Faithlife Sermons

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! Introduction
My father was a professional photographer.
He loved photography and he was good at it.
My brother has inherited his ability, but he is not a professional photographer, nor is my sister, nor am I.
If my father were alive, I wonder if he would be disappointed that none of his children became photographers?
I have been a minister all of my working life.
One of my sons is a part time pastor to youth.
If he should not be a youth pastor one day, I would not be disappointed because following in my career is not the greatest passion I have for my children.
What is my greatest passion for my children is that they love Jesus and that they serve Him with their gifts.
Job is a great example of a man who was deeply concerned that his children be in a right relationship with God.
We read in Job 1:5 that whenever his children would have a period of feasting, “Job would send and have them purified.
Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’”
I don’t know what your greatest desire for your children is, but I suspect that you too want them to follow God faithfully.
If so, is there anything that we as parents can do to help our children move in that direction?
Near the end of March a group of people from this church attended the “Faith at Home” conference.
One of the issues addressed at this conference was that of passing faith on to our children.
We were invited to ponder, “Who has the greatest influence on the faith formation of children?” “How can families be well equipped to pass faith on to their children?”
“How can the church help families fulfill this important role?”
These are the questions which I would like to think about with you this morning.
We will look at Scripture and other sources to learn that the home, not the church, is the primary place where faith is passed on.
We will see that a living example is the most powerful teaching tool and we will think about some of the practices which help parents fulfill their role in nurturing faith.
In that context, we will invite you to fill out the survey which you have received this morning.
It will be a way for us to find out which skills we need to emphasize in order to be better able to pass faith on to our families.
I.                   The Home Is the Primary Place Where Faith Is Passed On
In 1994 a group in Switzerland conducted a survey to determine whether a person’s religion carried through to the next generation and, if so, what, if any, were the critical factors.
They discovered that there is one overwhelming critical factor: the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from the church of the children.
In the book, “Building Faith at Home” Mark Holmen quotes a survey in which mainline protestant youth in grade 12 were asked the question “what has been the most significant religious influence in your life.”
Of those who responded 75% identified mother as one of the top five answers, 51% had fathers, 49% mentioned pastors, 34% - youth group.
Friends came in at 31%, the Bible was mentioned 26% of the time as one of the top 5, the churches Christian Education program was in the top five 25% of the time, camp and Sunday School teachers came in at 23 % and grandparents at 22%.
The overwhelming evidence of this survey was that the most significant influence towards knowledge of faith and adherence to faith is the home.
We put a lot of emphasis on the role of our Christian Education programs like Sunday School, AWANA and youth programs, and they do have an important place, but the evidence strongly indicates that parents are the most influential.
What we need to remember is that these survey results refer to grade 12 students.
Although the results were not much different among younger grades, it is interesting to note that at a time when we often assume that parents are losing influence on their children and when peers and youth leaders may have a greater influence, the most powerful influence towards faith was still parents.
The Bible teaches us that this is the way it should be.
The Bible teaches us that we are to teach one another, but when it comes to children, the Bible always puts the responsibility of training children in the ways of God on the parents.
One day when God was having a conversation with Abraham, we have a glimpse into the mind and purposes of God.
We read in Genesis 18:19 what God says about Abraham, “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
God chose Abraham so that he would teach his children the way of the Lord so that He could bless Abraham and his descendants.
The same theme is found in Deuteronomy 4:9, “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.
Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
In the New Testament Paul instructs disciples of Jesus in the same way.
For example, Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
George Barna writes, “A majority of churches are actually guilty of perpetuating an unhealthy and unbiblical process wherein the church usurps the role of the family and creates an unfortunate, sometimes exclusive, dependency upon the church for a child’s spiritual nourishment.”
That is not to say that there is no place in the church for Christian Education, but Scripture is very clear when it teaches that parents bear primary responsibility for the spiritual nurture of their children.
I believe it is important for us to acknowledge and recognize that.
When the church pretends to be more important in Christian training than the parents, it takes on a role that it has not been given by God.
When parents assume that they are unskilled and unqualified to pass faith on to their children, they abdicate a primary responsibility.
We need to affirm and honor parents in their role as spiritual teachers and we need to challenge them to this task.
Children Learn To Live What They Observe
Some parents, when they hear that, may be filled with fear.
They may wonder whether they have the skills to effectively train their children.
How is this enormous task to be done?
How is it to be done well?
The answer to that question is very simple, but extremely challenging.
The simple answer is that children learn what they live.
Proverbs 22:6 is right on the mark when it says, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”
Whatever children are taught is what they will most likely follow in life.
But what is important to note is that they will follow not what they are taught in the formal setting of a classroom or the times when we sit them down and instruct them in the right way to live.
What they will learn is what they see us live.
Deuteronomy 6 is so clear about this strategy.
In Deuteronomy 6:5-7 we read, "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 upon 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."
In this passage we notice that the starting point must be our own love for the Lord.
That which is of primary value in our lives is that we must love the Lord.
That love must be a complete love – a love that is in our hearts, which goes down to the depth of our soul and is displayed with all our strength.
If that love is not first of all in us, not as a museum piece which is put on display at breakfast and on Sundays, but which permeates our whole life, how will it be passed on?
If love for God is deeply rooted in our life, then the second part of this strategy will be second nature to us.
When it is second nature to us, we will naturally and strategically talk about God when we sit at home and when we are walking about and late in the evening and first thing in the morning.
Love for God will not be a show we put on, but a life we live.
The effects of the example of a life of faith well lived are seen in the story of Samuel and his parents.
The story is found in I Samuel 1-3.
Elkanah, Samuel’s father, was a man who led his family in regular worship.
The place of worship for the people of Israel at that time was the tent of meeting at Shiloh.
That is where sacrifices were offered for sins and where God’s presence was and was therefore the place they went to worship.
Every year Elkanah took his family there in order to worship with them.
Elkanah demonstrated the importance of worshipping God by his regular practice of going and also in taking his family to worship.
Since Hannah did not have children, life was very difficult for her.
One of the years when they went to the temple, she was particularly agonizing in her heart about her barrenness.
Since this was the place where they could seek God, we find that that is exactly what she was doing.
It seems she was offering a very animated prayer which was also a prayer of desperation.
It seems that she lived with “bitterness of soul” but it also says that "In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the Lord."
Her difficult situation was cause for her to lay it all out before God.
It was in her heart to recognize that help comes from the Lord and that is where she went.
We also see an attitude of faith in her so that when the priest answered she accepted the answer as from the Lord and was at peace.
We read in 1 Samuel 1:18, "She said, ‘May your servant find favor in your eyes.’
Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast."
When God answered her prayer we read that she responded with praise to the Lord, as recorded in I Samuel 2. After her son had been weaned, we read a further evidence of one who loved the Lord in that Hannah fulfilled her vow to give Samuel to the Lord and he went to live with the priest and began to serve him in the tent of meeting.
The early years of Samuel were lived in this home where faith was not only a theory, but central to life.
It was a home in which the family worshipped and in which faith was expressed and lived in the trials of life.
What became of Samuel?
The first story we hear of his response occurred when he was living in the temple.
One night he heard a voice and because he had had no previous experience, he did not know what to make of the voice.
Eventually the priest, Eli, informed him that it was God speaking to him.
Samuel responded by listening to the voice of God.
He became a man who lived his whole life in obedience to God.
The faith life he had seen in his parents was certainly one factor in influencing him to follow the Lord.
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