WILL OUR CHILDREN HAVE FAITH Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 2 Timothy 1:3-5 Theme of the Month Intimacy and Family
Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Sharp
Lead Pastor, English Congregation Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church, Vancouver, British Columbia
Sunday Sermon for 13 June 2010
Scripture Passage Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress 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. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. 4
2 Timothy 1:3-5
I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. 3
In the classic Broadway production Raisin in the Sun, an African-American mother struggles to keep two adult children on track. In one memorable scene, the mother is confronted by her daughter's angry skepticism. The daughter states in defiance, "Mama, you don't understand. It's all a matter of ideas, and God is one idea I just don't accept. There is simply no blasted God." With dignity and strength, the mother says, "I want you to repeat this after me: “in my mother's house there is still God."” After a long pause, the daughter honors her mother's affirmation of faith. Slowly, quietly, she says, "In my mother's house there is still God." The passing on of a relationship with God and a devotion to God begins in each household. Most of us who are Christian parents are very much interested in learning how to help our children have faith in God and how to help them grow in their faith. For some of us, making sure our children have faith is a real, deep, heartfelt desire. It’s also a desire rooted deeply in biblical faith. At the end of their four decades of frustrating wandering in the desert, Moses spoke to the Israelites about what life would be like in the Promised Land. They were about to be scattered throughout the land. They would be confronted with and impacted by people whose values, lifestyles, and faith were altogether different from their own. It was essential that they devise a strategy for surviving--and thriving--as the people of God in a hostile environment. Ancient and contemporary Jews refer to Deuteronomy 6:4-5 as the Shema. It comes from the Hebrew for the first word –“Hear”, “Listen” For the Jew, it is the most important scriptural command they ever learn. It’s repeated at the beginning of each and every new day by those who take their faith seriously and who sincerely long to live a life that is pleasing to God. Ever since Moses first spoke those words thousands of years ago, parents who want their children to have a vibrant, living faith in God have followed this command. Briefly this morning let me share three principles based on this passage that can help you help your children to have faith. I say “help” you help your children to have faith, because ultimately connecting with God and experiencing the life that God desires for each of us, including our children, is a personal choice. As Christian parents we can’t decide for our children, we can’t force a genuine faith on someone. But what we can do is make sure that our children know how important it is to have a personal relationship with God and what that relationship means for us. We can also do everything we can to make sure that we don’t put any roadblocks or hindrances in their way. And let me also say to those of you who are young people or young adults or couples without children, I don’t want you to think that just because this sermon is entitled, “Will our children have faith?” that I am only talking to your parents or the parents who are present. I am also talking to you. Most likely, you will be getting married and will have children, and if you are a believer, a follower of Jesus, you will need to ask yourself this question, and also ask “what am I WILLOURCHILDRENHAVEFAITH 2
doing to help my children have faith?” So this isn’t just a topic for the parents here, but also for all those who will be Christian parents. The first principle that can help us help our children have faith is the principle of experience and example (vv. 4-6). In our passage from Deuteronomy, chapter 6, verse 4-6, we read: “4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.” Did you notice Moses’ first concern? Before parents can reasonably hope that their children will have faith, they must first give attention to their faith. They must model their faith. It must be “on/in your own heart.” Your children must know that you love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul and strength. Moses is saying that before your children will ever try it out for themselves, they must see that the faith you profess is real to you. Real faith is not something that we take off and put on like a change of clothes. It is something that is at the center of our lives, something that defines who we are, that shapes and guides our values, our actions, our hopes and dreams and plans or it isn’t a genuine faith at all. And Moses is reminding parents that if they are concerned that their children have faith – a faith that connects them with God, a faith that enables them to live and thrive in the world, it must be a real faith and our children must see it in us. No “Do as I say, but not as I do” religion here. Several years ago, more than eighteen hundred participants at a national youth conference took part in a survey. At the end of the questionnaire, twelve reasons why children raised in Christian homes might possibly reject the Christian faith were listed. Participants were asked to indicate which of those reasons--or others not listed-- would most likely lead a teenager to reject his or her faith. Three of the top five responses related to the influence of non-Christian friends. The remaining two of the leading five responses related to the breakdown of Christian influence – “Hypocrites in the church” was the second most frequently given response. And the fifth most frequently registered reason why children raised in Christian homes might reject the faith was “poor Christian role models in my home.” The reality/truth is that children/young people watch their parents. They are extremely perceptive and they quickly recognize whether there is a connection or disconnect between their parent’s professed faith and the way they live. Unfortunately, the failure of many Christian parents to effectively model their faith leads some children to reject Christianity, albeit a distorted version, because they have never been exposed to the real thing. Let me say something to those of you whose parents haven’t always been as faithful in living out their professed faith – don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. You should be smart enough to know that. While it is disappointing to find that our parents don’t always walk the talk – we can see around us other who do and we can investigate the claims of Christ on our own or with the aid of those around us in the church and make our own decision about Christ. Just because you don’t see the connection between what your parents say about their faith and their life, don’t dismiss the faith, the Gospel so quickly. It is too important a decision for that.
But the point for those of us who claim to be Christian parents is that our children watch us. They are looking at our experience and example. Thomas Aquinas once said: “Preach Christ everywhere you go. And if necessary, use words.” That’s pretty good advice for parents, also. Still, I don’t think any of us are ever as good as our words imply that we are. The Christ we so feebly struggle to love, serve, and embody is so much more than others can see in the way we live from day to day. I suppose that our children always expect more of us than we can actually deliver--in almost every aspect of life. We need grace. But when it comes to our Christian faith, we should be doing all that we can to make sure that there isn’t any support for our own children concluding after observing our lives that we are phonies and that we never meant business with God. We are reminded of the power of the witness of experience and example in the passage from 2 Timothy. In this passage Paul is writing to Timothy, his young partner in ministry, and he remarks about Timothy’s sincere faith. And he makes the comment “which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). This is the power of experience and example. The second guideline toward helping our children have faith is the principle of exposure (v. 7a). Deuteronomy 6:7a says: “Impress them/God’s commandment/God’s teachings on your children.” One translation says: “teach diligently.” The literal meaning for the Hebrew word translated “impress” is ‘to say something twice” Or “to repeat.” The Hebrew word originally referred to the sharpening of a blade or a tool by rubbing it repeatedly against the whetstone. The word evolved in its meaning: first, from the act of sharpening, then to a piercing action, and finally, to the process of teaching. The basic idea of this verse then, is that by repeating the teachings of the word of God over and again, exposing our children regularly and intentionally to God’s word, parent will eventually drive it home in the hearts and minds of their children. To this day, Jews celebrate the ancient Festivals of Passover and Hannukah—in their homes and synagogues, recalling every year the ways that God intervened in their history. Christians regularly observe the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and celebrate the seasons of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter. And as a church we make resources available for you to do that in your homes, especially Advent and Lent. These are ways of telling the story of our salvation over and again and in so doing keeping our faith alive! But unfortunately, most contemporary celebrations of the Christian faith are largely confined to the church. How many of us have Advent wreaths and use the Lenten worship material that we provide as a church? As a result, relatively little is done in our homes that is intentionally aimed at keeping our faith alive. How many families still pray before a meal? How many people read the bible together or when our children are small exposed them as much to Scripture as we do to Baby Einstein? How many families talk about God and God’s will in their planning? How many consider the importance of
being in Church on Sunday and being faithful to the church when they plan their weekend? What are we saying to our kids when we say it is okay to stay home from church to study for an exam or prepare for a school project or engage in a sport? And when it comes to encouraging our children to make a decision for Christ, some parents say – “I don’t want to pressure my kids or be a fanatic about it.” Believe me, I know how Christian parents worry about pushing their children to make a profession of faith and identify with Christ and the church through baptism. But the solution is not to take a laissez- faire approach to faith. Christian parents, listen! We remind our children and talk to our children over and over again about the importance of getting a good education, of making good grades and the urgency of developing their potential as students. We repeatedly talk to our kids about responsible social and sexual behavior. We prod them and urge them toward success in everything they do. If we are able, we spare no expense to make them pretty, poised, popular, positive and prepared to face the world. My concern is that Christian parents so often do it all with little or no reference to God and the Christian faith. In that sense, we are no different from non-Christian parents. We need to ask ourselves: what have we done to prepare our children to know God, love God, and to face God and eternity? It isn’t enough to bring them to church. It isn’t enough to have them involved in the children and youth program. These are good, but they aren’t enough. Now, we can thank God that many of our youth come to faith as a result of being involved in our youth programs and building relationships with other youth and youth leaders who have a genuine, dynamic and growing faith and share that faith with them. It is God’s grace. But I often think that sometimes our Christian parents work against the influence that the church has in leading our young people to Christ by the way they fail to live out their faith and fail to integrate their profession of faith into their home life. What is tragic is that it isn’t or doesn’t have to be that way because of a lack of resources. There are plenty of resources available that can help them integrate their faith into their parenting and home life. Often it has to do with a lack of will or priorities. It really isn’t that important. It is much more important for them to insure that their kids are well-clothed, wellliked, and are successful in their education and achieving their goals (which are more often our goals for them). . And so my question is, will our children have faith? Will our children have faith when we fail to expose them in meaningful and loving ways to the faith? The third way to help your children have faith is the principle of encouragement. Deuteronomy 6:7b-9 says: “Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Some of that sounds a bit strange to us, especially that part about the tying God’s commandments/teaching as a symbol on your hands and binding them on your foreheads. But the principle is that everything a Christian parent does in the home should in some way be directed toward encouraging their child’s personal salvation
through Jesus Christ; towards building a personal, living, growing relationship with God; helping our children to know God and God’s word and its relevance to their life Do we do that? For the most part, I think that most Christian parents expose their children to only mild doses of the Christian faith and religious conviction. For fear of being accused of using undue influence, many parents give little or no encouragement to their own children’s declaration/profession of personal faith in Christ. “It’s up to the kids to decide if they want to be a Christian.” Yes, that is ultimately true, they need to make a personal decision. You can’t make it for them. But are we seriously encouraging them to move in that direction? Do we encourage them to see how important that decision is? Do we encourage them to look at the other major decisions they will have to make in life – where to go to school, who to marry, what occupation to choose, what to do with their resources – in light of the fundamental question – What will you do with Jesus? Unfortunately there are too many parents who say --“It’s up to the kids to decide if they want to be a Christian. There are so many options available to them today. We’ll just wait and let them decide.” That may fit in well with our overall society and culture’s perspective, but it isn’t Christian. My friends, there may be a variety of ways to earn respectability, a reputation, and a reward. There may even be a whole host of religious options from which a person may be free to choose. But if we take the Bible seriously, if we take Jesus seriously, if we take his words and claims seriously, there is only one way to God-- that is through Jesus. To allow for any other way is misguided and ultimately damning. Your children will never become Christians by mere exposure to the Christian faith---either in mild or large doses! Neither is it enough to give your kids “a little taste” of what the Christian life is all about--by enrolling them in Sunday school and Vacation Bible School, and making sure that they attend “most of the time.” By its very nature, the Christian faith demands conversion and commitment. And by virtue of your position as the most influential person in their life, especially when they are young, you owe it to your children to see to it that they are presented with the claims of Jesus on their life. In other words, you have a responsibility to encourage them--and to influence them--to make Jesus their personal Savior and Lord. In the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, the American women's 4 x 100 relay team was favored to win the gold medal. The team featured Marion Jones, a sprinter who had won four gold medals at the previous games in Sydney. The American team was already off to a strong start when Jones took the baton for the second leg of the race. She gained ground as she ran her 100 meters and approached Lauryn Williams, a young speedster who would run the third leg. Williams began running as Jones drew near, but when she reached back to receive the baton, they couldn't complete the handoff. Once, twice, three times Jones thrust the baton forward, but each time it missed William's hand—she couldn't seem to wrap her fingers around it. Finally, on the fourth try, they made the connection. But by that time, they had crossed over the 20-yard
exchange zone and were disqualified. Everyone knew they were the fastest team on the track. The night before, they'd had the fastest qualifying time. But when they couldn't complete the handoff, their race was over. As important as it is for the previous generation to set the pace by living authentically, at a certain point, a handoff must be made in which the next generation receives the baton of faith and begins to run with it. That handoff isn't as easy as it looks. It isn't automatic. It's the result of thousands and thousands of practice runs. I have talked mostly today about the role Christian parents play in helping their children have faith. But there is also a role we have as a Christian community, a church, to create an environment where our children will see the truth of the Christian faith and make a personal decision to follow Christ. You and I have a responsibility to live out the Gospel; to give flesh to our professed faith. Whenever we shrink from hard decisions because we don’t want to upset or offend people, whenever we fail to live boldly and faithfully because it is inconvenient or threatens our security; whenever we scale back our ministries or refuse to engage in vital ministries because we want to save some dollars, we compromise the Gospel. Whenever we are exclusive rather than inclusive, whenever we gossip or engage in backbiting or criticizing, we compromise the Gospel. When we say that we believe in Christ, the call to follow Jesus, and yet exclude areas of our personal and corporate lives from the claims of discipleship, we compromise the Gospel. And when that happens, sometimes young people look at us and question the Faith. Will our children have faith? Will your children have faith? Will they seize the baton? Ultimately the answer to that question rests with our children, because we can’t make that decision for them. But what we can do, is, relying on God’s grace and wisdom, do everything in our power to make sure that we pass on the baton –that our children know the faith – not just as some abstract set of beliefs, but as something that gives focus and meaning and direction to life and how important that faith is to us; and to try as hard as possible to make sure that we haven’t put any stumbling blocks in their way. So, let me ask: Will our children have faith? What are you doing to make that a likelihood?
Reflection Questions 1. What questions, thoughts, reactions do you have to today’s Scripture Passages? 2. When you hear the question: “Will Our Children Have Faith?” What immediately comes to mind? Why? 3. Do you agree that it is important for parents who want to have some impact on their children need to give attention to their own faith? That children watch their parents? Why is it that parents hand over the responsibility of seeing that our children have faith to the church when Moses and most of the Bible see faith sharing and shaping as a major part of parenting? WILLOURCHILDRENHAVEFAITH 7
4. If you are a believer in Jesus, what role did your parents play in you making that decision to follow Christ? Did you ever feel that their example was dissuading you to become a Christian? 5. What reasons would you add to the list referred to in the sermon outlining reasons why some youth reject/abandon their faith? 6. What do you do in your family to create more exposure to God and his love and care and plan for each person? 7. Do you agree that everything a Christian parent does in the home should be directed directly or indirectly toward encouraging the child to build a personal, living, growing relationship with God? 8. As you look at the youth and adults in your life, was the baton passed? If it wasnâ€™t, why? 9. Do you agree that the church is there to come alongside of parents in helping our children to have faith? If the church includes you, what are you doing to help the children in our congregation to haveÂ faith? 10. What questions, thoughts, reactions do you have about this sermon and the topic?