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Bring Them Up

Raising Parents

6: Ministry to the Next Generation

April 1, 2012 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures Series: Bring Them Up #6 # Introduction From the start of Trinity Evangel Church and our very first "family meeting" we have emphasized our desire to nurture the vine (people) and then to build trellis (programs, structure) when it was clear that the vine was growing in a particular direction or when the vine developed a certain need. Since the beginning also, when we've invited questions and feedback, a regular topic of discussion has been children's ministry. It's a normal question. It's normal because that's what most of us are familiar with, what we've come from, what we're used to. Probably what makes the question even more natural though, is that we care about our kids, about their salvation, about providing the best resources for them to grow in knowledge of and likeness to Christ. Historically, especially within the last 100 years or so, the answer to training our kids has included some sort of Sunday school or children's church. That's what most of grew up in and, once we grew up, that's what we provided for the new ones growing up. Of course, we've also known a few people who argue against children's ministry--and boy can they argue. They often fight with such a high pitched shrill that it's hard that to hear if they have any reasonable points or not. They usually pull out Deuteronomy 6, maybe Ephesians 6 too, and condemn churches with ministries that replace parents. Well, that *is* bad, right, to disobey the Bible in order to teach the Bible? Initially at TEC we didn't even have the facilities for a full-blown children's ministry, nor did it seem at the time like a wise use of our trellis building energies and tools when we didn't even know where we were going to meet or who was going to bring the folding chairs. By God's grace things are much more settled now. We've been in the same building for 50 Lord's days and have a better idea of how many people are likely to show up on Sunday. So various questions about children's ministry have come up again over the last few months. Some have been more constructive, some have been more critical. But as we said from the start, we don't want to fear jumping into the "mess," and here we are. Our trajectory may be more clear after the recent series on worship and parenting. Numerous implications are floating around from those messages and discussions. The implications are circling the field, visible up in the sky, but not on the ground. After multiple conversations among the elders and at L2L groups and with individuals, it seemed like a good time to attempt to bring some of those implications in for a landing. In other words, I want to provide an explicit list of our priorities and our plans for ministering to our kids and parents as they raise their sons and daughters in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. # Our Priorities for the Lord's Day By "our" priorities I mean all the elders. I get to be the mouthpiece, but this isn't something I came up with by myself. Most Sunday school ministry takes place on...Sundays. While some children's ministries have mid-week meetings, young kids can't drive themselves. Sunday stuff makes sense because the parents are already driving to church and they can't leave the kids home by themselves anyway. Our discussion about children's ministry, especially in a Sunday school type setting, can't be separated from our corporate Sunday priorities. Here are three. ## 1. Creating a Culture of Corporate Worship When the church assembles on the Lord's day, she gathers to worship, to draw near to God, and to meet with Him as an assembly. That means that *worship is more than instruction*. While there are many good things that have come, and could come, from age-specific teaching on the Lord's day, we believe that there are other and *better* things. Even if we agreed that young kids could not understand anything from the big church teaching, worship is more than teaching. It also means that *worship involves work for everyone*: singing, praying, hearing the Word read, giving, and participating in (or watching) the ordinances. Kids can do all of that even if not at the same level. That's part of the reason we talk about liturgy, not because we're focused on externals or trying to make others feel bad that they don't have our order of service, but because what we do and how we do it makes a point to our souls, and the souls of our kids. It means that *worship is learned by observation*. Why do we confess our sins as a congregation, and why are people kneeling? Why do we have communion every week? Why do we have a charge rather than an altar call at the end of a service? These are the kinds of questions we want everyone, including our kids, to be asking. Kids also *learn by being included*. They are part of us. We want them to worship God. We want them to see what that's like, to see our joy in meeting with God together. We want them to taste it. That can't happen if we send them to another room. We want kids to learn that worship is more than instruction (which is a truth-tube holdover for many of us). We want them to learn that worship is their responsibility and joy. We want them to learn worship by imitation, as we fulfill our responsibility joyfully. And we want them to learn that they are with us, part of us. Those without kids or grown kids, need to be patient and encourage those doing hard enculturating work. We do not want to separate the kids, or a staff of Sunday school teachers, from corporate worship. [Babies and nursing moms are a bit different, so we will continue to provide a place for them where they don't need to be as quiet.] ## 2. Promoting/Protecting a Day of Rest Worship of God on Sunday is patterned by Israel's worship of God on the Sabbath. God established the week with six days for work and one day of ceasing work devoted to Him. After Christ rose from dead on the first day of the week, the early Christians transitioned to meeting on the first day as a weeklyversary of His resurrection. The Sunday purposes of a gathered celebration and vocational rest still continue and are a priority for our church. The very first Sunday night I mentioned our desire to avoid scheduling weariness on the day of rest. This priority is significant because one option for having kids worship with us *and* having a Sunday school could be to start earlier. We could plan a Sunday school "hour" and then a corporate worship "hour" for everyone. That would certainly be better than separating them, but it adds a significant amount of trellis work (finding and training staff, finding and preparing materials, preparing and cleaning up rooms, etc.) for what may not be a significant gain. Even though we currently have some space we could utilize for some level of Sunday school, and while we have a few who have expressed their willingness to serve, we are more excited about promoting more rest, with less events and expectations. There is no verse that tells us how many hours to hold meetings. The decision requires wisdom and, we acknowledge, wisdom grows, so we may realize at some point that the flock, and kids, would be edified more by more meetings. But we do not believe that more meetings than we currently have would do the body that much better, especially when it comes to the day of rest. We do not want to add extra burdens to Sunday. ## 3. Enabling Fatherly/Family Responsibility This may not initially seem like a Lord's day priority, and it isn't *only* for Sundays, but separating dads and the Lord's day shows how little we understand worship, how little we appreciate liturgy, and how little we appreciate God's use of examples. If we want (and we *should* want) our kids or grandkids, the next generation, to be worshippers of God, what should we do? Of course we should tell them about God's worth. We should tell them stories of His work for His people, especially in His Son. We should also tell them that God requires worship and punishes those who don't or who worship another god. We should tell them how to worship. But we must also *show* them how to do it! Enculturation is not a class. Our tastes are not shaped by cook books, but by smelling and tasting food. Our taste of the Lord's goodness is not shaped by crossword puzzles or duck-duck-goose with little Christian peers, but by tasting. And who do kids look to first to know what's good? Their parents, and especially their dads. As a church, we want to encourage kids to watch. As a church, we want to give dads and moms the opportunity to show the tastiness of fellowship with God. As a church, we want for kids to see what their parents love most. > You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall 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. (Deuteronomy 6:5–7) Consider it another way. We could arrange to teach your kids Bible stories here and you can teach your kids Bible stories at home. But you can *NOT* arrange to show your kids corporate worship at home by yourselves. It isn't an either/or decision, but we do believe that many parents, dads especially, do not grasp the power of their humble, joyful, faithful, weekly worship in front of their families. If you want to lead your family, it takes more than getting everyone here. It's showing them what to do once you're here. Then you can talk about it afterward, too. We do not want to remove the opportunity for parents to enculturate their kids. Granted, not all parents are the same. However, every parent's responsibility for his kids is the same. Depending on others to do what parents *won't* do usually ends in disaster. # Our Plan for Ministry to Children Alright, what are we going to **DO**? Priorities are fine, but priorities don't *do* anything, they only aim the works to be done. For now, we have four broad strategies to make worshipping disciples of the next generation without starting a Sunday school ministry. ## 1. Encouraging Dads/Parents I was a youth pastor in a couple different churches for over a decade. As I look back on that ministry, the best we could do is stimulate what was supported at home. I can't think of more than a handful of spiritual "success" stories where a student thrived in Christian joy and service without his parent's support. What's more, in those ministries, we typically offered a lot more than an hour or two of classroom activities each week. We did a lot of work that supplemented what was happening at home, but it could not stand on its own. To serve kids in a sustaining way we must strengthen their parents. I suspect no one disagrees in principle that parents are responsible, but we really *mean* it. It is not without intention that we have **Men to Men** and invite all the men of the church to come. While we've been reading and discussing a book on eldership, it is equally a book on faithful Christian leadership in the home. > an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? (1 Timothy 3:2–5) As men are strengthened, as they get a clearer vision of Christ-like leadership, they will raise stronger kids. **Titus 2** is a ministry aimed at encouraging women to love their husbands and to love their kids. > Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3–5) A husband and wife are the first place the kids learn what the Trinity is like (implied from Genesis 1 and 2) and what Christ's relationship with His Church is like (Ephesians 5). > "a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31–32, quoting Genesis 2:24 in verse 31) The **Life to Life** groups are also part of children's ministry because, again, parents who are growing spiritually, who are learning to *do* the word not only hear it (James 1:19-25), who are learning to live in community with others sinners (Colossians 3:12-17), will shape the micro-community of their home differently (Colossians 3:18ff). We do plan, also, on having occasional **parenting series** (like the one we finished a month ago) as well as **parenting classes** in the future. There is also already significant **personal shepherding** ("counseling") taking place with numerous families having marital or parenting troubles. The kids are being considered and cared for even though there is obviously more work to do. ## 2. Providing Service Specific Resources Since we're making such a big deal out of corporate worship and wanting everyone to be together in our services as much as is reasonable, we have been and will continue to think about ways to help. It's not easy to take care of kids depending on age, or the kid himself. But it is worth it. Corporate worship is challenging for everyone. It challenges quiet people to be loud at times and loud people to be quiet at other times. It challenges lazy people to participate and it requires leaders to follow. It requires squirmy kids to sit still and lumps on a log to engage. But sitting still is *not* the end, as helpful of a life skill as that is. Paying attention is *not* the end, as helpful as that can be. Having affections for God stirred and expressed in meeting God is the end. We have **singing mixed throughout Sunday morning**. Young and old get to stand up and participate and they don't need to be quiet. The longest time for sitting still is the sermon, which are somewhat shorter as I aim for 40-45 minutes. I also try to **engage the kids purposefully** at different times in different messages. And Gail Martin has faithfully prepared **Kids' Korners**. Mo lead an entire **discussion a few weeks ago at Titus 2 on practical things to do**, and much of it involves work at home throughout the week and before church starts. We can make that audio available if you'd like to hear it. Dads, you also need to work and not expect your wife to do it all. Make it enjoyable for them which starts by enjoying it (and them) yourselves. Make the service sweet/tasty (even with candy) and warm (with hugs and pats). There are things parents can do before and during the service to enable the whole family to worship. ## 3. Offering a School [Evangel Classical School][ecs] is a key component in our strategy to serve children and families, a key strategy for worldview enculturation and additional, weekday catechesis. [ecs]: http://evangelcs.org/ First, not everyone is *interested* in Christian schooling for their kids, let alone classical Christian schooling, let alone a brand-new school. That's okay. Not everyone is interested in Sunday school even when it's available. No parent has to use every resource, though they are responsible to do something. There is a difference between parents being *primarily* responsible to God for their kids and parents acting as the *only* influence on their kids. Wise parents will seek additional influences and helps. Second, not everyone can *afford* a Christian school for their kids. In some sense, calling a school a "ministry" may not fit. But we also aren't doing it for profit. Trinity Evangel Church is working and planning and supporting ECS in such a way that as many like-minded families can take advantage if they desire. Without doubt there is a lot to teach our kids (including catechesis), and it includes much more than school on Sunday only allows for. Plus, because God made and cares for *everything*, not just Noah and the flood, Moses and the Red Sea, David and Bathsheba, Saul on the road to Damascus, we want to train the next generation with a comprehensive eduction under Christ's lordship. All parents should be teaching their kids to love God (again, Deuteronomy 6) and we want to support parents in their work of giving their kids a worldview that never forgets or assumes that Jesus' lordship is inconsequential. We see the school as a help to shape worshippers. Note also, a school isn't the church nor can a school replicate the church's corporate worship. A school can help train individuals at different levels and help inform them for greater joy on Sundays. ## 4. Holding Occasional Age-Specific Events We totally think that occasional events such as **Vacation Bible Schools** or **Backyard Bible Clubs** would be fantastic. We're looking forward to providing resources for those events. For the older students we have **"after glows"** on evenings when we have services, we plan to have more **camps** or **retreats** with another camping retreat this summer. We hope to have more of these ways to serve them and have them serve as well. There is nothing stopping **Life to Life group events** set aside specifically to encourage the kids. But again, these supplement our corporate worship rather than separates us during it. # Conclusion It can't be targeted at this alone, but the final key strategy to helping our kids is to *worship God*, to learn how and why and what we get from worshipping Him. Specifically, we are changed as we meet with God. We become different people, week by week, as we behold His glory. He is transforming parents, and kids, every Lord's day. Some parents aren't comfortable because worship is rooting out sin. Some are realize the power of it, the gospel power to change life, from the heart and into the home. Our kids will learn to love what we love. If we love not having to deal with them, they will come to love not having to deal with us. If we don't love dying to bring them life, we will tell them the gospel and they won't know what it looks or tastes like. Here is a great opportunity to show them that we love God and His gospel.

5: A Culture of Faith

March 4, 2012 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures Series: Bring Them Up #4 # Introduction We are in a battle, as is every generation, to bring up the next generation in such a way that they are equipped to do the same. In the family, we speak about the *parenting* task and, as I defined a few weeks ago, the task of Christian parenting is to raise Christian parents. Our mission as Christian parents is to raise a generation of Christian parents who hope in God as a witness to the world. We are doing something much bigger than feeding, clothing, cleaning, and spanking so that eventually our kids will leave the house, pay for themselves, stay out of jail, and eat vegetables without threats. We are endeavoring to keep them safe, to give them good things, and to equip them to live a certain sort of identified life. In the church, we speak about the *discipling* task and the two tasks (parenting and discipling) have much overlap. Disciple-makers, like parents, desire more for their disciples than deliverance from hell, as eternally crucial as that is. Being a disciple is an ongoing process of growth, a following and imitating of Christ so that we obey *all* that He commands. Our mission as Christian disciples is to make disciples who love God in all nations. In other words, we are endeavoring to keep their souls safe, to give them good things, and to equip them to live a certain sort of identifiable life. There are any number of ways to identify this identifiable life, but one way we've been considering as a congregation is that we are identified by our worship. Men are known, they are defined by their worship. Broken living always grows from broken worshipping; worship is like the wheels on a shopping cart, if the wheel is broken it's just a matter of time before the cart crashes. Like the woman at the well in John 4, when a person's worship is broken, her life will inevitably be broken as well. So one of the things parents and disciplers and pastors need to think about is passing on a way of worship. I don't mean only liturgy, when to stand and sit, or the inspired list of classic hymns, though those things are included. We are bringing up worshippers of the one true God. That is what He requires. That is what we're made for. Another way to say it is, we are enculturating our kids (disciples) in worship. We are bringing them up in a way of life. That way of life involves a community. That community lives in a culture of worship. As a side note, yes, all of life is worship. But there is something special about the assembly's corporate gathering, when God serves us by cleansing us and consecrating us and communing with us. If we become like what/Who we behold, then we cannot bring up our kids to be faithful image-bearers without constant exposure (worship) to Him in whose image we're created. There are a few Christian cultural mountains that our "fathers" (previous generations) have intentionally, or unintentionally in some cases, let build that we need to climb over or level. # A Mountain of Misplaced Fear We have been trained to fear forcing our faith on our children. Our non-believing culture aggressively calls it abuse to indoctrinate one's kids; that's not tolerant. Stated more passively, we might hear a Christian parent say, "I don't want my kids to have *my* faith. I want them to make it their own." Now, sure, we understand that no one gets into heaven by being born into a particular family, having a certain last name, or attending a specific church, no matter how many star stickers are on their attendance chart. We are saved one by one. It does not follow, however, that we ought to leave each other alone to figure it out, every man, woman, and child for himself. "I don't want them to have my faith" is a naive slogan and a bad parenting plan. I pray that my kids would have my faith, my life, my worship, my Christianity. I want them to believe what I believe, and I want them to believe like me, and then go beyond me in understanding, maturity, and fruitfulness. Giving our kids an explanation of faith and examples of faith doesn't require us to hide false worship from them. It does prohibit us from saying, "Here are a bunch of worship options, your mom and I worship like this, but you need to make your own decision." I don't say that as a preacher, why would I say that as a parent? The one, true God does not say, "Decide however you want." He says, "You shall have no other gods before me." It's only been in the last couple years that the subtle significance of Ephesians 6:4 struck me. > Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4) Christian parents, Christian dads in particular, are responsible to bring up children in a way of life under Christ's lordship. But *when* do dads do that? Right after their kids professes faith? We are always pointing them to God through Christ and teaching them how to live and worship in His kingdom. We are passing on a culture of following and honoring Him. This doesn't mean that kids in a Christian home with dads doing this faithfully are automatically Christians. But it will not be long before we're teaching them about their need for Him and responsibility to Him. A house that holds Christian standards needs Christ to pursue those standards and fix things when the standards are broken. Disobedience is a problem why? Because of God's law. Forgiveness and reconciliation are possible how? Because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Receiving that forgiveness happens how? By repenting and believing. In the future, avoiding temptation and obedience happens how? By union with Christ, instruction from the Word, and power from the Holy Spirit. We're passing on a culture of gospel. The gospel is not only our message, not only the entrance to life, but the way of life. It's the gospel that our weekly corporate liturgy represents. An evangelical house (a house with evangelical/gospel believing parents) needs the gospel numerous times a day. We must not fear passing on our faith and worship in the gospel. That's exactly what our faith requires us to do. # A Mountain of Misplaced Focus A second mountain of misrepresentation or misunderstanding that prohibits parental perspective is a Christian culture that loves to make *converts* rather than disciples. We focus more on when faith came (one's spiritual birthday) than the following by faith now. We're concerned with conversion, obsessed with it. Because of that, we assume that failure in practice results from an insufficient profession, rather than from our insufficient help and correction for practice after profession. In other words, you must be sinning because you're not a Christian, not because I haven't taught and modeled how to fight sin. Scripture serious but short sighted *pastors* are probably to blame. Our churches, in particular the liturgy of most churches, teach people to doubt their salvation. What is the aim of a typical Sunday morning? What does the preacher drive the flock toward? He gets all the people to commit to Christ or confirm that they are still really committed. Week by week, invitation after altar call, non-Christians and Christians are exhorted to doubt *first*, then *maybe* come through the test with some level of assurance. Parents can't help but apply the same sort of pressure, follow the same sort of procedure when disciplining disobedient kids. Now, yes, okay, I know. We do not want to be guilty of providing false assurance to church-goers or our children. No doubt, false assurance is a deadly weapon that the enemy has used and will use to destroy many souls for eternity. Parents and disciplers are not charged to make people feel good about their profession of faith regardless. Those who are born of God cannot continue in sin. "No one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him" (1 John 3:6). Ongoing, especially hard hearted and unrepentant sinners ought not to have assurance of salvation. Loving parents must speak truth, even when it hurts. But a couple questions. What environment enables false assurance to thrive? False assurance thrives in a conversion focused culture, not a disciple-making culture. In a conversion culture, you can respond to another person's profession on a spectrum with two ends: believe their profession with no basis or doubt their profession no matter the basis. "Love" people tend to believe without basis. "Truth" people tend to doubt just in case (in case they would be guilty of giving false assurance). False assurance is starved in a discipleship culture where you don't look back at a prayer, you look at your worship right now. Another important question: What kind of person tends toward false assurance? A person who doesn't struggle is usually one who doesn't really care about sin today because he prayed a prayer yesterday. When we are laying the guilt on thick with our kids, we wrongly do it to the soft and struggling ones. It's unlikely that they would be sensitive to sin and doubt if their soul was dead and hard. A heavy-hearted sinner who lacks assurance probably doesn't need conversion, he needs discipleship. He needs to learn gospel sanctification, not receive gospel salvation. We parents have been taught to live with weekly doubting of our own conversions more than we've been taught to live by faith and kill sin by faith as disciples. We teach our kids to examine if they really "meant it" rather than teaching them how worship grows faith, even if that faith is the size of a mustard seed. ## The Loss of Baptism One practical compromise that our conversion culture makes, at least those on the truth team, is to treat **baptism** as a confirmation of faith rather than a confession of faith. We treat it as a rite of demonstration rather than a rite of initiation. By "protecting" baptism we're sending believers into the battle unprotected. The Great Commission requires baptism *at the beginning* of discipleship. Baptism is a public identification with Christ followed with instruction for following Christ, how to submit to His lordship in every area of life. > Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19–20) Baptism *introduces* one into the culture of worshipping Christ as King of kings. Baptism connects with one's *initial* confession that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9-10), the sign of that commitment to Him coming in water. The order is not insignificant; we baptize and *then* instruct meaning that spiritual immaturity is *not* a reason *not* to baptize. To correct that error (false assurances in empty baptisms in infants or those too young), some Christians--and they are fellow brothers and sisters--believe that the church corresponds to Israel, so baptism corresponds to circumcision. Therefore, kids in Christian families should be baptized into the covenant as infants. That sounds nice, but really doesn't have sound biblical evidence. Baptism is always connected to one's confession, not to one's birth (as with Israel). Without confession of sin and faith in Christ, baptism is unwarranted. Therefore, those who desire baptism should understand, should be able to communicate, who Christ is, why they need Him, what He has done, and their intention to follow Him as a devoted worshipper. This is *credo* baptism. *Credo* is the Latin word for "I believe" or "I confess." When can a person make this confession? When they can comprehend and explain, which requires a minimum level of language development. When does this level occur? Isn't it different for different people/kids? We overcorrect, though, when we turn baptism into (sufficient to us) proof. In fact, this robs a young person of a key discipleship weapon. In Romans 6, Paul instructs the believers how to think about their relationship to sin. > What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1–4) He is describing the baptism of the Holy Spirit as symbolized by water. We undo the benefit. We cannot encourage kids or (possible) disciples to consider themselves dead to sin by the Spirit when we won't encourage them to profess that reality in baptism. "You're dead to sin. Serve righteousness. But just in case you're not really dead to sin, let's wait and see." Again, baptism represents the formal beginning of discipleship, of worshipping in a life of righteousness. By withholding baptism we keep them in a culture of doubt and wonder why so many of them walk away from the struggle later on. So, if a child desires to be baptized and he 1. professes faith in Christ 2. can articulate the gospel 3. receives the encouragement of his parents Then we want to consider baptizing them. More than likely, this young person will be at least age six. Since the parents are the primary disciplers with the most direct responsibility for their children, their wisdom is first to consider. Both kids and parents can talk with the elders. Wisdom is required throughout on a case by case basis. ## The Loss of Communion Communion is another common culprit in the culture of doubt and fear rather than a key part of a culture of faith and fellowship. We have been taught, explicitly or through practice, that "communion" is confession, communion is the time to stir up fear, not the time to share peace with God. Paul did warn the Corinthians about unworthy participation. The Corinthians had some serious problems. They were first generation Christians and their time at the Lord's Table got carried away in a selfish party for the well-to-do and neglected the sharing of the community. Paul urged them to examine themselves, to take the Table seriously. He was not, however, trying to keep them away from the blessing. > The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16–17) Similar to the peace offering in the Old Testament, communion strengthens faith through fellowship with God and God's people. Communion isn't confirmation that we're clean, it's communion with God who cares for us and cleans us. Because of the nature of the ordinances and what each one represents, participation in communion should come *after* baptism. We encourage parents to talk to their kids about the Lord's Supper especially since our congregation does it every Lord's day. But again, generally speaking, communion with Christ (in Spirit and at the Table) follows one's confession (with lips and in baptism) of salvation in Christ. Many Christian parents (and churches) refuse to give their kids the blessings of baptism (for fighting sin) and communion (for fighting doubt) while expecting their kids to live up to Christianity. "Once you've demonstrated that you're dead to sin, then we'll let you demonstrate that you're dead to sin. Once you kill sin, then we'll give you the weapon to kill sin." Or, "Once you're fat with faith, then we'll let you eat for faith." We cry about how wrong it is to judge other people and we save our severest judgment for our kids, because they have to take it. We want to be wise and we want to pass on the faith, not the doubt. We want to pass on a culture of worship by showing our kids how to worship and explaining what it means as they mature. Culture isn't transferred at the flip of a switch. It's transferred over time, with growth, teaching, modeling, opportunity, correction, and commissioning. That's discipleship. That's parenting. We have trouble with the parenting task because we're afraid to parent the "whole way," giving our faith to our kids. We're not committed to victory and then frustrated when we fail. We also have trouble with the parenting task because we're looking to confirm conversion rather than to encourage a life of discipleship and worship. As Jim said in his message, parenting takes a lot of work. It requires a lot of time to build the relationship. It requires a lot of wisdom to know how to train them and when to let them fail. And it requires a lot of grace. Just like discipleship. # A Mountain of Misplaced Faith Finally, we have trouble with parenting because we are often joyless disciples and worshippers ourselves. Perhaps we struggle for joy because we're trying to obey God's instructions without faith. We believe that we're supposed to do Ephesians 6:4, we don't believe that God will bless our obedience. We believe it's important to worship, but we don't think it makes a difference. So we do pass on a culture, one of tiring, tasteless duty-doing, doubting that God is for us. That's not Christian parenting because that's not *Christian*; the faith is in our own obedience rather than faith in God. It's not gospel discipleship because there's no gospel. Gospel-believing Christians (parents and disciplers) pass on a culture of faithful, tasty, satisfied, hoping and happy worship.

4: Avoiding the Traps

February 19, 2012 • Jim Martin

Selected Scriptures Series: Bring Them Up #4

3: Wielding Authority

February 12, 2012 • Sean Higgins

Ephesians 6:4 Series: Bring Them Up #3 # Introduction Ephesians 6:4 is a key verse for Christian parents. Addressed specifically to fathers, it certainly has application for mothers as well. > Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4) Two of the key ideas are *discipline* and *instruction*, and that's what most of this message will cover: what is Christian discipline and instruction. But before we get to that, we really should make sure that we're clear on what the goal is of each. # Working toward Fellowship The goal is *fellowship*, the desire is being in fellowship with each other as a family? Why would I say this? When God created Adam, he put him in a paradaisical garden and gave him a job to tend it. God interrupted the work and observed that something was not good: Adam was alone. So God made Eve, a helper fit for Adam. Why was Adam's solitary condition *not* good? Because he was, and we are, made in the image of a relational God. The two of them were made for fellowship with each and with God. Sin destroys fellowship. Sin disrupts our vertical and horizontal relationships. Disobedience causes separation. In Christ, when we confess, repent, and believe, we are reconciled to God. It isn't merely a legal transaction, though our legal standing before God has been moved from guilty to righteous. The goal of the cross is eternal life; fellowship with God. > For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit (1 Peter 3:18) Marriage and family are the first place where fellowship should be enjoyed. God made it that way. We enjoy the spill-over of His eternal fellowship. We relate to Him and with each other. The mandate to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth wasn't about expediency, but a fruit of fellowship. Sin absolutely messes that up today as much as in Eden Garden. We get out of sorts with each other and, even though we're all under the same roof, we may not enjoy (or even value) fellowship with each other. Dad's, you are responsible for the fellowship in your home. That fellowship starts by you pursuing it, initiating and modeling. Most husbands and fathers, even the ones who are approachable, are quiet and often disengaged. They only get involved when something happens that mom can't handle or once they are sufficiently irritated. So they jump in to settle the problem, but the first problem is that the household isn't in fellowship. As head of the home, the father's priority and purpose should be to be in fellowship with God, then his wife, then with his kids, then the kids with the other kids. We're modeling our God, we're reflecting Trinitarian relationships and closeness. One of the most challenging realities is that we are always saying something about what God is like, whether we like it or not. Important: the goal is *not* obedience, at least not obedience as the ultimate end. Obedience is a subordinate end toward the ultimate end of fellowship. Sin disrupts. Unrighteousness divides. So disobedience (in act or attitude) breaks fellowship and discipline is necessary. But we don't discipline to prove the standard, to show off that we know what is righteous. We don't spank to demonstrate our authority. We wield our authority to pursue and enable fellowship. > if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7) Too many dads think authority is about proving who is the boss, who makes the decisions, who knows what's right. To an extent, that's all true. But godly authority uses its power and decision making responsibility to serve and bring together. The head abuses his authority: * by ignoring the members of the body * by being impatient with the members, though certain members may require more attention to get them working properly * by being detached from the members. In fact, while the head has an exalted position, the head cannot survive long without help from lesser members. A body-less head is no good. The head uses his authority well: * by bringing all the members into working health and unity. God is the highest authority, and our example of authority. And God uses His authority to bring us closer to Him, not to push us away from Him. Some dads are so eager in their love of righteousness that they forget to love their kids into righteousness. It isn't either/or. We don't give up on either. We don't love righteousness as it's own thing, but because that's how we can enjoy being together. As we move toward our discussion of discipline and instruction, do you seen how punishments that involve removing fellowship must be done very carefully? Also, when sin has been confessed and forgiveness sought, we cannot grant verbal forgiveness and continue to act disinterested in fellowship. When a child doesn't obey his father, a breakdown in the relational fellowship occurs. Just as a Christian's fellowship with God is disrupted by sin (1 John 1:6), so sin creates separation in our horizontal relationships as well. A father is responsible to discipline his son for the disobedience. The discipline trains the son to recognize appropriate behavior and how he missed the mark. But that is not all. The discipline instructs, yes, and it also aims to bring the son back into fellowship. The son learns the value of relationship not only the standard of right and wrong. That's why withholding relationship as discipline is usually counter-productive. Intentionally distancing oneself from the disobedient son in order to "teach him a lesson" does teach a lesson, of course. It teaches that the relationship is based on works, not love. Instead, love pursues the lesson that relationship is enjoyed with obedience, but it isn't lost apart from it. Obedience deepens the joy, but obedience doesn't create the relationship. What does repentance enable? A restored relationship with God. All of His discipline is motivated by love so that we can share His holiness. But why is that holiness so important? Because when we are holy, we are sharing His nature. God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. When we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship with one another and His blood covers our sins (1 John 1:7). Our kids are not our enemies. When they rebel against the rules, we must not take out the sword of the Word to lop their heads off. We should grieve the separation and seek to restore the relationship in Christ. This is the work of bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. This is the gospel. These are the do's and don'ts of fellowship. # Discipline of the Lord In Ephesians 6:5, Paul instructs parents to bring up, to raise, to nourish their children in the παιδείᾳ of God, the "discipline" (NAS and ESV). We usually think about discipline in negative terms as punishment, some sort of pain that makes a point. παιδείᾳ may include that, but it is so much more. One dictionary defines it as "the act of providing guidance for responsible living, including fatherly correction." Hebrews 12 speaks of the discipline as painful for the moment but good for the long term sake of holiness. > God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7–11) That means discipline is not as much punishment as it is *training* (the NIV translation). It applies unpleasant consequences for the purpose of bringing them up. The most common Christian parent discipline tool is the rod. The book of Proverbs refers to the love given through the rear of a young person. But that's key: it should communicate love for the child, not the rules. > Whoever spares the rod hates his son, > but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. > (Proverbs 13:24) I hate spanking. I don't like the extra effort and the hurt and the tears and the wailing. I also don't like it because it is so hard to do it right. Usually a child disobeys, throws a fit, crosses the line, and I get irritated that they're making me do this extra work. Don't they know how busy I am? Don't they realize how simple my instructions were? When I'm upset at them it's often because I'm out of fellowship with that kid or with the family. So I'm not interested in bringing them up. I'm doing my own thing and I want them to pay for interrupting me. It doesn't matter how high the standards are at that point, because the standards are supposed to enable our relationship. Relationship, in particular love, motivates, discipline. The standards give us a safe place to develop and grow. That's why when you "spare the rod you spoil the child." You can also spoil the child by spanking consistently and giving greater priority to the rules than to the relationship. Again, that doesn't mean get rid of the rules. > Discipline your son, for there is hope; > do not set your heart on putting him to death. > (Proverbs 19:18, see also 23:14) Good rules work toward and for relationship, not compete with it. > for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, > as a father the son in whom he delights. > (Proverbs 3:12) Are we *delighting* in our child when we discipline him? # Instruction of the Lord The second word in Ephesians 6:4 is νουθεσίᾳ, translated "instruction" (NAS and ESV). It is probably better translated as "warning" or "admonition" (KJV). Perhaps you've heard of *nouthetic* counseling. νουθεσίᾳ is regularly used in the New Testament as admonishment or warning. You see someone headed down the wrong path and you encourage them away from it. When I was 14 years old, I was riding my bike on a county road that had recently been coated in a fresh layer of tar with a layer of loose gravel dumped on top. My foot slipped off one of the pedals and I crashed, hard. I had tar and stones in my chin, forehead, elbow, and hands. My mom thought I had split my head open and that the grey stones were parts of my brain. My dad, who worked at home, called me into his office after I got all bandaged. He put his arm around me and said, "Son, when I was 14, I don't remember being a human scab. If you want to make it to 15, maybe you should slow down a bit." That's admonishment: a loving, caring warning to turn someone in the right direction. What do parents warn and instruct their kids about? There are an endless number of things. Consider the verse: **bring them up in the instruction of the Lord**. ## Who they are in the Lord The first thing to instruct them is who they are before the Lord. If we're desirous of bringing up Christians, we should always be telling them about Christ. We want to stimulate faith, not doubt. We want them to love what we love, right? We want to encourage their love for Christ, love for His church, love for His Word, love for fellowship. As they believe, we want to tell them who they are in the Lord. "Son, Christians act like this. That's not who you are. This is who you are." Any situation where a Christian can be is a situation for this type of direction. I'm not suggesting that we tell them that they are Christians if there is no confession whatsoever. But we also ought not give them the impression that they can never be sure. We are instructing them in the gospel, and the gospel is only good for people who aren't perfect. Teach confession, repentance, restoration, and the gladness of the wise and righteous pathway. ## Who they are in God's image Next, instruct them who they are as one of God's creatures, made in God's image. They are made to reflect Him in all they do, what they learn, and how they work. This includes boys becoming men and girls becoming women. Boys and girls are different because God made man in His image: male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27). Again, we're raising parents, we're raising future husbands and fathers, future wives and mothers. You raise men differently than you raise women. This isn't a "Girls shouldn't go to college" speech, but it does say that Titus 2 makes it clear where a woman's focus should be. Moms, teach your daughters to love family and work hard at home. Dads, love your daughters. Give your sons responsibility. That's what he's made for. Sometimes, they're going to fail. That's okay. That's one of the ways they will learn. ## Who they are in your family Next, teach them who they are in your family, what it means to have your last name. "This is how Higgins' act. Yes, I understand your friend is allowed to do such and such, that he has a later bedtime, is allowed to use certain words or wear certain clothes. You're not in their family. You are a Higgins." This allows you to instruct and bring them up with convictions that may not necessarily have a verse stuck on each decision. If you don't have biblical support, don't act as if you do. Kids figure that out as they mature. That doesn't mean that you have nothing to say or direction to give. If you are paying the bills and cooking the food, then you have the authority to set house rules for your family. As I said at the beginning, the point of these decisions is to enable fellowship. The people with your last name should be happy in Jesus and happy with each other. The aroma of joy should be how your family is recognized. # Conclusion The goal is to win our kids, not to defeat them (where "win" means gain the person, persuade their love and connection. So, "winsome," attractive or appealing.) Paul wrote to the Corinthians about his use of authority: > Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (2 Corinthians 1:24) Parents ought to have the same mission as the apostle Paul: the joy of fellowship in faith and obedience. This is what daddy dates, reading a book, playing catch, going to the zoo, going on a walk, having birthday and holiday celebrations do: they strengthen fellowship.

2: Getting Messy

January 29, 2012 • Sean Higgins

Selected Scriptures Series: Bring Them Up #2 # Introduction Our mission as Christian parents is to raise a generation of Christian parents who hope in God as a witness to the world for the pleasure of the Lord. We talked last time about how to give our kids a taste of Christian life, a taste of joyful Christian parenting. We're not giving them the recipe, measuring ingredients, and telling them to make something. We're giving them a taste. God will take that taste, make our kids hungry, and a long time from now, they'll start to pick up how to do it themselves. I hope that was encouraging, providing a renewed in vision and purpose in parenting. Christian parents witness to the glory of Christ for generations. This is a grand mission and I hope you are caught up in the greatness of your calling. Because parenting is hard. :) Parenting, especially younger kids, is such a daily grind that the grand mission often becomes muddy. Even tonight, as you prepared to come to church, some of you had a rough time. Kids were cranky or they didn't nap much, maybe because you were out late at lunch, maybe even because you were fellowshipping with other families. They are hungry and you forgot that you were out of milk, so they got dry cereal for breakfast. They need you to change their diaper because they left something special for you. They need you to find them clothes, but you've been too busy to do laundry so they are wearing dirty shirts again. They need you to tie their shoes for the third time. And maybe you've got more than one of these need machines. These are the parenting trenches and they are messy.<span class="foot" id='fnref1-2012-01-29'><a href="#fn1-2012-01-29">1</a></span> It's great to know that happy families build a platform for the gospel, but all we need right now is a pair of matching socks. We need perspective, not only of the end goal, but what its supposed to look like here and now at this step. I love that I have something to say about this because I may have been the worst parent of young kids in the history of the world. God has been very gracious to help me grow and learn and become a much happier parent when we're already 10 minutes late because one of the kids needed some extra time with the rod only to find out that another kid has mashed up french fries in his car seat that's going to get all over his pants and his pants were the only thing clean. On one hand, what we desperately need is to be better Christians in those moments. That's true, but telling me that I should be patient doesn't actually help me be patient. My goal in this message is not to tell you what brand of wet wipes cleans old fries and dirty faces, but to build some frames for your perspective in the trenches. # First, God loves growth. I cannot overemphasize how crucial it is to develop your theology *proper*, that is, your study of God's Himself, God's person. The best parenting theology requires knowing God and one observation we must make is that God loves growth. This world is His. He created it one way, not another, according to His good pleasure. The earth spins clockwise because that's how He wanted it to spin. Blood is red because He decided it so. And His creation is full of growing, developing things, including humans. No child is born at 35. For that matter, even when we count a child as one day old, that doesn't take into account the nine months of baking in his mother's belly. Every person who has ever lived--after Adam and Eve--has gone through this process? Why? This isn't a natural law or a physical requirement that some celestial physician's board came up with. This is God's idea and He loves it. For approximately 6000 years He hasn't grown tired of babies and toddlers and kids. That He loves growth is illustrated annually with the seasons. Year after year, new seed is sown and crops grow to harvest. Perhaps an even more helpful illustration is the Christian life. When God causes someone to be born again, their new spiritual life starts as babes. > [Y]ou have been born again...[so], Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— (1 Peter 1:23, 2:2, ESV) He could save us into immediate and absolute maturity. We were dead; it already took a supernatural work to give us life anyway. Why not add maturity to it? He could take us to heaven immediately after professing faith. Instead, He regenerates us and then begins to grow us. This is part of the reason why impatience is ungodly. Part of the problem with impatience is a failure on our part to submit to God's sovereignty. We believe God controls everything, including the timing, so we rebel when we complain. But it isn't only that we fail to submit to His timing, impatience with immaturity in our kids argues against His delights. He does what He *pleases*, and what pleases Him is growth from immaturity. We are made in God's image. We were made to reflect Him. When we get annoyed and angry because the seed isn't bearing fruit on the second day after we planted it, we show our own immaturity. Of all the beings in the universe, who is most concerned about maturity? God is. And yet the Trinity isn't freaking out that we're not now where we will be then. Growth is part of the process. I've said it before, but for sake of illustration, in the church, we ought to be thrilled to have a bunch of immature people. Why? It isn't thrilling if they've been around but not grown, but if a steady stream of newborn Christians come by His grace, then they are going to have issues that come with their new life. That's great! As parents, it doesn't take too long before the excitement of the baby's birth wears off because dad, and especially mom, are exhausted from getting up in the 2am trenches because the baby is hungry again. What you need at that moment is...coffee, and...perspective. The cry is a sign of life. Spaghetti sauce all over your floor means your daughter is alive and home and healthy enough for food. She's growing. God loves that. We need patience in the trenches, which comes from knowing that God dug the trenches and has glorious plans for us to be there for a while. # Second, Immaturity is not (necessarily) rebellion. Immaturity from someone who should be mature is rebellion. Many times, though, parents take their two year old's coloring on the walls as disobedience. They desperately need the discernment to know the difference. > When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. (1 Corinthians 13:11, ESV) One of the most well-used parent verses assumes that a child does not know the way he should go, that it takes training, and that it takes time. > Train up a child in the way he should go; > even when he is old he will not depart from it. > (Proverbs 22:6, ESV) One of the best illustrations I've heard is that children are like concrete; they don't set right away. We've got to keep working to shape them by grace until the concrete is hard. They are easier to work with at the start, so start early. Coloring on the walls isn't okay. We're not allowed to do that, ever. However, kids need to be trained. They apparently don't come out knowing the difference between dog food and people food. They may not be out to control you or run the house. They may be acting like kids. Running around and being loud is childish. It's okay for children to do it. We can help them by showing them where a better place for it is. And if we've cooped them up for a few hours (like at church), we ought to find a place for them. We should not get angry with a five year old who doesn't know how to frame a house. It is not a compromise to give him a little construction set and let him practice. It's so easy to take it personally, to take it as an attack on our authority. Again, there are times when we need to discipline disobedience. A one year old can rebel, and more so as they get older. But the point is that many of the things that frustrate us are parts of what it means to be a kid. We need perspective to know which is which. The grandparents, and other more mature parents, can help us younger parents by calmly working through a case and encouraging patient discernment. # Third, Cleanliness is next to godliness; messiness may be closer. Certainly, most of you have heard the phrase before: "Cleanliness is next to godliness." We say God likes certain things, but is it possible that we're missing a lot of what He's actually doing? Some of the mess we can blame on Adam's fall and as a consequence of sin being in the world. But what about *before* Genesis 3? Consider that God assigned Adam to tend the garden before God cursed the ground. God added thistles and sweat to the work, but He didn't add dirt, dirt was already there. Adam's hands would have gotten dirty. Adam was made of dirt to work in the dirt (Genesis 2:7, 15). That's messy. Consider, since the majority of us are parents in the room, what sex would have been like before the fall. Sex is great, that's how we get to be parents in the first place. God made it for reproductive and pleasure purposes, but it is somewhat messy. It's one of Hollywood's cheapest tricks, to make it seem like there's no clean up. The point is, at its best, life is messy. We live in one of the cleanest parts of the world with some of the highest cultural standards and with a ridiculous amount of science and technology applied to give us disposable wipes and Swiffers and electronic dishwashers and indoor plumbing--hot or cold water, whatever you like. But even for us, life is messy. So, most of the time, our kids are just living. They aren't doing anything that needs punishment per se because they get grass on their knees. God gave them knees and the gift to use them, He supplied enough water to cause the grass to be green, and money to buy the pants to cover their knees in the cold. We've got 1000 more things to be thankful for than reasons to complain or get angry because it's messy. This is more than a physical need for growth, it is also a spiritual need. Kids come out with sinful hearts. How we respond to their messy hearts shouldn’t be sinful. > Blowing up at your children because they were squabbling is jumping into the river to get out of the rain. ([Doug Wilson tweet][tweet]) [tweet]: http://twitter.com/douglaswils/status/13014036361 We won't win our kids to joyful obedience by being disobediently angry ourselves. I am not saying to leave your house a pig pen. I'm not saying to bathe your kids only once a month because they're just going to get dirty again. I am saying that the trenches are messy, so jump in and clean up. That's what godly parents do. * As a side note, godly parents don't take the same approach outside the home, especially in someone else's home. Parents shouldn't spring their theology of mess on other people. Talk ahead of time with your kids; make the expectations clear. If you have a kid who needs extra attention, keep them with you, by your side, on your lap. Also, I'm definitely *not* saying to let disobedience go. I'm saying it shouldn't be surprising. It is the opportunity to train them, especially to teach them about the gospel, and we should be examples of joy in the clean-up. As usual, there are ditches on both sides of the road. One ditch is all "grace" and no requirement of obedience, the other ditch is never being happy with obedience because it isn't perfect. Grace doesn't lower the expectations of the law, it makes getting there *joyful*. But obedience is never optional. *Laziness is not mercy*. Just as you scrub the floor, pursue whole-hearted obedience with joy. We know a friend who has her kids sing a fun song after spanking to see if their hearts are right. Don't allow excuses. Teach quick and honest confession. Don't allow laziness. When it's messy, that means life is happening. That's how God likes it. > Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, > but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. > (Proverbs 14:4, ESV) # Fourth, Life always grows from death. This brings us to the good news, that is, the really good news of the gospel. One of the principles that fills the world we live in is that death brings life. As Christians, we know this most clearly because we got life from Christ's death and resurrection. God gave His only begotten Son to die in our place so that we could have eternal life. He died so that we could live. That's the gospel. It is also our calling. We are to give our life so that others may live. Unlike Christ's death, our dying cannot redeem anyone. We have our own sin so we can't be a substitute for them. But we can be a reflection for them. Paul referred to his dying to bring life in 2 Corinthians 4:10-12 > [We are] always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:10–12, ESV) In ministry, our calling is to die, and not for Paul that this wasn't a one time deal; it wasn't his physical martyrdom, otherwise he could be "always carrying about" or say that "death works in us." His dying was serving, giving himself in suffering to embrace their mess. This is exactly what Paul instructs husbands to do for their wives in Ephesians 5:25. > Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, (Ephesians 5:25, ESV) Christ gave Himself for His bride, a husband must give himself for his wife. Husbands are to be like Christ, dying to self for another. The principle is: *my life for yours*<span class="foot" id='fnref2-2012-01-29'><a href="#fn2-2012-01-29">2</a></span>. That's the gospel on display. That is the need of the hour for Christian parents: to illustrate the serving sacrifice of Christ, to die so that others may live. It starts at home. I'm not kidding when I say that parenting is a daily grind. It requires daily, hourly dying. Someone needs something when is *not* convenient, and usually their needs always correspond to the times when we are already most exhausted. It is at those moments when we need to think: what would Jesus do? It is at those moments in the trenches when we need to laugh. God is. It's a glorious hassle, and it is life. # Conclusion God doesn't mind taking His time to make a point. He's happy with babies crying and toddlers falling and little girls giggling and little men building birdhouses. He's happy with our progressive sanctification and with spiritual battle that has not been finished yet. He's growing us. He promised to conform us to the image of Christ. It's messy, and He's taking His time. Parenting is a glorious hassle. It requires our daily deaths. If parents wait to be finished before they’re happy, they will never be happy.

1: Raising Parents

January 15, 2012 • Sean Higgins

Colossians 3:18-4:1 Series: Bring Them Up #1 # Introduction I've been a parent for (only) nine years. At this point, Mo and I are stewards of four young souls: Maggie (9 years old), Calvin (almost 6), Hallie (3), and Keelah (18 months). I've never been so proud, humiliated, exhausted, exhilarated, affectionate, and angry with any other group of people or doing any other job. I pray that God will continue to grow me and our family for another decade. I am not a parenting expert. In many ways, you couldn't know if I was until you met the kids of my grandkids. In other words, the final conclusion on my parenting skills won't be available for a while. However, by way of some qualifications, here's what I might put on my parenting resume. * I had parents. \<smile\> I watched my mom and dad do it for a long time, both good and the less good. * I know people who are parents. \<smile\> I talk with them and hear them talk. * I pastor parents, and sometimes help them with their kids. I was a pastor in student ministries for over 10 years and I saw a lot. A good youth pastor better pay attention to families, not only the students. By way of fact, when I started in that position, among our youth staff, my wife and I were the only ones with young children. By the time I left that position, we had 23 youth staff and 14 kids 8 and under (which made for all kinds of learning opportunities). * I am a parent and, in particular, God has convicted me of many parenting failures and sins toward my family. By grace and by His Spirit He is helping me learn. Sometimes you can learn a lot from someone who has done it wrong so many times, at least if that person is teachable. * I love God's Word. The Bible has all sorts of helps for families. * I love the Trinue God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Watching how *He* acts, considering how *He* handles things has been a great source of help to me as I hope to share throughout this series. So again, I would be a fool and a liar to claim expertise. But in many ways, this is exactly what God made us for and it's great to be overwhelmed by this amazing task if we depend on Him. # RAISING PARENTS The title for this message has a double-meaning and those meanings get to the root and show the fruit of parenting. On one hand, *raising parents* is aimed at the *root* of parenting, that is, at raising, training, equipping, helping *parents* to be better parents in Christ. No parent starts as a mature parent. This is no small problem because problems in a family, even problems with kids in that family, *usually* (not always) spring from dad, mom, or both. Kids grow as their parents grow. Parents who believe that they have it figured out, and it's just their immature kids who don't get it, don't realize how bad the situation really is. The situation is bad most of all because they are the first (not only, but first) problem. When it comes to helping parents, here is the "secret," the single most important requirement of being a good parent: **BE A FAITHFUL CHRISTIAN**. There are perspectives and plans and principles for parenting, and we will cover some of them. But no schedule, no chore chart, no brand of diapers, no type of schooling, no set of entertainment standards, no consistency in spanking, no daily servings of fruits and vegetables will make the ultimate difference. What we do--in all of life, including parenting--comes from who we are. The most important thing is for us to be in Christ, growing in Christ, loving Christ, and doing that in front of and with our whole family. In a general sense, raising parents is about raising Christians. We'll consider this connection in Colossians 3 in a few minutes. Before we do, like I said, there are two meanings to the sermon title. The root of parenting is being good parents in Christ. The *fruit* of parenting, our goal, the mission, is to raise good parents in Christ. I've got no problem with the phrase "raising kids." But a moment's reflection may cause one to ask, "raising kids...to be what?" So we would be more precise to say that we are raising parents. I understand that not everyone, in God's providence, will grow up and get married. I understand that some who are married won't have children. But isn't the *norm*, at least as the Bible reveals it, two becoming one who are fruitful and multiply and fill the earth? A parent should *assume*, should plan for the day when his five year old will have a five year old of his own. The fruit of good parenting is *reproduction*. Good parents parent in a way to raise good parents. Not only are we far too short-sighted in our goals ("How can I get Johnny to eat his green beans at dinner?"), but it is incomplete. We're not raising adults. The goal isn't only to prepare them to get a job, work hard, pay their bills, and eat some green beans without us threatening to spank them. The goal goes beyond that to fruitful adulthood: being good parents to the next generation. This is part of the reason why being faithful Christians is so important. The fruit comes from the root. If the root is rotten, the fruit probably won't be healthy. This is not the same as guaranteeing salvation for every kid of every saved parent. But if you want your child to be a Christian, then isn't the place to start actually being a Christian yourself? The mission of Christian parents is to raise a generation of Christian parents. That starts by being Christians. # Parenting Context The apostle Paul connects Christian life with family life in two of his letters: Colossians and Ephesians. These epistles provide the most extensive instruction for parents (along with spouses, kids, and household servants) in the New Testament. Each letter offers its own emphasis, but they are clearly parallel passages in many ways. I'd like to show some observations from the *context* of the instructions to parents. Ephesians 5:22-6:9 and Colossians 3:18-4:1 have many similarities. The first similarity is that, in both places, the household instructions follow personal instructions. We'll hang out mostly in Colossians. The most important relationship is the relationship of the parent to God through Christ in the Spirit. The parenting task must not be separated from Christian behavior. ## Acting like Christians Parenting life comes out of Christian life. Parents must be killing sin, putting off sin, and not lying (Colossians 3:5-11). The sin of greatest consequence is always one's own sin, not that of another. We start by mortifying our *own* anger and pride and selfishness and dishonesty. Where did your kid get his sin from? Adam, yes. And they learn how to submit to their flesh or slay their flesh from us. Parents must also be putting on the heart of Christ (3:12-17). Our kids need us to be patient and tender. That is *Christian*. Note in particular verse 16: > Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16, ESV) So many really crucial things are here. When the "word of Christ," Scripture, the Bible, is in us, it can't help but come out onto others. Too many Christian parents see a need and go looking for a verse to plug the hole. There are times for that but mostly we should be filled with the Word so much that it will overflow onto our kids. Of course, that would help us apply Deuteronomy 6. > “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall 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. (Deuteronomy 6:4–7, ESV) We should aim for full cups, not to fill the cup just enough to empty it and need to fill again to empty it. That's exhausting. This sort of Scripture indwelling leaves a certain aroma in the house. The Word does reprove and correct (2 Timothy 3:16; see also 4:2). Scripture cuts us and lays our souls bare (Hebrews 4:12). Parents should get specific references to deal with specific sins. Nevertheless, the overall aroma will smell like *gladness*! A heart that overflows with the Bible is *thankful*! There is *melody*! Parents indwelt by the Word will speak in "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness" in their hearts to their kids. Christian parents should be better and singing songs *to/with* their kids than quoting verses *at* them. Christian parents ought to be the most thankful people in the house; they certainly should not blame their lack of thankfulness on the kids. Thankful parents raise kids who give them more reasons for thankfulness. The parallel in Ephesians 5:18 should be considered. The same sorts of results are seen, but instead of the word richly indwelling, the Spirit is filling. > And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, (Ephesians 5:18–19, ESV) The Word life can't be disconnected from the Spirit life (not too surprising since the Word was inspired by the Spirit) and visa versa. I point it out to emphasize that parenting responsibilities come out Christian basics. ## Spousing before Parenting Parenting life also comes out of married life. The second most important parenting relationship is between the husband and wife. In both Colossians and Ephesians, the spousal responsibilities come first in the list of household members. By putting husbands and wives first (Colossians 3:18 wives and 3:19 husbands; Ephesians 5:22-24 wives and 5:25-33 husbands), Paul puts a premium on how moms and dads act as a married couple. The linchpin of family relationships is the marriage relationship. A child learns about respect from his mom. Mom who disrespects her husband, who doesn't obey him, provides the pattern of disrespect and disobedience in the family. A child learns about love or laziness by watching his dad. If dad serves himself, is distant and/or a bully to his wife, so the kids will grow up to produce similar fruit. According to Ephesians, the child's first exposure to the *gospel* is *watching his dad*, not necessarily listening to him read the Children's Bible at bedtime. > Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, (Ephesians 5:25, ESV) One reason our kids grow up and leave the church is because dads and moms make Christ with His bride look like they have no interest in each other. Yes, kids need the stability of knowing mom and dad aren't leaving each other. But it's more than that. Dads teach their daughters what to look for in a husband by how they act. Daughters learn how to be submissive wives by submitting to their dads and watching their moms. Boys learn how to be sensitive while leading like a man by watching their dads. Mom and dad, you need to be on the same page when it comes to standards and discipline. That starts by being faithful Christians and devoted spouses, loving Christ first and each other next. Your *kids* need that. Before we even get to the details of parental responsibilities, we must be putting off sin, putting on Christ, letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly, being filled with the Spirit, with wives submitting to their husbands and husbands lovingly serving and sacrificing for their wives. Parents, are you making Christ look good? Are you making the Word seem sweet? Are you making marriage appear fantastic? If the goal of parenting is to raise parents, these are the basics of that foundation. ## The Actual Instructions The actual instructions in these two verses is--surprisingly little and somewhat negative. > Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Colossians 3:21, ESV) > Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4, ESV) Don't provoke them to anger? Don't discourage, don't "exasperate" (NAS) them? Really? Is that the best we can do? No. The Old Testament has more specifics which are helpful. The context we've considered provide more proactive helps, too. So why so little and so negative? Because these are the things parents, especially fathers, are most likely to struggle with. What is the Christian's challenge? Walking in the flesh, not the Spirit. What is a wife's temptation? To control her husband rather than submit. How about the husband? To do the least amount possible. The kids? To disobey. We parents, and dads the most, are prone to exasperate and discourage our kids. How? * By holding higher expectations for their behavior than our own. * By holding our standards hypocritically. * By being angry *at* them, being discouraged *by* them or in front of them. * By parenting according to law while talking about grace. * By claiming that Christ is Lord but not living under His lordship * by making submission to Him seem miserable. * By being ungrateful. If we are NOT to discourage them, what *do* we do? Isn't the opposite to give them hope? Especially hope in Christ? Hope that the gospel forgives, that the Word guides as a light to our paths, that the Spirit transforms and knits us together in love. Hope that marriage and family and child-raising is meaning and effective in Christ! Our mission as Christian parents is to raise a generation of Christian parents who hope in God. ## Community Standouts Observe also that, in context, the family responsibilities prepare the way to our community witness. After addressing the household slaves and masters, Paul moves to instruct the Christians about their outreach (Colossians 4:2-6). Our personal Christian lives must be consistent. Our families function as platforms for evangelism. How much do happy families stand out? How much do happy, obedient, non-complaining *parents* stand out? Why would you want to get married? Why would you want to bring kids into this world? The hope of the gospel! That hope must be more than our mantra, it should be our practice. Raising the next generation is part of our mission to this generation. We should love family like God does. As we function with thankfulness and melody and hope, we will stand out, and the only explanation will be the Lord. Family is evangelism. Making disciples starts at home. Whether or not we change the culture, we will at least be witnesses to it. Our mission as Christian parents is to raise a generation of Christian parents who hope in God as a witness to the world. ## Pleasing the Lord Do you see how many references there are to Christ, the Lord, in this section? (see the diagram handout: 3:18, 20, 22, 23, 24, 4:1) In the broad and narrow context, in the marriage, in the family, and community, He is the ultimate ground and goal. We live in Him and for Him. We are raising parents, Christians reproducing by grace more Christians for this generation and those to come. Parenting is a glorious privilege with an eternal purpose. Our mission as Christian parents is to raise a generation of Christian parents who hope in God as a witness to the world for the pleasure of the Lord! # Conclusion There is good news if sin is the problem in parenting, with the parents and with the kids. Jesus has done something about sin. We are *evangelical* parents. We are parents who confess our sins and believe in Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross so that sinners can be forgiven and reconciled to God for everlasting joy. That's the evangel, the gospel. Living as Christians changes everything. This is ***radical*** parenting. The English word "radical" derives from the Latin word *radix* or *radic-* meaning "root." Living as faithful Christians will affect the fundamental nature of our families with far-reaching consequences, both in our community and for generations. If the goal is to raise parents, most of what we do in the early years is give our kids a taste of Christian life, a taste of joyful Christian parenting. We're not giving them the recipe, measuring ingredients, and telling them to make something. We're giving them a taste. God will take that taste, make our kids hungry, and a long time from now, they'll start to pick up how to do it themselves.