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Love Correction

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Love Correction (Parenting)

It is God’s plan and desire for every home and family to be healthy and happy, and this month I am presenting some of those plans God has communicated to us through the His Word, the Bible.  He wants homes built on Godly values and teaching.  Last week I talked about marriage, and the idea that we become disappointed and disillusioned in our marriage when we have expectations that our spouse doesn’t meet.  The truth is that only God can fully meet our deepest needs and this is true whether or not we are married or whether or not we have children.  The truth is that God created us in such a way that real fulfillment for every single one of comes only as a result of putting God at the center of our life and everything in it including marriage, home, family and everything else as well.  This principle applies whether you’re single, widowed, divorced, or married.  Life works best and only really works when God is #1.

Today’s message is specifically addresses the role this principle plays in parenting.  God needs to be at the center of our families--not your mate and not your children.  God expects our love for Him to be even more than our love for our children.  The reality is that when you build your life and home around God, your family becomes the primary beneficiary--better off for loving God first. 

I don’t know whether or not you are families with the website, “Yahoo Answers.”  It’s kind of an interesting site.  They ask a probing question and then they document the answers they receive online.  So here was a question posed a couple of months ago.  “Do you really put God above your spouse and children?”  Here are some of the answers posted.  I think they’re pretty representative.  Someone said, “Never.  God would not want it.”  Someone else said, “No, but then my religion does not require it.”  Someone else said, “If you put Him up there, He’ll likely squish them.”  Then someone said, “My deity would understand coming after my loved ones.”  Someone else said, “So far I haven’t had to choose. I’m blessed to have it all. I hope I never have to.”  Listen to this last one.  “Some especially religious people claim that they do, and they actually expect us to be impressed by that.  Personally, I doubt it.  I’m sure that if there were actually some kind of test of this, it would turn out that they love their children more than the particular figment of their imagination that they call God.  But, maybe not.  I mean, Abraham was willing to kill his son for God, and he made the Bible.”  That is the first time I have ever seen back to back statements in print where someone denied the existence of God and then affirmed the existence of God in the very next sentence.  This person’s answer is actually a good segue into the passage of Scripture I want us to consider today. 

"Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.’" [Genesis 22:1-2, NIV]

The next morning Abraham obeyed.  He got up.  He chopped wood for the fire of the altar.  He saddled his donkey.  He took Isaac and 2 servants and started off to the place where God had told him to go.  On the third day Abraham saw it in the distance.  “Stay here with the donkey,” he told his servants, “Isaac and I will travel up to the mountain and we will be back.”  Abraham then placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders while he himself carried a knife and the flint for starting a fire.  And, the 2 of them went on together.  “Father,” Isaac said, “We have wood and the flint for the fire.  But where’s the sacrifice?”  And Abraham probably turned his face away as he answered in a choked voice, “God will provide Himself a sacrifice.”  (And, by the way.  In the Hebrew language that is literally the way that statement should be translated.  “God will provide Himself a sacrifice.”)  And they went on and they reached the place that God had told them about.  And Abraham built the altar and he deliberately arranged the wood on it, and he forced himself to obey God’s instructions even though they went against every instinct within his being.  He tied up his own son.  He placed him on the altar.  Then he reached his hand for the knife and he drew the knife back to plunge it into the chest of his only son.  Now, let’s push pause.  How could Abraham do that?  How could anyone be willing to take the life of his only son whom he loved so deeply.  I have 3 sons and.I would like to believe that I would give my own life for them, but would I be able to literally sacrifice one at God’s command?  That’s a different question.  I have 5 grandsons, 1,3,4,5, & 8.  I love these little guys so much.  I am amazed how Abraham found the strength to take his young son up the mountain and be willing to kill him.  You can’t help but wonder.  Did Isaac cooperate silently?  Did he know what was about to happen?  Did he look at his father in wide-eyed terror when his father tied him up and placed him on the altar?  Did he cry out for his mother in this terrible moment when the knife was raised?  It’s a heart-wrenching story, but it’s one that has a principle and it has an application and it has a promised blessing. 

The spiritual principle is simply this:  Our loyalty to God has to take precedence over our love for our family.  The first of the 10 commandments is...

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” [Exodus 20:2-3, NIV]

God requires our primary allegiance and affection to be for Him.  That’s what God was teaching Abraham by this command.  He told him to sacrifice his only son.  To sacrifice means to give up something you love for something you love even more.  I don’t think God wanted the death of this boy.  He wanted the heart of the father.  God never asks you to love your children less.  He asks that you love Him with all your heart, soul,  mind and strength.  Your love for God as a priority will actually expand your capacity to love your children more than if you put them first.  Jesus said the same thing.

“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;" [Matthew 10:37, NIV]

It’s not that we love others in the family too much.  It’s that we need to love God even more.  Through the years professed godly people have had this kind of love for God--this kind of devotion to God to the extent that many paid the supreme price.  One of the most amazing stories of the depth of commitment to God is found in the writings of Josephus.  Josephus tells the story in 200 BC about the Grecian general, Antiochus Epiphanes, who decided that the best way to destroy the Jews was to destroy their faith in God.  So he sent his soldiers into the villages around Jerusalem to command that the people violate Mosaic law by eating pork which was forbidden.  In one village a mother and her 7 sons were brought out and lined up and the soldiers commanded the eldest son to eat pork, and in that way deny God.  The young man refused.  He was scalped.  Both hands and feet were cut off and he was thrown alive onto a fire.  The soldiers went to the second brother and gave him the same command to eat the pork.  He refused.  His hands and feet were cut off.  His tongue was cut out, and he was burned alive in the same manner as his older brother.  Likewise, the third, the fourth, the fifth, and the sixth son.  When they came to the youngest son, even those battle-hardened soldiers did not want to execute the woman’s only remaining child.  The captain approached her and warned the grief-stricken mother.  “Speak to your son lest you not only be a widow, but also childless this day.”  And she took her youngest son aside and after seeing 6 of her sons brutally murdered before her own eyes she said, “Son, I bore you in my womb for 9 months.  I nursed you for 3 years.  I brought you into this world to this hour.  I ask you to look to the heavens and know that they were not made by human hands.  I ask you to be worthy of your brothers who have died this day.  Do not fear these butchers, but accept death that I might join you and your father and your brothers in the the presence of Jehovah.”  The young boy stood before the soldiers and held out his hands, and he said, “You may cut them off, but the God who made me will give me hands again.”  And he was executed, but history records that the testimony of this family rallied the Jews.  And Judas Maccabeus led a revolt against the Greeks in 165 BC and drove them out of the city of Jerusalem, freeing the city for the first time in 400 years.  This Jewish mother and her 7 sons demonstrated devotion to God that inspired a nation.

But you still wonder, how could this mother allow her sons to sacrifice their lives for their faith in God?  It is because she knew as Abraham knew that this earthly life is not the ultimate value.  There are some things that we ought to love and value more than self-preservation for a few more years of life on earth.  It is possible that you could love life too much.  And it is possible that you can love your children too much. 

James Dobson wrote in his book Dare To Discipline, “Extreme degrees of love can actually be unhealthy for a child.  Now the absence of love or rejection will destroy a child.  An unwanted child, an unloved child is the saddest phenomenon in life, but excessive love has its hazards, too.”  Americans are tremendously child oriented in this generation and many parents have invested all their hopes, all their dreams, all their desires in their kids.

So what happens when you put your children above all else-- including God in your life?  Then I think you subject them to  dangers you need to correct, and the first is the danger of over-protection.  Parents say, “I don’t want my children to be hurt.  I don’t want them to be subjected to the harsh realities of life,” so they over-protect them.  They don’t take them to the nursery lest they catch a cold.  They don’t train them to sleep in their own bed lest they be fearful in the night.  They don’t let them ride their bike lest they fall down or get lost.  They don’t let them go out of town to college lest they get lonely. 

One of the most difficult yet important responsibilities of parenting is to progressively release our children--being supportive of their life direction and not being over-protective.  So that means, when my child is 18 months old,  I might let him scoot down the steps on his bottom even though it’s a little risky.  It means when he’s 5, I’ll let him climb a tree--a little tree.  And when he’s 6 he can ride his bike on a sidewalk and when she’s 9 she might stay the night at a trusted friend’s house.  And when she’s 10, I’ll let her go to Christian camp.  And when he’s 12, I’ll let him mow the grass.  And when he’s 14 he can get a part time job.  And when she’s 16 I’ll help her get her driver’s license.  And when she’s 22, she can have a date for the first time.  There comes a time when we must trust them to the Lord and we must stop trying to control all their choices.  There must come a time when you release them and not be over-protective. 

The 2nd mistake of mis-directed love is over-indulgence.  If you put your children first, you’re going to risk over-indulgence.  Jesus warned us to beware of greed.

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” [Luke 12:15, NIV]

One of the responsibilities as Christian parents is to teach our children to have a godly attitude toward things and to teach them that life is not defined by material possessions.  It’s hard because parents want to be good parents and provide for their children.  All too often parents determine the definition of providing for their kids by what everybody else is doing.  They often determine what to give to their kids by what other kids get.  Parents don’t want their children to be left out, and so they give them everything they possibly can thinking they are being good parents by doing that.  Somehow it never dawns on those parents that the denial of something they wanted--that disappointment-- actually contributed to their character and prepared them for real life.  Parents get such pleasure out of giving that they don’t really stop and think about what it does to the child.  The result is children can be spoiled children who have too many toys, too many clothes, too many games and they have everything they want.  And children who are over-indulged wind up as adults who over-spend and go carelessly into debt.  They adopt an I-want-what-I-want-when-I-want-it attitude.  James Dobson writes, “You actually cheat the child out of pleasure, when you give him too much.  Pleasure occurs when an intense need is satisfied, but if there’s no real need, there’s no pleasure.  A glass of water to a man dying of thirst is worth gold.  So, if you never allow a child to want something, or work for something or wait for something, you don’t allow your child the pleasure of anticipation.”

Dennis Bakey is the co-founder of a power generation company in Arlington, VA.  He’s also a devout Christian.  He believes that everything belongs to the Lord and we are just stewards, so Bakey set aside a half million dollars in stock for each one of his 5 children and the rest of his $550M estate will go to Christian causes and charities.  He said, “My wife and I have come to the conclusion that most of what we do for our children as parents is not financial.”  When his oldest 2 boys were in college, he had given each one of them their distribution of stock.  But during the time they were in college the company went public and that ½  million dollar stock doubled in value.  Bakey took back enough of the stock to shrink the value back to the amount he had originally given.  How did these sons turn out?  Two years out of law school his oldest son works as a Chicago attorney frequently working pro bono--often specializing in the causes of the indigent and those who have been victimized in some way.  His brother works with inner city churches and makes what would be considered substandard wages.  But, they are tight with their dad, and they’ve made him proud.  You have to applaud parents who say, “We’re not going to be over-indulgent, because we believe it can be spiritually harmful.”

A third type of mis-directed love that may need correction is over-permissiveness.

"Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul." [Proverbs 29:17, NIV]

"If you do not punish your children, you don’t love them, but if you love your children, you will correct them." [Proverbs 13:24, New Century Version]

Some parents don’t want to discipline their children, because they don’t want to disappoint the child.  They don’t want to thwart their creativity.  They don’t want to inflict any physical pain.  This attitude has been reinforced by certain elements of our culture that insist that every self expression should be encouraged so their little personalities won’t be stifled or their self-esteem be damaged.  So, if you’re toddler throws a spoonful of peas across the room and they splatter against the wall, don’t smack the back of his hand.  That will make him hate meal time.  You just ask him in a pleasant voice, “Would you rather have apricots, junior?”  Or, if you’re a school teacher and a child misbehaves, you can no longer walk them down the hall to the office where the principal will use a paddle.  We’ve got to do more than ask the students what we can do to make the class more stimulating for you.  This philosophy of education has had disastrous consequences.  Many school teachers today will tell you that the hardest task they have is maintaining order in the classroom so they can create an atmosphere that is conducive to learning. 

I know there’s a lot of justifiable fear of child abuse these days.  Harsh, oppressive discipline is criminal, and there’s nothing worse than the abuse of an innocent child.  In fact, Jesus said if you harm one of these little ones, you’d be better off with a millstone hung around your neck and drowned in the depths of the sea.  But, think about it.  The abuses of parental discipline do not justify the elimination of physical punishment anymore than police brutality justifies the elimination of the police department.  Parents have the responsibility to teach their children to respect authority--to practice self-control, to tell the truth, to love people, to be personally responsible.  Have you ever thought about the context of this verse?

"Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." [Ephesians 6:4, NIV]

Do you realize that in this passage it’s talking about fathers who raise their children to obey.  In other words, the way you exasperate your children is by not teaching them to obey.  Parents, we are partners with God in making disciples of our children.  So gain and maintain control of your child.  They’ve got to learn, and they’ve got to learn it from you that defiance brings pain and obedience brings favor.  So, clearly communicate what is expected.  Inform them about what the punishment will be and then follow through.  Spanking is the last step and it should be done rarely, but memorably.  Respect for parental authority is essential in child development.  Their respect for people, property, for God, for the law will be dependent on whether he or she respects you, the parent.  If you make threat after threat and you don’t follow through, they will not respect you as a dependable and truthful parent.  Temporary pain inflicted early on will ensure that there is not more damaging heart pain that they have to suffer later in life. 

One word of caution:  In my opionion it is not wise to use the denial of involvement in church as a disciplinary device.  Take away their ball games.  Take away their parties.  Take away their cell phone.  Take away their ipod.  Take away their tv.  Take away their car. Take away their concerts.  Kids should see church through the eyes of the parents as a preferred and a protected resource for shaping their character and influencing their behavior and promoting spiritual values.  Kids can get the message by default that mom and dad really don’t value the role of God and the church in their lives.  You do not give your kids the decision on whether they go to the dentist, or the doctor or to school.  Is church less of a priority than these?  You reinforce a consumer attitude about church in your children if you allow them to take a pass on youth ministry because they don’t like the youth leaders or they don’t enjoy all the activities. 

"We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it... No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” [Hebrews 12:9, 11 NIV]

God promises an eternal blessing for those who trust Him.  Abraham experienced that blessing.  As Abraham raised that knife to kill his son, the voice of God broke through and said, “Abraham, stop.  I don’t want you to kill your son.  I see that your love for me and your loyalty to me and your trust in Me are first in your life.”  So Abraham is relieved and he unties Isaac, and he embraces him and they worship God and they go back down the mountain together.  Do you know why Abraham was willing to kill his own son?  Because he had such faith in the promise of God that he believed that if he killed Isaac, God would raise him from the dead.  Because God had promised that through Isaac there would be many nations. 

"Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death." [Hebrews 11:19, NIV]

That’s why Abraham said, “We’ll go up to the mountain to worship and we will come back again.”  That’s the kind of faith he had.  He remembered that God had said He would bless Abraham with incredible blessings and multiply his descendants into the millions and they would be a blessing to all the earth. 

Friends, if we love God first and most and put Him in the center of our lives and of our families, He promises to bless our homes, too.  If they are disciplined as children, they are more than likely to become our good friends later in life, but the ultimate blessing will occur in eternity when our children join us in heaven.  As Christians our primary objective is not to see our children get a great education.  That’s not our priority.  Or to see that they’re successful in their career.  Or see that they have children who are healthy, or even that they become our good friends when they become adults.  Our ultimate goal is that they will go to heaven when they die and we will be with them for eternity and the family circle will not be broken. 

     Abraham being willing to sacrifice his only son was an OT foreshadowing.  The ram caught in the thicket there became the offering. What happened there foreshadowed what would happen one day when Jesus, the Lamb of God, would put the wood of the sacrifice on His shoulders and He carried the cross up to the place of the skull on His back.  But there was no voice to prevent His suffering and death.  There was no voice to stop it.  God, His Father, turned away rather than stop it.  Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”  Do you know why God allowed Jesus to die?  Because of His love for you. You are at the center of Your heavenly Father’s concern.  You are Your heavenly Father’s priority.  You are first as far as He’s concerned because of His love for You.  “For God so love the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  Here’s what He asks.  He asks you to believe in Him.  And He asks you to be willing to be a living sacrifice for Him.

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