Meet the Faith-Filled Parents

Click for audio:

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise — “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers (or Parents), do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4)

Recently, at a family dinner, Connie and I overheard a brief conversation about parenting. This conversation continued in three emails I’d like to share with you.

Our daughter Shannon wrote, “I feel like parenting is the most important–and undoubtedly the hardest– job I’ve ever had. It is the only job at which I also feel like I fail often.  Teaching– I know I do it well AND people tell me I do it well.  Writing– I know I do it well AND people tell me I do it well.  Parenting– I doubt myself all the time… So weirdly, though the idea of being a single parent and having another full-time job sounds overwhelming, it is actually often easier for me than staying home with two kids.  Because at least I feel like I’m “succeeding” at something every day… [This is] straight up truth from an exhausted mama who loves her babies more than anything else in the world. Except, you know, Jesus.”

Our son-in-law Josiah wrote, “With parenting, you get very little positive reinforcement. In school, you get a report card. In the corporate world, you get promotions, raises, etc. You can count the profits if you own a business. Raising kids, day-in, day-out… not so much. Each day looks pretty much like the rest. You teach the same lesson of growth every day, and it takes YEARS for the kid to ‘get it’. The positive reinforcement comes mostly upon reflection after months/years of work. Right NOW we can look at [our son] Caleb and see some fruits of the labor that we’ve poured into him, but tomorrow’s challenges won’t be solved for a long time. It’s easy to ‘grow weary of doing good’. I feel this to some degree, but it’s a much bigger challenge for [my wife] Aleen, since I get kudos a lot in my career. It’s been very helpful for her to have success with [her part-time business] Photography for a Greater Good.”

Our daughter Aleen wrote, “I am so grateful for God’s grace that fills in the gaps where I fall short in parenting.  He also sends timely reminders that my kids are decent people and that His character is indeed manifest in their lives on days when their sin nature (and my own) rears its ugly head.  Just this morning I was feeling a bit discouraged by some of their sibling rivalry and as I was fixing Abby’s hair this tackle box of hair things fell off the sink and nine million clips and bows were all over the floor.  Without my asking all three came over and helped me re-organize the mess…  Not a huge deal, but a little glimpse that they “get it” – being a family means helping out. Serving my littles is exhausting and there are few accolades for showing up and doing your best every day. Being a stay at home mom (and a home school teacher) I must remember that God sees what is done behind the scenes day in and day out, even when there is little recognition from others.  Working as unto Him, building His Kingdom through my discipleship of my kids is by far the most difficult and awesome thing I’ve ever done.”

In spite of the high cost of good parenting, I see most parents with reasonably high expectations for their kids. This is why I’ve titled this message “Meet the (Faith-Filled) Parents.” Because most parents are filled with faith that their children will grow up to be men and women of good character, people of purpose who will contribute something good to society.

In the scripture that we read, the Apostle Paul has A Negative Warning for parents. He writes: “Parents, do not exasperate your children.”

Other translations put it this way: “Don’t provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them.” (New Living Translation) “Don’t exasperate them by coming down hard on them.” (The Message) “Don’t keep scolding and nagging them, making them angry and resentful.” (Living Bible) “Don’t over-correct them or make it difficult for them to obey the commandment [to honor their parents].” (J.B. Phillips)

You and I have seen countless examples of parents who yell at their children, who are too harsh in their discipline, etc. If you are aware of your own weakness here, God is telling you to stop it. Now!

In this scripture Paul also gives parents A Positive Instruction: “Bring up your children in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Other translations put it this way: “Bring them up with the loving discipline the Lord himself approves, with… godly advice.” (Living Bible) “Bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” (New Living Translation) “Raise them properly. Teach them and instruct them about the Lord.” (Contemporary English Version) “Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.” (The Message)

It is our task as parents to raise our children with consistent love and discipline. They are God’s gift to us, and one of our greatest responsibilities is to care for them and raise them well.

So this morning I want to quickly give you Five Principles for Sound Parenting.

And then Two More Principles for Faith-Filled Parenting.

I’m not Doctor Phil. And I’m not an expert on parenting. (But I live with one.)

Here we go!

Five Principles of Sound Parenting  that probably Atheists and Buddhists and Methodists can agree on.

#1. Love your Children. Be willing to sacrifice yourself for them. Invest your time in them, especially in their younger years. Cuddle them often as babies and hug them often at any age. Tell your children that you love them, and back it up with good parenting.

My father was raised in a home where his mother loved him, but he never remembers her saying, “I love you.” So I grew up as a child and a teenager, never hearing my father say, “I love you.”

Until my ordination, at age 26. On that day my father was one of a group of pastors who laid hands on me and set me apart for the work of the ministry. As they finished praying and stood up, my father hugged me and whispered in my ear: “I love you.” I don’t remember much about my ordination except those powerful words.

That was the beginning of a change for him. I call him almost every day, and many days he says, “I love you.” And occasionally, “I’m proud of you.”

#2. Be Consistent and Reasonable in Your DisciplineDon’t say you’ll punish them if they disobey, and then fail to do what you’ve said you would do. (That’s something like a lie.) Don’t punish them out of your anger, but punish them out of your best and clearest thinking. Corporal punishment may seem necessary at times, but avoid it if you can. Almost always, there’s a better alternative.

#3. Have PatienceBe patient with yourself. For my wife and myself, we’re still parenting 35 years after we started. Your patience will be tried and tested by your children, but rein in your anger. “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20)

#4. Build a Pattern of Open, Meaningful ConversationsLet your conversation be truthful, and don’t talk down to your kids. Don’t be condescending to them. Listen to them. Hear the meaning behind their words. Become THE EXPERT in hearing and understanding your child. Don’t take your frustrations out on them. Every day, at the dinner table or at bedtime, create opportunities for conversations about EVERYTHING.

Recently I saw a mother and young daughter at McDonalds. The daughter was chatting away, clearly speaking to her mother. The mother’s attention was on her smartphone, which in this case was a tool of the enemy, hindering family dialogue. Put your phone away, parents, when your kids are talking to you! They deserve that!

#5. Be a Model of MaturityOkay, so you may not see yourself as mature. But it’s time to be an adult when it comes to your children. Grow up! As is often said, “Don’t worry so much about being a friend to your child.” They need a parent. Who is YOUR model of a mature adult? Model YOURSELF after them.

So those are Five Principles for Sound Parenting.

Ten Sundays ago I preached a sermon called Teach Your Children Well. The focus was on passing our Christian life to our children in such a way that they become fully-devoted followers of Jesus. Today I will share with you again, from that message, Two More Principles for Faith-Filled Parenting.

#1. Take every opportunity to speak with your children about what it means to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. Exodus 6:6-9 — 6-9 Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates. (The Message)

So we are to internalize the values and commands of the Lord. Write them on our hearts. Get them inside ourselves and our children. Talk about them wherever we are. At home. Walking down the street. At waking-up time. At bedtime. All through the day.

We need to read about God’s ways to our children. We need to write about them. We need to paint the Gospel into our paintings. We need to sing it into your songs. We need to carve God’s Word into our doorframes and engrave it on the city gates.

Live God’s truth. Breathe it in and out. Take every opportunity to teach God’s ways to your children and grandchildren.

#2. Be the kind of Christian you want your children to become. Be the genuine article! Be the real deal! Be the worshiper! Be the servant! Be the encourager. Be the peacemaker. Be Jesus “with skin on” for your children and grandchildren!

When it comes to goodness, put all of your faith in what Jesus Christ has done for you. He is your Boss! He is your Master! He is your Lord! Be the kind of Christian you want your children to become.

If we can instill the teachings of Jesus into the minds and hearts of our children, we will have done something of eternal value. We are frail and broken, all of us. But if we can model Jesus before our children so that they GET IT, so that they see Him in us, we will have given them the very best gift!

God bless you in your role as a Faith-Filled Parent!

Teach Your Children Well

Sermon #1 in series “Ripples of the Resurrection”

Preached April 12, 2015

Brook Hill United Methodist Church, Frederick, MD, USA

Deuteronomy 6:1-9 (NIV) 

1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that 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. Hear, 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 ancestors, promised you. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 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. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Today we start a sermon series called “Ripples of the Resurrection.”

The resurrection of Jesus is foundational for God’s people. There wouldn’t be a Christian movement if Christ hadn’t risen. And the resurrection is meant to have an ever-expanding impact from our lives into all the world. The ripples of Jesus’ resurrection are meant to flow outward even after 2000 years.

This morning I want to address the issue of how the Good News of Jesus is transmitted from one generation to the next.

My cousin Kevin Hicks sent me a quote whose author we can’t identify: “A faith that is a reality to one generation, if treated by the second as a convenience, will be regarded by the third as a nuisance.”

Our task, I think, is to make Jesus Christ a living reality in our lives, and a living reality (rather than merely a convenience) in the lives of our children.

You may feel that you have not done right by your children when it comes to spiritual things. But God loves your children. He is calling them to Himself every day. He is whispering to them, and sometimes shouting, “Turn to me, come to me and be saved!” It is not His will that any of them should perish, but that all of them should come to eternal life.

So pray for your children and grandchildren by name! Let your children hear you as you pray for them.   Many Christians have never developed the habit of praying aloud, and one of the sad results is that their children and grandchildren have never heard their parents lifting their names in prayer.

There’s probably no ironclad guarantee that our children and grandchildren will follow in our footsteps when it comes to Christian living. But the Bible gives us some important guidelines.

The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, his son in the faith, and he says: “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. (2 Timothy 1:5) 

It’s no coincidence that Timothy’s mother and grandmother were followers of Jesus, and that he followed in their footsteps, even though his father and grandfather may not have been believers.

This morning I suggest to you that passing our faith on to our children and grandchildren doesn’t happen by chance, but by purposeful action.

And I am suggesting two action steps which will make it far more likely that our children will become followers of Jesus:

1. Take every opportunity to speak with your children about what it means to follow Jesus wholeheartedly.

Please read with me again the verses from Exodus 6:6-9 — Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates. (The Message)

So we are to internalize the values and commands of the Lord. Write them on our hearts. Get them inside ourselves and our children. Talk about them wherever we are. At home. Walking down the street. At waking-up time. At bedtime. All through the day.

Read about God’s ways to your children. Write about them. Crochet the good news into your doilies. Paint it into your paintings. Sing it into your songs. Carve God’s Word into your doorframes. Engrave it into the city gates.

Live God’s truth. Breathe it in and out. Take every opportunity to teach God’s ways to your children and grandchildren.

Connie and I are blessed with two daughters who have grown into feisty, opinionated women. They welcomed Jesus into their lives at an early age and are now strong believers in their 30s. I give my wife 90% of the credit for this.

She was their teacher, the parent with common sense, the practical one who indoctrinated our daughters, line upon line, precept upon precept. She was the one who gave them the right to disagree, but to be respectful. She was the one who not only taught what is right and good, but also why it is right and good – the principle – the reason behind everything.

Her main rule was that we would eat our evening meal together, whether early or late. Dinner was the high point of the day, a time to share with one another, to grow together, to laugh, to weep, to pray together.

Connie and I haven’t been perfect people or perfect parents. Early on, there were years of struggle in our marriage. Our daughters knew about those struggles, even as young girls. But they also knew we had made marriage vows to last a lifetime. And they knew our faith was real, even when the going got tough.

Our daughters are not perfect. But I’m so thankful for what I see of Jesus in them.

2. Be the kind of Christian you want your children to become.

Our children live with us. They know whether our faith is deep or shallow. They know whether our commitment to Jesus Christ is a Sunday infatuation or whether it carries over into the rest of the week.

What will happen if our children see their parents as fully devoted followers of Jesus? They will be far more likely to follow in our footsteps.

What will happen if our children see us honestly struggling to apply God’s truth to the hidden places of our lives? They will be far more likely to say, “That’s what it means to be an real Christian.” They will be far more likely to seek after God for themselves.

What will happen if our children hear us praying aloud and they feel our earnestness and they sense the Holy Spirit moving through our words? It will be much more likely that their hearts will resonate with ours.

What will happen when, at mealtime, our children hear us speaking of God’s grace and goodness, and how He is working in the circumstances of our lives? They’ll begin to speak in the same way. Their speech will be seasoned with their own God-thoughts, with their own personal spiritual discoveries.

I suggest to you that we have a real problem if our children never hear us speak about our faith, if they never hear us pray.

In Matthew 12:34b, Jesus says that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (NKJV)

What do your children and grandchildren hear coming out of your mouth?

Could it be that we ourselves – parents and grandparents – have nothing spiritual to say to our children because there is no spiritual abundance within us?

Aiden Wilson Tozer was a 20th-century preacher and writer. Listen to his probing words: “The church is notorious in using outside pressure to make a sinner act like a Christian. You can teach almost anybody to do almost anything. Baptize him, confirm him and feed him the Lord’s Supper regularly; instruct him in the faith, and after a while he begins to act like a Christian. He is not a Christian because there is not that inward factor impelling him to righteousness and true holiness. Outside pressure is making him conform and act like a Christian. However, when he is away from that pressure, he reverts to acting like himself— a sinner.”  (A. W. Tozer “Experiencing the Presence of God”)

It may be that SOME OF US have never experienced the transforming grace of God for ourselves. The GOOD NEWS is that Jesus’ love is meant to be experienced by you in a personal way that will transform your life.

God wants to touch you in the inner places of your heart and mind. TODAY He wants to change you from the inside out. He wants you to have a genuine faith to share with your children and grandchildren.