May 14, 2017

Good Soil

Well, I told you a little while ago that we were going to spend a bit more time this morning talking about the role of families and the church in passing on the faith to the next generation.  Here we are.  This actually fits right in with the bigger idea we’ve been talking about for the past couple weeks and will yet for the next few.  This morning puts us in the third part of our series, How to Do Life.  The big idea for this series is that as followers of Jesus, we have been called to do life well.  We have been called to a life that is abundant and rich and full.  Jesus Himself said that He came that we may have life and have it abundantly.  If we want to enjoy this rich, full life, we are going to have to learn to live the way He says, even it does not make sense at first blush.

If this is the first part of the series you are catching this morning, you can go to the church’s website which is printed there in the bulletin for you and pick up the previous two parts in which we talked about money and sex.  And, given the topics, why wouldn’t you want to go and pick those up?  In any event, this morning we are talking about family.  Family is yet another area of life we all have to face in one way or another on a regular basis on our journeys through life.  Even if you don’t have kids of your own or even a spouse, you still have a family.  Even if your family was a broken, mangled mess, they are still a part of you and always will be.  If we are going to do life well, then, getting our families right is going to be a hugely important part of that puzzle.  Here’s the trick, though, when it comes to model families in the Bible whose stories we could read for wisdom and encouragement here…there aren’t any.  In fact, anyone who says they are aiming to have a biblical family hasn’t actually spent much time reading it.  Ask them to share exactly which family in the Bible they plan to use as their model.

Think about for a minute.  Abraham’s family was a mess.  His wife pushed him into bed with another woman because she couldn’t have kids of her own (not that he was a hard sell), and things devolved from there.  Moses was constantly bickering with his siblings.  Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers (I suspect yours haven’t done anything quite that bad yet!).  David had at least four wives and was such a terrible father that one son raped another daughter, was murdered by a third, and another two sons rebelled against him with murderous intent.  Should I go on?  Even Jesus’ family was broken.  His mom turned up pregnant by someone other than His dad before the wedding, and when He was 12 His parents forget Him in town…for two days.  Your parents may have been pieces of work, but I’ll bet they never left you in town and forgot about you for more than a few hours!

Instead of examples, then, what we can find is a series of commands and advice which, if followed, will set us on the path of experiencing life done well with respect to our family no matter what it currently looks like.  And of all the places where we can find such calls to kingdom family life, there is one which has always stood out to me as the most important.  This comes near the beginning of Moses’ farewell speech to the people of Israel which is recorded for us in the book of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy was in many ways the most significant foundational book for the people of Israel.  While the whole Law of Moses was important and highly valued, Deuteronomy was a kind of cliff’s notes version of it, summarizing the most important parts while reminding them of the stakes involved in getting it right (or not).  It contains what was recognized by Jews not only through to Jesus’ day, but even still today, as the most important command in the whole of the Law.  This command is called the Shema because the first word of the command in Hebrew is “shema,” which basically means, “Listen up!”  When Jesus was asked what He considered to be the most important command in all of the Law, this is the one He cited first.  Moses said this in Deuteronomy 6:4: “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.”

If we want to do life well, that’s a pretty good place to start.  Usually with a command like this, though, what follows are some points of clarification or further exhortation to point us in the direction of some best practices that will help us most successfully implement it into our lives.  And, Moses doesn’t disappoint us here.  Listen to what he says next: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.”  Okay, so we are to really take this idea seriously.  It should become a part of who we are at the deepest levels.  It should be the thing that most defines us as a people of God.  Great, what else?  How else can I put this into practice in my life in order to get the most benefit out of it?

Look where he goes next in v. 7 now: “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.”  That’s it?  I was kind of hoping for something a little more focused on me.  How can I gain the most benefit out of this great command?  Well, this is actually it.  And think quickly with me for a minute about why.  Personally speaking, what’s one of the best ways to learn something?  To teach it to others.  Teaching something forces you to think through the details of whatever you’re teaching in order to anticipate the questions your students might ask along the way.  You have to make sure you are staying one step ahead of them (otherwise you won’t be teaching them anything) which means always learning more about it in greater, deeper detail.  But, while knowing and practicing the commands of God by ourselves is certainly not a bad thing, our preference should be for others to know and practice them too.  I mean, doing unto others is great and all, but it’s always nice to have somebody doing unto us as well.  Well, if we don’t teach other people—starting with our own kids—how will there be anybody to do unto us?  Point in fact: There won’t.

Thus, the question for us becomes—and I want to jump right to the point with you this morning—how can we best teach our families the lifestyle of Jesus in order that their faith will grow and the faith will expand?  Well, let’s start with the Scriptures as our guide.  Moses said that parents—or if you’re not a parent or else your kids aren’t at home anymore, you can enter into a mentoring-type relationship with someone who is not quite as far along in their faith journey as you are and do the same thing—should talk about the Law.  People can usually tell what is most important to you by what you talk about most.  How often do you talk about your faith with your kids?  How often do you talk about your kids’ faith with them?  Do you ever have conversations centered around what you believe and why you believe those things?  Now, I know it’ll feel awkward at first if you’re not used to it, but eventually it will become more comfortable.  (And of all the things to get used to talking about, your faith seems like a pretty good one to have on the list, doesn’t it?)

More than just talking about it, though, look again at how he says to talk about it: “…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.”  In other words, make your faith part of the normal conversation patterns of your household.  Christian worldview training isn’t something that should only happen at church.  In fact, if this is the only place your families are learning about what it looks like to live the Christian life, then the great likelihood is that they aren’t going to learn to live the Christian life very well.  We get way too much non-Christian worldview training at work and at school to think that an hour or two a week will be sufficient to counteract it.  If we want to do life well in our families—understanding that life is done best when it is done after the pattern of Christ—then making sure our families understand the pattern of Christ, that they learn to recognize the pattern of Christ no matter where they are, is essential.

Okay, but, while talking about our faith with our families is a good thing, if you’re a parent you know that sometimes you can talk until you’re blue in the face and it isn’t going to make any difference.  What else can we do?  Well, look a bit further down in this same passage with me.  Starting in v. 20, Moses says this: “When your son [or daughter] asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son [or daughter], ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt.  And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.  And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes.  And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give our fathers.  And the Lord commanded us to do all these statues, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.  And it will be righteousness for us, if we are called to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’”

What’s Moses getting at here?  Think about it.  This adds a whole lot more to the picture of talking about our faith with our families, doesn’t it?  We aren’t simply to have contrived conversations on a regular basis.  Those will feel awkward and probably do more to push our kids (or mentees) away from the faith than anything else.  Rather, we are to have them in context.  We are to be conspicuously living out our own faith in such a way that invites questions from them.  “Dad, why are we doing this?”  “Mom, why do you always do that?”  Peter’s admonition to be always ready to give an answer for the reason for the hope we have to anybody who asks us about it applies to our families too.

This understanding actually points us in the direction of several more good ways to pass along our faith to our families—whatever shape those families happen to take—so that we can be doing life well therein.  The big idea here is this: We are to implement patterns and habits and traditions in our families that create a context for sharing, learning, and passing on the faith from one generation to the next.  There are lots of different ways to do this.  Start simple: Institute a family prayer time.  Make it intentional and set apart from other family times such that its special status is obvious.  This could be at a mealtime, but I would suggest it happens in addition to then.  And, rather than just sitting and praying together for a few minutes, share prayer requests together.  If you pay close attention, your kids’ prayer requests will likely give you some great insight as to what’s going on in their lives.  Another idea to consider is a family devotional time.  Now, hear well that this doesn’t work for every family, but it might work for yours and you won’t know until you give it a try.  This could be as simple as reading a passage of Scripture together and talking about it (if you have older kids, the You Version Bible App could be a great way to do this), or as complex as seeking out a family devotional curriculum to do together.  If you have young kids, Family Training Time has some great resources for this that will make you look like a genius.

What else could it be?  How about family celebrations.  We tend to get more of what we actively celebrate.  What do you celebrate as a family?  Do you celebrate athletic accomplishments or faith accomplishments more?  How do you celebrate?  Consider framing your family celebrations in such a way that will point your family in the direction of greater faithfulness.  Memorize Scripture together and have outlandish celebrations for reaching various milestones.  The more intentional and energetic you make it, the more effective it will likely be.  Along the same lines, consider creating some family milestones.  This is something the people of Israel were often called to and is what Moses was pointing to in the last passage we looked at together.  After a significant experience with God they would build a monument of some kind with the goal in mind of prompting future generations to ask, “What’s that for?”  This would in turn allow them to explain what it was for and to pass along their faith in the process.  Well, when your family has been through some kind of a significant experience with God, find a way to memorialize it.  Create a monument of some kind that can be displayed somewhere prominent around your house.  Then, take time together to revisit the monument in order to talk about why it was there.  This can not only provide a platform to share your faith on a regular basis (including with visitors who ask about it), but it can also serve as a kind of rallying point when you face future hard times as a family.  In the face of future uncertainty, you can return to that monument together and be reminded that God was faithful then.  And if He was faithful then, He will be faithful now too.  He doesn’t change.

We could keep going in this vein, but I think the point is clear.  If you want to do life well in your family, you’ve got to find ways to make sharing your faith a part of it.  All of these different efforts we’ve talked about for the last few minutes are about nurturing the kind of soil in which the Christian faith grows best.  These are the kinds of things that keep it loose, rich with nutrients, well-watered, and ready to see all the faith seeds you plant—and you’ve got to plant those seeds—grow into rich, full, healthy plants that bear much fruit.  Faith grows best in a family.  Faith grows best in a family.  There is nowhere else in this world that has the potential to plant so deeply and securely the seeds of eternal life as exists in a family.  It is spiritually criminal for us not to take the fullest advantage of this as is possible.  Faith grows best in a family.

But, lest I leave you thinking I’m out of touch with reality, let’s go ahead and acknowledge that not all families look the same.  There is indeed, a God-designed basic family unit that not only Scripture, but a wealth of secular research shows is the absolute best environment for turning out healthy, happy, well-adjusted, faithful kids.  But, some kids don’t have that.  In fact, today, a lot of kids don’t have that.  That’s where the church comes in powerfully.  The family is God’s Plan A, but sometimes Plan A fails.  When that happens, we’ve got to be ready to be there, ready to pick up the slack.  Faith grows best in a family and here at Central we have a really good family that is growing steadily and is the kind of place where faith is getting nurtured in order that it might bear fruit when the time is right.  That doesn’t mean that you get a pass on doing the work necessary at home to pass along your faith, but rather, when we all work together—as we talked about during the parent-child dedication service—the results can be pretty spectacular.  Faith grows best in a family.  May your family—in cooperation with this family—see that growth so you can enjoy the fruit together.