You could have called it Switcheroo Sunday.
Yesterday, we became one church on two campuses with THREE preachers.
I preached live at our Zoar Road Campus (normally a video venue) while Chris Thayer preached live on our Moss Road Campus and Sammy Gonzalez held it steady en espanol.
We shared the same bottom line while personalizing the route taken to get there:
We bring the Gospel to our kids not to modify their behavior but to define their lives.
Maybe you’ve heard of that 3rd grade class where the teacher asked the students what they wanted to be when they grew up. The answers, especially for the boys, were fairly predictable: I wanna be a fireman! I wanna be an astronaut! I wanna be a pro football player! Finally, one boy pipes in with a different kind of answer: “When I grow up I want to be possible!” The teacher & everyone else in the class was like, “Huh?” So the boy went on: “Yeah, my mom always tells me I’m ‘IMPOSSIBLE’ so when I grow up I just want to be POSSIBLE!”
Moms and dads … grandmoms & granddads … aunts & uncles … people who shop in Wal Mart … maybe you can identify. It’s the little boy who simply won’t be still, it’s the brother & sister who can’t keep their hands of each other (and not in a good way), it’s the incessant “MINE!” OR “ME FIRST!,” it’s the toddler defiance, it’s the gradual realization that what’s really going on is ADD or, more seriously, ADHD. And in all that, you’d just like a child or children who are POSSIBLE. Or you have an adolescent and you are suddenly amazed at how dumb you’ve gotten over the last couple of year. You’d like POSSIBLE. Or even a teenager & these days it’s not so much that you’re dumb, it’s more like you don’t even exist. And then a few of you have – or remember – young adults in the house whose maturity level does not match their biological age. You’d like POSSIBLE.
So here’s what people do. At one or more steps along the way you come up with an idea: “I’ll be them TO CHURCH!” For some of you that represents a return, for others it’s a reprieve, and then for others it’s frankly a last gasp. And deep down – especially if you have memories of church as a kid that are remotely positive – you’re hoping to turn that impossible kid into possible. Because church, God, faith, bible, Jesus are all pretty useful it seems at modifying behavior & that’s really what you’d like. Kids who are compliant, tweens who are respectful, & teens who neither get pregnant nor use drugs. That’s really at the heart of some much behavior modification. Straighten them up; keep them out of trouble. Gosh, I’ve heard a thousand times: “I fell out of church when I was college-age & now I just want to give them a good foundation.” They’ll learn the Golden Rule, know the Creed, & most importantly, memorize Commandment #6: “Honor thy father & mother. Or else.” (AV) I’ve done it, you’ve done it, our folks likely did it for us: the gospel is there to modify, enhance, improve our kids behavior. To make them good.
And most of the time, that approach proves to be a colossal failure. I am so blessed to have some Young Adults who allow me into their lives, and some are skeptics while others are saved but all agree on this: the church as leverage to be good left them kind of hollow, almost used, and not really knowing what this things is all about. God becomes useful when our goal is behavior modification. So it’s not really a positive memory – maybe you know what that’s like. It’s also at odds with this interesting little vignette in 2 Timothy 1:1-7, our reading for today.
Paul is here near death; his own mortality as well as the imfluence of his life & the impact of his relationships are at the forefront of his mind. And I love what Paul does in his parting words to his closest colleague. Look at 1:3:
3 I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.
See that? Ancestors / Continuity / Family Tree is at the heart of his faith. A lot of times those of us who know anything at all about Paul have been condition to think that his Damascus Road experience was this dramatic departure from everything he’d been raised in. Actually, it was the FULFILLMENT of all that. There is real continuity between his heritage as a Jew & his faith as a Xn. In a real sense, his faith IN JESUS was handed to him as the faith OF ABRAHAM.
And after striking that note for history, ancestry, continuity, Paul goes on in 1:4:
4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith,
OK, Timothy is a bit of a crybaby. Impossible! But look what Timothy HAS: a sincere faith. Not phony, not for show, not when convenient. Less about his behavior and more about his identity. Not what he did or didn’t do but about who he was. And then it gets better; look at 1:5:
which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
So interesting: that faith LIVED IN Lois, LIVED IN Eunice. And before I dig into what IS there, can I note who is not? DAD! We learn in Acts 16 that Timothy’s dad was a Gentile; more than likely he never came to faith in Christ. So for all you who are single parents or single on Sunday parents, look at that! Hope!
But back to what is there; this faith that LIVES IN Lois and Eunice. So: mom and gmom have this thing, this essence, this living faith deep inside them. Hello! A living relationship as we call it around here. NOT something they pulled out when they needed it for behavior modification but as their continual possession for life definition. Then I realized: the tree was in the apple all along! That’s how close it fell! And it totally changed my perspective on how we bring the gospel to our kids, grandkids, nieces & nephews, & the next generation. We bring the gospel to our kids not to modify their behavior but to define their lives. Not to make them good! To give them life! Not to follow rules! To shape eternity! Not as an accessory to their life when all else fails; as their life. That’s what mom and grandmom handed down to Timothy; the Gospel in both content and character. Not as a way of control; as a way of liberation. We bring the gospel to our kids not to modify their behavior but to define their lives.
It makes me think of a preacher friend of mine whose dad was a preacher, whose gdad was a preacher, whose kids are preachers. So not only did they not reject the faith they have given lives to it. For generations! I asked how. Here’s part of what he said:
I can only speak for me, but I think we all would agree that our family’s prayer life and authenticity of faith that we saw lived was the key. God, and church, were never held up as “have to’s” but “get to’s”. My Grandad (NOT an ordained minister, but the best Christy minister ever) was the only grandparent that I knew; but every night at 9 p.m. he took out his teeth, went to his chair, read the Bible out loud (whether anyone was there or not) and then knelt and prayed. If we were there, it was the same thing. I knew that there was an old man in the mountains praying every single night for me be name until he died.
Consequently, in our house growing up… it was the same thing. We had prayers every night together (and yes, my Dad took his teeth out and did that same thing). It was okay if we were gone, but if we were there – all who were there – heard the Bible read, and then we knelt and prayed. Granted, I used to be so embarrassed in High School when I would have friends over and Dad would turn off the TV and do it. I would apologize to my friends afterwards, but they would almost inevitably say, “Dave, don’t worry. I think it is cool. I wish my family did that.”
The other thing I would say is that we were allowed to be ourselves. As the youngest, I remember sincerely saying to my Dad after he and Mom had been up all night with my brother getting arrested for egging a police car (oops, wrong car!), “Daddy, I will do my best to never disappoint you.” I remember him just laughing and saying, “Buddy, thank you… but don’t you think for a minute we are disappointed in your brother. I’m disappointed in his actions, but not him. He is a great young man. And you are too. Just be yourself.” Again – view of the Big Picture and who is in charge.
That’s what it’s like. Big picture. Who is in charge. We bring the gospel to our kids not to modify their behavior but to define their lives.
Or it’s even like the teenager who started at GS not too long ago and early on told his mom, “Hey I get more bible out of that than I ever got at Christian camp. Give me more!” Talk about a kid who inherited a faith that defines his life! We bring the gospel to our kids not to modify their behavior but to define their lives.
Now listen listen listen. As a parent or grandparent, you can’t give what you don’t have. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but what I am talking about today only works if YOU (the adult in the relationship!) realized you are so messed up the cross is what you need and so loved the cross is what you got. Only way. That you realize your utter desperation without God and your total assurance in him. When you stop seeing God as useful and you start seeing him as beautiful. Yes! When you have that living in you it can then leak out to the next generation. We bring the gospel to our kids not to modify their behavior but to define their lives.
Because make no mistake about it, this involves content. It is an heirloom passed down in the family from one generation to another, only instead of a vase or silverward, it’s a story. A story that if you don’t tell them they won’t know. From the earliest of ages they need to know the story of the cross, the resurrection, the return. The resurrected king who is resurrecting me. Get this: your children & grandchildren need to know from an early age that the most important thing in their lives didn’t happen in their lives! It happened in Jesus’ life! And that weekend so long ago defines this week now. And when your children & grandchildren understand that the most important thing in their lives didn’t happen in their lives, it helps them realize life is not about them. Important less! They’re not ALL THAT until they’re ALL HIS.
These are stories we inherit, truths we borrow. It’s all on loan. I love it when parents have a hand in baptizing their own children. What a declaration! I gave birth physically, and I’m there giving birth spiritually. This Easter weekend in this moment and BAM! We bring the gospel to our kids not to modify their behavior but to define their lives.
By the way, speaking of the role of content, can I point out the absurdity that you hear in some church circles of “I’ll give them the option of making their own choice for religion.” Do you let them choose whether or not to believe in gravity? Do you let them choose whether or not to believe in drunk driving? Do you let them choose whether or not to take opioids? Of course not! Hey – these sakes are HIGHER because they are FOREVER! You can’t force or determine, obviously, but you sure can influence. I just want to help you influence in a way that doesn’t make them be “good.” It makes them become alive. REFRAIN.
So yeah, it involves content. But you know character is part of it as well. They will never accept when they know you’re just pretending. I can’t insist on your integrity, of course. I can only invite you into it. I can only remind you that going to bed at night with a clear conscience; that taking a moral inventory of your day and passing (!), is a lot more satisfying, a lot more rewarding than any hypocrisy you can engage in. When your faith has believability and integrity, what lives in you leaks.
Because really, ultimately, what I want in Where Apples Fall is like the little boy who was in a SS class where they asked, “why do you love God.” And after all the regular answers, he piped in with “I don’t know. I guess it juns runs in the family.”
Will you let it run in yours?