How to Parent: 23 Years of Parenting Experience Summed Up in 2 Words

For months, Dawn and I have talked about writing a series of advice posts about parenting. We’ve been through one strong-willed toddler, one semi-rebellious teen, and one very depressed middle-schooler, three kids in all. Our parenting journey includes some short-term government assistance, an unexpected and difficult career transition, several years of parenting while medicated, and miraculously, lots of joy-filled memories for all five of us.

The Hetricks in Sugar Cane, 2002

[The Hetricks at the Mountain Farm, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, 2002.]

But, as I’ve struggled to summarize what we learned from experience in a simple, how-to-parent intro post, I finally decided that our 23 years of parenting experience can be boiled down to just these two words:

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Jesus Came Preaching Bad News

For the past few months I’ve been discipling a couple of college age guys at my house on Tuesday nights. We’ve been going through a portion of discipleship material my church created called, The Journey. Along the way, as we talked about practical things like how to pray, and theology like the role of God’s grace in our lives, it became clear to me that what these guys really needed was a basic understanding of the answer to this question:

What is the gospel?

So, I asked them…

and watched the cerebral machinery abruptly grind to a halt.

Huh? It’s a type of music, right? Wait, no. It’s a book in the New Testament.

They really didn’t understand the question at first. In fairness to them, I was very unclear on the question myself until a few years ago, and I’ve got a graduate degree in theology! And if you had to write an answer to that question on a test right now, the first thing you’d probably realize is that you’ve never thought about it, and second, that no one in any church you’ve attended has ever taught you about it.

Explain The Question

So, the first order of business was to explain the question. In the New Testament, the word that is commonly translated “gospel” literally means “good news”. The authors of the New Testament record that Jesus went around like a news announcer telling people a message that He considered THE good news. So the question, “What is the gospel?” really means, “What message did Jesus (and His disciples after Him) announce during His earthly ministry?”

Understand the question now? Okay, the answer should be simple, right? Well, not quite. You see, Jesus announced his good news in a way that puzzled, and then angered, His hearers.

He Told Them to Repent

What? Shouldn’t good news call for rejoicing, or at least a solid, warm fuzzy? Well, yeah except that Jesus said if they didn’t repent they wouldn’t get the good news, so repenting was necessary first. Now, this made His good news kind of unpopular to people who evidently didn’t think it was good news, and so…well, they killed Him.

What’s the Problem?

The problem was that although Jesus came preaching good news, He also came preaching bad news. As a matter of fact, the Jews of Jesus’ day had learned from their prophets to be on the lookout for some good news for centuries. So when Jesus came, some of them were all ears and found out the good news was waaaay better than they had expected. But most of them hadn’t expected any bad news, and Jesus made it sound like it was waaaay badder than anything many of them (or us) wanted to hear.

And the Bad News Is?

That’s what I’d like to ask you. If you have some thoughts about the bad news Jesus preached, please share it by commenting on this post. Pass it on to your friends and ask them to do the same. To prime to pump, here’s my own imperfect summary of the good news Jesus announced as if from His own lips:

You can have a right relationship with God forever through faith in me.

So, what do you think? What’s the bad news? How would you summarize it? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page for this post.

You can read my follow-up post here: And the Bad News Is…

[BTW – the guys I disciple did a great job digging in, and we all made a lot of progress understanding the good news and why it matters.]

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Getting Beat Up By Your Idol

This week I got beat up by my idol. I stubbed my toe, broke my nose and limped away pathetically. Right now, it still hurts like the dickens.

You might think I’ve got a little stone god in my house with more arms and eyes than humanly possible. You might think I tripped over it during a midnight run to the fridge and smacked my nose on the coffee table on the way down. Or, you might think Carrie Underwood stopped by to club me repeatedly with a brick-filled Versace hand bag.

But, reality is stranger than fiction. I got beat up by an idol of my own making, without even knowing I had made it. I can’t see it, smell it, hear it, or touch it. But it is real. And it’s got to go.

What Happened?

The short version is that I made a presentation at work and it wasn’t well received by the one person I needed to persuade – the person whose opinion I valued most in that situation. In fact, rather than persuading him, I made him angry, angry enough to berate me in the meeting.

I responded calmly enough, and we worked through it, making progress over the next day.

What’s Happening?

But, despite behaving professionally on the outside, I was withering with self-doubt and insecurity on the inside. Am I a loser? Am I incompetent? Am I clueless? This may never happen to you, but I’m an average man trying to be significant in the world. And the thing I fear most of all in life is being useless – not having enough competence in something, anything, to make a meaningful contribution to the people around me.

And that fear can be just plain dangerous.

Tim Keller, a pastor and author from New York City, teaches that both blessing and hardship are tests that reveal the idols of your heart. These tests show us – despite what we say we believe – what we’re really depending on to feel significant, secure, important, happy, or loved. This situation showed me that too much of my sense of significance and security rests on my belief in my own competence. It revealed that I’m depending on my own competence as my functional savior, despite my profession of faith in Christ.

Physician, Heal Thyself

The trouble is that even though I know all this, I can’t help myself. I can’t tell myself to stop clinging that idol. My mind and will are powerless because it’s got a hold on my heart. My head says, “Just stop depending on that idol; you know it’ll never give you permanent satisfaction.” But my idol says, “Oh, you can’t be free. You are mine and you know it.” Just as Saruman, the White Wizard in The Lord of the Rings, had a hold on Théoden, the King of Rohan, my idol won’t let me go. I need a deliverer.

It’s Sunday Morning

And so, in an hour I’m going to church. I go to worship my Deliverer. I go to confess the idol of my heart – my functional savior. I go find grace to help in the time of need. I go to be delivered from my own creation. I go to hear the gospel and be reminded who my real Savior is.

God has given me His Son, His Spirit and His Church that I might experience a free, satisfying and significant life. But, I’m an average guy, and just like Jesus’ first twelve disciples, I’ll be nagged with fear and doubt for a long, long time. My need for a Deliverer won’t be a one-time deal. I’ll need a weekly reminder, a weekly course correction, a weekly re-orientation toward Jesus (at least). And no doubt, over time I’ll discover even more idols in my heart.

So, I’ll keep going to my Deliver. He’ll keep dressing my wounds and reminding me that He already purchased my freedom.

Three Hours Later…

As I worshiped and confessed, I found the grace I needed. Jesus said,

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners… – Luke 4:18

Yes, Lord Jesus. Your word is enough.

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