Passing the Torch

Yesterday was Mother’s Day and if you have a mom in your life, I hope you celebrate her with gusto. She deserves it. We celebrated moms in our own way here at First Baptist Oakboro including this conversation about how we can structure our families in such a way as to make the passing on of the faith from one generation to the next a safer bet than it sometimes is. Keep reading to find out how.

Passing the Torch

One of the national highlights when a particular country gets to host the Olympic Games is the Olympic Torch.  Each Olympics, the climax of the opening ceremonies is the lighting of the Olympic Torch.  The main flame is always lit by a smaller torch that has usually been on a journey across the host nation.  It has been passed from runner-to-runner, hand-to-hand, until it arrives at the Opening Ceremony and accomplishes its intended aim.  The journey the torch takes, though, is not one that any single runner could accomplish as a solo venture.  It must be handed off or it will eventually fall to the ground.  Our lives are a little like that.  We can only carry ourselves and the things that are important to us so far before they have to be passed on to someone else.  If we don’t, everything we count as dear will eventually fall to the ground and be left there where it will eventually be trampled and forgotten.  Now, just because we have designs on passing what’s important to us on to the generation that follows doesn’t guarantee a smooth or easy passing, but making no such plans guarantees that nothing will happen.  

Well, I told you a little while ago that we were going to spend a bit more time this morning talking about the role of families in passing on the faith to the next generation.  Here we are.  The reality here is one I mentioned before and is something we know even if we don’t always really grasp just how true it is: The next generation is our future.  The reason for that is that we’re only going to be around for so long.  Eventually these bodies are going to wear out and that’ll be it for us here.  If we don’t pass on what’s important to us, it will end with us.  And when it comes to the thing which is for many of us, the most important thing in the world—our faith in Jesus Christ—the means by which God designed as the primary vehicle for it to be transferred from one generation to the next is the family.    

And think about why that may be: Family is one of those areas of life we all have to face in one way or another on a regular basis on our journeys through life.  Even if you don’t have kids of your own or even a spouse, you still have a family.  Even if your family was a broken, mangled mess, they are still a part of you and always will be.  It is because family is something we all experience regularly in one way or another that it is so crucial to the passing on of the faith from one generation to the next.  If we are going to do life well with respect to our faith, then, getting our families right is going to be a hugely important part of that puzzle.  Here’s the trick, though, when it comes to model families in the Bible whose stories we could read for wisdom and encouragement here…there aren’t any.  In fact, anyone who says they are aiming to have a biblical family hasn’t actually spent much time reading it.  Ask them to share exactly which family in the Bible they plan to use as their guide. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, but, while talking about our faith with our families is a good thing, if you’re a parent you know that sometimes you can talk until you’re blue in the face and it isn’t going to make any difference.  What else can we do?  Well, look a bit further down in this same passage with me.  Starting in v. 20, Moses says this: “When your son [or daughter] asks you in the future, ‘What is the meaning of the decrees, statutes, and ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ tell him, ‘We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand.  Before our eyes the Lord inflicted great and devastating signs and wonders on Egypt, on Pharaoh, and on all his household, but he brought us from there in order to lead us in and give us the land that he swore to our fathers.  The Lord commanded us to follow all these statutes and to fear the Lord our God for our prosperity always and for our preservation, as it is today.  Righteousness will be ours if we are careful to follow every one of these commands before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’”

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

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

What else could it be?  How about family celebrations.  We tend to get more of what we actively celebrate.  What do you celebrate as a family?  Do you celebrate athletic accomplishments or faith accomplishments more?  How do you celebrate?  Consider framing your family celebrations in such a way that will point your family in the direction of greater faithfulness.  Memorize Scripture together and have outlandish celebrations for reaching various milestones.  The more intentional and energetic you make it, the more effective it will likely be. 

Along the same lines, consider creating some family milestones.  This is something the people of Israel were often called to and is what Moses was pointing to in the last passage we looked at together.  After a significant experience with God they would build a monument of some kind with the goal in mind of prompting future generations to ask, “What’s that for?”  This would in turn allow them to explain what it was for and to pass along their faith in the process.  Well, when your family has been through some kind of a significant experience with God, find a way to memorialize it.  Create a monument of some kind that can be displayed somewhere prominent around your house.  We have one of these hanging above our turtle, Hebert’s, aquarium.  It’s a picture of a tree with lots of thumb prints all over it.  Those are the thumb prints of the people of Central Baptist Church, the place we served before coming here.  It’s a reminder of God’s faithfulness to us there, but also of His faithfulness in ending that chapter of our lives and bringing us here, something for which we are constantly grateful.  The point is, make these monuments together.  Then, take time together on occasion to revisit the monument in order to talk about why it is there.  This can not only provide a platform to share your faith on a regular basis (including with visitors who ask about it), but it can also serve as a kind of rallying point when you face future hard times as a family.  In the face of future uncertainty, you can return to that monument together and be reminded that God was faithful then.  And if He was faithful then, He will be faithful now too because He doesn’t change. 

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

So here’s what you can do with this: When you get home this afternoon, I want you to identify one faith-building pattern you can incorporate into your family’s regular rhythms.  Pick one of the suggestions I have given you this morning or come up with an entirely different one on your own.  It does not matter so much what it is as long as it is something that will build rhythms of faith into the things your family is already doing.  This may require some energy and even sacrifice on your part, but won’t that be worth it?  After all, this is eternity we are talking about here and specifically the eternal destination of your children.  What could be more worth the sacrifices necessary to make sure they’re on track for an eternity in the kingdom of God?  Faith grows best in a family.  Let’s commit together to making sure that our families—and this family—are places where faith is growing well. 

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