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Raising Godly Children: If Clark Kent Were a Parent, Would He Have Super Children? 1 John 4:7-11; Matthew 18:1-5
Children are a special class of citizenry. Each child is unique, special and precious. It is obvious from the New Testament that God has a truly unique love and place for children. Paraphrasing Matthew 18:1-5, "unless you turn and become like little children, you can never get into the kingdom of heaven at all ... and whosoever welcomes one little child like this for my sake welcomes me."
Kids have a very unique way of understanding God, and appreciating God. From the book Letters to God: "Dear God, Is it true my father won't get into Heaven if he uses his bowling words in the house? -Anita"
"Dear God, Are you really invisible, or is that just a trick? -Lucy"
"Dear God, Please send me a pony. I never asked for anything before, you can look it up. -Bruce"
"We read Thomas Edison made light, but in Sunday School they said you did it, so I bet he stoled your idea. -Donna"
"Dear God, I'm doing the best I can. -Frank"
I hope Frank's words stay with us today -- "Dear God, I am doing the best I can." Because, if we aren't careful, we will be caught up in the cuteness and the humor that is in children, and we will miss a major point -- It's not easy being a child in today's world. It's scary out there. There's evil running rampant all over the world. Our kids, all kids, are not immune from evil's proximity or it's touch. Drug usage is up and the age is coming down. Kids are being treated for stress disorders in record numbers. Suicide attempts are on the increase among children, and it now seems that almost weekly a child initiates, initiates, a homicide. All of this comes on the heels of the supposed "Golden Age of Being a Child." Most children have more stuff than ever before, children have more opportunities, know more than in all of history. Question -- Case in Point -- How many of you have children or know children who are more computer-gifted than you are? All the way down to preschoolers, it seems children are much further ahead in this generation than any other.
Kids are quite active today, as well. Have you talked to a child lately? Just ask them "hey, what are you involved in?" "Well ... soccer, dance, tennis, baseball, drama, tumbling, basketball, softball, gymnastics, football, cheerleading, piano, voice, martial arts, swimming." Then factor in demanding school schedules and then church, which quite often falls low on the priorities line, quite possibly teaching by example to this generation that it's ok to relegate church to 2nd, 3rd or worse place, which could be paving the way for a future generation to live a lifestyle of moving God all over the board in life's order just to get everything in.
I think there are questions that we must ask ourselves today, as parents, as grandparents, as teachers, as adult role models and significant others.
1. Do we really want to raise super kids? Do we really want to raise kids that are mature and do well? Sure, it's an incredible goal. I hope we all want to be a part of that.
2. But, what are we doing to make it happen? What's our plan? Or, whose plan are we presently utilizing, possibly by default?
It's a must ask question, because if it's true that kids are more active than ever before, have more opportunities that we had in a world that's becoming more adult-like and less child idyllic and friendly, then what will the ultimate outcome be? What's the future for these busy fast-to-become adult children? It seems that for a myriad of reasons children are being forced to become more adult too quickly. The natural transition of child to adolescent to adult is shortened.
Is any of this our fault? And if so, is it our fault for the noble reason of simply wanting our children to succeed? Could we have fallen into that naive trap? It's a tough question, and certainly not a fun question to deal with.
Here's another: "Is it possible that we, good parents, grandparents, or significant others are caught in a cycle of wanting more for our kids than we had?" A very noble desire, one that has history; my parents said to me: "We want you to have more, to do more, and to experience more than we were able to." I'm almost positive their parents felt the same way.
But, by providing children with opportunities galore, are we teaching them a philosophy of success based on participation and achievement, which is certainly the cultural definition of success. And this activity-based definition seems to be filtering down to younger children in today's world. It goes like this: the more you achieve and the more you do, the better college you get into; the better college you get into, the better job you get; the better job you get, the more money you make; the more money you make, the more stuff you can have; add in all of the above and it equals lots of success!
So, where does it end? Seems it's getting bigger as it rolls on, doesn't it? So where does it end? Ulcers, heart palpitations, lots of Maalox? Sure, kids need to be prepared for life. Sure, it's a "dog eat dog" world out there. But it shouldn't be a "puppy eat puppy" world, should it? It just really doesn't seem fair.
Is it possible that we are living vicariously through our multi-opportuned kids, doing things through them that we were never able to do, for whatever the reasons? So, are we living vicariously through our kids rather than them learning to live through us? Better question: "Is this what being a super kid is all about?" "Is this what it really means to be a super child?" It's going to work primarily one way. Primarily, they learn about life, about how to succeed, about how to live, about how to survive either from the all-inclusive cultural mass or from us. Now, there are venues that intersect our child's lives, and they learn from all different facets of the world and from society, but primarily the majority is going to come from the cultural mass or from us.
Does any of this scare you? When you go to bed at night and the fears rise up and the questions rage, do you wonder if your child will experiment with drugs because other people do? To maybe escape a reality they aren't yet equipped for? Or become sexually active because that's the norm, or to be drawn to a dangerous relationship because the human element is reigning? Do you hope and pray that they will have a foundation that provides the strength to resist all of the evil out there?
These choices or similar ones will be faced one day by all of our children. Now raising super children isn't about how active or how busy one is. It's not about who'll be the next superstar gymnast, the next Chipper Jones or who will get the great college. There's nothing inherently wrong with any of those things. It's a matter of priority.
But for us, the people of faith, there must be more than this cultural view of success. There is a theological, Jesus-based, take on success that's often blurred by today's pace and today's focus. By it, raising super kids is about who loves Jesus enough to follow His will for their lives, no matter what that means. It's about who loves Jesus enough to say no to the inevitable offer of drugs for escape or sex to be accepted. In terms of theology, the end result of raising super kids, great kids, mature kids, is not about who gets the huge money or the Jaguar. It's about being whom and what God has planned for them to be. No matter the pay, no matter the place, no matter how un-average that makes them.
Next comes the most important statement of all. The key to raising super kids begins with us, not them. Now if you blank out on everything I have said, and you leave asking yourself: "where was he going with this?," I want you to remember this point. This one point is worth the price of admission: the key to raising super kids, mature kids, great kids begins with us. Too often the focus is on them, possibly their gifts, their talents, their time, their participation. It's the proverbial cart before the horse. We can't put the focus on them first, or primarily; it's not fair. That is too much pressure for a child. Let's put the pressure where it belongs, where God put it, on us. So what's our recipe, what's our plan? The Biblical formula is found simply in the life of Jesus. It's not difficult, it's nothing you have to memorize. It's not even deeply theological in nature. The Biblical formula is found simply in the life of Jesus. In short, we must lead our children to a relationship with Jesus and then model for them what that means. We as Baptists have been known for years as being great about bringing people into the Kingdom of God.
Salvation is our creed, we witness to them, we lead them to accept Christ, we get them wet, then theory says we don't worry about them much anymore. I would disagree with that to a point, but you know, that same mind-set may be in place in raising kids.
Yes, we must lead our children to a relationship with Jesus Christ, that is something we know as our biblical responsibility. So we bring them to church and get them involved in worship, in Sunday School, in Vacation Bible School. We make sure that they know the children's minister and the pastor. We pray and work to that end. But at that point, do we mainly allow the system to do the job? See, we're called and we're responsible for two things in this regard: to lead our children to a relationship with Christ and then to model for them what that means. Because once they accept Christ they are blank slates for God. They must be shaped. They must be led. They must be shown what this faith stuff is all about.
Many of our kids wear WWJD bracelets (What Would Jesus Do?). I'm positive that my daughter is protected, she's got them all the way up her arm, and it's a great thing. WWJD bracelets focus people's attention on Jesus. But wouldn't it be grand if because of our consistent example, our children would also base life's faith decisions and other decisions on us: Wouldn't it be the ultimate success for a parent to know our children want to be like us because of what we've shown them, what they've seen in us and what we stand for? The old proverb is still true: "More is caught than can ever be taught."
So, where do I sign up? Well, the first step is basically understanding the why's of Jesus. He came to bring salvation to the world. The Hebrews, quite honestly, were just not getting it done at this point. As Jesus was entering the scene, the Hebrews were experiencing a religious revival, basically unparalleled in nature and scope. It wasn't a revival of the spirit however, but a celebration of the rules. They lived a life of rules designed to please God. "Don't associate with sinners. Don't enter the home of a Gentile. Wash your hands seven times before you eat. Don't work on the Sabbath." If one followed all of the rules, they were worthy of a relationship with God. But what about everyone else? What about the Gentiles? What about the sinners? It was obvious that those who needed God the most were out of bounds. You couldn't associate with them, couldn't have anything to do with them, lest you become unclean. You break the rules and you're not worthy of approaching God.
The Hebrews had relegated God to being a scorekeeper for rules that only they could keep. It was the greatest home court advantage in the history of the world. Jesus brought a focus on people, on needs, on God's grace. His was a faith based upon relationships. First and foremost came the relationship with God, followed by relationships with others based out of that relationship with God. His was not a faith based upon organized religion. He was God's grace.
He was a living verb form of God's grace, love and peace for all the needy people. In 1 John 4, Scripture describes a person of God as one who accepts the love of God and then becomes a conduit of love and grace for everyone else because of that love. It can be defined as putting other people first; as the Royal Law; as making sure that we are second and that we do not put our needs and desires ahead of those of others. It can be defined as being God's love, grace and peace for and to the world.
Jesus broke most of the religious rules in the process of living His life, and showing us the way to live. He was quite counterculture, not at all an outward success, and they ultimately killed Him for it. He healed the sick; He raised the dead; He spent time with lepers. He stopped the execution of a woman caught in the very act of adultery, saving her physical life and then extending to her eternal life in the process. He healed a hemorrhaging woman, allowing her to return to the church she had been barred from because of her uncleanliness. Her return brought with it focus, a focus on a personal God.
He gave sight to the blind, new legs to the crippled. He fed the hungry. He cared for widows and orphans. He tossed out demons, and He beat Satan in one-on-one. In short, He was others oriented, needs based, and He always had time to do good. He was an example of mercy, grace, peace, love and His parting words to us were "follow My lead and do as I did" meaning "I'm leaving you in charge of the store" or "It's up to you now."
What! We're supposed to heal people? We're supposed to give sight to the blind, legs to the crippled? No, that was the life of Jesus, that was God's specific will for the life of Jesus, not us. Ours is simply to follow the example and the direction of His lifestyle; spreading mercy, grace, peace, love and dispensing grace to a world that so needs it. All of these things are doable. His life was, and is, the theological definition of success.
If this is what we want for our children: to first be successful by God's standards, then by everyone else's, we must pave the way, we must show them how. By example, we must be like Jesus in concrete ways: in our relationships with them, in our homes, in all of the places they see us; teaching them what it means to be people of grace, to be people of peace and love, to be people of God. And as they learn, they're going to be in a position to more readily accept this grace into their lives when that time comes, and then they will be better prepared to live that same lifestyle. They will be counterculture, they will be different. But they will be following God's will for their lives.
Our kids will be shaped by lots of things and by many venues. But we have the best shot. How are we doing with our opportunities? If we don't sell out to God, do it right and do it soon, this world will move closer to being toast. Hope is fading. Time is fleeting.
Ever put a three-year-old to bed and then all of a sudden you realize they are headed off to middle school? And then you turn around and they're getting married and they're gone. Our parental responsibility has time parameters attached. No matter if you are a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, a significant other, no matter what your role, we only have so much time. Our kids are growing up; they are growing up in a world that pushes them to grow up even faster. Hope is fading. Time is fleeting.
Since not only the future of our children, and in some degree the entire world, awaits our decision, what will it be? Our answer will have profound consequences, and they just might be riding home from church with you today.
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