However, across three states and 4 churches, I know that they dynamic of the family being the predominant spiritual emphasis in a child’s life is the exception, not the rule.
And it breaks my heart.
People often tell me that I will think differently when I am a parent that I do now, and I am sure in many ways that is true. I may change my mind about parenting styles and certain priorities. But I won’t change my mind about the fact that I must play the pivotal role in the spiritual development of my children.
The next generation is too important to lose for me to compromise because of convenience.
So, that said, here are the things that I believe I must do as a parent, no matter what:
1) I must teach my children to fear the Lord.
I hate the song “I am a Friend of God.” Hate isn’t a word I throw around much, but I really do. True, as a believer we have a relationship with God and there is a friendship and intimacy that can and should be developed. While I still work on this, I’ve gotten to the point where I will come to God just as if He were my best friend, and I talk to Him like He is.
But our culture has gotten so far off on the idea of God being our ‘pal’ that we neglect or forget the fact that He is our Master, our King, and…well, God. And I’ll tell ya, I am terrified of God. Not terrified because I believe He is mad at me or after me. But this God is the one who MADE everything. Then He destroyed everyone except Noah and his family with a flood. He came down on Mt. Carmel and consumed the sacrifice Elijah offered with fire. He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of Salt…and He hates my sin so much that He was willing to have Jesus brutally beaten and killed on my behalf. If the sheer power and awesomeness of God doesn’t scare you a little, then you don’t really understand who He is.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I know I am His child. I know I can come boldly before the Throne of Grace. I know I can ask Him things and He answers. But I also know who holds the power, and it isn’t me. The Bible talks about the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom and people say ‘oh, that means we need to respect and reverence Him.’ That is part of it, sure. But look at the people who encountered God face to face in the Scripture. I see times where people say “I fell on my face as dead.” when they’re before the Lord.
That’s not out of just respect. That’s because of His overwhelming awesomeness. I want my children to know the limitless awesomeness of our incredible God. If they do, then they’ll always be confident, because they’ll know the power that is behind the God whom they serve. If I accomplish this, then wow, they’ll do incredible things for Him.
2) I must teach my children that the Word of God is for them.
I am amazed and stupefied at how many kids I’ve ministered to over the years have no respect for the Bible. They don’t see it as being relevant to their life. It may contain great stories, but it apparently contains no useful information. Kids won’t even bring their Bible to church with them, even if I offer candy or prizes. And why should they…mom and dad don’t bring their Bible to church. The Bible is never used at home for anything other than decoration or a paperweight.
Sometimes the Bible can be a hard book to read and understand. I get that. I graduated Bible College and sometimes I don’t even understand it all. But if we don’t hold value for the Word of God and it’s place in our lives, then we suffer. I’ve seen good Christian families fall apart because they got to busy to read the Word. Husbands who ended up in affairs because they weren’t thinking about what the Bible says to think about. Wives who decided they didn’t need a man leading them anymore…I could go on and on.
The fact is simple: If the Word of God isn’t important to me, it won’t be important to my children.
If I only read it in church when the Pastor is sharing a scripture, but I can watch endless hours of TV and movies and read my favorite fiction books, then I am saying without words that the Bible just isn’t important. However, that deception is common and always ends up leading to spiritual shipwreck. The Bible is the spiritual restaurant I need to go to in order to get the spiritual food I need. Watching Christian shows and listening to worship music is great, but until it’s me and my Bible, I will always be weak and anemic as a believer. And if that’s how I am, then that’s more than likely how my kids will be in their faith as well. If I don’t see the Bible as being a book written to me from my Father in Heaven, then they won’t either.
3) I must teach my children the importance of service.
People talk about this all the time. But you know what, it makes me sick how many people are all smoke and no fire. They talk about how important service is, but they they have their kids in sports 360 days a year and can’t bother being involved in ministry or outreach because it conflicts with their family time, or with their time to just ‘be in service’. The reason we have so many selfish, self-entitled kids today is because we have parents who fail to teach their kids that life is about what you can give, not about what you can get.
I’m all for sports, and look forward to seeing my kids involved in whatever activity they want some day. And I believe in the importance of vacation and rest. Those things aren’t the problem. The problem is the mindset behind them. When we see that 20% of the people do 80% of the work in a church, that says something about peoples priorities.
People tell me that I think this way because I’m a pastor. Bull. I worked a full time job, coached high school basketball, attended classes AND still manged to serve in the house of God every Sunday and Wednesday without getting paid a dime for over three years. I drove nearly 45 minutes each way twice a week in high school to serve, while working part time, going to school all day and managing 3 basketball teams. I don’t get paid to serve. I serve because it’s what I’m called to do as a believer. And people who try to hide behind the ‘you’re a pastor’ argument are lazy hypocritical vagabonds.
Even my wife, who works a full time job, is involved in multiple area’s of ministry. And you know what, she was involved before I even started dating her. In fact, she wouldn’t have even come to my attention if she hadn’t been in ministry! Show me biblical examples of people to busy to serve who are reward or commended. What I see, instead, is James and John leaving their father in the boat and going after Jesus. I see see prophets going without what we’d call necessities because they wanted to follow God. Oh, these were called men, and most people aren’t called like that, right? Wrong. We’re all called to the ministry of reconciliation. Each one of us.
Let me just speak plainly, if you have time to watch TV each night, you have the time to serve. If your kid has time to multiple activities, they have time to serve. You don’t have to be involved in everything. But you should be involved in something. I serve outside the church in an organization called Cancer Action. I go once a month and stock shelves with supplement drinks that cancer patients will come and get to help get balanced nutrition. No one pays me and no one pats me on the back for it.
People who don’t serve but expect to be served are just spiritual leeches. They suck time, energy, and resources away from the Kingdom but they don’t feel the need to put anything back in. I believe the church exists to help others..and sometimes due to certain factors people will be in a potion where they can’t give back with time or money or material. But what about prayer? See, there is no excuse for someone to no serve somehow, somewhere.
And I want my kids to know that from the time they’re old enough to contribute, they should…be that a quarter in the offering or praying for a child in another country, or writing to our troops as they serve, or doing puppets for younger kids as they get older. They shouldn’t ever come with a hand out unless they’re looking to do something with it.
4) I must teach my children how to have a relationship with Christ.
Some might think it odd that I don’t put this first. But you know what, depending on the development of your child and their personality, you might have a kid reading Bible Stories before they’ll ever understand the plan of salvation. You might have a child who is doing something to serve before they realize the depth of the love of God for themselves.
For instance, a child of just 5 or 6 could be drawing pictures for people in a nursing home as an act of service but not be at a place where they understand salvation. Kids are strange creatures. Some can understand and comprehend redemption younger, and for some it is later. Some accept Jesus as their savior very young, and will know that means He has forgiven their sin, but then later on will want to get saved again. They just haven’t gotten to the point where they fully understand, and that’s OK.
But as they get older and do understand, I need to be the one telling them about Jesus and His sacrifice for them. Sure, I want them in church and I want them to hear good teaching from others. Yet at the same time, I must be involved in the process. I need to be praying for my kids, and praying with them. I need to read the Bible stories to them, and talk about those stories with them. I need to show them what a relationship with God looks like, and not rely on some worker to do it on Sunday for 90 minutes or so.
If my children will eventually learn to talk, walk, reason, and overall operate based on the things I do and say (by my model) they shouldn’t the spiritual side be part of it? Heaven forbid that my children see more of Jesus love outside of my home then they see in it. From the way I spend my time to the way I treat my wife to they way I do my work, they should see my relationship with God in it all. If they do, then they will naturally be interested.
I want to be the one who is there with them when they bow their heads and ask Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. But even if I’m not ‘the one’ to lead them, I want to know that I’ve done everything in my power to bring them face to face with God so they can know Him for themselves.
5) I must teach my children that life is not fair.
We want everything to be fair. But it’s not. The simple fact is that we live in a fallen world, and because of the fallen world we live in there is injustice. People suffer who shouldn’t suffer. People get ahead who shouldn’t get ahead. People die who shouldn’t die and live who shouldn’t live. Life is not fair.
Sin has destroyed all that God intended. But that doesn’t leave us without hope. Just because life isn’t fair does that mean God isn’t just? Of course not. My wife lost her mom to breast cancer when she was 11. Martha was a good Christian woman, who was loved and respected inside and outside her home. It wasn’t fair. It also wasn’t fair when earlier this week a man walked onto the campus of his former school and seemingly randomly shot and killed at least 7 former classmates and left many others wounded. It wasn’t fair when Job lost his children, his house, his livestock, his wealth, and then his health.
The injustice of it so struck his wife that she even told him to ‘curse God and die.’
But see, things happen that shouldn’t happen as a result of sin in the world. It’s not fair, but God is still in control, and as long as we keep that in mind we can find peace even in the midst of chaos. See, while the things that happen to me may hurt, I know and understand that in the grand scheme of eternity, the time I have is so small and so short. For me to endure pain and suffering here (although I would rather not, honestly) is really not that bad when looked at through the perspective of an eternity with God in a place where there is no pain or suffering, no tears or death, and streets made of gold.
I call it the ‘big-picture perspective’. Life may not be fair, but My God is just, and what wrongs that come here will one day be put to right. That gives me reason to rejoice and celebrate.