About one year ago a group of parents began meeting together, praying together, and planning for the beginning of what we hoped would be an exciting and powerful new ministry for our children called, “Awana.” The impetus behind all of the effort and energy was a desire to see our children learn the Word of God. They recognized the importance of teaching our children, at an early age, the Word of God. We are wrapping up our first year of Awana and the Lord has blessed us beyond our wildest imagination. Each week, throughout this year, the adults have worked to help the kids learn Bible stories, memorize Scripture, and sing the songs of our faith. Do you know what we have learned? We have learned that our kids are like sponges, they soak up God’s Word, they love to sing, and they get excited about reciting the Scriptures they have learned each week.
I called my daughter-in-law Rachel on Thursday and told her that I was writing a sermon about the difference Awana is making in the lives of our kids. I asked her, “Do you see any difference that Awana is making in Kellen and Macy’s life?” Rachel said, “Yes, more than anything, it’s the little things.” I asked her what she meant and she said, “Well, there’s this one 7-11 that when we drive by it they call it the ‘scary’ 7-11. We drove by it the other day and Kellen said, ‘There’s the scary 7-11.’ Macy said, ‘God doesn’t make scary people. They do scary things, but they aren’t scary people.’” I asked Rachel what else she has seen and she said, “They always say, ‘God’s Word is truth. Whatever is in the Bible is true so turn to the Bible.’ And they love to read the Bible stories they get from their class on Wednesday night.” Kellen and Macy are not yet 5 years old and they are learning truths from God’s Word that can change the rest of their life…if we will continue to reinforce the lessons they are learning.
We hear so much negative talk today about our young people. Sociologist and criminologist continually quote statistics that raise red flags about the future of our kids. Government officials continue to come up with their solutions which demand that more money be spent. The answers that politicians have offered for the past 50 years have been a dismal failure. Educators continue to roll out their latest effort, their “new program,” that they promise will turn things around for our kids. Yet, with all of the money spent, with the greatest ideas offered by Ph.D.’s, we still have more and more kids failing academically, morally, and spiritually.
Things are not that much different morally and spiritually than they were in the mid-1700s in Gloucester, England. You may be wondering how in the world I pulled that place and that date out of thin air? Well, in the mid-1700s in Gloucester there were many people concerned about the state of children. Many people wrote them off. They said, “It’s a deplorable situation, but nothing is ever going to change.” One man, not a theologian, politician, or educator, but a newspaper guy saw the same situation and decided to do something.
Robert Raikes’ father had founded The Gloucester Journal, the newspaper of the community of Gloucester, England. Robert had always worked beside his father in the printing shop. When his father died, Robert wondered about the road ahead. He walked from his father’s grave to the printing shop. Robert picked up the last copy of The Gloucester Journal published by his father that year, in 1757, and said, “I’ll make you proud, Father. With God’s help, I’ll keep your Gloucester Journal alive.” In the years to come Robert would hold true to his promise. He hired new writers, the newspaper grew, and the popularity of The Gloucester Journal soared.
Robert often visited the prison in Gloucester on his days off. The situation of the prisoners, the cast offs of society, troubled him. What troubled him the most were the number of children who were imprisoned alongside of some of the worst prisoners in Gloucester.
One Sunday while Robert was walking down the street he saw a group of young boys fighting and causing trouble. He asked someone about the boys and he was told they were some of the boys who worked six days a week in the factories, as much as twelve hours a day. On Sunday, their only day off, they tended to get into trouble. The woman told Robert, “Most of the boys’ parents are either dead or in jail.” When Robert asked, “Where do they go to school?” The woman said, “School? They don’t go to school. They have to work to live.”
As the days passed Robert couldn’t get his mind off the boys. He knew that if someone didn’t help them the boys would end up in prison or dead like many of their parents. Robert began to talk with Reverend Thomas Stock about an idea he had to begin a Sunday school. Reverend Stock said, “School on Sunday?” Robert said, “Yes, school on Sunday! We’ll teach them to read and write part of the day and teach them the Bible for the rest of the day.” Reverend Stock could feel Robert’s excitement fill the room so he said, “It’s a great idea!”
They spread the word about the place and time when the first meeting would take place. On that day very few kids showed up, but they kept the meeting going and in a short while over 100 kids between the ages of 6 and 14 were attending. Three years after the first Sunday school meeting was held, over 4,000 new Sunday schools were being held in towns all over England. Robert used the printing presses of The Gloucester Journal to publish reading books, spelling books, Bible study books, and copies of the Scriptures to be used in Sunday schools.
Kids who were once trouble makers, juvenile delinquents, and headed to prison were coming to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They were learning to read as they learned the stories of the Bible, they were growing up and getting married instead of going to prison, they were learning trades so they could support their families, and they were becoming productive members of society.
When Robert Raikes died in 1811, just 30 years after he first shared his idea about starting a Sunday school for kids, more than 500,000 children were attending Sunday school classes in England. There was no government intervention, the answer to the ills of society wasn’t found in the halls of academia, but in the pages of God’s Word.
Now, God gave Robert Raikes an idea to begin teaching God’s Word to children on Sunday morning in Sunday school classes. God gave a small group of parents at Britton Christian Church the idea to teach children God’s Word on Wednesday night. The day and time is different, but the curriculum is the same. God’s Word is as powerful on a Wednesday night as it is on a Sunday morning, or any other day for that matter. The key is to teach our children, beginning at an early age, the Word of God.
Teach them the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Teach them how God used a man named Moses who didn’t have any confidence in himself to do what he could have never done on his own. As we teach them that God did great things through Moses, we can also teach them that He will do great things through them. Teach them how God answered Hannah’s prayers and He will answer theirs. Teach them about how Daniel was faithful to God in a pagan society so that when they go to school and are surrounded by kids who are not walking with God that they will remember Daniel and be faithful as well. Teach them about Saul of Tarsus and how once he met Jesus his life was changed forever…and that Jesus will change their life as well. Teach them about Jesus. Teach them what it means to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Teach them about the Holy Spirit who is our Comforter and Counselor, always present in the lives of God’s people to keep us out of trouble and show us God’s way to live.
Our kids are being taught all kinds of things by our society, but who will teach them the Word of God if we don’t? The scary reality is this: If you were raised in a Christian home where your parents taught you the Word of God then you know the names and stories of every person I just mentioned. If you don’t share those stories with your kids then in one generation it’s information, truth, that is lost. Sadly, this is the story of many young people today. What I’m describing for you is a reality that took place long ago after Joshua and his generation died. Turn with me to Judges 2:7-11 and let’s read together.
7 The people served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the LORD had done for Israel. 8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. 9 And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. 10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. (Judges 2:7-11 NIV)
One of the saddest lines in the Bible is this: “another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.” They didn’t know the Lord. They didn’t know how the Lord had delivered their ancestors from Egypt. They didn’t know that God had parted the Red Sea for their grandparents so that they could escape from Pharaoh’s army. They didn’t know God had stopped up the Jordan River so their moms and dads could move into the land where they were living. They didn’t know that God had led the charges to help their dads and uncles defeat the Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and others so they could have a home in the Promised Land. They didn’t know these things. Because they didn’t know the Lord and His commands, because they didn’t know God’s history with their parents and grandparents, the new generation did whatever they felt was best. Truth is, they just went along with what everyone else was doing. Sound familiar?
You need to know that it didn’t have to be this way. Before the Children of Israel ever entered the Promised Land, God had given them instructions. Turn with me to Deuteronomy 4:9-10. In this section of Scripture the Israelites are getting ready to enter the Promised Land. Moses knew that he would not be going with the people so he took the time to give them final instructions. He said,
9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. 10 Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” (Deuteronomy 4:9-10 NIV)
“Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” Teach them what? Math? Science? Geography? Cultural sensitivity? No, teach them what you have seen. Teach them how faithful God has been to His people. Then Moses reminded them of an incident that took place at Mt. Horeb when God said, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.”
Did you notice? God said that it is in hearing His Word that we can learn to revere Him. The more we read His Word, the more we hear His Word, the more we will come to understand His great love and faithfulness for His people.
There is no power like the power of love. I was raised in a home where I was taught morality from a young age. Do “this” because it’s the right thing to do. Don’t do “that” because it’s the wrong thing to do. I was taught morality, but there is no power in morality. I didn’t have the power to carry out those lessons. It was only when I learned the most life transforming message I’ve ever known, “Jesus loves me,” that God’s commands, living how God desires for me to live, became the passion of my heart. I began to learn about God’s love for others. It was the stories of people like Samuel, Hagar, Ruth, the widow of Zarephath, and a bunch of crusty fisherman who the Lord chose as His inner circle that taught me about the love of God for those who are on the outside of the “it” crowd, the forgiveness of God given freely to those who have blown it, and the faithfulness of God to His people. Parents want their kids to be good, moral, and decent people, but they fail to recognize that neither they nor their kids have the power to be moral or decent apart from the power that comes from knowing and walking with Jesus. There is no way to learn about knowing or walking with Jesus part from the Word of God.
Over and over again, as God was preparing His people to enter into the Promised Land, He told them to not forget to teach their children. Turn with me to Deuteronomy 11:18-21.
18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, 21 so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the LORD swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth. (Deuteronomy 11:18-21 NIV)
Sharing God’s Word with our kids is not confined to Sunday morning or Wednesday night. Sharing God’s Word, reminding our kids of God’s mighty acts in the lives of those we read about in the pages of God’s Word and in our own lives is something that is to take place every day and in the everyday occurrences of life. Our children need not only teachers, but also interpreters. They need someone who can help them interpret their life experiences through the lens of God’s Word. Let me explain to you what I mean.
One of the most basic truths of God’s Word that we can teach our kids is gratitude. We should never cease thanking God for His blessings! If we learn to be grateful to God then we can thank Him in all circumstances. Paul wrote,
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV)
Like an athlete who learns a skill by repetition, we can instill a mindset of gratitude in the hearts and minds of our kids by repetition. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. Every single one of us eats several times a day. You may not eat all of your meals with your kids, but you eat some. If, when you sit down to eat, you take a moment to pray and thank God for the food He has provided for you, then your kids will be reminded that their food doesn’t come from Wal Mart or Crest, but from God. Before you pray you might even teach them that there are millions of kids who are hungry, who are standing in line to get a meal, and then pray for them as you give thanks for God’s provision.
Along with eating, another frequent occurrence in their lives will be heartache. Our kids, like us, will go through all kinds of heartbreaking experiences in life. From skinned knees, to not being invited to a friend’s party, to not making the team, or their boyfriend or girlfriend breaking up with them—our kids will have their heart broken. If we are not there to help them interpret those experiences through the lens of God’s Word then they will be left to draw their own conclusions, or worse yet, listen to the interpretations of those who do not know the Lord. In heartbreaking times our normal reflex, our normal reaction, is to say, “God, don’t You care? Why doesn’t God love me?” We can help our kids in these times by sharing God’s Word with our kids and our own stories of how God has worked in our times of brokenness. One of my favorite verses that has helped me time and time again during these times is Psalm 34:18
18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18 NIV)
What a powerful reminder to our kids when the hard experiences of life tempt them to question or turn away from God. I do have to let you know that this isn’t just a truth that kids need. I’ve been meeting with a man for a couple of months who has been going through just a total disaster in his personal life. His knowledge of God’s Word is minimal, but he’s been listening as we’ve gotten together to read Scripture and talk about what God is up to in his life. On Thursday, as I was writing this lesson, I got a text from him. He said, “I am beginning to realize that if I accept everything that happens to me, the good and the bad, as a blessing, and respond with only gratitude for all of it, then the blessing of it will become more readily apparent. Is that kind of the point you’ve been driving at?” The situation in his life hasn’t changed, but God’s Word is teaching him a different perspective on his life. My role in all of that? I’m only helping him interpret his situation through the lens of God’s Word, God’s Truth. As I was typing this paragraph, he sent me another text. He said, “Thank you for your assistance in guiding me back to the truth. Any suggested passages for me at this time?” I texted him back, “Romans 8:28.” My friend is learning to go to God’s Word for a proper perspective, for counsel about his situation, and the more he learns the more he wants. He doesn’t necessarily know which verses to read, but he knows to ask someone who does.
The same is true for our kids. They are young. They don’t have much life experience. They aren’t familiar with God’s Word. They need our help. We can teach them God’s Word and help them interpret their life experiences through the lens of God’s Word.
One last thing before we finish our study this morning. When our kids are young we can protect them, guide them, say “No” to the things they want that we know will be detrimental to them. When they begin attending school they will begin to be influenced by others. We will not be that omnipresent help to them, constant guide for them, and 24 hr a day protection for them like when they were young. What is a young parent to do? Well, if you will instill God’s Word in them now, pray that His Word will guide them as His Spirit counsels and convicts them, then you become a “helicopter mom or dad” who tries to totally orchestrate your child’s life when they begin to gain more freedom.
Let me give you a biblical example of what I’m talking about. In 2 Kings 22-23 we read about a young king in Jerusalem named Josiah. He had been king since he was 8 years old, but when he was 26 years old when the Book of the Law was found. It was read to him, and when he heard God’s Word, he tore his robes because he realized that those who had gone before him had not followed God’s Word. The people were worshiping other gods. They were idolaters.
Josiah had all of the people come together and he read to them from the Book of the Law. That day Josiah and all of the people dedicated themselves to turning away from their ways so they might follow God’s Word. As soon as they renewed the Covenant, Josiah took action. Read along with me from 2 Kings 23:4.
4 The king ordered Hilkiah the high priest, the priests next in rank and the doorkeepers to remove from the temple of the LORD all the articles made for Baal and Asherah and all the starry hosts. He burned them outside Jerusalem in the fields of the Kidron Valley and took the ashes to Bethel. (2 Kings 23:4 NIV)
Josiah altered the way he lived his life because of the Word of God. He didn’t do what he did because his mom or dad wanted him to, he didn’t consult a “think tank,” but he did what he did because of the Word of God. He didn’t change the Book, but the Book changed his way of doing life. What the Word of God did for Josiah it can do for your kids, my kids, and our grandkids as well.
Our daughter, Annie, is going to be leaving for college in a few months. She won’t be living under our roof any longer. Connie and I have gone through what you younger parents are, or will be going through in the years to come. Our desire to protect her, our influence, our control—all of those things have lessened as she has gotten older, but we’re fixing to take it to a whole other level. She’s going to be living 7 hours away from us in St. Louis. She will be able to do whatever she wants to do. I sure hope she will call and ask us for advice. You can bet that we will call her every single day and offer our advice. Truth is we have to let go of the rope that has tethered her to us for the past 18 years. Before Annie leaves for college we will clearly communicate to her how important it will be for her to take the end of the rope that Connie and I have been holding and place it in the hands of Jesus so that He can guide her, counsel her, convict her when she gets off track, and comfort her when she bumps her head. If Annie will make spending time in God’s Word and listening to the counsel of the Holy Spirit part of her day, every day, then the Lord will do a much better job “parenting” Annie when she is away from us than we ever did. Just as the Word of God changed Josiah’s life so will the Word of God change Annie’s life, and the lives of your children as well.
You can find the best school for your child in Oklahoma City, but it can’t accomplish in your child’s life what God can accomplish through His Word. You can find the best college in the nation for your son or daughter, but it can’t teach your child what they can learn in God’s Word. Parents, grandparents, mentors, those who work with kids—teach them, point them to the Word of God. Let them see the validity, power, and truthfulness of the Word of God as they see you live it out.
So, you may ask, “Where do I begin?” That’s a great question. The answer is, “You first surrender your life to Jesus, ask Him to forgive you of your sins, and come into your heart as your Lord and Savior.” That’s the first step of the great journey of walking with the Lord. You can’t teach your kids what you don’t know so you must first know Jesus before you can ever teach your children to know Jesus. If the Lord is speaking to your heart this morning, you know that you need to surrender your life to Him, then why wait, tell Him that you need Him right now.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 18, 2014