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Exasperating Fathers

To listen to the recording of this sermon, click here, or go to www.stpaulsbr.org.

Exasperating Fathers

Sermon preached on Father’s Day, June 21 2009, by Rev. Randall Toms at
St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Baton Rouge, LA

Colossians 3:21

                  As a Christian father drives around town, watches television and movies, reads the newspapers, and in many other ways observes the immoral, lazy, undisciplined, and disrespectful behavior that we observe in so many young people, he may say to himself, “My children are never going to turn out that way.”  Then, with full determination he sets out to mold the character of his children in such a way that they will become truly godly and holy.  But sometimes, in our zeal to produce these “perfect” children, we go overboard in our efforts.  It is so difficult to be a Christian father.  If we are not firm enough with our children, we may be guilty of the sin of permissiveness, and be judged, like Eli and David as those who did not use enough restraint in the upbringing of their children.  On the other hand, if we are too severe with our children, we run the danger of alienating them from our affections.    It is certainly true that if we are too lenient, the child may ruin his life because of our lack of disciplinary efforts.  On the other hand, if we are too harsh and severe, we can damage the child emotionally and spiritually.  This dilemma is nothing new.  We can go back into the writings of the Greeks and Romans and find that they, too, had a difficult time in determining when they were being too strict or too permissive with their children.  It is true that Colossians 3:20 tells children to obey their parents.  But it is also true that Col. 3:21 tells fathers not to provoke their children to wrath.  In Eph. 6:4, this admonition is worded,

“And ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” 

BALANCE IS OF NECESSITY

Here we see the Apostle Paul’s plea for balance in the role of the father.  Yes.  He must admonish.  He must discipline.  But he must also be one who nurtures.  And he cannot allow his zeal to discipline to become so oppressive that it results in the angry rebellion of the child.  Thus, Paul writes, Fathers, provoke not your children to anger.

              The word that is translated as “provoke” in this verse means “to stir up,” “to excite,” or “to arouse.”  If you have a KJV you will notice that the words “to anger,” are in italics, indicating that they are not in the original, but that is the sense in which this word “provoke,” should be taken.  St. Paul is telling us that we can be so hard, so overbearing with our children, that we provoke them to have an attitude of resentment towards us.  The New International Version translates this verse, “Fathers, do not embitter your children.”  The Holman Bible translates it “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.”    The Good News Translation has it, “Parents, do not irritate your children”  Paul further explains this when he adds the phrase, “lest they be discouraged.”  The word that is translated as discouraged means to be broken in spirit, to be disheartened, or dispirited.    In our zeal to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, we often see it as our duty to be constant watchdog, always looking for that wrong action or reaction, that attitude that we disapprove of, and the moment we see it, to pounce on it with all our might in an effort to drive it out of the child.    Certainly, we need to correct our children, but we can do this to the degree that our children look upon as nothing more than the policeman who lying in wait to give them a ticket when they step over the limit.  They begin to see it, not as fathers who love them, but as someone who is constantly nagging, whose only purpose in life seems to be to find fault with everything they do.  Paul says that if we go overboard in that direction, children become disheartened, discouraged, because they begin to think that everything they do is wrong, and eventually, they give up on doing what is right because they think that they can never do anything that is right.    They may begin to feel that there is nothing that they could ever do that would be pleasing in the sight of their father. 

                It is only natural for a father to want his child to do his best in every area of life, but sometimes that desire for the child to do his best becomes the desire for the child to excel, to be the best in everything.  So, it appears to the child that the father is never satisfied.  No matter what the child accomplishes, the father is never satisfied, but always insisting that the child could do better.  It is like the child who comes home with a test, so proud that he made a 96, and the father looks at it, and the first thing he says is, “How did you lose those other four points.  You could have made a perfect score.”  When we constantly do that, the child begins to feel that nothing he does can ever measure up to the standard that the father has set for him. He becomes discouraged.  It’s interesting that in the Ephesians 6 passage, the apostle Paul uses a different word for “provoke.”  The word there means “to exasperate.”  In other words, our constant criticism of our children can irritate them, annoy them to the degree, that they become very angry and irritable toward us.

SO, HOW DO WE AVOID THIS EXTREME?

                How do we provide all the discipline that is necessary, all the instruction, guidance, and correction that is necessary, and yet, do it in such a way that we do not break the spirit of our children, with that terrible feeling that they never measure up, so what is the use in trying any more?  First, develop an attitude of patience toward your children.  Very often, in our zeal to see our children become godly, we expect them to become spiritual giants over night.  Realize that that is probably not going to happen.  After all, it took you a few years to become the spiritual giant that you are now, didn’t it?  Some of us used to read the biographies of Puritan children who were godly at such an early age—people such as Cotton Mather and David Brainerd.  We were determined that our children would be like that.  In our zeal to make them such little saints, we forgot that they were children, and failed to treat them as children.  We forgot that their service to God right now is to be children, to laugh, to play.    A few weeks ago, I took my granddaughter to the rehearsal for her dance recital.  In these dance recitals, you can bet that they are going to play at least one or two tear-jerkers for the dance routines.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am very sentimental and emotional.  I told my daughter that I think I am getting worse with old age, and she said, “I know you are.”  Well, one of the dance routines was done to Billy Dean’s country song, “Let Them Be Little.”  When they started playing it, my daughter leaned over and said, “Don’t cry.”  And I said, “Too late.  I cried all through the rehearsal.”  Certainly, as a father, it is your duty to correct, instruct, and discipline, but it is also your duty to play, to love, to cherish, and accept your children as children—let them be little.   Patiently teach them with love and acceptance and you will avoid provoking them to wrath.

KEY IS IN MODELING

                Second, in order not to exasperate our children, we must be examples of godliness and discipline ourselves.  They must look at us and see in us the model that we want them to follow.  I know we often say, jokingly, don’t do as I do, do as I say,” but there is probably no quicker way to exasperate a child than that.  Children aren’t stupid.  They will be irritated, exasperated, when they see our ungodly behavior and ask the question, “Why should I do what he says when he won’t follow those same rules in his own life?”  Sometimes, our efforts to discipline our children are almost comical.  I know that you have never been guilty of this, but we have seen other people do it.  But have you ever seen people discipline their children when they are in a rage themselves.  It seems a little inconsistent for a parent to be out in public with a child, lose his temper with the child, and then in an undisciplined rage, scream at or whip their child, “Saying control yourself, control yourself,” when you they are so obviously out of control themselves.”  The child is thinking, “This is a great way to teach me how to control my temper.”  It is this inconsistency in our own behavior that children often find so exasperating.   One day we punish them for doing something and the next day we let them get away with it.  Or if we have more than one child, we let one child get away with doing something but come down hard on the other child for doing the same thing.  This time of year we get exasperated at baseball games when a pitcher on our team throws a pitch and the umpire says its outside the strike zone, but the other team’s pitcher comes out, throws the same pitch, and it’s a strike.  What do we say? “Hey ump!  Call it both ways.”  All we want is consistency.  A child is the same way.  They look to us for consistency, and if they don’t see it, they become exasperated.  They see this inconsistency especially in our devotion to God.  One week, we seem all on fire for the Lord, reading our Bibles, praying, trying to serve the Lord, and the next week, they see our ardor and affections cool.    The child thinks, “They expect me to disciplined and constant in my service to God, but why aren’t they?”  If we don’t want to provoke our children to wrath, if we don’t want them to become discouraged, and disheartened, we must model the behavior we want them to imitate.

THE NAGGING FATHER

                    Third, avoid the tendency to be constantly nagging.  One of the caricatures of our culture is that of the nagging wife, the one who is always finding fault with her husband, always giving him orders so that the man always feels as though he is under constant pressure.  Certainly, it is possible to be a nagging wife, but it is also possible to be a nagging father, to the degree that the child may not even enjoy being around his father, dreading coming home from school, dreading when his father might come home from work, because once again there will be the constant nagging, the constant pressure.  To overcome this tendency to be constantly nagging, be more moderate in your expectations for your children.  Certainly, teach them to do what is right, correct them, and teach them to do their best, but realize that they are going to do what is wrong from time to time, and even when they do their very best, they are not going to be perfect.  When they do wrong, when they don’t measure up, let them always be assured of your love for them, your acceptance of them, even when they do not meet your expectations.  After all, God is your father, and how does he treat you?  One of the most beautiful expressions of God’s fatherly love for us, in spite of our imperfections is found in Psalm 103: 8

 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.
He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.
As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.
Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.
For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.

One of the most amazing lines from that passage is “he hath not dealt with us after our sins.”  What would have happened to you if God given you exactly what you deserve every  time you have sinned.  One thing is for certain—none of us would be here this morning.    Rather than giving us exactly what we deserve, God has been gracious, slow to anger, plenteous in mercy, he pities, he knows what we are—we are just dust—sinful dust at that.  Years ago I heard a preacher who had a child that had a developmental disability.  Intellectually, he would never be more than a little child.  One time in his teen-age years, he did something wrong, and the preacher told him, “You know what you did was wrong, and I’m going to have to punish you.”  And his son looked at him said, almost as a 4 year old would say it, “Daddy, you give me another chance.”  And the preacher said, “What could I do when I remembered how often I had been to my heavenly father, knowing what I deserved, and said, “Daddy, you give me another chance.”  And wonder of wonders, God does.  Remember that your children are sinners, just as you are a sinner.  Yet God remembers what you are and is merciful accordingly. 

PAUSE TO GIVE THANKS

                So, on this Father’s day, we pause to give thanks for the best of all Father’s, our heavenly Father who has loved us and been so patient with us; a God who loved us so much, that though he loved his Son more than any father could ever love his own child, God sent his son into the world, so that we might become his children, so that we might have the privilege of looking at the mighty ruler of the universe and saying, Abba, Father.”  Because of what Christ has done on the cross, we can now boldly say, Our Father, who are in heaven….”    Fathers, if you would know how to be a Father, look at your heavenly father.  He is the example.  He is firm, he disciplines, and he corrects.  But at the same time, he is loving, accepting, merciful, and forgiving.    He doesn’t provoke his children to wrath.  Rather, he encourages us and is infinitely patient with us.  And when we see him in this way, we obey him, not because he has the rod of iron in his hand, not because of the threat of chastisement and judgment, but we serve him and obey him because that is the natural response to such overwhelming love.  This is the key to discipline, this is the key to obtaining obedience from your children.  Love them as God loves you, and then obedience will be given to you, not out of slavish servile fear, but out of loving gratitude in the same way that we are to render our obedience to our heavenly Father. 

Amen.

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“Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures”
James 1:18

baby

Why do we have children?  On this Mother’s Day, we honor and celebrate the lives of our mothers who have done so much for us, but do we ever stop to consider the reasons for which they brought us into this world?  Think of what it means to bring a child into this wicked and sinful place.  Whenever we bring children into the world, we bring them into a world that is filled with suffering.  We know this is true when we make the decision to bring a child into the world.  We know that there is a possibility that the child may contract terrible diseases, even very early in life—diseases, the effect of which may linger with them all their days.  Back during the time when the polio epidemic was so rampant, people continued to have children.  Yet, many children were paralyzed to one degree or another by polio, some of them having to spend their lives in what we called an “iron lung” for they could not breathe on their own.  Why run the risk of bringing a child into the world that may contract a disease such as that and endure such suffering?

When we bring a child into the world, who knows what horrors may lie ahead.  Brutal, foreign armies may invade our land one day and subject our children and grandchildren to inhuman tortures.  Our sons may be called upon to spill their blood upon foreign battlefields, cut off in the prime of life, before they even begin to enjoy the love of a wife and children.  They may survive the war, but their bodies and minds may suffer the effects of battle for years to come.  Why bring children into a world such as this?  If they live to be 90 years old, their last days will be spent in great weakness, the days of strength, vigor, and beauty far behind them, existing only in the mind, if the mind has not been ravaged by Alzheimer’s disease, as only a distant memory, a dream that seems to vanish before the mist of old age.  Furthermore, as Christians, we know that when we bring a child into the world, we are bringing into the world an immortal soul—an immortal being who is going to spend eternity either enjoying the presence of God in heaven or in eternal woe.  Why take the chance of bringing a child into the world who may reject the eternal life that is offered to it, and spend eternity in such endless agony?  Why do we bring children into the world?

            Many people have pondered such questions and have come to the conclusion that it is terribly irresponsible to have children.  If you go on the internet, you will find organizations that are very devoted to the idea that modern couples should remain childless.  They argue that there are already too many people in the world, that more children will simply waste the valuable resources that we have which are being rapidly depleted.   They argue  that it costs so much money now to bring a child to adulthood.  Couldn’t that money be spent in helping the children and the adults who are already in the world?  Shouldn’t we try to save the children who are alive now from poverty, disease, starvation, rather than bring another child into the world which will take money from those who already need it?  Wouldn’t it be better to put all of that money in programs for children and youth that might save them from a life of crime?

Many Wrong Reasons

            While I don’t agree with such arguments, I do agree with these groups when they say that most people have children for the wrong reasons.    Why do people have children?  If you were to go down the street this afternoon and ask parents of all ages, “Why did you have children?,” what would be the response? Sadly, most people would not even be able to give an answer to that question.  For many people, they had children just because it was the expected thing to do.  In our society, we expect people to get married and have children.  Our parents and grandparents expect it of us.  Almost all of society expects it of us.  Therefore, we have children. 

          Some children were brought into the world simply because of a biological urge.  It has been programmed into all animals to propagate the species.  Human beings also have this very powerful urge to mate, and children are born simply as a result of this urge.  Of course, in these days of contraceptives and abortion, the biological urge can often be thwarted in its purpose, but we must admit that some children were conceived  as a result of a biological passion, and then, in our society, a conscious decision was made to keep the child.  Some children were brought into the world for quite selfish reasons on the part of the parents.  Some parents want a child to continue the family name, continue the family line.  In some cultures, having children was seen as a means of survival. The more children one had, the more help one would have in farming the land or running the family business.  Some parents want to see their children fulfill the dreams that they wanted to achieve themselves.  The father wanted to be a star basketball player, and he hopes to see his dreams fulfilled in his son.  A mother wanted to live in a mansion, have fine clothes, drive an expensive car, so she wants a daughter who will pursue those things and have all the things that she never had.    Some people have children because they feel as though a child would fulfill their lives.  They feel that there is something missing in their lives, and having a child would give them a sense of purpose and meaning.  Others have children simply because they think it would be fun.  They think that their lives need a little spark, a little boost, and a child would add spice to their lives.  I will have to agree with these groups that advocate childlessness that none of these are adequate reasons to bring a child into the world.  Certainly, you shouldn’t bring a child into the world just because you can’t control your animal passions.  Those who bring children into the world believing that they are going to live up to their expectations are most likely going to be terribly disappointed.  Those people who think that they are going to live out their dreams in their children may have a nightmare on their hands.  People who believe that having children will give them a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives find that that is an enormous burden to place on a child.  No child, only God, can give us that sense of meaning and purpose that we need in our lives.  To try to make a child into your replacement for God is really an act of cruelty and futility.  And while it is true that children can be fun, they can also cause a great deal of unhappiness, and may even bring great tragedies to your life.  None of these reasons for bringing children into the world are adequate.

Then why bring a child into the world? 

Only the Christian can answer that question.  Only the Christian has a good reason for bringing a child into this world.  We give birth to children for the same reason God gives birth to his children.  In our epistle reading for today, James said, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”  God sent his son into the world to die for us in order that we might become his children.  But why did he want us to be his children? James tells us God wanted us to be his children so that we could be a kind of firstfruits.  You remember that in the Old Testament, the firstfruits were given to God.  It didn’t matter if the firstfruits were children, animals, or plants.  The firstfruits were given to God.   In Exodus 22:29-30, we read, “ Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me.   Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep: seven days it shall be with his dam; on the eighth day thou shalt give it me.”  Not long after our Lord Jesus was born, we are told of how they brought the infant Jesus to the temple:  “And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;  (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons (Luke 2:22-24).    Since Jesus was Mary’s firstborn, he had to be dedicated to the Lord.  In a beautiful way, Christ was the firstfruits of all the children of God.  Jesus, the firstborn, was devoted to God, and now all his people, born again, follow him in being holy to the Lord.  Thus, Christians are those people who have been consecrated, dedicated to God.  We are the firstfruits of God’s creation, his new creation which he has ushered in through his Son.  God has brought into this world a new people, entirely different from all the rest of the people in the world.  God has placed us in this world to show the rest of humanity what a human being should be—someone totally devoted to God, his service, and his glory. 

But remember, that firstfruits were a sign that more was to follow.  These were just the first fruits.  This is why Jesus is called the firstfruits of those who have died (I Cor. 15:20).  Christ rising from the dead is the guarantee that all who believe in him will also rise from the dead.  He was the firstfruits.  More are to follow him by being raised as he was raised from the dead.  Christians are the firstfruits of his creatures.  More are to follow.  More are to be converted to Christ and become devoted to him.  We are the first in God’s process of redeeming the whole of  creation.  God gave birth to us so that we might be totally devoted to him and be used by him to transform the world.

            We bring our children into the world for this same reason.  We bring children into this world to be firstfruits.  We bring them into this world to devote them to God.  We bring them into this world so that they might have the wonderful joy and privilege of knowing God and serving him so that they might be salt and light, and transform this world.  In the book of Malachi, when God is making known his displeasure concerning divorce, he says about husband and wife, “Has not the Lord made them one?  In flesh and spirit they are his.  And why one?  Because he was seeking godly offspring.  So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth” (Mal. 2:15, NIV).  What does God want from this union of husband wife?  He wanst godly offspring.  This is why we bring children into the world—in order that they might be devoted to God.

 In our Prayer of Thanksgiving that we say in our Morning and Evening Prayer services, we give God thanks for our creation.  Do you really thank God every day of your life that you were created? How can we thank God for our creation when we experience so much pain and suffering in this world?  We thank God for our creation, because if we had never been created, we would have never known him.  The joy of knowing him far outweighs all of the sufferings that we may have to endure in this short life.

Why do we bring children into the world? Perhaps that question could best be answered in the words of Ps. 78: 1-7:

 Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.  I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:  Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.  We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.  For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:

We bring children into the world that they might know God, know the works of God, and declare the works of God from generation to the next.

        This is why we bring our infant children to be baptized–so that they can be devoted to God, joined immediately to Jesus Christ, and have fellowship with him, even as infants.  On Sunday evenings we are studying our catechism with our young people, and we spend a great deal of time assuring them that when they were baptized they were made members of Christ.  One of the questions we studied last week was,

Q.  Why were you baptized so early?

A.  Because I cannot be too soon made a member of Christ, and be taught to live as a member of Christ ought to live.

Isn’t that wonderful!  This is why we bring children into the world—to make them members of Christ and to teach them how a member of Christ ought to live.

When we brought our children into the world, it should have been with this prayer, “Dear Lord, give us a child so that we can dedicate it to you.  Give us a child so that we might teach it what it means to know you and love you.” 

What an awesome responsibility it is to bring a little soul into the world! On these websites that argue against having children, they make the point that from the time you have children, your life is basically over.  From now on, your life will revolve around your children.  You will spend $350,000 on them to get them to age 22.  You will have to give up the things you want to do for what they want to do.  You will have many long and sleepless nights as you have to nurse them through sicknesses. On and on the lists go about the things you will have to give up if you have children.  And you know what?  They are right! It is odd that Christians haven’t realized that truth.   When you decided to become a parent, your self-centered life came to an end.  Sometimes when I have counseled with men and women who tell me that they are going to leave their spouse and their children, they often say, “Well, I have my own life to live.”  No you don’t.  The moment you became a parent, your self-centered life ended, or it should have.  If you want to live your own life  your own way, then never get married and have children.  If you had never made the commitment to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Christ, you should have made it when you had a child.  You had a little immortal soul entrusted to your care and safekeeping, and now your life must be spent in caring for that little soul.

A Word of Advice for Young People

Let me give a word of advice to our young people who will one day choose a husband or a wife.  Ask the person whom you are thinking of marrying if they are willing, should you have children, to sacrifice their lives, give up the world and all besides, for the sake of the little souls who may be entrusted to your care.  If they can’t say, “Yes,” then look elsewhere.  There are many things in this world worse than going through life single.  One of them is marrying the wrong person, and the other is marrying someone who will not commit himself or herself to the salvation of the immortal souls which may be entrusted to your care. 

If I were to ask our young people, “Do you want to grow up and have children of your own one day?”,  I don’t know what they would say.  Maybe they have never thought about it.  Maybe they have.  But if you do want to grow up to be a parent one day, you need to start praying right now that God would start making you into the kind of parent that would be committed to the salvation of little souls entrusted to your care.  When God chose a woman to be the mother of his only begotten Son, do you think that was a random choice?  Do you think he chose Mary just because she happened to be at the right place and the right time?  Or do you think that Mary had been prepared by the grace of God to be the mother, not just of an immortal soul, but of the son of God himself?  We are told that Jesus was subject to Mary and Joseph.  This is the son of God, but he submitted himself to their authority.  Do you think that was a random choice, or did God prepare the couple in which he would place his son?    Young people, ask God to prepare you, and to prepare a future spouse for you, so that you could be a couple in which God could entrust immortal souls.

From the time you make the decision to bring a little child into the world, you commit your life to do several things.  First, you commit yourself to live a holy and godly life.  You begin to pray, “Dear God, please, let me live before my child in such a way that my child would see Jesus, and Jesus only, living in me.”  This is where your child’s knowledge of Jesus begins—by seeing Jesus in you.  Your child’s fellowship with Jesus begins by having fellowship with you.  Your child should be able to say, “I know what it is to walk with Jesus every day, because I walked with my mother and my father every day, and they were patterns of Christ to me.”  It is through knowing you that your children should come to know Christ.  You should strive for holiness, strive for perfection, because that is God’s will for you, and because you love God so much.  But you should also do it for the sake of your children.  You want to be holy so that your children might see an example of holiness before them every moment of every day.  What do you think?  Is that responsibility enough to keep you on your knees begging God for holiness of life?

Then you committed yourself to a lifetime of instruction by example and word.  St. Paul told us to bring up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  By precept and example, parents must be constantly teaching their children what it means to love, what it means to be patient, kind, and longsuffering, what it means to forgive and show mercy, what it means to live sacrificially, what it means to turn the other cheek and love our enemies, and what it means to worship God and love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Your home must be a little church, where you teach your children, by word and example, what it means to live in the fear of God.    I was reading the other day the life of St. Therese of Lisieux.  The Martin’s had nine children, but four of them died in infancy.  Five daughters survived, and they all became nuns.  Where did that kind of devotion come from?  If you read her autobiography you see that their home was a little church.  Oh, they did all kinds of fun things.  They went on picnics, went fishing, learned how to draw and paint, but at the center of everything was Christ, prayer, and worship.  Therese talks about how she looked forward to every afternoon when her father would come home, and he would take her for a walk in the park, and then they would attend mass at the various churches in the city.  Their mother and father were examples of godliness, piety, and devotion to Christ.  No wonder that their daughters wanted to give themselves so completely to Christ, as well.  They took seriously the idea that little souls had been entrusted to their care, and they sought to teach them by word and example what it means to love and worship God.  When you became a parent, you committed yourself to such a life. 

A  Missing Element in Raising Children

I was talking with some friends the other night, and we were talking about some of the mistakes we had made in the past with regard to bringing up our children, and one of the things we realized we had done was this:  we had taught them a great deal the Bible and theology, but we did not teach them about devotion:  how to worship God, how to pray to God, and how to delight in serving others for Christ’s sake.    The parent must not only teach facts.  The parent must also be an example of love and devotion to Christ.

Also, when you became a parent you committed yourself to a lifetime of prayer.  A great deal of parenting is done on your knees.  Godly parents must be always on their knees, literally or inwardly, praying for the salvation of their children, praying that their children might be given the grace  of perseverance so that they might continue in the faith until their life’s end, that they might be given strength to overcome the temptations of the devil, and that they might love our Lord Jesus Christ above all things.  In the United States, at the present time, we live in a post-Christian society.  There was an article in Newsweek a few weeks ago that spoke of how America is now post-Christian, and many people got upset about the article.  I agreed with it.  We have been in a post-Christian society for many years now.  Your children and grandchildren are going to be brought up in a society that is anti-God, anti-Christian, anti-Christ, anti-Church, and beyond that, anti-moral, and anti-decency.  Your children are going to be brought up in the midst of filth, but where that filth will be looked upon as clean and decent.  How are your children ever going to make it through this life and remain steadfast to Christ?  If they make it, it will be because godly parents and the prayers of the Church surrounded them every moment of their lives.  When you became a parent, you devoted yourself to a lifetime of prayer and tears.

So, there you have it! You brought a child into this world to have fellowship and communion with God.  You became a parent to live a holy life, teach, and pray for that little soul entrusted to your care.  Now, you may be saying, “But Fr. Toms, I didn’t bring my children into this world for that reason.  I didn’t realize what I was doing.  I’m afraid I brought children into this world for some of those inadequate reasons you mentioned earlier.”  I know.  I know.  We weren’t taught properly, were we?  No one ever really taught us what being a parent really meant.  Because the Church didn’t teach us properly, we failed in many ways, didn’t we?  But it’s not too late.  Some of you have children who are still at home.  Some of you have children who have moved away.  But it’s still not too late to do all the things I have described this morning.  It’s still not too late to live a holy and godly life before them.  Even now, you can repent of your past life and pray that from this day forward, you would be such an example of godliness that your children would see Christ shining forth in you.  You can begin today to plead with God to transform your life so that they would see Christ in you.  For those of you who still have children at home, you can pray that God would help you to teach your children day by day, to live in the fear of God, to turn your home into that little church.   Even if your children are away from home, you can pray that God will give you opportunity to speak the truth in love to your children, that God would open doors for you to speak with holy wisdom when you are around them.  No matter whether your children are home or not, you can live on your knees, in prayer, for your children.  Oh, it may be years and years before you see the fruit of your prayers, or it may be that you will die even without seeing your children restored to a godly life, but persevere in prayer, and it may be that when you are in heaven, your prayers for your children will be answered on earth.

Devoting Our Children to the Lord

Why do we bring children into the world?  We bring children into the world to devote them to God, that they might be the firstfruits of the new creation that God is bringing to pass.  When God gave the command to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, we read, “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28).  When God told our parents to be fruitful and multiply, it was so that these descendants would take dominion over the earth.  That was the old creation.  But now, God is bringing into being a new creation, and we are the firstfruits of that new creation.  David Chilton writes, “Both the individual and the community are recreated, renewed, and restored to Paradise in salvation, and this cosmic restoration has already begun…  The New Creation will fill the earth; the whole creation will be renewed” (Days of Vengeance, 547).  This is why we bring children into the world–to take dominion of the world, not through military might, but through love, even the love our enemies.  Our baptized children are the firstfruits of God’s new creation.

 The other night at our youth meeting, I was talking to a couple of our men, and we were talking about how discouraging it was in these days, seeing the effect of the Church on our culture, beginning to diminish so rapidly.  Then, we began to talk about some of the hopeful signs, and one of our men said, “This is what is encouraging to me–walking into your home and seeing our young people praying, singing, learning to use the Prayer Book, learning to live a life of devotion.”  Young people, we look at you as the firstfruits—the firstfruits of a harvest that will surely come one day.  This is why we gave you life.  This is why we brought you into this world.  This is why we teach you and pray for you.  You are the firstfruits of God’s new creation.  

Why do we bring children into the world?  We bring children into the world to amaze the world.  They are the firstfruits of the kind of people who are going to subdue the world by the power of the gospel. We bring children into the world to devote them to God, so that by the grace of God, they will be molded into people so amazing that their life of love, service, sacrifice, and devotion to God will astound the world. 

Amen.

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