This morning, I want to gather my thoughts up under the following sermon title, “Comfort for Manoah’s Kin.” And of course, we have just discovered that Manoah was the father of Samson, and so it will be helpful as the message unfolds to keep that in mind. Billy Sunday was to his generation what Billy Graham has been to our own. Sunday’s ministry unfolded for some 39 years. He was prominent at the turn of the century and through the 1920s; interestingly enough, as a result of his national ministry he presented the gospel of Jesus Christ to more than 100 million Americans. The following is a statistical fact: Because of this man’s incomparable faithfulness, he is actually credited to leading one million Americans into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This, of course, was before there was radio, or at least a radio that would go from coast to coast, and television and the kinds of media that we have available in our day. Sunday was a tremendous and powerful soul winner, and he was something of a prophet. He stood against the rampant problem of alcoholism in his day and encouraged the whole temperance movement. He was certainly a mighty man of God; however, I want to go backstage of his life for just a moment and raise an important question: What about his family, his children?
At the height of his ministry, his oldest daughter was away at college, but their three sons hit adolescence while mom and dad were laboring in the fields that were rich with harvest, and his sons had barely hit the teen years when the trouble began: shoplifting, cheating in school, propensity to be bullies, they terrorized many a young girl, they refused to do homework, they were expelled time and again from school. When they arrived at young adulthood, they were constantly in debt, became flagrantly promiscuous, and later had disastrous marriages. In fact, two of their ex-wives even blackmailed the Sundays by threatening to go public with the embarrassing details of the kinds of boys these national soul-winners had raised, something that, in the culture of that day, most certainly would have destroyed their ministry. Tragically, in 1933, the oldest son committed suicide. After his son’s death, Billy pondered his own life in a busy moment with his son, Nell, and what I am about to share with you comes from the pen of Lisle Dorset, who has written a remarkable biography on Billy Sunday titled Billy Sunday and the Redemption of Urban America. This is what he writes: “Billy stood gazing out the window of their Winona Lake home watching the autumn leaves fall and looking wistfully towards the lake. He turned to her with tear-filled eyes and said, `Ma, where did I go wrong. I thought we heard God’s call to evangelism, but look at our boys. Where did I go wrong?”‘
Many a Christian parent has asked that very same question. Now, of the few biographies I have read about Mr. Sunday, none of them, or no one has ever concluded, at least in print, what I am about to say. So this may not be true of Sunday, but it does represent a mentality that some Christians fall to, namely, listen to this, “If I really sacrifice myself to God, then he will bless me with a happy family, and the more I sacrifice, the more insurance I will build up against disaster, especially with respect to my children.” I have actually heard that preached. In other words, if you really dedicate yourself to God, and it may be all consuming and require all of your heart, mind, and soul, everything that you have to offer, so that you really cannot give yourself to your children as you would like to, you can, nevertheless, entrust your kids to the Lord. But think about that for just a moment. Do we really think that religiosity can buy God’s protection? I mean, when you step back and ponder that thought for a moment, it is really convoluted logic, isn’t it? I mean, do we really think that we can buy God’s protection through religiosity? I mean, it was not that Sunday was a bad parent; he just wasn’t a parent at all. He was literally gone eight, 10 months a year, and when he was home, he was all used up; he was just not there emotionally, and his wife managed his ministry. She was as deeply involved as he was. So, his kids did not get what they needed. In fact, they really didn’t get anything. It is tragic. It can happen. Over the course of my ministry, I have seen it time and again – young and promising pastors, energetic and faithful, who had gained many in ecclesiastical words of affirmation and praise, only to lose their children. Nothing, nothing for this pastor has ever been more frightening.
But there is a flip side to tall of this, namely, there are parents who raise their children right, and that the children grow up to be all wrong. “No,” we say. “Can that really be? I mean, doesn’t the Word say, ‘Raise up a child in the way he should go,’ or as the New American Standard Version renders it in the margin, ‘Raise up a child according to his own way,’ meaning, get acquainted with your child, his uniqueness, his personality and so forth, and then when he is old, he will not depart from it, that is depart from mom and dad’s faith. Doesn’t the Word say that?” Oh, yes, it does. We have that promise, and in many places, we as parents are told to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and God Himself mandates us in and through His Word to be very diligent and intentional about this high calling. For example, in
And how different our world would be if more parents had given themselves to that task right at the very outset when their little ones arrived in this world. And sometimes Christian parents do that; indeed, they do it to the very best of their ability; they raise their kids right, and their children, nevertheless, grow up to be all wrong. It sometimes happens, and right here in the morning lesson, we find that it happened to Mr. and Mrs. Manoah. This very fine couple worked very hard at parenting. I’m quite sure of that from my understanding of this text, one that I have looked at and pondered for many, many years. They did not have access to Dr. James Dobson, but what they did get was a set of directions from the angel of the Lord, and they heeded every word of it. They were very godly people. If you will look at
I can tell you that when my own children were born into this world, I had a lot of anxiety about it, and I was not really prepared. Faith and I had been married seven, nearly eight years, and we both did a lot of reading because we had never been around small children. When they were born I was prayed up and read up, and it was a glorious thing, and they were precious little bundles of love. And then, before too long, I realized that I had right before me the doctrine of total depravity in little diapers. I knew that something was very wrong, that they were little savages, and that they would require a lot of time and energy and effort and a lot of personal time and that it would cut into my study time. I remember saying, “Faith, how could you have done this to me?” Now, the remainder of that conversation will be released shortly after my death someday. But it is mandated upon us to seek God with respect to the raising of our children. We dare not put any confidence in the flesh. Little ones are such a sacred stewardship that they demand all that we can bring to it, and then a lot more. In fact, I have often said when we raise children, we learn a great deal about our own hearts, about our own selfishness, the areas where we are not sanctified. Raising children requires that we stay very close to God. That is not a time when we default. As I read this story, I see Manoah being very diligent, and I am convinced that he did it right, that he heeded directions. Mr. and Mrs. Manoah were conscientious and dutiful in the dispatch of their parenting abilities. I think they did it to the best of their ability, and yet Samson grew up to become a he-man with very serious “she” problems.
Samson started out in the Spirit, but he wound up in the flesh. He knew God, but he would not serve God, at least wholeheartedly. Yes, he was used, but not mightily. Though filled with the Spirit, he constantly grieved the Spirit. He never achieved God’s great plan for his life, though he did fulfill some of the Lord’s purposes for his life. The light that God wanted to shine through Samson’s life was little more than a flicker, and throughout his life, listen to this, he trifled with what was holy, trusted more in himself than in God. He was fleshly and sensual and unpredictable and irresponsible and vain. He was a disappointment to himself, to his family, to the nation, and to the Lord. You go through his life, and you will find four major weaknesses that contributed to his ungluing. Think about these with me: He focused on wrong objectives. I do not have time to go through and point it out to you, but he did. He handled leisure carelessly. He developed close alliances with the wrong crowd, and he failed to take God and his vow seriously. Now, I can tell you, Beloved, as a pastor/counselor that there is no pain like that when you are a parent, and you are on the other end of the way with children, when your children are out there, away from home, living in some Gaza, some sleazy place, married to some Philistine, being unequally yoked with some pagan. They may be living a licentious life, wandering aimlessly from job to job, never attending church, animated by utterly destructive, carnal appetites, and all the values that you sought to instill in them have been cast to the wind. I can tell you, it is absolutely wrenching, and yet, tragically, it happens. You know, we are never out of the woods with respect to our kids, whether they are eight years of age or forty. And when a boy or girl that was raised in the right ways goes in all the wrong directions, parents often nose dive into Herculean shame or emotional isolation, or we tend to personalize the failures of our children. A lot of private tears get shed, and even worse is the growing guilt that gnaws away day after day. It’s a false guilt, of course, but it is terrible and very hurtful and very destructive. I have a real heart, this morning, for such parents. I want to say that if you are related to Manoah’s kin and you have a son or daughter living a halfway Christian life or even a pagan life, even though in the yesteryears of your parenting you raised them in the church loving and nurturing them, and teaching them the right way to live, I have a comforting and, hopefully, a helpful word for you. I know there are some here and even others who will hear the tape who will be in need of the kind of counsel that I believe the Lord wants to bring to us in and through His Word. You see, it is all the more necessary because those of us who are en route with our children, though we can trust the promises of God and should, the fact is that our children may, at some point, go through a very difficult time, some season of apostasy, for lack of a better word, some period when they question everything or perhaps throw down what we believe and walk away from it. Then what happens?
Well, first of all, I would say if that has happened in your life, remember the great heart of God. I thank God for my Calvinism at this point, to be quite frank about it, which helps me to say that He gave your children to you; and long before they arrived, your life, even this season of anguish, was known to the Father, indeed, before the foundation of the world. We must never lose our grip on the great truth that God delights in saving the lost; for He desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Moreover, the Lord has promised that in all things, He is able to work for the good of those that love him, and so, I would say, throw yourself on the grace of God. Beat down the doors of Heaven; and, remember, those wonderful stories in the gospel like the story of the woman who came to the judge, the judge who feared neither God nor man, and the text says that because of her much knocking, he got up and attended to her need. You see, God is a God who will listen. His ears are open to the cries of the righteous. God desires to answer our prayers.
And then, second, know that the Lord is not condemning you. You see, when our children are away from the home or out of control and their back is to God, so that they have thrown away their faith or at least it feels like it, then many times we personalize all of that, and we begin to judge ourselves, but you need to know that in such seasons, the Lord is not condemning you. What may be condemning you may be something other than the Holy Spirit. Now, I do not want to hit this too hard, but it could that what is condemning you is your concern for your spiritual reputation or how you are being perceived, or maybe it is the need to explain yourself, to justify yourself, because of the mess that your children have made. However, I want to say, Beloved, you do not need to do that, and you should not do that. Our kids grow up, and the day comes when we are not responsible for their behavior or even for their choices. Remember the comforting words out of the
And then, third, I would say, remember that some departures from the Christian faith by our children are only temporary. It could be five years, could be three years, could be 10 or 20 years, but if one day is in the sight of the Lord like a thousand years, then despite the season of absence, or even the years the locust has eaten, restoration can occur. Where your children are now is not where they will always be. See, our children can get away from us, but they cannot get away from those everlasting arms and those pierced hands. Now, I really believe that.
And then, fourth, remember that the Lord loves our children more than we ever could. I find great comfort in that thought, and may I say to you, Beloved, that the lord Himself has dealt with wayward children. Indeed, He has had some wayward children, both in Israel and in Judea during the time of the divided monarchy in Israel and Judah. He knows the heartbreak. If you have a moment, and you can get there, you may want to turn to the book of
And some of you this morning are Manoah’s kin, and you are being crushed. And many of you know other Christian people who are being crushed because of the dissipation and licentious lifestyle and hellion ways of children once raised in the church but now far away from God. But God understands. And I believe He weeps with many Christian parents in the night watches who beat themselves up, who fall to a selfdeprecating spirit, who say to themselves and to those closest to them time and again, “Where did I blow it? How did I fail?” And we forget that there are those children who prefer their own will over against their divine will.
And finally I would say, especially when our children are of legal age, out of the home or either simply out of control, that we can still parent through prayer. I am going to tell you a great story. It was the fourth century, and there was a mother named Monica. Now, you will need to remember her name because she is one of the great mothers of Christendom, and she had a very handsome young son. Indeed, he was striking, a boy that she raised in the Christian faith; and yet in his later teen years her son abandoned Christianity altogether, and he lived a very immoral life. But Monica was unrelenting, and she continued to pray, at times, so numb from the hurt in her heart that she did not even feel that she was sincerely interceding. Have you ever been there? Times when she did not even think that she was being authentic before the Lord, praying words but not really even believing them in her heart. And when her boy was only sixteen years old, he took a mistress, and he lived with her for fifteen years. Then, he fell in love with another woman, but because she was underage, he had to wait for her for two years. In the meantime, he could not control his sexual urges, so he took a second mistress. He fathered an illegitimate child, he flitted from one job to another, he was erratic in his beliefs, he scorned the faith of his mother and mocked her and tormented her; and for the first thirty years of his life this young man was a hellion. There is just not other way to describe his life of debauchery and dissipation; and then one day that wayward boy was out in a lovely garden, and he heard a voice. He heard a voice saying, “Take up and read,” and he found an open Bible or a Bible, and he opened it, rather, and his eyes fell on these words, “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in clamoring and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lust thereof.” And that proved to be the transforming moment, so that all doubt passed away, and of his former life he later wrote, “For all those years in which I wallowed in the mire of that deep pit and the darkness of falsehood, that chaste, Godly, sober widow, my mother, ceased not at all hours of her devotion to be well my care unto the Almighty, and her prayers entered into the Lord’s presence.” Have you figured out of whom I am speaking? Well, I am referring to Saint Augustine, the noted church theologian and the great Fourth Century Bishop of Hippo.
Beloved, prayer works when we cannot; and, in the end, Samson again did turn to the God of his parents. Though he had lost his sight, his freedom, and the respect of his nation, the fact is, the old values did reemerge; and though the years that the locusts had eaten were never fully restored, the man died in faith. He died in obedience because he died delivering Israel, the very purpose for which he was elected according to
Ed Bonniwell is pastor of Faith Christian Fellowship Church in Cincinnati, OH.