|6||Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.|
Someone has said that the Christian faith is always just one generation away from extinction. Well, is it? Who is it – or what is it that is chiefly shaping the worldview of our children, how they look at and understand life? Last Super Bowl Sunday was a wake-up call for me. That afternoon I had taken my sons Michael and Andrew up to West Virginia for our annual Super Bowl Getaway. This year I decided I would add to the agenda sex. I would have “the big talk” with my boys. Not about how all the plumbing works, I’m going to do that later, but about the beauty and the holiness, the sanctity of human sexuality. I was going to talk with them about God’s best for their life; how their sexuality is to be confined within the bounds of holy matrimony. I decided I’d begin my talk with them by asking them the question “Who invented sex?” And they looked at each other. They looked at me and then thoughtfully and very honestly Michael, our eight-year-old, raised his hand and said, “Bill Clinton?” Who, who, what is shaping the worldview of our children.
By now you’ve probably picked up on the fact that our focus this morning is on children and youth. And you might be feeling a little bit old. Well, let me make you feel worse. Those who are freshman in college — that began college in the fall — were born in 1980. That means they have really no recollection of the Reagan era. That means that they were prepubescent when the Persian Gulf War was waged. Black Monday 1987 is as significant to them as is the Great Depression. There has been only one Pope. They can only really remember one President.
They were 11 when the Soviet Union broke apart and they don’t remember the Cold War. They have never feared a nuclear attack. The Day After for them is a pill, not a movie. CCCP is just a jumble of letters. They’ve known only one Germany. They’re too young to remember the space shuttle blowing up. And Tiananmen Square pretty much means nothing to them. They don’t who Momar Quadafi is.
Their lifetime has always included AIDS. They never had a polio shot. And more than likely they don’t know what polio is. Bottle caps have always been the screw off type. They have no idea what a pulltop can looks like. Atari predates them. As do vinyl record albums. The expression “you sound like a broken record” means nothing to them. They’ve never owned a record player. They’ve likely never played PacMan. And have never heard of Pong. Star Wars looks pretty fake, the special effects are pathetic. There have always been red M&M’s and the blue ones are not new. What do you mean, there used to be beige ones? They may have heard of an 8-track, but chances are they’ve probably never actually seen or heard one. The compact disk was introduced when they were one-year-old.
As far as they know, stamps have always cost about 33 cents. Zip codes have always been hyphenated. They’ve always had an answering machine. They’ve never seen a TV set with only 13 channels, they probably have never seen a black and white TV. They’ve always had cable. There’s always been VCRs, but they don’t know what Beta is. They can’t fathom not having a remote control. They were born the year Sony introduced the Walkman. Roller skating has always meant in-line for them. They’ve never heard of King Cola, Burger Chef, Pan Am or Ozark Airlines. The Tonight Show has always been hosted by Jay Leno. They have no idea when and why Jordache jeans were ever cool. Popcorn’s always been cooked in a microwave.
Today’s college freshmen have never seen a football game that involved the St. Louis Cardinals or the Baltimore Colts. They’ve never heard of the Minnesota Northstars, the Kansas City Kings, the New Orleans Jazz or the Minnesota Lakers. They don’t consider the Colorado Rockies, the Florida Marlins, Charlotte Panthers to be expansion teams. They’ve never seen Larry Bird play. And Kareem Abdul Jabar is a football player. They’ve never taken a swim and thought about Jaws. The Vietnam War is as much ancient history to them as is World War I, II and the Civil War. They have no idea that Americans were ever held hostage in Iran. They can’t imagine what hard contact lenses are. They don’t know who Mork is or where he was from.
They’ve never heard the terms “Where’s the beef?” “I’d walk a mile for a Camel” or “De plane, de plane”. They don’t care who shot JR – in fact they don’t know who JR is. The Cosby Show, The Facts of Life, Silver Spoons, The Love Boat, Miami Vice, WKRP in Cincinnati, Taxi – those are all TV shows that they more than likely have never seen. The Titanic was found? I didn’t know it was lost. Michael Jackson has always been white. They cannot remember the Cardinals ever winning a World Series or even being in one. Kansas, Chicago, Boston, America, Alabama those are all places for them, not rock groups. McDonald’s food never came in Styrofoam containers.
Who or what is shaping the worldview of those college freshman, and that whole generation of youth that is coming after them? Who is moving them toward Christ? That’s our job folks. And this morning I’m going to do something I’ve never done before in 20 years of ministry. And that’s preach from only one verse of Scripture. And I think it’s THE verse that best undergirds our commitment to the nurture of youth and children, because that’s our ninth Core Value as to who we are as a congregation.
I would invite you this morning to turn in your Bibles and keep them open during the sermon, to Proverbs, 22nd chapter, and let’s look this morning at the sixth verse:
This is the Word of God:
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
Join me as we pray: And now Father, as my words are true to your Word, may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray from your Word, may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
One day a young mother made a rather unusual request of a workman who was smoothing out the freshly poured cement of a new sidewalk. She asked if she could place her baby’s feet in the wet concrete. And when he said “yes”, she took the child and stood him on the cement and carefully pointed his toes toward a nearby church. An attempt to make a lasting impression that she hoped would impact the future of that little one’s life. There are many of you here this morning, good Christian parents who have poured your life and your love and your faith into your kids. Who have carefully set their feet pointing toward Jesus Christ and they’ve taken off the other way. And your hearts are broken. And you agonize over their salvation. And right now you’re probably sitting there seething over this verse that I just read. “Ron, what about the promises of God? Aren’t they true. Isn’t the Bible infallible? Or is this just revealing what I fear in my heart of hearts, that the Bible is nothing but a bunch of pious plap.”
There’s a couple of things that you and I need to know about this verse that I just read from Proverbs. The first thing we need to realize is this: that it is not a promise. It’s a proverb. A proverb of probability. When it comes to raising kids in the faith there are no guarantees except for the sovereign love and grace of God. Some of you have done the most remarkable, faithful, awesome job of discipling your kids that a parent has ever done and they are still running from God. And there are others of you – I know you – you’ve come and told me, others of you that have grown up in totally pagan homes, where your parents didn’t give a rip about God, let alone Jesus Christ, and despite all the odds, somehow God has drawn you to Himself. When it comes to salvation it really is all of grace. And so some of you still agonize over your kids, but remember, all we can really do is try our best and then place our kids into the hands of Almighty God. And we give praise, praise to God even though – the odds have been stacked against us to come to Christ – God has chosen to draw some of us into a vital personal relationship with Christ. And for that we give thanks. So it’s not a promise, it’s a proverb of probability.
And the second thing we need to know about this verse notice how it ends. It says “and when he is old he will not turn from it”. It says nothing about when the child is young. And many of us – if not most of us here – have set out on our prodigal son, prodigal daughter journeys. No matter how well we were raised to know Jesus Christ. When I was 22-years-old, if somebody had come up to my parents and said “Your son is going to walk with God and he’s going to be a pastor one day”. I mean, they’d still be doing CPR on my folks. And I’m here to say a word of hope to you parents in agony. It’s not over yet. God’s not through yet. He’s not through with your kid. He’s not through with your grandchild yet. In fact, those of us that have set off on those prodigal journeys, there’s a high probability if we have been discipled as kids, a high probability that one day we will return. And many of you are here in these pews this morning having gone through that journey.
How, then, are you and I to raise our kids faithfully? Jerry and Ingrid, listen up. Let me give you a one-word answer: Hanukkah. Hanukkah? That is the actual Hebrew word in this verse for “train”. The literal definition of Hanukkah is “dedicate”. Just like the temple in Jerusalem was rededicated on that first Hanukkah. Hanukkah. It’s all about dedication. It’s talking about an intentionality that you and I have in pointing our children toward the Lord. Folks, it’s time we ‘fessed up. The great experiment of the ’60s and ’70s is nothing but an abject failure. When we adopted the policy that we’ll expose our kids to a whole lot of stuff, a whole lot of options and we’ll let them make the choices, they’ll make the right choices. Let them design their own school curriculum. And of course, expose them to many different faith systems so that they can choose the one that’s best for them. Forbid it that we would foist our faith on our children. I’ll tell you. That kind of thinking just about destroyed a generation of American youth. My generation. Children are the most precious gifts that God gives to you and me. And you and I are not to role dice with their futures. Especially with their spiritual lives. Especially with their eternal lives. We’re not to play games, we’re to be intentional — Hanukkah. Dedicate. Intentionality. I remember when I was a kid, one of my friends had a dog that was a boxer. You don’t see many of those dogs around much anymore. And it was a little puppy. And I remember one day seeing the boxer trotting down the street, and I thought my friend had played a cruel trick on his dog, because the dog had clothes pins on his ears and they were taped up. And then I learned that that was what you do to train a boxer’s ears to stand straight up. They don’t do that on their own. They just flop down. They don’t stand up straight by accident. Your kids and my kids taking a stand for Jesus Christ usually doesn’t happen by accident. Hanukkah. Intentionality. Train them. Dedicate.
How are we to do that? Let me give you two ways. Number one is you need to pray your guts out for your kids every day. Pray that the Holy Spirit will regenerate their hearts and draw them into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m standing here this morning, I believe, only because my parents prayed for me every day. I can remember them telling my sister and me that when we were little children. They didn’t do it in a condescending way. They just said, “everyday that we’re alive from now on, we will pray for you.” And when I was out on my prodigal journeys, having a great time and getting myself into all kinds of trouble and in the throes of despair, I remember latching onto the fact that “Well, I know Mom and Dad, 1,500 miles away, are praying for me.” And somehow God used that to bring me back to Himself. The ministry of prayer is the greatest thing that you and I can do for our kids. But there has to be an intentionality about that. Covenant with God today to pray for your kids. Is your number one priority in life that your kids will come to know Jesus Christ in a personal way? If not, then they probably won’t. But if your praying that and making that a priority, then I think there’s a high probability that they will.
The second thing that you and I need to do is model for them. They’re looking for models. They need to see models of authenticity and integrity in Christ. Because the world is telling them that the Church is full of hypocrites. And you know what? It is. Myself included. In fact, it’s 100 percent hypocrites. We all have our standards and none of us meet them, let alone God’s standards. We sing hymns, about winning the world for Christ, and we can hardly get out the front stairs of the church and we’ve blown it. This is a place for hypocrites. Welcome. But you know what? Our kids are looking for authentic models and being an authentic model of a person in love with Jesus Christ doesn’t mean you’re perfect. Not at all. Do your kids see you pray? Do they know you have a prayer life? That you’re praying for them. Do your kids observe you worshiping? I’m not talking about going to church, the two can be totally different things. Do they see you worshiping from your heart? Do your kids see you as a person of compassion? Do your kids observe you repenting when you’ve blown it, especially if you’ve blown it with them? Do your kids ever hear you openly and honestly talk about your own personal relationship with the living God. I remember in San Antonio, I had this guy in my youth group, big ol’ football player, and one day he – he’d come to Christ on one of our ski trips – and one day he came to me with tears in his eyes. I said “David, what’s going on?” He said, “Last night I did it Ron,” I said, “What?” He said, “I told my parents that I’d become a Christian. At the dinner table I told them I had given my life to Jesus Christ. And they sort of snickered, they told me I’d get over it, and that I was to never talk about that again at the dinner table.” That’s pretty bad. What’s worse is that boy’s father was an elder and his mother was a deacon.
Do your kids know that you tithe? Do your kids know that the reason they couldn’t go to Disney World is because you tithe? I’m convinced that if kids know that kind of stuff, they’re more likely to come to Christ than if you don’t tithe and you have a wonderful weekend in Orlando.
In the ’60s the one-third of the kids that stayed in the Church, they’ve interviewed them. They asked them why they stayed. You know what their reply was? Because they saw their parents acting like Jesus Christ was alive and the most important thing in the world and Christ being the integrating center of their parents lives. They’re the ones that stayed in the Church.
What does all this have to do with Central and our commitment to nurture youth and children? First of all it means that we’ve gone out and gotten the best. In Children’s Ministry, Rhonda Herman and Helena Santos. In Youth Ministry, Chris Ritchie. But you know what? You all are fools, you’re fools as parents if you put your child’s primary spiritual welfare in the hands of Rhonda Herman or Helena Santos or Chris Ritchie or the superb staff of Sunday School teachers we have or the tremendous youth advisors we have. Or in my hands. Because what we are doing here at Central Presbyterian Church is only meant to be, only designed to be, an auxiliary to what you are doing at home. Hanukkah. Dedication. Training. Means that you and I begin to look at our homes as being a seminary, which literally means “seed bed”, a seed bed of the Christian faith. A survey of 272,400 middle and high school youth, when they were asked “what are the two primary influences in your life?” Number one was parents. And number two: faith community. And that’s the way it should be.
We’re committed to four ways to assisting you in the training of your children. The first way is this: that we are committed to integrating children and youth into the total life of Central Church. We’re not here to create a children’s ghetto or a youth ghetto over here. We don’t believe the children and youth of our church are the future of Central Church, they are the church now. So we try to integrate them. That’s why we have those little signs hanging on the pew racks that say we welcome children in worship. That’s why Chris Ritchie is working more and more to involve youth into what were formerly adult events. For instance our latest Missions Conference. And that’s why every Sunday for the past 10 years, I have preached to the junior in high school That’s my target. I run every sermon through that grid. That’s why a lot of you adults can understand what I’m preaching about.
Secondly, we are committed to providing the best Sunday School, Children’s Ministry and Youth Ministry possible. Our philosophy is to prepare the kid for the road, not the road for the kid. We cannot go out there and clean up society and fill in every pothole and get rid of every obstacle that’s going to make our kids trip up. But we can prepare our kids for the road. And the best way to do that is what we’re focused on here at Central. And that’s number one to introduce kids to Jesus Christ personally. Then to confront kids with the claims of Christ and then to provide a positive atmosphere in which they can make the most informed, intelligent, responsible, faithful decision about who Christ is and whether or not they are going to follow him. For eight and a half years before Chris Ritchie arrived I had a steady stream of parents through my office that said, “Ron, we love Central Church, we’re being fed here, we’re excited about this congregation, and we’re leaving.” I said, “Why.” “Our youth are not being fed. We’ve got to go where they’re going to be encouraged in Christ.” You know what I said to them? I said, “You’re right on, you have my blessing. Depart in peace. I’m with you.” And I just thank God every day that I no longer have to say that, because we’ve got Chris Ritchie here and he is doing a phenomenal, phenomenal job. We’re committed to providing the best for our kids.
Thirdly, we are committed to not only providing them with a good Christian education and fellowship stuff, but in honing an evangelistic lifestyle for them. That they might win their friends to Christ, that they might win some of their parents to Christ. We want them to have a missions vision. That’s why I’m excited about Rhonda’s Missions Kids, her M&Ms. That’s why I’m excited every year when we send out youth work camps all over the place.
And fourthly, we are committed to reaching children and youth beyond the walls of Central Church. We’re doing that with our brand new preschool. We’re doing it with Vacation Bible School. We do it with key youth events, like our senior highs are on as we speak, in Ocean City at Impact with 3,000 other senior highs from Virginia and Maryland, many of them unchurched kids. Who knows what our kids will do in their lives. That’s why we partner with Young Life and Youth for Christ, Campus Crusade and InterVarsity. Child Evangelism Fellowship and other kindred spirit ministries. And this whole thing’s got me thinking – I’ve shared this with Jerry and Rhonda – I’m really thinking we need to redo our ideas about Phase II in our building campaign. I’m thinking “Isn’t it time that we began to wrestle as a church about maybe creating a classic Christian school here at Central?” When I was in public school, public schools were pretty much supportive of what we do here. At least morally. Now it’s supposedly neutral. That was for about five seconds. And now in many places secular education is actually combative against the Christian faith. What if we created a school here that’s an alternative. A high quality, academically high quality, and high quality spiritual school, an alternative not only to public education but as an alternative to right wing, Bible-thumping, wrap-Jesus-in-the-American- flag schools over here. A mainstream Christian school that educates kids with a real worldview. I’m not against public education. I’m against it being misused and I think we have an opportunity to create an alternative here. I think the demand is out there. Our preschool filled up like that. The other Christian schools – Cambridge, Redeemer – they have waiting lists. I’m planting a seed here. Are people going to step forward and water it with frank discussion? I don’t know. Are people going to step forward and fertilize it with prayer? I hope so. Is it going to sprout one day? I don’t know. God only knows. But I think if we’re serious about a big time commitment to the nurture of children and youth, it’s a question we at least need to wrestle with.
The Henry Street Hebrew School finished its lessons for the day and Mr. Goldblatt always ended with a question and answer time. It was his favorite time. Little Joey said, “I’m in a big dilemma, you’ve got to help me with this perplexing dilemma I’m in.” Mr. Goldblatt said, “Fire away, Joey.” “Mr. Goldblatt, isn’t it true that the Bible says that the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea?” “Yeah.” “Does the Bible say that the children of Israel fought the Philistines, beat ’em up pretty bad?” “Well, yeah, that’s what it says.” ” Does the Bible say that the children of Israel erected the temple in Jerusalem?” “Joey, you are really learning your lessons well, yes!” “Well, does the Bible also say that the children of Israel fought the Egyptians, that they fought the Romans and that anything important that happened in the life of Israel, the children of Israel were involved in it?” “Yeah, what’s your dilemma?” He says, “I just want to know what were all the grown-ups doing?”
What are all the grown-ups doing at Central Church? We’re committed to Hanukkah: Dedicate, train, point their feet into the arms of Jesus Christ. It’s a commitment we will not back away from. For Christ’s sake. Happy Hanukkah.
Join me as we pray:
Lord God, what a gracious God you are. What a providential God you are in just heaping wonderful children into the lives of our families and this family of faith. We’ve seen some of them this morning. Lord, regenerate their hearts, draw each of those kids we saw this morning, and the ones that we haven’t seen, to Christ. Be with our senior highs at Ocean City, that many of them, if they went there not knowing you, would come back knowing you at something second hand. Lord, plant seeds here, water them in whatever direction you want them to go. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.