Monday, June 18, 2007

Parenting Through Example

(A sermon based on Matthew 10:34-39)

[Note: Over the next few weeks, with a couple of interruptions on Sundays when I need to preach about other things, I’ll be engaged in a series of sermons on “Parenting.” This is the first one in the series.]

Church, school, and extended family all play a role in the nurturing of children. But parents have the greatest responsibility for the way that our children progress and develop. And, as with most things, in parenting, actions speak louder than words. Now, we are probably grateful for the fact that children never grow up to look exactly like their parents. Neither do they grow up to act exactly like their parents. Nevertheless, the basic attitudes, standards, mores, and behavior patterns of children are derived largely from what they see their parents doing.

Let me give you some examples. There are things about me that are different from some folks and most of those behavior traits were also in one or both of my parents. For instance, I do not smoke, and neither did my parents during my growing up years. I have a very corny sense of humor; so did my father. I tend to keep a lot of my feelings pent up inside; so did my mother. I am openly affectionate toward my family; that’s the way my parents were. So, I followed the example of my parents in many ways.

This idea that our children learn by watching us is important, for we want to be parents who desire the best for our children. To care for our children is to want them to live life in such a way that they will be sound, productive contributors to the human race. None of us want to be like what Erma Bombeck once called “Everybody Else’s Mother.”
She has no name. Her phone number is unlisted. But she exists in the mind of every child who has ever tried to get his own way and used her as a last resort.
Everybody Else’s Mother is right out of the pages of Greek mythology—mysterious, obscure, and surrounded by hearsay.
Traditional Mother: “Have the car home by eleven or you’re grounded for a month.”
Everybody Else’s Mother: “Come home when you feel like it.”
Traditional Mother: “The only way I’d let you wear that bikini is under a coat.”
Everybody Else’s Mother: “Wear it. You’re only young once.”
Traditional Mother: “You’re going to summer school and that’s that.”
Everybody Else’s Mother: “I’m letting Harold build a raft and go down the Ohio River for a learning experience.”
[Erma Bombeck, Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession (Dell, 1984).

No, we want to be good parents, but we all know that we cannot be perfect parents. The perfect parent is a myth born out of the desires of children of imperfect parents and out of the frustrations of those same parents. So we will not kid ourselves; I have no suggestions on how to be a perfect parent. We want to deal with realism that can be liberating, not with idealism that can be constraining. Bill Butterworth has put it this way:
Idealism teaches us perfect family living based on the Bible.
Realism tells us that the Bible presents principles for our encouragement—but no promises of perfection.
[Bill Butterworth, Peanut Butter Families Stick Together (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming & Revell, 1985), p. 18.

What does the Bible teach us realistically about parenting? Today we will discuss parenting by example. What kind of lifestyle do we model for our children? Let me state a basic principle: every Christian parent must model a consistent Christian lifestyle for his/her child. The best way to enable our children to live as Christians is to live as Christians ourselves. Our passage teaches us some very basic things about the Christian life. We will move to specifics in a moment, but two general thoughts based on this passage must shape our thinking as we consider the lifestyle we will model for our children.

First, absolutely nothing takes precedence over our relationship with Jesus Christ. That is the basic meaning of Jesus’ statement that “whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Not even the most basic and most vital of human relationships comes before our walk with Christ. If those relationships do not come before our walk with Christ, then surely nothing else does.

Second, sometimes things must and will be given up in order to live up to our primary commitment to Jesus Christ. That is the basic meaning of his saying “those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Sometimes even the things that ordinarily seem most important must be abandoned for Christ’s sake.

There are vast implications of these truths for the Christian lifestyle. What sort of lifestyle ought we, as Christian parents, model for our children? A good way to approach this is to ask, “How would Christ have us live?” And we answer that question by asking, “What sort of lifestyle did Christ follow?” In these ways we will know the kind of lifestyle we should model for our children.

A Lifestyle of Simplicity

There are two levels of concern here.

First, there is a concern for health. How many of us are leaving our children a legacy marked by ulcers, high blood pressure, and emotional distress? The modern “success is the most important thing” attitude has led us and will lead our children to the precipice of anxiety-based illness. If we model a lifestyle that tells our children that the accumulation of things is most important, then we do potential harm to them.

Second, there is a concern for spiritual discipline. We need to remember that the Son of Man, by his own account, had “no place to lay his head.” There is no indication that Jesus lived anything but a simple life and he should be the model for the model that we give our children. Why else should we live simply? For one thing, because riches fade, as the Bible often states. For another thing, because the giving up of things to which most people look for fulfillment is a basic part of the Christian life. If we parents are going to live as Christians, we must live simply and not opulently, for such living illustrates Christian discipline. Our children should be spiritual searchers, not material seekers.

A Lifestyle of Church Commitment

One key to the future of our children is their consistent involvement in the life of the church—but do we parents model that for them? Jesus said that “he who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Do we need to lose a selfish part of our lives that says that church can be a low priority? Do we tell our children by our lives that church is really a “take it or leave it” affair?

A Lifestyle of Acceptance

I’m speaking here of the acceptance of change. It is appropriate to begin generally.

Change and loss are integral to life. Some of the most miserable people in the world are those who will not adjust to the changes in life. Some college students go home every chance they get and more often than they should because they are unable or unwilling to adjust to a life away from home. Some people have a very difficult struggle because they are unable to adjust to the loss of a person or of some aspect of their health. The fact is, though, that change is a part of life and the happiest and healthiest people are those who learn to adjust. We need to model such adjustability for our children.

Change and loss are integral to the Christian life. We all want our children to be Christians but we need to be more aware of the cost of being a Christian. To be a Christian is to be constantly confronted with change and potentially with loss, and we need to show our children how to adjust to such change. Jesus pointed out that because of him there would be division in families. Obviously, that constitutes a radical change. It is also a loss because no one likes to lose a family connection. But understand this: Christianity brings change to relationships. It can, when applied properly, cost us in friends, in profits, in social standing—and it especially costs us ourselves. We parents need to see such change as a natural part of our lives as Christians and to take it in stride. That way our children will not be shocked and disillusioned by such changes in their own lives. They will also learn from us to take the stands for Christ that they ought to take.

A Lifestyle of Sharing and Caring

Jesus spoke the words of our text to his disciples as he was sending them out to share in his mission. They went out to preach and to heal. Thus, theirs was a ministry of sharing and caring. Such should be the lifestyle of our children and we should model it for them.

Sharing. Each and every Christian must be involved in the sharing of the gospel. The salvation of the next generation depends largely on the commitment of our children to share through word and deed. Are they learning from us to share the gospel?

Caring. Basic to the lifestyle of Jesus was his caring for people’s needs. The Christian must care for the needs of all people without regard for who they are or who they appear to be. Now, you may be thinking, “If someone needs help I will help them. If someone is in need, I’ll assist them.” And I hope you do. But listen: are there any subtle ways in which we may discourage our children from helping people in need? When we make that disparaging remark about some person or some group of people, are we not telling our children that such folks are unworthy of our help? When we passively allow the fantasy to persist that this little corner of the world is all there is and therefore that the problems of the world do not really affect us, are we not telling our children that those beyond our own area are unworthy of our caring? We need to avoid such subtle traps, because in Jesus’ view, all people are worthy of our caring attention.

A Lifestyle of Maturing Christianity

Two final questions need to be asked and they are really the basic ones.

Can we model Christian lives for our children? We can if we are Christians. If you are an adult, if you are a parent, and if you have been putting off placing your faith in Jesus Christ, you need to do so for your own sake. But can your children afford for you to teach them to wait?

Can we model maturing Christian lives for our children? Yes, we can. For as long as we live, we ought to set a pattern, we ought to be an example, we ought to live at a level of Christian maturity, which will serve as a role model for our children. I often hear it said that parents want their children to have a better life than they had. In a recent list of “Ten Things You May Not Know About Dads” that I wrote for the Metro Augusta Parent, I said, “A father wants his child to have a better life than he has, but what he really wants is for his child to be a better person than he is.” We can model the kind of maturing Christianity for our children that will help them grow into an even stronger faith than we have.


Where are you in your commitment as a Christian? Where are you in your commitment as a Christian parent? Have you accepted Christ? Have you made decisions, have you made the progress that you need to make? How are you modeling the Christian life for your children?

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