TEAM FAMILY SERMON SERIES
DEALING WITH DISCIPLINE IN THE FAMILY
APRIL 19, 1998
You know there is nothing quite like a great football game. When a couple of teams are disciplined and functioning properly, the combination of athleticism, power, strength and skill is something to behold. There is nothing quite like a great football game. You have seen it and so have I, the diving catch, the shoestring tackle, the long run. Things like that will bring any crowd to its feet. We love football in Texas. It is our sport.
When football is played properly it is great. But if it is not, it can be ugly, can’t it? When teams are not disciplined, when teams are kind of doing their own thing, when the game is marred with fights and fumbles and turnovers, it is ugly. It is horrible. We turn off the television set or leave the game early.
Well, the family game is something great to behold. When it is disciplined and when there is love flowing and grace and understanding and focus, it will bring any crowd to its feet. Yet, when it is not functioning properly, when the family game and team is marred with fights, fumbles and turnovers, it is not a pretty sight. In fact, it is ugly.
I think it is safe to say that every family team here would like to teach their teammates to score touchdown after touchdown, to play focused ball, to do the family thing right. I think that every person here would want that to be their agenda.
Last week I kicked off a brand new series we are calling TEAM FAMILY. We have been comparing aspects of sports to certain aspects of the family. Now to show you it is not some kind of stretch, scripture writers’ favorite metaphor to describe the Christian life is that of an athlete. Last weekend I talked about the goals that every family should tend to tenaciously. If you missed last weekend, please pick up the tape. Every message builds on the former message.
I am going to tell you something, Moms and Dads. You can have the priorities and goals down cold but if you don’t do what we are going to talk about today, your family team will be marred with fights, fumbles and turnovers. We are calling this session, “Intentional Grounding – Dealing with Discipline.” Every time discipline is discussed, opinions are expressed, questions are brought up and the overall attitude is one of confusion.
You heard about it in the drama. How far do you go? When do you get strong and when do you back off? Now before we jump into dealing with discipline, let me say something parenthetically. It is impossible for me to exhaust all of the subtle nuances of this complex topic in the timeframe that we have for this service. We have parenting classes and different seminars throughout the calendar year to help you, parents or family team members, in whatever season you find your family in. But I do want to share with you the cliff notes, the highlights from the playbook on discipline. And I want to save you, parents, from boatloads of pain and anxiety. Because the Bible speaks directly, succinctly and powerfully to this topic called discipline.
Families, and specifically parents, we have got to do one thing right up front in dealing with discipline. It is going to sound odd. We have got to line off the playing field. That’s right. We have got to become a grounds crew member and line off the playing field. You see, giving your children a manicured field, crisp new uniforms and inspirational words aren’t enough. We also have to mark off the playing field. I am talking about the goal lines, side lines and hash marks. We have got to show our children where the boundaries are.
When I was a kid playing backyard football, it was my dream to have a lined off field. I thought it would be the coolest thing in the world if we could line off our backyard. So one day, some friends and I took sand out of my little brother’s sandbox and we actually made a football field out of our backyard. We did the sidelines, the goal lines and the hash marks. From then on, whenever we did this, the games would go better. There were less disputes. We wouldn’t say, “You are out of bounds because the side of the house is out of bounds.” We knew where everything was. The only problem with the sand was, whenever it would rain just a little bit, our field would be destroyed. So I have been a part, in kind of a strange way, of a functioning grounds crew.
Parents, we make a couple of major mistakes when we do the grounds crew thing. The first mistake is that a lot of us constantly change the goal line, the side lines and the hash marks. The field is in a constant state of flux. What was a touchdown last week, is a penalty this week. And our children don’t really know where everything is located and it makes them timid and sometimes it can lead to major league rebellion.
Another mistake that we make, parents, and this one staggers me, is allowing the children to mark off their own field. We say, “You determine your own destiny. You know a lot. Go ahead and line off your playing field.” Parents, this leads to some serious, serious trouble. Proverbs 29:15, “A child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.” You could rephrase it to read that a child who lines off his own field brings shame to his mother. The question is still being debated and kicked about. Are babies born with a bent toward badness or are they little cherubs who, as they fly and flutter through life, become stained by our horrible and dark world? The Bible says that we have a sin nature. We have a great capacity for goodness and a potential for greatness, but we are flawed. We are flawed from birth. And if you don’t believe me, have a baby! Little babies, as they are swinging back and forth in their baby swings, are kind of casing the joint. They are looking at the family team. They see those two coaches over there, Mom and Dad. Dad is watching yet another golf tournament. Mom is preparing a bottle. They look at their sister playing with Barbies and they say to themselves in their little brains, “I am going to run the team. I am going to take it over.” And these little babies begin to test the boundaries, the goal lines, the hash marks. They want desperately for flags to be thrown, whistles to be blown and penalties to be assessed. We are fashioned to live and do life on God’s playing field with His rules.
Proverbs 22:15 says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” Over the last five years, how many times have we seen Emmett Smith break a long run and the announcers say this. “Look at Emmett Smith, he might go all the way. Touchdown. Cowboys.” Then they say, “Let’s look at this on the instant replay. Look at those moves. Emmett has worked hard but you just can’t teach some of those moves.” What are they saying here? They are saying that some of Emmy’s talent and skill is genetic.
Well, if those announcers watched us perform, foul up and mess up and fall short, from the baby swing on, they would say, “You can’t teach it. It is sinetic.” We have a sin nature. And wise parents mark off the field and show clearly the boundaries and goal lines and hash marks and challenge the children to live within the framework of the family field. Every single time we are part of the grounds crew, we are simply mimicking our maker. Every time we discipline our children, we are mimicking the God of the universe. Hebrews 12:10-11. “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best, but God disciplines us for our good….” Don’t you like that part? For our good. “…that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
We serve a God who loves us so much that He disciplines us. We are His children. We matter that much to Him. Just for a second, I want you to think about the most beautiful football field you have ever seen in your life. You might not realize it, but prior to you looking at that football field, a grounds crew meticulously marked off and maintained that field. The players know exactly where they are and are not supposed to go. Moms, Dads, line off your family playing field. And when you line it off, make sure that it lines up with God’s word. Are you doing the grounds crew thing? It will serve your family team well.
After we do the grounds crew thing, we are to do something else. We are to call a consistent game. That’s right. We are to put on a referee’s uniform. We are referees. We are officials. And this is a stressful job. Officials take a lot of abuse. People boo at them all the time, whine to them. Players get in their faces. Yet, a great official, a great referee is always consistent.
Let me give you a theoretical situation. What if in four or five months you are watching an NFL football game and you see a blatant face mask, clip or illegal use of the hands and you see the referee run up to the offending party without throwing a flag or blowing a whistle. Instead, he says, “Hey, don’t worry about it, man. I know you didn’t mean it, OK?” And then the same scenario happens again and again. If that took place, football would be a fiasco. It would be terrible. No one would watch it or participate in it. Sometimes parents, when their children mess up, just threaten. They say, “If you do that again, I’m going to throw this flag right here. You missed curfew by an hour and a half and I am thinking about it.” Sometimes parents will go one step closer to assessing the penalty. They will throw the flag, blow the whistle and make various hand gestures, but when the moment of truth comes, they don’t take away the yardage, don’t disqualify the teammate for awhile. They are afraid. They think that parenting is some kind of popularity contest. I am here to tell you that it is not. Yes, we are to be a friend to our child, but we are to be both a part of the ground’s crew and a referee.
Families, your children are not the center of the team. They are not in the middle of the huddle. If you allow that, you are setting yourself up for team turmoil. The most important relationship in the family is between the husband and the wife. Everything trickles down from that. That is how children learn trust and forgiveness and intimacy and communication and conflict resolution skills. I talked to a couple recently who said, “You know, we can’t have a date night because our children won’t let us have a baby sitter.” I said, “Come back? Who is lining off the field? Who is refereeing the game here?” Mom and Dad, your marriage takes precedence over the children. And then from there, we can talk about their needs. There should always be give and take in a family but the marriage is the foundation.
Let me give you some basic refereeing tips by Pastor Ed Young. Here is how to call a consistent game. These tips have helped me because I have made many mistakes as a parent. It is tough.
- Start at the kickoff. Oftentimes, we wait until the second half to start throwing flags, blowing whistles and assessing penalties. Start when they are in that little swing going back and forth, back and forth. Start early.
- Penalize your children in private. When you watch a football game and someone commits a penalty, they will do a close-up shot of the referee. He will turn his intercom on. “Holding on number 79. Third down.” Everybody goes, “Whoa, 79, he blew it.” If you want to crush your child’s spirit, if you want to dismantle them systematically, correct them, discipline them in public. I have talked to too many wounded children, students, single adults and others who have been married many, many years who look back and remember the hurt of being disciplined in public. So if you are in a restaurant, take them to the rest room, where you can handle that one on one.
- When you discipline your children, remember that they are each unique. You don’t always throw the flag, blow the whistle and assess penalties the same way with every child. I think about our twins, for example. They are different. When Laurie messes up, I can just say to her quietly, “Laurie, you disobeyed Mommy and Daddy. That was wrong.” She will kind of well up with tears. Conversely, Landra will test the limits and if I talked to Landra like I do to Laurie, Landra would say, “Yeah, forget you.” I have got to get in her face. “Landra, look at me. Look at me, Landra……” My father has written a lot of books on the family and here is what he says about discipline. “I had to look at one of my sons to discipline him. Another, I had to talk to him. The third, I had to use a belt on him.” I am the belt boy! Proverbs 19:18. “Discipline your children while there is hope.” That means, while they are young. If you don’t, it will ruin their lives. Boy, I wish the Bible were direct.
There is a man in the Old Testament named Eli. Eli was a man of God but he failed miserably as a ground’s crew person. He failed miserably as a referee. He didn’t line and mark off the field. He didn’t call a consistent game. He though his two kids, Hophni and Phinehas would do great things. But they didn’t. Eli’s life ended in shambles. His sons lives ended in shambles. His family team was dismantled. Why? Because he didn’t call a consistent game.
So parents, we are constantly changing hats. There is a third hat we have got to put on. The third hat is a coach’s hat. And we have got to maintain a balanced coaching staff. There has got to be unity. The staff has to be operating off of the same page, from the same playbook. Children learn at a very early age how to play one coach against the other coach. And if you are a single parent, you even have a greater challenge. Next weekend I am going to spend an entire session talking to single parents and persons who are a part of the blended family.
Here is what our little rookies do. Let say, for example, you have a daughter. She will run up to her mother and ask permission to do something. If permission is not granted, she will wait for you to come home. Then she asks the very same request. When she admits that her mommy said no, Dad, that is the moment of truth. If you cater to her, you are messing up. You are totally taking apart the unity of your coaching staff. You need to present a unified front. You and your spouse need to have shared decisions. Now if it is something that you want to discuss, you can say to your daughter she must wait for an answer until after you to talk with her mother. Then huddle with your spouse concerning the situation. But make sure that you present balance and unity. If you don’t, you are setting yourself for major, major problems.
Although it is hard to do, you have got to apologize to your children when you mess up. We may go too far or not far enough. A lot of times we get it right, I think most of the times we do. But now and then we are going to mess up. Ask your children for forgiveness when you have gone too far. They know you have messed up. They are just waiting, wondering if Dad and Mom will come clean.
Some people may be saying to themselves that their kids are grown but that they messed up a long time ago. Parents, I don’t care how old your children are. Drop them a note this week. Pick up the phone and call them and say that you were wrong then. You may not realize it, but it matters to them.
Hey, boomers and busters, don’t whine and moan and point the finger of blame at your family of origin your whole life. “Well, my parents were not really good coaches and I am dysfunctional because of that.” We all come from dysfunctional families. We are all dysfunctional. None of us are perfect. Even if your parents will not or have not apologized to you and sought forgiveness, get down on your knees and tell God that you release them, forgive them.
And children, when your parents do the forgiveness work, accept it. The Bible says that if we do not accept their words of apology, why should Christ accept ours? Maintain a balanced coaching staff. Ephesians 6:4. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger….” Dads get particularly tempted. Dads like to stay up in the tower overlooking the field. We like to watch the action unfold and let our wives do most of the day to day discipline. From time to time we will take our megaphone and announce a mess up. But then we will get back into the tower and catch a few rays. Dads, it is fine to be up in the tower now and then. But we have got to climb down from the tower and get into the midst of the action. This Bible verse means that we must not arbitrarily assert our authority over the children.
Also, what do you do when you feel an unsportsmanlike conduct call coming on? What do you do when you are tempted to throw down the head set? What do you do? Do you discipline? No, because you will be too harsh. You hand off the situation. You hand off your child or leave the premises to regain your composure. “Fathers do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
You see, discipline is not an option. Instruction is not an option. We are to do it. A couple of years ago I came up with an acrostic. I would ask myself what the deal was with any particular situation. So I took the word deal, made an acrostic of it. It helped me and I hope it will help you.
D stands for discern. We need discernment. We have got to be praying for an extra measure of discernment. We have got to have discernment to line off the field and then have the discernment to discipline our children in an age-appropriate fashion. I was thinking about my childhood and tried to remember the best act of discipline that was used with me. I will never forget it. I was in elementary school and one of our neighbors had a big old, hulking cement birdbath. I used to watch the birds come and go. I don’t know why I did what I did, but I bet a close friend that I could turn that birdbath over. I even feel terrible telling you this. I ran and shoved it and it fell and broke into a million pieces. I ran. I thought that I had committed a flawless crime until five minutes later my parents got a call from the neighbor. Let me tell you what my parents did. They did something brilliant. I have never forgotten it. They said, “Ed, you know the money you have been saving for that rod and reel? You, after you call and apologize, will go along with us to the birdbath store, and buy her another cement birdbath.” I have visions, still, of carrying my piggy bank money, and putting it onto the counter and saying, “One birdbath, please.” It was terrible. But that is discernment, wouldn’t you agree?
E stands for enlighten. We need to use the discipline as a teachable moment.
A stands for affirm. It is important to affirm the relationship. I say something like this to my children. “Children, God loves you and I love you too much to allow you to get away with this behavior. We are affirming the relationship.
L stands for love. Don’t leave that out. Some of the most precious moments of my parenting career have been embracing my children after acts of discipline.
Every time you discipline, ask what the deal is and remember this acrostic. When I opened the message up, I said, “There is nothing quite like a great football game. When a couple of teams are disciplined and doing it right, the combination of pageantry, skill, athleticism and strength is something to behold.” But I have got to tell you something. There is nothing quite like a great family game. When the team is disciplined, running right, playing within the perimeters set forth by the ground’s crew and the referees and the coaches, it is something to behold. Parents, do the discipline deal. Your family, over the years, will carry the ball and score touchdown after touchdown after touchdown.