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Organic Outreach for Familiesturning your home into a lighthouse
By Kevin G. Harney Sherry Harney
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2012 Kevin G. Harney and Sherry Harney
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLiving the Gospel in Your Home
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. — Deuteronomy 6:4–7
I have but one passion: It is He, it is He alone. The world is the field and the field is the world; and henceforth that country shall be my home where I can be most used in winning souls for Christ. — Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf
As a junior in college and a fairly new follower of Christ, I was excited to be moving to the Midwest to attend a Christian school filled with passionate, committed, and excited young believers. I had attended only public schools before, and so I arrived at my new college with great enthusiasm.
As I got to know my fellow students, however, I was shocked to discover that many of them were angry with their parents and hostile toward God. I spent time listening to young men and women who had grown up in a pastor's home or were raised on the mission field. Often, they were resentful of, not excited about, the Christian faith. To be fair, some of the finest young people I have ever known attended this school. They loved Jesus, and they longed to share the good news of the Savior with others. But they were the exception. An overwhelming number of the students were either hostile toward God or apathetic about the gospel. Some had been "forced" to attend this school because it was the alma mater of their parents and grandparents. Some admitted that they were not even sure if they believed in God or the Bible. Others assented to the Christian faith but seemed indifferent to growing in their faith.
I had expected a campus teeming with students who were excited and committed followers of Jesus. I assumed my classmates would be thankful for the chance to attend such a great Christian school. I thought they would be hungry to be equipped to bring the good news of Jesus to the world.
I was wrong.
I was disturbed each time I met a student who was hurt, angry, or apathetic about their faith. I found myself wondering why some kids who grew up in strong Christian homes ended up far from God.
During that year of college, my future wife, Sherry, was living two thousand miles away in California. We talked on the phone once a week (this was before cell phones, text messaging, email, and Skype), and I learned that she had also encountered people who were raised in Christian families but had wandered from the faith. We talked about these encounters and began praying about the home environment we wanted our family to have when we were married. We discussed how we did not want our kids to end up bitter, resentful, and cynical toward God. Even while we were dating, we were praying and thinking about how we could raise our kids to know and love Jesus.
Keep in mind that we did not have a tight and orderly child-rearing program worked out to guarantee that our children would grow up to love God. When we got married, we had some goals and dreams, but we lacked a parenting "system" to make them a reality. And we admit, now that all three of our sons are adults, that we still do not have a nice tidy scheme to guarantee that kids will grow to follow Jesus with a heart of love for God. We all know it's just not that simple.
Still, the years of marriage and parenting have taught us some healthy and practical guidelines that are biblical and easily transferable. We did not turn our home into a mini seminary. Nor did we build a fortress to keep our kids trapped inside. We made no effort to dig a moat around our home to keep the weirdness and evil of the world out. We did not do nightly Bible memory programs and drill our kids endlessly about what book comes after Ezekiel or how many chapters are in 2 Corinthians. We did not force our kids to attend every church activity and behave differently from their peers. We raised them to believe in Jesus and love him with sincere hearts. We sought to model a hunger for Scripture and passion for prayer. We lived our faith as an open book and invited them into the joy and journey of walking with Jesus.
Today, all three of our adult sons have authentic friendships with Jesus. They love the church, and each of them enjoys participating in the life of a congregation by using his gifts to serve God and others. They are passionate about sharing the gospel with friends, family, and the world. Each of our sons feels called to Christian service through the church, the mission field, or the arts. In the pages ahead, you'll hear from them from time to time as they share glimpses of what it was like to grow up in a home where their parents sought to make their home a lighthouse of God's grace.
We can't give others what we don't have. If we want our children to love Jesus with authentic and passionate hearts, we, as parents, must have a living and dynamic relationship with God. This isn't about being "religious." It's about loving the one true God of the Bible, who reveals himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Parents who are lukewarm about living for God can't expect their kids to shine brightly for Jesus. Dropping our kids off at church events so they can get a weekly dose of God isn't enough. We need to examine our own relationship with God and ask, If my child grows up to have a faith like mine, would that be a good thing?
The idea of "organic outreach" begins with a personal friendship with God through faith in Jesus. The faith of parents who are growing in their love for God is contagious, spreading throughout their home. Because their faith is real, it permeates their lives. We must live the gospel in our homes before we can share it in the world. We can't expect our children to have a deep relationship with Jesus if ours is shallow.
FRIENDSHIP WITH JESUS
When your children look at you, do they see a friend of Jesus? Do they hear you talk about God with affection and joy? Do your kids see evidence that the Holy Spirit is alive and at work in your heart? I made sure to tell my boys when they were young that I loved God even more than I loved them. They were surprised to hear me say this at first. Then I told them that I loved God even more than I loved their mom. That really shocked them, because they knew how crazy I was about their mother! I explained that I can be a good dad and husband only if I love God first and walk close to Jesus. When I am not following Jesus, I am not the husband and father I want to be.
Today, if you ask any of our three sons, Zach, Josh, and Nate, who their parents love most in the world, they will tell you that both Sherry and I love God more than anyone, including them. Knowing this actually brings them comfort. Our sons have watched their mom closely their entire lives. They have seen a woman who loves God. They have seen how whenever they had a concern, their mother responded to them with faith and turned to Jesus for help. They saw the example of parents who look to Scripture for guidance and regularly pray for wisdom. They learned that a home can be a lighthouse to others only when it is connected to the one who is the source of all light and life.
PASSION FOR THE BIBLE AS GOD'S TRUTH
Parents who want to see their children grow strong in their faith need to love God's Word and regularly read the Bible. In our world, moral absolutes are questioned, and the Bible is mocked. Our children need to learn that God has clearly spoken in the Bible and has told us how we can enjoy a relationship with him. Our words and actions should model for our kids what it's like to dig into the Word and build our lives on its teaching.
What does this look like? Rather than giving you our perspective, we asked our oldest son, Zach, for his answer to that question. At the time he wrote this, Zach was twenty-four years old and serving in a church full-time while attending seminary. We asked him to share his perspective on these two questions: How can parents help their kids grow in knowledge of the Bible? How can parents foster a lifelong commitment to reading and studying God's Word?
A PLACE OF GRACE
The message of the gospel is grace to the core. The apostle Paul put it this way: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast." The gift of Jesus, his death on the cross, the payment for our sins, the glory of the resurrection — none of these are earned or deserved. They are gifts of grace. God knows all about our sin, and yet he entered human history to die for us anyway. "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." A lighthouse home is a place that radiates this grace, and it begins with the way parents raise their children.
Parents live the gospel in their home as they are daily reminded of the undeserved grace and mercy God has shown by forgiving their sin and failure. Parents who have received grace can humbly walk in grace. As this happens, they can freely extend grace to others, beginning with their children. This doesn't mean that dads and moms should not be firm and consistent with discipline when it is needed. Grace is not about spoiling kids, nor is it opposed to discipline and correction. Rather, it is quick to forgive, committed to restoration, and lavish with kindness and love. It is a love that is based on what is good, right, and true, yet it is motivated by mercy and a deep awareness of our need for God's saving help through Jesus. Our children should be reminded on a regular basis that they are loved by God, precious in his sight, and valued more than they dream.
Grace rules a home when parents tell stories of how they have received the forgiveness of Jesus and model that same love by forgiving their children. Parents set an example for their children when they repeat the story of their conversion, sharing the gospel with their kids, again and again, with awestruck humility. Parents inspire their children to seek God when they talk freely about how God loves, guides, helps, and forgives them, all in the normal flow of everyday life.
You know that God's grace has permeated a family when parents can admit their own frailties, faults, and foibles to their kids and rejoice with them that they are saved by grace alone. Sherry and I both have experienced moments when we handled something poorly with our boys and had to ask them for forgiveness. These became sacred moments as our boys discovered that parents need grace too. Children understand grace as their parents forgive them quickly, not holding grudges or reminding them of failures. Parents should graciously remind their kids that God has dealt with their disobedience and sin on the cross. We don't hold our children's mistakes over their heads. When they admit their mistakes and confess them, we model the love of God and treat them as people who have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus.
The culture of a home also reflects grace when parents refuse to speak judgmental words about people in their community, church, or extended family. If we have sharp tongues and critical spirits in the privacy of our homes, our children soon recognize our hypocrisy. We can declare that we live in the love of God, but our words are a compelling witness that the gospel of grace does not yet rule in our hearts and homes.
In the coming chapters, we will look at some practical ways our family members can experience the presence of Jesus and the power of his grace within the walls of our homes. The starting point is recognizing that we can't give what we don't have. If we want our homes to be lighthouses of God's grace, it begins with us, with our grasp of the gospel of God's grace and our walk with the Lord. As we walk with Jesus, revel in his grace, long for him to be glorified, and delight in our friendship with the Savior, we naturally bring this good news to the most important people in our lives, our children.
RAISING CHILDREN IN A POSTMODERN WORLD
If you are currently raising children, they are being raised in a postmodern world. If you plan on raising children anytime soon, they will also be raised in a postmodern world. But what is postmodernism? It sounds like an improvement or more advanced version of modernism. But more specifically, what is it? To truly describe what it means would take more room than even this entire book has to offer, because it permeates architecture, literature, pop culture, and almost every facet of life, and it means something a little bit different in each area. Without getting into extremely specific and technical jargon, I will try to illuminate why it is important in leading a family and raising Christian children.
Professor and author Elizabeth Wilson says, "Postmodernism refuses to privilege any one perspective, and recognizes only difference, never inequality, only fragments, never conflict." What this means is that postmodern people do not believe that one perspective is better than another. They believe that opinions, no matter how different they are from each other, should never conflict with another, because our viewpoints are only a matter of opinion. What is good for one person may not be good for another. As long as laws are not being broken and people are not being hurt, a person should be able to live the way they want, because one person's truth is not necessarily another person's truth.
This viewpoint is rooted in a process of history. Humanity has been trying to find answers to life's biggest questions since the beginning of the world. An attempt to find truth has existed for thousands of years, but postmodernism is a sign of giving up this search, or, in the minds of postmodernists, an awakening to the complex world of relative truth. In their minds, religion has failed to provide an all-encompassing explanation of the world. On the other hand, the hard sciences also have failed to provide truth that explains or validates why we exist. If religion and science have failed to produce a system of truth, then it can only be found in each individual. Postmodernists believe that truth is relative, which means that no one viewpoint is correct; it is simply what is "right" for that individual.
The main problem with this, though, is that we are a fallen people with really messed up desires and minds. Without some sort of objective morality or all-encompassing truth, we can get into a lot of trouble by simply following what "feels right" for us. This is the world that we live in, it is the world I grew up in, and there is no getting around it. In this world, we are taught from a young age to be tolerant of everything, as long as it does not cause us physical harm or infringe on a very loose definition of our rights. Most of the time it is subconscious; it has permeated the minds of many young people without their having any idea that it is engrained in their minds. I realize this when someone older than me calls something that seems harmless "sin" or says that something is "wrong." Something deep inside of me responds, "You can't tell me what is right and wrong; that's just what you believe." The trouble with this viewpoint is that there are things that are right and wrong, at least if you believe that the Bible is, as 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."
This is why one of the greatest things that a parent can do is teach their child to read and understand the Word of God. Unless a young person is committed to reading and believing Scripture, they will inevitably be heavily influenced by the culture of postmodernism and relative truth. Much of American society, especially the younger generations, already buys into this, and it has infused itself in most secular institutions, the general media, literature, and even many Christian institutions. It is rooted in a falling away from scriptural truths. The Bible clearly teaches, over and over again, that there are things that aren't permissible by God and that by committing these actions or having certain attitudes, we are going against his desire for us. Without some sort of guidepost, we are blindly stumbling in the exact same way that everyone else is. The most effective response of a parent who wants their child to be a light, someone who reaches out to the lost people around them, is not only to model what a Christian acts like on a day-to-day basis but to prepare them with Scripture for a confused world. Without this preparation, they will be just as lost as the next person, and when someone who is spiritually curious comes to them with questions, they won't have the definitive answers that come from God's truth. They will give the same conjecture and uncertainty as everyone else does.
When my brothers and I were kids, our parents tried every possible thing they could to get us to read the Bible. My father would make us comprehensive reading guides with some sort of reward at the end. Every time we went on a vacation, we read through a book of the Bible (usually a smaller one). For a while, we were each asked to do our own devotion, and then we would meet once a week to talk about it. My parents would always get us the type of Bible that we wanted. (My favorite was the NIV Archaeological Study Bible.) Some of the incentives lasted a long time, and at other times, we would slow down in our Bible reading, but it was always seen as important.
Probably the greatest service they did for us was not shoving it down our throats. Though it was greatly encouraged, it was never forced, and while we may not have read the Bible as much as we could have, our love for the Bible continued to grow. In fact, all three of us were involved in some sort of biblical study in our education, and in recent years, the Bible has become more alive and interesting than I could ever have imagined. I saw my parents reading the Bible every day because they loved it, and this was often a mystery to me as a young child, but now I know I will be passing the same legacy on to my children through encouragement and example.
Excerpted from Organic Outreach for Families by Kevin G. Harney Sherry Harney Copyright © 2012 by Kevin G. Harney and Sherry Harney. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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