We hear so much about parents and their children today on the television and in newspaper articles. The tragedy is that most of the news we hear is not encouraging at all. This is not a new phenomenon either. For years now we’ve heard the sordid tales of moms and dads who failed to understand the high calling of being a parent. It seems that day-after-day we hear new stories about a young child being abused by a parent, a little girl turning her mother in to the police for abuse or drug use, and little children left home, alone, to practically raise themselves.
This morning I want to leave the bad news, sordid tales, and predictions of “hold-on-because-the-worst-is-yet-to-come” to the purveyors of hopelessness. I’ve come today to proclaim the hope of Heaven. Our families do not merely have to cling to a vacuous hope or vacillating philosophies of “how-to’s” on raising children, being a mother or father, discipline, nurturing our kids, etc. We can seek godly counsel from the Word of God – tried, tested, and true. God’s Word continuously holds up before us the plumb line so as to give us a rule of thumb, a measuring rod, by which we can gauge how we are measuring up to God’s calling upon our life to be Christ-like parents. Without God’s Word we are like a sailor navigating the open seas on a cloud-covered night with no compass, no lighthouse, no North Star, no map, no direction, and therefore no hope of landing in the harbor.
Many parents are confused today and rightly so. As I mentioned earlier, there are as many varieties of child-raising techniques as there are diapers. We’ve got everything from the Dr. Spock 60’s “hands-off-permissive” parenting techniques to the heavy-handed, put-on-your-fatigues-commando parenting approach. Dr. Tony Campolo has written about the confusion many parents feel today in his wonderful book, Growing Up In America. Tony writes,
Today’s parents are bewildered and not quite sure how to do the job. Confused about their role, they look to the experts, hoping for some clear definitions. No such luck. The ‘experts’ are as confused as the parents. Social scientists offer a conflicting variety of options for parents to follow. Opinions about even the most basic aspects of parenting change dramatically from one year to the next.
There are some parents who are confused, but really wanting to raise their children well. We hear that discipline is out and being your child’s friend is in. We hear that we should do “this” or “that.” We are told that kids are more mature today than they were a generation ago and therefore they are able to make their own decisions at an earlier age.
There are other parents who do not have a clue what it means to be a parent because they never saw an example of a godly mom or dad while they were growing up. Still there are other parents who are ensnared, entrapped, and enslaved by drugs, alcohol, anger, making a buck, or something else that has gnarled their heart for their kids.
Any teacher knows that you cannot teach a child unless you show up for class. A teacher has to be present for the children. A teacher has to be prepared to give the lessons which are important for the students to learn, by first knowing the lesson him or herself. A teacher also has to have credibility in the eyes of the students or they will never listen to the valuable instruction. A teacher has to have order and discipline in the classroom or the lesson will not be able to be heard over the roar of chaos. Last of all, a teacher must have a deep, genuine love for the students or everything else is irrelevant.
I hope we can learn this morning that we, as parents, are teachers. The qualities that we would all agree upon that make a good classroom teacher, also make a good parent. Let’s take a look at our instructions from God’s Word. Take a look at Ephesians 6:1-4 with me.
1Children, obey your parents as the Lord wants, because this is the right thing to do. 2The command says, “Honor your father and mother.” This is the first command that has a promise with it-3″Then everything will be well with you, and you will have a long life on the earth.” 4Fathers, do not make your children angry, but raise them with the training and teaching of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4 NIV)
This week, in honor of all of the mothers who are with us this morning, we are going to focus on the very last verse of the Scripture Paul has written to the Ephesians. By studying this one verse we will learn how we can lay the foundation for our children and give them an idea of the kind of parents they are being called to obey.
The teaching that we are looking at today is relevant for both fathers and mothers. We all know that raising a child is too big of a job for just one parent, a mother or a father, but for that matter, raising a child is too big a job for a mother and father working together. It takes an entire family of faith to raise our children. Connie and I desperately need you to see our three kids as your kids as well. We need you to join us in our prayers and efforts to teach our children about the Lord, train them how to make godly decisions, and set a godly example for them which will bless their lives.
The Scripture that we are looking at is relevant for both fathers and mothers, but I would not be true to the Scriptures if I didn’t tell you that in verse 4, a special emphasis is placed on fathers. I have to tell you that I squirm in my seat when I get a glimpse of my responsibility in the teaching, nurture, and discipline of my children. The theological terminology for my squirming is called conviction. The Lord has shown me through His Word that being a parent is a high calling that commands the utmost energy and time. That is our standard, our measuring line, and we should never attempt to move it or change it just because we fall short.
When I see the emphasis on dads in verse 4, my thoughts immediately turn to the growing number of women who are raising their kids by themselves. In this community 93% of all homes are headed by a female. Dad’s not home?literally. What is a mom to do when she reads this section of Scripture and there is not father in the house to share in the discipline, nurture, and training of the kids? That’s a great question. Mom, please hear my heart. Even though dad’s not home, that can’t be an excuse to throw your hands up and let whatever will happen, happen. Instead of throwing your hands up, the Lord will strengthen you to step up. You will be tired, worn out, and wrong out, but these years of blessing your little ones are too crucial not to give your all.
At the same time that I want to encourage you to pour your lives into your kids I want to let you know that there are people here who care and want to help. Just this past week there was a single mom who came to the church on Wednesday night while Lorenzo and I were still here. She shared with us some concerns her kids were having and asked if we could go to her home and pray with her children. We went. Of course we went. God calls us, as a family of faith, to step into the gap and help our family.
The responsibility of being a mother or father doesn’t end when our children graduate from high school and leave the nest. We must be available to our children throughout their lives, not to force ourselves upon them, but to love them, support them, and stand with them in the same way our Heavenly Father stands with us.
I want us to take a look at foundational stones which will help us to be the parents God has called us to be to our children.
First, we must be present for our children. Just as a teacher has to show up for class to be able to teach the students anything, so we must be willing to spend time with our kids. The story is told about the great biographer for Samuel Johnson, named Boswell. Boswell frequently mentioned a special childhood memory – a day fishing with his dad. Apparently, Boswell’s life had been deeply marked for the better on that one day, because he constantly referred to the many conversations he and his dad had on their day of fishing. Many years later someone stumbled upon Boswell’s father’s journal and found these words: “Went fishing today with my son; a day wasted.” Oh dads and moms, think of the impact Boswell’s father had upon him when he wasn’t even trying. It was a day wasted, but it impacted a little boy more than any other moment in his life.
The difficult thing about studying these powerful teachings from God’s Word each week is that it forces all of us to examine our own lives on a regular basis. I’m sure you are like me. After considering the call of God to pour our lives into our kids, I find that I fall far short of God’s high calling. At least Boswell took his son fishing. All too often I am “too” busy, rushing off to another appointment, or to be with someone else’s child, visiting someone who is sick and in the hospital, or trying to prepare one of the Bible lessons I teach each week. God forgive me for my irresponsibility.
I need help. I bet you need help as well. It is not that there is a lack of love on my part. I love my kids more than life, but there is a pervasive problem – I allow things to crowd the clock so that I am constantly hustling just to keep my head above water. Do any of you know what I am saying? Do you struggle with the same problem? If I fail to take my kids fishing or play catch in the front yard or read a book with them, I feel guilty for awhile, but if I do not finish my studies and prepare a sermon – I will lose my job. I need friends who will help me learn to say, “No” to the things that are not essential so that I can say, “Yes!” to the things that are of greatest importance. Sharing the Word of God is good, but if I fail to share laughter, joy, correction, instruction, and praise with my own children?then I have failed.
When we lived in Plano, Texas and I worked as a Youth Pastor I got extremely tired of hearing folks say, “I really want to spend quality time with my children.” Folks, our children rarely if ever sit down to analyze whether the time we spend with them is quality or quantity time. Isn’t it funny how the time Boswell considered wasted was in fact the greatest time his son had ever spent with his father? Our children need our time, not tomorrow, not after our meetings, not after our golf game, not after our women’s club meeting, but now!
Secondly, we must teach our children. Paul writes in the fourth verse of chapter six, 4Fathers, do not make your children angry, but raise them with the training and teaching of the Lord. There are some very, very important words that are used in verse four which we desperately need to understand. I want us to look at three of those words now and we’ll come back to the fourth a little later. Paul says that we are to “train, instruct, and warn” our children.
The Greek word for “bring them up,” means “to nourish up to maturity, to bring up.” The very same word is used in Ephesians 5:29, where Paul wrote, 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church? (Ephesians 5:29 NIV) Teaching our children includes much more than simply sitting down at a chalkboard and feeding them facts. We must nourish our children as we would a tender seedling. We must provide an atmosphere where they can grow and thrive in the Lord.
Paul didn’t originate this idea of nurturing our children, he had been taught from the Hebrew Scriptures, where in Proverbs 22:6 we read, 6 Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Now, you and I have heard countless sermons on this passage. We’ve heard broken parents whose children have gone astray quote this verse holding onto hope. We need to understand what this verse really means. The verse does not mean that if we take our children to Sunday school and church, have family devotions, and memorize verses with them that they won’t turn away from God. I’ve known adults who were atheists or agnostics who were raised in the church.
Proverbs 22:6 is not a verse that deals with religious instruction, it is more about horticulture than it is religion. If you or I were to plant an apple tree in our front yard we would need to learn all we could about raising apple trees. What kind of conditions are best suited for them, how much water do they need, how much heat and cold can they stand, what fertilizer works best for apple trees. We would have to raise them in a totally different way than we would an Aspen or a Palm tree.
The literal reading of Proverbs 22:6 is, “Teach a child according to his way and when he is old he will not turn away.” Parents, it is so important that you and I recognize that God has placed within each of His precious children, our children, unique gifts, abilities, and aspirations. Connie and I have three wonderful children. They are so different from one another that it isn’t even funny. Each of them have unique qualities and different dreams. It is up to Connie and me to prayerfully consider each of our children so that the Lord might give us insight into their unique make-up so that we can nurture those unique qualities.
My friend David Darnell told me about his time spent in Perryton, Texas where he served as a pastor. There was a farmer in town that wanted more than anything for his son to be a doctor. When the boy graduated from high school, dad sent him to college, and then to medical school. The second year of his studies at medical school the boy quit and came home to go to work on the family farm. David was talking to him one day when the boy said, “You know I never did want to be a doctor. I love working the soil, planting crops, and gathering the harvest. There is nothing in this world that I enjoy more than farming.” God had placed a love deep inside the heart of that young man, but dad had misread it.
We need to recognize those abilities and God-given dreams which our children possess so that we can help them to become the young men and women that God created them to be.
The second word that we need to understand is “paideia.” The word means, “the whole training and education of children (which relates to the cultivation of mind and morals). It also includes the training and care of the body. Whatever in adults also cultivates the soul, especially by correcting mistakes and curbing passions.” It can also mean, “Instruction which aims at increasing virtue, or chastisement.” The Word of God is replete with the command to teach our children about the Lord, His mighty acts in history, His counsel for living life so as to experience it in all its fullness as the Father intends, and His commands for living in right relationship with Him and others. Here is a sample of what I am talking about. In Deuteronomy 4:9 we read,
9Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. (Deuteronomy 4:9 NIV)
In Deuteronomy 6:4-9 the Lord instructed His people to love the Lord and to pass on the teaching He had given to them. Read along with me.
4Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NIV)
In Deuteronomy 31:12-13 the Lord called His people together for the purpose of instruction.
12Assemble the people-men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns-so they can listen and learn to fear the LORD your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. 13Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the LORD your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 31:12-13 NIV)
Once again in Psalm 78 we are told that the Israelites were instructed to teach their children, to pass on the faith to the next generation.
5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, 6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. 8 They would not be like their forefathers-a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him. (Psalm 78:5-8 NIV)
Finally, in Joel 1:3, the Israelites were told to perpetuate the instruction to each new generation to come.
3 Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. (Joel 1:3 NIV)
I am continually being reminded of how important it is that I drink deeply from God’s Word on a daily basis. There are so many different reasons for this, but one of the most important is so that I can have something to give to my children. My children need instruction on who God really is, why Jesus died on Calvary’s cross, and on the reality and powerful presence of the Holy Spirit.
There are all kinds of shade tree philosophers in high places who are willing to teach my children, and your children, but that is our responsibility. I clipped a quote from one of Rock and Roll’s philosophers and I want to read it to you.
I believe in God. I don’t believe in any individual religion’s particular idea of what they’re supposed to believe in?I think we’re all individual people with free-thinking minds and rights under the same clouds that circle the earth?we all have the right to have different opinions about things, and He (God) would love everyone for that. (Stone Temple Pilots, Circus Magazine)
I love my kids too much to turn them over to philosophers whose ideas are well intentioned, but misguided and constantly changing.
My children also need to know more than theology. They need to know how to apply their beliefs to every aspect of their life. They need to understand who they are and why they are here on this earth. They need to understand what it means to be a man, woman, son, sister, husband, wife, father, mother, employee, boss, friend, and follower of Jesus in each of these capacities. These lessons can only be learned from one source. Oh, you can get plenty of ideas from the world on all of these topics, but good luck sorting through them all. Before I can ever hope to teach my kids, I must first attend class myself. How can I teach what I have not learned? How can I share what I have never experienced? How can I lead where I am unable to go?
The third word which we need to understand is the Greek word which means, “admonition” or “warning.” The word is used two other times in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 10:11 we read,
11These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11 NIV)
10Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. (Titus 3:10 NIV)
Paul instructs us to warn our children about the consequences of life lived apart from God’s design. This is not harsh, as a matter of fact we owe it to our children to instruct them about the hazards of living life apart from God’s will. The consequences are far-reaching.
It was reported in a national magazine that there are two factors that have proven to be most effective throughout history for maintaining societal order and avoiding chaos: fear of swift punishment from governmental authorities and a reverence for God. Neither of these two are realities in our society today and look where it has gotten us. There is no fear or respect for authority in our society. Young people know that if they commit a crime they will do little if any time. Reverence for God is a joke. “God” is mostly known as the first syllable of a swear word in our society rather than the holy, just, and righteous God that He is.
We must instill within our kids the deep knowledge that life lived apart from God will lead to ruin. Oh, you can still prosper materially, but you will destroy your life and end up eternally separated from the Father who created you.
Last of all, we must not enrage our children by our actions and words. Paul precedes these lessons for us by saying, “Father’s do not exasperate your children.” What does “exasperate” mean? The Greek word means, “to rouse to wrath, to provoke, exasperate, anger.” The word is used only in one other place, Romans 10:19, where God is said to have “enraged” Israel. The Jews were enraged because God provided a Messiah which the Gentiles believed in, but whom the Jews rejected. This made the Jews more than angry, it made them furious!
We are told to not enrage our children. In Colossians 3:21, Paul told the Colossian fathers, “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” It is so important that we handle our children with care. They are God’s precious, priceless gifts that He has entrusted into our care. We must avoid attitudes, actions, and words that would alienate our children from us. We must avoid at all costs nagging, deriding, and destroying them so that they don’t lose heart.
Paul doesn’t question the authority of parents in the home, but he sure does encourage us to use our power to bless our children rather than destroy them. The problem for so many parents today, and a real problem I struggle with is, “I don’t want my kids mad at me so I should just let ‘it’ go.” All too often we refuse to deal with negative, hurtful, bitter attitudes and actions we see going on with our children because we want them to like us. A good example of this was reported in the L.A. Times.
A mother wrote to Ann Landers for advice because she was unsure about confronting her “independent” sixth-grade daughter about her sex life. Ann Landers wrote her back and said, “Your 11 year old daughter is having sex and you are reluctant to confront her because you don’t want to ruin your relationship? Woman, are you out of your mind?” We must discipline and teach our kids or we risk more than a ruined relationship, we will witness the ruin of our children. The key to our discipline is that we must always do so in love. Anything else, either too harsh of discipline, or no discipline, will lead them to ruin.
Our loving discipline must reflect 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul says, “Love is patient, love is kind?it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
If we enrage our children, cause them to become bitter, we will discourage them and they will never experience the fullness of life that God desires for them.
Being a parent is too big a job for me to undertake without the utmost prayer and guidance from God’s Word. I praise God for His Word which gives me insights never even thought of by the societal gurus of our day. Could there be any more relevant or applicable teaching in the world for raising children than a strong foundation of love which refuses to enrage our kids, godly nurture to help enable them to realize their unique abilities and gifts that God has given them, biblical teaching concerning every aspect of life, and warnings concerning the hazards that will be encountered apart from living in God’s will? Folks, you can take that to the bank!
We have been given the greatest instruction and support for being a blessing to our children. Even with these reassuring and comforting teachings I have to be tell you that many, many times Connie and I are simply overwhelmed with the high calling God has placed upon our lives in being godly parents to our kids. We are much like the young woman who was a stay-at-home mom with a three year old, a one and a half year old, and a newborn. Her husband came home one day to find five dozen diapers hanging on the clothesline in the back yard. Her husband came in the house and found his wife on the floor with the toys, walkers, clothes, and babies all around her. He said, “I saw all the white flags in the back yard. I take it that you have surrendered.”
Ever feel like throwing up your hands and saying, “This is too much, too hard! Help!” Boy we have, and on more than one occasion. I want to encourage you this morning – don’t give up, give them over. Ask Christ to come into your heart and home, give you the insight, patience, and courage you need to bless your children. Bless your children as the Father seeks to bless you in all that you do.