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Raising Your Kids to Love the Lord
By Dave Stone
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Dave Stone
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTop-Button Truths
The hallway was packed, but Heather seemed oblivious to the crowds jostling around us. She was new to the church, visiting at the invitation of a friend. We chitchatted for a moment, but the small talk changed dramatically when I asked what she hoped to gain by worshipping with us at Southeast.
Tears filled her eyes, and she said, "Dave, I just want my kids to grow up and love the Lord."
Heather is not alone. Plenty of people want faith for their family.
I do. You do, too, or you wouldn't have picked up this book.
Parents look in a lot of different directions to ensure that the spiritual baton is passed on to their children. Some, like Heather, rely on the church or a Christian school. Others will turn to close relatives, camp, or a parenting book.
I commend those choices; they can all be helpful. But there's a better place to begin.
If you want your kids to grow up to love the Lord, it all starts with ...
Have you ever gotten to work, or church, or your kid's school play only to look down and realize that your shirt or blouse is buttoned the wrong way?
It's a minor embarrassment, but it's also a metaphor for spiritual truth. If you start at the top and work your way down, the rest of the process comes quite naturally. But if you button the top one wrong, things will be skewed from the start. You can keep on buttoning, but eventually you'll have to start over. It pays to start right from the beginning.
For some, this book is a chance to start over from the top. For others, it's positive reinforcement to stay the course.
In this book you'll find practical suggestions and creative ideas that will be helpful to you regardless of your family dynamics. You'll have a chance to get refocused on those "top-button" truths, the principles that make all the difference in your own spiritual life and in the lives of your children. You'll learn that when your heart truly beats for the Lord, when godly living is your priority, it becomes more natural for your children to embrace faith. Real faith.
I know you're thinking it, so go ahead and ask: "Who is this guy anyway? What makes him such an expert? What gives him any wisdom for my family?"
Well, let me just say right up front that I am not a child psychologist. I do not have a counseling degree.
I am a parent and a Christian. I love the Lord.
And I've survived.
Does it feel that way sometimes, that all you can do as a parent is survive? I've felt that, too. But I've also experienced those awesome moments of watching our children come to believe and trust in God. I've seen a little faith become a fire; I've seen them mature and settle into their own personal faith. I've watched them grow up to love the Lord.
By the grace of God, my wife, Beth, and I have raised two well-adjusted daughters who love the Lord and a teenage son who shows every sign of following that path. All three of our kids are looked up to by Christians and non-Christians alike.
I say that not with arrogance, but with deep gratitude to the Lord ... and to Beth.
For years we've had home Bible studies with couples in their twenties and thirties. They all ask the same questions:
Why do your kids enjoy talking about spiritual things?
How do you get Sam to look people in the eyes and speak to them?
How did Savannah keep her faith during college?
And our answer is always the same: we raised our kids to love the Lord, to value others, and to use their gifts for Him.
So when Heather said to me, "I just want my children to love the Lord," something stirred in my soul. Because that's my daily prayer for my own family. And it's also my passion for other families as well, to help parents pass on to their children a fervent and authentic love for God and the heartfelt desire for a genuine relationship with Christ.
PRETENDERS & PERFECTIONISTS
For over two decades I've been privileged to preach at a great church, where over twenty thousand people come to worship God each weekend. So I minister in a setting where I'm exposed to all kinds of families. Some are genuine in their desire to have a family who loves the Lord, but as in most churches, many are pretenders. They play the part in a sanctuary on Sunday morning. Once Monday rolls around, however, you'd be hard-pressed to see any difference between them and anybody else on the block.
Other parents are perfectionists. They train their children to toe the line and do everything just right for onlookers. They want their kids to perform on cue, like the cocker spaniel who wins Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club. But they've never taken the time to address the heart issues or concern themselves with what's on the inside.
Now, Beth and I love our children. They make us proud, and occasionally they disappoint us—just as we do them. Along the way we've made plenty of mistakes. And in the process we've learned some things we can pass on to other struggling parents.
Nobody does it right all of the time.
I remember once watching my three-year-old crawl across the kitchen counter growling like a lion. I asked her, "Does Mommy let you do this?"
She replied, "No—but you do!"
My prayer is that you will learn from both our blunders and our triumphs.
Some of you will read this book in hopes of discovering an easy gimmick or quick fix for your parenting. Others are looking for a step-by-step guide to ensure fully devoted followers.
If you fall into any of those categories, then I sure hope you kept your receipt! Because there's no such thing as assembly-line spirituality—check off five boxes and presto! You've got a Christian child.
People point to Proverbs 22:6, "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it" (2011 NIV). But that passage is meant to be understood as a general principle, not an ironclad promise.
Let's face it. Only perfect parents raise perfect children. (Last time I checked, there were no perfect children and no perfect parents either!) There is no foolproof plan. And there's this little detail called free will, which will determine the spiritual commitment level of your children when they are grown.
On the other hand, Christian homes don't just happen; neither do kids who love the Lord. There's a lot we can do to help determine the outcome of our children's spiritual lives. We can become intentional in our efforts. We can pave the way for them. We can model true faith and continually pray that God will transform their hearts.
And we can focus on top-button truths.
Whether you have teens or toddlers, whether you're getting ready for graduation or just beginning potty training, you can influence your kids for Christ. The earlier you begin the process, the better—but it's never too late.
The best time to plant an oak tree was twenty-five years ago.
The second best time is today.
If you want your kids to grow up to love the Lord, then join me on this journey. Together let's strive to be the family that God wants us to be. Not a pretend family. Not a perfect family. But a family whose kids grow up to love the Lord.
Chapter TwoWho You Are When No One's Watching
Twenty-two-year-old Katie stood in the center of the room with her parents, sister, and closest friends circled around her. This was the moment of truth: her intervention. Her hands trembled and her voice shook as she admitted the gruesome realities of her addiction to drugs and alcohol. Everyone listened intently, and then they began to respond. With candor and honesty they spoke of the pain Katie's addiction had brought to their lives and promised to stick with her during her rehab and recovery. It was a moment of intense anguish and profound healing.
Until it came to her mother.
"Katie," her mom said, "I'm an addict, too. I'm addicted to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
For a moment or two everyone was silent. No one could believe what they'd just heard. Then her daughter looked back at her and said, "Your religion is a joke, and you are a hypocrite."
The remainder of the therapy session revealed the truth about Katie's family: Her parents had taken her to church, but their Christianity was just a big act. They didn't live it. It made no difference at all in their lives or in the way they related as a family.
At fourteen, Katie had had enough. She told her parents, "I don't want to pretend anymore." That night she ran away from home, began experimenting with drugs, and spent years in and out of rehab centers.
A friend of mine witnessed Katie's intervention firsthand. "It gave me chills," he said. "I don't ever want my kids to point their finger at me and say, 'Your faith is a joke and you are a hypocrite.'"
Neither do I.
SHOW AND SUBSTANCE
Jesus saw a lot of hypocrisy up close and personal. The Pharisees of His day were a lot like Katie's parents. They acted spiritual and claimed a close relationship with God, but it was all a facade. They weren't what they appeared to be. They said the right thing but didn't practice what they preached. And Jesus didn't let them off easy. He called them "whitewashed tombs full of dead men's bones" (Matthew 23:27).
We have plenty of whitewashed tombs in our generation as well—families who appear to be holy but on closer inspection turn out to be hollow. They're like a chocolate Easter bunny—you think it's solid and filling, but when you break into it, you find nothing but a fragile and empty shell. It's all show and no substance.
When there's nothing inside, when our Christianity is simply a religious pretense, we have no right to expect our children to respect our faith or follow us in it. If we want to grow a family that loves and honors the Lord, that process begins with our authenticity; with the kind of faith that makes a difference in the way we live and love every single day.
That's God's call and challenge to us.
That's the example Jesus set for us.
WARNING TO PARENTS
I probably should put a label on this section that reads: Warning: This chapter may hit too close to home.
But I promise I'm not gunning for you, and I haven't talked to your spouse or your neighbors. If you feel like I've been eavesdropping or spying on your family, know this: All parents struggle with the same issues. All of us face the same problems and challenges.
Comedian Jim Gaffigan says, "Sometimes I feel unqualified to be a parent. I call those times being awake."
Can you relate? I can.
Nurturing a godly family doesn't happen overnight, and it's not something you can learn from a few bullet points and a how-to article. It demands time and commitment and openness. There are no easy answers—and most of the time there aren't even any easy questions.
The real issue is separating the hollow from the holy, separating pretense from the rigorous investment of time, passion, and prayer to spiritually lead our children. The real issue is living out the call of Christ in our lives as parents.
Jesus reduced the expectation down to this: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33).
So how do we do it? What makes the difference between a family life rich with spiritual substance and a family life based on pretense and image?
It's a simple principle, but an uncomfortable one if we take it to heart: our children will be more apt to love the Lord if we do.
When parents are fleshing out their faith and living out their days with joy and honesty, their children will be attracted to it. Children want something that is real; they want to follow someone who is genuine. Your example—in victories and challenges, in successes and sins, in forgiveness and accountability—can lead them toward an authentic relationship with the Lord.
But your faith must be both a noun and a verb. It can't be all talk. It's who you are and how you conduct yourself, consistently, daily. It's how your actions grow out of your identity in Christ.
It's the way you act when you are miles away from your family on a business trip. It's how you respond when you are the object of advances from a coworker. It's what you say when a neighbor gossips or a boss pressures you to fudge on the budget.
Character is who you are when no one's watching.
But count on it, your kids will watch. They'll pick up on a wandering eye or little white lies. They'll sense deception if you try to paint a rosy picture of your marriage when it's more thorns than flowers. Little eyes watch; little ears listen. They notice everything. They see how you are in public and in private. They have a knack for exposing respectable frauds. When you live under the same roof, it's hard to hide the glaring inconsistencies.
When the phone rings, your spouse answers it, and you silently mouth, "Tell her I'm not here," don't be surprised when your daughter lies to you in order to get herself out of an awkward jam with her grades or her boyfriend.
I've heard it a thousand times. A child takes an unwise detour in high school or college, and the parents come to me saying, "We don't understand. We raised him in the church."
And I want to ask, "But what did you model for him in the home?"
Chris Dewelt, professor of missions at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri, put it like this:
I am to be the same person whether I am holding a communion tray in my hand or a remote control. I am to be the same person whether I am in a hotel room five hundred miles from home or in the family room with my kids. I am to be the same person when I am reading my Bible or browsing through a bookstore. I am to be the same person whether I am on break at work or if I am walking through the sanctuary of my church. For what matters is my integrity, my purity, and my faithfulness.
God expects us to be genuine, to do what we say we'll do, and to be who we claim to be. Duplicity is not only exhausting, but it's also damaging to the ones we love. Pretending wreaks havoc in our homes and sends mixed signals to the children we are trying to lead.
Just ask the Katies of the world.
SUCCESS AND SPIRITUALITY
A few years ago I ran into a neighbor coming out of the grocery store. She proceeded to brag on her kids. Both of her children had graduated from college. One had become a doctor, and the other was an accountant. "So," she said proudly, "I guess we were a success as parents!"
As I headed to my car, I had an uneasy feeling in my gut. Don't get me wrong—I want my kids to get a college degree and find gainful employment. But ultimately that's not what will determine whether I've been successful in my parenting. What matters is that my children follow God's leading. It shouldn't make any difference to me if my son becomes a surgeon, drops out of college after a year to serve in a developing nation, or flips burgers down the street. If he is walking with Christ and being responsive to the leading of the Spirit, then I've done my job.
Make no mistake, your sons and daughters will follow your lead and live up to your expectations. If through your parenting you imply that the aim of adulthood is a high-paying job or an expensive house, your children are likely to pursue those goals with more vigor than they pursue their faith.
There's nothing wrong with having a college degree or a nice house, of course. Those things aren't sinful—they're just things. And like all things, they must be secondary to loving the Lord. Everything else pales in comparison to a personal relationship with Christ.
Excerpted from Raising Your Kids to Love the Lord by Dave Stone Copyright © 2012 by Dave Stone. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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