Summary: The responsibility for training up children belongs with parents.
I’d like to begin this morning with a story about my lawn. In the two years we’ve lived in Westlake, we’ve noticed that most of the lawns look very nice. And of course, that’s the suburban ideal, isn’t it? Getting away from the city, with all of its concrete, and asphalt, and buildings stacked one right next to another; getting out into the suburbs, where you have trees, and open spaces, and rolling lawns full of thick, lush, well-trimmed Bermuda grass. Just like a garden of Eden, with Starbucks. Now, it’s a fundamental principle of mission work that if you’re trying to reach a group of people with the gospel, you adapt to their way of life. You conform to the prevailing culture, so that there won’t be any impediments to people hearing the message. "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." And when in Westlake, do what Westlakers do. So I have decided that I ought to have a nice lawn too. It’s the least I could do, since the steering committee has so far refused to buy me a Lexus.
There are two ways I could go about this. The first way, we could call "benign neglect". Why water the lawn, or fertilize it, or spread weedkiller? Why go to all that work mowing, and edging, and spreading mulch? After all, grass grows naturally in meadows and fields all over the world. The rain waters it, and the sun warms it, and it thrives without any help from mankind. So I could just let nature take its course. And what would be the result? Well, I might have some grass. I’d also have a lot of weeds. Because weeds are a part of nature, too. So along with my Bermuda, and fescue, and Kentucky Bluegrass, I’d also have dandelions, and thistles and crabgrass. I’d probably have lots of dead, brown patches from insects and fungus. Instead of looking like one of the fairways at Lakewood Country Club, my yard would look more like an overgrown vacant lot. And the Perkins residence would most definitely not be included in the Westlake spring home and garden tour.
What’s the problem? The problem is that I don’t want what’s natural. I don’t want a field or meadow.
I want an attractive lawn. With no weeds, and no brown spots. Just thick, green grass. And that takes work. Cultivation. Maintenance. Constant attention. I have to either pay a lawn service, or I have to do it myself. Drive to Sears hardware and lug home 50-pound bags of Scott’s Turfbuilder. Dump it in the spreader and push it around the yard. Sit on my back porch waiting for a dandelion to pop up, then run out and squirt it with weed killer. Water the lawn. Mow the lawn. Fire up the weed-eater and the edger. And repeat, over and over again. It’s a never-ending cycle. When you decide to have a nice lawn, you’re committing yourself to a lifetime of lawn care.
Now, what’s the point of my little story? Children are like lawns. We can’t treat them with an attitude of benign neglect, and expect them to flourish. What if we say, "Well, after all, it’s a natural thing for children to grow up. Children grow up all the time, all over the world. As long as we provide food and clothing, and love, we can just let nature take its course. They’ll pick up what they need to know. They’ll learn how to get along in society. We don’t have to trouble ourselves with monitoring what they’re hearing, and seeing, and learning. They’ll turn out OK." What will happen if we take that approach? We’ll get weeds. We may get some good, healthy growth by accident, but we’ll also get a lot of weeds. A lot of foolish ideas. A lot of confusion. A lot of bad choices. Because those things come naturally, too.
Here’s what I’m trying to say: If we want our children to grow into strong, wise, confident, capable, intelligent, mature Christian adults, we can’t just leave their spiritual and moral development to chance. We can’t assume that they’ll get what they need from their environment. We can’t just turn them over to be shaped and molded by the culture. Especially these days, when American culture is becomingly increasingly hostile to Christian values, when the television shows, and movies, and popular music that are marketed to kids are increasingly promoting violence, and immorality, and hatred, and contempt for religious faith. We have to take seriously our God-given responsibility to teach our children. We have to work constantly to keep the weeds from taking over, we have to work constantly to nurture and strengthen what’s good and right. Listen to what God says to parents:
"Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the LORD swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth."