Yesterday’s message …
- Launched a series that was not in my original 2020 sermon planning: “It Runs In The Family.” I figured that this would be a good series of messages to give while families are still in quarantine together;
- Noted some personal ironies in me giving this particular message;
- Came from Deuteronomy but NOT Deuteronomy 6!
- Landed at this bottom line: You can only have THE TALK when your first having THE CONVERSATION.
So we are starting a series called It Runs In The Family and just think of all the things that do just that: run in families. Lord, there’s Male Pattern Baldness, there’s acne, there’s the way we walk (show video of me and Riley walking), there’s high blood pressure, similar speaking voices, facial expressions, and on and on and on. You think of five or ten physical and even behavioral traits that you have and I guarantee you have them because they ran in your family.
And then you know and I know that other, darker traits tend to run in families: predisposition to mental illness, vulnerability to addiction, and tendency to create crises where none exist as prime among them. It runs in the family indeed.
And yet, as a church and as a community, as we head into what we all hope are the last few weeks of staying at home and social distancing, I want to talk you about something else running in families. And it really has to do with faith, with salvation, with eternity, with what we call around here a living relationship with Jesus Christ. And how that living relationship runs – or doesn’t – in families. Before we get there, though, can I acknowledge an irony? A personal one? I did not grow up in this. By the time I rolled around in my family, my house was not just non-religious, I would say it was pretty vocally anti-religious. Most of the first seven of my siblings (yes, I’m the 8th of 8 and now EVERYTHING makes sense) at least went to church and had things like first communion and confirmation. It was an Episcopal church. But by the time I was four or five a couple of things had happened, my mom got alienated from it, my dad had never been in it, and voila! Sunday morning free for me!
So look at that irony! Almost no exposure as a kid and yet look at the direction my life took! At some level I’m like, Hey Good Shepherd, you want to raise a kid who seriously loves Jesus and maybe even becomes a preacher? Then raise him as an atheist! Because in retrospect, my conversion at 17 was the perfect collision of teenage rebellion and God’s redemption! But no, not going to do that.
I’m not going to because there is a marvelous slice from the book of Deuteronomy that won’t let me do that. And in this slice God gives to Moses directions that Moses is to give to the OT people. Here in Deut 11 it is essentially a re-tweet of material that’s already been in Deut 6 and it follows both the unfortunate incident with the Golden Calf AND the giving of the Ten Commandments. Great sin followed by great revelation. And look at 11:16 first:
Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them.
Oh, don’t do that again, now! For us, it would likely be a warning against bowing at the altar of celebrity or politician or guru. Than at 11:18:
18 Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.
Ah! Know, immerse yourself in, SAVOR these words. I have been writing my prayers most mornings and in writing them I re-learn every day how glad I am that Jesus loved, chased, bought, resurrected, and protected me. I savor that. That’s what the instruction here is like. So many of you have that same undeserved yet incomparable story.
And then look at 11:19:
19 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.
READ. Ah ha! Fascinating. Look at how comprehensive it is. For us, it implies while you’re teaching kids to ride a bike, while you’re tie-ing their shoes, while you’re in the car, while you’re in Wal Mart (though c’mon, why’d you take them there in the first place?), while you’re watching TV or gaming, or while you’re driving to and from soccer practice. Notice what it omits? While you’re in Sunday School, Synagogue School, VBX, or whatever. It is instead an on-going, never-ending, interactive conversation. Woven into the fabric of life. That’s when moms and dads are to talk about faith and Scripture and Jesus – in the middle of everything else they are doing! I love it.
That is so helpful and so stunning because here is what many of us think – if we think at all – in terms of sharing faith with our kids: we gots to have THE TALK. Maybe at church or maybe at home and maybe calling on a staffer from church or maybe no, but there’s going to come that moment when we TALK: would you like to become a Christian? Do you want to invite Jesus into your heart? Are you ready to get saved? Now: there’s that OTHER Talk, the one about sex, and what I’m telling you today happily applies to that one as well. Nevertheless, there’s another irony in me giving this message: my high school friend had THE TALK with me, Jesus showed off during it, and I became a Christian. Cool. Like I said, spiritually it was Jesus all over it; psychologically, it was my teenage rebellion! Cool, amazing, soul saving, and life altering … just not that biblical. And I’ll take biblical anyday.
Because look at Deut 11:19 again. Comprehensive. All stages of the day and all phases of life. Almost as if you are never not talking about it. And that truth makes it clear for any of you moms and dads or grandmoms and grandads who are trying to pass on faith to the next generations: You can only have THE TALK when you’re first having THE CONVERSATION. Yep. That’s it. I want to invite you to view this as a long term conversation where everything is fodder for a healthy, God centered conversation. Like what happened with this household in the life of Good Shepherd:
“We moved to Charlotte July 3 of last year and GSUMC was the first church we tried, and the only one. My husband and I have grown both in our marriage and personally here, but our kids have grown in their faith more than we could ever know! In November last year, we watched Ron Dozier from home preach on FB Live and the kids heard it loud and clear in their hearts! They asked question after question about faith, serving, and Jesus. After we gave them the answers God put in our hearts, both Nolan (10) and Hayley (7) asked Jesus to come into their hearts, They followed our lead praying the same prayer we said ourselves growing up in faith! We have a continuing conversation about what it means to follow Christ, and they are learning so much from watching GSUMC live during the coronavirus every Sunday!”
And notice the context: Jesus wasn’t introduced in that precious conversation; he’d been a constant topic all along.
But wait wait wait wait. I know what some of you are thinking: how can I do this with my kids or grandchildren when I don’t know much myself? How can I pour out of an empty bucket? Well, it’s like planting a tree – the best time was 20 years ago and the second best time is TODAY. Yeah, you’ve got some catching up to do, but what a privilege it is when your life becomes animated by his! When the breath in your lungs really does come from his! When your heartbeat is but a reflection of his beating heart. A living relationship with Jesus does involve discipline and routines, yes, (like starting the day in the Word and not the world) but it is all in response to his goodness and beauty. You get animated by it and then your own kids see the difference in you and watch you grow!
It’s why I absolutely loved hearing from one of the guys in our LG – and he is over 60 – who has been starting his days with the guided tour of the Word instead of the free-for-all of the world: It makes such a difference. It was always so foreign before but now it makes so much more sense. And so it does. Let that kind of glorious thing happen to you and in you and You can only have THE TALK when you’re first having THE CONVERSATION.
Because know this, moms and dads: the goal is not to make them good. It’s to make them whole. Not behavior modification; soul rejuvenation. We don’t want to use faith to make bad kids good but to make dead souls live. The stakes really are that high. One of my laments as a parent – and I know I’m kind of complaining about really good news – is along these lines. We did have THE CONVERSATION is it was the prelude to THE TALK, but I have to admit that I positioned faith to my kids as almost a preventative. A good way to stay out of trouble. And they followed! They walk with Jesus now, and they gave us no headaches as teenagers (rebellion is not inevitable). It’s just that I think in retrospect I made God more useful than beautiful to them. I’d like to have talked to them more about prayer, more about how good it is to be saved, more about the miracle of Holy Spirit filling. I’m grateful that in a lot of ways God worked more in spite of me than because of me, and I long for you to get it all right. You can only have THE TALK when you’re first having THE CONVERSATION.
Because the stakes are so high. Your silence in this case is your hypocrisy. If you expect your kids to “catch” faith from you without ever explaining it, you’ll be sorely disappointed. You are not just a role model – and hopefully not an object lesson! – because you will want to give a reason for the hope that lives within you. You have the enormous privilege, moms and dads, of being a filter for your kids. I mean, your house has air filters, water filters, internet filters, why not truth filters as well. You have to help them assess all the information that comes into their minds – TV, games, music, movies, and more – through the lens of Jesus. Because in this world … we’re going to be odd! Beautifully strange! I’ll always remember the time our now 30 year old daughter was 13 and we were on a family vacation and she was reading Teen Glamour. She finished the article that was on sex and relationships – suffice it to say that being Teen Glamour, it wasn’t high on celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage – put the magazine aside and said with steely determination: “That was so against everything I’ve ever been taught in my life.” Hallelujuah! Filtering worked in that case. You can only have THE TALK when you’re first having THE CONVERSATION.
Who knows? Maybe this Pandemic and the extra time at home it gives you will be used by God to give you that extra time to have true-er, deeper, more everlasting conversations with your family that turn into talks for Jesus. What a marvelous way for him to massage undeniably good out of the unbelievably bad. You can only have THE TALK when you’re first having THE CONVERSATION.
It’s beautiful to see the fruit of it. A couple of months ago I went to a funeral for a 15 year old. That’s incredibly sad … but this was really unlike any funeral I’ve ever attended. The young woman who died had actually been born with a condition that made her brain never advance beyond that of a nine month old. She was a 9 month old person in a 15 year old’s body. And so her body gave out. But the funeral was … dazzling. Most dazzling was dad’s – Dad’s! – eulogy. In it he shared of how he had told his daughter about Jesus every day of her life, not in isolation from the day’s routine but as part of it. And he is convinced that because of that constant bathing in truth, the moments of her passing were anything but tortured … instead, serene and lovely. As he shared with us that day: Emma saw Jesus … and he took her breath away.
So he did. May that kind of legacy from that kind of conversation run in all our families today.