your family. However, this is not surprising as Paul tells us in
2Ti 3:12-13 'Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived."

The shock comes to us as adoptive parents when we realize the source of this persecution comes from our own child. But before we run away, or try to rid ourselves of this difficult child we need to understand the roll of suffering in the life of the Christian. One reason that Christians suffer is for the sake of the gospel and those that will be saved. Again the apostle Paul says:

2Ti 2:8-10 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (ESV)

Here the Apostle Paul gives us a reason for his suffering, that the elect may obtain the salvation that is in Jesus Christ. We as parents should likewise be willing to suffer in order that our children might come to salvation.

In my own life, I have seen this worked out. One of my daughters came to us from a disruption. When she came into our house, she was bitter and angry. In addition, she had very little experience with authority or discipline. On more than one occasion, she litterally called on God to curse me. To this day, I still have scars on my arm from one episode with her.

However, today she is not only my daughter, but my sister in Christ. In the day I saw he heart turn to Christ, I truly understood:

Act 5:40-41 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.

Oh, that God, who is rich in mercies, might grant us the will to suffer for the sake of the gospel, whether in the world or in our own homes.

I hope to give some practical help for dealing with suffering in future posts.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Theology Matters - The Doctrine of Suffering

Getting back to the theology matters subject, I have been pondering how to say something that I have seen be a constant problem with families we have counseled. The problem is that they lack any doctrine of suffering. When life becomes difficult their first response is to run away giving up on the child that they have so recently adopted. Having found that, instead of a grateful child willing to obey because of the great sacrifice these parents have made, they have been given a sinful, angry child, they respond with something similar to “God surely wouldn’t want us to be this unhappy, would he?”

As I considered this I ran across the following quote from John Piper’s The Hidden Smile of God. He says well much of what I have want to say.
The Christian Life is Hill Difficulty

Bunyan’s life and labor call us to live like Pilgrim on the way to the Celestial City. His suffering and his story summon us, in the prosperous and pleasure-addicted West, to see Christian life in a radically different way than we ordinarily do. There is a great gulf between the Christianity that wrestles with whether to worship at the cost of imprisonment and death, and the Christianity that wrestles with whether the kids should play soccer on Sunday morning. The full title of The Pilgrim’s Progress shows the essence of the pilgrim path: “The Pilgrim’s Progress from this World, to that Which is to Come: Delivered under the Similitude of a Dream wherein Is Discovered, the Manner of His Setting out, his Dangerous Journey, and Safe Arrival at the Desired Country.” For Bunyan in fact and fiction, the Christian life is a “Dangerous Journey.”

The narrow way leads from the Wicket Gate to the Hill Difficulty.

The narrow way lay right up the hill, and the name of the going up the side of the hill is called Difficulty. Christian now went to the Spring, and drank thereof, to refresh himself (Isaiah 49:10), and then began to go up the Hill, saying,

The Hill, though high, I covet to ascend,
The Difficulty will not me offend;
For I perceive the Way to life lies here.
Come, pluck the Heart, let’s neither faint nor fear;
Better, though difficult, the Right Way go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the End is Woe

This is the Christian life for Bunyan – experienced in prison and explained in parables. But we modern, western Christians have some to see safety and ease as a right. We move away from bad neighborhood. We leave hard relationships. We don’t go to dangerous unreached people groups.

Bunyan beckons us to listen to Jesus and his apostles again. Jesus never called us to a life of safety, nor even to a fair fight. “Lambs in the midst of wolves” is the way he describes or sending (Luke 10:3). “If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!” (Matthew10:25). “He who loves his lifes loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal” (John 12:25). “Whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33, RSV).

The apostle Paul continues the same call: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). We are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him” (Romans 8:17). We should not be “moved by … afflictions ... [since] this it to be our lot” (1 Thessalonians 3:3 RSV). Faith and suffering are two great gifts of God: “To you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). The apostle Peter confirms the theme: “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for the testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). It isn’t strange. It’s normal. That is the message of The Pilgrim’s Progress. The Hill Difficulty is the only path to heaven. There is no other. Suffering is as normal as a father disciplining a son. That is how the writer to the Hebrews describes the suffering of the saints: “God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:7-8). The pattern is rooted in the Old Testament itself. So the psalmist says, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous” (Psalm 34:19; see Galatians 4:29).

Oh, how we need Bunyan! We are soft and thin-skinned. We are worldly; we fit far too well into our God-ignoring culture. We are fearful and anxious and easily discouraged. We have taken our eyes off the Celestial City and the deep pleasures of knowing God and denying ourselves the lesser things that titillate for a moment but then shrink our capacities for great joy. Bunyan’s Seasonable Counsel for us is: Take up your cross daily and follow Jesus. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

In light of the sufferings of those Christians who have gone before, and in the light of the sufferings of Our Savior on our behalf, O that God would grant us mercy because we do not want to suffer on the behalf of a child.

Addenda: Also check out this post on Pyromaniacs

The Heart of Anger - book review

Probably the book we recommend most to parents of older adopted children is _The Heart of Anger_, by Lou Priolo. Although not written specifically for parents of internationally adopted children, it is an excellent resource for helping deal with what is often one of the biggest issues with these kids - anger - using biblical principles. Basic communications will need to exist between parent and child in order for the suggested methods to be used, but Mr. Priolo also includes a section in the appendix regarding how to apply these to non verbal children. In his example the child is a two year old, but older children who are learning the language could be reached with a similar approach.

_The Heart of Anger_ is guaranteed to step on your toes, but don't let that stop you from reading it! From the beginning, parents are instructed to examine their own lives (take the log out of their own eye) before tackling the problems their children are having (taking the speck out of their eye). There is a list of 25 ways that parents provoke their children to wrath and if anyone can read that and say honestly that they do not fall prey to some of those temptations, I will be very surprised! A number of them surely hit home with me...

Chapter 5 is a very excellently written description of "Practicing Biblical Communication". He addresses all kinds of situations parents might find themselves in with their kids (ungracious speech, disrespect, interruptions, not communicating, name calling, judging motives, raising the voice, rolling the eyes, manipulation, sulking/pouting, an angry countenance, and inattentiveness) and suggests biblical ways of responding. This entire book is filled with one practical application after another, all of them quite realistic and appropriate to the subject matter.

Journaling is a major way that the author suggests to help your child work through their anger issues, and the heart issues that prompt that anger. Sample journals are provided and copying privileges granted. We have used these journals with some of our own kids and they can be very helpful in difficult situations.

The chapters dealing with manipulation by children are particularly good, and appropriate for our subject of dealing with older adopted children. As most parents of these children soon come to realize, they are absolute masters of manipulation, having learned many of these techniques as a means of survival in their earlier environment. My favorite quote from this book is in Chapter 9, titled "Disrespect and Manipulation". Priolo states, "Again remember, that your child may have practiced his manipulative ways so long, that at any given moment he may not be aware of what his desires really are. Your job is to help him see what they are and that they are selfish and sinful." Ha! Is this not life with the older adopted child, in a nutshell?

In the end, this book offers more excellent suggestions of how to deal with these problems on a day to day basis (i.e., the Think Room) and outlines a process that your child can use for appealing decisions he/she feels may have been made without all of the necessary information. Again, Priolo provides much biblical basis for this appeal process. I was actually quite surprised at all of the appeals he pointed out that were made in the Bible!

This book is an absolute "must-have" for parents of older adopted children, and strongly suggested for all parents, regardless of the backgrounds of their children. Lou Priolo does an excellent job of using biblical principles to guide parents as they deal with this very difficult subject. He also does not shy away from pointing out the need for them to first examine their own lives, which I greatly appreciate.

This book can be purchased from Amazon or from Grace and Truth books (see link on sidebar). Buy an extra copy, because you will find yourself recommending it to others and most likely giving your own copy away, as we have done numerous times!