Theme: Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he won’t turn from it. But the big question is “what is the right way?” Is it the American Dream plus a little bit of religiosity? No, it is much more than that. It’s raising our children to become disciples of Jesus Christ.
and Proverbs 22:66
Well it’s good to be back. I was gone for a few weeks on vacation and I understand that you were very well taken care of while I was gone. I had absolutely no concern about that, after doing three years without me, I worry more about what bad things happen when I am here than when I am gone. But coming back from vacation makes me think about some other vacation experiences that we have had. One that stands out to me was the time that Debbie and I went to San Antonio, Texas. It’s a beautiful city in Texas. We had a great time there and we had spent a few days there. It was wonderful but it was time to go home, so we load up the car and we get inside the car. It’s hot outside. We turn on the air conditioner and it starts to cool down. We put the CD on and got the CD blasting. We go through all the complicated things to get up on expressway and we are now cruising. Not much traffic or anything and we are having a great time. We are going along at about 70 mph, comfortable, music, on our way home feeling refreshed, and after we drive around 50 minutes to an hour, we noticed a sign as we passed it that says Laredo so many miles ahead. And Debbie and I know just enough geography to recognize that Laredo is not between San Antonio and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And so at that point we realized that we were on the right road, we were going just in the wrong direction.
I was a football fan. I still am, but I used to like the Vikings. The Minnesota Vikings. Early in their early days they were an expansion team and all that and after a while they had this group called The Purple People Eaters. You know, and they were really something. It was their defensive line and I can still remember one play. They were so physical. And there is one play where a ball gets fumbled by the other team and their defensive end picks it up, I think it was Marshall who picked it up and he starts running for the goal line and man he is physically knocking people down. Nobody is able to tackle him and it got more and more interesting as he got closer to the goal line because more and more of the people trying to tackle him were from his team because he was heading to the wrong goal line. It doesn’t matter if you cross the goal if it’s the wrong goal. Or how comfortable you are cruising if you are cruising in the wrong direction.
I want to read to you a passage from scripture from the Book of Proverbs. The Book of Proverbs is a great spot in the word of God and what’s interesting about the Book of Proverbs is you don’t have to read it in big chunks. Almost each line stands by itself. So I want to read to you just one verse from the Book of Proverbs that talks about raising children. This is Proverbs, Chapter 22, Verse 6.
“Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not turn from it.”
Let’s pray for a moment. Lord, we thank you for this gift of your word and we pray that you will help us understand whatever we need to hear, that we will understand it and that we will offer to you the obedience that comes from faith. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he won’t turn from it. I think this verse is used all over the world in understanding the task of parenting. We have this responsibility to train, to repeatedly give a sense of direction to our kids, to reinforce it, to model it, to exact consequences when they go in the wrong direction. That’s all a part of this word training. There is this idea of repetition there. But the big question that is in this verse is in the way he should go. What is the right way? I think its real easy for those of us who are parents to say, of course we know what the right way is, it’s when they go in the direction that we want them to go. In other words, we want obedient children. We want moral children. We want children who are willing to go to church, who will work hard, who study, who go to a good school and get a good job, make a good living and raise a good family. And when you look at that, just on that level, it’s essentially the American dream. Now there is nothing wrong with the American dream, but the question is when you take the scripture here and say the way he should go and you add up all what the Bible says about raising children and about what it means to go in a right direction in life, does it just add up to the American Dream? Or the American Dream plus a little bit of religiosity? I don’t think so. I think that it is much more than that. It’s better for us to say the right way of raising our children is to raise them to become disciples of Jesus Christ. People who follow Christ. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the American dream. You can have all of the wonderful things that are provided in that model of life and still be faithful to God, but the issue is, faithfulness is bigger than that. If we raise our children to follow Jesus Christ, that means there may come times when they make decisions that don’t fulfill the American dream, but actually fulfill a bigger dream. A dream of a kingdom that God is building in this world. A kingdom that will come in its fullness on the day of Jesus Christ. And I think this congregation more than most knows the cost of that because we have children in this congregation of these families who have made the decision to put aside part of the American dream and instead take a step to serve God in ways that no one would have anticipated.
I saw this at work when I was with Inter-Varsity. I was the staff trainer for Missions in the Southeast and so the students who were in the Student Training in Mission program there in the southeast, I would train them in cross cultural dynamics, fundraising, you know all the things necessary for them to go and have a great summer experience overseas in China, Europe or Africa and various countries in Africa. And I had a great time doing that. I am willing to go overseas and I was willing to tell those kids that this is worth doing, going overseas, trying to help them learn how to share it with their parents and then one day my daughter came home, 15 years later and said, Dad I want to go to China this summer. All of a sudden it was a very different dynamic. I am willing to go. I am certainly willing to send your children, but it was a new thing to deal with those emotions of protectiveness, as my daughter made a decision that was bigger than that safe little controlled dream that we have for our kids as parents. But that’s our calling. It’s to raise people who make those sorts of decisions if that’s what God calls them to. It’s more than raising moral children. It’s raising godly children. People who know God, who have an experience with God, who see the meaning that God has in their lives, who seek his direction and power in their lives and are willing to follow him even if that’s different than what the majority of people do.
Now, not all of us are raising kids, and some of us have already raised our kids. But these issues that relate to raising children up also apply to our own walk with God, because we are really in the same boat. What we are trying to raise are people who follow Jesus Christ and that means that puts a demand on us to follow Jesus. So whether we are raising children or not, these things apply to us if we are serious about following Jesus. If our goal is anything less than raising up our children to follow Jesus Christ, if our goal is anything less than us personally following Jesus Christ with all that we are, then we have a danger of offering to the society around us a diluted and lukewarm form of Christianity that they are just going to spit out. I hate lukewarm, diluted cola. You know you got a drink in your hand that has ice in it and it is still good and all and you leave it in the car, you leave for an hour and you come back and its this sort of funny brown liquid and its tepid. It’s no good. But if we water down our Christianity and are lukewarm in our commitment, that’s what we are offering our children and that’s what we are offering the world around us and it would not be surprising if they spit it back out, because even God says he doesn’t like that kind of Christianity. In the Book of Revelation he says, I wish it were hot or cold, but since you are lukewarm I will spit you out of my mouth. So this issue of discipleship, of really following Jesus Christ is central to who we are, our effect on the people around us and our effect on our children. And this is a critical need in the church in the United States because the research done by Geroge Barna indicates that people who call themselves Christians, evangelical Christians, statistically don’t look any different than the rest of culture in the way they handle their money, the way they handle their family life, the amount of their divorces, so many areas, and that is serious. So we need to keep our eye solidly on the goal and so I want to talk a little bit today about some of the considerations of about what it means to raise our children as disciples of Christ or to make progress ourselves as disciples.
The first is, our goal. Our goal is the image of Christ. And let me give you a verse for those of you who take notes and things like that. It comes from First Corinthians, Chapter 11, verse 1 and it says this,
“Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.”
First Corinthians 11, verse 1. We are out to model something to our children and we will, whether we like it or not, model something for our children, but the issue is we are not trying to model just ourselves so that they become clones of us. We are out to follow Jesus Christ and model that so that they can be remade into Him as His image. They might have their mother’s eyes, they might have your temper, but they are supposed to be remade into the image of Christ. Now anybody who has raised children or anybody who has been a child and that includes most of us here, recognizes … I am glad some of you caught that; the rest of you talk to Andy afterwards. We don’t like the same sports, necessarily and certainly and I am talking to you parents right now, I guarantee your children won’t like the same music that you do, that’s a virtual certainty. They might not pick the same schools to go to, the same major, they might not chose the same profession and all of that is okay. The critical part is the issue of character. Who are they at heart? What have you modeled to them about character? How have you shown the image of Jesus Christ in your life? This issue of character is going to prove to be far more important than job skills for their joy and their satisfaction in this life and God knows it’s far more important when we think of eternity. So the first thing is, is that we are after the image of Christ in our lives and that is so deeply an issue of character, of faith and obedience. If that’s our goal, then what’s our foundation? Our foundation is the forgiveness that we receive in Jesus Christ.
I want to give you another verse here. Our foundation is the forgiveness of Christ. It’s a familiar verse to many. First John, Chapter 1, verse 9.
“If we confess our sins he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
One of the most important skills that we can give to our children is the ability to admit they are wrong when they are, and the ability to forgive the people who hurt them. This is a lifelong skill. We will never graduate out of needing to apologize to people, needing to forgive people and needing to apologize to God. This is critical core life skill stuff and so that means that has to be an important part of the kind of relationship that we develop with our children. And so our kids need to know that they are loved and we cherish them and that this love and approval doesn’t mean that they have to be perfect to earn it. And they need to learn that confession can restore a relationship and that sin can be dealt with, that these infractions can be dealt with and they are gone forever and they are not going to be brought up later on some list when they do something else wrong, you are going to remind them of all the ways they have hurt you in the past. In doing this, we are models again. You can’t escape it. We are always models. In this case, we are modeling the forgiveness of God, because that’s the essential reality of our relationship with God. God has found a full and final way to forgive us and when he forgives us it’s gone. So we need to teach them this: how to say ‘I am sorry’ to God.
And when we have blown it and sinned against them, we need to say that we are sorry back, because we are not God and any child over six years old already knows that because they have seen our failures. And its important that that’s acknowledged, that we are disciples together, that we are all on the road, the journey, as Debbie pointed out earlier. And I just can’t tell you how some of you who have experienced it, how precious it is to be with a three year old child and to ask for their forgiveness and to receive that forgiveness from them. And then together with that young child to pray to God and to ask for God’s forgiveness. I can’t tell you how many times I needed to do that because I got angry too fast, because I misjudged what was happening. These are important things in our relationships together. It’s humbling, but its incredibly real, this honesty with each other and with God. If we forgive freely, if we ask for forgiveness humbly, we can’t lose. This is an incredible gift that God gives us in our relationship with one another and in our relationship with him.
Okay, our goal is the image of Christ. Our foundation is the forgiveness God offers us in Christ and our tools are the resources that we have in Christ. Let me give you another verse here. It’s from Second Peter, Chapter 1, verse 3.
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”
Let me read to you another section. It’s one our verses for today. Acts 2, verses 17 and 18. This is quoting a prophecy by the prophet Joel.
“In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants both men and women,
I will pour out my spirit in those days
and they will prophesy.”
You notice in these verses that it talks about even on your sons and daughters, even young men will see visions. You know we sometimes walk around life thinking that God is kind of bad with kids and that the only thing that God is going to do in our children’s life is stuff that we do to them for them. And certainly we are important in shaping their lives, but God is in touch with the life of every child who has come to believe. And so that means that there are resources there that we can point out to them, even at a young age of how they can rely on God. Yes we want them to behave themselves, but yes they can pray, ‘God help me be nice to my brother or sister.’ There are resources there. And so that means that we need to teach them to pray and that means more than teaching them to say prayers. Now that’s important too; to just have this habit of saying prayers, but we need to teach them to pray which has more to do with that sense of reliance, where they know that when they are in trouble, one of the things to do is to go to God. Prayer is a very real part of problem solving. It’s a very real part of changing the world. And I have gotten to see this in the lives of some young kids. I think about the church that I came from in Baton Rouge. I went downstairs to talk to the 9 and 10 year olds one time and they were just overflowing. I hardly shared anything with them because they were getting ready to have a prayer time and their prayer was just full of praise because they had been praying for relatives who were sick and some of them had seen some strong healings in their relatives, so they were praising God: 9 and 10 year olds praising God for healing Uncle Paul, because they had learned that they can rely on God in some ways.
So Debbie and I, it’s amazing what little things God will answer pray for. When the kids were real little we found that a lot of our prayer was for things that they had lost. And sometimes you look for stuff for days and the child is distraught. It’s their favorite Melissa doll you know and you are never getting it and so finally in desperation you actually pull together and you pray. It’s amazing how many times we have prayed and God has then shown us where to find it. I mean I have got a little list. I have written it down in my journal across the years of God answering little prayers for little people, because God doesn’t despise their hopes, desires and hurts. But there are also bigger things we can pray together as well. I think about the decision we made to go to Japan years ago. We knew it was a big step and even though Jonathan was I guess about 4 or 5 and Sara was about 3 years older than that, we talked together about it as a family and we talked about our fears and then we would pray about those things and I can remember that Jonathan shared that he was afraid of earthquakes and he was afraid that the plane would crash and that we would all die and that’s why he didn’t want to go to Japan. So we prayed about it together, that God would show us and God would help us deal with our fears and Jonathan came back to us a few days later and went up to Debbie and said, “Mommy it’s okay if we go to Japan, because even if the plane crashes, we will be together with Jesus.” And that didn’t happen because we kind of forced that on him, that happened over there somewhere as God met one to one with a little 4 or 5 year old.
Ten years later we were praying again. Now it was the prayer, do we leave Japan? I wanted to go. The rest of the family didn’t yet. And so we prayed about it and we talked about it and I can remember the time when I was on the train and I was reading Eugene Peterson and I was reading the prophet Jonah and through the two things I realized that God was keeping us in Japan, was calling me to a specific ministry in Japan for a number of more years. And so we prayed together about these big things. We shared about our fears and desires and God changed my heart and we stayed.
It’s an important thing to learn to pray and pray together and that praying really matters. We have all kinds of resources in Christ. Forgiveness. Help when we are in trouble. Power to change ourselves. Healings of bodies and relationships. Wisdom when we need it. And part of our job as parents is modeling the kind of lifestyle that grabs on to God for these sorts of things and teaches them how to grab on to God on their own. We stayed in Japan. We made the decision, but that didn’t mean the last few years were easy. And so in those last few years the pressure got up on me. I was very hurt and dissatisfied; so was Debbie, and some of that was visible to our kids and I can still remember the evening our daughter Sara was about 16. She had the habit of going upstairs to finish her homework after dinner and then have a quiet time, a time of prayer and Bible study. And she came down one night and said to us, “Mom and Dad I have been concerned about your hurt and I have been praying to God for a word of encouragement to you and I believe that I have gotten it.” And so she shared with us from the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 37, verse 30. I’ve got to let you know that this verse comes to Hezekiah when he is worried about Israel, because Israel is besieged and there doesn’t seem to be any future for them and they can’t live normally because they are surrounded by enemies and this was the word to Hezekiah.
“This will be a sign to you O Hezekiah.
This year you will eat what grows by itself,
and the second year what springs from that.”
It’s not much. That is all you will have.
But in the third year, sow and reap.
Plant vineyards and eat their fruit.”
And a few verses later,
“The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
When she shared that, that was an incredible encouragement to Debbie and I and it was two more years exactly that we stayed in Japan. Two years that we felt like we were just holding on, barely making it through, and in the third year God blew the doors open. It was like being on an elevator to a whole new level of joy and ministry as God called us to something else. God spoke to us through her. She interceded before God for us and I knew on that day when she shared that, I didn’t know that it would be that accurate or anything else like that, but when she shared it on that day I knew that in some small way my job as a parent was over in a small way because here was my daughter who was all now fully a sister in Christ.
Now some of you might still be waiting for that sort of day and that’s okay. If you’ve got younger kids and it hasn’t fallen together yet, you might be feeling like you have made some mistakes, don’t give up. God’s grace is amazing. We just talked about forgiveness. Tomorrow you can do something different. There is hope there. So dust yourself off, go to God and go in hope and faith that God is going to do new and mighty things in your relationship with your young children. Now with your older children, those of you who have kids who might be 36 years old now, don’t lose heart. Don’t lose heart because we might not have the influence that we used to have with them, but we still have the resources in Christ to go before God in prayer and to pray that God work in their lives. The thing that we have to remember whether we have children or not, whether we are just concerned about somebody else’s children or our neighbor or our own lives, one of the things that we have to remember is God loves us more than we love ourselves and God loves our children more than we do and he’s not finished with any of us yet.
Let’s pray. Gracious God, we do hold before you our brokeness, our hopes, our struggles and we pray that wherever we are, whether we have children or not, whether we are married or not, that you will take us where we are and move us all forward in the reality of following Jesus as a real disciple and then we pray that we might be able to transmit that to a new generation faithfully for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.