This time of year my mind goes back to Thanksgivings of the past. One thing I always loved about our Thanksgiving gatherings was it gave me a chance to enjoy my mother’s pies. She was an excellent pie maker. As I remember my mother, I think of all she taught me. And we owe our mothers for teaching us so much. A few things my mother taught me – and I bet your mother taught you were:
- To appreciate a job well done – “If you’re going to kill each other, do it outside. I just finished cleaning.”
- Religion – “You better pray that will come out of the carpet.”
- Logic – “Because I said so, that’s why.”
- Perservance – “You’ll sit there until all that spinach is gone.”
- Weather – “This room of yours looks as if a tornado went through it.”
- Hypocrisy – “If I told you once, I’ve told you a million times. Don’t exaggerate!”
- Behavior modification – “Stop acting like your father!”
- Envy – “There are millions of less fortunate children in this world who don’t have wonderful parents like you do.”
Thank God for the advice of mothers? Many words of wisdom my mother told me, I passed on to my kids – and now I hear them passing on to my grandkids. Some of that great advice:
- Money does not grow on trees.
- Don’t make that face or it’ll freeze in that position.
- If I talked to my mother like you talk to me….
- Always change your underwear; you never know when you’ll have an accident.
- What if everyone jumped off a cliff? Would you do it, too?
- Close that door! Were you born in a barn?
- If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
- Don’t put that in your mouth; you don’t know where it’s been!
- Be careful what you wish for, it might come true.
- I hope that when you grow up, you have kids “Just Like you”! (Also known as the “Mother’s Curse”)
- Eat your vegetables, children in China (or Africa) are starving.
- If you fall out of that tree and break your leg, don’t come running to me.
- Bored! How can you be bored? I was never bored at your age.
We have received and passed on advice just like this. We heard our mothers say it, we said it and many of us now hear our children saying it to their children. While we laugh at these words of wisdom, there are words of wisdom we need to be passing on.
In the 16th chapter of Acts we meet a young man who was part of the first “second generation” of Christians. Paul met Timothy on his second missionary journey and he joined Paul in his missionary work. Later, when Paul was in prison, Timothy had been left behind in Ephesus as a pastor/leader in the church. From prison, Paul wrote a letter to Timothy. This is believed to have been the last letter Paul wrote and he shared with Timothy words of wisdom, reflection and advice.
In that second letter to Timothy in chapter 1, verse 5, Paul wrote, “I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you.” Later in chapter 2, verse 15 he said, “You have been taught the Holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.”
Timothy – a young man who carried on the work that Paul had begun in Ephesus – was able to do that, not only because of the influence of Paul in his life and the experiences he had shared with Paul. No – his preparation for the ministry began long before Paul came into his life. He had genuine faith (sincere, honest, real faith) that had first filled his grandmother and then his mother. These two women had done a good job of passing on the torch.
Today as mothers, grandmothers, aunts, friends of children, we have the same responsibility to pass on the torch of faith. It has been said that God has no grandchildren. Over and over the Word of God refers to God as our father, but nowhere is God ever called our grandfather. We are always one generation away from losing the Christian faith. Today, as never before, our country needs Christian leaders, fathers, and mothers. We must, we have to pass on the faith. It is the only hope for our children, our grandchildren, and our nation.
We need to see that this life is a relay race. Those who want to win the race must be good at handing off to the next generation the essentials they need to live a life of faith.
But how do we go about passing this kind of faith on to our families – whether it be our children, our grandchildren, our nieces and nephews, the children in our church, our community. But how do we pass on this faith?
Again, we must turn to the Bible. Let’s look at the words of Deuteronomy 6 which are a biblical cornerstone for the family. These eternal words talk about the daily discipline of faith building in the home.
“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
“ Attention, Israel! God, our God! God the one and only! Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.”
“ Memorize his laws and tell them to your children over and over again. Talk about them all the time, whether you’re at home or walking along the road or going to bed at night, or getting up in the morning. Write down copies and tie them to your wrists and foreheads to help you obey them. Write these laws on the door frames of your homes and on your town gates.”
“And you must think constantly about these commandments I am giving you today. You must teach them to your children and talk about them when you are at home or out for a walk; at bedtime and the first thing in the morning” (vv. 6-7 TLB).
The commandments — those excellent, unmatched principles of love, honor, obedience, integrity, kindness, and faithfulness that are true for all people, in all cultures, at all times.
Often when we think of passing on the faith, we get all caught up in passing on rules/regulations to our children. While it is true that Jesus Himself said if we love Him, we would keep His commandments, it is not rules/regulations we need to pass on. Many of us have tried that, but a bunch of rules/regulations often lead to rebellion.
When we look at Acts 16 where Paul first met Timothy and called him to join his mission team, we see that Timothy had never been circumcised. Circumcision was one of the main rules of Jewish life. All Jewish boys were to be circumcised on the eighth day of life. While Timothy’s mother and grandmother were Jewish, his father was a Greek, so it appears that many of the Jewish rules were not observed by Timothy’s father or Timothy. Yet Paul spoke of the genuine faith Timothy had – genuine faith that had resided in his grandmother and mother. Clearly, what they had passed on was not a list of do’s and don’ts, but a devotion, a confidence, a trust in God.
I want to ask you today, “are you passing on that devotion, that confidence, that trust in God? Perhaps today you are not a mother. But you may be an aunt, or a beloved cousin or friend to a young person. We have an obligation to pass on the faith not only to our children and grandchildren, but to those young people we come into contact with in our church, our community. There are single parents out there trying to be both Mom and Dad who could use someone to come alongside them and spent some time mentoring and caring for their children. There are grandparents raising grandchildren who could use a break, a word of encouragement and again the children could use attention and love from others besides their tired and overwhelmed grandparents. There are organizations like YouthHope and Little Brothers and Little Sisters that could use someone to spend time with children who live many times in homes where chaos and strife are the rule not the exception.
So when I speak of children – I am speaking to everyone here today whether you are a mother/grandmother or not, whether your children are already grown or still at home.
What does it mean to teach these divine principles to your children? It is very important that we understand the meaning of the word teach in this key parenting passage of the Bible. The Old Testament Hebrews had two definitions for teach. The first was the idea of a formal lecture, as in a professor giving a lecture in a classroom on parenting, child rearing, or the family system. Our idea of teaching in the Western World is very similar to this concept of a formal, organized presentation.
However, this is not the meaning of the word teach in this passage. The other meaning had to do with casual, everyday conversation of life, and that is the meaning the writer used here. The other meaning had to do with the casual, everyday conversation of life, and that is the meaning the writer used here. He wanted to get across the idea that character training flows more out of a parent’s day-to-day encounters with his or her children than it does from formal teaching. Whether you talk about baseball or ballet, music or math, the color of the sky at dusk or the dew on the grass in the morning, every conversation can provide an opportunity to teach your children about the things of God.
The basic meaning behind the term teach is that passing the faith never stops. You are always — always — teaching the children around you something. There are no downtimes, time-outs, or do-overs. Everything you do, every moment of the day, teaches children something about life, whether you are in their presence or not. The time you spend away from them at your job, at social functions, on dates with your spouse, shopping, or at church activities speaks to them about the importance of each of those activities. You pass the baton of faith moment by moment, in a thousand seemingly insignificant words, phrases, activities, and conversations. In other words, just as in a relay race, the baton is not taught, it is caught “when you are at home or out for a walk; at bedtime and the first thing in the morning.”
Christianity is not just a weekend sport. It is a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday lifestyle. Those teachable moments with the children can happen while they are playing games, while they are at the soccer field, shopping at the mall, playing at the piano recital, fishing, or camping. And when children give you those windows of opportunity, take them and teach them words of faith.
When I think about what it means to pass on the baton of faith through teachable moments, my mind rushes back to when my granddaughter, Barbara, was 4. Her diet consisted primarily of bread – any kind of bread – toast, homemade rolls, just bread and she loved potatoes. But trying to get her to eat any fruit or vegetable resulted in an almost daily power struggle. Well, one night her parents were determined she was going to eat a tomato. They placed four little bites on her plate, but she immediately began to cry that she didn’t want it. So they said firmly, “Barbara, you are going to sit here until you eat the tomato.” Finally, she stabbed a piece of tomato and slowly lifted the fork to her mouth. Well, if you have ever had a four-year-old, you know what’s coming. Just as it touched her tongue, she gagged dramatically.
Sometimes we have tried to do the same thing with children when it comes to matters of faith. We try to force religion down their throats. This is not how we are to teach the things of God. Rather, teaching happens as we live our lives. We don’t force it. We don’t say, “We are going to sit here until you take it.” We live out genuine Christianity in front of them.
If you are raising children right now:
- When they come home with a problem at school – maybe someone bullying them, or difficulties learning a subject, share with them how God can help them. Tell them about times He has helped you in the past. Pray with them.
- Buy toys/movies/books that share the story of God’s love and faithfulness. The Bible book stores are full of such resources.
- Watch TV/movies with them. While you certainly do not want to have them watch shows that are X-rated or full of sinful actions, in our world today there will be many shows/movies that do not have nudity, violence etc. but may have what we would call “gray” areas. When their shows come on, you can use them to discuss how that particular scene/action did not line up with God’s Word. For instance, you may see a family comedy where one member of the family puts another one down to get a laugh. You can later discuss how getting a laugh at someone else’s expense, is not showing love to one another and is not how a child of God should behave.
- Pray with your children – not just at mealtime or bedtime – but any time a need arises. Also, when God blesses you, share that with your children and have a time of praise.
- Talk about the flowers, the sunrise, the birds singing – all the wonderful things God has given us and talk about the wonder of God’s creation.
If you are a grandmother, an aunt, a friend.
- Choose the presents you buy – make sure they have books/toys/movies that point to God.
- Share with them (they love hearing stories from grandmothers of the past) how God brought you through a difficult time, how He answered a prayer.
- Tell them about your favorite Bible verse or Bible character or Bible and why it is your favorite.
If you have children in your church.
- Learn their names and greet them by their name.
- Stoop down to their level and talk to them.
There are hundreds of ways to let children know they are loved and are important. And to share with them that God loves them to. Just put on your thinking cap and get creative.
In order to pass on the faith to the next generation, we must possess that faith our self. We cannot pass on what we do not have. We need to make sure we have a serious and committed relationship our self to God and that we are living lives consistent with His truth.