Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Lord In Our Midst: Parents & Children—Turning Our Hearts Toward Each Other

We have spent the last several weeks in the prophets. They have reminded us of many things. Our God is One who demands justice. This same God is a holistic God of wrath and love. We’ve been reminded that God is with His people, and that we were created for a mighty purpose. And Malachi reminded us that God cares how we spend His gifts.

We are concluding our study on the prophets, and once again, we find ourselves in the book of Malachi.

READ MALACHI 4:4–6 CEB

Like many of the other Old Testament prophets, Malachi seems fixated on this day in the future: “The Day of the Lord.” These prophets clue us into many things that will characterize this day. A day of judgment, a day of wrath, a horrible day for most of the world. But for those who are God’s children, what a wonderful day that will be! Here Malachi says that just before that dreadful day, something amazing will happen. God will send Elijah to prepare the way. And in those tumultuous days just before judgment begins, God will grant His people a blessing. While the world searches for answers to life’s questions, while the world is full only of evil and fear, the people of God will find safety with one another. Specifically, Malachi says, in those days, parents will turn to their children, and children will turn to their parents, and in that union, they will experience peace and safety and comfort. It’s appropriate that during a season when so many of our children are headed out of our homes and back to school this prophet calls us back to an ever-present reality. There is no relationship as special as that between a parent and a child.

A few years ago, officials arrested a 14-year-old high school freshman in Roseburg, Oregon. This young man arrived at his high school with a gun. Apparently, he and a 16-year-old classmate had a disagreement the day before. When the 14-year-old arrived at school, he pulled out the gun and fired at his classmate. He shot the boy three times.

Parents, how do you feel about stories like this one?

This summer another teenager made headlines. Michelle Carter, now 20 years old, was only 17 when she sent a series of texts to her boyfriend. In those texts, she encouraged her boyfriend to commit suicide. She encouraged him to stay inside his running pickup truck as it filled with carbon monoxide. At one point, Carter wrote: “The time is right and you’re ready, you just need to do it!” At one point in the exchange, her boyfriend exited the pickup, but she immediately texted him: “Get back in!” He did, and he died. She was convicted earlier this month for aiding in his death.

Parents, how do you feel about stories like that?

Well, let me tell you how I feel as a parent. These stories, and others like them, scare me to death. Sometimes it’s difficult to raise a child in our time. A world of terror, a world of increased violence, a world of incredible temptation. In this world, parents, let me challenge us to heed the message of Malachi 4. Remember, Malachi was talking about a pretty scary time as well. Before the Day of the Lord was to arrive, the world would be filled with evil. The enemies of Israel would be in power. And injustice would reign.

In this era, Malachi said God would send Elijah to prepare the way. And this coming prophet would give instruction to God’s people. He would tell them how they were to proceed before the Lord’s coming. How should they deal with the difficulties? The message is simple: Parents should turn their hearts to their children, and children should turn their hearts to their parents.

As we await our own “Day of the Lord,” are we heeding this message?

The number one influence in the life of a child is the parent. Some of you think that is a no-brainer. But do our actions suggest that we know this? Some parents have increasingly passed off a large portion of their responsibility to others: teachers at school, coaches, even youth and children’s ministers. Parents, no matter what you may think, you will have the greatest influence (either positive or negative) on the life of your child. So, what message are you giving them? Are you showing them how important they are? More important than your job? More important than your hobbies? Are you modeling how important family is?

When Barbara Bush spoke at Wellesley, an all girls' college, she really showed courage. She cautioned against placing your career over your marriage in importance. She said:
At the end of your life you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. But you will regret time that you did not spend with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent. If you have children, they must come first. Our success as a society depends not on what happens in the White House, but what happens inside your house.
Let’s be clear on something else. Just because you are a good parent, just because you do the right things, just because you spend quality time with your children, that does not mean your child will escape the evil this world has to offer.

But here are some startling numbers to consider: A study once disclosed that if both Mom and Dad attend church regularly, 72% of their children remain faithful. If only Dad attends, 55% remain faithful. If only Mom attends, 15% remain faithful. If neither attend regularly, only 6% remain faithful. The statistics speak for themselves. The example given by parents is more important than all the efforts of the church and Sunday school.

Moms and dads, what kind of example are you giving to your children? One of my favorite meetings each month is with a group of African American and white religious leaders. The group is called “From Walls to Bridges.” We meet to discuss ways to foster reconciliation among white and African American Christians in Tyler. As you might expect, this week’s meeting was especially interesting. We talked a lot about the events in Charlottesville. One of our African American friends just moved from Houston. He said African Americans in that city are leaving Christianity in large numbers, because they have come to associate racism with Christianity.

One of the great tragedies of American history is that white Christians have not come out and talked about the sinfulness of racism. Yes, “sinfulness.” It is not just a social issue. It is a moral issue, and it stands starkly against the truth that God created all of us equal. So, why do I bring this up today? As we talked this past Thursday, someone brought to our attention one of the most startling things about the images coming from Charlottesville. Many (if not most) of the white supremacists were young people; children, teenagers, young adults. Sometimes we buy into the lie that racism will pass away because it is something only older generations struggle against. The reality is: there is a growing and dangerous tide among America’s youth.

Parents, one of the examples you can give to your children is to teach them that racism has no place in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. The jokes are not funny. The problem is real. This is not just a political issue. Racism is a sin. And teach them this: The power of the gospel to unite is stronger than the power of sin to divide. The gospel is the only force in the world strong enough to bring disparate people together. And moms, dads, children—your family should be a model of that reconciliation!

Church, here is what I want to leave us with. We do live in difficult times. From where we stand, the prophet Elijah has already come. The gospels make it clear that Jesus is the new Elijah. So, the Lord is on His way.

And we can expect bad times to continue in this world. Because, as we often say, we live in a fallen world.

In these times, let’s remember God’s Words: Children and teenagers, you need your parents. Whether you realize it or not, they have your best interest at heart. Yes, they make mistakes, but so do you. And parents, you need to be parents. Your child does not need you to be their friend. Your child does not need you to be their coach. Your child needs you to be their parent. Sometimes that means making hard decisions. Often times, that means discipline. And that always means love.

May we all, in this time of expectation for the Lord’s arrival, be in the business of turning the hearts of parents toward children, turning the hearts of children toward parents, and turning all our hearts toward God.

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