The Next Generation ~ 20090830 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
8/30/2009 The Next Generation
Over the summer we have had most of the kids in the service with their parents, and I think that has been good. Stretching at times, but good. It is good to worship as a body and learn and grow together as families. There is a sense of unity that is beneficial, and it gives most of our teachers a much needed break. Next Sunday we launch our Sunday School classes and Children's Worship, and that too will be good. It is good to give our kids more individualized attention and hands on learning opportunities, and it opens up opportunities for our adults to grow as they step into leadership and teaching roles and learn along side our kids. We just finished up Vacation Bible School, where our kids had opportunities to learn about God and grow, and in a few weeks we will be launching our AWANA program for our elementary kids, with a huge emphasis on Bible memorization. I'm very excited about what we are able to offer for our kids, and I want to exhort you and encourage you in your involvement in these opportunities to serve our Lord Jesus. Jesus said
But I want to remind us that these programs are optional and they are secondary. They are not primary and they are not essential to the life of the church. I could envision a growing, healthy, biblical church that does not have any of these programs. Nowhere in the bible does it say 'thou shalt teach Sunday school', or 'thou shalt have a youth group'. Here's what Jesus does say:
I think that VBS and AWANA and Sunday school and youth group are good ways of letting the children come to Jesus, but they are not the only ways, and I would even dare to say that they should not be the main ways our kids grow in their relationship with Jesus. Look back at Psalm 78 and see where the responsibility lies: in verse 3 it says 'things... that our fathers have told us' and in verse 5 it says 'he commanded our fathers to teach to their children'. This year I didn't give a special Father's day or Mother's day message. So here it is – a Father's day and Mother's day and Grandparent's day message all rolled into one.
Look back at Deuteronomy, where Moses urged the people of Israel to keep their focus on the centrality and majesty of God. In chapter 4, Moses reminds us of the danger of following other gods, and he warns:
Keep your own soul diligently, so that you can make God known to your children and grandchildren. In chapter 5, Moses reminds the people of the 10 commandments that God gave, and the central command to fear and love God with all your being:
You must fear the LORD, you and your son, and your son's son. It is the responsibility of parents to model and diligently teach the fear and love of the LORD to their children, using any means possible. He tells us again in chapter 11:
The primary responsibility of passing on a vision of God and his glory to the next generation does not rest on the church or the Sunday school teachers or youth group leaders. The responsibility of raising the next generations to fear and worship the one true God rests squarely on the shoulders of the parents, particularly the fathers. Look back to Psalm 78 at the multi-generational goal of this exhortation:
We are not simply responsible for training our kids to know and love and serve Jesus. We are held accountable for equipping our kids to lead and teach the generations to come. It is one thing to train someone to have a personal relationship with God; it is another thing to equip someone to train others for leadership. And that is what we are called to do as parents, and secondarily as a church. Kids, that is our prayer for you – not just that you become followers of Jesus, but that you become leaders and point the generations after you to follow your example as you follow Christ.
I've heard some nonsense of parents not wanting to force kids to believe what they believe, but laying out the options and letting the kids decide for themselves. That's an arrogant statement, because it presumes that you can persuade them to follow what you believe. You can't. Only God can create new life in your child, but he has given you the responsibility and privilege of teaching your kids the truth and leading them in the way they should go and praying earnestly for that work of God in their heart. It's a foolish and irresponsible statement, because when your two year old has a fever, you don't empty the medicine cabinet onto the kitchen table and say – here's the options, you decide. And it's a lazy attitude, because what it means is 'I know raising children to fear and love the one true God is hard work, and I'd rather not put in the effort. There is a roaring lion that is seeking someone to devour. Don't send your kids out into the world with their hands tied behind their back!
Some of you are single mothers, or have an unbelieving spouse. What about your situation? How can you possibly do this alone or in a divided house? Is there any hope when the primary responsibility lies with the father? Let me hold out one example as an encouragement to you: young pastor Timothy. Paul encourages Timothy to continue in the faith he had embraced from childhood.
But from whom did he learn it? A godly father?
Timothy's father is not mentioned. It is quite possible that he grew up in a single parent home, or if his father was around, he was no help in the spiritual formation of this young man. And Timothy was called to pastor the church that Paul had planted in Ephesus. Paul called Timothy to fight the good fight of faith, and to set an example for the believers in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. He charged him to preach the word, whether that was what people wanted to hear or not. And Paul is convinced that Timothy's sincere faith was passed to him through his mother and grandmother. By God's grace a single mom can raise a leader for future generations!
Look back at Psalm 78. I want to focus on the content and goal of the training. What is it we must convey to our children, and what is the response we want to see in them?
So he's encouraging varied methods of communication; teaching, conversation - words of mouth, parables, and dark sayings or difficult truths. Matthew (13:35) cites this verse as being fulfilled by Jesus teaching in parables.
These are not only things that we have heard. He says 'heard and known'. We are not simply to mimic or parrot a truth, but to ingest and internalize it first. The truth must be known and practiced by the teacher before it can be effectively passed on to the student.
But what is the content that we are to pass on to the coming generation?
The glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. The 'what' that we are to pass on is the 'who' of who God is. Why should we fear this God and love him with all our heart and soul and might? Because of who he is as seen in what he has done. The rest of the Psalm goes on to recount some of the historical deeds of awesome power and might, like the parting of the red sea, the pillar of cloud and of fire in the wilderness, water from the rock and food from heaven, the ten plagues that he brought on Egypt, and the supernatural conquest of the promised land; but more than that, the thread of his relentless mercy and grace runs through the whole chapter. All these mighty acts of God in caring for his people and yet his people were stubborn, rebellious and unfaithful, refusing him and forgetting what he had done, sinning and testing God, even speaking against him, unbelief and distrust, sin and unbelief, lying, provoking, turning away and acting treacherously, moving him to jealousy with their idols. God's anger flashed and his just wrath and discipline was poured out, but over and over and over he was gracious and he exercised his awesome power on their behalf; he made a way for them and led them and was a light to their path, he gave them water to drink from a rock and rained down food from heaven, he was compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger; he was grieved; but he turned his anger toward their enemies, he led his people like sheep, guided them in the wilderness, he led them to safety, brought them to his holy land and drove out nations before them and settled them; he chose them and shepherded them.
We are to communicate to the coming generation the great and glorious renown of God - the fame of his name, the sheer terror of his power, the stunningly amazing gift of his grace toward the undeserving. We must communicate who God is in all his majestic awesomeness and soul-satisfying beauty in a way that is compelling.
But what is our goal? What do we want our kids to come away with? Are we shooting for a one year bible certificate that says they know the right answers to all the important questions? Do we want them to be biblically literate so they can teach their own kids who Adam and Noah and Abraham and Moses and Matthew and Paul and Jesus were? Do we want you to be able to list the attributes of God and explain the Trinity?
Verse 7 gives the goal of parental instruction – 'so that they should set their hope in God'. This is what Peter has been teaching us in 1 Peter. In the first 12 verses he painted a picture of our awesome God and described his great mercy toward sinners, and laid out the riches of the promises that God has made to us, and then he tells us 'therefore, set your hope fully on grace' (1:13). 'So that they should set their hope in God'. How is it that our children will come to set their hope in God? If we don't set before them the incomprehensibly limitless power of creator God, our kids will hope in superman or the x-men. If we don't hold out to them the infinite skill and persevering faithfulness of our covenant keeping God, they will set their hope in the next great athlete that comes on the scene. If they don't see God's infinite wisdom and care, our kids will hope in human wisdom and the pursuit of knowledge and the advances of technology. If they don't grasp the absolute holiness of his character and nature, their admiration will fall on another object. If we don't show them his overwhelming grace toward desperately sick and undeserving sinners, they might even hope in their own intrinsic goodness and worth. We must give them a God who is big enough to be hoped in!
He goes on: 'and not forget the works of God'. The character of God is most clearly seen in his awesome acts. That's why much of the bible is narrative – stories. In every piece of history, we should be asking 'what can I learn about who God is from this story?' We need to know the stories, because the stories teach us that God is worthy to be hoped in.
The next one is puzzling – framed as opposites: 'not this but that'. What would you expect? Do not forget, but instead I want you to ??? (remember). Instead he sets obedience as the opposite of forgetfulness and says 'Do not forget, but keep his commandments'. Here's how this works. God commands that we trust in him and hope in him and love him more than anything else and follow him and depend on him. When we've seen how he's been always faithful in the past, it makes sense to hope in him for our future. But if we forget what he's like, then we might be tempted to disobey him by hoping and trusting in something else. Obedience is the fruit of rock-solid confidence in the character of God. Obedience is embracing the 'right' of God. It is God's right as God to make the rules, and all the rules he makes are right -the best possible rules that bring maximum joy to those who follow them.
We want you children to see God for who he is so that you will set your hope in God and not forget the works of God but keep his commandments, and we don't want you to be like us in the ways we have blown it. This is a humbling way to instruct our children. Kids, don't be like your dad, because your dad is stubborn and rebellious. (I could hear mom saying that to the kids, but remember, this is coming from the fathers). I am stubborn and rebellious. My heart was not steadfast, and I was not faithful to God. I want you to see God for who he truly is, but I don't want you to be limited in your pursuit of God by my ineptness and failure in my pursuit of God. Please, children, pass me up in your wholehearted pursuit of holy joy in God. Don't be stubborn, but be pliable in God's hand. Don't rebel against God, but submit gladly to his gracious and good plan. My heart was prone to wander, you fix your affections firmly on God and do not be moved. My spirit was plagued by unbelief – I was not faithful to God. You, see God for who he is, never forget what he's done, hope in him and keep your faith fully fixed on him.
This is what we want for our kids. We want you to be so captivated by a true vision of who God is that you are gladly surrendered to his authority in your life, that you are rock solid in your commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, following where he leads and doing what he calls you to do, trusting that he is good and what he does is right.
Parents, how do we effectively pass this on to our children. I've attempted to say it in a way that is compelling, and maybe I've gotten some of you fired up about communicating the greatness of God to the future generations. That might last the afternoon. What are some take-home things that we can put into practice that will gain momentum toward faithfully communicating this most important truth to the next generation?
We must experience it.
Our lives must revolve around God as the center of our universe. Our lives will revolve around whatever has the most attraction or pull or gravity. Our actions will reveal our true affections. We must stop and take a fresh look at who God is and re-center our lives around him. We must taste him for ourselves before we can commend him to others.
Psalm 34:8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! 9 Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!11 Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
We must remember.
We need to be constantly reminded of God's overwhelming grace that is constantly poured our in our own wretched lives. Look back over God's undeserved grace to you and be freshly amazed that he extended mercy to a sinner like you.
Finally, we must be humble.
A proud person has something to offer. A humble person is acutely aware of their own insufficiency and willing to receive the free handout of another. We don't want our kids to hope in us or in the church; we want you to hope in GOD!