Sunday, June 21, 2009

Post # 150: Passing on a Heritage: A Father's Day Sermon

Originally Published on 6/15/08

Watching television one day, I saw a news story on Steve Forbes; Forbes was running for President that year. Part of the story featured a party for friends on the Forbes yacht. One would think that multi-millionaire (or billionaire?) Forbes would hire the best in terms of food and service. Yet who waited on the guests? All five Forbes daughters, from the oldest to the youngest (who was not yet a teenager). The reporter asked the girls whether or not they resented waiting on guests. Not one complaint. The older girls comment was that they had been performing this task for as long as they were able. In other words, from an early age, these girls were trained to forget their wants and wishes for an evening to serve others.

Hearing their answer reminded me of Communist China's Chairman Mao's assertion: "Give me a child at five and he is mine forever." Twentieth century communists knew this principle well. Whenever they gained control of a nation, they took children away from parents living in the conquered territory. These children would be indoctrinated into communist thinking so that they would no longer identify themselves with the culture they were born in, but they would think of themselves as communists. The rationale for this was to prevent the conquered nation from even wanting to throw off the yoke of oppression once the next generation came of age. Also, the communists wanted to identify the best and brightest of these children so their talent could be denied to their homeland and people. This tactic was not invented in the twentieth century; it is as old as man, and we can see this tactic employed by Israel's conquerors in the Old Testament.

In Daniel 1:1-8, we can read that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, captured Israel after God gave it into his hands. The King ordered a portion of Israel's young male population to be brought to Babylon. Who were the males the King was seeking? "...young men in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king's palace, and whom they might teach the language and literature of the Chaldeans." (Dan. 1: 4) These young males went through three years of training so that they would be able to serve the King. They were given Babylonian names so that they would lose their Hebrew identity. Four young Israelites, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were renamed Belteshezar, Shadrack, Meshack and Abed-Nego. (Dan. 1: 5-7)

The Babylonians were purposeful in their attempts to remake Israel's youth into Baylonians. But Daniel had purposed in his heart not to participate in training that dishonored God and His Law, risking death for his obedience to God. (Dan 1:8) Where did this courage originate from? Fortunately, Daniel's parents were just as purposeful as the Babylonians in training a child. The most quoted Old Testament scripture in Ancient Israel was Deut 6:4-12 :

"Hear O Israel:The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 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. So it shall be when the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant-when you have eaten and are full-then beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage."

This verse taught the Israelites to engage in purposeful child-training. Children were to be taught from an early age the Law of God. Daniel would not have known that the training the Babylonians were going to subject him to (Dan 1:5) violated God's Law for Israel if his parents had not taught him what is lawful. But God didn't expect Israel to learn His Word for the sake of knowledge only. The knowledge was a guide to action and attitude, that no matter what circumstances Israelites would find themselves in, they would never forget to honor and obey God and His Law. (Deut 6:12)

The world understands the value of this principle, the purposeful training of its children. The Church ignores this principle to its detriment, placing the next generations of Christians in danger of losing their souls. The goals parents should strive for are set by God and He has outlined the goal and how to achieve it in His Word. His Word is not just knowledge we are to know and teach. The Word is to guide our actions. The book of Proverbs was not just helpful advice on how to get along; Proverbs teaches us how to engage in SKILLFUL LIVING, the way to become what God wants us to be in a hostile world. When we train ourselves and our children in God's ways as outlined in His Word, when we do this IN FAITH, the Holy Spirit transforms us and our children and empowers us to live a life that pleases God.

We can see this principle work in the family of John the Baptist. Luke 1:6 tells us that his parents, Zacharias and Elizebeth, "...were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." Both certainly felt honored when God chose them to produce the one who would be the long prophesied herald of the Messiah. However, their son would just be the herald; he would one day be overshadowed by the one he proclaimed to the world. Yet the scriptural evidence indicates that neither parent felt any jealousy toward the one their son would be a herald for. When Elizebeth was visited by Mary, the mother of the Messiah, this was her reaction:

"Now Mary arose in those days and went to the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizebeth. And it happened, when Elizebeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizebeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke with a loud voice and said, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the MOTHER OF MY LORD (capital letters added for emphasis) should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.' " (Lk 1:39-45)

Had not Elizebeth walked blameless before the Lord, then she might have reacted differently to Mary's greeting. She could have thought to herself, "I have walked blameless before the Lord all these years; I am the wife of a priest! Yet my offspring must serve the child of a young girl who has not yet been married? This is not fair!" But since she walked all those years before God blameless, she became one who wanted what God wanted to come to pass. She had no envy of her young cousin or her unborn child. Neither did her husband, Zacharias. In Lk 1: 76-79, the father of John the Baptist celebrated the son's mission to herald the Messiah. The focus of his words were on Jesus' mission of saving mankind from their sins. Again, there was no envy in the father of John:

"And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our way into the feet of peace."

As both Zacharias and Elizebeth walked before the Lord blameless, so they trained their son to do the same. When he undertook his mission, he was followed by crowds. He was the son of a priest. He was older than his cousin, Jesus. There were no question about who John's father was. Yet when he saw the Spirit descend like a dove and remain on Jesus, John declared for all to hear: "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn 1:29) When Jesus began to gain more followers than John, John felt no remorse, envy, or jealousy. "He must increase, but I must decrease." (Jn 3:30) John was truly more than the physical son of his parents; in that he followed the way in which they had trained him, he was their spiritual heir as well.

The same dynamic of training and obedience in Gods Word leading to Holy Spirit formation and transformation is available to all of Christ's followers and their families. God doesn't just hope we seek this dynamic, He demands it of us, both as disciples and as parents, training our children to be disciples. Both parents are important, but on this Father's Day, this message is for you fathers. Your importance in forming your child's spiritual development cannot be over estimated. Studies show that if a father refuses to attend Church, that father's children will likely follow his example, even if the mother does attend and bring the children when they are young. Some Christians think the Evangelical Church has been looking inward at the expense of the rest of the world through the Church's focus on fostering healthy, two parent families. Yet it is the two parent family that brings the stability that makes the ills of society less likely to occur. Government programs have fostered a culture of "fatherlessness" and have caused society much pain and instability. It is interesting that some within the Church have condemned movements such as Promise Keepers for creating a "militant male" syndrome among Evangelical men. Yet these groups want nothing more than for fathers to fulfill the role ordained for them by God.

Fathers, if you will learn and obey God's Word, and if you will raise your children to not only know Scripture but follow its commands, DOING ALL IN FAITH, then your children will rightly consider you one with that "cloud of witnesses" Hebrews 12:1 speaks of, whose example inspires all of Christ's disciples to "lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb 12: 1-2)

(All Quotes from Scripture are from the NKJV)

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