Something special for you for Mother’s Day this morning. I had a great time celebrating the moms in my life yesterday and I hope you did too. What follows is a reminder of just how important the work they do really is. Thanks for reading.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for this season to be over. Like, really ready. I know things won’t be the same on the other side of this, but I’m ready for them to not be like this. A great man passed away this past week and I was honored with the chance to celebrate his life yesterday. That makes two funerals for two great men two weeks in a row. In normal times that’s just part of being a pastor. Pardon my crassness, but socially-distanced funerals suck. That’s not how things are supposed to be. Going to the grocery store with a mask on is frustrating. Seeing people in the store and not being able to shake hands or have a close conversation is awkward still even after seven weeks of this. Doing school packets with kids at home and trying to work around that is a drag. It’s hard to be productive even on days when they all play really well together after the schooling is over. It’s all wearying as a starting point.
And at some point, as the long days grow into long weeks and even now long months, a question begins to bubble up in our hearts and minds. Have you experienced this yet? It whispers at the edges of your consciousness on most days, but then you suddenly find it staring you in the face. Is all of this worth it? We’re spinning in circles, creating a kind of rut right now, but are we doing anything by all our efforts? Does anything we’re doing now really matter? That’s a question we ask much more broadly in our lives at large, but it seems to loom all the larger right now. Are the little things John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” broadcast highlights accomplishing anything of lingering value? Are the hours and dollars many folks—including many of you—are putting into mask-making serving any greater purpose? Are the random, but intentional acts of generosity and sacrifice and kindness that are popping up all over the place worthwhile?
Well, today is Mother’s Day. Nice happy subject to start with on this day when we’re supposed to be celebrating our moms, yes? That kind of gloom seems to fit more in with our series, Going It Alone, than any kind of special attention we might possibly be giving to Mother’s Day. And indeed, the next part of that conversation coming next week will have us thinking through the kind of legacy we want to leave behind us—a conversation prompted by yet another really bad example. But, before we get there and with today in mind, I actually did want to offer some encouragement. I want to offer this encouragement specifically to moms this morning, but really, it’s for everyone. And here’s what that encouragement is. I’m just going to tell you this right now and then explain why over our next few minutes together. The work you’re doing matters. It matters. Let’s talk about it.
You know, when you step back a bit from the book of Judges and look at the bigger picture of human history we are presented with in the first few books of the Scriptures, it begins to become clear that the pattern the Israelites quickly put into place when they moved into the Promised Land was not novel. It didn’t start with them. It didn’t even start with them when it came to their ancestors. While Joshua and his generation were heralded at the beginning of Judges as being faithful, the bigger truth is that they were only faithful because they managed to learn such a lesson from their forebears when this latter group paid dearly for their unfaithfulness by wandering for 40 years in the wilderness during which time that entire generation save Joshua and Caleb perished along the way. It’s bad enough that the Israelites during the period of the Judges forgot that God had done things like part the Red Sea for their ancestors. Those same ancestors forgot about it too and they were the ones who actually walked on the dry ground of the empty sea floor. Well, they didn’t technically forget about it, but they acted like it hadn’t happened, or better yet, like it didn’t really matter to them. The unfaithfulness during the period of judges wasn’t unique to Israel. It was the habit of all people everywhere since the Garden.
This habit included everyone. Even the big-name folks in the Scriptures. There’s a reason after all that it was Joshua’s death that was a milestone marker for the people in Judges and not Moses’ death. Never mind what his age would have been at this point. Moses didn’t actually lead the people into the Promised Land after leading them through the wilderness for 40 years because he fell into the pattern himself and his punishment was a denial of really seeing the very thing he’d been telling the people about all the while. He did get to take them all the way there, but he didn’t get to go in. On the edge of the land for the second time, then, the people stopped and Moses shared some parting words. These parting words were preserved for us as the book of Deuteronomy.
Near the beginning of his address, Moses said something that has become recognized as one of the most important things he ever said. Check this out from 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.” Now, that’s big and important stuff, right? That’s what Jesus Himself would later identify as the greatest command. And when He said that, no one disagreed with Him. As a matter of fact, one of the times He identified this as the greatest command, the religious scholar who asked Him about it actually affirmed Him in His answer—“Yep, Jesus, you’re right.” If only he knew.
In any event, when something like this appears in the Scripture, we do well to pay close attention to what comes next. Whatever it happens to be is likely what the author considered the most important thing to known in light of what he just said. Well, look at what follows Moses’ declaration of the most important thing the people of Israel would need to keep in mind going forward (and indeed it is still today considered the greatest command by faithful Jews). Check this out in v. 6 now: “These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart.” In other words, pay really close attention to what else I’m about to say in light of who God is and don’t forget it. That seems pretty much like what we’d expect, right? Moses had said something profound and was going to say some more profound things. He naturally wanted the people to remember them, to learn them by heart.
But look at what comes next because this isn’t what we expected: “Repeat them to your children.” The Hebrew word there translated “repeat them” is stronger than merely saying them. The idea here is to drill these words into the heads of your children so that just like you, they don’t ever forget them. But he doesn’t just tell parents that they should do this, he goes on to tell them how. That is, he describes what this diligent teaching looks like. “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. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.” In other words, make the telling and retelling of these words the water in which your family swims. But not just your family. Whole communities should be committed to this together—thus the reference to the city gates. This training of the next generation in the things of God is not some specific thing you are to do. Rather, everything you do is to be filtered through that lens such that the real question is not whether you are training the next generation in the faith, but how you are going about doing that. And, Moses here told them how. You do it by talking about it constantly. Whether you are sitting or standing or walking or lying down, make them the ultimate focus of your conversation.
Can I put that in another way that might hit home just a bit more? If you are a parent who happens to be a Jesus follower, make sure that everything in your household is geared toward passing along your faith to your kids; at making sure they come out of your house as committed followers of Jesus in their own lives.
Now, you might react to that in a few different ways. On the one hand, you might say something like, “Alright! That’s what I’m already doing, and this is just confirmation that I’m on the right track.” Perhaps that’s you and good for you. Maybe, though, your reaction is more like this: “I try, alright? I try all the time, but it’s hard. We get so busy and when we all finally get a chance to sit down together, we’re all so tired. I haven’t had time to think about anything to share and they don’t really want a Bible study then anyway. We do our best, we really do, but I don’t know that ‘diligent teaching’ is the best description of what our faith-passing looks like.” Have any of you ever found yourselves there? And just maybe, your response is a little more like this: “I’m supposed to be teaching them the faith? I barely have a grip on it myself! Besides, I thought that was the church’s job. What’s the student pastor doing anyway?” Not so many folks may admit to thinking like that, but I’d be willing to wager there are more of them in the church than you might think. Why? Because that’s just reality for how many folks think about the church and their relationship with Jesus.
Now, wherever you happen to find yourself there, I’m going to let you decide what to do with that without any other commentary from me. What I do want you to see here, though, is that passing on the faith to the next generation is not a negotiable thing for followers of Jesus. And, the passing on of the faith to the next generation is something that has to start at home.
We are called to pass along the truths of God to our children. That’s a non-negotiable for parents who are followers of Jesus. Whether you are a mom or a dad, passing along your faith is crucial. And, as we have our children home a great deal more often than we used to these days (we are being reminded these days just how important the child care aspect of schooling is to the normal functioning of our society), the opportunity for us to do some intentional faith-shaping absent many of the things that would otherwise distract both them and us from the task becomes all the more important.
Not only is this something we are called directly to do, but we have clear examples of the consequences of not doing this in the Scriptures. As a matter of fact, we are seeing examples of this in our current teaching series. Remember what happened when Joshua and his faithful generation died? A new generation rose up. That goes without saying. But what was so notable about this generation? They did not know the Lord or the things He had done for Israel. Now, why would that be? Did they just forget? No. They did not know because their faithful forebears forgot something very important. They forgot to keep this little command of Moses. They remembered the command itself and practiced it in their own lives, but if we miss out on the next part, we miss out on something of surpassing importance. This faithful generation forgot to diligently pass along their faith to their children. Being faithful in one generation is good. Making sure your faith makes it into the next generation is better. Establishing a legacy of faithfulness because of your diligent teaching such that you establish a foundation for several generations of faithfulness is the best. But rest assured, if you don’t do it, there will be consequences.
Are you starting to wonder yet where the encouragement here is? Let me come back to it again: What you do matters. Actually, that’s not quite right because it’s not specific enough. You do a lot of things. So do I. Not all of them matter. In an ultimate sense, whether you got dressed to turn on this broadcast this morning or are watching in your pajamas doesn’t matter. Again, in an ultimately sense God doesn’t care what kind of clothes you wear. Why you choose to wear the clothes you do when you do is a different matter. The point is that simply saying, “what you do matters,” isn’t specific enough.
So, let me be more so: Moms, the work you do to create an environment in which your children will grow to know and love the Lord matters. All of it does. The time you spend showing them by your actions what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus matters. Every single bit of it does. Your efforts to let them experience the love of the Lord by loving them well yourself matters.
Now, there are days when it doesn’t feel like that, aren’t there. There are days when you don’t feel appreciated, you feel abused. You feel taken advantage of. You feel ignored and perhaps because of that worthless. You’re not. Not only do you matter, but what you do to advance the Gospel into the hearts and minds of the next generation matters. Your work for the Lord matters.
Don’t believe me? There are days that’s a pretty hard pill to swallow. And that’s okay. You don’t have to believe me. I’m neither the first nor the most authoritative person to say something like that. When the apostle Paul was getting near the end of his first letter to the believers in ancient Corinth, he spent some time reflecting on the majesty of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Paul made abundantly clear that the whole of the Christian faith hangs on the resurrection. He went on to describe some of the implications of the resurrection, namely, that we have this incredible promise of resurrection lives ahead of us in the future. The hope of this life is sweeter, richer, and deeper than any other we could even hope to imagine. Nothing compares with it. Even death itself, the great enemy of humanity since the Garden, is rendered powerless before the triumphant promise of eternal life for those in Christ Jesus. Because of this, Paul says, whatever it is you are doing to spread the word of this hope you need to keep doing. It matters. Listen to this: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” In other words, it matters. Your work for the Lord matters.
It matters when you figure out and cook dinner even though you’re exhausted. It matters when you snuggle up on the couch with a little one in the evenings, putting off perhaps indefinitely the soak in the tub you were counting on. It matters when you refuse to take backtalk or sass, reminding everyone in the house with gentle firmness that you are a beautiful child of the king who will be respected as such because your dad takes it incredibly seriously when someone is ugly to His little girl. It matters when you make your family wait because you are serving someone else in need thus displaying a commitment to putting others first even when it’s inconvenient. It matters when you pray not just for, but with your family, even when it’s awkward, because there’s great power there to shape the outcome of what lies before you. It matters when you occasionally insist on some time for yourself do to things that restore your own soul because it reminds them that at some point we have to be sure we are getting fed if we are going to consistently feed others. It matters even more when all of these things and a million others are done from out of the overflow of your own relationship with Christ and not simply because they need to be done. Your work for the Lord—a great deal of which takes place within the four walls of your home—matters. Your work for the Lord matters.
But as I said a little while ago, this doesn’t just apply to moms. It applies to everyone. Whatever it is you are doing—even in this difficult season—if you are doing it with the intention of bringing glory and honor to the one who rose and by that guaranteed your own hope for the future, then it matters. Your work for the Lord matters. So, think about it then: What is it that you are doing? Actually, that’s not the best question to ask: Why is it that you are doing it? Just because? Or is there something more? That’s the real secret here. If you want what you do to matter, then connect yourself into the larger picture of what God is doing in His world. When you do, nothing is insignificant any longer. Your work for the Lord matters. Whether you are a mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, friend, neighbor, or perfect stranger, if your work is for the Lord, it matters. Your work for the Lord matters. So keep it up. We’ll all be glad you did.