November 8, 2009 | Brian Bill
It’s really hard to stay centered when we’re all so busy. I really applaud every parent here today, especially moms.
A mom’s work is never done, is it? I don’t know of anything more challenging and yet more rewarding than being a parent. Last Sunday we focused on how Joshua determined that he and his family would serve the Lord. Today we’re going to learn that it’s not so much what moms and dads do, it’s who they’re serving that matters. In his book called, “Raising Kids to Love Jesus,” Gary Oliver makes a provocative statement that I’ve been thinking about all week: “Our primary call isn’t to be good parents. Our primary call is to model a vibrant and vital love relationship with the living God.”
Whenever I preach on the topic of parenting, I like to start with some suppositions. I’ve added to this list over the years.
- If you’re married and don’t have kids, or they are no longer in the home, you are still a family.
- If you are a single parent, you are a family.
- If you are single, you are not second-class. Scripture celebrates singleness. 1 Corinthians 7:8: “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am.”
- Children are a blessing from God, not a burden to bear. Psalm 127:3: “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.” That’s why I entitled this message, “Parenting Prerogatives.” It’s a privilege and a responsibility to raise difference-makers for Christ.
- Parents are responsible for raising children who are spiritual champions. The home is the principal delivery system for the transmittal of God’s truth from generation to generation. I heard a quote this week that rocked me: “The greatest problems we have in this nation will not be fixed by who is in the White House; they must be fixed by the parents in my house.” Or, to say it another way: We need to fight for ‘family values’ but we better make sure we actually value our own families.
- Everyone in the faith community is to partner with parents in the task of connecting kids to Jesus and equipping them to be growing and faithful followers of Jesus. You may not have children of your own but we need you to plug in to the lives of children in this community because it takes a family and a church to raise a child.
- There is no fail-safe formula for parenting success. George Barna reports that fewer than one of every five parents of young children believe they are doing a good job of training their children morally and spiritually (“Revolutionary Parenting,” page 10).
- Every parent can learn how to be a better parent.
- I’m a parent in process, not an authoritative expert. Just because I’m preaching this morning doesn’t mean that I have it all figured out – just ask our daughters.
- God wants us to synchronize the efforts of the faith community and the family to make disciples in the next generation.
- Nothing is more important than someone’s relationship with God.
- No one has more potential to influence a child’s relationship with God than a parent.
- No one has more potential to influence the parent than the church.
- The church’s potential to influence a child dramatically increases when it partners with a parent.
- The parent’s potential to influence a child dramatically increases when that parent partners with the church.
Please turn in your Bibles to Deuteronomy 6. Let’s set the scene. The people of God have been spinning their wheels in the wilderness for 40 years and are now about to finally enter the Promised Land. The generation that had disobeyed by not entering the land 40 years earlier has died and now “generation next” is on the scene. Moses was not able to go with them so he wanted to make sure they knew their job description.
It’s interesting to me that Moses doesn’t give them instructions on farming or shepherding or economics or construction or even battle plans. What is first and foremost on his mind and on God’s heart is the family’s role in faith formation. God’s people are about to enter a pagan land, filled with over 40 different people groups and yet his focus is on the family. In that sense, isn’t the setting similar to our own situation?
Our plan today is to focus on the first six verses of Deuteronomy 6. Next Sunday we’ll look at how we can create some rhythm in our homes so that we can pass on what we possess from verses 7-8. Today’s message is directed to adults and parents; next week will be focused on parenting. Let’s look at three principles from God’s Parenting Primer.
God’s Parenting Primer
1. Learn why God must be central.
The first principle is to make God central. That’s what we just sang. We see this in verses 1-2: “These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all His decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life.” Notice that God’s commands, decrees and laws were to be observed. If they keep God and His Word at the center of everything else, two results are listed for themselves, for their children and also for their grandchildren. Do you see the two “so that’s”?
- Reverence as long as they live – “…may fear the Lord your God…” One of God’s goals is for us to fear Him. That’s because when we live lives of reverence before Him, everything else takes its proper place.
Exodus 20:20 says that after receiving the 10 Commandments the people are rightfully afraid – but this fear is a good thing: “…The fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” Proverbs 16:6 says something similar: “Through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil.” There it is! If you want to avoid evil and keep from sinning, then develop a healthy fear of God.
- Rejoicing with length of life. Some of us think that going God’s way is boring when actually the way to joy is through Jehovah: “…so that you may enjoy long life.”
Jump down to verse 4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This is the beginning of the Jewish Shema, which literally means, “Hear” or we might say, “Listen up!” It can also mean “to listen intelligently and attentively; to obey.” The Shema is a declaration of faith, a pledge of allegiance to the Almighty. It was said when arising in the morning and when going to bed at night. It was the first prayer that a Jewish child was taught to pray and it was the last thing a Jew would pray prior to death.
The full Shema is contained in verses 4-9 and is a call to live and love God and leave this love with our children. In his book called, “The Knowledge of the Holy,” A.W. Tozer writes: “The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him…We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past.”
This verse defines the relationship that God’s people are to have with Him: God is the only God, there is no other. He is totally unique, not some vague pantheistic force. Notice that He is “our” God – He is personal and relational and His people can enjoy intimacy with Him. I had the privilege of sharing the gospel with someone this week over the course of two days. The first day I talked a lot about the importance of receiving the gift of salvation (John 1:12). The individual I was speaking with struggled with this. When I went back the next day he said that he had never really understood that before and then right there on the spot he prayed and received Christ into His life. Now he knows God in a personal way.
Kevin DeYoung, a pastor and author of “Why We’re not Emergent,” also writes a blog. I like what he said in a post called, “Reaching the Next Generation: Amaze Them with God.” Here are some highlights…
“I beg of you, don’t go after the next generation with mere moralism…The gospel is not a message about what we need to do for God, but about what God has done for us. So get them with the good news about who God is and what he has done for us…Give them a God who is holy, independent, and unlike us, a God who is good, just, full of wrath and full of mercy. Give them a God who is sovereign, powerful, tender, and true. Give them a God with edges. Give them an undiluted God who makes them feel cherished and safe, and small and uncomfortable too. Give them a God who works all things after the counsel of his will and for the glory of his name. Give them a God whose love is lavish and free. Give them a God worthy of wonder and fear, a God big enough for all our faith, hope, and love.
“Do your friends, your church, your family, your children know that God is the center of the universe? Can they see that he is at the center of your life? We have an incredible opportunity before us. Most people live weightless, ephemeral lives. We can give them substance instead of style. We can show them a big God to help make sense of their shrinking lives. We can point them to transcendence instead of triviality. We can reach them with something more lasting and more powerful than gimmicks, gadgets, and games. We can reach them with God. Imagine that. Reaching the next generation for God by showing them more of God. That’s just crazy enough to work.”
The first principle is to learn why God must be central. The second is to live what God says.
2. Live what God says.
Check out verse 3: “Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers promised you.” It’s one thing to learn something; it’s another thing all together to live it out. When I’m “careful to obey” there will be harmony between my life and my lips. It’s not enough to just know information – it must lead to personal transformation. I love how God is moving here! Two weeks ago 8 people were baptized and around that same time I received an email from someone who had just received Christ. I love how he describes his decision: “So I am in, I want to be transformed. I surrender.”
In his book called, “The 21 Laws of Leadership,” John Maxwell states that the very first one is the “Law of the Lid,” which says that you can never take people further than you have gone yourself because you can’t lead where you’ve not been. Our kids are watching all the time. I wonder what kind of message this dad is sending to his children when he wrote this letter to the IRS: “Dear IRS: I’m sending this money because I cheated on my income tax and my conscience has been bothering me. If it doesn’t stop, I’ll send you the rest.”
That reminds me of what happened one Sunday after a Child Dedication service. As a young family was driving away from church after the dedication of their baby, little Johnny, the older brother, cried all the way home in the back seat of the car. His mother asked him three times what was wrong. Finally, the boy replied, “The pastor said he wanted us to be brought up in a Christian home…and I want to stay with you guys!”
If you want your kids brought up in a Christian home, make sure that Christ is at home in your heart because they have a radar system for hypocrisy and empty religion. They can spot it in a second. If you’re interested in passing along a legacy of faith, then make sure to live your faith authentically. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “Who you are speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you’re saying.” I don’t know who said this but it’s really powerful: “If you wish your children to be Christians you must really take the trouble to be Christians yourselves.”
Parents, we need to be careful that we don’t give the impression that church, or the “Lord’s House,” is the only place where Jesus lives; we need to live in such a way that they will know that Jesus lives at their house too.
Would you notice how blessing is linked to obedience? We see the phrase, “so that…” a second time. When we’re careful to obey, two more promises are given:
- It may go well with you.
- You may increase greatly. A land of “milk and honey” refers to adequate pastures for flocks and sufficient plants for bees to obtain pollen. Milk was a staple and honey was a luxury. All their needs would be met…and then some.
Principle #1 is to learn why God must be central. Principle #2 is to live what God says. The third principle is to love who God is.
3. Love who God is.
Our love is to be wholehearted and is to pervade every aspect of our life because God wants our exclusive and intensive devotion
Verse 5 continues with a challenge to love God with everything we’ve got: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Jesus quotes this verse in Mark 12:30 as the greatest commandment. Our love is to be wholehearted and is to pervade every aspect of our life because God wants our exclusive and intensive devotion. I’m struck by at least three truths in this verse.
- Love is more than a feeling. It’s a command and a privilege. You and I must make a conscious decision of the will to love God. Love is principally an action; not primarily an emotion.
- Love should lead to a relationship. What God wants most is our love for Him. Do you see the phrase, “your God?” That leads to a question. Is He your God? I often read the opening verses of Psalm 18 before someone has surgery because they capture the close and personal relationship David has with God: “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
- Love is to be comprehensive. Notice the uses of the word “all.” God’s whole-hearted love for us cannot be answered with half-hearted commitment from us. By listing the heart, soul, and strength, no area is left out. The word strength means literally “with our much-ness.” We’re to love Him with everything we have – with devotion in our hearts, with passion in our souls, and with the much-ness in our lives. A.W. Tozer says that we’re called to “an everlasting preoccupation with God.”
I had a conversation with someone this week that has the same religious background that I have. We both agreed that when we were younger we knew God was big and mighty and that He was angry with us. What we didn’t realize until much later in life was that God is also near and personal and loving.
Verse 6 reminds us that God’s Word is not to just be in our heads, but to also be in our hearts. The Bible is to be lived out, it’s not just something we give mental assent to: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.” The people knew that God’s commands were engraved on tablets of stone; God wants His holy Word to be resident in their hearts and fleshed out through their hands. Psalm 37:31: “The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip.”
Fellow parents, God must be all-important to us if we want Him to be all-important to our children. Unfortunately, sometimes we’re teaching them that other things are more important. Check out these words from Ted Tripp: “We pander to desires and wishes. We teach them to find their soul’s delight in going places and doing things. We attempt to satisfy their lust for excitement. We fill their young lives with distractions from God. We give them material things and take delight in their delight in possessions. Then we hope that somewhere down the line, they will see that a life worth living is found only in knowing and serving God.”
Incidentally, our next sermon series will be called Advent Conspiracy where we’ll be challenged to approach Christmas as a joyous celebration of Jesus’ birth, where we substitute consumption with compassion by practicing four simple, but powerful, countercultural concepts – Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Receive Love.
We can’t pass along what we don’t possess and we must be vigilant to make sure we are not slipping spiritually. We began our elder meeting on Tuesday night by reading the first part of Deuteronomy 6 and then I read some quotes from one author. This is what he writes: “I get nervous when I think of how we’ve missed who we are supposed to be, and sad when I think about how we’re missing out on all that God wants for His people He loved enough to die for…This book is written for those who want more Jesus. It is for those who are bored with what American Christianity offers. It is for those who don’t want to plateau, those who would rather die before their convictions do…The core problem isn’t the fact that we’re lukewarm, halfhearted, or stagnant Christians. The crux of it all is why we are this way, and it is because we have an inaccurate view of God. We see Him as a benevolent Being who is satisfied when people manage to fit Him into their lives in some small way.” Our time of prayer was honest, real and raw as we cried out to the Lord to banish luke-warmness in our lives and in the life of our church. We prayed for revival and for God to work as He’s never worked before.
Let’s summarize the three principles in God’s parenting primer:
- Learn why God must be central
- Live what God says
- Love who God is
Here are some ways we can put this message into practice.
Putting it into Practice
1. Confess any lukewarmness and cultivate your love for God.
if you let your flame get blown out, there will be damage everywhere – in your life, in your marriage and certainly in your kids
I did something really stupid on Friday as I was finishing up the message. I often light candles in my office and as I was getting ready to go to lunch I picked up one of them to blow it out. I must have blown too hard because wax went all over my face, on the phone and was splattered on my desk. The flame went out but wax shrapnel went everywhere. In a similar way if you let your flame get blown out, there will be damage everywhere – in your life, in your marriage and certainly in your kids. Keep the fire burning.
2. Love your kids by putting them on a “new page.”
We’ll talk more about parenting next week but I wonder if you could give them a fresh start. They need it…and so do you.
Today has been declared Orphan Sunday and I want to leave you with some stunning statistics and some helpful steps that we can take.
1. Open your eyes to the great need.
There’s an old saying, “There is none so blind as he who will not see.” Contrary to what some people think, there are many more orphans than there are families who want to adopt.
- There are approximately 145 million orphans worldwide
- More than 15 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS
- In the U.S. there are approximately 500,000 children in foster care
- 130,000 of those children in foster care are waiting and available for adoption
2. Open your heart to God’s compassion for orphans.
Orphans occupy a special place in God’s heart.
- Deuteronomy 10:17-18: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.”
- Deuteronomy 24:19: “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”
- Psalm 68:5: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.”
- Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”
- James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
3. Open your arms to care for orphans.
The evangelical church has been vocal and active in its objection to abortion…and we’ll continue to do so. But we have generally fallen short in promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion. Could it be that God is calling you to be a foster parent or to adopt a child?
- Pray for them
- Learn more at www.orphansunday.org
- Speak up for them
- Mentor vulnerable children
- Support those who support them
- Give sacrificially
- Be a foster parent
I wonder how many of us are ready to take the next step in learning, living and loving. Any takers?