Monday, April 27, 2015

You Can't Teach What You Don't Love

Living with an eight-year-old and twin six-year olds, rarely a day goes by that I'm not caught saying, "Did you hear me!? What did I just say?"

Sometimes, the children honestly didn't hear me over the noise of a very alive household.  Other times, they can't hear because that would require their mouths to close.  And then there are those times when I'm convinced they have simply tuned me out completely.

In this information overload culture of ours, I know the feeling.  I needn't leave my bed to be hit with a barrage of content that I must choose whether to sift through or simply ignore.  Often, good messages get lost in the steady stream of data bombarding me because it's easier to scan the long page or, more often, flick my index finger to delete them. 

How, then, are we as parents to communicate the gospel effectively to our children? With my children, I've already learned that even the medium-length lesson isn't worth the effort.  When their eyes glaze over, Twitter's 140 characters don't look so bad--maybe soundbites would reach their small, overloaded minds.  But while lengthy lessons don't work well for imparting a love of God and Scripture to our children, mere soundbites seem insufficient as well.  

Still, the Shema communicates the importance of teaching our children to follow God's commands.  It reads,

"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. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates" (Deut. 6:4-9).

As a parent, I am to "teach...diligently" the words of God to my children.  In the context of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses was basically telling the people to explain the law to their children just as he was explaining it to them before his death.  

In this passage, parents are commanded to make every moment a "teaching" moment.  Whether we are sitting (ha!), walking, lying down, or rising, we are to be teaching about God's law. 

There are easy ways to intentionally fulfill the literalness of this command.  Scriptures we have hidden in our hearts should readily flow from our lips.  We must stop being bashful about speaking the name of God to our children.  Instead, His name should be as common in our conversations as any other named member in our household.  

I understand this type of teaching and have worked diligently over the past few years to put it into practice, learning to routinely speak aloud my praises/requests/thoughts about God and the Bible rather than merely to keep private my relationship with Him.  As a result, conversations about God have become as common as conversations about what's wrong with mom's choice of dinner fare.   

But frankly, I sometimes wonder if I'm saying enough....if my words are getting through to my children, or if it's just more information overload that won't penetrate their hearts.  

The problem with this vein of thinking stems from me missing part of Moses' lesson.  I somehow skipped over a verse, separating this command to teach from the other command that precedes it.  

After proclaiming God's one-ness, Moses starts the passage with, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (v. 5).

Before we can properly teach our children, we must properly love the Lord with our everything.

It doesn't matter what we say about God to our children.  It matters how we love Him! Even Moses knew the old adage, "Actions speak louder than words."

If God's Word doesn't impact our hearts, how can we expect it to impact theirs?  The answer is that it won't.  Our teaching will necessarily fail if we do not love God with every atom of our beings because we will be guilty of saying one thing and doing another.

Yet, for those who do love the Lord and who seek to love Him all the more, this should be a comfort--even though we may not feel that our intentional teaching moments are reaching our children, we can rest a little easier knowing that our words aren't the only ways we're teaching them about following Jesus.

Every moment we breathe is a teaching moment because our very attitude teaches our children about the Lord.  
  • When we are excited about a passage of Scripture and share what we learned, we have just taught our children that the Bible can be exciting.  
  • When they see us intently studying Scripture on the sofa or see our Bible Study classes penciled in on the wall calendar, we have just taught them that making time for God is important.  
  • When we give money to the poor or take a meal to a sick friend, we have taught them to love their neighbor as themselves.  
  • When we choose to play praise music in our cars and enthusiastically sing aloud, we have just taught them the importance of singing praises to God in our routine, daily life outside the church walls.
The list of our daily actions could go on and on.  We are teaching our children to love God with the very lives we live, both before Him and before them

This week, we must continually ask ourselves if we are loving Jesus with all we've got. 

We will teach best what we love most.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Don't Make Your Wilderness Into Your Grave

We've all experienced a season in the wilderness.  Maybe we've even experienced more than one.

In our memories, it is a dark place of uncertainty, struggle, difficulty, and often pain.  It is not a desert we ever would have chosen to walk through, even if what it led to was worth the trip in retrospect.

There we stood in the wilderness--day after day, month after month, maybe even year after year....struggling to lift one foot in front of the other as we slogged up sandy dunes taller than we had ever climbed before.  Each dune was so tall that when we slid down to the valley between them, we could see neither where we were headed nor where we had been.  Some days, in the deepest core of our wilderness, even when we mastered another summit, all we beheld from that height were equally-high mountains of sand as far as the eye could see.

We lived in the wilderness, a barren desert with no entrance to retreat back through and no visible exit.

Why am I here?

The Israelites surely must have asked this very question as they camped in the wilderness with Moses after leaving behind the slavery of Egypt and aiming towards their Promised Land.

We all know the story, how an eleven day journey transformed into a 38+ year wandering in the desert after the people lacked sufficient faith to possess the Promised Land.  Thirty-eight years of pointless wandering in circles, all the while transforming their wilderness into a graveyard as tens of thousands of people died to fulfill God's judgment.

God said to that unfaithful group: "your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun. But your little ones, who you said would become a prey, I will bring in, and they shall know the land that you have rejected. But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness" (Num. 14:29-33).

God's desire was not for the Israelites to wander aimlessly in their wilderness for 40 years.  He longed for them to have faith in Him.  He longed for them to obey Him.  Instead of grumbling and disobeying God in their lack of faith, God wanted them to understand that yes, they were meant to go through this difficult time in the wilderness, but to also understand that He. Was. There.  What's more, He. Was. Enough. 

God was with them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.  God was with them in the daily manna.  God was even with them in the evening quail after they grumbled about the monotony of manna.   

All the while, He was striving to prepare their hearts in that wilderness.  He was working to bring them to a Promised Land of plenty that He had prepared for them.  

As Moses told the Israelites, "And he [the Lord] brought us out from there [Egypt], that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers" (Deut. 6:23). 

The Lord brought them out of Egypt so he could bring them in to the Promised Land.   

He didn't merely bring them "out" in order for them to remain in the wilderness.  He desired to bring them "in" to a land where they could be fruitful.  And yet, instead of believing God....instead of obeying God, their disobedience kept God from bringing them "in" to the land of promise.

What cuts me to the quick is that last verse in the Numbers 14 passage above: "And your children....shall suffer for your faithlessness" (v. 33).

The children suffered for the faithless disobedience of their fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers.  Innocent children.....suffering needlessly for their elders' sin.  

This is not a mere history story.  It is not a "let's point our fingers at those stupid Israelites" story either.  No.  This lesson applies even to those of us this side of the cross--to those of us adopted into Moses and Abraham's spiritual family.  

Jesus told His disciples to expect difficulty in their lives if they chose to obey and follow Him: "A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also" (Jn. 15:20). He promised them trials to test them, to sanctify their souls. In short, He promised the child of God seasons in the wilderness.

God will send you and me through the wilderness. If for no other reason, He will be saving us from ourselves by working to sanctify our souls.  It's just a matter of when.  

When those seasons come, though, we can rest in peace knowing that as we struggle through the difficult days, God does not intend for us to remain there in our wilderness until all that's left are our sun-bleached bones. The wilderness need not be our grave.  

God only leads us "out" into the wilderness to "bring us in" to something far greater, to somewhere that we can bear fruit!  It's simply up to us to seek Him in our difficulty so that our hearts do not turn bitter and defiant.  

Otherwise, in our disobedience, we not only doom ourselves to pointless wandering in our wilderness, but we doom our children to all too many years of that fate as well.

Image: Stone marked grave in Libya