WHO’S KIDDING WHO?
August 21-22, 2004
[Ed comes on stage carrying a large popcorn tin.]
Every Christmas, if I’m lucky, someone gives me a big tin of popcorn. This stuff is scary! It’s kind of sectioned off—got the caramel, the cheese, and the butter. Pick your poison! I have a ritual about how I eat this stuff. I start with caramel, then go to cheese, and then end up with butter.
You might be thinking, “Well, Ed, I thought you were a health nut?” I am! But I will confess that during the holidays I get a little bit stressed out. We do like 10 or 11 Christmas services? And it’s [the popcorn] usually around the office. And I’ll find myself just consuming mass quantities of it. I can’t get enough of the caramel, cheese, and butter popcorn! Are you that way? I am. I mean, you feel guilty that you’ve eaten it all. It’s bad isn’t it?
Parents, a lot of us are giving our kids parental popcorn—caramel popcorn, cheese popcorn, and butter popcorn. Our parenting styles are represented in this tin. We’re limiting ourselves because we’re just serving this kind of popcorn.
Popcorn, in of itself, is not bad. Popcorn done the right way is nutritious; it’s good for you. But we find ourselves in this parental popcorn tin.
Take caramel popcorn for example. Do you like caramel popcorn? I love that stuff! Caramel popcorn is sticky. I mean look at this! [Ed sticks popcorn to his face and arms.] I can put it on my face, look! I’ll bet you it’ll stick on my face the entire service. Watch this. See if it falls off. I’ll just experiment, okay? It’s just sticky. It’s covered in sugar, all the chemicals and stuff that make up caramel popcorn.
Are you a caramel popcorn parent? Do you overcompensate, overprotect, and overdo everything you do with your children? Do you stick to your children? Do you say, “You know what? I going to never let my kids out of my sight? I’m going to take them with me wherever I go.”
If you do that, you’re going to have some kids who are big, who are full of calories and caramel popcorn. You’re going to have children who will take over the household. They will run the show. And you’ve fed this monster so much caramel corn that they’re calling the shots. “Mom, do this.” “Yes, sir.” “Dad, do that.” “Yes, ma’am. Whatever you say; you run the show.” Caramel popcorn parents.
I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. Down the street from us, lived a family called the Blackstone family. I hope they’re not watching on television or listening on the radio, but they were a great family. They had three boys. Check these names out: Rip, Fred, and Lawton. I kid you not—Rip Blackstone, Fred Blackstone, and Lawton Blackstone. The Blackstone boys, they loved sports. My brothers and I loved sports, too. And we liked to play sports with the Blackstone family.
One caveat, though. Every time we played any kind of game—baseball, basketball, or football—we had to play in the Blackstone’s yard, in their compound. The Blackstone’s would never venture out of their yard and come into our yard or the other yards. No, no, we had to do it the Blackstone way in the Blackstone yard. No matter what sport we would play, it would always be under the watchful eye of Mrs. Blackstone.
I can see her now at that kitchen window just staring, watching every touchdown, every free throw, every homerun. We had to take it easy on the Blackstone kids because if they ever hit the turf or the cement, the game was over.
One time Rip was going out for a pass, he caught the ball, and I kind of just gave him a little elbow. Nothing too hard. And he lost his balance and fell. I picked up him real quick because I didn’t want the game to end. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I heard this, “That’s all for today. That’s all for today! Ed, Ben, go home! Rip, Fred, Lawton, in your rooms immediately! We were thinking, “Man, we will not play football for a week!” That was my first interaction with the caramel popcorn parent—overprotective, overindulging, over the top.
Here’s the problem with being a caramel popcorn parent. We cover our kids to such a degree that we stick to them so tightly that we can’t stick to our mate. We can’t go on a date night. We’re stuck in a marital rut. We’re even stuck spiritually because we can’t go to church, many times, because we can’t bring our kids with us. And then we’re scared to leave our kids at Children’s Church or an age appropriate teaching, because you know, after all, “My kids can’t leave my sight.” Caramel popcorn parents have bought into the attention myth. In the 60’s a bunch of parenting experts came out with this attention myth. It said, “Kids need our attention all the time.” That’s true in the first, you know, several months of life. But after that, there need to be boundaries built in the families. I want to ask you, “Are you a caramel popcorn parent?”
Maybe you’re a cheese popcorn parent. Because some parents are kind of cheesy. I love this cheese popcorn stuff. [Ed eats some cheese popcorn from the tin.] It’s great stuff!
It reminds me of junior high school. I went to school at some wheels-off places. One day, I’ll tell you about my academic career. But I went to a junior high school that—you won’t believe this—in the 70’s had 2,000 students. And the epicenter of the school was a giant smoking circle…in junior high school! I walked through the smoking circle going to lunch. Kids were like, “What’s up Ed? How’s the basketball team?” Everybody, just hundreds of kids, junior high kids, just smoking. I thought that was kind of odd. “The Canteen,” though, served the best cheese popcorn around. That’s why I’m telling you this story. It reminds me of junior high school.
The cheesy parent. The cheesy parent says, “You know what? My deal is I want to be liked. That’s what parenting is about. I want to be liked. I want to be my child’s friend, their peer, their ‘homey.’”
You know what I’m talking about. “We identify; we’re on the same level,” we say. You know, the forty-something-year-old cheesy mom who dresses like Britney Spears. And when she comes walking up her daughter goes, “Oops, Mom did it again!”
It’s the dad that just ODs on ECAs [Extra Curricular Activities]. I found that cheesy parents usually come from whacked out families of origin. Maybe their mother or dad was an alcoholic. Or maybe they didn’t really experience childhood. And now that they’re parents, they project their lost dreams and aspirations on their kids. They force their agenda on their children because they want to fulfill through their kids’ lives what they missed out on as a child. So they will force them into this sport, or force them into voice lessons, or force them into art classes or whatever.
Extra curricular activities are cool and fine. However, we’re going to find out, parents, we have to discover what our kids like, and then applaud that and coach them. We can’t force our agenda on them.
But so often, I see so many students involved in all these activities. And if you ask them this, “Do you really like what you’re doing? Who are you doing this for?” If they’re open and honest with you, more often than not, they’ll say, “You know, I’m doing it for Dad. I’m doing it for Mom.”
Who sets up all the leagues? Adults. Who sets up all the tournaments? Adults. Who sets up all the games? Adults. And so often, kids play for them. Not in every case, but in many cases. The cheese popcorn parent. Cheesy. Over the top.
How about the buttered popcorn? Man, I always like buttered popcorn. The buttered popcorn parent is the one who doesn’t really know the roles. The roles are slippery and greasy and no one really knows where they’re to go and what they’re to do and who’s saying what and who’s doing what. And parents aren’t really leading in the buttered popcorn family. Again, the goal is not to be liked. It’s to lead.
Last night I came home from our second service and walked up to the twin’s room and almost fell down when I walked out of the room. And I looked on my shoe, and believe it or not, “Look, popcorn again!”
Buttered popcorn will mess you up. It’s greasy, it’s slippery, and it’s causing a lot of people to fall and to tumble from the position they should have. Are you into buttered popcorn? So many of us have bought into the lie. The lie started, oh, four or five decades ago. It said that everybody’s equal in the family unit, you know. It’s a democracy.
It sounds so hip, so vogue. “Everybody’s opinion is valid. So what your teenager wants to do is what your teenager should do. And what your child wants to do is what your child should do. So what we should do as parents is crawl into the playpen and reason with the rebellious toddler. Or jump into the car with a 16-year-old and say, ‘You know what, whatever is true to you is true to you. Let’s discuss discipline. Give me your opinion.’”
Sounds good. Sounds, “Wahoo, yeah.” But the problem is it doesn’t work! Look at our culture. Wheels off! Take a panoramic view of the whiney, spoiled, me-istic, self-serving, materialist generation. We’re the product of this mentality.
Voting? Majority rules? Parents, we’ve got to be in power. We’ve got to be in position. We’re the leaders. Your kids are not the leader. “But, Ed, I want to be liked.” You’re going to be liked. It might not be immediately, but it’s going to be eventually. You’ve got to realize and communicate to your kids, “I’m doing this for your own good.”
But positionally, so many of the families are whacked. We’re orbiting everything around the kids, their agenda, their deal and we’re missing the beauty of God’s priority.
And single moms, let me say a word to you. Our hats go off to you. More often than not, you’re the one who has custody of your kids. And most of you work outside the home. And when you come home, you spend every waking moment with your child. You have a hard time differentiating between their needs and their greeds because your husband has bolted, because of guilt and all that. We applaud you.
But let me suggest this. I challenge you to think about your own needs, relationally and socially. I would put those as primary and your relationship with your kids as secondary. Just like in the two-parent family, we’ve got to put the marriage at the top priority and then the childrearing thing, our connectivity with our kids, in second place. Because kids want to see that. We’ve got to give them and model for them the healthiest relationship. Or in a single parent case, we’ve got to be the healthiest person possible. And that’s getting the priorities down that we talked about last time.
Every time I eat the popcorn during the Christmas holidays, as I said earlier, I kind of go through a guilt trip. I’ll put the lid on it and I’ll go, “Whoa! Okay. No more of that.” And then I’ll begin to kind of glance at the nutritional information and I’ll really get into a bad mood. I mean, look at the nutritional facts. I mean this stuff is like 25% fat! All this monosodium, gludosodiumite…. These names you can’t pronounce! All these chemicals. It’s bad for you.
And the popcorn that we’re giving our kids out of this parental tin is not good for them. We think it’s good. Oh, it’s easy to give them buttered popcorn. You know, it’s easy to not worry about the roles positionally. It’s easy, you know, to give them caramel corn, to just cover them and smother them. You know, it’s easy. It’s easy to be the, you know, just the peer, cheesy. No big deal. That’s just easy.
Parenting, though, is work. It’s worth it, but it takes work. Marriage is not easy. Great marriages, great families, are not built in a vacuum. They are built out of work.
GOD’S POPCORN RECIPE
Against the back drop of all this, we come to the ultimate recipe for popcorn. Because our great God has a recipe for any marriage and any family that will make our kids [Ed makes popping sounds] pop with great trajectory. Do you want that? I do.
Let’s think about this recipe for a second. Because again, certain types of popcorn are good for you. They are nutritionally balanced. Good fiber and all that stuff. It’ll make our kids pop! Kids are like kernels. But there’s a problem with the kernel. If you eat the kernel it can break your teeth. You know?
You take a kernel, though, and put the right amount of oil in it, and you’ve got something special. The Bible talks a lot about oil. Oil is the anointing. It’s the covering. It’s that personal relationship with the Lord himself. Deuteronomy 6:1 discusses this. It says, “These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”
This is Moses talking to the children of Israel about what God has told him to tell them. He’s saying, “This is it. We’re to observe this stuff privately and corporately.” Look at Verse 2. He gives us the reason: “So that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all His decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.”
People have a hard time accepting this, but we’ve got to own this and swallow this fact: God wants us to enjoy this life. God wants us to be the most joyous people around. And we’re going to be joyful when we obey his directives. The joy might not come overnight, but it’s going to be lasting and eternal. You, your children, and their children. God wants us to leave a legacy. That’s what God wants.
Dads, we’re the leaders. We’re the spiritual leaders of the family. And too many of us are hung up on just making money. We’re too hung up on just providing this trust fund or whatever that one day we’ll give our kids; or maybe investing in this non-profit or building some monument or building to our ego or to our family. And if that is your agenda, man, that’s fine and dandy. But you’re aiming low. Guys, if that’s what you’re about, man, there’s more to life than that. The greatest thing, dads, that we can give our family is to model and to own a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s it. Money can’t buy that.
And that is what Moses was communicating to the children of Israel. It’s been this way for thousands of years. It’s God’s model. We’re to immerse our lives, we’re to immerse our marriage and our kids in the oil of the anointing, in the oil of Scripture, in the oil of private worship and public worship.
The plot clots as you keep reading Deuteronomy 6:6-7, “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts….” But see, dads and moms, we can’t give our kids something that we don’t have. They’re to be upon your hearts. [Verse 7] “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”
So this thing is not compartmentalized. It should transcend everything we do in the family. We can’t say, “Well, okay, we act this way at Fellowship Church and then another way here and another way over there.” It’s got to be a lifestyle. Leaving a legacy.
“Well, Ed, you know, I grew up in a crazy family, man. My family…whoa! Wheels off! Nutty! My dad was this. My mom was that.” You can become a history maker today if you’ll stand and go, “Okay, I am going to be a person that immerses our family, our marriage, this whole deal in oil.”
I think about my grandfather. Grew up in Laurel, Mississippi. Managed a hardware store. Was an assistant football coach. Didn’t have any money. You go to Laurel, Mississippi, today, people still talk about G.B. Landrum in hallowed tones. He spent the last 20 years of his life in a wheel chair. They talk about the Bible studies he led. They talk about his purity, his morality. They talk about his connectivity with his family.
I think about my mom. I think about her brother, who’s a pastor. I think about my parents who were pretty much three for three. My grandfather left a legacy. He knew there was more to life than stacking up stuff and building trust funds and giving kids just a bunch of junk. He based his life on something that money can’t buy—the oil of a personal relationship with Christ.
And parents, for the life of me, what’s so funny is people here will give me all this smack, “Oh, yeah, Jesus is #1! Oh, yeah. We’re about that Ed.” Man, I applaud you. That’s good. But as I watch their lifestyle, when I see ECAs always superseding church and their involvement and their kids involvement in it, I go, “What are you smoking? What are you drinking? Am I not communicating with you?”
I don’t get it. The math doesn’t work. So again, if you want to have a so-so life; if you want to have whiney, spoiled, and bratty kids, you do what culture says, Mom, Dad. You just do what the culture says. Oh, yes, it’s really working great in our culture, isn’t it?
I’ve been married for 22 years. I have four kids. My daughter is 17, my son’s 12, our twins are 10. I feel relatively qualified to talk about this stuff. I don’t feel like I’m an expert. But I can talk about it. God wants the best. Are you using the oil for those kernels? I don’t know.
You’ve got to have heat too, don’t you? I mean, to have some popcorn that [Ed makes popping sound] pops, you’ve got to have the heat. Man, do you need heat! What kind of heat? I’m talking about marital heat. You saw the interviews. You saw the videos. Best thing we can do for our family is to have a hot marriage.
Well, how can we have a hot marriage, though, when a man and woman marry, they crank out a couple of kids, the wife is getting her self-esteem from her kids—what they do artistically and athletically and socially and relationally—and the husband is getting his self-esteem from what he is doing in the market place—how much money he is making, who he is working for, where his office is and maybe some hobbies or whatever? You’ve got marital drift. We orbit everything around the lives of our kids.
For the wife to get to the husband she’s got to negotiate around all that stuff. For the husband to get to the wife, he’s got to negotiate around all that stuff. Fast forward the deal. Put them in their mid-forties. The husband wakes up, the wife wakes up, “Who in the world did I marry? Who are you? What in the world was I thinking?”
And then we call the attorneys to pick up the pieces. That’s why the divorce rate is exploding in the 45 to 55 age bracket. Heat. Marital heat. We’ve got to have a heat as we worship God. It’s got to be hot. And that heat permeates and surrounds the marriage and then that marital heat also is communicated and felt by the kids.
Awhile back I ran into a survey and it talked to a bunch of students and they asked these students this question. It said, “Students, would you rather have your parents show you affection? Or would you rather your parents show each other affection?” You know what the students said? These are teenagers, 95% said, “I would rather see Mom and Dad show each other affection.”
The best thing that we can do, the greatest thing we can do is to have a hot marriage. And to do that, we’ve got to work. It’s that MWE I always talk about—that Marital Work Ethic.
In Genesis 2:24 it says, “For this reason a man will leave…” What’s parenting? Teaching and training your kids to leave. Spouses stay, kids leave. [the verse continues] “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they’ll become one flesh.” One flesh. That’s super glue stuff.
I love to tie flies. I like to fly fish, and when I tie a fly there’s a certain type of glue that I love. It’s hard to find it, but when I find it I buy a lot of it. It’s called Zap-a-Gap. You put some Zap-a-Gap on a fly, it’ll take that thread and those feathers and [gulping sound]. I mean, you, can’t take them out of the fish.
The heat, the passion in marriage is that Zap-a-Gap. We have a natural gap between a man and woman. And we’re different. We’re both sinful and all that. Yet, that super glue, that intimacy, that heat just binds us together. Marital heat.
We, Lisa and I, leave our kids at least once a week and go off on a date night. And that leaving is a microcosm of the ultimate leaving—when our kids individuate and become people who have their own families. So you’ve got to have the oil, you’ve got to have the heat.
I think you need some seasoning, too. I mean what good is popcorn without any real seasoning? This stuff [the popcorn in the tin] is just man made stuff. It’s not that good. But I mean the real seasoning is the discipline that God wants in the family.
And next weekend I’m talking about discipline because discipline is something that is difficult to do. How do you discipline? What kind of disciplinarian are you as the parent?
“Well, Ed, you know, I just want to show my kids love. Not discipline, just love. Unconditional love.” Listen, that mentality is whack! Love and discipline go hand and hand. If I’m a leader, I communicate love effectively. And one of the ways I effectively communicate love to my kids is to discipline them.
Question: Does God punish Christians? Answer: No! Jesus Christ took the punishment on the cross for our sins 2000 years ago. God doesn’t punish us.
Question: Does God discipline us? Answer: Yes! Oh, we love to talk about the grace of God and how God is unconditionally a seeking Father and God is good and God loves me and God’s this and God’s that. Yeah, Yeah! Yeah, God! But we don’t want to talk about the fact that God disciplines us. We don’t want talk about the fact that God is a just God. We don’t want to talk about the fact that when we step over the line there will be consequences.
You can’t talk about one without the other. God’s a perfect God, a God of balance. And as parents, our goal is to do the same. Scripture backs this up and challenges us in this realm.
Proverbs 3:11-12 (NLT), “My child, don’t ignore it when the LORD disciplines you, and don’t be discouraged when He corrects you. For the LORD corrects those He loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.”
Next week I’m going to talk about Etch-A-Sketch parents. Remember Etch-A-Sketches? Draw those lines and then erase them and draw them again then, and erase them. One time I did this cool thing and my brother, Ben, took and erased it all. I about…. [Ed punches his fist]
Too many Etch-A-Sketch parents. We draw lines and say, “Honey, if you step over that line, there will be consequences.” They step over it. “Hey, son, you can step over that line, man. I’ve drawn the line. You can do that, man…” So the kids are like, “Whoa! Yesterday I stepped over the line – I got in trouble. And now I can step over this line – everything is cool?” Etch-A-Sketch parents. It’s just floating. It’s a sliding scale.
As moms and dads we’ve got to give a unified front. Single parent families, you talk about difficult! How do you and your “ex” get together and present a unified front? Hello! Kids are crazy. I mean, it’s amazing how brilliant they are. They’ll try to play me against Lisa, Lisa against me and all that. And we have to present a unified front. How do you do that? How do you establish lines that are consistent, that give kids freedom, that give them decision making rope?
When they cross the line, there’s got to be consequences because children want to know where the edge and the ledge is. That’s why so many of them are misbehaving so much and are so rebellious. They want you to say, “No. You step over that line, there’s going to be some consequences.” And we’ve got to back up the consequences. Seasoning. Man, do we need that!
One more and then we’ll conclude. Time. You’ve got to have the right time for popcorn. Quality time emerges, though, from quantity time. I’ve got to spend enough time with my children that I can see them and study them and know them to such a degree I can coach them and applaud them and challenge them and give them opportunities to be the best they can possibly be.
Proverbs 22:6. This is one of the most misunderstood and misconstrued in all the Bible, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Here is what many teachers and pastors have said incorrectly about this verse for many years: “Well, this verse means, ah, you introduce them to Jesus. And when they grow, they’ll stray away from Him. But then when they get older, they’ll come back to Him.”
It does not mean that. It’s doesn’t mean, “Well, I’ll sow my wild oats and go crazy and hydroplane; then I’ll always come back to the Lord.” That does not mean that. You know what that verse means? We have to understand the Hebrew to really get it. The Hebrew language is a language of the weak verb. That’s a whole other subject. But just listen, a weak verb language.
So if you look at the picture behind Proverbs 22:6, it’s the picture of a hunter trying to find a bow. You’ve got to have a bow to shoot an arrow to kill something to eat. So the hunter would go out into the woods and try to find the right limb to be the best bow. He would look for the grain, for a natural bend in a limb. When he would find that limb, he’d go, “Whoa! That would be a good bow. See? It has a natural bend.” He would chop it down, take the twigs off, and sand it. Then it’d be a sweet bow.
“Train up a child in the way he (or she) should go.” I have to look at my kids, LeeBeth, EJ, Laurie and Landra, and go, “Whoa, look at that natural bend. Look at the grain, the way it goes. You know, I see that, and I’m going to teach them as a parent that that gift comes from God. And that as an act of worship, they should develop that gift and give it to God as they show God their love for giving them this amazing ability.”
That’s my role. And I’m to put oil and heat and seasoning and time. And I’m to give them opportunities. I’m to give them another opportunity to see where their gifts lie.
I should not say this, “You know, I played basketball in college. And even though you don’t like it, I’m going to take this bow and I’m going to bend it and you’re gonna go to Florida State like I did. Or you know what? I really like fishing a lot, and you’re going to fish because fishing is awesome. And I’m going to take that bow….”
Too many of us are bending bows. We don’t know our kids. We don’t study them. We’re putting our agenda on them. We say we’re not, but we are. It’s so obvious. Just go to a little league game. Go to a select soccer game. Go to a dance recital. It’s hilarious! Now, don’t leave here and say, “Oh, Ed’s against all extracurricular activities! I can’t believe that.”
I’m not saying that. I’m all for that. But that cannot take precedence over the oil, over the church, over time with your kids. My daughter is 17, she’s 5’11. She never plays basketball, but she has a sweet shot, left-handed. Man, she can fill it! Everything in me wants to take her and say, “LeeBeth, you will play.”
But you know what? She doesn’t like the game. Every year, coaches come up to Lisa and I at her school, “Ed, Lisa, please see if you can just get LeeBeth on the court. We’ve seen her. She was in P.E., and I’m telling you we can work with her. I mean, we need size. We need height. We need someone with a sweet left-handed shot.”
Last year, Lisa told me a coach came up to her and said, “I had a dream that LeeBeth went out for the team.” I mean that kind of stuff. Well, every year I do say something to LeeBeth. This year, I said, “LeeBeth, you know this is your senior year now. You’re sure?” I said it last week, “Are you sure you don’t want to play?” “No, Dad, I don’t like basketball. I don’t.” “Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay.” And that’s hard for me. It’s hard as a parent, isn’t it? We like a certain thing, and we want to force it on our kids.
Time. We’ve got to have time with them. Quality and quantity time. And we’ve got to have enough time that we can build in time for God. He’s got to be number one. For our spouse, number two. And for our kids, number three. But if we’re blowing and going and over stimulated and overcommitted and overdone and over the top, how can we study our kids? And how can we know how to see the bend in the bow?
Parents, lets don’t feed our kids this junk—caramel and cheese and buttered popcorn. Let’s don’t do that. Let’s don’t limit ourselves in this popcorn tin. Let’s do it God’s way. It’s amazing what will happen in our families when we use God’s recipe because that is when our kids will truly discover phenomenal trajectory.