Job One

This past Father’s Day I issued an encouragement and a challenge to dads.  If we take the Scriptures at face value, we are the ones primarily invested with the responsibility of passing on our faith to the next generation.  In what follows, I talk about how exactly to do it.  Thanks for reading.


Job One

As most of you know, I am a Kansas City Royals fan.  I know…this has been a tough summer.  But three years ago, it wasn’t.  Three years ago was the best summer to be a Royals fan since…well…the summer before (there’s even a children’s book about that one that is on the shelves at home).  But before that you have to go back 1985 to find one of comparative excitement.  As for the summers in between, I’ll be honest: They were pretty rough.  There were four seasons when we lost more than 100 games (for my non-baseball fans that’s a notable mark of having had an exceedingly bad season)…three of which were back-to-back-to-back.  There were many more when we were just generally bad.  The badness occurred at pretty much all levels from the top of the organization to the bottom.

In 2005, though, when things were truly at their worst, the Royals hired Dayton Moore as their new General Manager.  He came in and promised that he was going to turn the organization around starting from the bottom up.  And then for the next seven years with one exception we lost 90 games or more.  All that time, though, while on the surface things continued to look pretty bleak, there was something going on deeper in the organization.  Moore oversaw putting really good folks in the farm system both at home and abroad.  He found great talent scouts and coaches who excelled at developing talented young players.  And then in 2013, we suddenly flipped a switch and had our second winning season since the strike in 1994.  The next year, we made it to game seven of the World Series.  That brings us back to 2015.

Let me tell you another story.  When Joshua led the people of Israel to conquer the Promised Land, they were riding pretty high on life.  They were achieving victories both spiritual and physical and God was at the helm.  They followed Him faithfully for as long as Joshua was in power.  But then Joshua died.  That’s where the book of Judges picks up the story.  I’ve recently finished reading through Judges in my personal study time and it’s just as depressing a book as it was the last time I read it.  The people turn from God over and over again in spite of the consequences being the same (terrible) every time.  And each time they turn, they turn further, until by the end of the book the whole nation is completely enveloped in chaos.  Now, there are several reasons for this, but right at the beginning of the book there’s a little note after we’re told about Joshua’s passing that offers the most important explanation.  It says this: “And they buried [Joshua] within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash.  And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers.  And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.”

So, what’s the point here?  The point is this: Israel was failing as a nation during the time period of the judges because they hadn’t paid any attention to raising up strong future generations.  They lived for themselves, enjoyed what they had, and let tomorrow deal with itself.  The Royals succeeded in 2015 because they did precisely the opposite.  They spent years building up the next generation of players and it paid off in World Series gold.

The bigger point here is this: Raising up the next generation in any context is really important.  Without it, we’ll get to the future and find nothing there waiting for us.  That’s a scary place to be.  When it comes to our relationship with God, it’s even more important.  God is really concerned about it because the eternal destiny of the people He created and loves is on the line.  Because of this, the Scriptures offer us some really clear advice on how we should do this and who should be taking point on the project.

Well, as we said earlier, today is Father’s Day.  Although this fact is being forgotten in some places in our culture today, dads are really important.  They’re important enough that quite a number of folks have done research to try and quantify just how important they are.  Check this out: Young people with involved dads tend to have: better grades, fewer behavioral problems, more confidence in life generally, better psychological health, fewer issues with substance abuse, less incidence of incarceration, a more delayed start to being sexually active (especially among girls), lower frequency of teen pregnancy, higher economic achievement, less poverty, more marital satisfaction down the road, and the list goes on.  In other words and again: Dads, you are really important.  And this morning as we celebrate Father’s Day together, I would like to offer you some encouragement and a challenge for how to take your indispensable role in the household and maximize its potential in terms of your impact on the next generation.

Now, when it comes to the roles of husbands and wives, the apostle Paul writes a few things that are pretty hard to square with modern assumptions.  One of the things that’s often hardest to hear for modern ears is that the husband is the head of the household.  How exactly we should understand that is a conversation for another time.  Suffice to say right now, it’s a whole lot more positive an idea than we are given to understand if we are running on cultural assumptions.  Most notably, rather than giving guys some kind of special advantage over their wives, what it really means is that when God comes to hold somebody responsible for the state of the relationship and the family, He’s going to be looking at us first.  Ladies, be glad you don’t have the burden on you.

How exactly this plays itself out in the marriage relationship we’ve talked about before and will talk about again someday.  Right now, though, I want to take a quick look at what this means for the relationship of a dad with his kids.  In Ephesians 6, Paul turns from talking about husbands and wives to talking about parents and children.  If you’re a parent, it starts out really nice.  Check this out from v. 1: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”  After the service we will be handing out oversized, laminated posters with this verse printed on it for you to put up over your kids’ beds so it’s the last thing they see at night and the first thing they see when they wake up.  Kidding.  Paul’s not quite done yet.  Verse 2: “‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’”  Simple stuff, but important stuff.

Next, though, as is his custom, Paul doesn’t quit, but instead turns his attention on the group that is now cheering him on to quiet them (us) down a bit.  Specifically, he turns his attention to dads, the heads of their households, and because of this the ones presumably the most concerned about the state of their children (because they’re the ones who are going to have to answer to God for whatever it is).  This is not to say at all that moms aren’t terribly concerned as well, but only that if we take the Scriptures at face value, dads should have a special concern here that our culture has taught us we don’t and even shouldn’t have.  Namely, the idea that parenting is primarily the mom’s job isn’t one found within the pages of the Scriptures.

In any event, look at what he says to dads now in v. 4: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger…”  Should we have a confession time on this one?  I’ll confess that I probably do it a whole lot more often than I should.  Any time we ride them because we’re angry about anything, we’re doing this.  Any time we talk at them or even over them instead of listening to them, we’re doing this.  Any time we punish unfairly or discipline without mercy and love as our guides, we’re doing this.  I should probably stop there.  There are lots of things we shouldn’t be doing when it comes to raising up the next generation.  Let’s focus on the things we should.  Look at the rest of the verse: “…but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Question time.  What does that mean?  Very simply, it means we are to raise our kids to know and love the Lord.  We are to train them to seek Him and to strive to live life His way.  We are to help them see that believing in Him is the most reasonable thing they could ever do.  Now, that all sounds good, but how do we do it?

Well, for that we have a bit of help.  Turning all the way back to the front of the Scriptures, we find in Deuteronomy 6, Moses’ call to the people of Israel to submit themselves wholly to the Lord.  In this original statement of what Jesus would later identify as the first and greatest commandment, Moses tells the people that they are to love Him with all their heart, with all their soul, and with all their strength.  (The Hebrew there translates more literally as “with their very muchness,” which is a more fun translation, but is kind of awkward.)  But, while Moses was giving this command to the people who were gathered in front of him, it wasn’t just for them.  This whole loving the Lord thing doesn’t come naturally to us.  As a result, Moses adds this: “You shall teach them diligently to your children.”  Now, what does it look like to teach something diligently?  It means we don’t rest until they know it explicitly.  Or, as Moses goes on to unpack, you “talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

That adds some clarity, doesn’t it?  It sets out for us in more detail exactly what it takes to raise our children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  It takes a full-bodied effort that makes sure we are hitting them at every point.  This doesn’t mean we go Jesus crazy, but it does mean we take the steps necessary to make sure the primary shaping influences in our households are shaping in the direction of the kingdom of God and not the kingdom of this world.  Bottom line: This is really important stuff.  It takes intention, discipline, and a willingness to put ourselves last for the sake of others (our kids) time and time and time again.  It’s sufficiently important that our God saw fit to call us to this goal at both ends of the Scriptures.  And, dads, we’re the ones singled out as primarily responsible for this in our families.  That doesn’t at all mean we are to try and do it by ourselves.  If we don’t lean heavily on our wives or other support systems, we will fail and fail miserably.  But we’re where the drive in this direction needs to start.  If I could boil all of this down to a simple idea, then, when it comes to being a dad, raising godly kids is your most important job.  It surpasses everything else.  Everything else you do with and for your kids must be filtered through this lens first: Raising godly kids is a dad’s most important job.

Okay then…how do we do it?  What are some concrete steps we can take to be intentional about passing on our faith to the next generation?  Well, before I answer that question, let me offer a quick caveat.  While what we’ve said so far and what we’re about to talk about will mostly apply to the relationship between fathers and their children, it’s not limited to that.  Consider Abraham and Lot.  We don’t know anything about Lot’s birth family except that his dad was Abraham’s brother.  Abraham was Lot’s uncle.  And yet, for whatever reason Lot’s birth father couldn’t have an impact on him.  Abraham stepped into that role and Lot’s life was infinitely better because of it.  If you don’t have kids of your own at home (whether because you never did or yours are already gone), this is for you as well.  You can—and should—have an impact on the next generation by being intentional with the kids whom God has placed within your sphere of influence now.  And, by the way, there’s no such thing as having “done your time” in this regard.  You’re called to do this with as many “kids” as you can for as long as you can.  Anything less is unfaithfulness to the calling God has placed on your life.

With that said, let me offer you five really practical things that we as men can be doing to greatly increase the likelihood of passing on our faith to the next generation.  And, by the way, I use that phrase that way intentionally.  These things will increase the likelihood of passing on our faith to the next generation.  They won’t guarantee it.  Kids are ultimately responsible for their own choices.  If we raise them faithfully and well and they walk away from it anyway, that’s on them.  We can at least make an effort, though.

So then, if we are going to be intentional about passing on our faith to our kids, the first thing to do is to have them regularly in a context where it is practiced and lived out.  In other words, the first thing to do is to have them at church.  This is the first and most basic thing you can do to pass on your faith to your kids.  Church won’t guarantee they’ll grow as healthy followers of Jesus, but not having them in church will radically increase the likelihood that they won’t.  If you want godly kids—and that’s your most important job—this is where you’ve got to start.

But, while showing up is basic, it’s not enough on its own.  That’s why the second practical thing you can do to raise godly kids is so important.  Be involved at church and make your involvement a priority.  The worst thing you can do in this regard is to simply drop them off and pick them up.  The message that sends is that church doesn’t matter; a message they’ll hear loudly and clearly.  The second worst thing you can do, though, is to be present but uninvolved.  If they see that, they’ll conclude that showing up is good enough.  It’s not.  Also, if they see you regularly prioritizing things over church, they’ll conclude that church is not worth making a priority and follow suit.  And their faith will suffer accordingly.

Here’s a general observation about kids and the faith for you: Kids tend to take on the religious identity of their moms, but the religious devotion of their dads.  What this means is that absent them actively switching to another faith tradition or converting to a different religion, your kids, ladies, will always call themselves Baptists.  But, guys, they’ll only be as devoted to living out their faith in meaningful ways as they see you demonstrating.  Now, this doesn’t mean you have to be here every single time the doors are open, but it does mean that you need to make clear that being an active, growing part of a community of faith is a significantly important feature of your life; more important, in fact, than most other things.  That applies, by the way, whether your kids are at home or not.

Here’s why this in particular is so important.  Just this past week I was reading in the beginning of 1 Samuel.  The story there begins in the waning days of the period of the Judges when a priest named Eli was serving as the leader of the people of Israel.  Eli himself was a pretty faithful priest and leader.  He’s the one who raised Samuel to become the powerful prophet and judge that he was.  But, Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas were awful.  They were both serving as priests in the tabernacle by virtue of their father’s position, but neither man actually served the Lord, much less believed in Him.  They took terrible advantage of their power and abused the people mightily.  They grew up, as Samuel did, in the tabernacle, and yet Eli never bothered to actually pass on his faith to them.  And in the end, God held Eli responsible for the state of his family.

And a big part of Eli’s problem seems to have been a failure to do the third thing here.  You need not only to have them at church and to be involved with them, you need also to actively live out your faith in front of them.  Faith is certainly a personal thing, but it should never be a private one.  This goes double for our kids.  If they never see you actively doing the things of Jesus, they won’t learn how to do them from the source that matters most.  Now, this doesn’t mean you need to put on a show for them every time you do something churchy.  They’ll sniff out you being inauthentic or disingenuous almost instantly and conclude appropriately.  But they do need to see you putting your faith into practice.  They need to see it because otherwise they won’t know how.

My own dad did this.  I can’t even count the number of times he took me along with him as he lived out his faith in some practical way whether making a hospital visit or giving a ride to church to a senior who didn’t drive anymore or quietly serving someone else or something else along these lines.  While he rarely talked to me about how much he gave, he talked to me about the fact that he did it.  I saw him preparing to teach his Sunday school lesson.  And again, he never made a show of any of this.  He didn’t make it formal.  He didn’t seek any attention or recognition for it.  He just did it.  And he brought me along with him.  Raising godly kids is a dad’s most important job.

Well, at this point, some of you are perhaps feeling pretty good because you’re already doing these kinds of things and more.  Be encouraged.  You are about some good work and you should rightly be proud of your efforts.  But…while showing is really important when it comes to passing on the faith, it’s not the only thing.  We’ve got to tell as well.  This is the fourth thing we need to do.  Talk about the faith with your kids.  Listen, we talk about things we care about.  You know that.  When we’re passionate about something, we talk about it.  A lot.  We drive other people crazy talking about it.  They get sick of listening to us.  They beg us to hear about anything else.  So think about it: Do you ever talk about the faith?  Do you ever talk about the faith with your kids?  If you never talk about the Christian faith and how the things going on in the world are to be understood through that lens, how will they know how to do so or think such things are important?

Now, it may be that you don’t know how to do this.  That’s okay.  Looking at the world through the lens of the Christian worldview is a learned skill.  It doesn’t come naturally.  Even for followers of Jesus.  But, this isn’t any kind of an excuse for not doing it.  Learn how.  Read some good books on the Christian worldview.  Read some books on various other worldviews and how they interpret the world so you can watch for their subtle influences in the kinds of things your kids say and do.  When something big happens in the world, think with them about how our Christian faith would have us respond to it.  There have been no shortage of big events lately with which to put this into practice.  Do it with both big events and seemingly small ones.  If you read the newspaper or just glance through headlines on your phone, talk with your kids about what you’re reading and how your faith would have you think about it.  Teach them to practice this with the kinds of things they’re dealing with at school.  Raising godly kids is a dad’s most important job, and teaching them to interpret the world through the lens of the Christian faith will greatly increase the chances that it will happen.

But, don’t just talk about the faith with them.  Talk about your faith with your kids.  This is the fifth thing.  Talking about the faith generally is important, but not enough on its own.  Teaching by letting them observe you being a faithful follower of Jesus is good, but it’s not enough on its own either.  Sometimes you’ve got to sit down and have a planned, specific conversation about how your faith is affecting your decision-making in a particular situation.  We did this with our boys in the process of transitioning here.  Moving here had a profound impact on them.  We knew that it would.  And so we talked about it with them.  We talked about the fact that we had spent a whole lot of time in prayer, seeking out the Lord’s will in the matter.  And the more we prayed, the more confident we were that even though we didn’t understand it all at the time, He was indeed calling us to be here.  It was our faith in Him that led us to follow even though we didn’t know where the path would take us.  Our goal was to show our boys that when life gets hard, they can trust the Lord even when it doesn’t make sense and is scary because He’ll never lead them astray.  How can you do that kind of thing in your own situation with your kids?  How can you have conversations with them about your relationship with Jesus and the ways it is impacting your life?  This won’t necessarily cause them to embrace your faith, but it will offer them a picture of what you think is important and that’s a big deal.  Raising godly kids is a dad’s most important job.

Look, as a dad, there are a lot of things you’ve got to do.  Some of them are more pleasant than others.  Playing catch is always preferable to issuing punishments for bad behavior.  Beaming with pride at a job well done is better than helping them pick up the pieces when they’ve blown it again.  There are many things that as dads we need to teach our kids.  Whether it’s how to ride a bike, write a check, or drive a car, the lessons feel at times like they never stop.  Raising them to be fully devoted follower of Jesus, though, tops them all.  Raising godly kids is a dad’s most important job.  And, if you will bring them to church, be involved at church and make your involvement a priority, live out your faith in front of them, talk about the faith with them, and talk specifically about your faith with them, you will radically increase the likelihood that it is a job in which you’ll find success.  Raising godly kids is a dad’s most important job.  So get to work.  Get to work because there is much riding on your effort.  The faith of a whole generation hangs in the balance.  This Father’s Day, dads, don’t receive the gift, be the gift.  Be the gift and let them open a world of opportunity and blessing.

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