W. A. Criswell tells the story of a five-year-old Baptist girl who lived next door to a five-year-old Catholic boy. On a hot summer day, they decided to play in a small wading pool in his back yard. As they were splashing around, quite innocently, they both took off their swimming suits. The little girl looked at the little boy and exclaimed, “I didn’t know there was that much difference between a Catholic and a Baptist!” (W. A. Criswell, Sermon, March 28, 1982)
When it comes to matters of faith, our children and grandchildren have a lot to learn, don’t they? And it is our responsibility to teach them. It is our responsibility, as parents and grandparents, to pass the faith on to the next generation.
Yet that seems harder and harder to do in a culture that has rejected basic Christian values and in fact is becoming hostile to those values. Josh McDowell, in his book The Last Christian Generation, reports that various denominational leaders estimate that “between 69 and 94 percent of their young people are leaving the traditional church after high school … and very few are returning.” (The Last Christian Generation, 2006, p.13)
Citing the Barna Research Group, McDowell says (Ibid.) that of our young people raised in Christian homes, 63% don’t believe Jesus is the Son of the one true God; 58% believe all faiths teach equally valid truths; 51% don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead; 65% don’t believe Satan is a real entity; and 68% don’t believe the Holy Spirit is a real entity, as well.
That’s scary, isn’t it? Especially when you consider the consequences of such beliefs. According to Josh McDowell, these beliefs make our children twice as likely to be disappointed in life, twice as likely to steal, twice as likely to physically hurt someone, three times more likely to use illegal drugs, and six times more likely to attempt suicide than those who have a basic biblical belief system. (The Last Christian Generation, 2006, p.16)
My dear friends, it is very important that we pass that basic, biblical belief system on to our children and grandchildren. It is imperative that they “get it” not just up here in their heads, but down here in their hearts, before we lose them altogether.
So how do we do that? How do we pass the faith on to the next generation? How do we instill Christian beliefs and values in our children and grandchildren in a culture which is hostile to those values? Well, if you have your Bibles, I Invite you to turn with me to Genesis 25, Genesis 25, where we see how the first patriarch of our faith passed his faith on to his son and their sons 4,000 years ago in the midst of the Canaanite culture.
Genesis 25:1-4 Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan. The sons of Dedan were Asshurim, Letushim, and Leummim. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah. (ESV)
God is keeping his promise to Abraham to make him the father of many nations (Genesis 17:4,6). Many of these children become the heads of nations to the east and southeast of Canaan. Only at this time, they pose a threat to Isaac, Abraham’s primary heir. So…
Genesis 25:5-6 Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country. (ESV)
Abraham eliminates any threat to Isaac’s inheritance, and that’s what we must do if we want to pass the faith on to our children and grandchildren. We must…
ELIMINATE THE THREATS to their spiritual inheritance.
We must get rid of those things that endanger their spiritual growth and development. We must remove the hazards that jeopardize the development of their faith. That’s our job as parents.
Rod Dreher, who is now senior editor of the American Conservative, worked in the 1990’s as a professional film critic, who reviewed numerous films with graphic violence. Then came the birth of his first child when he went from watching eight to 10 movies a week to almost none. One day, while holding his newborn son, he started watching a well-known film, but then he quickly turned it off, sickened by the violence. What changed? Dreher writes:
“I had become a father, that's what. I could not sit in my armchair cradling that fragile newborn boy in my arms, and watch human beings savaged on the screen… Welcoming a baby into our home taught me [how obscene] violence can be. I once took pleasure in watching this kind of thing. Now, something within me said no, this is unclean.
“I had not realized how desensitized I had become merely by constant exposure to movies that were brutal, and featured torrents of profanity and coarse sexuality. What I thought was normal was not normal at all, or at least not morally sane, not in any world I wanted my son to grow up in.
Dreher continues, “We parents are the primary educators of our children… responsible for the culture that shapes their minds and hearts. If our careless media consumption causes us to lose sight of the good, the true, and the beautiful, can we trust ourselves to teach our children well? … Should we pay more critical attention to our kids' media habits…? Absolutely. But children aren't the only ones in the home who need that discipline. (Rod Dreher, "Make 1 Simple Change," Real Simple magazine)
We have to be careful what we expose our children to! And that means we have to be careful what we expose ourselves to, as well.
I like what NBA Hall-of-Famer, Charles Barkley, said years ago when someone asked him, “How will you handle your 12-year-old daughter’s future boyfriends?” He responded, “I figure if I kill the first one, word will get out.” (Newsweek, 6-18-01, p. 17; www.PreachingToday.com)
Now, nobody is advocating killing anybody, but I think you get the picture. It is our responsibility as parents and grandparents to protect our children from bad influences as much as possible. That means we’ll have to tell our children and grandchildren “no” every once in a while. That means we’ll have to be parents instead of friends. That means we might even have to be “mean” sometimes.
Way back in 1967, Bobbie Pingaro wrote a piece called, The Meanest Mother in the World. It’s nearly 50 years old, but it’s message is timeless. She writes:
I had the meanest mother in the whole world. While other kids ate candy for breakfast, I had to have cereal, eggs or toast. When others had cokes and candy for lunch, I had to eat a sandwich… At least, I wasn't alone in my sufferings. My sister and two brothers had the same mean mother as I did.
My mother insisted upon knowing where we were at all times. You'd think we were on a chain gang. She had to know who our friends were and where we were going. She insisted if we said we'd be gone an hour, that we be gone one hour or less – not one hour and one minute. I am nearly ashamed to admit it, but she actually struck us. Not once, but each time we had a mind of our own and did as we pleased. That poor belt was used more on our seats than it was to hold up Daddy's pants… Can you imagine someone actually hitting a child just because he disobeyed? Now you can begin to see how mean she really was…
The worst is yet to come. We had to be in bed by nine each night and up at eight the next morning. We couldn't sleep till noon like our friends. So while they slept, my mother actually had the nerve to break the child-labor law. She made us work. We had to wash dishes, make beds, learn to cook and all sorts of cruel things. I believe she laid awake at night thinking up mean things to do to us.
She always insisted upon us telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, even if it killed us – and it nearly did. By the time we were teen-agers, she was much wiser, and our life became even more unbearable. None of this tooting the horn of a car for us to come running. She embarrassed us to no end by making our dates and friends come to the door to get us…
Through the years, things didn't improve a bit. We could not lie in bed, “sick” like our friends did, and miss school. If our friends had a toe ache, a hang nail or serious ailment, they could stay home from school. Our marks in school had to be up to par. Our friends' report cards had beautiful colors on them, black for passing, red for failing. My mother being as different as she was, would settle for nothing less than ugly black marks.
As the years rolled by, first one and then the other of us was put to shame. We were graduated from high school. With our mother behind us, talking, hitting and demanding respect, none of us was allowed the pleasure of being a drop-out…
My mother was a complete failure as a mother. Out of four children, a couple of us attained some higher education. None of us have ever been arrested, divorced or beaten his mate. Each of my brothers served his time in the service of this country. And whom do we have to blame for the terrible way we turned out? You're right, our mean mother.
She forced us to grow up into God-fearing, educated, honest adults. Using this as a background, I am trying to raise my three children. I stand a little taller and I am filled with pride when my children call me mean. Because, you see, I thank God, He gave me the meanest mother in the whole world.
Don’t be afraid to be a “mean” mother or father every once in a while. It’s what our children and grandchildren really need from us as parents and grandparents.
If we want to pass the faith on to them, we must eliminate the threats to their spiritual inheritance. I.e., we must set limits and enforce them. More than that, if we want to pass the faith along, we must…
SET THE EXAMPLE of a full and satisfying life.
We must model the kind of life we want our children to live. We must show them by our own example that following the Lord is worth the commitment of our lives. That’s what Abraham did.
Genesis 25:7-8 These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. (ESV)
Literally, in the Hebrew, “He was an old man and FULL”, after which he went to be with the other believers who had died before him. Abraham lived a full and satisfying life. Then he joined the others in his family, who had died as believers in the Lord.
I hope my children can say that about me when I die: “Dad wasn’t perfect, but he lived a full and satisfying life, and I know He’s with the Lord today. It’s the kind of life I wish I could have.”
Abraham lived the kind of life that his children and grandchildren would want to emulate, and that’s what we need to do if we want to pass our faith along. We must live the kind of life our children want to live – a life that’s full and satisfying, with eternal rewards.
And that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
People may follow other shepherds. They may pursue things like money and power, but they live to regret it. Their lives are left empty and ruined. Only those who follow Jesus enjoy life to the full! Only those who follow Jesus have the kind of life that others wish they had, especially their children.
What do our children see in us? Do they see a full and satisfying life, or do they see someone who’s too busy to have some fun with them? Do they see a life rich with integrity and compassion, or do they see an empty hypocrisy that only looks good on the outside? Are we living the kind of lives our children really want to live? If not, then we can’t expect them to believe in our God or adopt our values.
The University of Notre Dame just completed a 14-year-long research project (August 2001 to December 2015) they called the “National Study of Youth and Religion”. They surveyed over 3,000 teenagers, along with in-depth interviews of more than 250 of them, in four different waves, following them into their late 20’s. Among other things, Notre Dame’s researchers were looking to find the factors that helped teenagers maintain their faith into adulthood, and they found three very important factors: 1) The young person's parents practiced the faith in the home and in daily life, not just in public-church settings. 2) The young person had at least one significant adult mentor or friend, other than parents, who practiced the faith seriously. 3) The young person had at least one significant spiritual experience before the age of 17. (Seraphim Danckaert, "Losing our Religion," Orthodox Heterodoxy, 4-8-14; www.PreachingToday.com)
In other words, our children are most likely to retain their Christian faith into adulthood if they had parents whose faith was real, an outside friend or mentor whose faith was real, and they themselves came to genuine faith in Christ before they left home.
Their involvement in Sunday School, youth group, camp, a missions trip, contemporary worship, or any other church program made no statistically significant difference. Not to say that these things are not important, but they cannot substitute for caring adults (especially parents) who exhibit a consistent, genuine faith every day of the week and not just on Sunday’s.
I’ll never forget Michael Reagan’s remarks at his father’s funeral over 12 years ago (2004). He said, “I was so proud to have the Reagan name and to be Ronald Reagan's son. What a great honor. He gave me a lot of gifts as a child—gave me a horse, gave me a car, gave me a lot of things. But there's a gift he gave me that I think is wonderful for every father to give every son.
“Last Saturday, when he opened his eyes for the last time… that's when I realized the gift that he gave to me: that he was going to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He had—back in 1988 on a flight from Washington, D.C. to Point Mugu—told me about his love of God, his love of Christ as his Savior. I didn't know then what it all meant. But I certainly, certainly know now.
“I can't think of a better gift for a father to give a son. And I hope to honor my father by giving my son, Cameron, and my daughter, Ashley, that very same gift he gave to me.
“Knowing where he is this very moment, this very day, that he is in heaven, I can only promise my father this: Dad, when I go, I will go to heaven, too. And you and I and my sister, Maureen, who went before us, we will dance with the heavenly host of angels before the presence of God. We will do it melanoma-and Alzheimer's-free. Thank you for letting me share my father, Ronald Wilson Reagan.” (Associated Press, RonaldReagan Memorial.com)
The best gift we can give our children is our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s our own love for God and a love for Christ, our Savior. I’m talking about a genuine faith, with a passionate commitment to Christ.
A 55-year study of Christian and non-Christian families in America showed that most young adults who are following Jesus come from one of two kinds of homes. Either they come from a non-Christian home where they were converted to Christ in their teenage years through a dynamic youth ministry. Or they come from homes where mom and dad were passionate about their relationship with Christ. Very few believers come from homes where there was a kind of indifferent, apathetic commitment to Christ.
Think about it. In our American culture, the chances are better for a child growing up in a non-Christian home to become a Christian than for a child growing up in a home that has an indifferent, apathetic commitment to Jesus Christ. (“Introducing Christ to Your Child,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 92; www.PreachingToday.com)
If we are not passionate about our commitment to Christ, then we do our children more harm spiritually than those who don’t believe in Him at all. If our Christianity is “take it or leave it,” then our children are likely to leave it. On the other hand, if we set the example of a full and satisfying life, because we’re passionately in love with Jesus, then our children will most likely want what we have.
That’s how you pass the faith on to the next generation. 1st, eliminate the threats to their spiritual inheritance. 2nd, set the example of a life worth living. Then you increase the odds that your children will…
EMBRACE YOUR FAITH AS THEIR OWN.
They will share your beliefs and values. They will learn to trust in the Lord and His word. That’s what happened to Isaac, Abraham’s son. He shared the same faith as his father.
Genesis 25:9-11 Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi. (ESV)
Isaac buried his father in the Promised Land, and he chose to live there himself. Beer-Lahai-Roi was a special place in the southern part of the Promised Land. It was the place where God heard and answered Isaac’s prayer. Remember, Isaac was meditating there when God brought him his wife (Genesis 24:62-67).
Isaac could have rejected his father’s faith. He could have said, “After all these years, all my dad has to show for his faith is one measly grave-site. What’s the use in believing God’s promise anymore?” Instead, Isaac chose to live in the Promised Land, just like his father, and he chose trust in his father’s God, who blessed him as well.
Do you want your children and grandchildren to share your faith? Then eliminate the threats to their spiritual inheritance, and set the example of a full and satisfying life.
On January 1 a few years ago (2008), Keith Severin and his 7-year-old son, Adrien, agreed that every day, for one whole year, they would spend at least 15 minutes searching together for treasure. The idea came to them when Keith came out of a store one day, and a guy asked him for change. Keith took about two steps from that spot and found a dime on the ground. It was a reminder that treasure is everywhere.
Keith and Adrien stuck to their plan—even when the weather wasn't favorable—and over the course of that year they stumbled upon plenty of loose change, bottles, a silver necklace, and a golf bag pull cart. By year's end they had amassed over $1,000 worth of treasure through their 15-minute walks. But Keith says it was richer by far simply to grow in their relationship as father and son.
“It was nice to spend some time with him and get to know him,” Keith said in an interview. As they walked, they talked not about treasure, but about vacation, what's going on at home and school. They even dreamed up books they could write about their experiences together. (Carlos Alcalá “You'd Be Amazed What You Can Find on a Walk—A Boy and His Dad Prove It,” www.catholic.org, 1-5-09; www.PreachingToday.com)
My dear friends, let’s do everything we can to make sure our children and grandchildren find the treasure that is in Christ.