Focus on the Family

Combatting Cultural Influences

by Shawn Alyne Strannigan

When my children were toddlers, I installed childproof latches on all the cabinets and drawers within their grasp to keep them from ingesting dangerous substances. During the grade school years, I zealously guarded the shows they watched ("Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" was banned) to make sure they didn't pollute their young minds.

When my girls reached their teen years, I realized that health and intellect weren't the only areas that needed protection. Spiritual dangers lurked in humanistic curricula, dehumanizing music and peer pressure. But how could I create a safe environment that encouraged rather than undermined their spiritual growth?

None of my daughters seemed interested in joining a convent, so I began asking the Lord for wisdom. He reminded me that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more (Romans 5:20). And He taught me that knowledge is a powerful weapon in spiritual realms.

Know your kids

Play with them, and pray with them. By careful observation, you can discern their spiritual gifts and subtle character flaws. Are they leaders or followers? Confident or insecure? This knowledge is essential as you determine what environments and relationships are helpful — or harmful — to their spiritual growth. Every child is different, and what's helpful for one is not necessarily the best for another.

For example, my youngest daughter wrestled with peer pressure when she was in high school. Candyce loved Jesus but made bad choices when peer pressure was too great. Her dad and I had to monitor her choices carefully.

Her older sister Danielle, on the other hand, never wavered in her faith — or her actions — when pressured by friends. Her beliefs were tested in the classroom. Knowing this, I made sure we had lots of discussions about issues that confused her. Her dad and I were able to be sounding boards as she learned to sift through truth and error.

Know their hangouts

Where do your kids spend the majority of their time? At school? The mall? Sports practice? Youth group activities? How familiar are you with their stomping grounds?

When my girls were in junior high and high school, they decided to start a Christian punk rock band. When they actually began booking shows, I was a little concerned about the venues — not to mention the clientele who would attend their concerts. So I went undercover and became their manager. I learned a lot about my daughters, their friends and the alternative music culture, which helped me to make informed decisions about concerts and parties they wanted to attend.

Here's an important safety tip: Just because a place — be it a school, concert, coffee house — has the adjective Christian somewhere in its name, that doesn't mean it's going to benefit your child's faith. My oldest daughter, Lindsay, attended a respected Christian high school and graduated with honors. She recently told me, however, that she found it more faith-numbing than faith-inspiring. Sure, some of the students were walking out their relationships with Christ, but in Lindsay's opinion, the majority of her peers had learned the fine art of schmoozing. They lived double lives and invited her to do the same.

There are no hard rules by which to measure the spiritual influence of any given place. Lindsay now works in the secular music industry. That spiritual environment is sketchy at best, but I've seen Lindsay's faith grow as she's been constantly challenged. Most days, she shines like a star "in a crooked and depraved generation" (Philippians 2:15). She's figuring out how to keep the faith in a godless arena.

The only foolproof way to know if an environment is going to be a help or hazard is to check it out yourself. Watch how your kids respond to the pressures around them. Volunteer at school and get to know their teachers and coaches. Help with the youth group or take your kids to see their favorite band in concert.

Know their friends

As Eddie Haskell so humorously illustrated in the "Leave It to Beaver" series, sometimes the veneer of respectability can overlay the heart of a rascal. Short of hiring a private detective to tail our kids' buddies, how do we know what kind of effect they have on our children?

"Since I spend a lot of time driving my younger teens and their friends to various events, I use that car time as a way to get to know their friends," says Jill, a mother of three sons. "I try to ask questions about their families and interests. You can learn a lot about a kid's character if you are paying attention."

Parents can also get a clue about their children's friends by regularly reading comments on their blogs and social media accounts. Don't hesitate to check out their friends' profiles. You might feel as though you are eavesdropping, but the reality is that unless their profiles are set to private, all that information is for public display.

Create an open atmosphere in your home, making it a safe haven for your kids and their friends. Encourage honest, lively discussions where young minds can express themselves without the fear of being judged. Our girls — and their friends — have learned that even if we don't agree on every issue, we will treat them with respect. Faith is built when there's freedom to speak frankly and wrestle with tough subjects — even if it makes us wince.

When it comes to assessing the spiritual impact of any environment on our kids, knowledge is power. Know your children, know their hangouts and know their friends. Empowered by this knowledge, you can help your kids keep the faith. And maybe you'll even keep your sanity.

Growing Up Too Fast

Is your child growing up too fast?

by Jeanette Gardner Littleton

Before she was a teenager, Chelsea* had a cell phone. She also had her own bedroom complete with cable TV and a computer with high-speed Internet access. By the time she was a young teen, she made regular salon visits and had an artificial tan that made her look much older than she was.

By the time Chelsea was 14, a new car sat in the driveway, just waiting for her to get a driving permit.

By 15, Chelsea pretty much had it all and was bored.

A few months later, Chelsea dropped a bomb on her parents by asking for permission to get married. "After all," she reasoned, "we're already married in God's eyes." And to compound their shock, she was expelled from school for drug possession.

"I don't understand how this could happen," her mom, Dawn, said. "We raised her in a strong Christian home. And she's not some underprivileged kid. I went back to work to make sure she had all the advantages."

We want our kids to have good things in life. But lavishing them with too many good things is like letting children gorge on candy — in the long run, it hurts their health, hinders their appetite for wholesome things and leads to a hunger for risky, harmful ones.

Just as we limit sweets in our children's diets, we also need to set healthy limits in other areas. We can do this by creating appropriate stages and boundaries.

Why wait?

Creating appropriate stages means putting age limitations on behaviors that rush our kids out of childhood — such as wearing makeup, enjoying Internet use, having a cell phone and getting a job. By delaying these activities until an appropriate age, we use them as rites of passage that mark a healthy progress toward adulthood.

As we set up stages and boundaries, we give our children something to look forward to. We help them see that maturity is a process, not something that automatically happens when they turn 18.

This approach also teaches our children that it's OK to wait for something. Our society says, "Have everything you want now! Don't wait. Go for it!" But seeking instant gratification often leads to long-term problems, such as massive debt, destroyed relationships and wounded emotions.

Questions to consider

There are no set rules for determining the ages when kids should be allowed to have or do certain things. Each family and each child is different. But as you think about stages for your kids, ask yourself these questions:

Give them a hand

When your child reaches a new stage, enthusiastically help him or her enter it. When he's old enough for a mountain bike, help him select one. When she's old enough to shave her legs, pick out gel and razors together and show her how to do it. When your son is ready for a job, help him research the market. Use life stages not only as signposts of growing up but also as opportunities to start something new with your child.

*name has been changed

Innocence Lost

Helping our kids deal with harmful cultural messages

by Gina R. Dalfonzo

When the new neighbors' girl showed up at Jonathan and Amanda Witt's door asking if their 11-year-old daughter could play, Amanda thought nothing of it. Amanda called her daughter and one of her sons and sent them out to get acquainted. The kids played all morning, had lunch together at the Witts' house, then went back outside.

But Amanda's kids soon came running in with an announcement. "Her mother is a lesbian," her 7-year-old son declared.

Amanda grieved not only for the partial loss of her young children's innocence, but also for the girl who brought this unwelcome knowledge into their lives. The girl had cried when she told Amanda's children about her mother, fearing that they would no longer be allowed to play with her.

"Our kids are exposed to all sorts of things through the neighborhood children — including divorce, chronic lying and alcoholism," Amanda said. "On two separate occasions, my kids have come inside upset because a friend was surreptitiously crying after his mother left the family the night before."

That's the kind of situation more and more parents are finding themselves in, often earlier than they had anticipated. The Witts' story illustrates the difficulty of preserving children's innocence in a culture that seems eager to destroy it.

Cultural targets

The media's assault on our kids' innocence has become increasingly explicit and intrusive. From TV to movies, from music to the Internet, popular culture saturates kids' lives. The messages are sometimes blatant (such as the celebration of premarital sex) and sometimes subtle (such as disrespect for parents and other authorities). And what kids don't get from the media, they hear at school, often in explicit sex-education courses.

As Michael and Diane Medved wrote in their book Saving Childhood, "The very idea of parental protectiveness has been overwhelmed by relentless pressure from a society that seems determined to expose its young to every perversion and peril in an effort to 'prepare' them for a harsh, dangerous future."

A welcome guideline

But the Witts' children don't watch TV, and they're home-schooled. Still, there's no way to protect them completely from the perversion of the world.

"Kids know that sin hurts people; they've seen it hurt them," Amanda said. "So when we talk with our children, we underline that: Sin hurts. We all sin, but we'd all be better off if we didn't. We'd be better off if we always listened to God, who knows best."

Amanda's approach offers a welcome guideline for parents trying to deal with the flood of information dumped on their kids too soon. While protective measures, such as carefully screening videos, are important, perhaps even more critical is teaching children how to deal with the world's harsh realities.

How can a parent do this? Not by avoiding the culture, but by teaching God's view of cultural messages. It sounds simple, but too many parents, even Christian parents, don't do it.

Amanda wrote in an essay for Touchstone magazine: "I've been . . . remembering a remark that the wife of one of our church elders made: 'My two girls were raised carefully. We taught them God's Word and took them to church, and they're good girls, going to Christian colleges, doing summer mission work. But when it comes to homosexuality, there was just too much pressure — at school and on TV — to think the Bible is old-fashioned. Just the sheer weight of opinion wore them down.' "

A God's-eye view

Parents can listen to the messages kids are hearing, then teach them to step back and ask themselves, What does God think about this, and what does that mean for me? This approach establishes a strong foundation for them to stand on as they make moral choices.

But it does even more than that. It also teaches them to take a God's-eye view of others — to understand that all people are created in God's image and are loved by God, which is the approach the Witts took with the new neighbors.

The Witts continued to show hospitality to the girl and let the children play with her — as long as she did not try to persuade them that her mother's behavior was acceptable. Thanks to their influence, the child learned to see Christians not as the judgmental people she had feared they were, but as loving friends.

"Children ideally need a time of innocence, a time when you're establishing in them and around them a healthy, God-governed life," Amanda said. "They need to experience that as the norm. They need to have friends for whom that's the norm. At the same time, it's better for a child to learn about other worldviews and lifestyles while still under close parental supervision, while we can cue them on how to respond."

Teach kids the value of guarding their hearts from the sinful culture and also demonstrating God's unconditional love for the perpetrators and victims of that culture. We can teach our kids not to fear the culture but to turn things around — to capture the culture for Christ.

The Influence of Media

Although movies, music and magazines can inspire, the power of today's media can negatively sway human behavior.

by Bob Waliszewski

When Judy's 14-year-old daughter, Katie, was invited by a friend from church to a sleepover, Mom didn't hesitate to say yes. After all, Judy knew the family and all the girls joining in on the "fun" were from their congregation. What could possibly go wrong? Well, in Judy's own words: "The girls watched horror flicks. . . . Not wanting to be an outcast, Katie sat through one and had nightmares for months. For my daughter, the film was essentially a spiritual attack."

Always sweet and sensitive, Paula's 4-year-old completely stunned her mother when she lashed out one day by calling her the "B" word. It didn't take a psychology degree to realize where that out-of-the-blue vulgarity came from: The little girl had walked through the living room the week prior when movie dialogue included the same crudity.

Isolated cases? I don't believe so. Consider these:

The power of suggestion

Although movies, music, magazines, and so on, can inspire positively (think the Jesus film, Amazing Grace and a host of resources from Focus on the Family), the power of today's media and entertainment to negatively sway human behavior concerns me.

While documented evidence points to the influence of violent images on extreme behaviors, such as school shootings in the last decade, I am more concerned about Judy's daughter. And Paula's. And Christians of all ages who don't pay attention to the less egregious influences in entertainment.

Take, for instance, the virtual onslaught of sexual themes pervading today's pop music, TV, toys, games and books. Even before children (especially girls) are aware of their own sexuality, they receive cues to start dressing and talking in sexual ways.

Consider also attitudes of disrespect among youth toward adults and the assimilation of profanity into everyday vocabulary, which can simply be picked up from commercials. Spiritual stumbles influenced by messages in media and entertainment happen in faith-based homes every single day. This recent e-mail illustrates the risk:

"As a young man I fell into a lifestyle of lust — not justified but easily explained by the shift in culture. I found that to feed my lusts I didn't need to purchase Penthouse or Playboy or frequent evil places. I only needed to look as far as the nearest movie rental store."

Notice this young man wasn't even surfing the Internet for porn or renting NC-17 films.

Though most of us wish our Christian faith somehow magically inoculated against bad influences, we must:

  1. take entertainment discernment seriously;
  2. approach choices from a biblical worldview;
  3. train children to make Christ-honoring media decisions.

Serious discernment

We all make decisions about entertainment and most do so with only one question in mind: Do I think I will enjoy this movie/game/CD? But what if that's the wrong place to start? It's important to realize that our enjoyment is not God's highest priority. He's much more concerned that we love and obey Him.

Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15).Taking media seriously means our choices should be determined by God's thoughts. Although this idea is straightforward, my experience tells me that living it out can be challenging.

The starting point

What are God's thoughts on entertainment? Although Jesus never said, "Thou shalt not listen to gangsta rap" or "Thou shalt not watch PG-13 sleazefests," His Word offers guidance as to how we should monitor what influences us (Proverbs 4:23, Colossians 2:8, Psalm 101:3, Romans 8:5-12).

Aligning our choices with a biblical worldview means our choices will often run countercultural. Even well-meaning believers often have difficulty going against consensus — just as Katie did at the sleepover. But I, for one, want to please Him more than I want to be entertained.

Where's the line?

Although I realize there are other factors such as age appropriateness, Christian maturity, personal weaknesses and gray areas, most decisions can be made "Christianly" if we would simply ask the question popularized a decade ago by the WWJD? bracelets. Although the fad is passé, the principle will never fade. Simply teaching children this practical step can protect them now and help them eventually adopt the practice for life.

The story ends well for the young man who e-mailed about the stumbling block movies had become for him: "One of the truths that God used to break these chains was the absolute need for me to cut all sources of this fuel out of my life. I found myself at first to be at an impasse. I desperately wanted to cut this sin out . . . but in American pop culture, I was flooded with the very things I wanted to avoid. This battle within me would have led to despair had it not been for God's wonderful Word and the help of your [Plugged In] ministry."

I'm excited God set this man free. I get even more excited when fellow believers don't get hooked in the first place. And that should be our goal — choosing wisely when it comes to entertainment, thus protecting our hearts and minds from the overt and subtle influences of evil.

Frenzy for Fame

Young people with an itch for fame should be encouraged not only to excel at something, but also to care for something more than themselves.

by Gene Veith

Winston Churchill, Jane Austen, Billy Graham . . . and Paris Hilton. What do these people have in common? They are all famous.

Winston Churchill, the former British prime minister, stood up to the Nazis during World War II. Jane Austen wrote some of the greatest novels of the English language. Billy Graham is a renowned evangelist and Christian leader.

Paris Hilton is . . . what? Why, exactly, is she famous? She is wealthy but not from her own efforts — that came from her father and grandfather. Yet among some young people, she may be better known than Churchill, Austen and Graham.

In Miss Hilton's case, we can see the cultural transition from "fame" to "celebrity." Traditionally, people were famous for something, some notable achievement or contribution. Celebrities, though, enjoy fame for its own sake. A celebrity has become defined as someone who is famous for being famous.

Miss Hilton is hounded by paparazzi. Her every move is tracked in the gossip magazines. And when her partying led to a drunk driving arrest and a jail cell, the television news covered her story round the clock, devoting time to her that might have been given to more important topics, such as the war in Iraq. But the public ate it up. (That Miss Hilton requested a Bible during her time in the slammer did not receive quite as much attention.)

It isn't necessarily pleasant to be a celebrity, but everyone seemingly wants to be one.

Long live me

Why do people today have such a yearning to be well-known? One clue may be in the lyrics to the theme song of "Fame," about students in a performing arts high school. "I want to live forever!" That becomes possible if "people remember my name."

Fame actually was important in ancient lore. Achilles, the hero of Homer's Iliad, was given the choice of living a long, happy, ordinary life or a short life full of glory. He picked the latter. Beowulf was motivated to do his heroics, among other reasons, for immortal fame. In religions in which everyone goes to hades or hell after death and there is no joyful eternal life, being remembered in sagas and songs is the only way to "live forever."

Today, fame no longer requires heroics; it's easy to be seen and known by millions of people. The new genre of reality TV has made instant celebrity possible. People crowd into auditions for those programs, people willing to do anything — eat bugs or get covered with snakes, give up civilization, undergo plastic surgery or have their love life manipulated and exposed to millions.

A good name

The Bible says little, if anything, about fame in this sense. According to Proverbs, "A good name is more desirable than great riches" (22:1). Reputation is indeed important. But "a good name" isn't about self-aggrandizement; it's about bringing honor to one's family. It has to do with displaying moral integrity and godliness. Far from being associated with riches — as is so often the case — a good name in Proverbs is contrasted with choosing the pursuit of riches.

In the early Christian era, artists did not even sign their works. We know about the great writers and sculptors of ancient Greece and Rome, but we do not know the name of the architect who devised the gothic cathedrals, nor do we know who made the gargoyles or the stained glass windows, or who wrote Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or the Christian allegory Piers Plowman.

Even if fame can bring a kind of immortality, today's cult of celebrity is a pale imitation. The artist Andy Warhol imagined a future utopia in which everybody got to be famous, but only for 15 minutes. Warhol was making a point not only about our pop culture's appetite for fame, but also about how fleeting that fame is in a culture whose fashions go in and out of style within months and where superstars turn into national jokes overnight.


The desire to attain celebrity seems driven by a desire not to be ordinary. It is the sin of pride, the demand to be worshiped.

What is the cure for this mind-set, this relentless frenzy to be famous? The Bible offers a prescription: We are to think on "whatever is admirable" and "praiseworthy" (Philippians 4:8) — the emphasis being on acts that deserve esteem.

Winston Churchill was not trying to make a name for himself; he was trying to save civilization. Jane Austen was simply trying to tell good stories — indeed, she was little known until after her death. Billy Graham is not trying to gain celebrity; he is trying to lead people to Christ.

Fame worth having

Young people with an itch for fame should be encouraged not only to excel at something, but also to care for something — their music, their acting, their cause — more than themselves. Meanwhile, they should be taught that they already have an audience — namely, God. Pleasing Him is far more important than pleasing men (1 Thessalonians 2:4).

Christ put aside His well-earned glory, His very equality with God, to take up the Cross, making himself nothing, humbling himself to win our salvation (Philippians 2:5-8). Those who follow Christ share both His humiliation and His exaltation.

The desire for fame that lurks in the human heart, however wrongly focused, points to a deeper longing: for God to glorify those whom He has justified (Romans 8:30). Our names, written in the Book of Life, will indeed be remembered, and we really will live forever.

Sexy Too Soon

The battle against the sexualization of our children

by Vicki Courtney

American girls are increasingly being fed a steady diet of products and images that pressure them to be sexy. From clothing to cartoons, choreography to commercials, the emphasis on sexuality undercuts parents' efforts to instill purity in their daughters.

The American Psychological Association (APA) warns that this sexualization of girls is harmful to their self-image and healthy development. "[Girls are] experiencing teen pressures at younger and younger ages. However, they are not able to deal with these issues because their cognitive development is out of sync with their social, emotional and sexual development," the APA reported.

The proliferation of sexual images also undermines a girl's confidence in her own body. In fact, research links sexualization with three of the most common mental health problems diagnosed in girls and women — eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.

Let's take a closer look at some of the cultural influences bombarding our daughters.

Suggestive fashion

Have you shopped for girls' clothing lately? Toddlers to teens are inundated with adult fashions. Pop singer Beyonce now has her own clothing line that introduces the red-light district to the school lunchroom.

Popular clothing items among teens include thong underwear and shorts displaying suggestive words across the backside. The abundance of racy clothing emphasizes the message: Dress sexy.

Tarted-up toys

As young girls, most moms probably owned Barbie dolls and enjoyed collecting their clothing and accessories. Mattel today takes style to a new level with the introduction of Black Canary Barbie for adult collectors. Designed as a comic-book character, this doll is dressed in fishnet hose, a leather bikini bottom and a black leather jacket. She's available in toy stores, right next to Ballerina Barbie. Explain that to your preschooler.

Pop-culture icons

You can't walk through the grocery checkout aisle without seeing the latest shenanigans of young celebrities. The lives of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan fascinate young girls. The Hannah Montana phenomenon, while seemingly innocent at first, has been colored by provocative photos of teenage actress Miley Cyrus. The media push young starlets to move beyond "precocious and cute" to "sensual and sexy." All the while, impressionable tween fans stand by in wide-eyed wonder, wanting to be just like them.

Who's to blame?

While it's easy to blame media for these poisonous influences, we also need to scrutinize ourselves. How many of these influences have we allowed into our homes? Are we modeling a healthy biblical view of gender and sex? If we fret over physical appearance or enjoy media laden with sexual images, chances are we will pass on the same mind-set to our daughters.

We must take a fresh look at what messages enter our home. While it would be impossible to shield children from every damaging influence, we can certainly take a stand against the worst offenders. And we can inoculate our kids against the world's counterfeit sexuality by talking to them about God's good plan for men and women.

Our culture tries to convince our daughters that they amount to nothing more than the sum of their parts. Only by addressing this lie head-on will we equip our children with the truth. Our daughters need to know that God's standard for beauty is the only standard that matters.

Children Who Gamble

Millions of grade-school kids have become hooked on gambling. How are you protecting your children?

by Chad Hills

"God, I am so sick. Please help me," Jerry Prosapio pleaded as he hung precariously over a gaping hole of gambling addiction.

His road to addiction began 22 years earlier with penny-ante poker games in the basement. He was 9 years old. "I enjoyed the risk," Jerry recalls.

Later in high school, he became a sports-card bookie. Then after he graduated from high school, his parents took him to the horse track. His dad put $2 down for him, and Jerry walked out with $80 — his first big win. He was hooked for the next 14 years.

The day he was supposed to graduate from college, he was at the racetrack instead.

At age 28, Jerry married Pat and promised no more gambling. But addicts don't keep promises; he simply lied and sank deeper into the hole.

"I began to do drugs and drink . . . became a Las Vegas high roller," Jerry says. "My entire marriage was based on lies. I maxed out 17 credit cards. My wife was going to have a nervous breakdown."

Pat had just given birth to their first baby, Brian, when in desperation, Jerry borrowed money from the Mafia. When they came to collect, Jerry's fragile world finally collapsed.

"Tell Jerry that Brian has a beautifully shaped head and that I stopped by to see him," a Mafia visitor told Pat. Terrified by the threat to his family, Jerry confessed his addiction and begged God for help.

"It was the first time in my adult life that I was totally honest."

What began as third-grade poker games had grown into an obsession that nearly destroyed him and his family. But Jerry is fortunate. With God's help, he escaped his addiction. Today he is the co-founder of Gambling Exposed, a ministry that helps parents and churches deal with the dangers of gambling addiction.

Wake-up call

Millions of grade-school kids just like Jerry have become hooked on gambling. They often begin gambling between the ages of 10 and 13. Four out of five adolescents have gambled in the past year, according to the Annenberg Risk Survey of Youth.

A federal commission estimated that 7.9 million adolescents in the United States are problem gamblers — that's 113 NFL stadiums filled to capacity. Clearly, gambling is not innocent entertainment for children; it's a gateway to addiction.

Unfortunately, the problem doesn't stop at gambling. Recent research on seventh- to 12th-graders in Oregon indicates that students who gamble are two to three times more likely to consume alcohol, take drugs, have sex or become violent. Other research shows that suicide attempts among pathological gamblers are higher than for all other addictions.

Warning signs

Gambling is usually a hidden addiction, so parents must watch for clues, such as:

How to help

If you suspect your child has a problem with gambling, implement the three C's:

Confront. Have an honest conversation with your child. Admitting his problem will provide tremendous relief because he will no longer shoulder the burden alone.

Console. Just as Christ loves us, we must affirm our unconditional love for our children. Forgive, and ask God for guidance.

Counsel. Seek help for your child immediately. You can call Focus on the Family's Counseling department at 719-531-3400 ext. 7700 and ask to speak to a counselor.

Remember: Parental approval or disapproval remains the strongest influence in a child's life.

Household Idols

The pace of modern life makes it more challenging to raise a family without giving in to culture's pet idolatries.

by Bob Hostetler

Many fine Christian families today are in a situation like Jacob's when he left Paddan Aram. God told Jacob to leave the land of his father-in-law, Laban, and return to his ancestral home (Genesis 31:3). So Jacob made his escape. But his caravan included cargo Jacob didn't know about: Laban's household gods, secretly taken by Jacob's wife Rachel (Genesis 31:19). God had blessed Jacob, and God was preparing him for yet greater things. But pagan idols had slipped into Jacob's household.

So it is in many of our homes today. We haven't turned our backs on God; we haven't stopped worshiping Him or enjoying His favor. Nonetheless, idols have been brought into our households. Sometimes we have lugged them in ourselves, adopting — or adapting — some of the pagan idols that surround us.

Misplaced worship

The idols in our homes aren't like the little clay statues Rachel hid in her saddlebags. We don't bow to golden calves in our living rooms or chant prayers to an image, but that doesn't mean we are free of idols. It may just mean our idols are more subtle or we worship in ignorance, like the ancient Athenians (Acts 17:23).

The pace of modern life makes it more challenging to raise a family without giving in to culture's pet idolatries. Here are a few common household idols:

Convenience. As Christians, we are commanded to do far more than care for our children; we are called to train them, carefully and strategically (Proverbs 22:6). But it's just so easy to stick our kids in front of the TV for hours while we "get things done." It's so easy to use video games as baby sitters instead of engaging children in constructive activities. It's so easy to keep them occupied in the minivan by playing a DVD instead of playing road games together. It's so easy to grab dinner at the drive-through instead of eating together at home. Sure, being a parent is time-consuming and exhausting, but we can get so busy that we don't realize our use of modern conveniences is resulting in neglect and poor modeling.

Consumerism. Our submission to the idol of convenience often fuels the idol of consumerism. Before entering first grade, most children will have absorbed 30,000 advertisements, primarily from TV. Little wonder, then, that parents face a challenge in countering that influence. Our kids crave the coolest toys, the trendiest clothes, the hippest music and the latest technology. But parents can make matters worse by trying to keep up with playmates' or classmates' families. Rather than teaching our children to budget, spend wisely and be content with what they've been given, we bow at the altar of consumerism, which breeds greed and gluttony.

Celebrity adulation. Our homes (and our children's bedroom walls) reveal that Christians are just as prone to celebrity worship as everyone else. We idolize famous authors, famous preachers, famous singers . . . and not always because of how God is using them, but often just because they're famous. And worse, we impart such celebrity worship to our children, encouraging their worship of the latest Christian star or singing group. Marva Dawn, in her book Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, writes:

Several years ago a teenager heard me speak at a youth convention, saw me in a store and begged for my autograph. I asked her why my signature was more valuable than hers. We are all equally significant members of the Body of Christ, are we not? We all have crucial parts to play in the church's ministry to the world. The church should be the last place where anyone is more important than anyone else.

Instant gratification. My wife and I were once foster parents to six teenage boys. Our boys had come to us from the juvenile court system for various reasons, but ultimately each had the same inability to postpone gratification. Given the choice between obtaining or enjoying something now or later, they were virtually untrained and unable to choose later.

So it is in many of the finest Christian homes today. Our children have become so accustomed to getting what they want when they want it that they find it nearly impossible to postpone gratification. Too often, they become like us. We buy things on credit simply because we want them now. We give up if we don't see quick results in dieting, studying or saving. And we are prone to take shortcuts, make decisions too quickly and value instantaneous satisfaction more than quality.

Toss false gods

These are just some of the idols we worship. They may be harder to recognize than a golden calf or a stone idol. They may also be harder to correct. But our modern American idols are as abhorrent to God as the idols that tempted and afflicted ancient Israel. If we don't do something about them, they will corrupt us just as they did the Israelites.

So how do we cast down our idols? The first step is acknowledgment. We must let God show us those idols we have adopted — or adapted. And when we recognize an idol, we must choose humility and repentance (instead of defensiveness), call our pet idolatries by their proper name, sin, and confess each one to God.

Once we are aware of an idol, we must not only refuse to bow to it any longer, but also avoid reinforcing it. We must clearly and consciously "set apart Christ as Lord" (1 Peter 3:15) in our lives and our parenting decisions.

Finally, casting down our idols will mean giving ourselves anew to prayer and devoting ourselves to the cultivation of new behaviors. We must beg God to replace our false gods with His sufficiency. We must yield to God our allegiance to convenience. We must ask Him to cleanse us of consumerism and celebrity worship, so we might be better examples to our children. We must seek God's help in countering our children's attachment to instant gratification.

Such steps may not be easy. But they will bear fruit in children who "shine like stars" in the midst of an otherwise "crooked and depraved generation" (Philippians 2:15).

Next Steps and Related Information

Additional information on combatting cultural influences

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