Assessing the Spiritual Maturity of Your Kids
About the Guest
Jessica Thompson knew deep down she wasn't a Christian. Her mother, biblical counselor Elyse Fitzpatrick, was clueless. Jessica, joined by her Elyse, recalls the 18 years of her life during which she feigned an abiding faith in Christ. Keeping up appearances even while attending Bible college, Jessica tells how her life began to change when God's love finally pierced her heart. Find out how you might diagnose if your kids are faking it too.
Elyse FitzpatrickElyse Fitzpatrick is a nationally sought-after speaker and author, speaking at the Gospel Coalition’s conference and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s Revive Our Hearts. She holds a certificate in biblical counseling and has an MA in biblical counseling from Trinity Theological Seminary. She has authored 23 books and lives in California with her husband, Phil. Learn more at elysefitzpatrick.com.
Jessica ThompsonJESSICA THOMPSON is an author of several books including Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Christ and frequent conference speaker. She is part of the podcast Front Porch with the Fitzes, and is the director of church life at RISEN Church in San Diego, California.
Jessica Thompson knew deep down she wasn’t a Christian. Her mother, Elyse Fitzpatrick, was clueless. Jessica tells how her life began to change when God’s love finally pierced her heart.
Assessing the Spiritual Maturity of Your Kids
Bob: Have you talked with your kids about pornography? Do they know it’s wrong? Do they know why it’s wrong? Jessica Thompson remembers when it dawned on her that she needed to be proactive in this area with her kids.
Jessica: See, I hadn’t had a conversation with my boys. I felt like: “Oh, they don’t look at it. They’re not going to look at it. We’ve put some firewalls up, and they know they are not supposed to because we’ve told them, ‘Don’t…’”—but never really explained to them why: “Why is it wrong to look at pornography?” So, we talked to our kids, knowing that the only thing that’s going to conquer any sort of sin in them that wants to view pornography, is Christ’s love. It’s the only thing better; right? “Jesus is better.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, March 30th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Are you ready for some of the hard conversations you’re going to need to have with your children? We’re going to help get you ready today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. When your kids were at home, did they ever stump you with theological or moral questions that you thought, “I’m not sure I know exactly how to answer that”?
Dennis: Absolutely, but I never let them know. [Laughter]
Bob: You kept a poker face.
Dennis: No, no—I told them. I said: “You know, that’s a really good question. Would you give Dad a chance or Dad and Mom to get a couple of books out and see if we can’t come up with an answer?”
Bob: See, the one I remember was “Does God love Satan?” [Laughter] There’s a good one; huh? “God loves everyone. Does God love Satan?”
Dennis: Oh, here’s another one: “Can God make a rock so big He can’t pick it up?”
Bob: Oh, we’ve all heard that one—yes; that’s right.
Dennis: Well, but they came back with that in the teenage years you know?
That was an entertaining—
Bob: Now, they’re just trying to be ornery. They’re not asking real questions, though.
Bob: They’re just trying to—
Dennis: If you’re a parent, and you feel like you need help in answering your kids’ questions, we have experts.
Jessica: [Laughter] Where are they? [Laughter]
Dennis: Bob and I are looking at them!
Bob: That’s right. We hope—otherwise, it’s a short show today. [Laughter]
Dennis: We have a mother/daughter combo. Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson join us on the broadcast. Jessica, Elyse, welcome to the broadcast.
Elyse: Thanks so much. We’re glad to be here.
Dennis: Good to have Elyse back on the broadcast. Jessica, this is your first trip with us.
Jessica: It is.
Dennis: You guys have collaborated together as a mother/daughter combo. Both of you have three children.
Dennis: You were where in the three with your siblings?
Jessica: I’m the middle. So, I have an older brother and a younger brother.
Dennis: Okay. The name of the book is what we are talking about here—Answering Your Kids’ Toughest Questions: Helping Them Understand… So, if you’re a parent, or a grandparent, or an aunt, or an uncle—and you’ve got some nieces and nephews who maybe ask you a question around sex, around movies, death, divorce, suicide, doubt, pornography, homosexuality, around natural disasters, around war, terrorism—
Bob: Or “Does God love Satan?” [Laughter] I guess that’s not in the book, but we’ll let you take a stab at that before we’re all—
Jessica: Thank you so much! [Laughter]
Bob: You’re welcome.
Elyse: Jessica will handle that one. [Laughter]
Dennis: You know, most of us, as parents, though—we laughed about it at the beginning—when we’re asked a tough question, a lot of times, we fall back and punt and really never address the tough question. Why do you think that’s our natural tendency?
Elyse: I think it’s our natural tendency because, first of all, all of us hate to admit that there is something we don’t know; and then, also, because I think that, a lot of times, parents believe that their children’s ultimate salvation depends upon them and upon their being able to produce the right answers at the right time.
Bob: If my child stumps me with a question—that shows there is some doubt—
Bob: —and the kids are not going to follow Jesus as a result.
Elyse: Yes, exactly. So, I think, a lot of times, parents are nervous about giving answers simply because they are afraid that they’re not going to give the right answer or that their child’s salvation ultimately depends on them. And so, they build, actually, a wall around themselves—as if they have all the answers / they are perfect—
—therefore, their children can trust them.
Bob: I remember one of our five kids being the particular question-asker in our home. He was the one who was always asking the “Why?” and the probing. I’m just wondering, “Was Jessica that child for you?”
Elyse: Jessica—no, because Jessica really—and this is something we’ve talked about, publicly, a lot—Jessica sort of feigned faith for about 18 years. So, she—I don’t know that you were actually the question-asker. I think her brothers probably were, but Jessica was a person that decided that acting as though she were a Christian would be a good way to get me off her back.
Bob: Outwardly compliant; but inwardly, “I’m going to do my own thing.”
Jessica: Absolutely. So, when Jesus calls the Pharisees a white-washed tomb—so, they looked pretty on the outside but, inside—just dead, rotting bones. That was exactly where I was at.
Like my mom said, it was because it was easier for me—I thought it was easier for me—just to pretend like I was a Christian. Well, I didn’t have any questions because I didn’t really care. So, my heart wasn’t even alive to Christ.
I loved the praise of man and knew the best way to get that in the church was to go on mission trips, and to be involved in the youth group, and to get up and be the one that gave the testimony. I knew how to play the game.
Then, when I was actually in Bible college—I went so far as to go to Bible college so that I could continue to get the accolades. It wasn’t just getting accolades—it was also, like she said, to keep everybody at a distance. When I was in Bible college, the Lord—we had to go to pre-service prayer before we went to classes. I would just sit there and take a nap. If I would have had a smartphone, I probably would have been on Facebook® or Twitter®; but that wasn’t the case back then—so, just sat there.
One day—there’s no explanation—
—except God arrested my heart, broke me of my goodness, and showed me it wasn’t enough. And I walked out of that prayer service a different person. I went in dead and I came out alive.
Dennis: I found it interesting, in the midst of you faking your faith, that your mom never stopped pressing into your life—like the time you went to a movie and you were 15 years old.
Elyse: Yes. We actually talked about it this morning.
Dennis: Your mom was waiting up for you—
Dennis: —very intentional about her faith and how she dealt with matters. Tell our listeners what happened that night.
Jessica: I’d gone to a movie and came home and—one thing my mom always did for us—that I really appreciated and hope I do it with my children also—is to press into: “What is the worldview that you are seeing here? What is the world telling you, and what is the biblical worldview of this?”
Bob: Now, wait. You just said you always appreciated that?
Jessica: No, no, no—I appreciate it now. I didn’t then—
Jessica: —at all!
Bob: Because no 15-year-old wants to come home to a mom or a dad saying, “So, what do you think that worldview was?”
Jessica: No, I should rephrase that—I didn’t appreciate it then at all.
Elyse: She was never happy about those conversations.
Jessica: No. So, I came home from some movie—don’t remember what it was—and she was sitting on the stairs. If I didn’t roll my eyes outwardly, I did it in my—
Elyse: You did.
Jessica: Okay. [Laughter] I was going to say, “I did in my heart.” I was walking up the stairs; and she said: “Now, stop. Let’s talk. What worldview was the movie trying to tell you?” And I just sarcastically/angrily said to her, “Not everything has to have a meaning,”—
Elyse: Silly girl. [Laughter]
Jessica: —which I’m sure encouraged a great conversation between the both of us, at the time. But yes—I mean, talking to our kids—every conversation, every movie, every book—there actually is a good story. There is one good story, and that’s the gospel. You see it all over. You see it in most movies—
—any movie that’s good—you’re going to see the gospel story of someone laying down their lives for those that they love.
Bob: Jessica, I want to get to these tough questions that are in here; but I’m just curious: “Did you know— when you were faking it—that you were faking it?”
Jessica: Yes, I did. For sure, I knew.
Dennis: Did you have doubts? Was that a source of you faking it, or were you just wanting—
Jessica: I didn’t care.
Dennis: You just had a self-will that said: “You know what? He may be the Lord / He may be the Master, but not for me—not now.”
Jessica: I didn’t even know if I thought that deeply about it, to be real honest. I think I thought: “This is what everyone else is doing, and that’s fine. I don’t want people bothering me.”
Bob: “I’ll play the game.”
Jessica: “I’ll play the game. I will play the game, and I will get all the awards. Everybody will love me.” Yes, that was more of where I was at.
Bob: And I’m just curious—did you know she was faking it?
Elyse: Oh, no; not at all. When she came home—that night from Bible college—and she said to me, “Mom, I got saved today,”—
—it didn’t even register, in my mind, what she was saying. It was shocking to me—that, all these years, this girl—who, when she was in kindergarten, won Miss Christian Character. She went on mission trips. She was in the youth group / one of the leaders of the youth group, in Bible college—all the time, faking it because she wanted my approval and the approval of the family—coming from a ministry family—
Elyse: —the approval of the family. I was utterly astounded.
Bob: Is there a way a parent can diagnose whether a child is faking it? I’m just wondering if there is anything we can do or do we just kind of go with it and keep praying for them?
Jessica: I don’t think there is a way to diagnose that—
—but I think there is a way for parents to talk to their kids about their goodness not being everything. Goodness—being a good kid doesn’t equal being a Christian. And I think there is a way to talk to kids—telling them over and over again: “Your goodness will never be good enough. You need the goodness of Jesus Christ. You need His righteousness alone to stand before a Holy God.”
And we’ve talked about this—it’s not “I’m going to surprise her right now,”—that’s nothing we ever heard, growing up.
Jessica: What we heard was: “Be a good kid and that will get you through life.” The gospel message is, in fact, so much more and deeper than that: “You can never be good enough.” So, to tell your kids: “Put your own goodness away. Trust and rest in the goodness of Jesus Christ on your behalf,”—that’s a message that our kids need to hear so that we’re not raising Pharisees and legalists.
Dennis: What Jessica is illustrating here, I really want parents to hear: “We’re losing a generation,—
Dennis: —who are growing up in the church today who are playing church;—
—sometimes because the parents are playing church”; okay? They are simply replicating what they are seeing their parents model—their hearts are far from God.
I would say—back to your question, Bob: “How do you diagnose this?”—I immediately think of Romans, Chapter 12, verse 2. It says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by renewal of your mind.” It goes on to talk about how you can prove what the will of God is. I think, as we model that for our children, we then need to begin praying for them because—you weren’t at college when she was at that prayer meeting—
Dennis: —you were praying for your daughter—
Dennis: —for her to come to her spiritual senses before it was too late and before she ruined her life. Sometimes, that’s sooner, as in your case, Jessica. Sometimes, it can be decades before the child gets it.
We’re talking to some parents, right now, who have some adult children who aren’t doing well, spiritually.
They need to be in prayer for them, asking God to be at work in their lives.
I want to go to the questions that you have here in the book because I know there are some parents, who are wondering, “How do I answer these questions?” Is there one that has been kind of the number-one question that parents have brought forth repeatedly?
Jessica: Let me answer you in a way that’s not answering your question at all. [Laughter] I think that the one question that parents aren’t engaging their kids on—that kids aren’t asking—is about sexual sins. I think that parents are afraid to talk to their children about pornography. They don’t want to bring it up just in case, somehow, their kids weren’t thinking about it. I think that parents are nervous to talk about any sort of sexual sin—specifically pornography.
Pursue your kids. Ninety-two percent of boys and sixty-three percent of girls, by the age of 18, have viewed pornography—right now. People need to understand—if you are saying to yourself, “That doesn’t happen in my house,”—92 percent!
Dennis: And it’s not a matter of it necessarily happening in your house.
Jessica: No, it’s not! It could happen anywhere!
Dennis: Other kids have screens in their—
Dennis: —purses, in their pockets, phones, ads. I mean, they’re viewing these screens; and they are saying: “Hey! Look at this.”
Jessica: Absolutely. So, I have a friend who went to the dentist’s office with her eight-year-old son. A bunch of kids were over in the corner, looking at an iPod®. She thought they were playing a game. Come to find out, they were looking at pornography—dentist’s office—eight years old. Parents need to open their eyes to this.
Dennis: Okay. Let’s just stop, right here, because you mentioned a fear that I think every parent has: “If I introduce the subject too soon, I’m going to be arousing interest that I don’t want my child to experience.” So, I think what happens is they fall back 20 yards and punt.
Dennis: They don’t address the issue. How should a parent view this discussion today with this being so prevalent?
Jessica: I mean—it’s everywhere. So, first of all, let’s talk about the fear factor of this. I think that’s why parents don’t talk to kids—they are afraid. They don’t know how to talk about it / they don’t broach the topic—any of those things.
So, what we do with fear is—we know that there is a perfect love that casts that out. So, we talk to our kids, knowing that Jesus Christ loves us enough to care for our families. We talk to them, knowing that the only thing that’s going to conquer any sort of sin in them that wants to view pornography, is Christ’s love. It’s the only thing better; right?—“Jesus is better,”—and that’s how we start with our kids.
See, I hadn’t had a conversation with my kids about this until I wrote this chapter. With my boys, I felt like: “Oh, they don’t look at it. They’re not going to look at it. We’ve put some firewalls up, and they know they are not supposed to because we’ve told them, ‘Don’t...’”
Dennis: Their ages are?
Jessica: Fifteen and thirteen.
Jessica: Okay; so, we had talked to them about it in that sense—like, “You better not or everything is getting taken away,”—
—but never really explained to them why:
“Why is it wrong to look at pornography? Is that just a sin between you and God?” It’s not! You’re sinning against these people that you’re viewing, too, because they could be a sex slave. You viewing pornography could actually be imprisoning them. They could be enslaved to drugs, and they are doing pornography so that they can carry on this addiction. You’re actually hurting these people you are viewing too—let alone the fact they are made in the image of God and you are reducing them to something less than for your own pleasure.
Bob: Then, to add to that: “That’s somebody’s daughter—
Bob: —“you’re looking at.”
Jessica: Yes, or “sister.”
Bob: And I’ve said to guys—I’ve said: “If some guy came to you and said, ‘Would you mind / it be okay?—I’d just like to look at your daughter—just like to have her take her clothes off and have a look at that?’” Any dad, in America, would say, “That’s okay. Yes, that’d be fine”?—or around the world for that matter; right?
So, I think we have to recognize, “We wouldn’t want anybody looking at our daughters;—
Bob: —“we’re going to go look at somebody else’s daughter”?
Elyse, did you have these conversations with your boys?
Elyse: I think I might have had the kind of conversation with the boys that would have been very surface: “Just don’t do it,” and “If we catch you….”
Bob: If you were doing it again today, what would you do differently?
Elyse: Oh, so much differently. You see, there is no way in the world—there was an article that was written—maybe, 75 or 100 years ago—called “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” The only reason—the only thing that will take away the desire for one thing you are seeking after pleasure with / one thing that you are desiring is something better—so, then, to come at that desire that would be in their hearts—and say: “You know, I understand this. This is a desire that’s in your heart. Let me tell you about a better love.”
I think that a lot of times we pile so much guilt—and there is guilt involved in this—but when a young man is struggling with pornography, he feels guilty every time he clicks on it. He feels guilty. What will help him fight that? It’s not more guilt because guilt makes you think, “God hates me.” It’s the message of the gospel, which says: “Jesus Christ bore this for you. There is something better—it’s His love.”
Fighting it from that direction—really seeking to help that young man or young woman, now. Let’s just say it, “Women are looking at pornography as well.” What’s better than that is the love of a Savior—and to continue to go back and talk about the forgiveness and love. There is so much pleasure in pondering the forgiveness, and love, and adoption, and reconciliation of the Savior.
It’s so much better than that fleeting image; but it’s a different situation now because I could have—I mean, I searched my boys’ rooms; okay?
Bob: Right—looking for magazines—because, back in the day, that’s—
Elyse: Looking for magazines but, now, it’s a different deal entirely.
Now, I know Jessica gets her boys phones—she just takes them, and she won’t tell them she is going to. She just takes them, and she looks—they know she will do that. Perhaps, that’s a little bit of a restraint; but that’s not going to restrain them when they are 18.
Dennis: No, they need to know the Restrainer, and we’ve come full circle on this.
Elyse: Yes; yes!
Dennis: We started out talking about the need of a child to have a true love for Jesus Christ to know He died for them and that He redeemed them. He is the One who changes hearts. As you said—gives them a heart of flesh to be able to obey God and want to turn away from evil and do what’s right.
To that teenager, who is listening to us right now: “Do you have a relationship with Christ?”—that would be the question I’d have—or: “Are you playing church, as Jessica was doing? Are you faking it?” Your great need is to be born again. It’s basically to place your faith in Christ and trust in Him for the forgiveness of your sins. And to the parents—
Bob: And by the way, that doesn’t have to be a teenager. That can be a 30-, or 40-, or 50-year-old, who is still playing the game and trying to act right. It doesn’t go—it can be anybody.
Dennis: Or it can be a parent, who is listening to us right now,—
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: —and say, “Yes, my kids really need this,” but you haven’t made a commitment. The question is—first of all—“Are you born again?” If you are and you are a parent, you really do have a responsibility to introduce your children to the truth about them— that they are broken and they need a Redeemer.
Jessica: That’s right.
Dennis: They need a Savior. That’s done by faith and a commitment to Christ. It is a work of God. We don’t boast about it / we don’t brag about it—He does it in us and through us—but when it’s done, as Jessica has illustrated, we are different.
Bob: Well, and the two of you have really given us guidance, as parents, on how we can have the kinds of conversations with our children that help them see what the real issues are. The book that you’ve written—Answering Your Kids’ Toughest Questions—deals with things like divorce, or war, or terrorism, or death, or homosexuality, or sexual abuse. Kids are going to have questions about “How can a good God allow this in His world?” We need to be ready, with a biblical understanding, of why there are issues like this in our world.
We’ve got copies of the book, Answering Your Kids’ Toughest Questions: Helping Them Understand Loss, Sin, Tragedies, and Other Hard Topics.
That’s in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go to our website, which is FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the page that says, “GO DEEPER.” That’ll take you right to where you need to be to get a copy of Elyse and Jessica’s book, Answering Your Kids’ Toughest Questions. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER.” You can order a copy of this book from us, online. Or you can call 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.” Place your order over the phone.
You know, our goal, here at FamilyLife, is to provide you with practical biblical help for your marriage and for your family. I was talking to somebody recently, Dennis, who said: “I really look at FamilyLife Today as my mentor. You guys have helped me wrestle with and come to some conclusions about hard issues that I’ve faced in my marriage and in my parenting.”
Of course, that’s what our goal is—we want to provide biblical direction for couples/for families. Our desire is to see every home a godly home.
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And we want to encourage you to join us back again tomorrow. We’re going to talk about how you answer a question from a child related to a natural disaster. What happens when a tsunami hits or when thousands of people die in an earthquake? How do you explain where God is in the midst of that? We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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