From One to the Next

This week was Mother’s Day, and a happy Mother’s Day to you. This week also finds us continuing in our series, How to Read the Bible. What does Mother’s Day have to do with Bible basics? That’s exactly what we’re going to be talking about. Thanks for tuning in.

From One to the Next

Moms are a pretty amazing thing. Did you know that? Dads are important too. In fact, they are essential when it comes to turning out kids who are well-rounded, emotionally healthy, and set up for lifetime success. But there’s just something especially significant about moms. And not just moms either. God made women with this unique ability to nurture that men don’t have. Let me give you an example. If one of my boys gets a war wound of some sort, I think they pretty much all know what they’re going to get if they come to me. They’re going to get a once-over visual inspection, they’re going to be told they’re fine, and they’re going to be sent back out to play again. If there’s blood, we’ll deal with that a little differently, but otherwise they’re pretty much going to get told to suck it up and keep going. Sometimes, though, an injury needs a little bit more care and compassion. It’s not that I don’t care or have compassion, it’s just that I don’t default to those…because I’m a guy. God didn’t build me like that. He did build moms—and women generally—that way, though. 

Women have this ability to nurture, not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually too, that the world just needs. God knew we needed it too because He put Adam to sleep and took out a rib to create women as His final act of creation. It was not until Eve was standing there before Adam, arrayed in her unique splendor, that the project of creation was counted complete. Men don’t become men without women. Without that nurturing and care, we stay wild and it’s not pretty. Right near the midpoint of the last century, our nation went through some cultural changes that resulted in some policy changes that resulted in essentially giving men the ability to act like boys unencumbered by duty or responsibility. When this happened, men took the opportunity, and single moms became a fantastically more commonplace a thing in our culture than they had ever been in our past. A whole lot of brokenness has and continues to spin out of the crazy cycle all of that created. But do you know what all of those single moms did and have done? Exactly what God created them to do. Our culture is unquestionably broken and in significant part because of the decisions we made as a people back then, but without the incredible and incredibly strong women in our midst, we’d be a whole lot worse off than we are. 

So, whether you are a mom with kids of your own, a mom with kids you’ve adopted in some way, or a godly woman who He has positioned to impact the lives of the kids He brings within your sphere of influence, thank you for what you do. As we continue in our series, How to Read the Bible, this morning, I want to offer you some encouragement. I want you to walk out of here in a little while with a profound sense of just how grateful the rest of us are for you. I want you to leave with a clearer sense of purpose and mission too, because your work is really important. And I want to focus our attention this morning on one particular part of your work. But although we’re going to give you some extra attention, this isn’t only your work. But because of how God designed you, you play a special role that only you can play. And the nature of this work to which I want to give the lion’s share of our attention this morning is the passing on of the faith from one generation to another. 

Now, at this point, you may be asking an important question: What do mothers and passing on the faith have to do with how to read the Bible? Those seem like pretty disconnected topics. I mean, last week we talked about what the Bible is. The next couple of weeks we’re going to be talking about how and why to study it, Lord willing. Where does Mother’s Day fit in with that? Honestly, as I was planning for this series several months ago, I wondered a bit about the same thing. The more I thought about it, though, engaging with the Scriptures and passing on the faith from one generation to another are intimately connected. One simply isn’t going to happen without the other. 

And that observation isn’t just preacher talk either. It’s a principle rooted in the Scriptures themselves. Remember our reading last week Paul’s exhortation for Timothy to endure hard times by continuing “in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”? Well, who do you think it was who taught Timothy about the “sacred Scriptures” from infancy? We don’t actually have to guess. Paul gives us the answer in the very same letter. From 2 Timothy 1:5: “I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and now, I am convinced, is in you also.” How was it that Timothy became the powerful minister of the Gospel who led the important church in Ephesus and traveled the Roman world with Paul, sharing the Gospel as they went? It was Paul’s mentorship, to be sure, but it started with his mother and grandmother passing on the faith to him by rooting his life in the Scriptures. It’s all connected. 

In living out this kind of commitment to Timothy’s upbringing in the faith, Lois and Eunice didn’t have things like Paul’s letter to Timothy to guide and encourage them in their work. Instead, they had Jesus’ command to make disciples. In addition to that, while they weren’t beholden to the Law of Moses as followers of Jesus, they did have the Hebrew Scriptures offering some important timeless principles for some places to focus their discplemaking efforts. And just as a quick aside, given that this letter was written in the early 60s, and that Timothy probably wasn’t much older than his mid-20s, there’s a good chance that Lois, Timothy’s grandmother, became a follower of Jesus in the 30s, possibly within just a handful of years after the resurrection. Given that, she may have first heard the Gospel from one of the apostles themselves. Timothy’s spiritual pedigree was pretty impressive. In any event, one of those timeless principles in the Hebrew Scriptures is where I’d like to take us this morning. If you have a copy of the Scriptures handy, find your way to the Old Testament document, Deuteronomy. 

Deuteronomy is mostly Moses’ farewell speech to the people of Israel, before he went up on the mountain with the Lord, got a good look at the Promised Land, and died. His death is mentioned at the end of the book. His farewell address combines a review of the highlights of the Law (including an encore of the Ten Commandments) with a list of blessings and curses the people can count on coming their way depending on whether they live with or violate the covenant they have with God through the Law. Right near the beginning of the address, just after Moses has repeated the Ten Commandments to them and the people have responded with their intent to keep them, the very next thing Moses says is considered the single most important command in all of the Old Testament. When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment in the Law, this is what He cited first. And the command here, known as the “Shema” because that’s the first word of the command in Hebrew, is really important. “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.” The idea of “love” here is not that we should have a certain sort of emotion when we think about God, but rather that we should choose Him and His ways above and before anything else in our lives. It’s a matter of volition, not emotion. Again: important stuff. But the context here is at least as important. 

Moses was concerned about the people who were standing before him keeping the Law. But his concern went well beyond them. He wasn’t thinking only about the present moment. He was thinking generationally. Listen to how Moses introduces the Shema in Deuteronomy 6: “This is the command—the statutes and ordinances—the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, so that you may follow them in the land you are about to enter and possess. Do this so that you may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life by keeping all his statutes and commands I am giving you, your [children], and your [grandchildren], so that you may have a long life. Listen, Israel, and be careful to follow them, so that you may prosper and multiply greatly, because the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you a land flowing with milk and honey.” 

In other words, you need to get all of this right, not just for yourselves, but so that future generations will benefit from your faithfulness. God wants to do an incredible thing for you. But if you don’t stick with Him, you’re not going to benefit from it. Through the lens of Christ and the greater and deeper understanding of the nature of sin that we have from guys like Paul, we understand something really important that Moses was getting at here. This faithfulness that was going to be necessary to enjoy the full benefits of what God wanted to do for them was something that was going to have to be trained into each successive generation. It was not going to make it from one generation to the next on its own. We do not lean in the direction of faithfulness on our own. Quite the opposite is true, in fact. We lean into doing what is right in our own eyes, as the writer of Judges would later put it. If a generation is faithful to the Lord, it is because they have been trained to be faithful to the Lord. They didn’t come to it on their own. What this also means, though, is that if a generation is not faithful to the Lord, it’s because they were not trained to be faithful to the Lord. So, not only is it imperative for us to get faithfulness right in our own lives, it is equally imperative that we teach the generation coming after us to get it right in their lives as well. Now, they may take our encouragement and training, throw it in the trash, and do what they want. That’s on them. But if they do as they please because we didn’t effectively teach them otherwise, that’s on us. 

So then, where do you think Moses goes after delivering this greatest of all commandments to the people? Exactly where you might be thinking. Look at v. 6: “These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart.” In other words: You make sure you are getting this right. And that’s the sum total Moses offers them on what they should do for themselves. Look where he goes next: “Repeat them to your children.” Now we’re getting down to his real concern. “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. 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.” When you give a speech like this one, after making your main point, you typically put your most important supporting points first. In other words, the most important thing Moses wanted the people to think about once they had this greatest of commandments down was about how they were going to be able to teach it to their children. 

And Moses doesn’t stop here either. The next section often gets ignored because the Shema sucks up all the attention, but take a look at this with me for just a second. Moses launches into this exhortation for the people to be obedient to the Law. That’s in vv. 10-19. But then in v. 20, he says something really interesting. Look at this: “When your son asks you in the future, ‘What is the meaning of the decrees, statutes, and ordinances that the Lord our God has commanded you?’” Now, think about that for a second. Why would your son or daughter ask you about that? I mean, I know kids ask a lot of odd questions that sometimes seem entirely disconnected from their present circumstances, but the way this particular question is worded suggests that it is not without a context. “You know all of those things the Lord has asked you to do, what do they mean?” Why is your kid asking you about something the Lord has asked you to do? Was he there when the asking happened? Not in this case. Why would he be asking this question? Because he’s seen your doing them. In other words, part of the reason God told the people through Moses to immerse themselves in the Law and to commit their lives in obedience to it is so that their kids would ask them about it. 

And when they did? They could give an answer. “When your son 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.’” 

Now, keep thinking here. What’s the parent who’s been asked this question by their son or daughter doing here? Exactly what the apostle Peter would later tell us to do: Be “ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” We most often think about that in terms of our engaging with strangers or friends or neighbors who aren’t followers of Jesus. But don’t you think it applies at home with our own kids as well? Shouldn’t the same principle be applied to our mentoring relationships? If you have someone in your life who is from a generation other than your own, this idea applies to that relationship.

You want to know what all of this has to do with how to read the Bible? Read the Bible with your life. As you engage with the Scriptures—and you need to be engaging with the Scriptures—your whole life should be impacted by that. The you with an active discipline of engaging with the Scriptures should not be the same as the you without an active discipline of engaging with the Scriptures. Forget “should not,” it will not be the same. You will not be the same. When you are genuinely immersing yourself into God’s word and by that coming to know Him better, that habit is going to be reflected in your life. It will be reflected in your life, and the people around you will notice it—especially if your engagement is a relatively new thing. The people who will notice the most, though, are the ones closest to you. You know, the ones you see on a daily basis. Perhaps the ones you are responsible for. Or maybe even the ones you get to love and send home. When you read the Bible with your life, the people around you are going to see God’s word enacted right in front of them. And when those people are young and inquisitive, they are going to eventually ask you about it. Why are you doing that? Why are you doing it that way? What does all of this mean? And now, you have the chance to answer. Your reading your Bible with your life has resulted in an opportunity to commend that faith to the next generation. Congratulations, you are now doing the most important work God designed you to do. Passing on the faith is your job. 

But listen: I know being a father or—as is our focus today—a mother doesn’t look the same for everybody. You may have a great relationship with your kids and are living the ideal “mom life,” But you may not have a relationship with some of your kids because of past brokenness. You may have lost a child. You may even not have kids of your own. That may not have been a part of God’s plan for you. And I know that can be a really painful thing on a day like this one when most of the culture is just throwing it in your face over and over again. But just because being a mother in the way we usually think about it isn’t the path God put you on, doesn’t mean the work of advancing His kingdom into the next generation isn’t still something He’s called, equipped, and even positioned you uniquely to do. Being a biological mother isn’t part of every woman’s story. But if you are a follower of Jesus, being a spiritual mother is. 

Still, though, the very last thing you need on a day like this is to have some preacher—who’s a guy—stand up here and tell you or even make you feel like you aren’t doing a good enough job. Hear me well: That’s the last thing I want to do. If you’re feeling convicted about something because of an idea you have encountered in the Scriptures, make sure it’s the Holy Spirit doing the convicting and not me. What I want to do is to give you a pathway and some encouragement. Passing on the faith is your job. The Scriptures are clear on that much. That is a principle that spans both covenants. Jesus called all of His followers to make disciples as we are going. The thing is, sometimes we don’t have to go very far to accomplish that task. In fact, we don’t even have to leave the house. Our first and best job is to make disciples of the people living within the same four walls as us. Also, disciplemaking happens best within the context of a relationship. The closer the relationship, the deeper the trust, the easier the disciplemaking can be. Well, there aren’t many relationships that have the potential to be closer than a mother and child. Then there’s this: If you are a mother or father or a spiritual mother or father, you love your kids. If your own faith is in Jesus, meaning that you are set for an eternity with Him, the last thing you want to even imagine is that your kids won’t be there with you. You have every reason to have the most passion in the world for making sure they are, and thus you are right to be the one leading the way in leading them toward that end. Passing on the faith is your job. You can do this. There’s nobody better suited in all the world for it than you are. 

Okay, but how? Because sometimes it doesn’t really feel like that. At all. Sometimes relationships have brokenness in them is so deeply rooted that it affects every single interaction we have. Parents aren’t perfect. We blow it sometimes. And sometimes the brokenness from our blowing it makes making disciples of our children a whole lot harder than it feels like it should be. What are we supposed to do then? How do we make disciples of our kids when, because of the brokenness in our relationship with them, they’ve decided they don’t want anything to do with our faith? Well, what’s our series about? What did I say this all has to do with how to read the Bible a few minutes ago? Read the Bible with your life. Don’t just read it with your eyes or with your mind or with your heart. Involve your entire life in the process. 

Yeah, but what does that look like? Well, what do the Scriptures do? Remember what we said last week? The Scriptures are how we get to know God? The Scriptures reveal Jesus to us. When you read the Bible with your life, your life is going to reflect Jesus. That means a whole host of good and challenging things. It means you will seek to restore those who have hurt and failed you. Maybe you’re not in a position to pass on the faith effectively to your kids because you are holding onto a hurt you’ve been dealt by them. When you read the Bible with your life, you are going to extend forgiveness and work to restore your relationship with them. 

Reading the Bible with your life means you are going to fully acknowledge your own sin and repent of it. If you’ve hurt your kids in some way, it’s time to make that right. Be honest about what you’ve done. Accept their wounds as legitimate and apologize for your part in them. Let the change the Holy Spirit is working in you through the Scriptures become evident so they can see it. And then be patient and committed to prayer. Their forgiveness of you may not come quickly. Love them and keep pursuing them with your love until they are ready to receive it. Make sure they know where this new you has come from and what is the source of power enabling you to change. 

Reading the Bible with your life means you are going to accept your kids as they are, wherever they are, but without stepping back from the truth in even the slightest amount. If they are pursuing a path of sin, you can make clear you believe it to be a path of sin, but do so with the assurance that your love for them won’t be affected by it. Make sure the conviction they receive comes from the Holy Spirit, not you. Sometimes they won’t be able to tell the difference, but stay consistent with your love—that is, your intentional decision to see them become more fully who God designed them to be. Don’t shield them from the consequences of their hard decisions, but be there to help them pick up the pieces. Give them the confidence that you will be there to walk with them out of the mess when they are ready to leave it behind. 

When your kids are younger, make sure you are living out your faith in ways they can see. Make sure they know about your habit of engaging with the Scriptures and prayer. Invite them to join you in it. Don’t ever, ever, ever drop them off at church for worship or Bible study and then leave. That teaches them loudly and clearly lessons that will not build their faith. Serve with them. Teach them to give. Encourage them to ask big and hard questions about the faith as they have them, and then work to find good answers to those questions together (I can help with that). Raise them to think in Christian worldview terms, not merely cultural ones. The right isn’t always right, the left isn’t always good, and Jesus was often hated by both. Make sure they know that. Teach them that suffering is part and parcel with following Jesus faithfully. 

Passing on the faith is your job. It’s a job you can do. You can do this. The next generation needs you to do it. None of these things are particularly easy. They’ll take you out of your comfort zone; sometimes way out of it. You will experience pushback including from the very people at whom you are aiming your efforts. You’ll find yourself in situations in which you don’t know the answer. Just be honest about that and keep pursuing Jesus. Moms, grandmoms, aunts, godly women, God has built you for this and we are so superlatively grateful for it. Lean into Him and experience the wonder of what He made you to do. We’ll all be glad you did. 

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