“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 might. And these words I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children…” (Deut. 6:4-9)
I have been thinking about this passage of Scripture for a long time as a husband, a dad, a pastor, and as a part of the larger faith community. I find it interesting that before we impress the truth of God’s word on the hearts of our children, we are to love God and have His Word on our hearts. The most important factor in building biblical legacy is to authentically live out our faith both in front of and with our children. Modern education calls this “modeling.” Early Rabbi’s like Jesus called this discipleship. It is in the “showing” or in the demonstration of the Christian life that our children see faith with their own eyes. We train them up by living it now. How do we do that? There are many ways but here are 3 that I believe are crucial.
1) Marriage – Ephesians 5:31-32 teaches us that the Christian marriage is a picture of Christ’s love for the church. No one sees that picture demonstrated more clearly than our own children. Arguably, developing a loving, Christ-centered marriage relationship with your spouse is the best way we can train our children in the love of Christ. Is your marriage really characterized by love for each other, grace and forgiveness, respect and compassion? Live a great marriage now, right in front of them. Mysteriously this will train them in the love of Christ and the grace of his gospel.
2) Repentance and forgiveness – There is no perfect family. In your family life you will have argument. Inevitably you will hurt one another. When this happens, your response is a fallow training ground for your children. When you sin, quickly repent. On more than one occasion I have knelt down in front of my wife or holding the hand of one of my daughters and asked for forgiveness in order to seek reconciliation. Live a life of repentance in front of them so that they learn to quickly repent before God and others. Also, when a family member comes to you with a repentant heart, quickly forgive. In this way you are training your children about how God loves them and how they can show a Christ-like love to others.
3) Cause – Train your child by living the cause. The primary cause of Jesus Christ and his disciples is recorded in Matthew 28:18-20. We are to go and make disciples of all nations. Live the cause now. Create a top 5 list for your family. Who are the five people in your circles of influence that need to experience the love of Christ and the message of the gospel? Pray for those five with your family. Plan to invite those five to do things with your family. Equip your family to share the gospel and involve them in the process. Train them up by living it now.
While much of this article likely pertains to most Bible believing churches especially in the South, Midwest, and Southwest, I am focused specifically on my tribe because I know “us” and understand our particular plight with its own quirks. I am less astute in regards to the particular nuances of other denominational and non-denominational churches and their ability to apply the gospel in our generation.
The culture of America is quickly changing and it has been for quite some time. Those of us who live in the South and Midwestern United States are late in realizing the grassroots effects of what I consider epic cultural shifts. Particularly, I think Southern Baptists at the local level are having difficulty processing the changes taking place in light of the gospel. Generally the resulting response is anger expressed in closed circles that has little impact on the world. I believe there are 4 issues most local SBC congregations will wrestle with in 2014. If we take our cues from Scripture in each of these categories we will bring glory to God in our culture. If we yield to unbridled, conservative emotion, we will break the greatest commands of the Christian faith: Love God and love people (Matthew 22:37-40).
Issue #1: Gospel and politics – Whereas the country is completely divided on fundamental issues such as individual rights and responsibilities, fiscal responsibility, and foreign policy to name a few, the arena of politics is cataclysmic and opportune for Christians. In particular, SBC churches will have to determine how they will respond on the street level as legislation and the general political momentum continues to trend away from a traditional biblical perspective. In 2014 Christians will have to reconcile the mission to carry the gospel to their neighbor with principled politics. Learning to have basic conversations without spewing a perception of hate will be an important skill for SBC congregants to learn and SBC pastors to model for the sake of the gospel.
Issue #2: Gospel and homosexuality – Whereas the United States is rapidly embracing homosexuality as an appropriate and applauded lifestyle and whereas same-sex marriage is protected at the Federal level, the local SBC church will be faced with opportunity to know and reach more homosexual neighbors, co-workers, and family members than ever before in our nation’s history with the gospel of Jesus Christ. SBC Congregants will need to learn how to develop authentic friendship relationships with homosexuals for the sake of the gospel. Pastoral leadership will have to learn how to lovingly extend the gospel to unbelieving people who live a homosexual lifestyle while at the same time lovingly disciplining Christians who practice homosexuality in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Timothy 1). Christian parents will have to equip their children with a biblical worldview in regards to sexuality. SBC churches will need to discover strategies to equip parents for such an important task. Learning to love God well and love people well in this category is crucial in 2014.
Issue #3: Increasing levels of persecution – Whereas the United States as a culture is currently rejecting the influence of the Bible and the gospel centered church in the mainstream, SBC congregants, and all Bible believing Christians, can expect increasing levels of persecution in the United States. While Christians in other parts of the world might chuckle in their prison cells at our levels of persecution, we can expect to see persecution in ways we have not seen it in America. SBC churches are going to have to learn how to face persecution in God honoring ways. Jesus said this would happen. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) Jesus also taught us how to deal with persecution. “But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.’” (Matthew 5:44-45) This is an untested practice for most SBC churches and many Christians in America.
Issue #4: Increasing dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit - As the momentum of mainstream culture seems to reject the fundamental truths of Scripture, the land becomes darker, spiritually. This is not a surprise to our Sovereign God. His people have faced dark days before and they will again. In the darkness, the light of Jesus Christ burns brightly. With darkness eventually comes despair and despair breeds the need for hope. It is in this environment that the flicker of the gospel, empowered by the wind of the Holy Spirit spreads like a wild fire. We as people cannot manufacture this kind of gospel movement but the Holy Spirit can and will in God’s timing. SBC churches are generally uncomfortable with the work of the Holy Spirit in the world today. We would like to explain it away. However in 2014 we will need to depend on the person and the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I did not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:7-14) As John MacArthur touts cessation-ism and Mark Driscoll advocates a complete working of the Holy Spirit in our day, SBC pastors will have to discern the work of the Holy Spirit according to the Scriptures and lead their people to depend on the work of the person of the Holy Spirit.
An embellished but possible perspective of the Messiah’s birth based on Luke 2:8-20
The fields outside of Bethlehem are desolate; full of rocks and crags, serpents, and lions. These fields are the shepherd’s fields of the Judean wilderness. Historically, this is a brutal country occupied by the meager and lowly… except one.
Shepherds keep watch over their flocks by night. Literally “watching watches.” Rhythms of watchful care and then short napping for a time. When watching, alert eyes are open scanning the periphery for intruders. Thieves, wolves, lions, and snakes that might threaten the flock bedded down for the night.
In the distance, looming in front of a blazing moon, one mountain extends higher than the rest. This is the mountain of a prideful king who named himself “the great.” The lowly shepherd spits in the direction of Herod’s mountain as he views flickering lights atop each of the 4 towers protruding from the 7-story palace with it’s own water system and swimming pool. The shepherd whispers to himself, “Herod thinks he is a god.” “He doesn’t understand us!” “For once, we should have a shepherd for a king.” A hypothetical conversation ensued among the youthful protectors of the sheep. “What if a shepherd became king?”
This was just an ordinary night in the shadow of a self-made dignitary, caring for sheep, passing the time until the sun, and sleeping on the rocky desert floor.
Suddenly, “9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Pealing their fearful faces out of the dirt the shepherds were amazed. They had seen the manifest glory of God and were terrified. The angel preached the good news to them, of the Anointed One, the One the prophecy spoke of, born in Bethlehem. The angel said they would find him in a trough, wrapped in blankets. Then, with their own ears they heard a “multitude” (“plethos” where we get our word “plethora”) of heavenly host praising God and saying, “
To God in the Highest
Among those with whom he is pleased.
A contemplative young shepherd thought for a moment, “Why would He choose us?” They hurried to Bethlehem and just as the angel said; they found the baby in a shepherds cave, lying in a trough. The setting was familiar to the shepherds. They used caves like this all of the time as a place of refuge for the sheep. It wasn’t much but it was shelter. The smell of dung and a smoldering fire created an aroma familiar to the humble shepherds but too lowly for the Messiah.
Staring into the eyes of the newborn baby, the story became clear for the shepherds. This was the One of whom Isaiah prophesied. “14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
A young shepherdess thought to herself, “Is it true that the Holy One of Israel has been born in a shepherds cave just a short walking distance from Herod’s desert palace?” Is it possible that “Immanuel, God with us” has first revealed himself to us, a band of common, youthful, shepherds?” Has the Great King really appeared in such impoverished circumstances?”
Zeal began to well up inside of the shepherds! “This is our promised King!” This is our prophesied Messiah” “This is the one who understands us” “This is the one who can bring shalom.” “He was and is everything that had been told to them.
17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 
Herod, the great, became, Herod, the paranoid murder. He was not pleased.
Years later these same shepherds, now grown with children and grandchildren of their own, went up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah, John 10:22). A conversation ensued about the night the angels announced the birth of the Messiah to them while they watched over their sheep. The laughed as they remembered the joy of that night and the reactions of people as they told them about Jesus, the real King, born in a manger. Herod the great had long since passed; dying paranoid and hated. Herod’s son now governed Judea with the force of Rome standing on his neck. A false peace called the Pax Romana was legislated. The people of God, though living semi- peaceful lives, were raging internally to be free from Rome.
An old shepherd whispered to the other, “We need a shepherd for a King.” One that can lead us, provide for us, protect us, and give us real peace.”
As they were walking they passed a large crowd. Pushing their way through to get a closer look, they found the Rabbi many were speaking about. He spoke like no other. He worked miracles. He seemed to be of God. The old shepherds wondered if this man was the one they met as an infant that night so long ago.
As the listened they heard him say, “14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” 
The old shepherd leaned into the other with a twinkle in his failing eyes. It’s Him, the One the angel told us about, the one from Bethlehem, Jesus Christ, the Lord, God with us. A shepherd has become King.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Lk 2:9–14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Is 7:14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Lk 2:17–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jn 10:14–18). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
I often think about what it might have been like to be a person of faith living before the birth of Jesus Christ. Instead of looking back at Bethlehem in faith as we do now, people looked forward to the birth of the Messiah in faith. How would they know him when he arrived? The ancient prophecies of the Hebrew Bible answer this question with precision. Take a few minutes to explore these 6 prophetic words about the coming of the Messiah. Notice they were spoken and written with accuracy long before the birth of Jesus. Let the Scriptures bolster your faith in the Messiah that was born in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago now.
1. He will come from Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2-5) (c.700 B.C)
2. He will be born of a virgin. (Isaiah 7:14) (c.680 B.C)
3. He will be a great and specific light (Isaiah 9:1-7) (c.680 B.C)
1) Naphtali and Zebulun – Galillee of the nations
2) Light for people in darkness
3) Child born, Son given – King
4) Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
5) No end to his peace
6) Makes the throne of David eternal (God’s promise to David)
7) Righteousness and justice forever more
4. He is will do these 4things. (Isaiah 61:1-3) (c.680 B.C.)
1) Bring good news to the poor
2) Bind up the brokenhearted
3) Proclaim liberty to the captives
4) Comfort all who mourn
5. He will enter Jerusalem on an un-ridden colt. (Zechariah 9:9) (518 B.C)
6. He will be crushed for our sins. (Isaiah 53:5,10) (680 B.C)
For a longer study of the prophecy related to the coming Messiah watch the message “Ancient Perspectives: Looking Forward to Bethlehem.”
Earlier this fall I had the amazing opportunity as a dad and pastor to baptize my 14 year old daughter Hailey, again.
If you know me at all you might think of me as the “milestones” guy. I have written two books on the milestones strategy for spiritual formation in the church and home; one for parents called “The Legacy Path” and one for ministry leaders called “Shift”. You can learn more about milestones at http://legacymilestones.com.
The strategy gives parents a road map or path for leading their children spiritually composed of seven milestones. The second milestone is salvation and baptism. Often you will read or hear me say, “between the ages of 7-13 we believe children reach a place where they are able to make an authentic confession of their belief in Jesus Christ as Lord for the forgiveness of sins.” This is true, but not for everyone.
When Hailey was seven her mother and I shared our personal gospel stories with her as we spent some time in the park one day. After years of faith talks and God moments and after hearing our stories, Hailey prayed to receive Christ and I baptized her some weeks later. We celebrated and continued to lead her forward in her spiritual journey.
Fast forward seven years. My seven year old grew into an amazing, beautiful, fourteen year old woman with her own thoughts, feelings, difficulties, and life in Christ. After a very moving and compelling preaching of the gospel during a spiritual emphasis week at her school Hailey came to me with tears in her eyes. “Dad, I want to be baptized.” My first thought was, “baby, you already have been. You’re good.” I didn’t say it. Instead I listened. “Dad, the first time I was baptized I think I did it for you and Mom.” “Now, I am doing it for me because of what Jesus did for me.”
It was different this time. There were no questions geared to a seven year old like, “What is sin?” Instead she blurted out her need for the Savior and her desire to show allegiance to the King. All I could say was, “I love you and I love that you want to give your life to Jesus.” One week later I baptized my 14 year old… again.
There are a few things we need to consider as parents and as pastors when leading children to Christ.
- We don’t have to rush, we just have to be faithful. In our zeal to “let the little ones come unto me” we sometimes rush to seal the deal. Our role is to share the gospel and demonstrate an authentic faith. This takes time.
- Often children who confess Christ at an early age revisit their salvation as teenagers. This is a good thing! Lovingly help them assess their salvation. They will have questions like, “Did I really know what I was doing when I was 5?”
- Don’t necessarily try to talk a teenager out of clarifying his or her salvation and allegiance to Christ by saying, “You’ve already been baptized.” Even if you know as their parent that they approached Jesus and believed for the forgiveness of their sins with a child-like faith, encourage prayer, searching of the scriptures, and introspection.
- Understand that Jesus pursues the hearts and souls of our children more passionately than we do. As Angela and I prayed we agreed with Hailey that she needed to take the step of obedience through baptism again. She did not know if she was saved for sure when she was seven, but at 14 she was crystal clear. We took the opportunity to put her hand in the hand of Jesus and step back. After all, it was his pursuit of her that brought her to this point.
This is a simple lesson we are learning along the path of legacy milestones that I thought might be valuable to you. Many children will be saved when they are seven but if they struggle with their salvation when they are fourteen, embrace the struggle and point them to Jesus… again.
Thanksgiving is “as American as apple pie” some might say. However, giving thanks is a much older practice than America itself. Giving thanks is the genuine response of disciples of Jesus Christ offered to our gracious Redeemer. Giving thanks is an abounding act of worship for Christians. Consider the words of Paul to the church at Colossi:
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:6)
The verse is paramount because it describes how a follower of Jesus must walk in him each day of life. Since we have received Jesus as our Lord then we should walk in him. Here are three characteristics of this life in Christ. The first two are not surprising and are consistent with my experience as a disciple.
- Rooted and built up in Christ.
- Established in faith as we were taught.
The churches I have attended since birth have majored in these first two characteristics. The seminaries I attended focused on these two elements of walking with Christ. My family discipleship experience growing up supported these two aspects of Christian living. My personal walk with Christ today focuses on these two characteristics of Christian life. The third characteristic is strangely missing from my otherwise daily, intentional walk in Christ. Before you judge me, get your mind around the third characteristic of the daily walk with Christ.
3. Abounding in thanksgiving.
Sure, I am thankful to God. I demonstrate that normally by observing special days like “Thanksgiving” or by giving an offering of “thanksgiving” or by singing a little louder on Sunday when I am feeling thankful. The description of a Christian’s daily walk in Christ, according to Colossians 2:7, is different than the normal response of feeling thankful. It is consistent and intentional thanksgiving that is “abounding.”
The idea behind the word “abounding” is to provide “considerably more than would be expected.” This is a life overflowing with thankfulness beyond the expected level of gratitude. As I evaluate my own walk with Christ I admit my thanksgiving is less than abounding and could be described as meeting the acceptable norm in our culture of thanks. Abounding? Not really. I want this to change, but how? Back to Colossians:
“Put on then as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which bind everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God, And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:12-17)
Perhaps this is where I should stop. I am tempted to apply this passage for you. Instead, it might be better if you take the time to seek God yourself. Pray, “Lord Jesus, I want to abound with thanksgiving. Show me how to be overflowing with gratitude every day.” Then read Colossians 3:12-17. Pray, “Holy Spirit speak to me as I meditate on your word desiring to abound with genuine thankfulness every day.” Do a simple exercise. Take your time. Ask and answer these three questions and let God speak to you about you.
- What does Colossians 3:12-17 say?
- Why do I need to know it?
- How should I change because of it?
I pray you have an amazing day of Thanksgiving on Thursday. More than that, I pray that we become disciples of Jesus who overflow with thanksgiving every day of our walk with him. As a believer every day is thanksgiving day!
What are God’s purposes? This foundational question sets the course for all Christian families. His purpose is the glory of His name in every nation and in every generation through the redemption of sinful people by His Son, Jesus. Simply, God’s methods for accomplishing this purpose on the earth are three-fold. First, that His people love Him with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength. Second, that His people love others as He does (Dt. 6:4-9, Matthew 22:36-40), and third that His people make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).
How do I make God’s purpose the heartbeat of my family life? Here are three simple ways. First, pray the purposes of God with your family. Imagine praying with your children this way every day. “God, would you help Gabriel to love you with all of his heart, all of his mind, all of his soul, and all of his strength? Would you help him to see people and love them like you love them? Would you give him wisdom to share the gospel today with those people your Spirit leads him to? Make him a mighty man of God who brings glory to your name in his generation and throughout the nations all of his days.” This is not a selfish prayer but instead it is an abiding prayer that will bear much fruit according to John 15. As Gabriel hears this prayer each day his heart will shape spiritually toward the purposes of God.
Secondly, love others with your family. You can do this as a part of every day life and likely in the context of the missions ministry of your church. Get to know your neighbors. Invite them for dinner. Linger outside for driveway conversation. Pray for them when they are sick or suffering. Share the gospel with them as you build a relationship with them. Serve them by checking their mail, mowing their grass, picking up their yard when they are out of town. Love the people that you come in contact with every day. Allow your family to experience your way of loving people and allow them to participate. Pray for others with your family. Participate in local service projects and missions opportunities through your church with your family. The best way to teach your family to love others is to demonstrate and guide them to experience serving others. Currently, one of our neighbors is suffering with cancer. My wife loves this family by watching their children, listening to them, and praying with them. Our daughters have been right in the middle of all of that love and certainly they are learning to bring glory to God by loving others.
Finally, go to the nations with your family. Making disciples of all nations includes the nation in which you live and extends to the people groups of the world. You might lead your family to gain God’s heartbeat for the nations by praying for an unreached people group consistently. Our family is praying for the Alawite Muslims of Lebanon and Syria on a regular basis. As your children grow consider going on a short-term mission trip with them. Go on at least one international mission trip with each child before they graduate from High School. Investing in this way financially and experientially will write the purpose of God for His glory through the nations on the heart of your family.
In order to make God’s purposes our own and central to our family life, we must demonstrate the application of His purposes to our children and experience God’s heartbeat for others and the nations together. While teaching is important, demonstration and experience are the key to developing a heartbeat for the purposes of God in our families.