Teach Them Diligently

By: Lauren Carter – Children’s Director

I remember being in my second grade class when my teacher asked us, if we could, who we would vote for in the upcoming presidential election (to avoid revealing incriminating evidence about my age, these candidates shall remain nameless). She then asked us to raise our hands to indicate which candidates our parents were voting for. I don’t remember where the lesson went from there, but what I do remember vividly, is nearly every child (including me) indicated that they would vote for the exact same candidate that their parents would vote for.

Whether we like it or not, as parents, we are the primary influencers in our child’s lives, especially when it comes to their spiritual lives. This may be surprising if your angry teenager or moody tween just told you they no longer want to be seen in public with you, but the research backs it up: more often than not, adults tend to follow the religious traditions of their parents. And grandparents, the research also shows that kids are looking at your spiritual lives too!

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 states:  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

I think it is very important to note the order in which this verse is written. First and foremost, Deuteronomy clearly states that God alone is the Lord. There is no other, and we are directed to love Him with all of our heart, our soul and our might. There is no room in there for anything else! Of course we are called to love others, but that selfless love overflows from us because of our all-consuming love for the Creator, the Almighty God who took the humble position of a servant to die for our sins. Parents, we can’t know the commands we are supposed to be teaching diligently to our children unless we ourselves know them inside and out.

But just knowing them is not enough…the Scripture says they must be on our hearts. As parents, we are called to disciple our children, but we can’t make disciples unless we ourselves are disciples. It is easier than you might think to overlook your own spiritual growth, especially in the day-to-day busyness that goes hand-in-hand with raising children. I don’t have to tell you that raising kids is hard work, and in my opinion, impossible without the wisdom of our Heavenly Father. If I am going to be a light helping illuminate the way for my children, I have to be plugged into the power source: God Himself. For me, that looks like daily time in the Word, talking to the Lord all throughout the day, listening to the Lord’s voice, and responding in obedience to His leading. Parents, loving God with all your heart, soul and mind has to be in practice in your life if you are going to teach it diligently to your children.

The research noted above found that one of the key indicators in regard to whether or not a child is likely to emulate their parent’s faith is consistent modeling. Consistent modeling…now where have we heard that before? Oh right, “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Long before the research came forth, the Bible had it right. In the NIV version, it says (in reference to the commandments), “impress them on your children”. At my house, I am one of those coaster people. You know the person who waits until no one looks and then tries to subtly move someone’s misplaced beverage onto a coaster…yes, that’s me. I know from past experience those ice cold beverages will leave a permanent impression on our table, forever reminding us of the drink that once sat there.

Parents, it is exactly this kind of permanent impression that you are called to make on your children. While a cold drink leaves its mark on furniture nearly instantly, impressions on the heart take time, and they take consistency. Whatever you value, your children will value. Your highest priority has a tremendous influence on what they prioritize. Do your kids see that spending time in God’s Word is something you look forward to and make a priority? Do they see you talking (and listening!) to God, praising Him, expressing your fears and doubts to Him, and asking for His provision? Do they see you joyfully obeying Him in every area of your life? Do you place high importance on being part of the church body of believers, serving them and living life along with them? Or are you involved only when it is convenient for your schedule? Do they see you loving God with all of your heart, soul and might? (Yep, I think I stepped on my own toes with some of those questions!)

I think it is interesting to note in these verses from Deuteronomy that the first way the Scripture encourages us to teach these commandments diligently to our children is by talking about them. And talk about them everywhere! Rather than adding “Disciple your children” as one more thing on your never-ending “To-Do” list, I encourage you to be intentional with the time you already have with your children built into your day. Turn down the radio and make the most of those moments in the carpool line. Eat dinner together as a family with the TV off. Engage in conversation as you give your child a bath or while they help you wash the dishes, or even as you drive them to soccer practice. Whether it’s a bedtime story or just a quick check-in before bed, use all of these moments to be intentional about talking with your child. Ask God to provide opportunities in these moments to steer the conversation to Him and for the words to speak. Often the best conversations start when you ask a few open-ended questions (“What was the best part of your day?” and “What was the most challenging part of your day?”) Take time to rejoice in prayer over what went well and to pray with them about what didn’t. And take these moments to share your story, parents. It is so powerful! Let kids know how God has worked in your life in similar situations.

The next verses in Deuteronomy talk about taking action as you impress these commands on your children, binding them to your hands, writing them on your doorposts…so they are constantly before you. Interestingly, the research shows that the second most important factor in whether or not a child emulates his parent’s faith, is the quality of the relationship between the parent and child. Mom and Dad, are you role models that your children find worth following? We know actions speak loudly, so what are your actions saying? Do they demonstrate that Jesus is your greatest love, or is something (or someone) else occupying His rightful place?

Parents, it is a tall order to disciple your children. And in our own strength, an impossible task. Thankfully, we were not meant to walk through this parenting journey alone. Parents, I encourage you to turn to God and ask for His wisdom. Ask Him to show you what needs to change in your own life. Ask Him to show you how you can create a spiritual rhythm for your home. For us, that rhythm looks like dinnertime discussions each night as we go over one of “The Other 6” questions from our church’s children’s ministry newsletter, about what our kids learned on Sunday.  We also read a Bible story and spend time in prayer together before bed each night. When we’re driving in the car, we pray about the people we are going to visit or the activity we’re about to do, or for the people who might be hurting as we see an ambulance pass by. We pray for our neighbors and for opportunities to tell them about Jesus as we take walks to the nearby park in the evening. When we are cleaning the house to get ready for our small group to come over or to prepare for new neighbors we have invited for dinner, we pray for those who are coming and talk about why serving others is so important, and how Jesus so lovingly served us. Your spiritual rhythm may look similar or very different, but know that I am praying for you as you read this, that God would show you what that could look like in your family.

And parents, plug into a local body of believers. Adults need that deep connection with other followers of Jesus, that comes from active, regular involvement in a local church body, and our kids need it too! Be careful though not to make the faulty assumption that your child’s spiritual growth will be “taken care of” by the church. As parents, it is our responsibility to make disciples of our children, and it is not a job that we can hand off to others. But our church family is there to support us in this role, to encourage us, to be additional voices reaffirming those Biblical truths that our children hear from us at home, and to stand alongside us as examples of what a follower of Jesus looks like.

Making disciples of our children is a tall order indeed. And sometimes we don’t have all the answers. And it’s OK to let our kids know that! Search God’s Word and ask Him in prayer for the answers together with your children. Other times we will fail and our children will see it. Let them also see us asking for their forgiveness and asking for the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father. Sometimes kids learn more from how we respond to our failures than anything else!

God chose you to be the parent of your child. Because you’re perfect? Definitely not. But because in His divine wisdom He wants to work through you to accomplish His great purpose of shaping your child into a fully-formed follower of Christ. And it is ultimately the Lord (and only Him) who draws people to Himself and shows them the need for salvation. In His amazing grace, He has seen fit to let us be a part of the work He is doing in our children’s lives. So teach diligently parents and make an impression!

 

 

 

 

Lame Sacrifices

Recently, my church began a sermon series on the book of Malachi. When it comes to the most popular books of the Bible, Malachi likely doesn’t finish near the top of the list. Malachi is a small book at the end of the Old Testament. It may be small in size, but its message is big and timely. As you read Malachi, you begin to see that the people were going through the motions of worship, but their hearts were far from God. One section really seems to highlight this. If you have time, I highly encourage you to read Malachi 1:6-14 today.

The people had dishonored God by bringing defiled sacrifices and the priests disobeyed God by allowing it to happen. God was not pleased and plainly tells them they can keep their lame sacrifices (Mal. 1:8-10). They were supposed to be giving God their best (Leviticus 22:19-20). Instead, they were giving God their leftovers because they wished to sell all the valuable livestock for profit. To follow God’s law required a sacrifice. It required them to put God first, trusting that if they honored God with their best He would bless them abundantly. However, they had become apathetic in their worship. They were too busy making worship about themselves to worship God properly.

It seems God’s people have a history of amnesia. Time and time again, all too quickly, they forget who they are dealing with. Despite God intervening for them in miraculous ways, His people constantly turn away from Him.  As you follow their story throughout the Old Testament, you can see them follow God and obey for a while only to turn aside and chase worldly things.

In this section of Malachi, God calls for their best and they offer stolen, lame and blind animals. These sacrifices are both literally and figuratively lame. These are not a sacrifice. They cost them nothing. A sovereign King deserves better. God is having nothing of it and it is as if God is saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Adding insult to injury, the people are so far gone they don’t even realize how offensive their sacrifices are. When God calls them to account, they ask God, “How have we done this?” (Mal. 1:6-7). The lack of respect is staggering. The audacity leaps from the page.

However, before we are too harsh with the Israelites, let’s ask ourselves the same question. “How have we done this?” Have we ever brought lame offerings to God?

a) Do we ever compromise our convictions for convenience?

b) Do we ever schedule other things over the priority of corporate worship and offer God the leftovers of our week?

c) When we are not entertained with the music do we ever say, “I just wasn’t feeling the Spirit move today”?

d) When we dislike the Sunday message, do we disregard and devalue its truth? Who told us it was acceptable to disregard and disobey simply because we disagree?

e) When it is inconvenient to serve do we step forward or do we quit?

f) When we don’t feel like praising God, do we still lift our voice in song to God to offer a sacrifice of praise that is due His name or do we quietly hold our coffee?

g) Does the business of worship consume us or have we become consumers?

This should break our hearts: God has called us to selfless sacrifice and we offer selfish sacrilege. Modern worship is filled with this sad irony. What is supposed to be all about God (worship) we’ve turned into something about us. In so doing, we have shown the world a little god and we should not blame them if they are not interested in that.

How does this happen? We don’t wake up one day and decide to offer God our leftovers. It is my contention that slowly, our hearts naturally drift form God. Resting comfortably in the very protection and provision He provides, God shrinks in our eyes and simultaneously, we get bigger. The result is half-hearted worship. Half-hearted worship arises from a small view of God. We need a bigger view of God. We need to regularly be reminded of His majesty and greatness and glory. That will fuel a life of worship. We get it twisted around. We often judge the quality of a church gathering by its music, lighting, attendance and preaching. We want to be entertained instead of entertaining God. We do not need to be entertained by great music. We do not need eloquent speakers. We do not need to attend the most “happening” or “relevant” church. What is needed is for God’s revelation of Himself to set our hearts ablaze regularly. We need to make much of Jesus in every single gathering. Let him grow in our eyes. When God grows in your eyes, so does your worship. When you can get a fresh perspective of who God is no one will have to convince you of His worth. When people see Him they melt to the ground. When people see God they are turned from “Sauls” into “Pauls.” They are all at once terrified and yet mesmerized.

The phrase “Lord of Hosts” is mentioned 7 times in this short passage from Malachi. What is this term? It is translated “Lord almighty” in the NIV. It carries a military connotation of supreme commander of Heaven’s armies. Think power, wisdom, respect, reverence and fear. The Lord of Hosts does not lose. He does not fear anything. He is supremely victorious over any opponent and He holds life and death in His hands. God has primarily revealed himself to us in grace through the incarnation of Jesus, the Lamb of God. But never forget that is not all that He is. Because God is so compassionate and graceful it’s easy to forget His power, wrath and holiness. When we get a little too comfortable with God, it leads to a lack of Respect and Reverence. Let us not lose the full picture of who God is. He is the Lamb of God, but He is also the Lion of Judah.

Lions are inherently majestic and dangerous. When you get into intimate proximity with a lion you feel something down deep. When he fixes his gaze upon you, do you not shudder? If you dare to peer into his eyes your guts churn a little bit, right? God is not only meek, gentle and graceful. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the beginning and the end. He is the eternal mysterious triune God. The mountains melt like wax before Him. He has swallowed entire armies with earth and sea. Let us never forget that the same God which can rain down blessing can pummel with pestilence and plague with only a word from His mouth. Consider the following from Ecclesiastes:

Eccl 5:1-2 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Better to draw near in obedience than to offer the sacrifice as fools do, for they ignorantly do wrong. Do not be hasty to speak, and do not be impulsive to make a speech before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”

“Lord of Hosts” is not just about a powerful military figure. It is first used at the beginning of the Old Testament. In Genesis 2:1, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the HOST of them.” When He is “Lord of Hosts” He is Lord of all. God is also the mighty creator. Look up at the stars and witness His brilliance. Gaze upon His beauty and you will fall silent. (Isaiah 40:26, Psalm 147: 4-5) Scientists estimate the number of stars conservatively at 1024. That is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Some of them are so big that if you were to board a passenger airliner it would take 1,100 years to fly around them. Can you fathom that size? Can you grasp that number? God calls each one out by name. He created them with just words from His mouth.

Our God is huge! We are tiny. We are a vapor and He is eternal. He is infinite and beyond reckoning. If you can truly see that, I won’t need to tell you to put Him first. You will gladly offer him everything. If you can just get a glimpse of Him, I will not need to convince you of His worth. You will quickly fall before Him in adoration. You will open your mouth and your heart and soul will want to spill forth in song or fall silent in reverence. Isaiah saw Him in a vision and was floored by His magnificence and holiness.

This is our King. He is so holy, so powerful and magnificent that we would die in His presence. But this great King has also given us Jesus. He has stooped low and walked among us. Even now, we have King Jesus standing in our place interceding for us in the heavens where there is no sun or moon or day or night but the Glory of God fills the heavens. Because of Him we are healed. Because of Him our sins are no more. Because of Him we can come before the feet of God to love and be loved. Don’t you just love King Jesus?

Remember all this as you approach God. Remember our propensity to worship ourselves and remember a worthy King is waiting to be remembered and worshipped by you. Lift your voice, humble yourself and pray. Your King is listening.

This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24 (HCSB)

This is the final post in the “Leaving & Cleaving” series on the importance of prioritizing the marriage relationship above all other human relationships. The first post discussed the reality that sometimes the marriage bond between husband and wife is not allowed to become a priority because the parents of one or both spouses are unable to let go and send their child out as an adult. The second post covered some of the ways married adults are unable to prioritize the marriage bond because they remain overly attached to their parents. In this post, we will discuss how married couples often allow their children to be the priority, rather than their marriage.

In my experience, the prioritizing of a child or children over the spouse is the most common of the three topics discussed in this series. Further, I believe prioritizing children over the marriage relationship is a key-contributing factor to the other two threats discussed in this series.

Sometimes parents can make this mistake by overwhelming their children with attention, giving them everything they want, doing everything for their kids, and making sure they are always happy and nothing is ever too hard or inconvenient. They arrange their schedules and finances around their children. The child is raised with “too much privilege and not enough responsibility” leading to a prolonged adolescence. Mom and Dad can’t see their child as an adult, because they’ve never allowed their child to become one.

At the same time, the children find themselves unable to function in the real world because they have no idea how to do anything for themselves. They don’t know how to pay bills, because mom and dad always paid for everything. They don’t know how to handle conflict at work because mom and dad always called the teacher to fix whatever problems there were, yes, even in college. They can’t turn work in on time because mom and dad aren’t standing over them reminding them it’s due tomorrow. They even struggle in finding employment. Believe it or not, there are college graduates whose parents call a potential employer to negotiate interview and compensation packages. Don’t believe me, click here.

After many years in youth ministry, I believe one of the greatest forms of idolatry we have in this country today is the worship of our children. We put our children ahead of everything and it is detrimental to our marriages and them. What we’re talking about is the child-centered home.

On Mother’s Day, our church celebrated a parent-child dedication. This is a special time for parents to stand before the church and commit to being the primary discipler of their children. It is also a time for the church to commit to come alongside the parents and support them as they raise their children, helping to point their children toward a personal faith in and relationship with Christ. Prior to the ceremony, the parents attend an orientation in which they are taught about the importance of a Christ-centered home, rather than a child-centered home.

A child-centered is a home where children are the center of the family. This kind of home is dangerous for a number of reasons. It fosters self-centeredness in the child. It attacks the husband and wife relationship, no longer allowing the marriage bond to be the primary human relationship in the home. This often results in a husband and wife looking up at each other after the kids have gone off to college only to realize “We are strangers, I don’t know you any more.” Sadly, this often leads to divorce it is a growing trend called the “Empty Nest divorce.” In 1990 one in every ten adults over fifty was divorced, today it is one in four.

The better alternative is a Christ-centered home. This type of home supports the husband and wife bond and encourages a Biblically based balanced approach to parenting. Whereas the child-centered home fosters self-centeredness, the Christ-centered home fosters a healthy level of interdependence, “We are a team, and mommy and daddy are the leaders.”

So, how can we prioritize the marriage relationship and avoid the child-centered home?

DATE NIGHT! Date night is not the only prevention/solution, but it is a great first step and will go a long way. A weekly date night communicates to your friends, family, and children that you are going to make your marriage a priority.

My wife and I recently completed a Date Night Challenge with our church. Before one of our dates, one of our sons asked, “Why are you going out on a date?” Smiling, I responded with, “Because we love you very much and one of the best things we can give you is a healthy marriage.” He giggled and said, “Okay. Have fun.” Leaving our kids at home for a few hours a week, with a babysitter of course, is a simple way of demonstrating that our lives do not revolve around them. It also is a great reminder that mom and dad won’t always be around, so they need to plan accordingly. They need to learn how to do things for and take care of themselves.

One of the things I pray daily for my children is that when the time comes and they begin their own marriage I will be able to send them out as adults, not on a journey to become one. That they will bond with their spouse as their primary human relationship and that, when they have children, they will continue to make their marriage a priority the same way their mother and I are seeking to do.

Leaving & Cleaving

Part 2: Leaving

 

Genesis 2:24 “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.” (HCSB)

In part one of this post, we saw how this verse and its placement in the Scripture demonstrate the priority of marriage, the joining of one man and one woman for life. It was stated that Genesis 2:24 is as much a parenting verse as it is a marriage verse. From this one verse we see that the bond between husband and wife is to be stronger than the bond between parent and child. However, the bond between husband and wife is not always allowed to form as the primary human relationship due to the inability of one or both spouses to leave behind, in a healthy manner, the bond between themselves and their parents.

Part one of this series focused on the importance of the parents’ role of sending their children out of the home as adults, rather than on a journey to become one; avoiding prolonged adolescence, thereby helping young adults to be better prepared for the marriage relationship. Even in families where parents have done their best to prepare their children for adulthood and marriage, married couples may find there is still an attachment to the family of origin for one or both spouses. Whether you are a newlywed couple or have been married for decades, failure to separate (in a healthy way) from parents in order to bond with their spouse will cause difficulty in the marriage relationship. In this post, we will discuss four ways people stay attached to their parents, causing difficulty in marriage.

FINANCIALLY

Money is one of the biggest ways a married adult, especially a young adult, may find themselves unintentionally still attached to their parents. Financial independence is a big part of severing the bond with parents and forming a new, stronger bond with your spouse. There is nothing wrong with parents blessing their children with a gift, as long as that is what it truly is, or helping in a major crisis. The difficulty arises when the parents’ financial contribution comes with conditions and expectations or is an integral part of the regular running of the household.

Money has a way of changing the relationship. A couple may receive a “gift” from one set of parents and when Christmas rolls around suddenly you hear, “Oh, you’re traveling to see them for Christmas. I guess that’s how you want to spend the money WE gave you.” Or, “We were hoping you would use that money for…” Always be careful when accepting financial gifts, be sure it is with no strings attached.

Usually, it is not the gifts that keep married couples attached to their parents. It is the smaller things that we may think are not really a big deal; staying on mom and dad’s cell phone plan, health insurance, car insurance, a little extra cash here and there to pay the rent or for groceries. These may seem small, however, they contribute to prolonged adolescence (too much privilege, not enough responsibility) and keep you from making a healthy break from your parents.

Some of my greatest memories in my marriage came in those moments when we were struggling financially and we had to rely on God’s provision and figure it out together. It made our marriage stronger and now we look back and laugh about the times when our only entertainment was to spend hours sitting at a folding table in a 400 square foot apartment playing poker with a $.99 box of Mike & Ike candies or watching a DVD we borrowed from the library because we couldn’t even afford to rent a movie.

EMOTIONAL SUPPORT

“I am having an affair with…my mother.” Gross. I vividly remember hearing those words from a friend of mine who had been struggling in his marriage. He told me about how his marriage had been struggling and as he and his wife talked about what was going on a big part of it was that she felt left out. Anytime something big happened, good or bad, she was always the second call, his mom was the first. That’s when he realized he was having an emotional affair with his mom. He was turning to his mom for the emotional support and fulfillment he should be getting from his wife.

This is more common that we’d like to think. Emotional affairs can form with anyone, and they are just as damaging to a marriage as a sexual affair. However, it has been my experience that they often happen with a parent. It makes sense when you think about it. Mom and dad have likely been your biggest supporters and confidants for most of your life and old habits die hard. Yet, a HUGE part of bonding with your spouse is the emotional connection. To give the primary emotional connection to someone else is nothing short of infidelity.

APPROVAL

What kind of church do you attend? Why? What kind of car do you drive? Why? How did you vote in the last election? Why? Perhaps you’ve never given it much thought, but many of us attend the churches we attend, drive the cars we drive, vote the way we vote, and think the way we think because of our parents. To some degree, it’s natural and to be expected. The problem arises when we find ourselves making decisions in our marriage based on what our parents will think, how they will feel, or how they will respond. If you make decisions based on the opinions and feelings of your parents, it will be difficult for you to rise above that and ask, “Is this the best decision for my spouse, my family, and me?”

Honestly, this is an area where I struggle. Not necessarily with my parents, but with approval in general. I’m driven, a perfectionist, and I’ve always been a high achiever. Along with that comes a desire for someone to recognize when I’ve done well. God is continuing to work on me in this area and I am constantly reminding myself of Galatians 1:10 “For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ.” I have to remind myself there is only One whose opinion truly matters. It is upon that opinion only that my wife and I base all our decisions.

ANGER

Of all the ways you may stay attached to your parents, this is perhaps the stealthiest and most toxic. Your parents may have died years ago, yet you may still be attached to them through unresolved anger, resentment, and bitterness.

Anger can be stealthy. It may lie dormant for years until a memory is triggered by a word or experience and suddenly you are overwhelmed with a flood of emotions. The anger begins to consume your thoughts; it is the first thing you think of in the morning and the last thing you think of before you finally fall asleep after lying awake for hours, tossing and turning. Soon you find yourself drained emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. It can also stealthily linger in the back of your mind for years, not overwhelming you but remaining just present enough to rob you of a healthy life.

This is what makes anger so toxic. You’ve expended so much, yet nothing has changed, meanwhile, the object of your anger is likely often blissfully unaware and completely unaffected. It has been said that unresolved anger is like drinking poison hoping the other person will get sick.

Forgiveness is the only cure for anger. Much could be said about forgiveness. For now, it is important recognize that forgiveness is not reconciliation and forgiveness is not an event, rather it is a process. Reconciliation requires two people. If your parents have died reconciliation is not an option, forgiveness still is. Lastly, forgiveness is not a one-time event it is an ongoing process. It takes time. Yet, if you pursue forgiveness, over time, little by little, you will find yourself experiencing freedom from the prison created by your own anger.

Finances, emotional support, approval, and anger are just a few of the ways a married person may find themselves bound to their parents rather than leaving that bond, in a healthy manner, in order to bond with their spouse. If you find yourself struggling to prioritize the bond with your spouse first, identify the connection that needs to be severed in order to prioritize the bond with your spouse and begin taking action. It may mean you find a more mature couple who will give you godly counsel and mentor you, seek out a professional Biblical counselor, or visit with your pastor about how to move forward. Do whatever is necessary to make your marriage bond a priority by leaving your mother and father in order to bond with your spouse.

Genesis 2:24 “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.” (HCSB)

Within the first few pages of Scripture, we come across the first reference to marriage, the joining of one man and one woman for life. In the midst of reflecting on the account of God’s creation and the apex of His creation, mankind, having been created in His image and likeness, the writer includes this editorial comment on marriage. This verse is certainly not an exhaustive handling of the subject of marriage, but it is still an important one. The placement of this verse within the first few chapters of Scripture further illustrates the value and priority God places on marriage. The family becomes the first institution ordained by God. Before government, before even the church, God ordained the family as the first institution and ordained the relationship of the husband and wife as the foundation of the family.

Since God has placed such a high priority and value on marriage, we should too. How do we do that? The priority of marriage can be demonstrated in a number of ways, but a great place to start is by recognizing that the marriage bond is to be the strongest of all human relationships. It is important to recognize that this one verse contains not only insight into marriage, but also it also contains insight into parenting.

This verse tells us that once we are married our allegiance shifts from our parents to our spouses. Once we are married, our primary concern is our relationship with our spouse. The bond between spouses is meant to be stronger than the bond between the parent and child. The decisions we make ought to reflect the reality that our marriage relationship is the priority over any other human relationship.

There are many ways we can fail to prioritize the marriage relationship. This series of posts will focus in on three:  1) Parents who are unable to send. 2) Children who are unable to leave. 3) Couples who prioritize children over their spouse. In this post, we will only focus on number one.

  • Parents who are unable to send.

I love weddings. As a former youth pastor, I am getting more and more opportunities to officiate weddings. I enjoy getting to know the couple through pre-marital counseling, seeing them grow as they prepare for a lifetime together, then celebrating them as the form a new family.

Inevitably, there is a point, at the rehearsal or on the wedding day, when one of the parents says something like, “I’m not losing a son, I’m gaining a daughter.” Much to their shock, I reply, “NOPE! You are losing a son.” That’s what is supposed to happen. Yes, you will still be a part of your child’s life, but the relationship is going to change, their allegiance will now shift from you to their spouse. This is by God’s design. Parents have to be prepared for this.

As previously mentioned, Genesis 2:24 is as much a parenting verse as it is a marriage verse. The first part of the verse says, “This is why a MAN leaves his father and mother…” Pastor and author Ted Cunningham has said, “Our job as parents is to send our kids out of the home as adults, not on a journey to become one.”

Recently, there were a number of articles stating that for the first time in modern history the most common living arrangement for those 18-34 is not with a spouse or in their own apartment or home, rather, it is with their parents. A major contributing factor to this is prolonged adolescence. Greg and Erin Smalley define prolonged adolescence as “too much privilege, not enough responsibility.” (Many have already written about prolonged adolescence, so I’m not going to cover it in detail here. However, it is worth reading about.)

Sending our kids out as adults isn’t as simple as saying, “Congratulations, you’re 18, you’ve graduated high school, you’re now an adult.” If we expect our kids to leave home as adults we must progressively give them more and more responsibility and ability to make decisions for themselves. The level of responsibility and decision-making should be age appropriate.

Our six-year-old triplets are responsible for making their beds every day and helping with other chores. They get to decide what to wear each day (mom & dad still get to the final say in what clothes are purchased). They each have give, save, and spend jars. They get to choose how to use their spend money. Our two-year-old is responsible for taking her plate to the sink after meals, cleaning up her toys, and other age appropriate tasks. She gets to pick her own outfits, which is why they often don’t match. She gets to pick which shoes she will wear. (Bonus parenting tip: Try telling a two-year-old “Go put shoes on.” And you’ll likely hear, “NO!” Asking a two-year-old which shoes they want to wear, “Boots or sandals?” will usually get a better response. It lets them feel like they are making a choice). As our kids get older, the responsibilities will increase as well as the level of decisions we allow them to make for themselves.

Sometimes, my wife and I see our children about to make a decision that will fail, we warn them about their decision and it’s consequences, if they choose to go through with it we let them fail. Then we have the opportunity to discuss what happened, help them learn from their mistake and hopefully help them avoid making that same mistake again in the future. I truly believe it is better to let them fail in some small things when they are young, when the consequences are far less severe, and my wife and I are there to coach them through the failure rather than to never let them fail or wait until they fail at a point in life when the consequences are far more severe.  This process is how we learn to make better decisions in the future.

One reason parents struggle to let go of their children and send them out into a marriage relationship is because they have raised grown children, not adults. This, in turn, leaves parents trying to make decisions for their grown children who are now married. When the children do not do what the parents think they should do there is often a discussion about “honoring your mother and father.” Unfortunately, in these situations, the parents are looking for their grown children to obey them, not simply to honor them. Even in situations where the children do leave home as adults, parents may struggle with the expectation that their children will obey them rather than simply honor them. There is a BIG difference between honoring parents and obeying them. To obey means to “conform or comply with; to follow the command or guidance of.” To honor means, “showing esteem and respect to a person of superior standing.”

Parents must respect the reality that, by God’s design, their child’s allegiance is now with their spouse, and not the parents. Parents can be a great resource for married couples and can provide wise counsel. Just be sure you are providing counsel and not commands. If your adult child and their spouse make a decision you disagree with it doesn’t mean they are not honoring you, it simply means they made the decision they thought was best for their marriage. In fact, perhaps this should be celebrated as a demonstration that they have left home, bonded to their spouse, and are now prioritizing their spouse above any other human relationship.

How well are you doing at preparing your kids to leave home as adults? As they get older and mature, are you adding to their responsibilities? Are you allowing them to make age appropriate decisions for themselves? Do you let them fail in some small things so you can coach them through how to make better decisions in the future? Have you let your adult children leave? Do you find yourself asking your adult children to obey you rather than honor you? How can you help your adult children prioritize their marriage? How can you better prioritize your marriage?

Maybe you grew up with too much privilege and not enough responsibility. Are you lacking in any area as an adult? Consider asking your parents to help you grow in that area or seek out a mentor from your church.

In my next post, we will discuss ways that adults stay attached to their parents instead of leaving home and bonding with their spouse.

 

Hope: The Fuel of Persistence

God’s people are no strangers to waiting on something. Consider the following examples. There are many more where these came from.

It took Noah between 55-75 years to build the ark. What amount of questions and ridicule did he endure from others in the process? He focused on doing all that God commanded.

Moses led God’s people (after being slaves for hundreds of years) for 40 years out into the wilderness on a journey that should have only taken days. He dealt with division/disagreement setbacks and complaints the entire time. The vast majority of the people on the journey failed to see the Promised Land. But, God was faithful.

Daniel endured a night with man-eaters and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walked out of the furnace without a trace of fire or smoke upon them. Their God was with them.

David was anointed as king over Israel as a boy, but had to endure a murderous and jealous Saul. Over 20 years later, after running for his life for years, he was finally made king. God’s timing, though sometimes confusing, is still perfect. It is just too big for you and me.

What are You Waiting For?

Have you ever had to wait for something? Perhaps it is something so great that you can barely stand the wait. Perhaps it is something really difficult and taxing and you don’t know if you can keep going. It’s hard to wait on something. Especially if it is not particularly comfortable in life’s waiting rooms. I do not claim to have this whole thing figured out, but I think great things often do take time. One of the greatest things is the Church! As a church planter, I know firsthand that building the church is an uphill battle with more than its fair share of set-backs and hurtles. However, I have also learned that it can be extremely rewarding, especially when I learn to see it from God’s perspective. Roman’s 15:13 hints at what I am describing. It says, “May the God of all hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in Him.”

The Journey of Knowing God

I think we get a little hung up on the destination when God is busy trying to get through to us on the journey. He wants to grow us and be known by us. He wants to build a relationship with us. What if God was using the ark to teach Noah of His sovereignty and provision? I am sure Noah just wanted to be finished with it. God may have wanted one more plank and hammer stroke with Noah to teach him the treasure of knowing God. Think on this, God could’ve just snapped his fingers and wiped out everyone besides Noah and his family in an instant. Instead, he chose a long process that would allow this created man and his family to know their creator in a deeper manner. Imagine their trust in God as the last animals showed up, the great doors sealed and the first sound of thunder echoed in their ears.

How about Moses? As Moses was trying to lead God’s people across the wilderness I am sure he learned how to be more patient and graceful with the people he led. He got a glimpse of what God has to deal with. God doesn’t want us to just arrive at the “promised lands” in our lives, he wants us to grow into the likeness of his Son in the process. Every hammer stroke, every act of obedience hones us. Joseph, Daniel, David, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and many more all learned first-hand that God can be trusted with really big and scary stuff. They grew into mighty men of God and God used some terrible circumstances to accomplish mighty things in them and through them. God has a track record of allowing us to go through more than we can handle so that we will reach out and seek him. I am learning to ask, “God, what can I learn in this?” instead of asking, “When will this be over?”

Sorrow May Last for the Night…

Take another look at the list above. What is taking longer than you originally thought? What has you discouraged today? What seems to hurt more than you can bear? I know it is often very hard, but trust God and celebrate Him today. Sometimes you will need to beat on God’s chest and cry out, “Why God…Why?” That’s ok. He knows we are only human (dust) and has a father’s compassion for us in our weakness (Psalm 103:13-14). Read the Psalms and you’ll see David routinely call God into question. God is no stranger to that and what’s more, He can empathize. Recall the words of Christ in the garden “take this cup from me” (Luke 22) and on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Psalm 22). He knows obedience in the shadow of doubt. He knows suffering and sacrifice. God sees your persistence and rewards your trust. Though David would question God, he would not linger in despair. He always circled back to remember God’s power and love. He would express pain and doubt, yes, but then he would recall the faithfulness of God and rest in it. My prayer is that you would do the same and that it would give you strength to soldier on.

Joy Comes in the Morning

Be humble enough to trust and obey. When life beats you to the ground, lift your hands to Him and He will lift you up and dust you off. Do this often enough and you will know God. The familiar grasp of His hands will become your treasure, for they know the way forward and they are imbued with hope. Do not quit. Do not give in to despair. For one day, all the world’s suffering will be rolled up as a scroll. Struggles, fears and doubts will cease. Sin, anguish, sickness and even death itself will be no more. The dawn of the new world will burst through. His victorious light will shine with brilliance, as darkness is destroyed once and for all. And now the best part – at the center of it all you will see your Savior and King. See Him that way even now and “May the God hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.” Keep building arks, keep leading God’s people and trust God to do what only He can. If we do, soon enough our stories will add to the list above.

 

This year our church taught a series entitled “Something Bigger than Me.” It got me thinking about the western church. It occurs to me that the church historically has grown the most under times of persecution. Though it seems counter-intuitive, we seem to grow under strain. Our character and our church are rather like a muscle. If we are worked and pushed harder, we grow and strengthen. When we all pull and push together amazing things can happen. If we are left to our own comfort and leisure, we atrophy and weaken. The progress is slow in both directions, but assured none-the-less. Most everyone knows this already, but somehow we still lean toward leisure when given the choice. We naturally pull away from strain or stress and move toward comfort at every turn even when we know it isn’t what’s best for us. We have the sickness of “self” and really, it’s a very old idolatry problem. We need no golden calves. We are our own idols and we sit on the thrones of our hearts ruling them with one central tenet – My will be done.

However, there is one thing that tends to inspire us to action; one thing which moves us away from our own desires and toward service and sacrifice. We need a glimpse of something bigger than ourselves. It is almost as if a remnant of our creator rests deep within our centers and recalling and/or witnessing someone make a great sacrifice stirs it from its slumber. Deep inside we know we are made for more than ourselves. The life of Christ, and certainly his crucifixion, stand as the greatest examples of personal sacrifice and service. The Bible records, in no less than three places, that he came not to be served “but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, 1 Timothy 2:6).

Now the big question – Why do we not follow suit? Have we lost sight of Jesus’ example? Is this the reason for the decline of the church? My contention is that there are many reasons for it, but we can be certain that this pull toward consumerism and comfort explains an awful lot. It seems low expectations, anonymity and lack of commitment are the order of the day.

Far too often, we have been guilty of seeking churches for ourselves that ask very little of us. Discipleship is the one thing Christ told us to be busy pursuing, but discipleship means following Christ and that always leads us to a cross. The cross is neither convenient nor comfortable and so, tragically, it remains decidedly unpopular. Christ came to die and so must we. “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Luke 9:23, Matthew 16:24, NLT)

We want to be free from messy relationships, so we don’t bother to know or be known by others. We easily talk ourselves out of time with the body of Christ in favor of something else. “Besides”, we reason, “no one will really miss us.” We have abandoned being a part of the Body of Christ in favor of some sort of personal and private version of “faith.” Apart from the body you will not be cared for or discipled. Still, many think it’s worthwhile to stay detached. The fringe benefit, of course, is that anonymity makes it much easier to leave a church for any reason what-so-ever and zero accountability.

We quit far too easily. Faithfulness and commitment seem like quaint ideas that cost far too much. Rather than building the church we’d rather go somewhere it is already “built”, somewhere easier where pushing and praying can be replaced with simply partaking. If difficulties or disagreements occur, we simply hop to a new church or quit altogether.

We must remember that it is godly relationships, perseverance and commitment which bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and inspire others. Without them, we tend to gravitate inward. Under this inward and selfish focus, our gaze is not on Christ, it is on ourselves and that is far from inspiring. It all comes down to consumerism. I believe it feeds the previous issues because it is a pre-existing mindset. It colors everything with unhealthy expectations. The expectation is that church is for you. Not surprisingly we have got it backwards. The church is not primarily for us. It is for God. It is His bride. The church really should be the death of “me”. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

We have a habit of settling for far less than God has planned for us, all in the name of comfort and convenience. Please, don’t settle. Set your sights much higher. A pastor’s job is to equip you for works of the ministry, not merely entertain you. In seeking our own comfort and view point we very often get it, and sadly, find it wanting. You and I were meant for more. We are to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:16-21) joining with Christ and the Holy Spirit on a grand mission. Now, that’s big! God has offered us a life of richness and reward. It is a life which truly matters, a life with eternal implications. And what’s more, the world is watching. It is inspired as it witnesses us forget ourselves as we serve without hesitation, forgive without reservation and persevere through hardships and setbacks. This is the love, unity and purpose which changed believers into disciples of Christ and drew the world to the early church.

Chapter 12 of Hebrews encourages us to fix our gaze on Christ. He came to serve, not be served. Let us adopt his attitude and do likewise. He told us to lose our life, and in the process, we will save it (Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24). Oh, that we would save that life. As the selfless church rises from the ashes of consumerism, the gates of hell stand no chance. May He help all of us remember that our true purpose is found in this incredible miracle of God’s economy – When we pour ourselves out in His worthy cause, we somehow are filled in the process. Don’t just become a convert and consume. Be transformed, push forward and knock down the gates of Hell.

The World Needs Disciples – Not Converts

 “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Matthew 28:19b-20 

Disciples…this is the whole ball of wax. It was the only plan. Jesus had no plan B and he still doesn’t. When you focus on making disciples, you get everything else. You get educated Christians, motivated “self-feeders”, selfless God-lovers, committed church members and empathetic evangelists. A mature disciple is all of these things. He or she loves God, the church and the lost. Our problem is that we largely have not focused on biblical discipleship. The church has been guilty of making converts, but left them to fend for themselves as baby Christians. Sometimes we have focused on making better church attendees and have lowered the bar below the challenge/growth level to entertainment. Other times we’ve focused on Bible knowledge and left the lost out in the cold. Why we have we done this, we cannot be sure of. Perhaps we have focused on the perceived efficiency of larger gatherings. Maybe we have been scared to challenge people toward growth and possibly lose them from our church. Making disciples Jesus’ way is not easy and it is not clean. It is a relationship. And relationships are a messy and time-consuming endeavor. One thing is very clear, making disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey IS what Jesus told us to do. We do many good things, but largely miss the main thing he focused on. He could have told us to build bigger buildings, start a TV ministry, build a school, focus primarily on deep theological teaching, focus on excellent programming, etc. These things aren’t inherently bad, but if they interfere with or impede his prime directive to make disciples, then they need to finish second. Discipleship is the main thing and we have to keep the main thing the main thing.

So, what is a disciple of Christ? What do they look like and how do we make them?

Disciples do not just happen – They are made

Intentionality is a great word. It means “on purpose.” Are you ready to live life on purpose toward God and others? This means denying yourself (Luke 9:23). It means that you understand that your life is not your own and that you were bought at a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). You were dreamt up by the creator of the world, placed specifically in the history of time and gifted just so that you could help mankind seek God and find him (Acts 17: 26-27). You are no less magnificent than the sun. You are just as crucial as H20. The same God that gifted and planned these resources for growing earthly life planned and gifted you for growing eternal life. If we think on this long enough, we eventually begin to live like this. Everything changes. We realize that we are made to reconcile men to God (2 Cor. 5:17-20). This is our purpose! It begins with clarity of that purpose and the intentionality that flows from it.

Disciples are only made by a disciple

In order to make disciples, YOU yourself must first be one. You must be following Jesus. That means you must be obeying and seeking him. You must be intentional and disciplined in your walk with the Lord and those you wish to disciple. “What is my next step with God?” This is a question you must constantly be asking of yourself. Be honest. Think small steps. Don’t try to boil the ocean. How often are you spending time with God in prayer and reading the Word? How often are you challenged to step further into obedience? How are you giving? How are you serving? Does it require faith? If not, how can you be in a place to lead others in the same process? How can you lead others if you are not going anywhere? Jesus said many things but, “Do as I say, not as I do” wasn’t one of them.

Disciple-makers are ready to lead others

How can you lead someone where you have not been? A travel agent points the way, even though they may not have ever been there. The church will not grow with travel agents. It needs seasoned and salty tour guides. These disciples of Christ have been “there” before. They know how to get “there.” Where is “there?” It is a life devoted to Christ apart from Sunday. It is a daily, cross carrying, selfless life. It is the knowledge of our grand purpose and the commitment to carry it out. Are you willing to lead by example? A disciple-maker goes before others and travels with them at the same time. They take your hand and help lift you up just one more time. They’re with you in the trenches and they know how to get to the next step. Seminary is not required to be a disciple maker. Jesus used fisherman and tax collectors! What is required is integrity, intentionality and commitment.

Disciples are baptized

What is it to be baptized? We know Jesus did it and therefore, set an example for us. His blood on the cross washes away our sin, so we know baptism doesn’t accomplish that. However, we also know it identified the believer with a local church and the Christian faith. In the early days of persecution, this was a bold move. It signified you were resolute in your decision and there was no turning back. Indeed, you were willing to die for it. It was an outside sign of obedience and adherence. The new believer is identifying with Jesus in his death, burial and resurrection. They are now showing the world that they are a new creation and they are letting go of their past. They now adhere to a new life and a new family. Why is it important to be baptized? A young believer must let go of their old life and cling to a new family. (2 Cor. 5:17) This family plays a critical role in their budding faith. Without it, one is easily dragged back into old lifestyles and sin. A public profession of faith helps a believer fully commit to the journey of discipleship with a local body.

Disciples are taught to obey

By definition, knowledge that doesn’t lead to experience is useless. If you don’t use it, it’s useless. Jesus is more concerned with our next steps than our last. He is more excited about a young obedient follower than a well-trained bench rider. God made you with a jersey, so to speak. You were made to play on the court and you are expected to run the plays your coach calls. Imagine someone who studied the game of basketball and could quote every rule and statistic, but refused to lace up their shoes and step on the court. Following this basketball analogy, you were not made to keep score or call penalties. You were not made to sit the bench or just visit the concession stand. You were made to score points, make passes and grab rebounds. A disciple must be challenged to obey. Inherently, this means they need to take new steps deeper into obedience with Christ. Most people don’t like change and challenge. That’s why we need coaches to push us and hold us accountable. They hold us to higher standards than we will hold ourselves to. They believe bigger things about us than we do ourselves. A good coach will know what areas a player needs to be taught on. They will teach the “why”, but will then run drills on the “how” so that the player can accomplish new and greater things. Most times, the lessons learned on the court are the best lessons. Moreover, the player will be in a position to take newly acquired skills and teach them to others as well. The knowledge is only important in that it leads to action. Otherwise, we have players on God’s court who know the game well, but have never learned how to play the game. They will not win the game. They will not push back the gates of hell. They may be well-informed, but they are not transformed.

One of my two-year-old daughter’s favorite things to do is to play in the backyard. She loves being outside, especially when our 13 year-old lab, Tex, is out there. A few weeks ago, she asked me to play with her outside. It was a nice Spring day, perfect for playing outside. I had just finished picking up after the dog, but as they so often do, he ran outside and left a nice new mess.

It was just one pile and we have a good size backyard, so before going outside with my daughter I made sure she saw where the dog pile was and gave her one instruction, “Don’t step in the poop.” As soon as I opened the door, she ran to the back of the yard, where the pile was, and began trying to straddle and jump over the poop, laughing the whole time. On her second attempt to jump over, squish.

Laughing quickly turned to crying. Playtime was over. What should have been a nice afternoon outside was quickly cut short and not only was there a mess to clean off the shoes there were also consequences for disobeying.

In that moment I was reminded of Genesis 1-3. In the first few chapters of Genesis, we read about God’s creation of the earth. After each day of creation we read that “it was good.” Then, on day six, God creates mankind in His own image and likeness, the pinnacle of all His creation and as He views all He has created it is said to be “very good.”

Everything was perfect. Adam and Eve walked with God through a perfect garden He created just for them. Even worth a thousand words, no picture could possibly capture the brilliant colors of this perfect creation teaming with life, joy, and hope. There was no sickness, no pain, no hard labor for food. No mosquitos or ants biting. No allergies to make the eyes itch and water and the nose run. God walked with Adam and Eve through the garden. They desired to be with them and He desired to be with them. But then something changed.

In Genesis 2 God gives man one command, “you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” One simple command, yet, in Genesis 3 we read that Adam and Eve are tempted and eat. They willfully disobeyed, rejecting the Word of God and rebelling against Him. They stepped in it. Play-time ended and the consequences were more than they imagined.

They weren’t just kicked out of garden. Weeds now grow in the garden & in our lives, creation groans with birth defects, disease, & poverty. Cars break down and hard drive crash, usually in the middle of important work. We have difficulty understanding and relating to our spouses, children, and friends. Insects bite and swarm, viruses attack and mutate. We suffer from heart disease, cancer, depression, unhealthy attachments, and develop addictions. Everything around us is broken.  Broken because of sin.

Sin is bigger and more powerful than we know. If it wasn’t Adam and Eve it would have been you or me. We often try to feel better about ourselves thinking, “My sin is not that bad,” but it is. In Matthew 5:21-22 Jesus tells us that calling someone a fool or moron out of anger it is the same as murder. If you’ve sat in traffic in the past week, I’m willing to bet you may have called someone a moron (or worse). It seems small, but that is because we don’t have the same perspective as the perfectly holy and just God. Obviously, the earthly consequence is not the same, but it is in the sense that it is enough to separate us from a perfectly holy and perfectly just God. If we’re honest, we know we haven’t just stepped in it; we’re steeped in it.

While God is perfectly holy and perfectly just, He is also perfectly loving. In fact, He is love (1 John 4:8). When Adam and Eve willfully rebelled and disobeyed they soon realized they were naked and even though there were still consequences for their sin, God made a covering for them. In the same way, He made a covering for all humanity through His Son, Jesus Christ. Romans 6:23” For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This gift is freely available to all who will simply trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sin.

I am grateful that God would use something as simple as a poopy shoe to remind me of the sticky, smelly messes I step in regularly and of His abundant grace in my life through His Son, Jesus.