One month from tomorrow, we will have been parents for 28 years. How exciting it was when our first and second and third children were born. We could hardly wait to share the news and to have everyone see our child. Now as I see the look in parents eyes as people admire their baby, I can understand. It is a time of rejoicing.
However, a few weeks into parenting, we realized how hard it might be as we couldn’t get our baby to stop crying. A few years into parenting, we realized what a great responsibility it would be as our son imitated what we did - and not only the good habits. Someone has writen, "The footsteps a child follows are most likely to be the ones his parents thought they covered up." A decade into parenting, that realization was reinforced again when our child came home with words we weren’t used to hearing. And then, eighteen years into parenting, we suddenly realized that we better have done a good job because our future influence would be much smaller, because they were on their own.
Parenting is a great blessing, but also a great responsibility. Today, on Mother’s Day and also on a day when we have celebrated child dedication for six children, the thought of parenting is very much on our minds. What is the nature of the parental role? How can we carry it out well?
Some of you enjoy watching The Amazing Race. There was an episode a month or so ago when one of the teams made it to their final destination, but when they got there, the host said to them, you are at the right place, but you don’t have your ticket with you and you have to go back. How disappointing to get to the end and find that you haven’t got it.
In a relay race, four runners in turn do their laps around the track. When the first runner gets to the second runner, she hands a baton to her. That baton must be handed from runner to runner and must be there at the end of the race. If one of the runners would drop the baton and keep on running, it would be useless. They would get to the end and they may have the best time, they may have the best looking uniforms, they may have made the greatest effort, but if they don’t have the baton, they will not win the race. How disappointing it would be to get to the end and find that you haven’t got it.
In the child dedication, we make a commitment as a congregation to the children being brought for dedication that we will provide an exemplary environment of faith. We say that “By our example and our words we will help them come to faith.” As parents, you make a commitment to “a home atmosphere of devotion, prayer and daily dedication to the Christian way…” If we are people who attend this congregation and especially if we are parents of children, we must have it if we want to pass it on. Deuteronomy 6:6 says that it is “…to be upon your hearts.” This passage says a lot about having it. What is it that we must have before we can pass it on to our children?
It is about knowing God. Deuteronomy 6:4 was the “John 3:16” of the Old Testament. Every Jew knew it from memory, it was the foundation of their faith. The truths communicated there are truths which are still significant today. There are two truths spoken here.
One is that The Lord is our God. This speaks of relationship. It reveals the good news that we have a relationship with the one who is above all. God is the sovereign one. He is creator, has all power, knows everything that happens in the world. But understanding that as head knowledge is not it. The key concept is “our.” It is about knowing God. It is about having a relationship with God who is above all.
The second truth is that this God is “one.” There is only one God. People develop a relationship with many supreme concepts. In the Old Testament and even in many cultures today, people put their hope in idols. They have a superstitious view of religion and place their confidence in some spiritual source of power. In our modern world it is much more common for people give themselves to power in government, some give themselves to the power of money. These are their gods. But none of these gods really have power. We have the privilege of giving ourselves to the one and only true God who is above all power and authority. There is no one like Him.
Having it, means that as parents, we need to have a living relationship with this one and only God. If we do not have such a relationship, we will have nothing to pass on to our children. We may have the most money, the best clothes, provide our children with every earthly comfort, but if we do not call God our God and have Him as the only God in the every day practice of life we will have nothing to pass on to our children.
Have you got it?
Furthermore, it’s about love. Deuteronomy 6:5 says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” This command is foundational to having it. Jesus repeated this command in the gospels in Matthew 22:37.
What does it mean to love the Lord? It means to recognize how amazingly God has loved us first and has given us life by sending Jesus to die on the cross for us. Our love for God is a response to His first love for us.
How does it feel to love someone? If you have ever experienced love as a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, child or parent, you know that in a true love relationship there is a longing for the other person. In a deep love relationship there is commitment. When those who love each other are together there is joy and peace and it is good. My prayer for each of us is that we will have such a love for God. The Bible calls us to such a relationship of intimacy.
The text says that we are to love God with all our heart. What does that mean? The heart is the seat of emotions. If we really love God, we must feel something towards Him. To love God with all your heart means that there can be nothing half hearted about it. Sometimes our heart can be divided, but in our love to God, there must be no division. Do you love God with all your heart?
The text further invites us to love God with all your soul. The soul is the center of personality. That is who you really are. Loving God with all your soul means that it is not a show we put on or a mask we wear. Our love for God must be fully a part of who we are.
The text also indicates that we are to love God with all our strength. True love acts. It is demonstrative. Our love for God must be shown in everything we do!
If we love someone, it will be obvious in many ways - in the way we think and especially in the way we act. If I say, "I love to play hockey" but never show up for a game, is it really true to say that I love hockey? If I say that I love my wife, but then put her down or seldom speak to her or take her out can it really be said that I love her? Love must be demonstrated in some way or it isn't really love at all. How do we show our love for God?
Let me ask a question - What are you showing your children, do’s and don’ts or love for God? Have you got it?
The third part of it is obedience. Obedience permeates the text. It is mentioned in 6:1, 2, 3, 17, 24, 25.
Although we come to Christ through faith, that faith will result in doing what God wants. If we know Him, knowing that He is the one and only Lord. If we love Him, then doing what He says will not be a matter of duty and fear, but a joyful response of obedience.
Earlier, I mentioned the concept of a relay race and having the baton to carry it on to the next runner. In a family, we have got to have it - knowing God, loving God and obeying God. And, we have got to keep it. Just as a runner can drop the baton, we can drop our hope and faith in God in the midst of life and if we do we will not have it to pass on to the next generation. In the passage, the writer warns about several things that can cause us to lose it.
In Deuteronomy 6:10-12, we are warned, “when you eat and are satisfied do not forget the Lord.” What a powerful warning. When we have so much that we become self sufficient we may get to the place where we think we don’t really need the Lord any more. It is possible for us to drop it and stop loving the Lord with all our heart and stop seeking Him as the one and only God. Prosperity and abundance expose us to the danger of forgetting the Lord and His manifestations of mercy.
In Deuteronomy 6:13-15, another danger is mentioned by which we could lose it. We are warned, “do not follow other gods.” Now you may say, “I haven’t seen too many wooden statues in temples lately, but we know that wooden or stone statues are not the only gods. A god is anything that we depend on other than God. When we get sick, if our first thought is not a prayer, but a call to the doctor, we have other gods. If we run into financial difficulty and our first call is to the credit union manager, instead of a prayer, we have other gods. If we have a conflict with someone and our first response is telling our neighbour about it before we talk to God, we have other gods. If our foundational understanding is “the Lord is our God, the Lord is one,” then that is where we need to go first if we have it.
The third warning is found in Deuteronomy 4:16-19 where we are told “do not test the Lord your God.” Israel tested the Lord by doubting that he was good and that He would provide for them. He had demonstrated that He loved them and had all power when he brought them out of Egypt. Not long after, we read in Exodus 17:7, “they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” We have had a similar powerful demonstration of the love of God when He sent Jesus to die for us and redeem us from sin and death. If we doubt His goodness, we drop it.
Have you got it? I am speaking not just to the parents, but to the whole congregation. According to the commitments we have made this morning in the child dedication, we all must have it if we want to pass it on to the next generation.
I have visited some of your places where you have poured concrete and I have noticed that in the corner of the concrete, there are names or initials of those who were involved in pouring the concrete or those who own it and I have recognized these names and initials. For as long as that concrete pad is in existence, that name will be inscribed on it. It is permanently present there.
Inscribing your name in concrete is easy, when it is wet, but, how do we engrave faith into the lives of our children? The word used in Deuteronomy 6:7 is a word with this kind of a meaning. The root of the Hebrew word means to sharpen or cut and has the idea of engraving. It is translated “impress” in the NIV and “teach diligently” in numerous translations. The Message simply says, “get them inside your children.” How do we get true faith into our children?
Having it is the first strategy in raising children. They will learn what they see.
But we must also be deliberate about it. Faith must be taught and caught and that is why what it says here is so significant.
The first practical advice is that faith must be communicated wherever you are. You can’t leave it for Sunday School, you can’t wait until the mature in their understanding when they turn 12 years old. As soon as they are born, faith must be lived before them and we must make conscious efforts of teaching to communicate that faith to our children. When our children were young, Carla took a large scrap book and in that book she printed short Bible verses with pictures. We noticed that kids quite quickly could “read” a book because they had heard it so often. So we “read” this book Carla had made to them and they memorized Scripture. When we were traveling, we listened to a lot of tapes. One of my favorite was the GT and the Halo Express series. It was songs whose words were Scripture and when the kids learned the songs, they also memorized Scripture. These are some of the formal ways in which we taught faith sitting at home or driving along the road. Informal things included going to church regularly and praying with them in various situations.
I learned these lessons in informal ways from my parents. One of the times when I learned about the faith of my parents was when they opened a second photo studio. This was a big decision and it involved a great risk. My parents asked advice, they prayed and then made the decision. It was an example to me of how their faith operated in every day life.
Furthermore, it also says that we should teach faith “when you lie down and when you get up.” That means in the evening when you go to bed and in the morning when you get up. In other words, teaching faith in formal and informal settings is an every day, all day matter.
My mom and dad worked together in the photo studio. Their work involved working from Monday to Saturday and since it was a photo studio, it involved a lot of Saturday work. My dad also loved fishing and hunting and would sometimes take a few days to do that. It would have been easy to leave on Saturday night or Sunday morning, but their commitment to the body of believers meant that we did not go until after church. At that time, we had evening church and so if we left, it was after that or even Monday morning. From this example, I learned about the importance of keeping our primary commitments.
The third practical suggestion given is in verse 8,9.
The word "binding on the forehead," in verse 8, means to place a mark on the forehead. It was used of marking slaves. Orthodox Jews still try to fulfill this passage in literal ways in much the same way as they did many years ago. They put a little box on their forehead called a Phylactery. In the box is a small portion of scripture. Thus they think that they are keeping this command.
The word "doorposts" in verse 9 is the word, "mezuzah." It means, "gate posts." In a similar way as with the phylacteries, Jews put a copy of the scripture on the door posts of their houses called a "mezuzah." With this they tried to make a statement about the faith of those who live in this house.
It is a good idea to have visible reminders around us to help us remember God and His truth. Having a Bible in a visible place, verses on the fridge or on a plaque or some other such visible reminder of God’s truth.
Of course, we need to be careful not to have the visible reminders without the reality. Jesus comments on the superficial way in which this was done by the Pharisees in Mat.23:5. There He says, “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long…”
There was a Jewish custom in which the parents would place a drop of honey on a copy of the Torah and then have the children kiss it. In this way they learned that the words of that book are sweet. How can we help our children learn that God and His Word are worthy of our full attention?
One writer gives some simple ideas for parents to nurture young children's faith.
1. Teach hymns and spiritual songs.
2. Share a Bible story everyday.
3. Make prayer a priority in your home.
4. Memorize short Bible passages.
5. Read your Bible where your children can see you.
6. Go to church and Sunday school
A quote from an article by Focus on the Family says, “In other words, we can't instil these attitudes during a brief, two-minute bedtime prayer, or during formalized training sessions. We must live them from morning to night. They should be reinforced during our casual conversation, punctuated with illustrations, demonstrations, compliments and chastisements. This teaching task is, I believe, the most important assignment God has given to us as parents.”
There is another excellent suggestion in verses 20-25. There the condition is set forth, “when you son asks you…” and the response is “tell him.”
One of the important practices in the Jewish home was the observance of the Passover. With this celebration, the children were reminded of what God had done for them. It was a beautiful celebration which involved the whole family. The youngest child would ask, "why is this night different than any other night?" This would set up the opportunity to tell the story of God's work.
It is essential to tell our children the stories of the Bible. We need to let them see all that God has done and telling Bible stories, especially the story of salvation is critical. But, we also need to teach them from the book of Second Acts. In Acts 1, Luke says that he wrote about “what Jesus began to do and to teach.” Acts, then, is a continuation of what Jesus was doing in the life of the church. Acts ends abruptly in chapter 28, but Second Acts, is the record of all that Jesus continues to do to this day. It is the story of what Jesus has done in your family and in your life. Are you telling your children the story of what God has done for you? Reading the story of my mother and grandmother has been a great boost of faith for me. It is the story of what God has done in my family and has had an impact on me. I hear about people writing their stories and when those stories include a person’s experience with God, it is a great way to pass on faith.
In summary, if you have it, pass it on. This means that we need to have it first of all. This is true of parents and also of all of us because children see faith in all those around them. It means, furthermore, that as parents we need to pass it on.
In conclusion, I want you to notice that there are promises in this passage. Verse 2 says, “so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord …and so that you may enjoy long life.” Verse 25 says, “that will be our righteousness.”
The promises are made to Israel and pertain somewhat to the land. But there is enough in Scripture to help us understand that if we follow God’s way, we will experience blessing. If we have it, we will walk in the blessing of God. If we pass it on, our children will come to faith and they will also experience the blessing of God. The other day, someone shared that they rejoiced that they had never known a generation in their family who did not follow the Lord. They took this as a blessing from the Lord and so it is.
So, let me wish the parents here, especially the mothers today, a blessing from the Lord in the significant work of your parental role. Let me challenge both parents and all of us to realize the privilege and responsibility of being godly fathers, mothers and of passing faith on to our children. If you have it, pass it on.