Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cornerstone Questions: How Do We Teach Our Kids What It Means To Be In The World But Not Of It?

I often receive many questions from people in my church on all different topics. I suppose that if they have these questions, there are probably others that are thinking the same things. In particular, I have received several questions during this series on the family. I have tried to answer several of them during my messages, but I wanted to take the time to answer a few specific ones over the next couple of weeks.

Question: We struggle with outside influences, such as morality, values, trying to keep positive when our children see other people doing the wrong thing. How do we keep our family strong in the faith with so many influences outside of our home especially school, friends, and people that are not Christians or do not have our values? How can we teach our kids what it truly means to live in the world but not of it?

I have a 12-year old, 10-year old, and 7-year old; this question means as much to me as it might to other people. I am greatly concerned about the things of the world and the things that influence them. Remember that as I try to answer this question.

As we think about this question, we must find the balance between protection of our children and over-protection of them. If the mother bird never pushes the baby out of the nest, it will never learn to fly. But if the mother bird pushes the baby bird out too soon, it will fall to its death. That's a lot of pressure on the mother bird. That's a lot of pressure on the parent who is trying to protect their child from the things of the world.

The following three concepts are things I have learned over the years and am still learning about bringing up my children with the gospel as I try to protect them from the things of the world.

I Cannot Keep My Children From Sin. 
I can shelter them forever. I can keep them from every outside influence. I could not allow them to have any friends other than our family. And they would still be sinners. I am reminded at what Jesus said when confronted with this sort of question. In Mark 7, Jesus is having another interaction with the religious leaders of Israel. They are upset that he does not wash his hands in a ceremonial way, like they do. Jesus responds in this way:
"Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him." (Mark 7:14-15)
To be clear, Jesus is talking about food being contaminated because it touches hands that were not ceremonially cleaned. He says the food goes in and then is eliminated. But then he goes on to remind them these powerful words:
"What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." (Mark 7:20-22)
I am reminded that I could protect my kids by never allowing them to watch a Rated R, PG-13, or even PG movie and they will still be sinners. I could never allow them to spend the night at someone house and they will still be covetous or proud in their heart. This is a foundational issue. I am reminded that their greatest need is a result of what comes from within them, not what someone else might teach them.

I Continually Pray For Their Protection.
I cannot say this enough. I pray for the protection of my children. I pray that they would not see things they shouldn't see. I pray they wouldn't hear things they shouldn't hear. I pray that God would help them to forget things they have seen and heard. But what I don't do is to completely isolate them from the world. Once again, Jesus was faced with this situation with his disciples and His prayer has been very important for me in my parenting.
"I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world." (John 17:15-17)
I understand that Jesus is talking about adult men at this point. I understand that He is talking about chosen adult men. And I do understand that He is talking about followers of Christ at this point. All of those things come into play as I think about what influences I allow into their life. I try to respond to them like the cone to the right. The younger they are, the less influences. The older they become, the more influences I allow into their life. This leads to the last major issue I think about as I parent my children.

I Want Them To Fail At Home Before Failing On Their Own.
I have seen it all too often. A child was sheltered so much as they grew up and then they go to college. At college, they are now making decisions for the first time and it is like the shackles of their life have been lifted. And they experiment with everything. For the first time in their life, they are forced to make moral choices. And being on their own, they have not been taught how to make those sort of choices.

Because of this, I want to give my children opportunities to make decisions now in their life that they will have to deal with the consequences. I want to teach them what it means to think through situations in life with a gospel grid. Let me offer on illustration.

I grew up in a home that was told never to listen to secular music. While that is what I was told, it didn't stop me from doing it. In fact, my sinful heart wanted it more and more because I was told I couldn't do it. I have decided to take the other approach with my children. I do not set rules and regulations for them on what kind of music is right or wrong. Instead, if there is something "secular" they want to listen to, we sit down and listen to it together. We talk about the lyrics. We talk about how this sort of song, and the message that it portrays, will affect their heart before God. I hope I am teaching them how to discern what is not just right or wrong, but better or best for their heart before God.

In the end, it is ridiculous to think that I am successful if my child never is influenced by someone that is secular. The goal is whether they know the gospel and have become able to filter the gospel into every area of their life. That's my goal.

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