It is interesting that when you look at many of the main characters in the Bible to see that their families were a mess.
- Aaron (the first High Priest of Israel) had two sons who took God’s laws about sacrifices as “optional” and God killed them.
- The priest Eli had two sons who were using their priestly duties to profit themselves. God killed them in battle on the same day.
- The Judge/Prophet Samuel served Israel well but his sons were known as dishonest
- A Judge by the name of Jephtah made a foolish vow after a victory and then apparently sacrificed his daughter to God.
- David’s son raped his half sister, and then another son (her brother Absalom) killed the brother who raped his sister. Absalom later rebelled against his dad and tried to take his Kingdom by force.
- King Solomon’s son lacked his father’s wisdom. When dad died this son wanted to prove how tough he was and ended up splitting Israel into two.
The list could continue. It reminds us that being a follower of Christ does not mean that your family is going to follow in your positive footsteps. The Devil makes a real effort to disrupt the homes of Christ-followers. If he can unravel our family (or use our family to unravel us) then he gains a victory.
This morning we return to some of the earliest and best counsel to Christian families. These words were spoken to the people of Israel in the wilderness as they were just beginning to form their nation. The LORD tells them,
3 Listen closely, Israel, and be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.
If we stop right here we can observe that this is what everyone of us wants. We want all to go well, we want children growing up with plenty, we want to enjoy the life God meant us to have. Because this is what we want, we should listen carefully to His instructions.
Beware of Inconsistency
4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today.
Before we can ever teach our children the ways of God they need to see consistency in our lives. Did you catch these words: “you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands”? May I be frank? Many young people today merely dabble in matters of faith because that is what their parents do.
It is a fact that Children (and everyone else) pay more attention to what they see lived out than what they hear preached.
- They hear you say that the Lord is the most important thing in your life, but they see that in practice He is only important unless something “better” or “more important” comes along.
- They hear you talk about the importance of the Bible but they know your Bible is covered with dust.
- They hear you talk about the peace of God but they know you are constantly living in “crisis mode”.
- They hear you say that God’s way is the best way to live but they know that when you are with your friends it is really hard to see any difference between you and your non-Christian friends.
The first job of any parent is consistency. We must be consistent in our priorities, in our spending, in the way we treat our spouse, in the way we handle times of crisis, in the way we make decisions.
The best thing you can do for your children as a parent is to deepen your own walk with God. Here are some ways to do that.
- Set aside a time and place when you will meet with God every day. Let your children know that you are not to be disturbed during that time. I remember the story of Joanna Wesley who had a boatload of kids. They all knew that when mom put her apron over her head (even in the midst of chaos) mom was spending time with God. That example makes an impression.
- Begin a disciplined (as opposed to haphazard) Bible reading program. How much you read is less important than how attentively you read. Use your reading of Scripture to guide and direct your personal prayer before God. For example, if you are reading about someone who had faith (or lacked it) in a crisis ask God to show you area in your life where you need to trust Him more fully.
- Get involved with other Christians in discussion and study of God’s Word. It may be a small home group, a Sunday School class, a Bible Study, a regular gathering with friends at a restaurant. The accountability, encouragement, and insights of others in a group are essential to grow deep.
- Be intentional about filling your own mind with good things. Choose your books, your videos, and your music carefully. Look for ways to honor God in all these areas.
- Continue to work at being a good steward of all that God has given you. Cultivate the attitudes of gratitude, contentment and generosity.
The thing is, as you are attentive your growth in the Lord, your children will notice. They will be learning an important lesson without you saying a word.
Be Intentional in Training Your Children Spiritually
7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
God instructs parents to be intentional in the spiritual development of their children. Think about if we took the same approach to training our children in matters of hygiene as we sometimes do in training our children in spiritual things. Once a week we would tell our children that it would be nice if they would take a shower, wash their hair, and brush their teeth. If our children said they did not want to do those things because they were tired we would then say, “Well, I hope you will do these things next week.”
You can’t train anybody in anything with that kind of hit and miss approach! The only way to train your children in the way of the Lord is to make Him the center of your home. Read the Bible personally. Read it attentively. Read the Bible and Bible stories to your children daily. Let your children know that you are making decisions based on what the Bible says (if you are doing that). Help your children learn that God’s Word is the first place we turn when we need guidance. Help them to see that the Bible is not just a series of verses . . . it is filled with principles that are wise for all time. Our job is to teach our children that the Lord is the center of our lives and our homes. He has spoken and we would be wise to listen.
Beware of Being Seduced by the Culture around You
10 “The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. 11 The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, 12 be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. 13 You must fear the Lord your God and serve him. When you take an oath, you must use only his name.
In these words we see the greatest danger to the spiritual lives of our children: “don’t become seduced by the culture around us!” God warned Israel that material prosperity is seductive. It can make us think that these things are the source of joy in our lives. We can enjoy the stuff of the world so much . . . that we compromise our values so we can have more of that stuff. It is easy to worship stuff rather than the Creator.
Think about some of the greatest threats to our family structure today,
- The alarming rate of divorce. Most often the reason for a divorce is “I’m just not happy”. We are teaching our kids that the purpose of marriage is happiness not about learning to be committed about another person.
- The growth of non-married families. We are teaching our children (through almost every TV show and movie) that “marriage is just a piece of paper”. Sexual intimacy is increasingly being seen as a recreational activity that is selfishly motivated (I am pursuing my pleasure).
- Electronic Isolation. One of the greatest detriments to the family was the arrival of the television. TV made is possible for people to sit in a room together and never interact. Television largely replaced family conversation, opened the door for others to infuse their values, and it replaced reading. The problem has only been multiplied by video games, incessant texting, and all our tablet devices. Though I am a big fan of electronic devices, they can/do hinder relationships, stifle conversation, and distract us incessantly. It is difficult to have conversations with people because text messages and other electronic notifications are constantly intruding. The electronic media has hindered work productivity, increased the availability of pornography, and has blurred the line between truth and error (because rumors and distortions are passed on before anyone has a chance to stop and ask, “Is this true?”)
- The Push for the Omnipresent Parent. There is this notion that the best parent has their children involved in a dozen activities and the parent needs to attend all those activities or they are a bad parent. Anyone in business knows that if you become involved in too many different things you will end up not doing any of them well. We have mistaken busyness for parenting. Part of a parents’ job is to teach children to make choices and set limits.
- The “Success Syndrome” isn’t new. There has always been the danger of wanting success so badly that you are willing to sell your soul to get it. Some parents are never home because they are making more money to pay for all the things they are buying so that their family can have a “good life”. Because of this parents have little quality time with their children and children equate “stuff” with happiness.
- The “Family First” Obsession. This is one of the craziest and most seductive of the temptations today. It goes like this: I need to put my family first. That sounds good (even though the Bible says the Lord must ALWAYS come first) but it is deceptive. What this means in practice is: I must surrender my calendar to what family members ask me to do; I must buy things my family needs (to keep up with all the other families); “I must never set limits or choose to serve the Lord over a family opportunity. I must not set limits on my children or build discipline into them (by saying “No”) because my children may not like me and after all, family is the most important thing.” The irony is that when we worship at the altar of family we actually are doing more to harm our family ultimately than help them.
My point is that things have not changed much since God spoke to the children of Israel. He warned them that they would be tempted by many outside idols. That is still true today. We must be clear on our goals and work hard to weed out the destructive influences in our homes.
Do Not Forget What is at Stake
14 “You must not worship any of the gods of neighboring nations, 15 for the Lord your God, who lives among you, is a jealous God. His anger will flare up against you, and he will wipe you from the face of the earth. 16 You must not test the Lord your God as you did when you complained at Massah. 17 You must diligently obey the commands of the Lord your God—all the laws and decrees he has given you. 18 Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so all will go well with you. Then you will enter and occupy the good land that the Lord swore to give your ancestors. (Deut 6:3-18)
It is always tempting to view the spiritual training of our children as a lesser priority in life than their health, education, extracurricular pursuits, social success, grooming, popularity, and even sleep. However, hear these words of the Lord. We are warned of several things
- God is jealous. This is not a “crazy jealousy” that squeezes the life out of a relationship. This is God’s passionate desire to have us be in relationship with Him. When we turn from Him, it matters to the Lord! It matters greatly because the Lord loves us deeply and knows that we are whole only in Him.
- There are significant consequences to testing or rebelling against the Lord. The children of Israel were told that God would wipe them from the face of the earth if they rebelled against Him. These are admittedly strong words. They are meant to be strong words! Ignoring the Lord God is a very serious offense. God will not merely stand in the corner and shrug His shoulders as if He is helpless. One of the most fierce acts of Judgment God brings on us is letting us live with the consequences of our choices! Sometimes the reason our children desert the Lord is because this is what we have trained them to do! God is trying to motivate us to lead our families (even if they are grown) on a path they will lead to the blessing of God.
- We must DILIGENTLY obey. Parents are to teach their children to be passionate (rather than passive) followers of Christ. Too often we settle for getting our children to pray a prayer, attend worship occasionally, or say they “believe in Christ”. That is not genuine faith! Dr. Kennedy used to use the illustration of a chair. He would ask, “Do you believe that is a chair?” They he would ask “Do you believe that the chair can hold you?” They would answer yes to both questions. Then he asked, “Is the chair holding you now?” The answer of course was “No” because they were not sitting in the chair. Our job with our children is not only to teach our children the right answers . . . it is to lead them to actually “sit in the chair”; to experience the Lordship of Christ personally.
There is a great deal at stake! Not only is the eternal destiny of our children at stake, but their present enjoyment and knowledge of God is at stake! How we train our children will determine whether they make wise choices or foolish choices. Some of those foolish choices will bear lifelong consequences.
There is a good chance that if you are a follower of Christ today it is because you had a godly influence at home. Please do not overlook that blessing! Take time to thank God for parents or grandparents that taught the way of Christ.
Those who are raising children today are doing so on a fierce battleground. There are many forces fighting for the heart and soul of your children. The wise families face the realities of the battle. They don’t simply “hope for the best”; they develop a plan of action. Strong families do not just happen. It takes planning.
One final word. Some of you may feel that you have really blown it as a parent. You did the best you knew at the time, but as you look back you know you made mistakes. Some of them may have been very costly mistakes. Perhaps you came to faith late. Maybe you were so wrapped up in your work or your own pursuits that you neglected your family. You may have been angry, distant, or mean. Rather than despair, remember several things.
- You can’t undo the past. Beating yourself up doesn’t help. Confess your mistakes (to God and your family), make necessary changes, and seek to build from here.
- It is never too late to start doing what is right. It is harder to start from behind but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Serve the Lord NOW! Extend kindness and love to your children. They may resist (perhaps strongly) at first. They may be suspicious wondering if the change they see is real. Be patient. Keep doing what is right. Over time you will win a hearing, you will earn respect, you may even be granted forgiveness. You will have to be very patient but over time you can see progress and healing.
- Trust the Power of Prayer. Confess your sin before God. Ask Him to work in your heart; to change your attitudes; and to direct your behavior. Pray, pray, pray for your children, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchild. Ask God to help you see dangers, to help you build bridges, and to strengthen the testimony of your words and your life.
- Remember that relationships aren’t fixed by Money. Some people try to “fix things” by buying stuff for people. Their intention may be sincere but people are not looking for stuff . . . they want relationships and intimacy. Relationships take time. They demand careful listening. They are built on a trust that takes time to establish. Put your energy into building relationships rather than trying to buy them.
- Don’t forget the incredible grace and mercy of God. We are all imperfect parents. I suspect every conscientious parent has a truckload of regret. Our confidence is that God who is so rich in mercy will cover and overcome our sins. We are saved not because of our goodness but because of His grace. He is the One who heals wounds. He supplies our needs. He fills in where we have fallen short. Thank God it is not all depending on us. If we will do our best and truly endeavor to walk with Him and serve Him, God will do amazing things . . . sometimes in spite of us. God can heal broken families. He can restore strained relationships. Our job is to give Him the opportunity to do so.
Being a parent is a wonderful blessing. As parents, it is our job to pass the baton of faith to the next generation. It is a most important job. But let’s also remember that in addition to being a sober responsibility, it is also a tremendous, rewarding, and most satisfying privilege.