Giving Your Kids The Gift of Discouragement

“Sean, you’re not a very good pitcher.” My mom’s words cut like a knife at 10-year’s old after a baseball season which started out with strong performances on the mound, but ended in a game when I was taken off the mound and sent, unceremoniously, to play shortstop.

I was a great hitter in those days, and a darn good first baseman, but I also wanted to pitch. The problem was that I wasn’t very good at it. I couldn’t find the strike zone. At one point my team suffered through multiple games watching me walk the bases loaded and walk run ins. Our team was good, so we mostly overcame the obstacles I erected, but nevertheless, my Won-Loss record was less than reputable.

Then my mom told me I stunk as a pitcher. After that, I quit pitching.

In today’s parenting culture, my mother would be raked over the coals for not being encouraging enough or supporting me or helping me dream big. I understand why the rod of contemporary parents is bent toward encouragement. Too many people grew up with too little encouragement. Some had none at all. As I told parents when I was a youth worker, more people die of a broken heart than a swelled head. I get it. I really do, but concurrent with a parents job to encourage, is their much more delicate duty to discourage.

But first, let’s distinguish “discouragement” from being a downer or jerk or disheartening your children. A certain kind of discouragement is designed to make folks feel badly about themselves and their abilities. That’s not what we’re after. To discourage someone is simply to persuade them against an action. Encouragement, then, is to give support or confidence for an action. Parents cannot be one-note. We have to both encourage and discourage, lest our children be ill-equipped to face the world, deal with reality, and run amok. Discouragement allows the people we love to focus more intently on God’s gifting in them.

Here’s what I mean: When my mom discouraged my pitching, I didn’t shrink into life’s background. I developed deeper virtues.

In response, I focused on my fielding and redoubled my attention on batting. I could do this because my mom had been otherwise encouraging. As a boy, my mother was present for every baseball and soccer game, every band concert, and every other amateur undertaking I attempted. Even today she listens to every sermon posted online and reads every word I write (Hi Mom). She wants me to win in life.

Second, my brother and I were taught, from our earliest days, that quitting was never an option. Regardless of how well or poorly we performed, we could not and would not quit. Resilience was built into our mental and emotional hardware. When I quit pitching, I didn’t stop playing baseball. In the intervening years, my brother and I have faced multiple setbacks, each time, we stopped, pulled ourselves together, made the best of it and move forward with renewed energy. When I look back over the arch of my life, I’m equally grateful to my parents for their encouragement and discouragement.

I fear one of the necessary virtues lost to modern parents is bestowing the gift of discouragement. There seems to be so much focus on encouraging  kids, that some of us have forgotten, not everything is praiseworthy. Without doses of both encouragement and discouragement humans are destined to set themselves adrift into seas for which they were not designed.

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The Faulty Formula: How The ‘Return To God’ Sermon Isn’t About God

The formula is now concretized to the point that it takes almost no imagination to preach or teach the “return to God” sermon. Here’s how it goes (as if I need to explain it to you): 1. The world/culture/country is in terrible shape. 2. Here are all the aspects where the world/culture/country are out-of-whack. 3. It didn’t use to be this way when I was a kid. We used to have a better world/culture/country. 4. Here’s a list of all the people responsible for the shoddy state of contemporary world/culture/country. 5. The only way to fix it is for our world/culture/country is to “return to God” (which, just coincidentally, coincides with “the way things used to be when I was a kid”).

You’ve heard this sermon? If not, I can send you some URL’s. As a matter of fact, my ears were recently assaulted by a sermon by someone stating when he grew up he didn’t know any gay people (and no, it was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad).

One reason you’ve heard this sermon before is because nearly every motivator is deployed. First, selective nostalgia drawn from fuzzy memories — which all memories are — are employed as the ideal world. Second, disdain for cultural phenomenons we dislike or don’t understand, are positioned as evil on the basis of our own lack of understanding. Third, a clearly identified enemy (which is never the hearer, but always “those people”) is at fault. And finally, the power of God is offered as the magic wand for everything the speaker dislikes.

Without reflection, this sounds like a pretty good homily. In fact, in certain circles, this sermon formula produces a defined and predictable response: standing ovations. After all, who doesn’t have a fairly good list of things they wish are different about our world? I do. And what a relief to know that if enough of us performed the right religious dance steps everything would return to the way we think we remember it.

But there’s a problem: This sermon formula mocks God.

We Should Have Learned This Already

In 1 Samuel 4, the Israelites are fighting their archenemies, the Philistines. We use the word Philistine as an insult, the truth is they were an advanced nation whose chief business was metal-work. That means the Israelites were fighting with sticks and stones against an army using swords and spears.

[In those days, the Philistines warred against Israel,] and the warriors of Israel went out to fight them. They camped at Ebenezer while the Philistine forces made camp at Aphek. The Philistines lined up against Israel; and when they advanced, they defeated Israel, killing about 4,000 of Israel’s warriors on the battlefield. 1 Samuel 4:1b–2

The Israelites go out to war and get CRUSHED! In the aftermath, the generals get together to recalibrate.


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Take My Sermons, Please

The news slipped by me as I was busy living my life, but apparently the city of Houston subpoenaed sermons from some local pastors. I ministered in Houston for almost 10-years. During that time, I preached a good many sermons, though, perhaps not many good ones. If the City of Houston wants them, have at it!

I don’t want those sermons and even with that being the case, I suppose no one is served as they collect dust.

According to Christian Post, Houston subpoenaed the sermons, ostensibly, as part of a lawsuit, wherein the city disallowed 35,000 signatures collected to force the city’s new HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) law to be placed on the ballot. HERO bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Part of the lawsuit alleges that opponents of HERO formed their opposition and were encouraged to sign the petition in churches at the urging of local pastors. This, in a bare bones sense, is what the brouhaha is about.

Houston says this is about the rule of law and making their case that a portion of the signatures are not valid. In effect, they are requesting sermons, along with e-mail and other communications, just like any attorney would request relevant documents in any case. Churches, on the other hand, are arguing for religious freedom and asserting the subpoenas are overly-broad. Even Houston Mayor, Annise Parker, a Democrat and lesbian agrees the subpoenas are outside the scope of the lawsuit.

So that’s the case, but I’m not interested in the case.

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Who Would Jesus Spank?

This guest post is from my friend, John Alan Turner. John is an Senior Fellow at The ScreamFree Institute, an author, pastor, and theologian. His most recent book is, “Crazy Stories, Sane God: Lessons from the Most Unexpected Places in the Bible.” 


I have a fundamental problem with most Christian parenting books…and articles…and blog posts for that matter. I am a Christian, and I am a parent. And I try to parent in a Christian manner. Heck, I’d even go so far as to say I’m an evangelical Christian parent, which means some of you are now tempted to immediately dismiss anything I have to say on this whole matter. But I’m willing to run that risk, because I want you to know that I’m not the kind of person who will dismiss biblical authority.

I believe the Bible is (and should be) the supreme source of truth for Christian beliefs and practices. I believe it was written by human authors, under the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit. I believe all the things about the Bible that you’re supposed to believe in order to be a card-carrying member of the Evangelical Theological Society. So, let’s just get that out of the way. Biblically speaking, I’m a conservative.

So, the reason I have a fundamental problem with most Christian parenting books is not because they insist on using Bible verses to form the basic framework of how we ought to engage in the grand exercise of childrearing. I’ve read a great many of these books, and some of them are excellent at unpacking the implications of ancient verses for our contemporary context. They are well-intentioned, well-reasoned, and biblically faithful.

And yet…the vast majority of these books make one glaring omission. Frankly, I hesitate to bring it up because once you see it you can’t unsee it. It may cause you to throw a few books out. It may change the way you think about parenting, and it may require you to recant some of the things you’ve posted on your Facebook timeline recently. Here’s my big problem with the way most Christians approach parenting:

They leave Jesus completely out of it.

We quote the Psalms and the Proverbs (even though the psalms and the proverbs we quote were written by men who appear to have been utterly disastrous fathers themselves). We may even quote some from the New Testament — perhaps Paul’s writings to the Colossians or the Ephesians (even though we’re pretty sure Paul didn’t have any children of his own). And I get it. I do. Wisdom is wisdom, and I believe the Holy Spirit inspired their words. It’s in the Bible, so it’s good and useful and all that.

But my goal in life isn’t simply to be more biblical; my goal in life is to become more like Jesus. That means that if the way I apply something I read in the Bible ends up making me behave less like Jesus, then I’m doing it wrong. I may be able to say I’m being biblical, but the Pharisees made their living like that — following the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of it. It might just be possible to be biblical without being Christlike. And that’s never a good thing.

Which brings us to a topic ripped from today’s headlines: spanking.

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Janay Rice In Your Pews: Churches & Domestic Violence

chelseaThis guest post is by my friend, Chelsie Sargent. Chelsie is a licensed professional counselor in Houston, TX. She worked at a non-profit counseling agency for 4 years before opening her own private practice in April 2011. Chelsie loves her husband Steve and prefers reading to movies, running to yoga, and slow dining experiences to fast food joints. Chelsie and Steve have one daughter – two and a half year old Cora June.

You can learn more about Chelsie and her work at


The following scenario happens in my office several times a year: 

A client (usually female, but not always) sits down on my couch (with hands wringing and nervously chattering on about the framed art hanging on my office walls or why I chose this particular shade of green to paint those walls). After a few pleasantries and exchanging confidentiality limits, I shift the conversation to the matters at hand and I ask, “So, why are you here today?” A story is shared, bits and broken pieces of the whole coming out at varying speeds. In this particular scenario, the dialogue usually begins this way:

Client: I never thought I would be in a situation where I would need to seek outside help.

Me: What do you mean by ‘outside help’?
Client: You know, like I never thought I would need to talk to a counselor about my marriage.
Me: How come?
Client: Because I had a good and happy marriage at one time. My husband loves me and for the most part takes very good care of me and the kids. You must understand, my husband is not like this all the time. He only gets like this when he is overworked, or tired, or stressed with finances, or…!
Me: Gets like what?
Client: Well, you know, he sometimes yells at me if I forget to turn off the sprinklers in the backyard. Or that one time he hit me after I told him his yelling hurt my feelings. Or when he threatened to hurt me or himself if I did not do X, Y, or Z better.
Me: How long has this abusive behavior been going on in your marriage?
(Long silence…)
Client: I would like to say this started just recently, but I think there were red flags while we were dating. I had no idea it would lead to all this.Red flags. Warnings. Heads up.

When I refer to a “red flag” I am referencing anything in the relationship that seems off base, or something that could be labeled as a small issue (emotional manipulation, name calling, yelling, pushing) but later turns into full-blown abuse.

For example – many women I’ve talked with who have been in a longterm abusive relationship say that at the start of dating, their partner was quite directive in what she wore, who she talked to and hung out with, or how she spent her hours when apart from each other. These red flags may have looked nonthreatening, or even like chivalrous protectiveness, but would, over time, morph into blatant control. She is silenced by him, she is shamed by him, because he has taken away her voice and crushed her spirit.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline states that, on average, it takes a woman seven times of leaving an abusive relationship and then coming back to it before she finally leaves the relationship for good. Why would an abused woman stay in such a situation? Why does it take someone so long to believe they are worth far more than what’s being impelled upon them, that they are precious and lovable, that they do not deserve to live in fear and isolation?

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