The struggle is real in my home. With five kids, two of whom are well into their teens, we have every device imaginable at our fingertips. Phones, computers, Kindles, and I-pads all compete for attention and, to tell you the truth, I could go Amish in a split-second and toss them all out the window.
Until I want to write a blog post.
Or watch Chip and Joanna.
Hence the struggle.
Filtering what my kids watch and listen to is like swimming up a waterfall with my ankles tied together. Information rushes in so quickly these days and software updates constantly change the game. I can’t keep up.
So how, in an age of information overload, do we protect our children? In spite of internet filters and limits on what shows they can watch, too often they are still exposed to things that go against God and His desires for them. Even if we successfully put up a concrete wall of internet safety, they are not in our home 24/7. They have friends. Their friends have TV’s and computers. We cannot block it all, no matter how much we try. There must be a better way to protect them, a more effective and dependable filter.
In the book of James, the twelve tribes of Israel have been dispersed throughout the world. They are suddenly immersed in new cultures and learning to survive away from their beloved homeland because of persecution. I can only imagine the temptation they faced to compromise, to “fit in” and just not be noticed or singled out.
I’m sure their kids, growing up in this foreign culture that did not feel foreign to them, (this was their normal, just as a world full of electronic devices is normal to my kids) often pouted and whined, “Everybody else is doing it, why can’t we?” The adults likely felt the same struggle.
So James reminds them of who they are and Whose they are. He encourages them to face suffering with the courage of God and allow God to use it to refine them, making them more like Jesus, who happened to be James’ oldest brother. (Can you imagine?) He reminds them that they are here for a purpose…God’s purpose. He wants to use them. Their obedience, though it will not save them, will model the love of the Father to the dark society in which they live. They have been given a mandate to love and serve sacrificially, because Jesus sacrificed his very life for them. They are to live outwardly what has happened inwardly as evidence of their salvation and position in the Kingdom of God.
In chapter 4, James warns them about resisting worldliness. Selfishness, arguing, boasting, befriending “the world” and arrogance are all on his list. He didn’t tell them to only allow Christians into their home. He also didn’t tell them to stay home and avoid society in order to avoid temptation.
He told them, in order to win the spiritual battle for their hearts, to turn away from their own interests and submit to God alone. There are two opposing forces at work, battling to influence our minds and either cripple us spiritually or give us wings: the World and the Kingdom of God. They are polar opposites. We cannot function in both at once. We either live as an enemy of the World, or we effectively become enemies of God.
I don’t know about you, but if I’m choosing enemies it’s not going to be the Creator of the Universe.
As I ponder this, though, I wonder if what I just wrote is true. Every day I make a thousand little decisions that add up and affect my loyalties. This morning, as I was teaching this chapter of James to my children, a light bulb switched on in my spirit and the words came alive as never before regarding the choices we make minute by minute, hour by hour. We talked about the characteristics of worldliness. (They had no problem making a long list!) I looked at them and gently challenged my sweet ones, “When you watch TV, like on Disney, and listen to music do you see any of these things?” Three pairs of eyes widened as they nodded and named off the list again: Pridefulness, boasting, selfishness, arrogance. I continued…
“When you watch or listen to things that are filled with worldliness, it gradually soaks in. The Bible says that ‘Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks’ (Luke 6:45) so what happens is your heart becomes full of these characteristics and it begins to show in your behavior and attitude. We have to remember that God is the only one worthy of judging what is right and wrong, so if He says these things are sin then they are. If we want to live as a friend of God then we have to choose not to immerse ourselves in the messages of the world.”
Boy, do I wish this was easy. I wish that my just saying it to my kids would result in instant transformation and that they would, from this day forward, make awesome choices and have no desire for the things of the world. But that is not reality. I can filter internet and TV (which I do) all day long, but if their hearts are not drawn toward the Father then the second they leave my home they will run in the opposite direction of everything they have been taught.
I guess the next question is, how do we help them turn to God? Well, we begin by modeling it ourselves. Do they see me change the station when something inappropriate comes on the TV or radio? Am I having good, gentle discussions with them as they learn to navigate these choppy waters or just casting judgement when they make choices that I disagree with? It is in the day to day, minute to minute living and learning from real life consequences as well as experiencing blessing from good decisions that their little hearts are molded and shaped for Jesus. I cannot cast a blanket of rules and expect them to blindly follow. Legalism breeds sin. Always has, always will. But grace draws us to the Father. Unconditional love and acceptance, having a safe place to land no matter how they have messed up and knowing who they are in Christ are the foundation for them to draw from as they stumble, fall, and learn to walk again.
I struggle with this. I want to control and just keep them from messing up in the first place, but that is not possible. There are only certain things I can do, provide a safe haven for them, a home where there are standards and filters and loving discussions bathed in forgiveness when the filters fail. (Which they will.) And I can help them develop their own, holy filter…a realization that choosing things that honor the Kingdom are always better, always more beautiful, and always with good consequences. It takes time. It takes a lifetime. And it depends solely on the grace of God manifesting in the prayers and hard work we put in as parents.