Growing In Godliness Blog
Reflections On Rearing Godly Children
By David Norfleet
This weekend my family gathered to celebrate the 16th birthday of our 2nd daughter, and while doing so I reflected on how fast time has passed. It seemed just like yesterday that our kids were crawling and needing naps, and we had all the time in the world ahead of us. But, now, in almost a blink of an eye, they are grown and no longer need mom and dad.
I think one of the most terrifying and yet rewarding experiences that we face is attempting to rear godly, spiritually minded children. It is terrifying because all of us at one point are amateurs, and armed with God’s word we attempt to navigate life and the thousands of decisions it throws at us. But, it is also satisfying and rewarding to see their faith grow as they mature and appreciate the Lord’s hand in it all along.
There is no magic formula which will guarantee spiritually minded children, and ultimately the decision to “walk in the Spirit” is one each individual must make for themselves – parents cannot make it for their children. That is not to say, however, we are without influence. So, with that I mind I would like to offer a few suggestions (I offer these not as an expert or one who is a perfect parent, but one who is still very much in the trenches and wants his children to grow into godly individuals.).
- If we want our children to be spiritually minded, we must be spiritually minded. Children are much more likely to become what their parents are than what they claim to be. Children, maybe even more so than any other people, see our real motivations, affections, attitudes, and goals. We will not model for them spiritual perfection, but they need to see sincerity in our pursuit of it.
- We must understand our true and greatest purpose as parents, and that is rearing spiritually-minded children. That is the only truly essential goal to be achieved in this life (It is not whether they gross over $100,000 per annum, have an advanced degree, or are the most accomplished socially.). That must be foremost in our parenting as God’s purpose in creating them was that they might “be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). That alone will determine their success or failure in this life, and in the life hereafter. This must be our goal! It has to be more than a plaque on the wall, but rather the shaping-force of our decisions in how to raise our children.
- After the goal is set, we must train our children toward that goal. It is important from a very young age that the goals parents have for their children are communicated. They must know that they are to be consecrated – set apart for service to God. They learn this, not simply by being told, but by seeing this purpose in their parent’s decisions and seeing how parents react to their conduct.
- As part of this training we must control the influences we allow to shape their minds. The Proverb writer stated, “as he thinks within himself, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). So as parents we must exercise great care in what we allow to shape their minds. This will both involve influences we must protect them from, but just as importantly things that are good, wholesome, and spiritual that we expose them to regularly.
- Finally, if our children are to be spiritual, prayer must be offered for the help which God alone can give. Prayer is the means by which you can obtain the help God has promised. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). It is amazing what God can accomplish in our children!
This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but simply offered in reflection of the awesome privilege it is to shape these young souls in the image of God. But, also to remind all of you parents to have fun along the way, enjoying the time you have with them!
Our Spiritual Heritage
By Kim Davis
Where are you from?
It is a common question we ask one another when making new acquaintances. The answer provides a little insight into one’s past. Maybe the question is asked because one is looking for a commonality, or wants to understand the background behind another’s dialect, or perhaps it is pure curiosity.
I research genealogy as a hobby. I am captivated by it and can spend hours in front of the computer looking at census records, immigration records, ship passenger lists, and other ancestral information. I often think about the time I spend reflecting upon the past. Does it really matter who my ancestors were? Of course, our salvation does not hinge upon it. But in many respects, our individuality is a direct reflection of our ancestor’s and their decisions.
Our ancestors decided whether or not to believe in God. If so, how and where would they worship God? They made decisions about what type of values they would instill in their children. They determined how hard they would work at their marriage. They decided how to teach their children to respect and serve others.
Each generation processes what they have or have not learned from their parents, grandparents, or other important figures, while also considering additional outside influences to then face the same decisions.
Generation after generation of imperfect Christians will face struggles, heartaches, disappointments, and discouragement. Each generation will stumble along the way but they must continue to follow Christ to the best of their ability. Each generation has a responsibility to learn, to grow in knowledge and faith, and to teach others about Christ. This is the only way the perfect law can be spread to the next generation. Deut. 6:5-7 says “You shall love the Lord you 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.”
We cannot let Satan derail us. I do not want to be the person in my family tree who decides to stop following Christ. I want to do everything in my power to continue this tradition of worshipping God and serving him faithfully and influencing my children to do the same. We often hear “it does not matter where you came from, what matters is where you are going?” Where we come from determines our starting point in life but what truly matters is the point where we end. Are we ready to meet our Redeemer when our time comes?
At Douglass Hills, we teach our children about their spiritual heritage. When you think back to Abraham and the unbroken lineage that brought us our Savior, it is a marvelous wonder that certainly was planned.
“Our children are a heritage from the Lord,” Psalm 127:3. I believe the Lord shares John’s sentiment written in III John 1:4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”
How are we individually contributing to our own children’s spiritual heritage, or to the spiritual heritage of other children at Douglass Hills? It is the single most important thing in their life and demands our full attention. Providing for our families is important. Leisure activities are important. Family time is important. Let us all make sure we are not letting the important things crowd out the most important, which is Christ. Knowing Him. Teaching Him. Loving like Him. Trying our best to be like Him.
Are We Giving Our Children Cut Flowers?
By Tom Rose
Followers of Jesus Christ don’t have children merely for companionship or to avoid loneliness in their later years or so they can pass on property and the family name. They view parenting as an opportunity to invest themselves fully in the life of a child who will someday become an irresistible manifestation of God’s grace. A child who will grow up to make a difference by exercising his or her unique talents and gifts, and thereby leave his corner of the world more kind and gentle, more spiritual and righteous. That’s our motivation for bearing and raising children – and our challenge.
However, when images of the whole world’s cruelest realities – war, abuse, violence of all kinds – are instantly accessible at the touch of a button or the flip of a page, it’s hard for parents to remain idealistic, hopeful and positive. When the dark side of human nature – the stormy, troubled side – is the pervasive picture of former heroes and heroines of politics, entertainment, and sports, it’s hard to feel supportive and trustful of our fellow human beings. And when our media makes sure nothing is left to the imagination, it’s hard to share the beauty of love and faithfulness within a marriage to the fresh, untouched territory of a teenager’s mind. All these problems seem so big, the people in charge so far away, so powerful, so wealthy, so far removed from our living rooms, our offices, and our schools, one might be tempted to exclaim, “Why even try?”
Feelings of helplessness plague us as parents when we see our younger children – even toddlers – being taught the very lessons that we don’t want them to learn from their peers, the media, and fallen heroes. Yet we know from daily living that the only thing to do when there’s a mess is to clean it up. This cleaning-up must be an everyday task in the way we treat ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbors, indeed, everybody.
That is precisely why God’s divine plan has parents in charge of preventing and/or cleaning-up the mess of our character-starved, immorally littered world and sees children as honoring and obeying their parents (see Eph 6:1-4).
Although the home is the primary place for establishing virtues as well as a good understanding of God’s Word, parents often look to the church for assistance in teaching and instilling spiritual values. Therefore, Bible classes must be perceived by children and young people as preparation for life as they really experience it and for developing a faith that has personal meaning. Unfortunately, sometimes teaching – both at home and in church - falls short of these goals. Thus, it is important to ask, are we giving our young people ‘cut flowers,’ when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants? The result may be that we are training another generation to be keepers of the aquarium, rather than educating fishers of men.
I once knew of a teacher who invited a whole group of people to study the Bible. He told them that he had discovered the most marvelous Truths from God’s Word, and he wanted to share them. He began to describe in minute detail the delights of the Scriptures without ever letting class members ask questions or participate in any way. He told and told and told. Although some teachers (and parents) believe that one will listen to what is being taught and automatically assume responsibility for a desired behavior or virtue, we really know better because “telling” – or handing out ‘cut flowers’ is not “teaching.”
Consider, for example, Susan, a third grader, completing in Bible study class her illustration of the good Samaritan (see Lk. 10:25-37). Her face suddenly takes on a reflective look as she turns toward her teacher and asks, “Does this story mean that I am supposed to help Judy with her math? She always comes to school dirty and wearing a torn dress and nobody wants to be with her.” “Yes, Susan,” the teacher replies, “If you are going to be the kind of neighbor Jesus wants you to be, you need to care for those who are less fortunate than you are.” Susan considered what her teacher had said, then responded, “I don’t want to, but I guess nobody in my class wants to either, so I’ll be a good Samaritan.”
Learners need to sort out and try on their ideas in a safe setting with a caring parent or teacher. That’s really what Susan was doing in the conversation with her teacher. She was actually questioning her understanding of what was required to being a “good Samaritan” and then determining a course of action by seeking the affirmation of the adult. When one realizes, after studying this parable, that there are personal applications for these ideas, they are usually ready to make some changes in their own behavior toward others.
In the above case, Susan learned that this lesson was for her and that there were some things she could do to apply it to her life. This example shows Susan is searching for ways to act on her learning and to do so she must do more than simply talk to her teacher about her discovery. Moreover, she is beginning to assume responsibility for her own learning by living it out on the playground, the classroom, and the neighborhood. Indeed, Susan will find that there are several ways in which she can be a good Samaritan to Judy. She could give her some of her clothes, she could talk to her about brushing her hair and washing her face before coming to school, she could tutor her in math, she could defend Judy when others put her down, and she could work at becoming a friend to Judy.
To write meaningfully on tablets of the human heart, Christians need to allow students both to discover and to internalize Biblical truths - for herein lies the long-term power for committed servanthood. If our instruction fails to excite and to involve our learners, it will likely yield a people trained to be passive observers rather than active participants in learning and in ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16). As young people develop, if structured opportunities for practice and application of one’s faith are weak or non-existent, any commitment to the Christian life may be only superficially formed, and devoid of the pleasure and enthusiasm found in sharing their faith with others.
Parents who truly understand this goal of parenting – to draw out the spiritual potential of each child – will become fully engaged in the challenge. They no longer just live to advance their career and their material possessions. Rather, they seek to build character, value, and vision into young lives. They no longer treat their children as inconveniences to be handed off to anyone who will tend them. Instead, these leaders of the home see the “season of parenting” as the ultimate spiritual challenge, worthy of their best efforts, most fervent prayers, and largest investments of time. In essence, they are parents who will do anything they can to encourage authentic Christian growth in their children. And in so doing, these parents choose to develop a garden with ever-renewing blossoms, instead of handing their child a vase of cut flowers. They know that molding a runny-nosed little bandit into a God-honoring difference-maker is the most stretching, demanding, and, ultimately, fulfilling challenge they face. So they earnestly devote themselves to it.
If we at the Douglass Hills church of Christ can be of help or encouragement to you in such an endeavor, please take the time to reach out and ask us. As God’s Word ever reminds us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old - he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
By Mark McCrary
“And a man shall leave his father and mother…”
Though the above quote from Genesis 2:24 is written in the context of marriage, it assumes the necessity of children leaving their parents and establishing their own lives. This is not to say parents no longer have any influence over their lives; simply that that influence is diminished. To paraphrase John the Immerser, they increase while their parents decrease.
The painful truth of parenting is we raise our children to let them go. If you think about it, this ultimate goal of God for those children He has entrusted to us is really counter to everything we have done! We love, protect, and guide them over the course of 18+ years; we wake them up, get them ready, check on them at night, watch who their friends are, make sure they are eating right, that they brush their teeth, eat their vegetables, clean their rooms, bandage their skinned knees, doctor their ills, comfort their sorrows, etc. All these actions and more entwine our lives together closer and closer.
Yet, there comes a time God expects us to let them go— to send them out into the world. How could God require such a thing? Does He not understand how frightening of a prospect and how emotionally painful this is?
God knows letting go is necessary. At some point, training wheels must come off and our children must decide for themselves what they will value in life. They must discover who they will be. They cannot do that while under the wings of their parents. Children need to be let go. To some degree, the faith of a child is imposed on them. But, saving faith is not imposed; rather, it is chosen and embraced.
God understands this first hand. After giving instruction through the Law of Moses and giving them Canaan, God let the children of Israel go. “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24:15). Deuteronomy is another great text on the necessity of God’s children needing to choose. The constant story of the Bible is that of a Father expressing His love, instructing His children, then “sending them off” to decided if they will honor Him and His guidance. Many did and do; many didn’t and don’t.
In the same way, as parents we do what we can for 18+ years, then let them (hopefully) put into practice what we have taught them. In reality, the letting go is most of the time not a one-time action, but more of a letting the rope out slowly until we come to the end of it. We hold our breaths and pray with each decision that they make. We hurt when they choose poorly; we delight when they choose properly. But, we must let them go, for they cannot truly find God unless they find Him for themselves. This is God’s plan.