If you were to read the Bible from cover to cover and list all the times children are talked about, you would have a long list. The Bible is clear that children are a blessing and a gift from God. He forms them and gives them as blessings to their parents. They are a reward from God's hand. Jesus placed his hands on the children and blessed them; he loved to be in their presence.
Children represent to our generation a concrete way to visualize the future. Children are precious beyond description. Their potential is beyond imagination. Every child is unique. There are about 500 of them in the building this morning, but the one that really matters is yours.
I was reminded of the preciousness of childhood as I sat behind a mom the other night at a football game. This little girl of about 4 asked her mother a question. As her mother leaned down to answer that question, that little girl's brown eyes just drank in that woman's whole being.
There's something about the eye contact of a child that melts the heart. It reminds us of how we want to protect them. It's the banner behind which so much heroic compassion is done. It's the shining source of endless optimism.
Isn't it incredible how a baby can turn a normally cogent, logical adult into a blithering idiot in a matter of seconds? We coo. We make faces. The most dignified among us think that we have said something genius-like if we can get a baby to respond to us.
Children have incredible talent. There is nothing in the whole educational establishment that matches the gift that children have for learning language. In just a matter of months, their brains unlock this secret, and they begin to learn the building blocks of language. In a couple of years they are carrying on adult conversations with us. There are half a billion Chinese children right now speaking Chinese, and we couldn't learn that language if we took the rest of our lives to learn it.
Children have boundless energy. Bill Cosby says, "Give me 200 active 2-year-olds, and I will conquer the world. I believe him.
If I believed that the highest good and the greatest value is humanity; if I were a secular humanitarian, an agnostic, or an atheist, there would be no question that I would choose my children over all else. I would invest solely in the children of this world. I would worship them. I would allow nothing to interfere with the worship of those children.
That unquestioned and automatic reaction runs the Western world. It runs America. I fear for us, and I fear for the church. When children become our idols from the cradle to college, it is dangerous for us and it is devastating to our children. We have this belief that there is an inherent goodness and genius in children, that if adults would just leave the children alone, they could run the world in a better way.
Illustration: Listen to Michael Jackson's words: "We are the world. We are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day. So let's start giving. There's a choice we're making. We're saving our own lives. It's true we'll make a better day, just you and me.
Do you want to build confident, strong people? Then leave the children alone. Don't interfere. Keep your adult hands off of them.
Illustration: Listen to Whitney Houston: "I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride to make it easier. Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be. Everybody's searching for a hero. People need someone to look up to. I never found anyone who fulfilled my need. A lonely place to be, and so I learned to depend on me.
The song goes on to say that, "I have found the greatest love of all inside of me.
Now, mixed together with a lot of warm feelings and half-truths is a message seeping through. Kids left unimpeded by the meddling of adults and parents will become on their own strong, masterful, loving people. Our culture has bought into this.
I wonder if we sense the massive continental shift that has taken place in the last 40 years in this country. Do we understand how deeply we've been affected by the world's view of children? The bottom line is this: Kids rule and don't you question it.
Don't ever expect to be elected to any office if you question that kids rule. Don't you dare touch the educational philosophy of our land that says that children are on the throne. Parents line up; kids rule. Their wishes, their feelings, their happiness reigns supreme. They are idols of our culture.
Our culture idolizes its children.
The reason I fear this is that if you read Isaiah, chapter 3, you'll find there are three warning signs that the nation is about to fall. The three warning signs are these:
1. Absent, weak men.
2. Haughty, covetous women.
3. Children who are in charge.
When you find those three signs, you find a nation that is ready to fall. Here is a nation tottering, helpless, and utterly vulnerable to the whims of children.
A quick look at the moral biblical compass reminds us of how far off course our culture is. Deuteronomy 6:4 declares, "There is one supreme object of loyalty, love, and sacrifice, and it is not family values. It is the Lord God Almighty. We are to serve him alone. Everything is to be subservient to the Lord God of all.
Proverbs 22:15 reminds us that children are by nature foolish. They are born that way. They are simple. They are naive. To abandon children to their foolishness is to hate them. It's dangerous for them. They must be shaped. Their appetites must be quelled and disciplined. Proverbs 1:7 says that a parent has a primary responsibility, and it is not to the body, the mind, or the imagination of a child. It is to the heart of a child.
We pray in faith that our child will possess one thing at the core of his or her being. That is: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Imparting this truth is a parent's primary responsibility, to his or her children.
Proverbs 15:32 says that just as parents have a responsibility, so do the children, given their level of maturity. It says, "He who ignores discipline despises himself. But whoever heeds correction gains understanding.
Proverbs 29:15 says that an unstructured, pleasure-dominated childhood brings disaster. "A child left to himself disgraces his mother. The jails are full of such children.
Proverbs 23:13 tells us that to disregard instruction and discipline is not to love your child; it is to hate your child because in so doing, you are withholding from the child the thing that he or she needs most in the day of adversity.
The law of God loves children. This is not an anti-child message. This is not a reactionary message to say, "Let's put the kids in their place. It's a message to put God in his place.
The law of God nurtures children. It gives wholesome, holistic values that help parents and children grow to be what they ought to be. So make this clear distinction. The Scripture exalts childlikeness; the openness, the transparency, the loyalty, the teachability of children.
In fact, Jesus said, "Unless you become like these children, unless you become like a child, you won't enter the kingdom of God, because children give their hearts. But the Scripture decries and warns against childishness--the foolishness, selfishness, and rebellion of children. Yet, our culture makes no distinction. It just seems to worship children because they symbolize the future.
Illustration: Listen to Robert Coles, a Pulitzer Prize winning child psychologist and believer who wrote articles for Time magazine and U.S. News & World Report.
"More than the people of any country in the world, Americans publicly talk about and worry about their children. The prevailing concern of parents is not what the child ought to believe and live up to in the way of standards and beliefs and religious faith but what is, quote, 'best for the child.' Every effort is made to understand children, even infants under the age of one--what is going on in their minds and how might we better get close to them, become more empathetic toward them, succeed in helping them along through various periods, crises, and so on. Middle-class parents have their eyes on the future, which becomes concretely symbolized in the child.
In another article, he writes, "For 15 to 20 years now, when I have asked American people what they believe in, they have said, 'I believe in my children.' Now when children have become a source of almost idolatrous, religious faith that is quite a burden for children to bear. Parents forget that what children really need perhaps more than anything else is discipline and a sense of commitment to something larger than themselves. Children need to be asked of as well as given to.
He writes this because he is concerned about the self-centeredness of generation after generation of American children. He wrote these articles in 1975 and 1980! It's been 15 or 20 years, and the slide is steeper now than before.
You see, our culture says if we can gain the advantage for our children, we're going to gain it. If we can score an extra point on the SAT, we're going to score it. If we can get further on the varsity, we're going to get there. It doesn't matter, because children are the idols.
I'm afraid that the body of Christ consistently goes along with our culture in idolizing our own children. Whenever we try to do something as a body, the one thing we feel more than anything else is that the people are committed to their children. They come first.
We're not talking about programming. We're talking about spiritual health. We're talking about taking away from children the very basics of a spiritual diet.
Children need worship on a regular basis. They need equipping and regular accountability and some kind of interactive educational situation. They need to be taught how to minister to others.
How can we know if we place children too high?
Our Christianity, with all of its emphasis on the family, has baptized certain idols and even elevated them higher, because we have Scripture to buttress this. But our children are not God.
I'm speaking today as a father as well as a pastor, and I'm speaking as one whom God is working on in this area. So I have some questions. You knew I'd have some questions for you--four of them. One of my greatest desires in this series is not just to appear to be angry, but to be on a tirade. I don't know where your heart is right now, but let me ask you these questions:
1. Do our children limit our ministry? How many of us would not even consider a call to some new place, like the mission field, because of the impact it would have on our children? Their lifestyle might be downgraded. They might have to sacrifice something. Something they currently have, they might not have in that new place.
How many of us would dismiss it out of hand? Many of us would say, "It's out of the question from the word go because it would affect my children.
2. Do my children see our church as our primary community? How many here consider church attendance optional because it disrupts family time? We unconsciously say, "I love my kids so much that hunting and fishing and boating and cabins and playoffs and sports are interfering with our spiritual community. The community will be there when I need it. I'll go next week.
What I'm concerned about are the signals we send to our children over 10 years old that church is optional, because their parents are finding community somewhere else.
I'm not preaching legalism here; I'm talking about survival. When children reach 13 and 14, the age at which you can no longer control their schedules, we often cry out, "Somebody help me! The kids are saying, "My community is the hockey team. My community is at school. My community is with my friends.
3. How much of our children's lifestyle is purchased with the Lord's portion? Let's face it. We're not really working to put bread on the table. We're so far beyond that. Many of us are working to make sure our children keep up with the image of the culture. I have two teenagers. I know what I'm talking about. The pressure is on them and me. I think this is a disease in the church. How much of our children's lifestyle has been purchased with the Lord's portion? God says in Malachi, "If you want fellowship, stop robbing me. Haggai says, "My house lies in ruins while each of you is busy with his own. There's no way to claim in most evangelical homes that world missions is a priority. In most evangelical homes devoted to the worship of God, there is no way that personal ministry or financial stewardship is a top priority.
4. How many of us fear the disapproval of our kids more than God's? There is hardly anything more painful as being rejected by your child. But how many of us serve that fear and not the fear of God? We allow ourselves to become slaves to the tyrannical whims of our kids' appetites. We abdicate to their lifestyles and their demands. We allow our kids to rule. When someone's idol is about to be exposed, they will experience two things. First, they experience paralyzing, irrational fear. If you are afraid of what the implications of this message might do to your life, keep pressing on because you're probably getting close to what God wants you to do. Secondly, they will resort to conventional wisdom and think, "Don't be stupid. This is impossible. Nobody lives this way.
What are the marks of a parent who is putting God first?
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says, "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your heart. Your heart. Stop praying for your kids to be changed, if that's the only thing you pray about, and pray about your own heart. These commandments, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, are the absolute, unquestionable priorities of a good parent.
Your task is not to make the varsity as a parent. It's not to be the Omni-mom or Turbo-dad or to be "Parent of the Year. Parents must make loving the Lord their first priority. That's the message of today.
What an awesome risk God took, when, putting his reputation in my hands, he gave me my children. But God says it starts with the parents.
It says in verse 7, "Impress them on your children. That means to diligently teach. These things are not intuitive. No child knows this instinctively. They must be taught and instructed. God's school is directive, and the direction is to follow him, that we will have a long life in obedience and righteousness. Life is not to be ad-libbed.
The methods of good parents don't work unless the first two steps, the priority and the goal, are in place. Following are the three most powerful methods of teaching ever devised.
The first method is imitation. Here's how you impress your children. You talk about God's commandments; not just verbally, but as you walk along the way, as you sit down, as you lie down. They become a part of your lifestyle. Children are the world's greatest imitators. If you are loving God, your kids will catch it from you. They will imitate you.
The second method is repetition. The Word says, "Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Picture a pious Jew who wraps the phylacteries around his left arm every morning before he gets dressed and takes a thong with a part of the Scripture and ties it around his forehead. The children see their parents repetitiously, habitually loving God, and they learn the behaviors being modeled. God teaches children by repeatedly modeling the principles he wishes to instill.
The third method is commitment. So imitation, repetition, and commitment are the three most powerful methods of teaching. It says here in verse 9, "Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.
Parents, nothing will teach your children about who they are and who God is better than you making a commitment to him. When you say, "Kids, we don't know about everybody else, but as for this house, we will serve the Lord. When people enter this house and when you live in this house, you will know that there is a priority to love, serve, and be obedient, and to be taught, nourished, and loved by God. Commitment is contagious. Children catch it when their parents drive a stake of standards into the ground and declare how their family is going to live.
Often we want to know instinctively how to become a better parent. But first we must walk with God; then we can knowledgeably teach our children about him.
We need to take our idols off the throne and replace them with God, who rightfully belongs there. Everything else is of less significance.
This is not a message about parents against children. It is not anti-child in any way. It is a message to rescue children from a burden they cannot bear and were never designed to bear, and a fear and a tyranny that parents can't bear, either. When God is taken off the throne, we worship anything, and our children make attractive idols.
Roger Thompson is pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Burnsville, Minnesota. He has also pastored Trinity Baptist Church in Wheatridge, Colorado. He is a graduate of Denver Seminary.
Preaching Today Tape # 152
A resource of Christianity Today International