Friday, April 26, 2013

Book Review: What a Son Needs from His Mom

So, I had a baby boy four months ago.  And this happening prompted the reflection: What the heck do I know about boys?!  I knew there were a lot of things I could do wrong.  I just didn't have any idea what the right things were to do as the mother of a little being so entirely different from me.  Yes, love the little bugger.  But how?

Just as I was in the midst of musing over these questions, this book by Cheri Fuller came before me for review.  I immediately snatched up a review copy and read it quickly, underlining a lot.  What a Son Needs from His Mom is a book chock-full of wisdom and good advice for moms who are raising sons.
In this book, Fuller provides wisdom on topics as diverse as faith, confidence, communication, emotions, and school.  She provides a lot of anecdotes from moms of boys, as well as comments and stories from the boys themselves on what their mothers did that was helpful or not helpful for them.  Through her own journey as a mom to boys, Fuller helps moms understand how best to relate to a masculine personality.  

Confidence and formation into a strong young man as the goal is a strong theme in this book.  Fuller advises gradually releasing our sons and trusting them to make the right decision instead of overly controlling their decisions.  Helpful to me was her discussion of how off-putting over-protection due to a mother's fears can be to sons and how it can undermine confidence as they grow and develop.  I know this will be a battlefield for me and that I will need to work hard to combat my own fears and anxieties so that my boy can thrive and be the courageous young man God has created him to be.  

In one illustration, she shares about a friend who had a teenage son with whom she was experiencing friction.  "He was becoming edgy, sharing less, and pulling away."  However, "God showed Peggy that her son was the budding head of a new household.  The season of God's nurturing John through her was coming to an end and a new season was beginning for him.  It was no longer fitting for her to dominate this young man whom God was calling to be the eventual head of a new household."  This was a really helpful insight for me.  Granted, realizing when this stage has come to pass will require some careful discernment.  But eventually my son will begin to take on a role of leadership as a man.  He will probably have some growing pains as he comes into a new stage of life.  But I will need to get out of the way as God begins to form him and to move him into this new stage.

In the area of communication, Fuller provided a wonderful, helpful illustration: boys' "emotions and thoughts are a little like oatmeal.  If you heat up a pot of oatmeal and it gets hotter and closer to a boil, bubbles come to the surface.  In a similar way, as our sons get heated up through doing active things, their thoughts bubble up to the surface."  Generally speaking, while girls may focus a lot on direct relationships and talking, boys focus on doing.  I'll need to understand this major difference between the genders as I parent my son.  In regards to communication, Fuller also recommends lecturing less but instead using stories, strong and succinct quotations, and the like to teach.

In another part of the book, Fuller challenges moms to come up with five to eight core values that she hopes to instill in her son (this would be helpful for daughters as well!).  Then, she encourages moms to look to the long-term plan to teach those values.  It won't happen overnight but with steady effort, your child can come to know those all-important values.

I do have only one real critique of this book.  In the way in which Fuller describes the faith life of children, she seems to lean towards a view that a very young child cannot generally be saved and in possession of their own faith.  I believe even very young children can have a saving knowledge of Christ.  I wouldn't say that Fuller fully discounts this reality, but I think she leans slightly away from it.  I'd like to see her embrace God's saving work in very young children more fully.  However, this is a doctrinal matter that the reader can work through on their own.  

Overall, this is an incredibly wise and beneficial book.  I will be returning to it often as I raise my own little man.

4 stars. Highly Recommended.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received an advance digital copy of this book free from Bethany House.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, April 5, 2013

Why We Baptized Both Our Infants: Part 3

Photo by Bonnie Hoffman.
Over the past few days, I've been sharing from my heart the reasons our family practices infant baptism, despite the fact that I grew up not believing in it.  For the first two posts, click here and here.

Now, for Part 3:
Christopher and I baptized our daughter as a baby and will soon baptize our son because we want them to know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the faith in their hearts is God's work and not their own.  When they fall into doubts and questions of faith, we don't want them to analyze, "Did I really have ENOUGH faith"?  We want them instead to return to what God did for them when they were baptized.  We want them to remember that when they were helpless as infants, that is just when the Holy Spirit dipped into their hearts and gave them the gift of faith.  God is the subject of the sentence, not us.

We also want them to know that because they are a part of this family, faith is their heritage and birthright.  We are a family who is "in Christ."  We are together being made new.  The way we operate in our family is in constantly seeking the Lord.

I pray almost every day that God will continue to grow faith in my children's hearts.  Nothing in this world is more important than this.

So this is the way we have chosen to pass on our faith to our kids: infant baptism followed by discipleship and teaching.  A lot of my friends think differently.  They feel a conviction that their kids need to say a "Sinner's Prayer" and make a decision for Jesus.  Either way, the good news is that we are parents who want our kiddos to know and love God.  We want them to experience the blessing of salvation, the freedom of life in Christ, the unmerited favor that God's grace provides.  Some of us will dunk our kids.  Some of us will sprinkle them.  Some of us will encourage a choice for Christ.  Some will emphasize Christ's choice for us.  Either way, we are united in the knowledge that faith comes from the Holy Spirit alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).  

Our human language is so limited in trying to express the truths of Scripture.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't study the Word and try to understand its teaching.  In fact, it is crucial that we do so.  But both Lutheran theology and evangelical theology will fall short at one time or another.  Whatever we call conversion, the Holy Spirit is the One who gives faith and whenever people come to faith or deepen in their faith, it's worth rejoicing about.  I rejoice when people go forward at altar calls.  I rejoice when parents care enough about their kids to dedicate or baptize them.  If we are all centered on Jesus and on His Word, how can we lose?  My Bible study teacher said once (reflecting on Paul's teaching in Romans) that we should not argue so much in the Church on disputable matters such as all the minutiae about baptism.  She said, "Jesus said we should get baptized, so we should do that and not argue about how and when and all that."  I so appreciated that sentiment and completely agree.  

So, when we baptize our little Mr. Bean in a couple of weeks, this is why we are doing it.  But that baptism day is just the beginning.  From then on, a path of teaching and prayer remains.  Hold us in prayer as we teach our little ones just what faith in Jesus is all about.  Nothing is more important.

3 John 4: "I  have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth" (NIV).

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Why We Baptized Both Our Infants: Part 2

Photo by Allen Sorbo.
Yesterday, I began a series on infant baptism and my faith story.  In a couple of weeks, we will be baptizing our little Mr. Bean.  In this series of three posts, I explain how I came to believe in and practice infant baptism.  I'd like to share our family's perspective with friends and family, and I also hope this series will be something Mr. Bean and Burrito will treasure when they get old enough to read it. 

When last we left our story, my evangelical family had begun to attend a Lutheran church as I began my young adult years.  Through my acquaintance with this church and the dedicated, faithful, and balanced pastors in it, I began to get really interested in Lutheran teaching and to study God's Word with it in mind.  I also began to study more about Martin Luther and to see myself in his story.  His story of faith was so much like my own.  He was in bondage to attempting to follow God perfectly.  As I had begun growing into my teenage years, I had fallen into bondage to this as well.  I tried desperately to follow God perfectly but always failed.  I was becoming more and more wretched.

Martin Luther's world changed when he encountered the truth that "the just shall live by faith" in Habakkuk.  He came to see that the only righteousness that counts for anything is the righteousness that Christ gives us.  Christ takes on Himself all of our sin and brokenness and in exchange, He gives us His righteousness, goodness, hope and life.  Luther was set free by this truth and little by little, it began to set me free too.  My local Lutheran church did powerful good for me socially as well.  My anxiety and depression had made me quite socially awkward.  Through my church, I had opportunities to serve and grow.  It was awesome.

And so, when my pastor suggested I attend Lutheran seminary, I initially was shocked.  But later I decided to follow through on his advice and go.  I think there were times in seminary I operated with a little too much "freedom in Christ."  But I did receive good teaching on church history and Lutheran history and theology.  I came to understand the reason behind the practice known as infant baptism.  I attended worship class where I learned how to conduct a Lutheran baptism (we practiced on a stuffed animal duck).  

I learned that much of the teaching I received as I grew up focused on something called "decision theology."  Decision theology is the idea that while we are saved through Christ alone, we also have a part to play in the conversion process.  This part is simply to say, "yes" or "no" to God's free offer of salvation.  There are definitely Biblical passages that can be used to support this idea.  But I also came to see that sometimes decision theology can lean too hard on our human involvement and exalt us more than God.  

One of my professors in seminary, Dr. Paulson, taught that we can only say no to God.  We are dead in sin before Christ comes into our lives (Romans 6).  A dead person cannot raise themselves.  They cannot make a decision for Christ.  They can only be raised by Someone from outside of  themselves.  A baby is kind of like a dead person (except that they can scream louder!).  A baby can do absolutely nothing for him or herself.  They cannot change a diaper or feed themselves or bathe themselves.  They often cannot even get themselves to sleep.  No, they need a mother and a father to perform these crucial acts for them.  Their parents help to give them physical life and the baby completely relies on their parents from day to day.  We baptize babies, in part, because they remind us of how completely helpless we all are and how reliant we all are on God for salvation, life, and every other thing.

We also baptize babies because in the New Testament, when a family would come to faith in Christ, the whole family would get baptized.  In fact, not only would children and babies get baptized as a sign of the whole family's conversion, but even slaves who were part of the household would be baptized.  In American culture in particular, we think of ourselves so individualistically, but in the world of the New Testament, it wasn't so much that just an individual converted to faith (although that certainly did happen) but families converted as well (see Acts 10:44-48, 16:15, 16:31-33, 18:8).  Think too of Joshua, who said, "But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15, NIV).  As parents, we have a profound influence on the faith of our children.  God doesn't want us to segment our faith from our children or to "let them decide what they believe when they get older."  He wants us to instill the faith which the Holy Spirit has placed in our hearts in our children as well.  

I don't want to convey the idea that there aren't times when I feel conflicted about infant baptism, however.  As a young pastor, I did several baptisms of babies and while there were spiritually engaged parents who clearly planned to raise their children in the faith as they promised during the baptism service, there were also parents who my gut told me were baptizing their babies more to please an older relative.  I exhorted them strongly that they needed to keep the promises they made to God in the baptism service.  In baptism the Holy Spirit brings faith into a person's heart.  He makes alive that which was dead.  But if the child who is baptized is not taught the riches that they have been given, those riches go to waste.  Sometimes I felt very conflicted about these infant baptisms.  But I also had to stop and remind myself that faith is not dependent on human effort--not even on mom and dad's.  It is dependent on God.  I didn't want to penalize little children from the touch of God's grace on their lives just because mom and dad were not whole-heartedly following God.  Also, the whole church promises to uphold and welcome the child in faith.  It is primarily mom and dad's responsibility to help them grow, but it is not only mom and dad's responsibility.  These things help me as I think about infant baptism.  Still, given the chance in the future, I might require more of the parents than I did in the past.  

I am also reminded that even in decision theology, sometimes people come forward for altar calls and later fall away.  People are caught up in the moment and yet don't take it seriously.  Or perhaps no one follows up with them and helps them grow in faith.  In all segments of the church, we can do more to shepherd and disciple those who are coming into the family of faith.  It's all too easy to get caught up in the mountaintop moment and then not endure to be there for a new faithling when the going gets tough.  

Stay tuned for the final part of the series, coming tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Why We Baptized Both Our Infants: Part 1

Photo by Allen Sorbo.
In a couple of weeks, we will be baptizing our little Mr. Bean.  In this series of three posts, I explain how I came to believe in and practice infant baptism.  I'd like to share our family's perspective with friends and family, and I also hope this series will be something Mr. Bean and Burrito will treasure when they get old enough to read it.

I grew up evangelical and Pentecostal.  As time has gone by, I've grown into a mixture of the riches of that upbringing combined with Lutheran theology (Lutheran teaching about God, faith, and the Bible).

The spiritual riches of my upbringing meant that my mom made sure I had a devotion every day.  I learned to read through the entire Bible and did so multiple times.  Mom (and Dad, to a certain extent) made sure that God was a daily part of life.  We didn't just pray at bedtime, but we prayed throughout the day.  We memorized Scripture.  We were given access to the stories of great Christians from history, particularly missionaries.  These missionaries were our heroes.  Mom was always looking for opportunities to teach my brother and I about faith.  She firmly believed the words of Deuteronomy 6, "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates" (NIV).  She believed that talk about God should not be relegated to the church building or to bedtime prayers.  She believed we should talk about God all day, in the most natural way possible.  Every interaction was an opportunity to teach about God.  I recently told her that she taught me so well about God that there is no way I can get away from faith.  I don't hold onto faith.  Faith holds onto me.  Or, to be more precise: God holds onto me.  

I can only hope to do as good a job as Mom did instilling faith in both my brother and I.  

But I also find myself coming to new conclusions about faith, conclusions that were not taught to me as I grew up.  I grew up believing that every person must have a definite "moment of decision" where they ask Jesus into their heart.  Then they must ask to be baptized and they must decide to do this.  Baptism was viewed as an act of obedience and discipleship whereby we show that we have turned from the darkness of sin and turned ourselves towards Christ.  My mother's baptism and conversion were counted on the same day, as she was an adult convert.  Though she had been baptized as a baby in the Methodist church, she had not continued to be discipled and taught.  Her mother had been a strong Christian but had died at a young age and my mother was always searching to connect with her mother's faith.  When she came to a saving knowledge of Christ herself, she was baptized again and she counts that as the day she became a Christian.

For me, I asked Jesus into my heart when I was on the changing table (what better place, as we know that Jesus does indeed take out the poop of sin from our lives!).  I was very young--younger than 2, I believe.  In an interesting twist, my mother got lots of doubt from other evangelicals, including her pastor at the time.  They told her, "No, she can't get saved at that age!  She hasn't reached the age of accountability!"  Nevertheless, my mother wrote the story in a journal that she kept of happenings in my young life.  She believed fervently that the faith I had expressed was real.  And she believed it was the work of God in my heart.  

It was a couple more years before I was baptized, at my request.  I had one false start before that.  I remember being toddler or preschool-aged and asking to be baptized.  But when I went to visit the deep pool that was used for baptisms at our church, I was terrified and didn't go through with it.  A while later, my dad ended up baptizing me in a lake on the 4th of July.  

(An aside: In recent times, I've come to wonder why conversion and baptism are so often separated in evangelical churches.  I can understand the Biblical case that can be made for making a decision for Christ but not the separation of baptism from conversion.  This summer, I visited a wonderful evangelical church.  Several people were being baptized that weekend, but a number of them had been previously converted to faith but now were being baptized much later.  In Scripture, baptism comes at the time of conversion.  It shows that conversion has happened.  I am still struggling to understand how this practice came about in evangelical churches.)

Moving on with my story: As I grew into my teenage years, I began to grow into a very anxious, depressive young woman.  Much of my anxiety was framed around matters of faith.  I remember going to a Lutheran church on Christmas one year during this time.  That Christmas morning, a precious little baby was being baptized.  Having grown up believing that infant baptism was absolutely wrong and fearing that this child was going to go to hell, I felt a strong urge to stand up and tell everyone what a horrible thing they were doing.  I wonder what the me of the time would have thought if you had told me that I would one day baptize both of my children as infants!

A little later, we dipped our toe into the Lutheran church again.  A different local Lutheran church was having a weekly service by the lake in Clear Lake, IA.  To be honest, we had been going to dysfunctional Pentecostal churches for a while and I think we were getting fed up with the extremes that we encountered there.  We started attending this church because we liked the service by the lake.  We kept attending because the pastors that we encountered there were balanced and trustworthy.  They were careful students of Scripture.  Little did I know it at the time, but beginning to attend that church was to be a turning point in my life in so many ways...

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of the series, "Why We Baptized Both Our Infants"!
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