Hearing, Loving, and Embodying God's Commands

Here’s a key truth that the Bible teaches us about being parents. As parents, we are the primary spiritual influences for our children. Our kids will learn more from us than from anyone else in their lives. We aren’t the only spiritual influences in their lives, but we are the primary ones. It’s not okay to “outsource” their spiritual formation to the church or a Christian school. These influences are important, but parents are called to assume the responsibility for teaching their kids about God. God makes this clear in Deuteronomy 6, where he commands parents to lead their children in the worship of the one true God.

 Over the next several posts, I’ll be unpacking what Deuteronomy 6 tells us about family discipleship. But before this passage gets into what it looks like to teach our kids, it first tells us about the kind of disciples we need to be. In Moses’s words, we learn that if the message of the Bible isn’t in you, you have nothing to give your kids. Take a look at verses 4-6:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your 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.

Family discipleship begins with (1) hearing, (2) loving, and (3) embodying God’s commands. Let’s take a look at each of these responsibilities.

  1. Hear God’s Word. Deuteronomy 6:4 is known as the Shema. “Shema” is the Hebrew word for hear. The words, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” are foundational for the Jewish faith. Jewish worshipers recite the Shema three times each day as part of their devotional lives. There’s no part of a Jewish Sabbath worship service that doesn’t have these words as a part of its proclamation. Because the Shema is foundational for the Jewish faith, it’s also foundational for our New Testament Christian faith.

    The Shema is made of two parts—foundational truths and the resulting obligations.

    The Shema declares the unity and uniqueness of God. He is the only true God, and he is solitary in his purposes and plans. He is God alone. So, when God speaks, no one can contradict. When God promises, no one can revoke. When God warns, no one—except God himself—can provide refuge. Why? Because there is no other god to whom you can turn.

    For this reason, we must give God our full attention. It’s important for every believer to quiet himself and hear every command and testimony God reveals in his Word. We must simply read it, but study it, knowing that we will never mine its depths fully. And we must not only study the word, but also meditate upon it throughout our days, reflecting on what God says and how it can be applied to our lives.

  2. Love Him. Having heard God’s word, God demands that we respond to his revelation with our total being. Husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers are under an obligation to give the fullness of our affections to God. We must love him with all our heart and with all our soul and with all of our might.

    Loving God is the central message of the book of Deuteronomy. The book is one longer sermon that Moses preached to Israel before the people entered the promised land. The message marked a time of covenant renewal for God’s people. In his proclamation, Moses called them to an all-encompassing love that would fuel joyful obedience.

    It’s important to see that God wants you to love him with your whole self. Heart, soul, and might aren’t intended to represent different categories or aspects of your self—such as your intellect, emotions, and physical body. The main idea is that you should give your entire being to God. Not part. All. Your whole self as a totality completely committed to trusting obeying God with noble and pure intentions. We’re to give God every faculty and every capacity (Matthew 22:37–40). We’re to give God both thoughtful reflection and decisive action (Mark 12:28–34). We’re to give God our total obedience and loyalty—the kind of loyalty that overflows in compassion, mercy, and costly sacrifice for our neighbor (Luke 10:25–37).

  3. Embody His Commands. The problem is that we can’t love God this way on our own even though he calls us to do so. We’re unable to love, because of the sin in our hearts. As a result, it was necessary for someone to perfectly obey the Shema on behalf of fallen man. Our sinless and perfectly loving Messiah paid the punishment for our disobedience by sacrificing himself for us. It is only when we see Christ’s perfect love for us that we can receive a new heart and love God fully. Moses wrote later in Deuteronomy that a time was coming when God would circumcise the hearts of his people, enabling them to love him with their whole heart (Deuteronomy 30:6).

    We can only love God and love our kids when we’ve first received God’s love. It’s so important to fill our cups with God’s love each day. Then, we can give our kids what we’ve got.

    Moms and dads, draw near to God by reading your Bible and praying daily. Then, be intentional about sharing what God is teaching you with your kids. Seek God for understanding of his truth—simple enough understanding that you can teach it to your children. Then, draw near to your kids and invite them to hear what you’ve learned. When it seems like you’ve run out of things to say—like you’ve run out of truth and love to give them—run back to God for more. His supply never runs dry. He’s able to make your cup overflow (Psalm 23:5).

When you’ve first drawn near to God, you can come near to your kids with confidence that he can take your little and do even more in them than he’s done in you. Draw near to your kids with hope that your spiritual ceiling will be their spiritual floor.

The Glory of Parenting

I’m not a parenting expert. No pastor or parent is. We are all still learning. But I am passionate about helping moms and dads figure out some of the difficult and glorious truths about parenting. Let’s just get this out in the open… parenting is difficult, but it is also glorious. Psalm 127:3-5 gives us a glimpse of the glory.

Children are a heritage from the Lord,
    offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
    are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
    when they contend with their opponents in court.

I want to focus in on one phrase from this passage. The psalmist writes that children are “from the Lord.” The Bible’s view of kids isn’t that they are like aliens invading your home. They are gifts from beyond us.

In 2004, my wife Cheryl and I went to our first ultrasound, and we found out we were having twins! Back then, the first ultrasound was at twenty weeks’ gestation. Our twins were born at twenty-five and a half weeks. Cheryl and I had just enough time to wrap our heads around the idea of twins and then they were here. We were both freaked out by the enormity of what being a parent meant. We saw it right away. Parenting is beyond us. We desperately need God’s help, and that means that we must be growing as his disciples daily.

One of the glories of parenting is that when we first start out, we have no idea what we are doing. When we admit this, we can look to God and others for help and encouragement—even with something personal like raising our kids. As we let others in, we get to see the gloriousness of what God is doing in them and through them. He’ll show his glory in our desperation and dependence.

Over the next several weeks, I’m going to be posting a series on the glory and responsibilities of parenting. Stay tuned and learn with me.

The Missionary Work of Parents

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Imagine a missionary working overseas with an unreached people group. He or she is unfamiliar with the culture and language and working without the help of a native or translator. The only culture this missionary knows is western and Christian.

It would be foolish for the missionary to engage with the culture the same way he or she engages with the American culture. Instead, the missionary would spend time doing what mission organizations call “missiology”—learning the culture, habits, and language. Missionaries are trained in this before they do anything else.

Parents, like missionaries, are trying to reach children who live in a very different culture. While your kids live in your community and speak the same language, their culture varies drastically. A steady stream of media shapes their assumptions, attitudes, and worldviews. This creates perspectives that are often different from your own. This can cause a lot of parents to interact with their children and wonder, “How could they do that?” or “What are they thinking?”

In the middle of the contrasting views and confusion, parents are often tempted to do one of two things:  Yell at their children to conform to their culture; or, simply give up. I encourage you to do neither of these things.

Jesus did not love us this way. He did not reach us with anger or apathy. What we have in the holy incarnation is the Son of God reaching us by becoming like us. He did not yell from heaven, demanding our repentance and belief. He became like us and compelled us to put our faith him. He entered our world.

If you want to reach your teenager you must learn who they are, what they are absorbing, how they think, what language they speak, what stresses them out, and what brings them joy. God knows us and loves us. This model should encourage us to know and love our kids, regardless of failures and differences. If we don’t understand our children, we end up loving a future version them instead of who they are now.

As you enter into a bit of your child’s life, you’re sending them a message: “You are loved, and I’m here to walk alongside you.”

Article appeared first at the College Park Church Resources blog.

Zach Cochran

Zach serves as the Assistant Pastor of Student Ministries at College Park Church in Indianapolis, IN. He received a B.A. focused in Philosophy from the University of Tennessee at Martin and received his M.Div. from Southern Seminary. Zach has been serving in student ministry for the last 9 years and has a deep commitment to stepping into student’s world for the sake cultivated gospel impact where they live, what they do, and where they go. You can follow him and Twitter and Instagram @zachccochran

Teaching Kids about Ash Wednesday and Lent

Back in 2010, my friend Sam Luce was on a children's ministry road trip across the country with Kenny Conley. They stopped in Louisville and met Tony Kummer and me at Quill's Coffee. It was Ash Wednesday. I still had ashes on my forehead. It think it was a bit surreal for Sam--hailing from very Catholic upstate New York. I am not Catholic. I clarified that right away for Sam--probably just a bit uncomfortable in my own skin when he asked about the ashes. I'm a Baptist by confession, but I'm part of a church community that follows the church calendar. And, for that, I'm really thankful.

To know the seasons of the Christian year is to know the milestones of Jesus' earthly ministry--from the promise of his coming at Advent through his resurrection at Easter and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As Christians, we want our personal story to be shaped by his story. One way the universal church has practiced this historically is by letting Christ's life shape our time--not just at Christmas and Easter but throughout the year.

What is Lent?

To know the seasons of the Christian year is to know the milestones of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Lent is all about preparation. We prepare our hearts and minds for Good Friday and Easter, those days that mark Christ's passion and then his victory over death. We experience the significance of holy week more when we're prepared for it by retracing Christ's journey to the cross. The season of Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Easter, lasting for 40 days (not counting Sundays). Each day of Lent symbolizes one of the 40 days Jesus fasted in the wilderness before Satan tempted him. During Lent, Christians fast from something that can pull our minds way from Christ (TV, social media, chocolate, etc.). The goal is to fill the void with an invigorated prayer life and increased reflection on God's holiness, our sin, and Christ's perfect obedience even unto death. 

What is Ash Wednesday? 

“Dust you are, and to dust you will return.”
— Genesis 3:19b

On Ash Wednesday, we acknowledge that no one gets out of this world alive.  Those who gather around the world for Ash Wednesday services receive a sign of the cross on their foreheads from ashes (usually made from the palms used on Palm Sunday the previous year). This mark is a reminder of our mortality--we are all going to die--and a call for repentance. The person who gives the signs says over you, 

"Dust you are, and to dust you will return" (Genesis 3:19b) 

Lent with Kids

As I've reflected about on how to pass the practice of the church calendar on to my children. Here are two brief thoughts.

This is an opportunity for a parent to intentionally pass on the truth that life is but a breath

First, I think it's really appropriate for kids to receive ashes during an Ash Wednesday service. We wait until after kids are trusting Christ and give a faithful confession to baptize them and allow them to take communion. But there is nothing about the Ash Wednesday service that needs to be reserved until kids are converted. It's good to have sober conversations with children about life and death. The sage teaches us, "It is better to go to a funeral  than to go to a party, because death is the destiny of everyone. T he living should take this to heart" (Ecclesiastes 7:2). The goal isn't to scare kids out of Hell in some manipulative way. But I believe Ash Wednesday provides an incredible teaching moment for kids. Particularly for a child with a more reflective temperament, this is an opportunity for a parent to intentionally pass on the truth that life is but a breath.  

Second, Lent gives your family an entire forty day season to remember Jesus is best. We fill our busy lives with candy, toys, sports, extra curricular activities, video games, television--you name it. During Lent, we remember the happiness we find in those things is temporary. Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21). Every toy your child has will one day lie in a junk yard. The treasure of this earth makes us happy, but that happiness is temporary. During Lent we stop filling our lives with temporary happiness and make more room for Jesus.

Consider fasting as an entire family during Lent this year. When you do so, don't just give up something. Also, be intentional about adding a practice, a new affection like serving at church together or volunteering at a local non-profit, to help set your family's heart on God instead of the thing you are giving up. One great resource we've used to teach about Lent with our kids is an old episode of Adventures in Odyssey from Focus on the Family (Episode #152: The Meaning of Sacrifice) that explains the purpose of Lent and the practice of fasting as a family in a way with which our kids have really connected. 

Are you planning to celebrate Ash Wednesday and Lent with your family? What practices have been helpful for you? 

Some portions of this post were adapted from the 2015 Sojourn Church calendar devotional written by Daniel Montgomery and Bobby Gilles.