Be Who You Are: Teaching Kids About Gender

My favorite scene in Toy Story takes place at the Dinoco Station. Woody and Buzz fight, and their squabble sends them falling out of the minivan onto the concrete. The argument goes on for a moment when, suddenly, Woody stops. He looks up and watches in horror as Andy and his mom drive away. Woody chases after the car for a few steps. “Doesn’t he realize I’m not there?” he shouts, “I’m lost. Oh, I’m a lost toy!” Woody experiences deep anguish, because he knows who he is.

You see, the toys in the world of Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story movies want nothing more than to bring joy to their owners. They want to love and be loved by their kid. After all, Woody’s kid Andy wrote his name in permanent marker under his shoe. Toys like Woody live for playtime. They revel in it. It’s what they’re created for. But, for a toy like Woody, being lost or replaced is your greatest fear. The older and more worn out a toy gets, the more danger there is of being donated, discarded and sent to a trash heap, or just stored in the attic forgotten. And getting left behind at a gas station is close to the worst that can happen.

If we try to take account of our lives without considering the One for whom we are made, we’re delusional.

Buzz Lightyear’s reaction fascinates me in this scene. He doesn’t understand the importance of catching up with Andy. He doesn't understand the great tragedy of being lost. Buzz thinks he’s a real spaceman having an adventure on an uncharted planet; he doesn’t know he’s a toy. What Buzz can’t see is that he’s more lost than he knows.

We are just like the toys in those movies. They’re lost without Andy, and we’re lost without God. God made us as his children—to love and be loved by him. We're his cherished sons and daughters. God made us his representatives. We bear his name. It's etched on our very souls. If we try to take account of our lives without considering the One for whom we were made or how he made us, we’re as delusional as Buzz.

While God made each person to represent him in some unique way, we need both women and men, with their complementary differences, to get a complete picture of God’s loving character

So, how did God make us? Right at the beginning, God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…male and female" (Gen. 1:26-27). These verses show us that the biological differences between men and women are a fundamental part of God’s design—a part of who we are and a part of the essence of God’s image. God made us to live in community with one another so we can image forth the kind of relational life the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have eternally shared. While God made each person to represent him in some unique way, we need both women and men, with their complementary differences, to get a complete picture of God’s loving character.

Let’s take it one step further. God didn’t just create men and women to be together, reflecting his glory. He also created men and women to work together, accomplishing his purposes. Just like the cowboy and the (eventually self-aware) spaceman must work together to get back to Andy, men and women must work together to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). As Hannah Anderson and Wendy Alsup observe:

By creating them as male and female, God invested their bodies with strengths and weaknesses that would bind them together in mutual dependence as they fulfilled the Creation Mandate. The woman’s body would allow her to cultivate new image bearers, but this would also make her more vulnerable. The man’s body would be unable to bear life, but his physical strength would allow him to protect and provide... The differences between them were not an end in themselves… They were the means by which they would together cultivate the good bounty of the earth and their own bodies. Together they would rule and reign over the new creation as King and Queen.

God’s in the business of gifting his children so they can use those gifts for his glory through loving and serving others. Our biological sex is one of the first of these gifts.

For young men, this means parents should prepare them to live as servants-leaders—to take initiative, work to cultivate good, and fight to protect what’s true:

  •  Take Initiative. Think about how God commissioned Adam—before the Fall—to live as a servant-leader. God sent Adam to name all the beasts (Gen. 2:19-20). He names Adam as head and representative of the human family (Rom. 5:15; 1 Cor. 15:22). We see this confirmed in the order of creation (Gen. 2:7; 1 Tim. 2:13). But ultimately Adam failed (Gen. 3:6). Only Christ truly shows what it means to lovingly serve as head by humbly considering others as greater than himself (Phil. 2:3-8).

    If we’re going to raise young men to serve as faithful covenant heads of families and churches, we must teach them to serve sacrificially. When a cup spills at the dinner table, boys shouldn’t wait for mom (or his sisters) to grab a paper towel. Teach boys to jump up and move toward the problem with eager humility (Prov. 3:27). This is important. We must show young men that taking initiative doesn’t require always being in charge. Even when they enter a headship role as husbands or fathers, leadership should look like spirit-empowered service (Eph. 5:23; John 13)
     
  • Work for Good. A man’s physical strength allows him to provide for his family. He was created with an orientation toward work. Genesis tells us the Lord formed Adam from the ground (2:7), and then he placed the man in the garden “to work [the ground] and take care of it” (2:15). If a husband or father refuses to work and provide for his family, this is tantamount to denying the faith (1 Thess. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:8). A lazy man fails to steward the strong body God gave him for the others in his care (Prov. 12:24). He fails to conform his life to Christ, who sacrificed his own body for our sakes.

    Teach sons to cultivate their bodies, minds, and relationships—not for selfish gain, but for the sake of God and others. If a young man doesn’t love God, he’ll work with the wrong goals in mind (Gen. 4:19-24; 11:1-9). We can teach young men to get a job and start investing early—not so they’ll be millionaires by forty but instead to learn the character and skill necessary to provide for a family. Boys need dads and other older men to model service in church and community. They need to see men working with humility for the sake of justice and mercy (Micah 6:8).
     
  • Fight to Protect. Finally, our goal should be to raise young men with self-control, who will use their physical and emotional strength to protect others. Some men fail to control their strong emotions and become foolish hotheads (Prov. 14:16-17). Others take it to the next level, using their physical strength for violence and abuse (Gen. 4:1-16). Adam neglected his strength. He should have spoken up to protect his wife from the serpent’s lies (Gen. 3:6). But in Adam’s failure, we receive the promise of one who would finally fight and crush Satan (Gen. 3:14-15; 1 Cor. 15:25).

    We have an opportunity to participate in Christ’s victory when we fight for what is good and true (Rom. 16:19). Throughout the Scripture, we’re given examples of men who use their strength to protect others. Abraham went to war to save Lot. David fought again and again to save Israel. Not all our sons will learn to wrestle or do martial arts, but they can all learn to speak up and fight for what is good.

Just as we prepare young men to be servant leaders, we should call young women to live in conformity with Christ’s character as influential helpers and nurturers:

  • Give Help and Influence. When God made the woman for Adam as his wife, he created “a helper suitable for him,” because it wasn’t good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). A few verses later, we see the woman “taken from Adam” (Gen. 2:22). This is parallel to the man who was taken from the ground and called to work it (Gen 2:7). In the context of marriage, the woman’s orientation is toward her husband—to give him her help and influence.

    This is a unique way women image forth God’s character as help and salvation for his people (Ps. 33:20, Ps. 70:5; Ex. 18:4). It should inspire every woman and humble every prideful man to see that every major era of biblical history begins with a woman. (Eve—Gen. 3; Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter—Ex. 2; Hannah—1 Sam. 1; Mary and Elizabeth—Luke 1). Notice that Pharaoh’s daughter didn’t give birth to Moses, but through him she brought deliverance to the Hebrew people. Her compassion gave her saving influence (Ex. 2:6).

    The woman was made as co-ruler with the man (Gen. 1:26); there’s shared authority in that statement. But often times influence accomplishes more than authority ever could—both for good and evil (Prov. 8-9; 31:10-31). Eve didn’t need to flex her muscles or get political to influence Adam to eat the fruit. She simply gave it to him. Her actions had destructive power. Teach your daughters their actions and words have influence (1 Tim. 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:1-5). Then teach them to ask, “Is what I do and say a help or a hindrance to others? Do I think about how I can help and serve or do I only consider how I want to be served?”
     
  • Nurture and Empower Others. After the Fall, God named the woman Eve, mother of all the living (Gen. 3:20). This was a grace. The man and woman received the wages for sin but not yet fully; the woman’s body could still give life. This is a great gift. A woman’s body is designed to incubate and sustain a baby’s life from conception to birth. Her milk alone can sustain her newborn for the first part of the baby’s life.

    Not every woman will become a wife or mother, but every one of our daughters can provide life-giving care for others. Paul instructs every woman in the church to develop others (Titus 2:3-5). We see examples of this in Priscilla’s ministry to Apollos (Acts 18:26—her name is listed first before her husband!), in Philip’s prophet daughters (Acts 21:8), and in Timothy’s grandmother Lois (2 Tim. 1:5). Such women model what it means to nurture and empower others in the faith.
Manhood and womanhood are not status levels to be achieved.

I hope I’ve been abundantly clear. Young men and women don’t need to “be more of a man” or “more of a woman.” Like Buzz Lightyear, they simply need to know who they are—who they’ve been created to be. Then, we can teach them to live a Christian life in accordance with this identity. Manhood and womanhood are not status levels to be achieved. Our gender flows from our biology. It’s a gift to receive and steward in love and service to others. As both sexes grow in maturity and transform into Christ’s likeness, the integration of their body and soul will ensure they are more fully formed as men and women.

This post originally appeared at champthornton.com

Teaching Our Kids About Justice and Mercy

This post originally appeared at ERLC.com

Americans value equality and fairness. Our constitution states it clearly: "All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." Fairness is a self-evident principle. We know every person should be subject to the same rules, without respect to ethnic heritage, class, or creed. It's engraved at the front of the highest court in our land: "Equal justice under the law." That's why civil rights organizations have fought so diligently for equal opportunity employment and to end unequal sentencing. For fairness to reign, we should all be playing by the same rules. 

There’s more to justice than fairness

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
— Proverbs 31:8

So, when American Christians think about justice, we immediately think fairness. It shouldn't be a surprise. It's our national heritage, but we're only half right. Biblically speaking, justice does involve legal and social equality. As early as the Exodus, God gives his people instruction about honest weights and scales (Lev. 19:36; Prov. 11:1). He commits to punish those who defraud others with unfair business practices (Hosea 12:7-8, 14; Micah 6:11)  But the Bible goes one step further.

The Scriptures teach us true justice also requires a special concern for the poor, oppressed, and vulnerable. Proverbs 31:8 says, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute." If you've been afforded more but you don't share with those in need, the Bible makes clear this is unjust (Zech. 7:9-10). It's not just greedy; it's an injustice. You see, true justice requires more than surface level fairness. It requires compassion and generosity toward the oppressed and poor. True justice involves doing merciful, leveling work where inequity has occurred. 

Learning about true justice from Lucy

Our family is learning that doing what is good and right isn’t always the same as making things fair.

Raising a child with special needs alongside two typically developing children has given us a unique opportunity to learn about justice. We have three daughters, and they are all gifts. Two of our girls, Rachael and Elisabeth, are over-achievers (if you will allow me to be a proud dad). They make good grades and enjoy music and sports. Rachael has strong relational skills and leadership abilities. Our youngest, Elisabeth, longs to create and make the world more beautiful. 

Our middle daughter, Lucy, is different. Don't get me wrong. Lucy is wonderful, but she's also profoundly impacted by Autism. She has a poverty of cognitive and relational ability, and she's really needy in many ways. At the time of writing, she's ten years-old and not fully potty trained. It takes extra effort to help her transition from one activity to the next. Her unique needs often require we give her more attention and care. When we're on vacation, we have to take into account how much she can handle. Times at the beach are cut short by sensory overload. She needs longer breaks at amusement parks. Her special diet controls the kinds of restaurants we choose to patron.

Lucy's sisters love her, and they show great compassion, but I'd be lying if I told you the extra attention and accommodation Lucy gets is easy for them. Complaints about the inequality of their situation can become a refrain: "That's not fair. Why is what we can do always about Lucy? Why does she get all the attention?" Often I hear my wife say, "I never promised everything will be fair. But I will choose what is best for our family, and I will take into account what you need and what Lucy needs." Moments like those highlight one of the great gifts God has given our family in Lucy. Through her presence in our life, our family is learning that doing what is good and right doesn't always mean we make everything even.

In The Life We Never Expected, Andrew Wilson writes, "By being autistic, our kids draw mercy from others. It increases the currency of God’s qualities in general circulation." I love this quote, because it gives me a vision for how Lucy can bless our home. But I'm also aware compassion rarely comes naturally. It's a skill that must be learned. Not every family will be graced with a child with special needs, but we all have a responsibility to train our children in empathy, holistic justice, and mercy. Here are three ways you can be intentional about this with your family:

1. Consider your environment.

Parents want to give their kids every advantage. We're careful to choose the "best" neighborhood and schools. We seek out athletic and academic programs to help prepare our children for success and college scholarships. The trouble is this can, intentionally or unintentionally, divide our children from other kids who are different from them. It can reinforce selfishness, because it's nearly impossible to develop empathy toward someone who is different from us without first spending time with them.

Simply living in diverse surroundings is not enough to teach children empathy.

I'm convinced there are skills my typically-developing daughters wouldn't learn growing up in a suburban neighborhood unless Lucy was their sister. But you don't need a family member with special needs to expose your children to diversity. Would you consider joining a more ethnically or socioeconomically diverse playgroup? How about a school or youth group that doesn't have the nicest facilities but challenges its students to serve their community?

2. Teach your kids to move toward brokenness.

When Lucy throws a tantrum, the tendency for our other girls is to be embarrassed and avoid her. I want to teach them to be respectful, patient, and not complain when their sister is particularly needy, but I want more for them than that. I also want to teach them the skill of moving toward her rather than away from her. I want to teach them to look for what's wrong. I want to teach them to think with curiosity, "I wonder what has caused her to get upset. How can I help her? How can I serve my sister right now?"

I've discovered that for my children, living with an autistic sister on it's own isn't enough to engender this kind of love and patience. Megan and I have to model compassion for our daughters, and we have to explain to them how they should love and care. It's not only true in our home. Simply living in diverse surroundings is not enough to teach empathy. Be intentional about explaining it to your kids. Take time to explain the importance of moving toward brokenness and not away from it.

3. Teach them to cling to Jesus.

The just life God requires from us is humble and shows merciful compassion to others (Micah 6:8). But anyone who tries to live such a life will quickly see it's too big for them. Our only hope is found in clinging in prayerful trust to the one who has lived this life in our stead. So, finally, we must remind our kids how Jesus has shown mercy and compassion to us. Jesus valued our redemption more than he valued his own experience of fairness. As Philippians 2:6-8 reminds us, he, "being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing." Jesus moved toward our brokenness. He's the great leveler (2 Cor. 8:9): he was rich and privileged, but he became poor for us so we might experience the wealth of being made just in him.

If we’re going to share Jesus with the next generation, teaching them to do justice and love mercy is essential. If your family is weak in one of these three areas, press in. I’m confident your kids will grow to care more and more for those who are hurting and distressed, because such works testify to true faith (James 1:27). By faith, we can grow in compassion and empathy, because that’s the way Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Family Friday Links 8.4.17

Here's what we've been reading online this week and found helpful:

Andy Naselli recently had a post on disciplining your kids. In this post he provides his sermon notes on the topic, preaching from Hebrews 12:4-11. It's a helpful outline that parents need to think through and talk about.

Nick Batzig wrote a post about kids that stray away in rebellion. He wrote, " Godly parents should pray that the Lord does whatever is necessary to save their children. Better to have redeemed children who’ve suffered hardship than healthy and prosperous children who perish eternally." Parents, especially parents of teens, this is a helpful post, read it.

Desiring God had a post asking which is better to memorize, catechisms or Scripture? This link is  a video with transcript. This simple answer is both, but I'll let John Piper explain why (... because he does a better job than I ever could).

Scott Kedersha repost a series he did in 2015 of intimacy. This is something most couples don't talk about. He comments on why this is, "Most couples don’t know how to talk about intimacy and may not even know that they can and should talk about intimacy." No matter how long you've been married these posts will enrich your marriage.

What have you found helpful online lately? Leave us a link in the comment section to check out.

Nine Questions and Answers about The Beginner's Gospel Story Bible

I'm excited to announce the upcoming release of my new book. The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible is a gospel-centered, Bible storybook for toddlers and preschoolers with 52 Bible stories retold in a simple and compelling way. Here's nine key questions and answers that will help you learn more 

What makes your book different from other Bible storybooks? Some Bible storybooks miss the meaning of individual passages because they focus on the big picture. Even more often toddler story books miss unifying biblical themes because they’re focused re-telling individual stories. A few Bible storybooks—like the ones by Marty Machowski and Sally Lloyd-Jones—do both well, but they aren’t geared toward early readers. That’s what makes this book different. Through the faithful re-telling of key stories, toddlers and early preschoolers will hear the good news of God’s love for them clearly expressed in ways that will speak to their young hearts.

What led you to want to write a Bible storybook for toddlers and first readers? As I said above, there are a number of excellent gospel-centered resources for young children—great story books and curriculum, but few of them focus on toddlers and first readers. When teaching this age group, I found myself reaching back to resources from the seventies and eighties—storybooks by Ella Lindvall and Ken Taylor. I saw a need, and I wanted to provide a more contemporary resource for ages two to five.

Can children that young really learn the gospel? Yes. Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” He meant kids of every age. You see, children often learn the language of faith before their faith is fully realized. As soon as kids start talking, we can help them learn a beginning vocabulary of faith.

What do you mean by “a beginning vocabulary of faith”? In The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible, kids will learn the name of Jesus as well as the names of other key Bible characters. They’ll also learn basic Bible words like sin, promise, Jesus, Savior, pray, and forgive.

What are the special features that will help keep beginning readers engaged? In all 52 stories, one key truth is highlighted in bold letters. Each story also ends with a question that parents and caregivers can use to further reinforce the truth. Brightly colored illustrations highlight each story and add fun teaching elements of counting, opposites, patterns, and object recognition to keep the youngest child’s attention.

Does the book have a central theme? Yes. The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible traces God’s perfect promises through thestories of the Old and New Testament. Our youngest children will see how our good and all-powerful God always keeps his word (Num. 23:19). The way he fulfills his promises is better than anyone could have imagined!

Why 52 stories? One for every week of the year. In addition to being a helpful resource for family devotions, I wanted this book to be a helpful tool for Sunday School and children’s ministry classrooms as well. Since there are 52 stories, you might consider teaching one story per week as part of a one-year Bible curriculum for toddlers and young preschoolers.

When I’m telling stories to young children, what should I do to keep the gospel central? As you read the story, help the children identify with the characters who need God to save and rescue them. Then, as you tell the story, make God the main character. Keep who he is and what he does to rescue and save front and center as you tell it.

What kinds of things did you learn about God’s Word or about yourself while you were writing? One Bible truth I didn’t know is that the Ark of the Covenant went in the midst of the people (Jos. 6:9) when they marched around Jericho (not out in front as I originally wrote down in a first draft—thank God for good editors!). That fact illustrates a key truth for me. To accomplish what God has called me to as a parent and a Christian, I desperately need God to go with me—in my midst—every day. I pray this book will encourage that kind of desperate faith for you and your family too.

You can sign up online at the New Growth Press website to get promotional information about the release, or you can pre-order now at ChristianBook.com.