What I’ll Tell My Daughters About Modesty

Photo by Violette79

Photo by Violette79

I have three daughters, the oldest of whom is seven, so we haven’t had to spend a whole lot of time talking about modesty. Yet. But I know without a doubt that the time is coming when we will be having many, many discussions about modesty. How do I know this time is coming? Because our culture is becoming increasingly comfortable with a highly sexualized version of womanhood. The pornification of society is showing up everywhere, from Miley Cyrus performing in front a national audience, to the magazines that show up in grocery stores. As my daughters grow older, they will be increasingly encouraged to use their bodies in ways which don’t please the Lord.

So what will I say to my daughters when I talk to them about modesty? Instead of presenting them with a lengthy list of rules and checklists, I hope to keep things pretty straightforward. I’ll tell them that modesty is a way of life in which they seek to honor God and serve others with their bodies.

MODESTY IS A WAY OF LIFE

When it comes to modesty, it’s easy to gravitate toward one of two extremes. One one end are those who say that modesty doesn’t matter at all (see Miley, Beyonce, et all). On the other end are those who try to codify modesty into a set of very precise directives (skirts must be at least one inch below the knee, tank tops are strictly forbidden, etc.). I would venture to say that those of us in the church tend to gravitate toward the precise directives end of the scale. In an effort to keep our daughters from immodesty, we are tempted to prescribe all sorts of laws about what clothes can and cannot look like.

While I certainly want to help my daughters think through their wardrobe choices, I want them to understand that modesty is, most importantly, a way of life. True modesty is a heart disposition before it is a particular wardrobe choice. A woman with a modest heart is first and foremost concerned about serving the Lord and serving others. She will certainly make particular wardrobe choices, but those choices will flow out of a heart attitude rather than a set of arbitrary rules.

The reality is, my daughters could follow all my rules for modesty and yet still behave in a way that is both sexually alluring and sexually immoral. This is why Peter writes:

Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear — but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Peter 3:3-5)

Peter understands that modesty is, above all else, something that is internal rather than external. If my instruction regarding modesty focuses primarily on creating rules or checklists for my daughters, than I’ve failed as a dad. I want them to understand that modesty is a way of living before God. Modesty is about God before it is about them.

MODESTY IS ABOUT SERVING GOD

In the midst of all the confusion about what articles of clothing are too short, or too tight, or too revealing, it’s easy to forget that modesty is primarily about serving God.

God created each of my daughters, and he gave each of them a wonderful, female body. Because God created my daughters, they belong to him. Their bodies belong to Him, and their bodies are to be used in ways which honor and please him. Lord willing, each of my daughters will grow up and marry a godly man (I don’t want to think of that day!). When one my daughters gets married, she will give herself fully (including her body) to her husband (and vice versa). She will present herself to her husband in ways that are sexually delightful to him. God is so very pleased when a man and wife present themselves to each other in sexually alluring ways. With all our emphasis on concealing the body, we can inadvertently make it sound like sex is a bad thing. It’s not! Sex is a God thing when it takes place in the context of marriage.

As my daughters get older, I want to help them understand that they are only to present themselves as sexually alluring to their husbands. Any other attempts to be sexually alluring are not honoring to God.

So does this mean that I will only let my daughters wear frumpy sweaters and ratty jeans until they get married? Absolutely not! Beauty is a gift from God, and I want my daughters to highlight that gift without flaunting the gift. I want them to present themselves to the world as beautiful, feminine, smart, and attractive, without being intentionally sexually alluring. How will we achieve such a balance? I don’t know yet! Achieving such a delicate balance obviously requires some serious, Proverbs-like wisdom, which can only be obtained through large doses of Scripture and a whole lot of prayer.

MODESTY IS ABOUT SERVING OTHERS

I don’t care what people say – the reality is that if a woman dresses in a way that reveals significant portions of her body, it will tempt most men to lust after her. To quote Bruce Hornsby, “That’s just the way it is, some things will never change.” I’m not commenting on whether this reality is good or evil, I’m simply stating the facts. Anyone who argues those facts doesn’t know men very well.

With this reality in mind, modesty becomes a way of serving others. Modesty is a way of treating others as we desire to be treated. Modesty is a way of demonstrating Christ-like love, which puts the interests of others above our own interests. All of which matters very much to Jesus.

Before I talk to my daughters about necklines or the length of shorts, I want to help them cultivate a desire to serve their fellow brothers in Christ. Yes, I realize that last sentence sounds totally sexist and misogynistic, but I don’t know any other way to put it. As Christians, we live in community with each other, and our actions directly effect those around us. The way my daughters dress really will effect those around them. Causing someone else to be tempted is serious business to Jesus. In Matthew 18:6 he says:

…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Before anything else, modesty is about serving others. It is about sacrificing our own personal preferences for the sake of those around us.

CONCLUSION

Will I talk to my daughters about specific items in their wardrobe? Sure. It’s inevitable. But I want my daughters to see that individual wardrobe choices are part of a much bigger picture. I want them to understand that the clothes they wear in this life echo into eternity. I want them to understand that modesty isn’t just dad flipping out over a shirt that is too tight, but rather, is about using their bodies to bring maximum honor and glory to God. Will I get this right every time? Of course not! I desperately need God’s grace and wisdom to navigate this issue.

I’m confident he will supply me with all I need.

I Don’t Remember Chemistry And I’m Not Homeless

Is it just me or is there a lot of pressure on parents to provide their children with the absolute perfect environment for growth? We are told that our children need to be breast fed, need listen to classical music, need to be able to read by age four, need to play sports, need to play an instrument, need to be involved in theater, need to know Latin, need to experience the world broadly, need to understand various philosophical arguments, need lots of friends, need solitude, need to be nurtured, need tough love, and on and on and on. If we don’t provide these things for our children their growth will be stunted and they may end up as a hobo or drug dealer.

Talk about a lot of pressure! Who can possibly do all these things? I certainly can’t.

But is it possible we’re setting the bar too high for ourselves and our children? That maybe we’re getting a little carried away? And that maybe, just maybe, we’re going beyond what God requires of us as parents?

Let me be honest, I don’t remember much from my many years of schooling. And don’t get me wrong, I did pretty well in school. I don’t say this to brag (because honestly I’m not too impressed) but I graduated from college Suma Cum Laude with a 4.0 GPA. I was very good at gaming standardized tests.

Yet despite my decent performance in school I don’t remember much. I can’t remember all the elements on the periodic table. I can’t remember all the countries in Africa even though I was forced to memorize them. I can’t remember who was the governor of Massachussets in 1843 even though I took Advanced Placement History. I think James Madison wrote the Federalist Papers but I’m not sure. The only Latin phrase I know is “Carpe Diem” and I got that from the movie Dead Poet’s Society. I never played lacrosse or took part in a school play.

Let me tell you what I do remember.

I remember coming downstairs every morning and seeing my dad reading his Bible.

I remember all the times I went fishing with my dad.

I remember all the music we jammed out to as a family, including Billy Joel, Sting, The Beatles, dc Talk, and Peter Gabriel. The constant presence of music in our house gave me a love for music as well as a biblical framework to interpret music.

I remember my mom and dad’s constant, appropriate physical affection. I remember that they always told me how much they loved me. I remember sitting in church and feeling my mom’s loving hand on my back.

I remember our morning family devotions even though I often fell asleep during those devotions.

I remember seeing my dad serve my mom when she was battling depression. He made dinners, did dishes, and cleaned up after us.

I remember totaling my parents car and neither of them getting angry at me.

I remember my dad telling me he didn’t care what career I chose as long as I followed Jesus.

I remember all the fun books we read together as a family, which in turn instilled a passion for reading and learning in me.

Education and extracurricular activities are good and important. But maybe they’re not as important as we think. What’s most important is that we teach our children to love Jesus, love others, and be servants. If they know Latin, great. But if not it’s really okay.

Don’t feel guilty for falling short of your own unrealistic, extra-biblical standards. There are only a few things in life which really, really matter. Focus on those things and the rest will fall into place.

+original photo by pedrosimoes7

Dad’s, Sing Like You Mean It Because Your Kids Are Watching

[This was written by a man in my church named Keith McCracken. May we be inspired by the example of Keith's father.]

My father was a wonderfully eccentric man. He was a quick witted recluse and a virtual Picasso of mechanicalia. He worked third shift (11:00PM to 7:00AM) for 37 years (without missing a day or ever being late) so as to avoid having his talents “supervised into obscurity.” To most people outside of his family he was hard to understand and blissfully unconcerned with anyone else’s opinion of him. But despite all of that he was very overt about his faith in, and love for, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Though I hold many cherished memories of him, perhaps the most vivid was his excitement over singing certain hymns. By all accounts he possessed at best an “average” voice when it comes to uniqueness and tonal quality. But he sang his favorites with a conviction that was beyond convincing and was by far one of the loudest and most joyful voices in a congregation of approximately 350. I remember looking up at him and “checking him out” while he was singing… “Is he for real?” I would wonder. When he would catch me looking at him he would simply “lock-eyes” with me and sing all the louder while he broadened his grin to match proportion with his pleasure.

He wouldn’t just sing hymns at church either. I can think of many times when the two of us would be welding up a go-kart frame or swapping an engine on a Saturday afternoon and he would spontaneously break into a hymn. In my teens and early twenties I actually found it annoying given the perplexity of some of the situations we would be deep into. But then again I would eventually come around and sing with him anyway. I just never managed to muster the joy he got out of it. I didn’t think about it then but I can see clearly now that he was blessing me with rich God honoring doctrine. That he was lovingly cramming truth into my psyche that would not return void in my soul.

The now heart-softening aspect of these memories is that I am standing here in my church singing these same time impervious truths in front of my children. I catch them looking up at me and I wonder if I am anywhere near as good an example as he was. I get caught up and overwhelmed when I recognize the blessing that God had granted me in an earthly father. How diligent Dad was to bless me in an eternal way without ever making a point to tell me that he was doing it.

Jack McCracken passed away on March 9th of 2010 from pancreatic cancer. The last day I saw him alive was March 8th. We were alone and I was brutally tired from all that had preceded. He could not speak or even open his eyes but the nurses assured me that he could hear so I just prayed for him and encouraged him to trust in Jesus and look for him to come soon. When my nephew arrived I felt comforted that dad would not be alone and I decided to return to my parents’ house and get some rest. I asked my nephew for just a few moments alone with dad and I grasped his hand firmly, kissed his forehead and said: “You did a fantastic job as my father and I am so glad I got to be your son. Thank you for taking me to church. But more importantly thank you for going to church and being joyful there. Thank you for singing like you meant every word… You have no idea how that still affects me… I love you dad.

I stepped back and whistled a “call” he had taught me when I was very young. It would not have been discernible to anyone in a crowd but it meant “I am right behind you” and “I am coming.” I hugged my nephew and thanked him for coming then drove to my parent’s home. Three hours later I was awakened by a phone call from my nephew telling me that “Grampa was gone.” I slumped back into my chair. I wept bitterly. Then I cried out to God for comfort and without much thought I began singing one of Dads favorite hymns…“Jesus paid it all.” As I was singing I began to hear Dad’s voice singing with me… Not as any kind of haunting specter or communion with the dead kind of thing. Much more like a perfect echo… I began to envision his face and felt like I was a little kid again looking up at him. His grin was broadening and his voice was getting louder. I began to thank God over and over for the gift he had given me in my earthly father and the gift of salvation that he had granted to both dad and I. I just laid on the floor and prayed then cried, then sang then prayed some more. I have no idea how long I spent in that state but I can tell you that God granted me peace through it.

Now almost two years later I am still unable to sing a lot of those “old-Baptist” tunes without experiencing the “echo” of my father. I count it a privilege to sing these rich truths in tribute to the one true God; but I also experience the benefit of knowing I am fulfilling the scriptural command to honor my earthly father as well.

I decided to write this all out first as a means of expressing for myself what is sometimes difficult to verbalize. And secondly as a means of encouragement to the fathers in this church. Please sing like you mean it on Sunday morning. I am not asking you to “fake” anything… but rather embrace the very meaning these songs were written for. Seek to express your joy in your Savior Jesus Christ by singing in response to what he has done for you, and in agreement with the truths imbedded in these songs. Neither am I encouraging you to do this specifically for your children’s benefit but first for yourselves with the added comfort of knowing how much it will affect your children. I am simply encouraging you to worship in spirit and in truth. Sing strong because that is what God wants from you. Trust God to bless your children with the echo.

Dad Convinces His Kids That Ewoks Are Real

Yes, I think that it’s wrong that he lied to his kids. And no, I wouldn’t recommend doing this. But still, this is definitely better than telling your kids that Santa is real. Anthony Herrera says:

Being the Star Wars geek that I am (so is she), I told her that this is where the Ewoks live. She spent a good chuck of our time hiking keeping a lookout for any Ewoks. Coming home I can’t say that she wasn’t disappointed that we didn’t find any. I had to explain that they are extremely shy and hardly ever let anyone see them. After we got home, and after I had a little time alone with the photos, I told her I thought I saw something strange in a few pictures. We viewed them on the TV to get a larger image. You can imagine how surprised and excited she was when we discovered that we didn’t see any Ewoks, but they saw us, and had certainly taken an interest in her and her little brother. Maybe I’m a little wrong for lying to her and falsifying the pictures, but I don’t care. She’ll never forget the time she spent in the big woods with Ewoks.

Here’s one of the pictures he came up with.

(via Gizmodo)

Kanon, the Boy Preaching Wonder

A couple of weeks ago I saw this video of a four year old boy named Kanon preaching. (RSS readers might need to click through the post)

After watching the video, a couple of thoughts came to mind.

This kid is adorable. I love his little Veggie Tales Bible case, and the way he inflects his words like a preacher, and the way he emphasizes words with his hands. It’s really cute. And I understand why his parents are proud of him. Every Christian parent wants to see their children grow up to serve the Lord, and in the case of Kanon, his parents obviously believe that God is working through him.

However, the video is also concerning to me for several reasons. First of all, he’s not really preaching. There were not any biblical truths in the words he said. In fact, I’m not even sure the things he was saying made sense at all. Preaching isn’t simply saying terms from the Bible, such as “Pentecost”, in a loud, preacher-like voice. It is declaring “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). It is exhorting, encouraging, rebuking, and proclaiming. It is heralding the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Kanon does a very good imitation of a Pentecostal preacher. He’s got the style and the passion. He’s cuter than a bucket full of puppies. And who knows, maybe someday God will use him to preach the Word of God. But preaching is more than just passion and style. It involves proclaiming the truth of God as revealed in the Bible for all to hear. So I don’t believe that Kanon is really preaching. I think that saying that he is preaching is actually harmful, because it tells the world that we don’t take preaching very seriously.

Also, Kanon’s parents and friends seem to be convinced that he is “anointed” by God to preach. I’m not so sure. It seems more likely to me that he is imitating his dad, who is also a Pentecostal preacher. That’s the thing that is tricky about kids who grow up in the church. I’m one of those kids. I grew up knowing the right things to say. I learned how to raise my hands in worship when I was young. I read my Bible from a young age. I learned by watching my parents.

But my life wasn’t really transformed until God got a hold on me and helped me understand the reality gospel. My life didn’t really bear the fruit of the Spirit until I was older. Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not commenting on whether Kanon is or is not a Christian. I really hope that he is, and I believe that children can be saved at a young age. But to put him up on a stage and declare that he is anointed by God to preach seems very premature.

Maybe someday Kanon will storm the world for Jesus. I really hope that happens. But let’s wait and see.

Sorry Dad, I Was Sleeping During Devotions

Doing family devotions can be so frustrating at times!

My daughter, Charis, is three, and she has the attention span of a three year old, which is somewhere between 4-7 seconds depending on whether or not Curious George is in front of her. We sit on the couch and read The Big Picture Story Bible, her tiny body wedged between Jen and I, and during devotions I do everything in my power to keep her interested and focused on the Bible. I ask her questions about the story. I make her repeat words after me (“Charis, can you say ‘infralapsarian’?”). I make my voice loud, then soft, then loud again.

But in spite of all my efforts, Charis is always very, very distracted. We sit down to read her Bible and she suddenly remembers that she needs her special blanket made out of frizzy cloth. So she runs and gets her blanket while I wait. Then, after just a minute of reading, she decides that she needs some water and a tissue. A few moments later she goes into “monkey mode” and starts climbing on the back of the couch and the top of my head.

It is a serious effort to make it through four pages of a highly illustrated Bible story! After we’re done with the story I’ll ask her a follow up question like, “Charis, who killed Goliath?” She’ll think for a moment, then say, “D…D…Donavan?”

Great job Stephen. Way to instruct your daughter and help her understand God.

I think I would probably be discouraged with the results of our family devotions if I didn’t have my experience and God’s word to rely upon. These two witnesses tell me that God uses faithful efforts, even if the results seem pathetic. For example, when I was younger my dad used to read the Bible to me and my siblings every morning after we woke up. During devotions I liked to sprawl on the couch with my eyes closed, which inevitably led to me and my dad having the following argument:

DAD: Stephen, I want you sit up and open your eyes.

ME: Dad I can listen just fine while I’m laying down.

DAD: But you’re falling asleep. I want you to sit up.

ME: But it’s so uncomfortable sitting up on the couch!

DAD: Okay, you can lay down if you keep your eyes open.

This conversation was often repeated multiple times during devotions. And yet, in spite of my devotional drowsiness and inability to pay attention, God used my dad’s faithful efforts to bring me and my siblings to salvation. If my dad had evaluated the effectiveness of devotions based upon our responses, he probably would have given up. But he didn’t do that. He kept at it, knowing that God had called him to faithfully train his children in the fear of the Lord.

So when I’m talking about Jericho and Charis is talking about puppies, I don’t let myself get discouraged. Instead I remember that God uses what is weak, yet faithful, to bring him glory.

How To Provoke Your Children To Anger

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.  (Ephesians 6:4)

I was thinking about this today as I prepared for a parenting class.  Here are some ways that we parents can provoke our children to anger.  I’ve done many of these, and for this reason I’m grateful for the blood of Jesus and the power of the Spirit to change.

We can provoke our children to anger:

– By constantly criticizing them and not encouraging them.  When they feel they can never please us enough.
– By having double standards – Do as I say, not as I do.  Expecting them to do things we don’t do, e.g. ask forgiveness, humble themselves, etc.
– By anger and harshness
– By a lack of affection
– By telling them what to do or not do without giving Biblical reasons (e.g., Do it because I said to do it, or because it’s just wrong).
– By being offended at their sin because it bothers us, not because it offends God.
– By comparing them to others (Why can’t you act like your sister?)
– By hypocrisy – acting like a Christian at church but not at home
– By embarrassing them (correcting, mocking or expressing disappointment in them in front of others)
– By always lecturing them and never listening to them
– By disciplining them for childishness or weakness, not for sin
– By failing to ask their forgiveness when we sin against them
– By pride – failing to receive humble correction from our spouses or our children when we sin.
– By self-centered reactions to their sin (How could you do this to ME?)
– By ungracious reactions to their sin (What were you thinking?  Why in the world would you do that?)
– By forgetting that we were (and are) sinners (I would NEVER have done that when I was your age).

May God give us gracious, gentle, humble, affectionate hearts toward our children.

photo by lucianvenutian

You Might Have Kids If…

I have a three year old daughter and a six month old daughter, and I love them like crazy. But having kids makes me do things that I would never do otherwise. Like…

…use the word ‘potty’ in my prayers.

Most people don’t know this but potty training is the third leading cause of insanity in the world. Next time you go to the grocery store, look closely at the faces of young parents. You’ll probably notice little stress tics, like a lip spasm or eyebrow twitch. I regularly find myself desperately praying for divine potty intervention. I’m not to the point where I’m rebuking potty demons, but I’m getting pretty close.

…sing kids songs. By myself. To myself.

Before I had kids I would sing Coldplay or Mat Kearney. I was cool and I was up on the cool music. Not so much anymore. Now I find myself singing “Bob the Builder” and “Winnie the Pooh” under my breath. Sometimes I do hand motions. (Not really. Not yet.)

…devise my own code language.

There are times when Jen and I need to speak in a highly sophisticated code language to each other. For example, I can’t just say the words ‘ice cream’ unless I plan on taking my family out to get ice cream. So I’ll say to Jen: “Hey Jen, what would you think about taking you-know-who out to get some I-C-E?” Notice how I shortened the words ‘ice cream’ into just ‘ice’ in order to throw Charis off the trail? I could have been a code breaker in WWII.

…make ultra specific requests of Charis.

My daughter Charis is the cutest, smartest little sinner you ever met. If she’s banging her spoon on the table at dinner, I can’t say, “Charis please stop banging your spoon on the table.” Not nearly specific enough. I need to say, “Charis, please don’t bang your spoon on the table, or your bowl, or your cup, or your sister’s head, or daddy’s hand, or in the air.” She still might find a way to get around a request that specific.

I love my kids and wouldn’t trade my life for anything. But sometimes I think I might be going a bit crazy.

How do you know that you have kids?

That Snotty-Nosed Squirmy Boy

boy

When Charles Spurgeon was a child, an itinerant preacher named Richard Knill stayed at his grandfather’s parsonage.  Upon spying the boy, he asked if they could meet the next morning.

…in my grandfather’s garden…in the sweetest way, he told me of the love of Jesus, and of the blessedness of trusting in Him and loving Him in our childhood.  With many a story he preached Christ to me, and told me how good God had been to him, and then he prayed that I might know the Lord and serve Him.  He knelt down in that arbour, and prayed for me with his arms about my neck…. on three successive days he taught me, and prayed with me; and before he had to leave, my grandfather had come back from the place where he had gone to preach, and all the family were gathered to morning prayer.  Then, in the presence of them all, Mr. Knill took me on his knee, and said, “This child will one day preach the gospel, and he will preach it to great multitudes.  I am persuaded that he will preach in the chapel of Rowland Hill, where (I think he said) I am now the minister.”

Mr. Knill gave the young Spurgeon a sixpence to learn the hymn, “God Works in a Mysterious Way” and made him promise to have it sung when he preached in Rowland Hill.  Years later, after Spurgeon had been preaching for some time in London he was unexpectedly invited to speak at  – Rowland Hill.

All unsought by me, the minister … invited me to preach there.  I went on the condition that the congregation should sing, “God Works in a Mysterious Way” — which was also done.*

Thank you,  all who serve in children’s ministry.  Thank you, all who teach in Christian and public schools.  Thank you mothers laboring at home to educate your children.  Thank you,  every parent seeking to teach your children about Jesus and have them in public or Christian schools. May this story inspire you.  May this story encourage every parent, struggling to raise their children to love Jesus.  That snotty-nosed squirmy boy who keeps asking to go to the bathroom may be the next Charles Spurgeon.

*From C.H. Spurgeon Autobiography: Volume I: The Early Years

photo by jmacphoto.com