Arrows From Heaven:

Psalm 127-128

What a difference a day makes. Tuesday morning dawned bright and clear and peaceful in Littleton, Colorado. At Columbine High School the students were still buzzing about the prom the previous Saturday night. Little did they know that their tranquil world was about to be shattered forever. At 11:15 a.m., Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire. Before they were finished 12 students and one teacher would die and many more would be injured. The two gunmen ended their savage rampage by killing themselves.

While the killing was still going on, it happened that we were holding an ordination exam for Craig Steiner, our Pastor of Student Ministries. He will be leaving us in a few days to take a similar position at the Southern Gables Church in Littleton, Colorado. His new church is located two miles from Columbine High School. Thirty kids from his new youth group were in the school that day. Two were injured, two were killed.

On Wednesday morning Craig flew to Littleton to help minister to the students and their families. He flew back to Chicago on Friday to be with our high schoolers at an overnight event, then flew back to Colorado Saturday afternoon. Late last night he sent me an e-mail letter describing the events of the last few days. Here is part of what he wrote:

When I first received the news of the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton early Tuesday afternoon, I had no idea of the magnitude of the tragedy. It wasn’t until I arrived in Littleton on Wednesday morning that I was able to comprehend what had happened. Over the last few days I have hugged dozens of students and cried with them. I have listened to horror stories of those who miraculously escaped the school library, only after witnessing their peers being shot to death at point-blank range. Their accounts are too gruesome to put on paper. I have been to the hospital to visit a girl who, by the grace of God, is lying in a bed rather than a coffin today.

It has been physically and emotionally draining. I realize I am completely inadequate to minister in this crisis context. It has been a journey of complete dependence upon the Holy Spirit. I have discovered that in my weakness, he is strong. Although the events of Tuesday came as a complete surprise to the world, I am comforted by the fact that it did not come as a surprise to God. I am certain of this – that God can redeem this senseless tragedy. What was meant for evil, God intended for good – and only He knows how the end of the story will unfold.

Where was God when those two students opened fire? Why did so many young people have to die? Why didn’t God stop it? I have to admit that there are many things I don’t know. We live in a world filled with mystery. But of this much I am sure: God is not the author of evil. He didn’t pull the trigger last Tuesday. He didn’t make those pipe bombs and he didn’t gun down that teacher who was leading his students to safety. Many questions remain, most of which won’t be answered this side of heaven.

Here is one thing we know for certain: God has a heart for children and his heart grieves today for the suffering and pain in Littleton.

And here is something we ought to learn from this tragedy: Our children are gifts from God. We should treasure them and not take them for granted. Jesus declared that “whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me” (Mathew 18:5). Then he offered this solemn warning, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). Jesus loves children, and those who harm children will answer to him.

It’s a Different World Now

I think we adults don’t realize the kind of world our children face each day, and how it has changed. Kids in the ’30s grew up during the Depression when times were hard, everybody had to work, and a dollar was a lot of money. Kids in the ’40s grew up with World War II, Frank Sinatra, and Bogie and Bacall. Kids in the ’50s grew up with black and white television, “I Like Ike,” hula hoops, and Elvis Presley. Kids in the ’60s grew up with the Beatles, LSD, Vietnam, and violence in the streets. Kids in the ’70s grew up with Charlie’s Angels, disco, Saturday Night Fever, and the Doobie Brothers. Kids in the ’80s grew up with crack cocaine, AIDS, MTV, PeeWee Herman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nintendo, and Nightmare on Elm Street. Kids in the ’90s are growing up with the Simpsons, South Park, Internet chat rooms, and Marilyn Manson. It’s a different world out there.

Raising Kids Then and Now

Is it harder to raise kids today? In the 1940s, public school teachers reported the following as the top five student-related problems:

Running in the hallways

Chewing gum

Wearing improper clothing (having your shirttail out)

Making too much noise

Not putting paper in wastebaskets

Now here’s the same list as reported by public school teachers in the 1980s:

Robbery

Assault

Personal theft

Burglary

Drug abuse [1]

Times have changed and not for the better. Our kids see more, they know more, they experience more, they grow up so much faster.

These are the words of Dr. James Dobson: “We must make the salvation of our children our number one priority. Nothing else is more important.” That represents a Christian view that places an extremely high value on our children as precious gifts from God.

With that as introduction, we turn to Psalm 127-128. These two short psalms were placed together for a reason. They speak of happy domestic tranquility that seems far removed from the terror that struck Littleton last Tuesday. They teach us how God feels about children and how they can be a blessing and not a burden.

I. Children are a gift from God

“Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him.” (Psalm 127:3). Here we learn that children come directly from the hand of God. They are gifts of grace sent from heaven to earth. The Bible tells us that God takes personal responsibility for the creation of life in the womb.

Genesis 30:18, “God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant.”

Genesis 33:5, “The children God has graciously given your servant.”

Genesis 48:9, “The sons God has given me.”

Deuteronomy 7:13, “He will bless the fruit of your womb.”

Children are a special sign of God’s favor. Instead of building empires, parents must first build a family. Children are a “heritage” from God, a way of preserving the family into the next generation. All of us want to be remembered after we are gone. If you are a parent, you will be remembered by the children you leave behind. That legacy will remain long after your personal achievements have been forgotten.

Sometimes a couple can’t have children for various reasons. This text does not say that not having children is a sign of God’s judgment. It simply declares that children are a blessing from the Lord. In holding up this truth, it’s important that we say what the Bible says and not go beyond that.

What about those couples that desperately want children but cannot have them? I have observed that those couples often become parents to the children of the world. They are the ones who minister to the fatherless and the motherless. Often they adopt children, they become foster parents, they work in a crisis pregnancy center, they tutor in the inner city, they teach Sunday School, they work in Awana, and they reach out to at-risk children. So many children have no one who cares for them. God bless those adults who show the love of Jesus to the children of the world.

There is no pleasure in life that can equal the pleasure of seeing your own children grow up. So much like you, made in your image, a miniature of you, yet so very different. They walk like you, they talk like you, they laugh like you, and yet they definitely have a mind of their own.

No one can be said to have lived in vain who leaves behind children who love the Lord and follow in his steps. Several weeks ago Cliff Raad showed me a plaque he purchased for his office. It contains a calligraphy of III John 4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

Children bring God’s love to us. There are no atheists in the nursery. When you look into the face of your child, you will know that only God could have done this. Your doubts will vanish like the morning mist in summertime. Time and eternity meet in the heart of a child. Each one comes bearing the fingerprint of God.

The Lord Jesus loved little children … and so should we!

II. Children are like arrows that need to be sharpened and aimed

“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth” (Psalm 127:4).

An arrow is small but powerful. Think what our children can do. An arrow must be sharpened well. So must we shape our children. An arrow can travel far. Who knows how far our children will go? An arrow must be aimed in order to hit the target. What are you aiming at?

Archers spend countless hours preparing their arrows. They carefully choose the right piece of wood, cut it precisely to size, then spend hours polishing, shaping, and fitting the feathers and the arrowhead. They carefully aim their arrows because an errant arrow can do great harm. This week I ran across this statement, written over 100 years ago. “Parents must not trifle with their children, like idiots playing with sharp tools.” I agree. Too many parents trifle with their children then wonder why they don’t turn out well.

What is your aim for your children? Years ago I traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to lead a youth retreat at the Istrouma Baptist Church. One day the youth pastor pulled me aside and told me that most Christian parents are playing defense with their children when they ought to be playing offense. Playing defense means hoping your children won’t smoke, won’t drink, won’t do drugs, won’t sleep around, and won’t get in trouble. As good as that is, that’s too low a goal for Christian parents. We ought to raise our children to play offense – to learn how to change the world for Jesus Christ. That’s why I love the motto of our high school ministry: “The mission of Allied Force is to be Impact Players in the world for Jesus Christ.”

Sometimes our dreams for our children are too small. We want them to get an education, find a career, settle down, marry a good person, and move out of the house. That’s not enough. Do you want your children to serve the Lord? It won’t happen by accident. You must sharpen them like arrows and aim them in the right direction.

III. Children are the strength of the home

“Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate” (Psalm 127:5).

This verse seems to teach that large families are a special sign of God’s blessing. How full is “full?” That’s like asking “How long is long hair?” The Bible doesn’t specify how many children you should have, but in every place it speaks to the subject, children are always a blessing, and many children are a sign of God’s favor. Not all Bible families were large, of course, but many were. This goes against the flow of much that is taught today, even in evangelical circles, but the notion of having fewer children so that you can spend more money on them would seem quite foreign to the writers of the Bible.

God doesn’t mandate how many children a couple should have. Quivers are like shoes, they come in many sizes. Figure out what size quiver you have and then ask God to help you fill it up. Age and health considerations play into the decision, but motive is also important. Having fewer children may be convenient but it may not always be the best decision. Just something to think about.

Children were the Biblical version of Social Security. They provided for their parents in their old age. If parents have loving children, their future is more secure than if they had $5 million in the bank.

The city gate was the place where men of power and influence conducted their business. It was also the place where wise men ruled and made judgments. Men would meet their adversaries “in the gate.” A father with many children has many defenders when he is falsely accused. They stand and testify to his good name. “Your enemies don’t stand a chance against you; you’ll sweep them right off the doorstep” (Psalm 127:5 Psalms by Eugene Peterson).

Here is a family united to defend itself against all attacks. Note that nothing is said about money or power or position. God’s blessing is not seen in worldly wealth or the accumulation of “things” but in a happy family that rallies to the call whenever trouble comes.

This is a word to workaholic husbands (and wives): What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and yet loses his own family? Raising children can be tiresome and difficult. Children are both a burden and a blessing. The greater their promise, the more challenging will be the task of raising God’s children. It is likely that our children will be a handful before they become a quiverful.

IV. Children are the hope of the home

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your sons will be like olive shoots around your table. Thus is the man blessed who fears the Lord” (Psalm 128:3, 4).

The vine is a symbol of charm, beauty, and sexual allure. The woman in this verse offers a marked contrast to the faithless woman of Proverbs 7:11, of whom it is said, “She is loud and defiant, her feet never stay at home.” In this Psalm the wife is attractive, alluring, charming and faithful. God’s ideal is not for a marriage to endure, but to grow happier, and better, and more enjoyable, and for a husband to still find his wife alluring to him after 20 years or 30 years or 40 years or 50 years.

The vine makes the house beautiful. It shades the verandah, cools the house, and enriches the table with ripe, succulent grapes. Thus is a godly wife to her husband. She is the crown of her husband who is her support and strength. He is happy everywhere because he is happiest at home.

Olive shoots speak of great potential for the future. Mature olive trees produce fruit, wood, and valuable oil. In the same way the children given by God have vast potential for good in this world. What a privilege God gives us to be caretakers of his vessels of blessing for the world. No one can tell what a child may become.

Six Important Conclusions

First, children are a gift from God, and happy families are a gift from God. They do not come by human effort or from government policy but only from the hand of God above.

Second, God’s blessings are available to anyone who seeks them. The only thing God asks is that his people fear him and obey his commandments. Money and worldly success are nothing measured against the joy of a happy family where mom and dad love each other, the children respect their parents, and together they meet around the table at night to share their joys and sorrows.

Third, we must recapture the high value of the family, of monogamous marriage, of abstinence before marriage, and a happy life together after marriage. We must teach our children that true love waits, that marriage is desirable, that motherhood is a noble calling, that being a godly father is more important than being an executive VP and driving a BMW, that a loving family is worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox, that sexual promiscuity leads only to sorrow and heartache, and that our children are worth all the love, all the effort, and all the investment of our time and resources.

Fourth, I think we need to honor our fathers and mothers, and our grandparents and great-grandparents. At the same time we must not overlook those who have chosen the single life or those who for various reasons cannot have children.

Fifth, I think our church ought to emphasize the role that godly fathers play and the high calling of motherhood and homemaking. I also believe we are fully justified in spending large sums of money on our ministries to children and youth because our children represent the hope of the future. We must continue to train our young parents in effective child-rearing techniques and to pair them with older couples who can show them the ropes and serve as mentors and role models.

Sixth, we must continue to support our single parents, step-parents, foster parents, adopted children, and those in blended families. Many times their burden is great because the happy family portrait of Psalm 128 is not fully achievable. Those individuals need our support, not our condemnation.

We live in a world that downplays the value of childhood and causes our kids to grow up too fast. It’s never been easy to be a child, but today the pressures are greater than ever. I believe happy families are still possible where God’s Word is taken seriously.

We can partner with the Lord Jesus Christ in the building of our homes. When we do, our families will be blessed, our children will prosper, our marriages will flourish, and Jesus Christ will be praised. And when our work on earth is done, we may look back with joy and say, “God blessed us with a happy Christian family.” There is no greater reward, no better testimony, no higher goal for Christian parents. If we can say that when the day is done, we may go out of this world singing, knowing that we prevailed in the one area of life that matters the most.

“Yes, I believe in God”

It was lunchtime at Columbine High School and 17-year-old Cassie Bernall decided to skip lunch and study in the library. She was reading her Bible when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold burst through the door and started shooting students one by one. Spotting her, one of the gunmen said, “Do you believe in God?” “Yes, I believe in God,” she replied. “Why?” he asked. Before she could answer, he shot her in the head.

Speaking of her death, Joshua Lapp, a Columbine sophomore said, “She did something that one of the thieves did when Jesus was on the cross. She admitted she believed in Jesus Christ before she died,” “She died for her faith,” added friend Crystal Woodman. “That’s why she died and that’s how she lived her whole life. She was a martyr for Jesus. Now she’s in heaven. She’s so much better off than any of us.”

When a Denver television station interviewed them, her parents said they were not surprised by the way she died. “We raised her to believe in God.” Though their sorrow must be beyond words, it is tempered by the joy of knowing that her death was not in vain. Cassie Bernall will be remembered more for her last words than for anything else she said or did in her 17 years of life.

Her parents must have done something right to have produced a daughter like that. Cassie has gone to heaven but from the grave her voice still speaks. May God give us a generation of children with that same kind of boldness.

(Note to the reader: When this sermon was finished, I invited all the parents and grandparents to come forward. The front of the church was filled with parents committing themselves to pray for their children. We prayed for God to protect our children from those who would harm them, and that they would have bold faith to speak up for Jesus no matter the cost. We also asked God to save those who are living far from the Lord.

It was a most emotional and moving time. If you are a parent, I urge you to stop where you are and to pray for your children and grandchildren that they would serve the Lord. And be sure to hug your children today and tell them you love them. You never know what tomorrow may bring.)

Notes:

1. Zig Ziglar, Raising Positive Kids In A Negative World, pp. 24-25.

1999-04-25-Arrows-From-Heaven-

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Ray Pritchard

RAY PRITCHARD

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