We live in a world where parents think so much about parenting and work hard to give so many gifts to their kids. There’s only one gift we can give to our kids that will never fade, and that will last for all eternity, so we’re going to talk about giving that gift.
I will read the Bible before bedtime with my kids.
I will give my kids the gift of investing in their spiritual lives.
I will make a commitment to bring my kids to Blue Oaks Kids and/or Students.
I will pray for my kids everyday.
I will read The Case for Faith and help answer questions.
I will create a safe place for my kids to ask questions when they’re searching.
Full Sermon Script:
We live in an age of specialists.
We want our kids to be healthy, so we make sure they have a regular doctor.
We expect our teachers to develop our kids intellectually.
We expect coaches to develop them athletically.
We expect trainers to help with their muscle development.
We expect music teachers to develop them vocally or musically or culturally.
We’re into specialists in all the areas of our kids lives where we want them to be developed.
Which leads to this question:
As a parent, who’s responsible for making sure my kids know about God? Who’s responsible for their spiritual development?
The writers of scripture talk about this quite directly.
Deuteronomy 6 is written by Moses for the people of Israel.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-9
These words are the central affirmation of the Old Testament faith.
For centuries this has been called the “sh’mah” from the first word in it, “Hear, O Israel.”
It was recited by every Israelite twice a day — first thing when they got up in the morning and last thing before they would go to bed at night. It marked the beginning of their day and the end of their day.
A child was taught these words when they would first learn to talk.
This was to be the first sentence a Jewish child would say.
When a martyr went to his death, these would be the final words a Jewish martyr would say before dying.
It marked the beginning of their life and the end of their life, the beginning of every day and the end of every day.
This is the core of what it meant to be a follower of God.
Here’s what I’d like you to notice that comes directly after these words in Scripture. It’s the next thing Moses says to the people.
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.
In other words, he says to all the adults, “I want you to live this stuff.”
Then look at what he says:
Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.
Moses says, “Do whatever you have to do. Tie a string around your finger. Put magnets on your refrigerator. Use Post-it notes if that will help you. Include these words in the design of your home. Write them on the door frames of your homes so that every time you come or go, you’re reminded… Talk to your children about God.”
If you were to ask Moses, “Whose job is it to make sure kids grow up hearing about, thinking about, and being preoccupied with God?”
The answer would be real clear… “It’s up to parents.”
“Talk to your children,” he says.
And that doesn’t change in the New Testament era… the Apostle Paul says the same thing.
He says in a letter to the church at Ephesus that parents are to bring their children up in the instruction and training, sometimes translated the “nurture and admonition” of the Lord.
I want to speak real directly to this, because I think in our day a lot of people have gotten the idea that they can kind of outsource the spiritual development of their kids to the church.
Well, that’s not according to Scripture.
The person whom God will hold primarily responsible for the wise spiritual training and instruction and development of your kids is you.
Not primarily the church, not their small group leader, not a pastor. If they go to a private religious school, not the teacher there.
Now… the church is a very important partner in the spiritual development of kids… but the primary responsibility belongs to moms and dads… because they’re the ones with the kids all the time.
Now, this will take time, effort, work, prayer, sweat, learning, and sometimes awkward, embarrassing conversations that require growth.
A lot of times the frank truth is people just don’t want to do it.
This leads me to a few questions about parenting and children that almost never get raised in our culture, but I think they deserve real serious thought.
I want to address them briefly right now.
They’re questions around…
Why have kids in the first place?
Who should have kids?
And how many should you have?
In ancient times, people often had kids for financial reasons.
There was no social security in previous centuries.
There was no medicare.
Kids were kind of like your 401K.
That has changed to a significant degree.
Parents, are kids today a financial asset or liability?
Liability… big time.
All too often in our culture, most people don’t even think about these questions. It’s just assumed having kids is the normal thing to do.
And what has been lost is the biblical notion that being a parent is not an expectation. It’s not an obligation. It’s not a right.
It’s a calling. It’s a vocation.
The idea of a calling or a vocation in the Bible is something that is a life-direction. It’s a road of serving that I follow not just because I happen to want to, not because someone expects me to do it, but because I’m responding to what I believe is God’s mandate for my life.
The New Testament writers are quite clear about this.
God calls some people to be married.
God calls some people to be single.
The Apostle Paul very clearly affirms this as a calling.
The same is true of a parent.
No one should become a parent automatically… or just because they got married and that’s the next thing you do after you get married.
Sometimes God may call you to a form of work or ministry or lifestyle that’s not compatible with raising children.
Maybe your temperament is such that parenting would not be a good fit for you.
I just want to take this moment to encourage you on this. If you don’t have kids yet…
Don’t be pressured by the media.
Don’t be pressured by cultural expectations.
Don’t be pressured by gray-haired people who say it’s your job to provide them with a little bundle of joy that they can spoil and cuddle.
If they’re that desperate to spoil and cuddle a little bundle, buy them a Chihuahua.
Be real mindful about this. Make it a matter of very mature, deliberate reflection… and a matter of prayer.
And if you decide to have children, give serious thought and prayer to how many.
Sometimes people choose the size of their family for the goofiest reasons.
“Well, she had nine kids in her family and he grew up with five, so we’ll just have seven and kind of split the difference.”
And then they’re both working full time… and are rarely home with the kids. It’s not wise.
Parenting is a vocation that ought to be entered into through a real serious process of prayer and discussion… and decision and commitment.
I know right about now some of you are thinking to yourself, “We never thought about this and now we have kids… so what do we do?”
There is a word in the Bible for you: bummer.
No… you can real safely assume that if you have children, God is calling you to be the best parents, the best shaper of those lives that you can be.
So if you do have kids, how do you help build faith in them?
You know, it’s a real striking thing. And I don’t know how we attach the right kind of weight to this.
Everything else we’ve talked about in this series pales in comparison to this.
When a little human being enters into this world, it is the bearer of an immortal soul.
It is a life that will one day stand before a just and holy God and receive an eternal destiny.
Those of us who are parents are charged to prepare those lives for that moment.
It’s an unbelievably ironic thing about parenting in our society… sometimes parents will work real hard to give their kids all other kinds of things.
Parents think a lot about what kind of education they’re going to have.
What kind of lifestyle they’re going to have.
How they’re going to be prepared for college…
or any number of things
And often times parents don’t help to prepare them for the most significant thing any human being will ever face.
It’s a fact that we all will face an eternal destiny… one day we all will.
If you have kids, how do you help get them ready for that? How do you build faith?
There’s a theologian named John Westerhoff.
Our ultimate goal as parents ought to be to help kids own their faith.
I want my children, as they grow up, to love God and know God and serve God and worship God and give to God.
Not because I do it…
Not because they grew up in a church that does it…
Not because someone expects them to…
But because that’s what they freely embrace from the core of their being.
I want my kids to be able to own their faith down to the tips of their toes.
To get there, Westerhoff talks about several stages that kids generally go through in the process of faith development.
I want to walk through these stages and talk about how we handle them.
Again this week, if you’re a parent, I invite you to grab your bulletin and a pen and write these down.
If you have kids, kind of match them up. See what stage you think they’re in right now and how their development is going.
The first stage Westerhoff talks about, is the Experience stage.
This is the faith of early childhood. At this point, children are not able to understand fine points of a lot of doctrine, but they often have a sense of openness and sensitivity to experiencing God.
This can be quite astounding.
One of the biggest mistakes adults make is underestimating a little child’s capacity for experiencing God.
Sophia Cavaletti is a researcher who has pioneered the study of spirituality in young children.
She writes about some remarkable accounts.
She finds that children have an amazing perception that far surpasses often what they have already been taught.
She writes about a three-year-old girl, who was raised in an atheistic family with no
church contact at all… not a Bible in the home.
She asked her father one day, “Where did the world come from?”
Her dad answered her in strictly naturalistic, scientific terms.
In the interest of honesty he added, “There are some people who say that all of this comes from a very powerful being, and they call him God.”
At this, the little girl started dancing around the room with joy, saying, “I knew what you told me wasn’t true. It’s him! It’s him!”
Ann Lamont talks about how when she was growing up, her dad was an alcoholic and an atheist.
He made each of the kids make a commitment with him when they were between two and three years old.
The commitment was that they would never believe in God… because he didn’t believe God existed… and he was real mad at God for not existing. He was quite bitter about the whole religious deal.
Ann Lamont said she made that contract with her dad because he was her dad.
She said, “But in my heart I always knew that when I said hello, someone heard. That when I prayed there was someone who listened.”
In the Bible there are many stories… stories about a young boy named Samuel to whom God speaks. Stories about children who are just drawn to Jesus like a magnet.
I believe this reflects that just as children are born with an innate capacity to develop language… and an innate ability to learn how to walk… children are born with an innate capacity to relate to God.
They’re born with a capacity to have experiences with God. We’re just wired up that way.
At this experience stage, you want to provide an environment that is rich in opportunities for a child to experience the presence of God.
Make sure the Bible is available to them.
There are great resources for kids… illustrated books that tell stories from the Bible.
When our girls were real young, we would read a story from The Beginner’s Bible every night before they went to bed.
We read through that book so many times Lily had some of the stories memorized.
Another one of our favorites was The Jesus Storybook Bible.
To be honest, in recent months… we haven’t made reading the Bible at night before bed a priority.
So my next step this week is to start reading the Bible with them at night before we go to bed.
I need to make that a priority. If it means starting to get ready for bed a little earlier… we’ll have to do that.
Another thing our kids love is the Bible App for Kids.
This is an interactive experience with the Bible where the stories come to life.
There are touch-activated animations, games and activities to help kids remember what they learn.
It’s our responsibility as parents when our kids are small to read to them often… and help them grow up just knowing the stories of the Bible, hearing stories about God and how God worked through biblical characters.
Another thing you can do to help kids experience God is cultivate the habit of praying with them when they’re little… because prayer often comes more naturally to little children.
There’s kind of a simplicity of faith to them, more than there is with adults.
I’ll give you a real simple thing.
Mostly this means teach your child to talk to God in an uncensored way about whatever is on their mind… whatever they’re concerned about, or whatever they’re hoping for, or whatever they’re afraid of.
Just teach them to talk to God about that.
Now, you want to gauge the amount of praying you do to their receptivity.
Different kids will approach prayers in different ways so you want to be watching them all the time.
I don’t always do so well.
Several years ago, I remember praying with one child before bed… and it was just a real warm, tender moment.
At the end of the prayer I looked at this child and said, “I love you so much. I love praying with you.”
She looked up at me real intently and said, “Daddy, I love you too” with tears welling up in her eyes.
So I went into our other child’s room and did the same thing.
We prayed and at the end of that prayer I said, “I love you so much. I love praying with you.”
She looked up at me real intently and said, “Dad, you’ve got something sticking out of your nose.”
I had not gauged that kid’s level of receptivity very well.
Pray with them. Help them to have experiences in prayer.
I’ll give you another challenge at this point. Make a formal commitment. Make it today if you never have, to pray for your kids on a regular basis.
It’s a real striking thing. At the end of the gospels, Jesus is talking to Peter one time. He says to him, “Peter, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat.”
He was about to make the biggest mistake of his life. He’s going to deny Jesus three times. Jesus knows this.
Now, if you were Jesus at that point, what would you do?
If I was Jesus and I had all of that knowledge and all of that power, I would have given Peter the biggest lecture of his life.
I would have given him a lot of advice. I would have given him a real stern warning.
Jesus, the Son of God, does none of these things.
Do you know what he says to Peter?
“Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not fail.”
“You’re headed for the biggest crisis of your life, but I have prayed for you, that after you have fallen, God will restore you.”
See, there’s something inside of us that would love to be able to control people, especially our kids… and fix them.
God has willed that no human being can control another one… and that’s a real good thing.
It’s a real good thing you can’t control your kids… although it’s frustrating sometimes.
Maybe the single most powerful thing you can do is to pray for them.
I just want to encourage you right now if you’ve never made a formal commitment, make it. I challenge you to make a commitment. I’ll pray for my kids every day.
If it would help you to do that, write it down right now. Write it on the next step card.
Write down their name. “I will pray for ______________.”
Lily, Amry, Ezra,… whatever your kid’s names are.
“I will pray for you each day for as long as I’m alive.”
Prayer is a very important part of children’s learning to experience God.
Look for chances to talk to God with your kids.
When you see beauty in nature, pause for a moment and say, “God, thank you so much for this.”
Express gratitude at mealtimes.
Take the opportunity before a competition or big game to pray for them.
One of the best questions you can ask your kids is, “How can I pray for you?”
Let the Holy Spirit guide you in this.
God really will partner with you in the parenting deal. Ask him for help in how to lead in this area with your kids.
Here’s something else about providing an environment that’s rich in experiences for our kids.
If your kids are at the age of roughly elementary school years, be real firm in your commitment to have them experience Blue Oaks Kids on a regular basis.
Video: Kids talking about their experience in Kids.
This helps us partner with you to bring the Bible to life for kids.
Get your kids into a consistent pattern of attendance and engagement and involvement in Blue Oaks Kids.
This is maybe the greatest help you’ll get in their young years with the most important parenting assignment that you’ll ever face.
Just get real clear on this one.
One more thing in this area to anybody here who works or has ever worked in Blue Oak Kids.
If you’ve ever led a small group, if you teach lessons, rock babies, herd crawlers around, planned programs, worked with or watched or prayed over these kids, every single parent in this place owes you a debt of gratitude and honor that is beyond our ability to express or repay.
Alright, the second stage or phase that faith development involves in the lives of human beings is what Westerhoff calls Affiliation.
This is the stage at which relationships begin to become extremely important in the life of a kid.
At a certain age, your kids no longer believe that you are the smartest most powerful being in the universe.
That’s a sad day when it comes, but it comes.
As kids get older, generally they’ll hit an age sometime maybe 10, 11, 12 that involves this affiliation stage.
This is characterized most strongly by the desire for a sense of belonging and connection.
This part of their identity is being formed.
A young person here wants to connect, wants to be a part of something, a group or community that is bigger than himself or herself.
Of course, part of that relational connection becomes a more direct, more mature connection with God and with a community of faith.
When this is absent in their life, this is when cults and gangs and groups that offer a pseudo-sense of belonging begin to look attractive… because there’s a deep need to belong somewhere.
Usually when parents whose kids are grown look back at their parenting, they wish they would have spent more time teaching their kids about the importance of selecting friends wisely… because the friendship factor is huge.
Now… the parent’s role in their kid’s life is going to look different in the affiliation stage than in the experience stage. That’s okay. It’s not a bad thing.
If you’re a parent and you want to help spiritually form your kids, get to know your kid’s friends.
Make your home as available as you can as a meeting place for your kids and their friends.
Now, I’m very aware there is a big hassle factor in this.
I remember the first time we had a sleepover at our house.
What’s the one thing kids never do at a sleepover? Sleep.
It’s a very ironically named event.
I’ve known parents where
because of the noise
or maybe the cleanup hassle afterwards
or because someone might spill on the furniture
or for whatever reason
rarely, if ever wanted any of their kids’ friends over at their house.
That’s a bad idea.
Listen, furniture is not going to last forever. Noise comes and goes… but the soul of your child is an eternal thing.
At this age, that little group that he or she is running around with becomes a huge influence.
So get to know them and ask questions about them.
Help your kids think wisely about their relational choices.
At this age, your child needs to have some connections, some affiliations with people who are different than him or her. They need to be part of a community that serves the under-resourced parts of the world.
The teenage years is a great time to take your kids on a mission trip and expose them to the developing world.
Our culture will try to turn kids this age into mall rats, into people that are just obsessed with their own desires.
On the other hand, there’s often an idealism and a willingness and a desire to give that can put adults to shame.
Find ways that your kids can get involved in meaningful service. The best way I know is to get your kids involved in our student ministry, where they can take these kinds of trips together as a little serving community.
Again, as parents this is where we can partner together with our church. Through our Kids and Student Ministries there are a lot of opportunities to serve.
I want you to hear from some of our students who are currently serving in our church.
One other aspect of this era: Because kids are growing older, they need to hear you speak directly about your spiritual life, about your experience with God.
Don’t wait until you know all the answers. Don’t wait until you have your spiritual life in perfect order.
This was written by Ken Davis. He writes that he doesn’t have a lot of regrets in his life, but one of them is this:
“I’d love another shot to raise my kids to love and honor God. Too often, I avoided overt expressions of faith in my daily life. I was often quite comfortable expressing my faith from a platform, but reluctant to do so in more intimate settings. Many meals in our house went unblessed with prayer. I made several attempts to start family devotions, but they never lasted long. I rarely said the beautiful words, ‘praise the Lord’ in front of my family. I failed to glorify God verbally in everyday life in front of my children. I wish I could do it over.”
Parents, talk to your kids about your life with God.
Tell them how you came to faith.
Tell them when something makes you grateful to God for how good he is.
Tell them sometimes when you’ve blown it, when God shows you mercy.
Tell them sometimes when you think God has prompted you to do something and you did it.
Tell them when you doubt… because they doubt sometimes… and tell them how you handle it.
Moses says, “Talk about God when you rise up and when you lie down, when you’re at home and when you’re on the road.”
Tie a string around your finger, put a Post-it note on the refrigerator. Talk to your kids about God.
Alright, that’s the affiliation stage.
The third stage that Westerhoff talks about is what he calls the Searching stage, and this is the scariest one.
This is the level that parents most often fear when kids start to question things.
When kids become aware of what life is like in our world, they may ask, “If there’s a God and God’s loving and powerful, how come people suffer so much? How do I really know there is a God out there?”
These are not questions with easy answers, so you don’t have to pretend like they are.
They’re questions that thoughtful people of faith have wrestled with for a long time now.
A lot of what kids need is simply a safe place where it is okay to name and talk about these questions.
You don’t have to have perfect answers for them. You can just tell them how it is —
That you really think about these questions and why it is that even though you wrestle with these questions too, you have chosen to put your faith in God.
If a resource would be helpful to you, Lee Strobel has written a couple books… “The Case For Christ” and “The Case for Faith” that address many of these questions.
It would be helpful for you to read these books so you have good answers to the questions they’re asking.
Both of these books are also available in a student version as well.
These books have helped millions of people.
Sometimes a child gets turned off or even hostile to faith.
This leads to an agonizing question for many parents: What do I do when my child says that he doesn’t want to go to church? Doesn’t want to go to Blue Oaks Kids or Blue Oaks Students.
When they’re small, parents can and should make that decision for them. Attendance is a non-optional deal in their early years.
As they get older, say in the high school years, this issue gets more complex.
I want to give you two responses to avoid if this issue comes up in the life of one of your kids.
Sometimes a kid will say, “I don’t want to go to church,” and the parents will just say, “okay,” and let them drop out.
I don’t think that’s a good idea… because they were made to know God and made for a community.
Sometimes a kid will say, “I don’t want to go to church,” and a parent will say, “You have to go.”
Then the child asks what kids always ask, “Why?”
And the parents will give the time honored answer that parents used on us that we swore we would never say to our kids… “Because I said so.”
That’s not generally a real good idea either.
For the most part, healthy, bright, independent, strong-minded kids don’t respond to that answer by saying, “Well, that makes sense. Because you said so, of course. Thank you for helping me with this problem.”
Almost always there is some reason for their resistance that lies beneath the surface.
Almost always, at some level, their resistance is kind of a cry for engagement on the parent’s part.
Part of them would deny that completely.
Part of them doesn’t want to talk about it.
Part of them just wants to push you away.
But there is a part of them that deeply hungers after God because that’s a part of every human life, although we try to stifle it and sometimes succeed.
There is a part of your child that deeply needs and wants you involved in their life and heart.
That’s the part you’ve got to listen to.
That’s the part you’ve got to stick with.
That’s the part you need to address.
I need to patiently explore with my child — What’s going on?
Maybe they have big doubts, and they need a safe place to talk about them. We need to talk about that stuff.
Maybe their resistance is that they’ve been involved in some patterns of pretty destructive behavior, and they’re deeply torn by guilt.
When you talk about what’s going on in their life, they may need help with that.
Often their resistance isn’t nearly so much about God, as it is being around their peers.
The single most common reason underneath this kind of resistance is, “I don’t have friends. I go there, but I don’t have friends. I feel left out.”
Let me say a word about this one because it’s so common.
Developing group friendships is one of the toughest and most important challenges in life.
There will always be, anytime there’s a group of young people together, a certain level of cliques and barriers and challenges that any given kid may have to fight through.
That’s true at any place, any school, any church. I’m sure it goes on at ours… even though we fight against it.
I know the leaders in our student ministry know about this. They try to work with kids to make their communities inclusive communities… and they pray about that.
But I know that’s part of human dynamics.
It may well be that I’ll need to work with and coach my kids on this.
That may require growth on my part.
I may not be real good at this kind of thing, but I might need to tell them for right now, “You must keep attending. Keep working at developing relationships because that’s going to be a part of life. I want you to keep working on it, even though you find it’s a struggle.”
You might need to get creative with this.
I know a senior pastor of another church in our community whose kids have a really hard time with the student ministry at his church.
So his kids found another church. It’s a great church. It has a larger thriving student ministry. They find it much easier to connect there.
Is that an okay thing?
If my kids were in that place and they found another community that was a good, Christian community where they could plug in, absolutely.
This leads to the last thing I want to say to parents, and it’s the most important thing.
Whatever you do or don’t do as a parent, whatever else you work hard at giving to your kids, don’t neglect this one.
Don’t neglect their spiritual lives because too much is a stake.
One of the wonderful things about kids is they make us look at faith in fresh ways. Not only when you’re growing as a parent can you help kids grow, but they’ll help you grow.
Karen Maines writes about a Sunday School teacher who is explaining to kids how to get to heaven.
It’s a real basic question. She was using a sort of Q and A format.
“If I sold my house and my car and had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into heaven?”
All the kids shouted, “No!”
“If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into heaven?”
“If I was kind to animals and gave candy to the children and loved my husband, would that get me into heaven?”
“Well then, how could I get into heaven?”
A 5-year-old boy shouted out, “You’ve got to be dead!”
Don’t miss the obvious there — you’ve got to be dead.
We don’t like to think about this much but the truth is one day you will be.
You will be, and so will I, and so will the little children that we love so much whose entrance into the world fills us with more joy and hope and emotion than just about anything else we ever face in life.
And someday so will they.
In the eternal scheme of things, the day is coming when all who entered this world at one point will face eternity.
Each of my kids, and yours too, will hear from a just and holy, loving God about an eternal destiny.
And the thought of missing one of my kids in eternity is just unbearable for me.
If you’re a parent, I’m telling you, do whatever you need to do.
If you need to get your own life with God squared away, get your own life with God squared away.
Because those little eyes are watching us all the time. If we’re not living what it is that we’re trying to teach, we’re going to mess them up pretty bad.
If there are any patterns in your life that need to get squared away, if things are not right between you and God, do whatever you need to do to make them right. There’s just too much at stake.
Talk to your kids about their faith and about their futures and about God.
If it’s awkward or hard or embarrassing or you feel like you don’t have all the answers, talk to them anyway. You’re the parent.
Make the commitment to pray for those lives every day.
We live in a world where parents think so much about parenting and work hard to give so many gifts to their kids that are going to fade.
There’s only one gift we can give to our kids that will never fade, and that will last for all eternity, so give it. Give it the best you can.
Alright, let’s pray as the band comes to lead us in a closing song.