Who Does God Say You Are?
About the Guest
Phillip BethancourtPhillip Bethancourt is the Executive Vice President of The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). He is also Assistant Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and on the Pastoral Leadership Team at Redemption City Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He and his wife, Cami, have four boys: Nathan, Lawson, Weston, and Hudson.
Phillip Bethancourt tells how he and his wife intentionally shape their children’s identity through the three c’s. Bethancourt also shares how their family is setting boundaries for the use of technology.
Who Does God Say You Are?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, January 9th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. How are your kids figuring out who they are and what they are good at? Where is the information coming from? We’ll talk today about how we, as parents, can help guide our children as they seek to establish their identity. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. When you and Barbara sat down to write the book, The Art of Parenting, one of the issues that you felt was fundamental for parents to understand and address with their children was the issue of a child’s identity—which is not something that, if you sat down and asked a group of parents, “What do you need help with?”—identity is probably not something that a parent would say, “That’s what we’re wrestling with right now.” It’s a little more ethereal than the day to day that parents find themselves in. Why did you think this was so important?
Dennis: Well, because when we first did the research for the book, back in 1990, I came up with one of the themes in the Scripture that I felt like parents needed to be imbedding in their children—was this issue of identity: spiritual identity, knowing who they are and whose they are; second, sexual identity—
—at that point, it kind of seemed like a side issue.
Dennis: Fast-forward 28 years—all of a sudden, this whole issue of sexual identity/gender identity, and who your child thinks he is, is front and center.
Dennis: We have a guest with us on the broadcast, Phillip Bethancourt, who has written a book called Christ-Centered Parenting, along with Russell Moore. He also agrees that’s a big subject.
Phillip: It’s huge. In fact, last year for Christmas, one of the most fun gifts we’ve ever given our boys for Christmas is—we got them walkie-talkies. We love to send our boys outside to play. To be honest with you—it’s a safe space on the broadcast—part of the reason we gave it to them was because we didn’t want to walk down to find them anymore. [Laughter]
One of the things we did, when they got walkie-talkies, is every one of them had to come up with their own codename for communication. The nine-year-old decided—he loves to read, so he was going to be Bookworm.
Then, the eight-year-old selected the codename Double Eagle, and the six-year-old is Lion Blaze. My wife is Yellow Rose; and as an Aggie, I’m Gig ‘Em. You’ll often hear walkie-talkie chatter amongst us: “Boys, this is Gig ‘Em. Do you copy?” “Yes, Dad. Over.” “Double Eagle and Lion Blaze, I need you to come back to the mess hall. It’s time for chow.” We’ll just have those kinds of dynamics all along.
As I was thinking about this issue of identity, preparing this chapter for the Christ-Centered Parenting curriculum, what I recognized is—so often, that’s the temptation for every child—that you can choose your identity in the same way they can pick a name for yourself on the walkie-talkie. I can fashion who I perceive myself to be in any way I want.
The challenge for parents is—we live in a culture that wants to empower that instinct. If we are seeding the ground over to the culture, then, our children will find their identity in other things rather than finding it in the gospel, where God designs them to find it.
Dennis: Phillip, you are the Executive Vice President of the ERLC, which is the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
You guys are tackling the main issues that you see Christians struggling with today. Increasingly, I’m watching the conferences you do, the books you’re writing, the video training pack—like you’ve come up with here—I see you guys tackling this front and center. This is a major issue in our culture. If we don’t help our kids define themselves, biblically, the culture is going to do it for us.
Phillip: Sure; identity is a root issue. So many of the cultural challenges that we find today—whether it’s racial division, or addressing issues related to gender identity and sexuality, or even equipping our kids on how to navigate those with special needs that are different than them—I remember our six-year-old came home the other day. He said, “Mom, I just nominated Thomas in my class for Character Award in our school.” She said: “Oh, that’s great. Why did you do that?” He said, “Well, because when I come into class, he always greets me.”
Now, you wouldn’t think, necessarily, that’s anything worth giving a Character Award to until you know that Thomas is a special needs child, who is very limited in what he can do. What he said—is he said: “Yes; when he comes out to recess, sometimes, he plays football with us. He can snap the ball pretty good, even though he can’t do much of anything else.”
It just really gripped us when we heard him say that, because he’s recognizing these identity issues that are so imbedded in the way that God’s designed the world—understanding who he is; understanding how others are different; and wanting to recognize the identity, and value, and dignity of others, even in a broken world, where sometimes there are special needs.
Bob: Phillip, for years, moms and dads have said to their kids, “You can be whatever you want to be”; right? We’ve tried to cast a vision with our kids that the sky’s the limit; and the truth is—you can’t be whoever you want to be. I mean, I might want to be the starting center for the New York Knicks.
That’s never going to happen; right?
Dennis: You always wanted to be Elvis. [Laughter]
Bob: It’s clear—
Phillip: There is still hope for that.
Bob: —it’s clear I could have a retirement career as an Elvis impersonator in Branson—that may happen—but I’m never going to start for the New York Knicks. Now, here’s the thing. Rather than saying to our kids, “You can be whoever you want to be,” the question ought to be: “Who did God make you to be?
Phillip: That’s right.
Bob: “Who does God say you are?”—and then—“Since you are His workmanship, created for good works that He prepared beforehand that you should walk in them,”—that’s Ephesians 2:10—our job, as parents, is to help our kids understand: “Who has God created you to be?” “What are the good works He’s marked out for you?” and “Let’s get after it.”
Phillip: I’m a former future starting quarterback for the Texas A&M Aggies in the same way that you are a New York Knicks center to-be. [Laughter] It didn’t happen for me, just like it didn’t happen for you.
Part of what it looks like is: “How do you cultivate instincts and aspirations in your kids that honor the Lord?”
You ask a child, like my three-year-old, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” What’s he going to say?—“…a firefighter,” “…a policeman,” “…a doctor,”—other things like that. As a teenager grows older, they might talk about their desire for success, or achievement, or fame—those types of things like that.
In the home, one of the real practical things that we do to try to set identity is to think intentionally about how we set up the space in our home. If you think about just the average American home, it’s primarily built around the concept of consumption. Our kitchen is centered around where we consume the food. Our living rooms are centered around the television, where we consume media.
Instead of centering it around consumption, one of the ways that we try to shape identity in our home is—instead by centering our home/the space in three different categories, we want to help our children find a place to connect. We try to set the environment in our home in a way that fosters interaction and connection with them to develop the relationships amongst our family that will help to shape their identity.
Dennis: Is there a TV—is there a TV in that room?
Phillip: There is a TV, but it’s got the ability to be closed off. It’s against the wall, and not all the furniture is zeroed in and focused on that.
Bob: So, what is the interaction space look like if I walked into your room?
Phillip: Here’s the secret for all the parents of young kids. I’ve found—if you can create an environment in your living room space where a child can run a lap around your furniture, the possibilities are endless—chase. [Laughter]
Dennis: —without breaking anything. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s right.
Phillip: Exactly—just all sorts of things like that. So, just the little things of how we shape it. Then, we keep our—the books in our home prominently featured. They’re not tucked away, and we try to model that as a priority for them—just different ways to foster those connections and interactions. That’s the first category.
The second one is we want it to be a place where they create. We don’t want them just consuming, but we want them to create—whether that’s coloring, that’s writing, that’s doing sidewalk chalk—whatever it is—building Legos®—all of those things to foster that creative instinct that God is going to use in some expression later on.
Then, the last one is to compete. By compete, I don’t mean the kind of sibling rivalry competition. I mean to challenge each other/to sharpen each other—to have contests with one another that are going to spur each other on to greater excellence and ambition that can be channeled in a godly way in the future.
Dennis: Our daughter has actually gone ahead of you in creating space for being creative. You mentioned Legos. You can visit their house—they have seven boys—there are Legos in every room in the house.
Let’s talk about the identity issue around mental health. I noticed that you had a section in your book on that. I was really pleased that you did; because I think the whole emotional side of raising kids, a lot of times, gets the leftovers or waits until there is a major crisis to address.
Phillip: You nailed it. That’s such a key issue that most parents don’t even realize their kids are wrestling with. One of the reasons that it’s such a challenge for many of them is the social media age that we live in.
They see greener grass everywhere else but in their own hearts. They start to compare each other.
One of the things we talk about in the book is the way that, when children seek to find their identity, they are going to do it in one of three places. They are going to do it from their friends—in other words, their peers—and the peer pressure they face; or they’re going to do it from their followers—in terms of where they find success and affirmation and find their identity in that accomplishment; or they’re going to find it from their faith. We want to be the type of people that root that in their faith, and that comes with this issue of mental health.
There are children of parents, listening right now on this broadcast, who are wrestling with self-esteem issues—they’re doubting their significance. They may even be overwhelmed by depression or, God forbid, having suicidal thoughts. That should be something that, for parents, sobers us to the responsibility that we have to shape their identity. Part of what we’re trying to do is shepherd the emotional health of our children through the adolescent development that God is taking them on.
Dennis: Just as we, as human beings, have physical limitations that you may notice about in your child—may not be athletic; he may not be musical in terms of the ability there—but children can also have emotional limitations.
One of the things I don’t think is being spoken to enough is helping parents know how to identify some of the early signs of these emotional weaknesses/limitations—whatever you want to call them—but it may be a propensity toward depression. Rather than shaming the child for that, instead, begin to think proactively about constructing a faith-response in your child to know how to deal with this—not to over-simplify it because there may be a need to visit a doctor on some of these matters—but to speak to that whole arena of beginning to address the emotional limitations in your children.
Phillip: One of our boys’ best friend on the street is a boy that has some emotional and developmental challenges. They’ve loved to get to know him over the years and to play with him. One of the things his parents appreciate so much about our kids is he’s treated just like one of them. He’s no different than anybody else.
It doesn’t matter what situation a parent finds their child in when it comes to their emotional development. Parents need to recognize the stewardship they have to be students of their children and to observe the patterns, and the tendencies, and trajectories that they notice when it comes to emotional responses.
Some kids are going to wrestle with anger issues that burn hot with rage; others are going to wrestle with anger issues that burn cold with bitterness—it could manifest itself in different ways. You need to know that about your child, and you need to observe the tendency toward melancholy or discouragement that may come up so that, as you’re creating an intentional parenting strategy, you can find ways to shape the kid in a way that honors God in their emotional life.
Bob: One of the things that is functioning to shape a child’s identity in our day is their interaction with technology. We didn’t have this when I was kid, growing up. I mean, we had technology—it was the radio or the television—that was it. Kids today are learning how to relate to themselves and to others in a disembodied, electronic atmosphere that changes the way they understand who they are and what relationships are all about.
I know, whenever you are talking on the subject of parenting, the technology issues are the ones that are front and center for a lot of parents; aren’t they?
Phillip: It sure is. In fact, I remember, a few months ago, one of my friends was up at Fenway and went to watch a Red Sox game. He put up a picture on Instagram® of his family smiling, and happy, and content. I saw him not long after—I said, “It looked like you all had a great time at the game.” He said, “Yes; we did whenever we took that picture.”
What he went on to share was the rest of the story that didn’t make it on social media, which was—
—in a later inning, their kid began to get sick and threw up all over the person sitting in the aisle right in front of them. What happened was the person did not noticed what happened, because it kind of—it was a glancing blow. They wrestled with: “Should we tell them? Should we not? What should we do?” It ended up destroying the whole rest of the evening.
Nobody else would have known that based on what they put out there on social media. Yet, that’s the age that we live in—one where technology and social media allows us to present an image of ourselves that often doesn’t match the messy reality of life, especially when it comes to children and the family. Part of what we need to do—bridging this divide between identity and technology and bringing those together—is understanding the way that technology can show off and then shape the identity of our children.
Dennis: The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article that said, “One in four young people under the age of eighteen have received a sext,”—
—that is a sexually-explicit photo sent to them by a friend. “Fifteen percent”—it went on to say—“have sent pictures of either themselves or others.”
The article was a chilling article, because it talked about how parents need to step into this. I know you’re not there yet with your kids, but you soon will be. What are you going to say to your kids, now, in preparation for dealing with this issue of nude pictures being sent that are, not only not welcomed, but are invading their personal privacy?
Phillip: When I was driving to work, not long ago, I passed by the bus stop, where a bunch of the high school students were waiting to get on the bus. Every single one of them was staring at a phone. I remember, when I was growing up, what it was like on the bus stop—it was a bunch of horsing around and joking, and there was nothing to do; you were just killing time. They [young people today] are totally disengaged. They are living their life through a screen, and that’s what is increasingly common for kids in our day and culture.
That is what precipitates this conversation about sexting.
Sexting comes at the intersection of two key issues that are united together when this occurs. One is the pornography epidemic that we have.
Phillip: Then, one is this tendency to drop boundaries that the Lord has intended for us to protect. Part of what it means to help our children be shepherded through this is to not wait until that picture shows up on their device and hope they say something to you about it in the first place. It’s to be having those conversations about pornography beforehand.
Then, over time, when opportunity rises, to explain: “Now, listen, this may not just happen by someone else out there. There might be kids in your own school that are sending these back and forth. Here is why that is an issue...” / “Here’s why—once that picture goes out there, you can never get it back. You don’t know where its final resting place is going to be,” “Here’s why you should honoring God with your body and protecting your intimacy…” If you provide those building blocks, those are going to be the best tools to be able to provide a pathway for our kids to resist that temptation.
Bob: Your oldest is nine; right?
Bob: So, he’s been online; right?
Bob: Does he have his own computer?
Phillip: He does not. That’s one of the things that every family has to do—is identify: “How is technology going to function in our home?” What tends to happen is—parents accidentally find themselves in a pattern of technology use where: “Oh, it was easier when they were younger; so we just let them have the iPad®; and they’d do that.” They don’t see where this is leading.
I think Colossians 2:20 and following can be really instructive when we’re thinking about boundaries and technology. If you remember, that’s where Paul is writing about how, in the culture—what it will tell you is: “’Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’” He says in Colossians 2:23: “These things all have the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and are based on severe treatment of the body…”—but notice what he says—“…they are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”
One of the things we need to recognize, when it comes to boundaries and technology, is boundaries can be helpful; but they are not sufficient.
One of the things that parents often hope for is: “If I set the right boundaries and regulations in my home, that can help protect my children from sin through technology.” What they want to do is outsource to regulations what can only be accomplished through relationships.
Dennis: You’ve been talking about all these lessons you’ve learned in raising kids. You and Russell Moore put the book together. I just want to know: “In reality, how much of this stuff is really your wife, Cami?” [Laughter]
Phillip: It’s so true! She has amazing wisdom. When we had three sons, and we got hit with the fourth one, everybody assumed she was ready for a girl. She said: “No, I want another boy. I know what they are like. I know how they operate. I’ve got all the stuff for them.” [Laughter] I know there are many of the guys listening on this broadcast that can attest to the wisdom of their wife in shaping these types of things in the home.
Dennis: So, how have you embraced and invited her into the process with you of raising these kids?
A lot of guys don’t know how to maximize a very talented—in fact, far more talented and intuitive than we are, as men, who are outside the home for eight to ten hours a day because of our work. They are making these observations and coming to conclusions that we need to heed, and we need to listen to.
Phillip: As a young dad, I’ve put together a lot of IKEA furniture—you know, it comes with the instructions, and it’s got the Allen wrench. You follow those things, and it’s kind of one-size fits all furniture that can be used in any context. There’s no customization to it that is specific to your home. Often, for men, especially, they can be tempted to take a one-size fits all approach to raising their children.
One of the ways that my wife has been so helpful is showing me and helping me to recognize and adapt to the distinctives of the different boys in our home. Our oldest is—we call him, like I mentioned earlier, the Bookworm. He is the intelligent one. Our second one is an engineer—
—he loves to tinker with things. The third one is our sports guy—we call him the Jock. Our fourth one—he is like the mayor. He loves to greet everybody and is a social butterfly. If I try to parent one as if they have the instincts and proclivities of another, I’m going to miss that opportunity. Cami has been so helpful in shaping the atmosphere of our home so that we can have that intentionality with each one of them in an individual way.
Dennis: So, here is the charge to all the guys, who are listening to our broadcast: “If you have the title of Dad—and your kids are young or older; maybe, they’ve even left the house and you’re an empty-nester—I want you to go home tonight, at the end of the workday, take your wife’s face in both of your hands, and gently cradle it—don’t squeeze to tightly, guys; just be gentle—look her in the eyes and say, ‘I thank God for you.’”
I recently did that with Barbara. My only regret is I didn’t do it enough when we were in the child-bearing/child-rearing years and had six rug-rats running around our house.
There is a reason why you buy IKEA furniture for seven boys. [Laughter] You want something that, when it’s destroyed, it’ll be worthless.
Phillip: That’s exactly right.
Dennis: I appreciate you, Phillip. Thanks for your work on this book, and I just am grateful you’re in the battle for today’s families. I think it’s the right battle for the day. Thanks for being on the broadcast.
Phillip: Thank you.
Bob: I’ve never been to IKEA. I’m just sitting here: “Is this something I need to make a priority?” I’m having a little fear of missing out.
Phillip: Oh, you’re totally missing out. It’s like hundreds of thousands of space worth of furniture all over the place. You’ll find everything you want.
Bob: I’ve heard it described, and it sounds cool; but I’ve just never been. I need to make it a priority.
Dennis: I’m going to get letters from some managers of IKEA. [Laughter] I think it is good furniture—it’s alright; you know?
Phillip: It’s great for furniture; it’s bad for parenting [in the one-size-fits all way]—
—that’s all we’re saying. [Laughter]
Bob: “Here’s what’s good for parenting…” and we’ve got copies of it here in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. It’s the video series called Christ-Centered Parenting. You can find out more/order from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
If you’ve been through FamilyLife®’s Art of Parenting™ video series, this is a great follow-up to that. If you haven’t been through the Art of Parenting, I would suggest Art of Parenting first, and this as a follow-up. But it may be that the issues that you guys are addressing, Phillip, in your series—gender issues, depression, anxiety, pornography, addiction, singleness, dating, marriage, divorce—I mean, if you’re parenting teens, you might want to get right into those issues and then loop back around and do the Art of Parenting after you’ve been through Christ-Centered Parenting.
Again, find out about both series when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order by phone or if you have any questions.
Again, the number is 1-800-358-6329—1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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We think that’s a great habit to be developing, and we want to help you develop it. All you have to do is go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link for the prayer prompts by email. Give us your email address, and we’ll start sending those to you immediately. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
Start a new habit in 2019 and start praying together regularly. Let us help you get going; okay?
We also hope you’ll be back with us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to talk about the impact on a child’s life when mom or dad says: “I don’t want to be married anymore. I want out.” That’s what Jonathan Edwards experienced when he was a child, and he’s written about it. We’ll talk to him tomorrow and hear his story. I hope you can be with us for that.
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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