The Gates Are Open

Healthy Living

Phantom Affairs

Posted on June 10, 2016

phantomAuggie and Tami felt the emotional distance between them. They fought, made up, fought some more, made up less often, fought more vigorously, didn’t make up any more. They didn’t know what the other was angry about, but constantly replayed their own story of hurt in case anyone asked. No one did.

Tami filed for divorce first, but Auggie was willing too. They settled their legal differences amiably and spared the world the bother of having to listen to their public complaints. A year later and they legally didn’t have to contact each other for any reason.

Yet for some reason, they kept in close touch. They met for lunch and endlessly dissected the reasons why their marriage fell into the toilet. That’s when and why they came for counseling. They didn’t desire to resurrect their relationship, but they wanted me to do a post-mortem with them on the corpse that was their marriage.

After meeting three times, I discerned the basic reason for their marriage failure and I shared it with them. At first, they were both confused. Then they denied it was true. It was almost a year later Tami came back and admitted I was right. I don’t know if Auggie ever agreed with me.

Here was their problem. They both had someone else. They both had chosen another person over their partner.

Yet neither of them had a physical affair. Neither of them had met in clandestine circumstances to give their love to another person. But they had still chosen someone else. Once they began doing that, it was inevitable it would ruin their relationship.

We wrongly assume that affairs have to actually involve knowing and interacting with the other member of the tryst. Today, there are multiple warnings about emotional affairs, relationships between married people that do not result in sex. These can be devastating of course. As Laura Berman observes,

Emotional cheating (with an “office husband,” a chat room lover, or a newly appealing ex) steers clear of physical intimacy, but it does involve secrecy, deception, and therefore betrayal. People enmeshed in nonsexual affairs preserve their “deniability,” convincing themselves they don’t have to change anything. That’s where they’re wrong. If you think about it, it’s the breach of trust, more than the sex, that’s the most painful aspect of an affair and, I can tell you from my work as a psychiatrist, the most difficult to recover from.

However, neither Auggie nor Tami were enmeshed in emotional affairs. They did practice some of the alternative ways one can tie themselves to another person anonymously. Let me outline the most common ways this is done:

Old Flames: A healthy person continues to process their memories long after they have experienced the original event. This must be done to remain emotionally grounded. We need to understand what has taken place in our lives so we don’t develop the wrong ideas about our history. But when we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about past romances–and especially when we do this to replace time spent thinking about our spouse–we conclude that those days were better than these. The current troubles always pale in comparison with these idealistic memories.

Romantic Novels and Movies: One wouldn’t think you could form attachments with fictional characters, but psychology has proven that this is not only possible, but widespread. Yes, there are women who imagine themselves in the arena with Peeta, or men who see themselves as Danaerys’ companion. This explains the almost fanatical appeal of some fan-bases. This practice intrudes on a marriage when the spouse replaces their affection and admiration for their partner with the character they have obsessed upon. People can also imagine celebrities and read every article about them, taking time and mental energy away from their spouse and pouring it into a famous person.

Pornography: Most people assume porn is all about taking affection away from a spouse. Actually, that reason is not  as common as with the first two examples. Most men use porn as a mechanism to deal with relational pain, especially when they use porn to stimulate themselves.

But there are indeed some men and women who picture themselves with the people in the videos. This causes them to make constant mental comparisons between the porn stars and their partners. As I said, this is not the most common use of porn–it is most likely a pain manager–but it does exist. When a person uses porn to mentally replace their spouse, it can destroy a marriage.

Co-workers, neighbors and professional acquaintances: Throughout life, there are people who treat others well, affirm their value through words and deeds, and give  comfort to the emotionally distraught. A neglected or mistreated spouse will place great value on the person who is willing to give them these things.  Doctors, nurses, teachers, pastors,  therapists etc. all have to set careful and obvious boundaries so clients do not expect to have inappropriate relationships. But just because there are boundaries, the person receiving help can fantasize about how wonderful it would be to have a deep intimate relationship with their help-giver. Perhaps neither party acts upon this and the two of them maintain a professional relationship. But the one person still wishes for a deeper bond. This also can be done with people at work, neighbors we have come to know more than casually, and family friends.

Horror stories are told of people who assumed someone else felt as strongly as they did in the relationship, only to find out the affection was completely one-sided. The mind has the ability to fill in both sides of the relationship, assuming the kind words and actions are proof of an intimate connection.

Auggie and Tami both had these phantom affairs and had maintained them for a long time. The upshot of this error is that every mistake their spouse made was compared to these phantom ideal people. In their minds, the phantoms would never have treated them this way.

In Auggie’s case, he obsessed about old girlfriends. Tami focused on a man who lived across the street who appeared to treat her with the respect she had always longed for from her husband. Neither of them sought out a romantic partner outside of their marriage, but the phantom partners provided the manure for all of their resentments to grow.

Strangely enough, a year after divorcing, Tami dated the man across the street. After the second date, she realized he was a jerk. Coming home that night, she cried over her lost marriage. She began to see how great a mistake she and Auggie had made.

 

Imposter Syndrome is not Humility

Posted on March 24, 2016

imposterI was listening to a famous American preacher this month telling his audience why he wrote his current book. The title of the book suggests that the author doesn’t feel he has a lot of reason to be in the spotlight. In fact, many people have told him that he isn’t a big deal, and he personally agrees with them.

But then he made this statement:

“If they only knew how I really feel. I sit there some days and tell myself “So many people could do a better job of preaching and teaching. Some of them are in the congregation every Sunday.”

He used that thought to build a case for the power of humility. He waxed eloquent about how God loves to take broken and cracked people and make them into incredible stories to the glory of God. You could hear the congregation getting louder and louder as they affirmed the truth he was throwing at them. They began to believe they could be used by God.

All that is well and good. And I agree completely that humility is a foundation of God’s power in our lives. Without humility, we will never see the Lord’s plan for us. We will never know how his power could change us and others through us.

But what I do take issue with is the entire underpinning of the message. Unfortunately, this famous preacher is wrong about one thing. And that one thing is so crucial, he may be hindering others from finding the same path he did. In essence, he is confused about humility. Or maybe he isn’t…but what he said is confusing and I want to clear it up.

Here is the reality. That guy is a really good preacher. He effectively communicates truth and he keeps people’s interest as he does it. I’m a harsh critic of public speakers and I have to admit that he does a really good job. So, when he gets up and says his inner thought life centers on the idea that he is not a good preacher, that lacks all the qualities of humility.

It is actually called something else. Psychologists correctly refer to this as “The Imposter Syndrome”. Imposter Syndrome is an internal dialogue where the person believes it’s just a matter of time before you’re found out as a talentless fraud. Strangely, this is a condition that exists more with successful people than unsuccessful ones. It is estimated that 70% of the CEOs have this constantly. Though no surveys have been done of pastors and missionaries, I suspect from experience that most of the pastors of big churches have this thought pattern.

Imposter Syndrome was first identified in the 1970s by  Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. They noticed that many of the most successful people who came to see them for counseling exhibited many of the following symptoms:

  1. Every time they are praised, they fear they won’t live up to expectations.
  2. Fear that others will discover how little they know.
  3. The feeling they have to work harder than others to accomplish anything.
  4. They seek external validation, but don’t believe it when it is given
  5. They  keep their real life accomplishments secret from your peers.
  6. They attribute their success to luck
  7. They are always afraid others are more intelligent than they.

 

Imposter Syndrome robs people of joy. It takes their legitimate achievements, for which they should have great satisfaction, and vacuums all of the real joy out of it. Imposter Syndrome is one of a handful of successful joy-robbers that cause Christians to live less than a fulfilling life.

So how is this different than humility? Perhaps the confusion always arises because the word humility and humiliation are so close cognates to each other. But from a biblical point of view, these are almost opposite concepts. Humiliation has to do with Shame, and we are told there is “therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” It cannot be possible for humiliation and humility to be connected to each other.

We are told in the Old Testament of the Bible that “Moses was the most humble man who ever lived.” Is this referring to the time at the Burning Bush when he told God he was not a good enough leader to go before the nation of Israel and speak on God’s behalf? No…the Bible tells us that Moses was the most humble man in the world “because he saw, as it were, God face to face.” Humility is about intimacy with God, a complete dependence on God for life, breath, and direction. Moses was humble because he kept returning to God to find out what God wanted him to do next.

In Deuteronomy 8, we are told the nation of Israel was humbled by God when he caused manna to be on the ground every morning. Every Jew had to collect a day’s worth of manna if they wanted to eat. How is that a humbling experience? When you have to depend upon God daily for  your food, you recognize your dependence on God. Humility is solely about dependence. Yes, to be dependent, you must know your own limitations. But that does not imply we must castigate ourselves and believe we’re imposters. That is not humility. It is actually so unhealthy.

Some of you may be thinking of Paul who said he was “less than the least of the apostles” and “The chief of sinners.” If you read too much into those statements you are going to fall into error. Paul wasn’t saying this to put himself down. He was saying it to show that no one can be disqualified to serve God because of their past. The past is buried with Christ in the tomb. We do not have to accept the shaming that goes on with Imposter Syndrome.

If you find that you have this condition, don’t explain it away like the preacher did. Ask God to show you the truth about your abilities. Ask God to speak into the idea that you’re a fake and a phony. You will most likely find God doesn’t agree with your imposter assessment.

The True Meaning of the One Ring

Posted on March 18, 2016

ringThough J. R. R. Tolkien didn’t want his readers to speculate on deeper meanings in the Lord of the Rings (LOTR)–he wanted them to focus on the story itself–he did admit over the years that some parts of the series had much more complex meanings.

The most important of these is the One Ring itself. What does it mean? What does it represent? I contend it stands for the same thing as the biblical picture of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And like any great metaphor, it sheds light on a very complicated truth.

One question my LOTR friends and I have asked each other is this: “How do you think the One Ring would have affected you?” Though for years I doubted it would have had much influence on me, as I get older I realize how foolish that position is. But let me give some background before I explore the questions about the Ring further.

Some of you reading this are not familiar with the Lord of the Rings or the Ring itself. It would be impossible for me to do an adequate summary, but I’ll try to catch you up.

In Tolkien’s cosmology (world-making), God’s name is Illuvitar, which means Creator. After Illuvitar created all the original Valar (equivalent of the Angels) one of these went rogue and created evil in the world. For all of time, the battle between Good and Evil would take place. In this sense, the world of Middle Earth is exactly like our world. It is the problem the human race has always encountered.

A while later, these Eldar also created other beings; that is when the Elves came into existence. The elves were immortal and were full of light and joy. They were created to be a living shield against the works of darkness.

But the evil force in Middle-earth created other beings who hated the elves and all immortals and sought to control them. Chief among these was Sauron. Sauron noticed that one of the most influential elves, Celebrimbor, was especially gifted in creating beautiful rings. Sauron secretly hoped to use those rings to control the elves.

In the world of Middle-Earth, rings represented more than just jewelry or a covenant relationship. The maker of rings imbued part of his own power into them. Sometimes, other power could be placed in a ring if the maker had authority to do so.

Celebrimbor made 19 rings, all of which were supposed to be given to elves. But while he was finishing the making of the rings, Sauron devised a way to make One Ring which had the power to overwhelm and control the wearers of the other rings. He did this in secret of course; but the only way it would work is if he imparted most of his life-force (soul) into the ring. Therefore, if the One Ring is ever destroyed, he would be too.

Of course, this is what happens at the end of Lord of the Rings.

When 16 of the rings were made, Sauron–who had been involved with helping Celebrimbor make them–took the rings for himself. He was not aware at that moment that there were three more rings which Celebrimbor had fashioned in secret. Sauron took the 16 rings and gave nine of them to men and seven to dwarves. The One Ring Sauron wore openly on his own finger.

As a result, war began between the elven kingdoms and Sauron, which did not stop  until the One Ring was destroyed. The hidden three rings were given to elven rulers. As soon as they put on their rings, they could see the true evil nature of Sauron. They immediately took off their rings, preventing Sauron from having power over them.

We later learn that one of the Elven Rings went to Gandalf, a wizard. This comes into this article later.

In this article, I want to do two things. First, I want to show the meaning of the Ring and how that meaning applies to our lives today. Second, I hope to point how the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil encompasses the same meaning as the One Ring. I know that’s a lot to bite off, but please bear with me as I go through this.

At one point in the history of the Ring, Sauron’s hand is cut off and the ring falls into the river and is seemingly lost forever. But the Ring always had a way of finding its way back to Sauron. A young hobbit was swimming one day and he found the ring at the bottom of the river. He brought it up and showed it to his cousin Smeagol. The two of them both wanted the ring and so they struggled for it. Smeagol killed his cousin and ran off with the ring, becoming separated from all friends and  family.

If you think this sounds like the Cain and Abel story, you are not mistaken. Tolkien admitted as much in an interview before his death.

Just as the influence of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil touched everyone in Adam’s world, so the one Ring affected everyone for evil in Middle-earth. Centuries later, Smeagol (now called Gollum) lost the ring to another hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo’s time with the ring is told in “The Hobbit” and I won’t review that here. Bilbo eventually passed the ring on to his nephew Frodo who was the one to eventually carry the ring to its destruction in the Lord of the Rings books.

(Along the way, two other persons handled the ring as well, a friend of Frodo’s named Sam Gamgee, and a peculiar creature named Tom Bombadill. Neither of them were particularly impressed with the ring or overly affected by it. More about the two of them in a later article).

The ring had several effects on most people who carried it for any length of time:

  1. It caused the wearer to be invisible to the physical world and visible to the spirit realm where Sauron lived.
  2. It caused the wearer to be immortal while wearing the ring. They would not get much older.
  3. They fell in love with the ring. That love was all-encompassing and caused the wearer to become jealous and protective of the Ring.
  4. The wearer’s body would be stretched thin, as if they were disappearing from the realm of the world and sucked into the world of unclean spirits.
  5. When they put the ring on, the wearer was visible to Sauron and his servants and eventually Sauron could draw the wearer to the side of evil.
  6. The physical nature of the wearer would become deformed the longer they wore the ring.

 

So why would anyone want to wear the Ring if it had this kind of degrading effect? For the three hobbits who wore the ring most often (i.e. Smeagol, Bilbo, and Frodo), its appeal outweighed its dangers. As they wore the ring, they were safe from attack from the world around them. They could be invisible and thus find out things that others kept secret. They could control their world with stealth and relative safety.

And this is where the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil comes into the metaphor. The appeal of the Ring is the same appeal that the Tree had to Adam and Eve. The fruit of the Tree would please them. It would cause them to know deep things about evil. And it would allow them to do all this in secret, delving into mysteries with their own choice as the driving force.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was a proscribed tree. It was the only place Adam and Eve were not allowed to go. They could not eat of its fruit or touch it. If they did, a process of death would begin and they would be cut off from the other primary tree in the garden: The Tree of Life.

So what is the deep significance of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Essentially, in life, there are two ways we can “know” something. We can learn about that something from a person who knows more than we do. I call that “learning by revelation.” You learn because you are taught. Or, the second way to know something is by trial and error. We call this “learning by experience.”

Both ways to know something are fraught with potential dangers. If you learn by “Revelation” you are at the mercy of the one who teaches you. There is a trust relationship required in this learning process. You are trusting the one who teaches to be accurate and helpful. If they give you wrong information or guidance, it could be very destructive.

But the same thing is true of learning things by experience. You may eat a poisonous leaf, cut off a finger on a table saw, break your neck while climbing a tree, etc. Learning by experience is a dangerous and dark road, only occasionally netting brilliant results. Yet, this is the road that leads to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

It is in God’s nature to instruct his children. Since there is good and evil in the universe, and has been since before mankind existed according to the biblical record, God would want mankind to know about it. But since we were created to be in a relationship with God, it is likely God wanted us to know good and evil by way of “Revelation”. The walking/talking relationship with God would afford that.

But the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is the convenient shortcut to all of that. The moment Eve and Adam tasted its fruit, their eyes were opened. To what exactly their eyes were opened to will be discussed in a moment. But, the second they ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they knew the difference between the two by EXPERIENCE. And it taught them well. They knew immediately they had disobeyed and disappointed God. When God came to manifest His presence with them a little while later, they hid from God.

This is one of key parallels between the One Ring and the Tree. Both entities cause a desire for the person to hide away from others. The Ring manifests this by cloaking its wearer. The Tree does it by shifting the focus of life. Let me show you.

When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, their eyes were opened. What does that mean? Up until this point in their lives, they lived naked and unashamed. Yet, the moment they ate from the experientially-based Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they noticed they were both naked and shame filled them. But does this make any sense? Is this just about shame?

They were married to each other. They had been naked all along and married to each other. There was no obvious significance about their nakedness. So we have to ask a different question: Why did they all of a sudden NOTICE they were naked? If they never realized the significance of it before, why did it begin to bother them?

I contend that Adam and Eve, before they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, were spirit-beings that happened to have physical bodies. Once they had tasted the forbidden knowledge, they changed natures. More accurately, they focused on a different realm. Now, they are physical beings that happen to have a spiritual dimension. This changed everything.

Before eating the forbidden fruit, they focused on things of the spirit realm. Even their vision of God and conversations with God were in that dimension. God is Spirit (John 4:24) we are reminded, and no man has SEEN God at any time (except Jesus…John 1:18). So if they were seeing God, it is in the realm of the spirit. These spirit beings, Adam and Eve spent most of their focal curiosity and fervor on spirit things.

Now, the focus is on the physical realm. They notice the nakedness and they infer meaning to that nakedness. They attach shame to their own bodies–this is the first dysmorphia. They physically hide from God, an action unthinkable if they were still operating from a spirit-realm mindset.

In short, as they realized good and evil by experience, they lost touch with the true reality–God and his spirit realm. Now, they could only see the realm of the body and the realm of the Evil One.

The One Ring does the same thing to its wearer. The promise of immortality and secrecy are alluring. Almost anyone would succumb to it. But not Gandalf. He is offered the Ring by Frodo and he is aghast. He instantly realizes it will give him a lot of power, but it will also make him a slave of the Ring itself. What LOTR tells us is that the more powerful the person, the more deadly their reaction to the ring. Galadriel would not take it, for she feared it would turn her into a Snow Queen, a woman of all-surpassing beauty who would rule with a cold, iron fist.

Tom Bombadil, a being of great joy and curiosity, has no desire for the Ring. Why? He lived his life simply accepting what life brought him. He does his laundry on days that it rains. He collects food from whatever nature would bring him. He is humble, satisfied and content. This is why the Ring has no effect on him.

Sam Gamgee’s reaction to the Ring is also profound. Though he uses the Ring to rescue Frodo from the clutches of orcs, he immediately removes it once he has Frodo out of immediate danger. He gives it back to Frodo, admitting that he is not worthy to have such a thing. He doesn’t like the feel of its power. In this sense, Sam is the model of the man who is pure in heart.

Here is the lesson for us. Gandalf and Galadriel fear that the ring would turn them into gruesome monsters. Tom Bombadil has no need of the ring. Sam Gamgee is afraid of what the ring offers. He would rather walk away from it and let someone else be powerful and secretive. Sam’s life is an open book. These fine people represent the cautious leader, the satisfied simple life and the pure at heart. These are the virtues that distinguish those who can overcome the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The Internet and rampant media focus have lured us all into wondering how certain things would feel. People who would never have used recreational drugs, would never have had affairs, would never have gambled can do it all so much more easily now. They reason “I have to know what everyone else knows.” That is the essence of the Forbidden Tree. That is the One Ring. That insatiable lust to find out more, to experience more, to know more.

Sam, Bombadil, Galadriel and Gandalf all fought this. You and I can as well. But we must decide that Tree is too dangerous. That ring will cost us too much.

 

 

Parenting Teens in their Crises

Posted on January 4, 2016

teens in crisis2I earned an undergraduate degree in Theology from a small Christian college in Canada. During my freshman year there, I and three other men went into the main women’s dorm in the middle of the night and played a very messy practical joke on them. Everyone on campus noticed this bit of tomfoolery –which, of course, was our goal–and the Dean of Women wanted to take severe action against us perps.

So as not to cause more trouble on campus, we turned ourselves in. The Dean of Women wanted the four of us expelled. But the Discipline Committee of the school opted for another approach. We would clean up our mess and keep cleaning other parts of the campus to a total of 40 hours work each. And we were to receive a “stern lecture from a chosen staff of professors and college leaders“.

The panel designated to deliver the “stern lecture” was made up of the Academic Dean, the Dean of Students, a church history teacher, and a wizened theology prof who had two doctorates. They were an ominous and scary tribunal. The four of us had trouble making eye-contact with this panel. After entering the room, the Dean of Students looked at us, shaking his head. Then he addressed us:

Boys, you made a huge mistake this week.”  We all dutifully agreed by nodding our heads.

You should never have turned yourselves in!”

What?!

Then, the four of them proceeded to tell us about practical jokes they had played during their college years. For an hour, we were entertained by the exploits of these respected gentlemen as they told us about their own memorable pranks. They spoke of dismantling cars and reassembling them in libraries. They described using winches, ropes, gears, pullies, chicken feathers, tar, car engines, duct tape and firecrackers to pull their pranks.

At the end, they made their main point.  The four of us had had our fun; now it was time to consider putting that phase behind us and grow up. It was a good point. I think all four of us could look at the results of our freshman year and come to the same conclusion. We had not put a lot of academic effort into our time there thus far.

One of the men on the panel came to me after and asked if he could help in any way. My father had died when I was 16 and I really did miss having an older man to mentor me. I asked if he could help in that way. He agreed. Over the next two years, we met weekly in his office in the basement of the library. He  helped me in academic ways–writing papers, understanding grammar, time management–but also in life skills. I remember the day he bought me a stick of deodorant and highly encouraged me to use it daily.

I may never have married if it wasn’t for him.

My brother, sister and I made our way through life without a father during the last half of our teen years. By age 18, I was living on my own. I am proud of how I was able to find a path for life when many obstacles stood in my way. Yes, I made a lot of mistakes that could have been avoided with some good paternal advice. But, I did have God helping me as well, so I can’t claim all the credit.

But it could have been easier with a father there during the crises. I feel this way about many of the teens I see for counseling. If their parents walked with them through life’s dangerous turns, without over-reacting to crises, then teens are often more successful.

Almost anyone can parent a teen when there is no crisis. It’s the same as saying that marriage is easy if you have no conflict. But every teen has crises, either real or contrived. And they all feel real to teens.

There are those days when a teen admits they are suicidal.

Or when a daughter comes home and tells mom she has missed her period for two straight months.

Or when the smell of marijuana, whiskey, or cigarettes is too strong to ignore (and for some reason, teens don’t think that parents can smell).

Or when the phone call from school comes saying your teen has not attended a single class in a week, is missing all the assignments in English, punched out a fellow student in Phys-Ed, bragged about having sex with a classmate, and didn’t pay for class pictures (even though you gave them the money).

Or, when your teen tells you that you are the worst parent in the world and doesn’t come home from school that day.

You want to be their mentor, friend and guide–not their warden and executioner. But when the crisis starts, it seems you have become enemy #1. If you are following what I am writing so far about Respectful Parenting, you probably realize that this approach is easy when there are no crises. But I have had several people predict the technique fails when a teen blows everything up.

How do you do Respectful Parenting during a crisis?

Before I had kids, I was privileged to be in a friendship with Dr. John White, author of over 30 books on psychology, counseling and Christianity. Dr. White was the department chair at the University of Manitoba School of Medicine responsible for training psychiatrists. He also was a pastor of a church a block away from the church I pastored.

Inexplicably, this famous older man befriended me during our first year in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I learned so much from John. It was during those years there that Dr. White came out with his book, “Parents in Pain.” This was an autobiographical book, telling the story of how both his boys became drug addicts during their teen years. Here he was, a well-loved pastor, college professor, psychiatrist and author, and both his teens went off the rails into drugs. In the first chapter of this book, he makes this observation:

“God had two children–Adam and Eve–and both of them rebelled and made a mess of life. How can we as human parents expect to do much better than God? God is not responsible for the sins of Adam and Eve, and neither are we parents responsible for the mistakes of our children.”

This statement emphasizes the first critical need when helping teens through their crisis. Learn this truth: parents, it is not your fault. The crisis was created by the teen and their cohort. You did not cause the crisis and you, ultimately, cannot solve it. The teen must put the effort in, or your efforts are useless.

What this means is not jumping in too early to rescue them. Let them sort the options through for awhile. At the very least, let them know you’re there to help them process the problem. But don’t immediately offer solutions. It is in the process of panic, retrenching, seeking resources and answers, and final execution that we all learned to grow through life’s difficulties.

Also parents, resist the temptation to read too much meaning into a child’s failure. Unfortunately, parents like to extrapolate one event into an entire predictive future. One drunken experience suggests to a parent the teen will grow up to be an alcoholic. Or if a teen shoplifts, parents fear they will adopt a life of crime and delinquency. But resist that fear and remember that you had many preteen years to teach them right and wrong. Those teachings will not be forgotten overnight, no matter how many experiments the teen tries.

And even if the teen does grow up to become a failure at life, that still is not the parent’s fault. David Sheff, in his autobiographical book on his son’s Meth addiction “Beautiful Boy”, tells how he and his ex-wife worked through the process of watching their son’s life fall apart. At one point, Sheff blames himself and the divorce for causing the addiction. But when his son went to his third treatment center for meth addiction, part of the healing process was having the parents meet with a counselor. The counselor asked each of them who they thought was to blame for the problems Nic was having with meth. They both blamed themselves. Then they blamed their marriage. Each of them blamed their new spouses as well.

The counselor let them go through this blaming process for a long while. Then, he looked at them and said “No. You have just told me all the people who are not to blame. Only one person is responsible for Nic’s addiction and his descent into hell. That person is Nic.”

It is fascinating to read the other side of this story. Nic Sheff himself also wrote a book about his addiction called “Tweak”. Nic observes many times how he would blame his family and friends for his drug use. But he finally realizes that he himself is responsible for all the garbage in his life. He also realized at one point how badly his family suffered because of him. These are his words from an article in “Fix” Magazine:

“Because, something that does truly make my situation unique, is that, unlike with most addicts, my dad actually wrote a whole book (that is, a New York Times #1 bestselling book) about his experience with his drug addict son. So, uh, I got to read in detail about how my addiction had nearly destroyed his life and his marriage and the lives of my little brother and sister. I got to read, along with a lot of other people, just how much my actions really did affect the people that loved me.

It was super f****** intense. I remember when I got my first copy of the book, I could only read like three pages at a time ‘cause it was so painful and embarrassing.”

Then later in that same article, this is what he says he would do if one of his children was an addict:

“And, if I were to have a child of my own one day who was struggling with addiction, I’d like to think I’d do the same thing for him that my dad did for me—not necessarily write a book about him or anything like that but just telling him the truth about how he was affecting me and my family. Because really, trying to “protect” an addict from the truth is like nailing up their coffin. I’ve seen it before, with the parents of addicts who refuse to ever acknowledge the problem. And I’ve seen those addicts die the way I’m a hundred percent sure I would have, too, if the people in my life who love me hadn’t been willing to tell me the truth about what an asshole I’d become.”

What rescued David Sheff from being defeated in working with his son in crisis was the idea that none of this was his fault: none of it. By recording his thoughts in the book, he was able to externalize the pain he was feeling. I am describing this to you so you can see that even if things turn out the worst they can possibly be, there is still hope and it is still NOT  YOUR FAULT.

My wife, a school nurse, works with pregnant teens much more than she would like. It’s not that she dislikes them–she is able to bond with most of them on a deep level–it is that she knows they will face challenges their classmates know nothing about. When I asked her what the biggest fear pregnant teens have, she didn’t hesitate to answer: “They are afraid of how their parents will react.”

Of course, in today’s culture, a pregnant teen can get an abortion without informing a parent. My wife has observed there are many teens that end up getting abortions because they would rather face the pain of that procedure than the pain of their parents knowing they had become pregnant.

This underscores for me the second principle in helping teens work through a crisis: Don’t over-react when you first hear. Take a time-out. Catch your emotional breath. Let a good portion of the emotion out before talking with them. Above all, don’t say anything that will make a division in your relationship with them.

This is important because one of the first goals of helping a teen through a crisis is determining the absolute nature of the crime. There are three possibilities of the source of the problem:

  1. Ignorance: The teen did not see the consequences of their action before it was too late.
  2. Experimentation: They knew there would be consequences, but their curiosity tied to an inborn sinful nature got the better of them.
  3. Willful Rebellion: They knew what would happen and didn’t care.

 

I hope the reader can see that these sources differ greatly from each other. My experience tells me that most teen crises fall into one of the first two categories. As I said earlier, teens are inexperienced adults. They don’t know what they don’t know. But because they are abstract thinkers with strong wills, they like to pretend they know everything. I can tell you as a counselor to teens that they are actually insecure about what they don’t know. They are a basket full of insecurity. But they don’t want anyone else to know it.

In the previous article, I mentioned a young girl who had her first sexual experience and was shamed by her parents when she told them. In my interview with her, I realized it was a date rape. But she didn’t know that because not only had she never had sex before, she had never been told what she should expect in a sexual encounter. She thought her experience was normal.

When I told her why this experience is considered date rape, she had an amazing transformation. She went from being a shamed, confused teen to an angry, offended adult. It didn’t take very long either. Just having enough information to judge her own situation changed her outlook completely. I don’t think it is any coincidence that during the past decade she has worked in women’s shelters in her city. Her teen experience opened her eyes to the way that women are often hurt and exploited.

Her parents reacted quickly and wrongly. Those two results often go together. What should a parent do when they discover a child acted out of ignorance to the consequences? My experience is that the parent should either inform the child about the truth in life or get someone else to do it. And then let the teen learn their own lesson. If the mistake was one borne of ignorance, offer to help with the consequences.

How does a parent react when the child was experimenting? I believe the key here is to dialogue with them, asking if they knew what would happen. Most teens will admit they knew there might be some harsh consequences, but almost all of them will say they didn’t know it would be this bad. One of my kids experimented one night with drinking half a bottle of brandy. I happened to be awake when they got home–I couldn’t sleep because of a leg cramp–and they came in while I was massaging my calf. I could smell the brandy from about 20 feet away.

Brandy burns the gut. It is why most people sip it. This child denied completely that they had been drinking. Then, in the middle of our conversation, they threw up all over the floor. It was all i could do not to laugh. (By the way, I never claimed to be a compassionate parent. Nor have my children ever claimed this either). What bothered me the most is this child drove home with my car. I couldn’t care less that they had experimented with alcohol. But then they drove home in my car.

I did nothing that night. I sent this stomach-heaving teen to their room to sleep it off. The next afternoon, we had a long talk about what they had expected to happen. I realized quickly this was a venial sin–they had some idea of the consequences, but never knew it would be that bad.

But they also were guilty of drinking and driving. I spent 20 minutes telling them all about what might have happened with my car. I told them what would have happened to my insurance rates, to their own driver’s license. Then, my wife regaled this teen with stories of the victims of drunk drivers she had seen in the hospital over the years. By the end of her description, our teen was in tears.

I have never observed that teen drunk again. If they have, I can’t imagine they have ever got drunk and drove a car.

Oh, and that teen never drove that car again. There have to be some obvious consequences with certain misdemeanors. With ignorance, we can help them with consequences. But with experimentation, we must help them to learn the full benefit of trial-by-error. Science teachers us that experimentation is worthless if you don’t learn anything.

But willful disobedience, especially if it involves hurting others, is a different matter altogether. It must be treated with much more stringent reaction.

For several years while living in Canada, I worked for a Sexual Abuse awareness group. We educated the public on the realities of familial child abuse. One of my co-workers contacted me one evening. He was devastated. His son had been babysitting for some neighbors. The neighbor’s youngest daughter revealed to her mom that my friend’s son had sexually assaulted her while babysitting. The neighbor was horrified–as you can imagine–but they also didn’t want to go to the police.

My friend had called me because this didn’t sit right with him. He felt something more needed to be done. His son was 16 and knew the realities and wrongness of sexual abuse. His actions were evil, illegal and immoral. They could not and should not be swept under the rug. And, even though his neighbor did not want to press charges, dad decided to go to the police himself. I accompanied him and I was there when the police arrested the teen. He was put into jail, then mandatory treatment and the sex offender label. Even though he shed that label when he was 18, he had to move from our small town because everyone knew what he had done.

Even though only a small portion of teen delinquency rises to this level of wrongness, when it does, it must be treated very seriously. It is not wrong to contact police when a teen commits a crime against other people or their property. In fact, it would be wrong not to. I would love to tell you that dad’s actions solved his son’s sexual abuse problem, but I have no way of knowing that. A person has to cross so many boundaries emotionally to get to the place where they will be willing to assault another person. If there is an antidote to this, it often resides in the police or a treatment program.

Chronically suicidal teens can only be helped by having them committed under a 5150 (i.e. mandatory 72-hour hold in a treatment facility). Drug addicted teens (not experimenters) should get professional help if they will receive it. If a teen deliberately keeps hurting others through their actions, and shows no remorse, it is time for them to leave home.

But I challenge parents of teens to consider this: If you have maintained a good level of communication with your teen over the years, rarely will you see this kind of behavior. Most mistakes will be borne of ignorance and experimentation. You do not need to add extra punishment for these. Simply make them accountable for cleaning up their own mess. And like the professors who gave us the “stern rebuke”, perhaps telling them occasionally about some of your mistakes might help them see you as an ally, not an adversary.

Other Articles in this Series:

White Paper on Punishing Teens

The Basic Offenses of Teens

Teens and High School Successes (and Failures)

 

 

 

Discipline of Teens – The Basic Offenses

When I wrote a book on parenting a number of years ago, people made two objections to it. First, there were those who attacked the basic premise of the book. I called it “To Be A Father Like The Father” and my central idea is that in order to parent well we must use God the Father to be our example.

A number of people told me that they felt this was a misguided project. “Human parents can’t copy what God does. Our goals must be different. God does not actively involve Himself in the affairs of humans.” These were the frequent comments made.

But I persevered through that misunderstanding. As I explained in that book, it is the attitude of God toward His children I wanted to emulate. And out of that attitude comes a workable model that may have to be adjusted to the realities of home life and each individual generation. Most people were satisfied when I explained that. For those who were not satisfied, I consoled myself that they at least had bought my book.

The second objection to the book was more laughable. I was continually accused of being a “Permissive Parent”. Because I don’t advocate harsh punishment for some of the more sensational crimes a teen may commit, people assumed I was not for punishment at all–after all, if you don’t whip a teen for coming home drunk, why bother saying anything when they dent the car?  They missed my point altogether.

The point of the book was to show that God understands that the heart is deceitfully wicked and no laws are going to change that. The Apostle Paul clearly teaches that the Law was only created to show us the evil in our hearts; it had no power to remove that evil.

No amount of punishments will correct the heart. And the heart is the only part of us that matters. The “heart” equals that aspect of our soul which chooses and decides. While a teen is at home, a parent’s job is to help them learn to control the inclinations of their own heart. When a teen leaves home, they are no longer under the tutelage of a parent. Unless you plan to follow them to college, career or marriage, they had better learn self-control before they leave.

I was not a “permissive parent”. But long before my children became teens, I established three points of contact with them:

First, we talked a lot. We talked about everything. I was just as willing to share my vulnerabilities and failures as I expected them to be.

Second, I never disciplined them without an explanation. I told them why I was disciplining them. I asked them to be more considerate and thoughtful in the future. I also treated them with respect and allowed them to express their anger in appropriate ways…even toward me.

Third, I did require they be part of everything the family did before teen years. We expected them to go to church with us. They went on vacations, outings, visits, etc. And I let them know that no experimentation or potentially dangerous behavior would go unpunished. But once they hit teen years, I slackened off my firm hand of discipline. Why?

Because I  needed them to know they were now immature adults. If you can reproduce, you are an adult. And you should be treated that way. How would your thinking change if your teens were not your teens but a young friend staying with you? Would you handle their stuff differently? Of course you would. Many times, we show more respect for people outside our family than those inside.

There were things I disciplined my teens for and these are exactly the same things I encourage all parents to discipline teens for. They fall into four simple categories:

  1. Disrespect:  I taught my children from the time they were young that every human being is deserving of respect. I treated my children with respect. I expected them to treat me the same way. I asked that they treat each other that way. I explained that respect meant not stealing, not lying, not gossiping etc. My children, to this day, know that nothing makes me more angry than when one of them is disrespectful to another human. Yes, my children saw my anger. I don’t think a parent should hide their anger. But neither should they let anger be their controlling factor.

    I have a friend whose son broke a neighbor’s car window with some neighbor kids as part of a practical joke. When my friend found out the details from an onlooker, he was mortified. He also practices the type of parenting I espouse, so he sat his son down. He asked him to see the situation from the neighbor’s point of view. Of course, the teen made excuses and rationalizations. But my friend interacted with him as he would with another adult. He carefully dissected each rationalization calmly. In the end, he told his son three things: You are wrong because you disrespected our neighbor’s property. You have disappointed me because you tried to cover it up with excuses instead of owning up to it like a man. And you will go over and admit your role and offer to pay back twice the value of the window. The boy never did anything like that again. As an adult, this young man shows respect to people without thinking. That is because he was forced for many years to think about it.

    The major area of respect that children must learn is with other siblings and parents. So for this to work, parents need to teach this daily before children become teens. Starting with this teaching at age 14 is a fruitless endeavor.

  2. Harming Others:  In lock-step with respecting others is the concept of doing no harm to others. This is often the context I explain sexuality to teens. I let them know there are many ways that casual sex can cause harm to yourself and others. I explain STD’s, teen pregnancy, rape, coercion, sexual manipulation, sexual taunting (making fun of another person using sexual language), etc. I also explain how casual sex can cause a spiritual sleepiness to happen when we break relationships off. I told my children that if they experimented with sexuality and the result was someone got hurt, they would be disciplined severely. If they chose to be sexual in a way that was careless, I still counted that as an action worthy of discipline. I never included self-pleasure in that for I taught there was no harm in it and no reason to be ashamed. But, if pornography was involved, then I did discipline. I consider porn to be very harmful to the developing psyche of a teen.
  3. Not Fulfilling Obligations:  There are promises made by teens that they often discard very flippantly simply because they don’t want to go through with it. I never allowed my kids to break their obligations. If they joined a team, they finished the season. If they joined a club, they followed through. If they made a financial commitment, they went through with it. I refused to bail them out or let them off the hook. That applied to pets as well. If they begged for a pet, they  had to live up to their end of the bargain or lose privileges.
  4. Lying: the rule in our house is that it went better for you if you did wrong and told the truth than if  you lied. This is my rule for anyone, not just teens. If friends of mine lie to me, I will have to think about excluding them from my circle of trust for awhile. If they do it again, it will be a long time before I entrust anything to them. My teens all knew this, though they still occasionally lied. I told them clearly that as a teen, I lied all the time, I was, unfortunately, addicted to lying. I believed there was nothing worse than people finding out the truth about me, even in small matters. As God worked in me to change my inner heart, I came to see that the Truth is always the right course, even if people do reject you for it.

 

These are the four areas that I would discipline teens for and they are the areas that I advise parents to discipline their children for.

After I wrote the first article, two different people asked me why I wouldn’t react if kids were using drugs, sleeping around or leaving their room like a disaster area. I never said I wouldn’t react. I did react. One of my kids brought drugs into our house one time and when the smell reached my nostrils, I went running 100 miles per hour downstairs. I demanded the drugs be taken out of my house. I demanded an explanation for the behavior. We spend many hours talking about the implications of drug use, lying and poor decision-making.

In short, we dialogued. We discussed, I lectured, I demanded respect. I set boundaries on what would happen in my  house. But I did not discipline for experimentation. i disciplined for disrespect and lying. I am pretty sure that same child continued to experiment off and on for several years, but it was never a problem for our household.

I remember a day when two parents dragged their 16-year old daughter in to see me. She admitted to her parents she had become sexually active. Their answer was to shame her in front of me and to tell her that they were disgusted with her and that she would never be allowed to date again. I met with her alone after all this and we talked. This was her first sexual encounter and she had  no idea what was happening. Her parents had never explained sex to her. In addition, as she described what happened, it was obvious she had been date-raped. Because I’m a mandated reporter, I enlisted her parents and the pastor of her church to confront the young man and hold him legally accountable. We found out he had done this to several other girls as well.

After all the legalities were settled, I sat the parents down and asked them three questions:

  1. Why had you never taught her about sex?
  2. Why did you feel you had to shame her in front of me?
  3. What are you afraid of with your daughter?

When we worked through all the issues, I realized mom was ashamed of her own teen years and she wanted something different for her daughter. Her rationale for not teaching about sex is that it would just encourage her daughter to act like she did.

That young girl started to talk to another counselor about sexuality and has grown up to be a person who handles her life well. She is a rare success story. There are more failures because parents are not aware of the most important actions to discipline for. Hopefully this article gets you rethinking your own approaches.

In the next article, we will be looking at how to deal with teen crises–drunkenness, teen sex, thievery, etc–in ways that do not primarily focus on discipline, but rather, restoration.

White Paper on Punishing Teens

I do more and more counseling with teens and their parents and the majority of the parents all want to know one thing: how do I punish my teens when they do wrong?

And my answer is always the same: That’s the wrong question. If you know the right question to ask, the other question almost answers itself.

The right question to ask is “What offenses should be punishable offenses?” Once you answer that question, then the query about the type of punishment will hopefully resolve itself. Since I believe the consequences for anyone doing something unethical, immoral or evil should always fit the crime, this applies as much to teens as anyone else.

If you can determine what things should be punished and what things should not be punished, then you can tailor the consequences to the crimes. I personally believe there are many things not worth punishing a teen for. And most, if not all, of you reading this are going to disagree with at least some of my personal list. That’s your choice, and I respect it. And I say that because that principle is at the core of my list. I believe in personal choice, even for my own teenagers. I don’t think it is the job of a parent to enact consequences for actions of their teen that hurt no one else. In this, I believe I am copying God’s example. God does not bring justice upon our heads immediately when we sin. God allows us to sin and will talk with us as we wrestle with what we’ve done.

But, going along with the principle of not punishing for actions that hurt no one else is the principle of not jumping in to rescue them when their actions cause them troubling results.

Therefore, let me give you the list of things I now believe we should NOT punish teens for. After each one, I have given a brief explanation.

  1. Bad Grades, missing assignments, poor test results:  In this case, the consequence  is built into the result. At the same time, it is equally inappropriate to reward a teen for good grades etc. Let them handle this stuff themselves.
  2. Drug and Alcohol Use:  There are exceptions to this–and I will cover that in a later article–but I believe that a child who experiments with drug or alcohol use in such a way that does not immediately hurt other members of the family should not be punished. Neither should they be rescued and defended when the experimentation goes wrong.
  3. Not going on Family Outings:  if they don’t want to go, that is their choice. As with all of these, you can negotiate, discuss, challenge and set boundaries on teens all you like. But punishing them for not doing what you want them to do is not appropriate. God doesn’t do that.
  4. Sexual Activity:  Once again, there are exceptions to this one, especially if their actions have hurt others or shown no respect for societal laws and values. But if a teen chooses to be sexual, and they have not broken laws, hurt people or put others in danger, then punishment is not appropriate. If a parent has a good relationship with a teen–which includes telling them they are free to live their own life–then you have opened a good door to help your teen evaluate their moral and sexual choices. If you haven’t a good relationship, punishment won’t accomplish anything.
  5. Messy rooms: Oh my. I could base an entire counseling practice on just helping teens and parents cope with the inevitable messy rooms. Don’t bother punishing a child for this. It’s a meaningless punishment. It needs to be their space where they learn to cope with clutter. It is their space and their choice. Let them live in their filth.

 

I can see some parents looking at this list saying “what do you discipline a teen for?” Good question. And that’s the subject of the next article.

I can also imagine some of my own children reading this and calling BS on me. Full Disclosure: This is what I have come to believe about parenting. It does not mean I perfectly kept to these principles, especially with the older kids. But, as with all of us, I did learn a thing or two by helping other parents work through these things.

In the next three articles, here is what we will cover:

  1. What you should discipline teens for:
  2. How to deal with teen crises (alcohol, sex, drugs) when discipline is not appropriate
  3. How to choose a punishment to fit the crime
  4. Building a solid relationship with pre-teens that will pay dividends when they reach teen years.

Counseling Over Skype and Facetime

skype-therapy-with-a-skype-therapistOne of the most radical changes I have seen in my 36 years of doing counseling is the emergence of Skype and Facetime as viable communication vehicles. I did my first Skype counseling session about 10 years ago (with a soldier serving in the Middle East) and until two years ago I had a few clients every year. Beginning in 2013, I started to counsel monthly over Skype and Facetime with a wide variety of clients.

Now I counsel at least two people a week over these media–many times I counsel more than that.

You may not have considered this a viable alternative to the traditional office visit counseling session. So, if you are not familiar with Online Media Counseling (OMC), let me introduce you to the many benefits (and a few of the potential drawbacks).

Benefits of OMC with Skype and Facetime

  • OMC removes some of the obstacles of counseling involving travel and location. For instance, because counselors are highly specialized in the type of therapy they offer, you may not be able to find a counselor who offers the approach to counseling that is most beneficial to your particular life challenges. With OMC, you don’t have to live anywhere near the counselor. It is possible to do counseling with a therapist on a totally different continent. I have counseled many people in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
  • Health issues are no longer a hindrance to going for counseling. Some people are non-ambulatory and cannot leave their homes. This makes seeing a counselor very difficult. But with Facetime or Skype, you can see your counselor even if the flu makes it impossible for you to dress in anything other than pyjamas.
  • Clients with phobias related to the gender of the counselor (especially for initial appointments) can relieve some of that stress by counseling with someone via OMC.
  • People in rural areas are often at a disadvantage when it comes to psychotherapy because they do not live close enough to any counselors. With OMC, the client is always as close as an Internet connection to the therapist.
  • Most therapists can offer counseling for cheaper when done over OMC. The therapist does not have to have a dedicated office when doing online therapy. This means they can offer their services for less since they don’t have as many overhead costs.
  • OMC is superior to counseling over the phone, since the therapist can see the body language and facial expressions of the client. This is critical with many counseling sessions.
  • When you have received therapy from a counselor that you respect, you often want to recommend that therapist to your friends. The problem is, your friends may live a 1000 miles away from the therapist. With OMC, that is no longer a hindrance.
  • OMC does not imply an impersonal connection. Many of my online clients report they feel an appropriate amount of closeness and empathy even over the Internet.

Potential Drawbacks to OMC

  • It requires that the connection be high-speed and reliable. A dial-up connection and a modem probably won’t get this done. However, I have had several clients who have lost their connection to me via the Internet. When we restored it, we were able to continue on fairly naturally without a problem.
  • Other people can interrupt the session, thinking you are “only online with someone”. Sometimes, clients forget to keep their space free of “visitors” and this can be a bit embarrassing. I often warn new clients of this, but it doesn’t always ensure privacy.
  • Some clients feel the need to be in the same room as the counselor. Obviously this is not possible to do with Skype or Facetime.

If you or someone you know could benefit from OMC, email me at mikeinsac@sbcglobal.net and we can set up a time to talk.

The Best Expose Ever on The Ridiculous Prosperity Gospel

Posted on August 25, 2015

In the listing of comedy styles, satire and sarcasm should be near the bottom of everyone’s list. These stylistic attempts to entertain are always based upon a deeper level of anger and frustration. They are the venue of the passive-aggressive.

However, when wielded against things that ought to make us angry, they are both effective and devastating to the objects being attacked.

This video is dedicated to attacking one of Christianity’s most heinous copycats: The Prosperity Gospel Copycat. It is 20 minutes long and certainly irreverent. However, Christians have been way too nice to these charlatans in the past. John Oliver on his show laces his attack with profanity and sarcasm. But he also has some excellent proof of what is happening. After watching the video (or as much as you can) come back here and I’ll give you my personal take on all of this:

Many years ago, when I was pastoring a church, I invited a man to come and speak in our church. He was known to have certain powerful gifts and I was curious to see his ministry up close. He never identified himself as a Prosperity teacher, but I found out soon that this was his schtick.

On the second night, he spent almost 20 minutes on a financial appeal to seed money into his ministry. He used the same blurring of biblical texts to back up his doctrine. At the end of that service, I politely told him this was not what I or our church believed. I asked him to stop doing it.

Two nights later, he did the same thing again. In the middle of his appeal, I got up and asked him to sit down. Even though we had two more nights of meetings planned, we were done that night. I wasn’t going to endorse his shenanigans any longer.

I later learned in four days he had raised over $25,000 for himself. I was incensed and called him to let him know I thought he should give back that money to people. He laughed at me over the phone.

Cut to ten years later. The same Prosperity Teacher called me up (i was living in a different town) and asked to see me. I refused. I wanted nothing to do with his trickster approach to life. He assured me he didn’t want anything from me or my friends. So I agreed to meet him.

He wanted to apologize. He told me that he had raised a lot of money for himself in the few years he toured as an “evangelist” asking for money. He admitted it was in excess of a million dollars. Most of it went into gambling, drugs and jewelry. He was now broke, divorced and fighting addiction problems. He was going through a treatment program and part of his recovery was to make amends to those he had hurt. I was on that list.

In our conversation, he told a number of stories about men and women who had been part of his Prosperity Gospel movement. He told me that very few of them are followers of Christ and even less of them have any sense they are serving God. They know a great scam when they see it. He especially focused on men he knew: Creflo Dollar, Bob Tilton and Charles Capps. These three had taught him so much about how to raise bucks from unsuspecting rubes.

They are out there people. And they laugh at you while you send in money. Maybe, even with as crude as his presentation is, we should all be required to listen to John Oliver’s presentation just to remind ourselves that there are many “wolves in Shepherd’s clothing.”

Are We Harming our Children or Arming Them?

Posted on April 28, 2015

Kevin Swanson is a very conservative Christian teacher and preacher. In recent years, he has devoted himself and his ministry team (at Generations Radio) to engage and understand the Millennial Generation and their unique beliefs and needs.

In this sermon audio, he explains a disturbing trend among the children who grew up in Evangelical churches and are now exercising and practicing their faith as grown Millennials:

In this audio, he references two additional studies furnished by Time Magazine and the Public Religion Research Institute. I encourage you to read my summary below and then return to these links if you want to wrestle with the conclusions.

First, he mentions that 43% of the children of evangelicals now support Gay Marriage. This figure is more than double what it was in 2003. This should concern anyone who believes that Gay Marriage goes against the clear teaching of Scripture.

Second, all the studies come to the conclusion that the more a child is isolated from the primary culture the more likely they are in their 20s to support Gay Marriage, practice premarital sex and experiment with drugs and alcohol.  This isolation can happen through schooling options–such as Christian Schools and homeschooling–or through strict rules about what a child can read, watch or interact with outside of school.

Speaking as a parent that had strict guidelines about what my children could read, watch and play with, these studies are talking about me. I just wanted to make that clear. Also, all of my children attended Christian schools at one time or another and one of them was homeschooled for a period. I mention this lest anyone think I am against Christian schools or homeschooling.

In addition, I believe that all parents–Christian or otherwise–should be a filter for their children, warding off the worst of the dominant culture, especially in their early years. Let no one mistake that.

What is even more disturbing is that Christian parents who exercised less supervision over their children have the opposite results.  Swanson says that children from more lenient households do not show as much support for Gay marriage or drug and alcohol use..  Remember, these studies are only measuring the children of evangelicals. They do not canvas or study children of mainline church members, secular children or children of other faiths.

About seven years ago, another study was done to determine how effective the “True Love Waits” campaign was. This was a campaign to encourage students to devote themselves to sexual purity before marriage. The study concluded that teens who participated in “True Love Waits” had sex before marriage at a higher rate than church teens who didn’t take the pledge. (To be fair, the founders of this movement dispute the findings and challenge a larger study to be done. At the very least they admit though not enough students really did “wait” the movement was a success in that some percentage of teens abstained because of their pledge. I don’t think they are correct).

I have explained some of this in my upcoming book “The Spiritwalk”, but allow me to summarize what I believe is happening. Let’s start with the simplest explanation. All children rebel; this has been true since the beginning with Adam and Eve. Rebellion is simply a declaration of “no one tells me what to do…I make my own decisions.” Every child believes this at some point, regardless of how well we parent. In his book Parents in Pain, Dr. John White observed that God was the perfect parent and all his children have gone astray.

Rebellion gets more pronounced with more rules. Paul makes this point clearly in Romans 7:7-11.

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.

The more rules a society has, the more rebellious its people. Those who live in Singapore, one of the most rule-oriented societies in the history of the world, say that its people are constantly looking for ways to act out in rebellion; in sexual, emotional, financial and substance abuse activities.

So what is the answer to this: have no rules? That would simply foment chaos. For those of us who have raised our children, we often remember the biggest mistakes we made as teens. When we see our own teens marching down the road toward those same mistakes, we want to jump in and squash those problems before they start. This can be a mistake if we try and prevent some things from happening too soon. The more we mention how bad some mistakes are, the more curious their rebellion gets.

Or, when they do make mistakes, we often (out of love) jump in to rescue them too early. This gives our children the impression that they are not responsible for figuring these things out on their own. When they truly are “on their own” they have not had to exercise their own judgment. We may be setting them up for failing by rescuing them too early.

The other mistake is made when we rush in to create even more rules to control them.  Doing this virtually guarantees they will kick against it. Some will do this openly, but many will wait until after they leave home to do it.

The key to balancing the approach to potential mistakes is always boundaries and consequences. Let them know how you would like them to act while they live in your house. At the same time, give them options in life. As they get older, give them choices; even choices that you might disapprove of. The more choices a child has in their life, the better they will get in handling their own ability to choose. A parent should never take all choices away from their children. This is a recipe for disaster. you cannot make a child believe what  you believe, no matter how much you isolate them.

I think of the Father of the Prodigal Son. He didn’t force his child to stay home. He knew the child would destroy the peace of his life by going away with the inheritance, but he did not stop him.

The longer you hold onto all the choices in a child’s life, the more intensely they will rebel when they are no longer under your authority.

But, if  you live your life with integrity, if you bring in life options consistent with  your beliefs and explain why you believe what you do, and then give your child the options to agree or disagree, then though they will certainly rebel at some point, they will do so with much less intensity than if you tried to control their choices.

In the next article, I want to show what a good example and a bad example would look like in this discussion.

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