One of my little enjoyments is sitting in a public location watching the faces of those who are around me. A person’s face often reveals a great deal about them. Are they sad, angry, glad, ecstatic, overwhelmed, discouraged, in love, or merely contemplating the world at large?
Many times, they can be so wrapped up in their own thoughts or their own little world that they probably do not even realize they are portraying a part of their soul for others to see.
In studying the faces of others, there is one factor missing – the personal factor. Most of those I see, I do not know. Are they sad because they have lost a loved one or a pet? Are they discouraged because of a job loss that same morning and they wonder how they will pay the bills? Are they overwhelmed because of all the turmoil in the world? If they show love to the person they are with, is it a true picture of what is in their heart or merely a façade? Do any of these people pretend to be something they are not in order to cover up what is deep inside?
As I observe evangelical Christianity today, there are many faces being portrayed to the world. A vast majority of the faces shown to the world seem to merely be a cover-up. We are reminded in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that when God changes us we become a brand new creation. All the old things pass away and we are in the process of having all things made new.
Sadly, much of what we observe today does not reflect a new creation. It reflects the cares of the world and a strong desire to look more and more like the world around us. The world does not look at most who claim the name of Christ and say of us, “They have been with Jesus!” More times than not, it seems that they look at us and are asking, “Why should we want what they offer since they are not any different than us?”
One of the areas that is a growing concern is the role of parenting. For far too long, the church has portrayed a face to the world that says all is well in our homes and with our children. The reality of what goes on behind closed doors is both shocking and overwhelming in its bleak outlook.
How could we become so blind in the West? Is it possible that we could not have seen this coming, or did we see it coming and just didn’t care enough to implement the procedures necessary to prevent it?
Let’s consider this problem a little deeper, first of all as it pertains to the local church. We start here because this, for all true believers, should be the first area of concern as it pertains to the public aspects of our own lives and that of our children.
Little Johnny and Susie give their parents nice little cards and gifts on the appropriate holidays like: Wedding Anniversary, Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day. The niceties of the card’s poetry is sweet but it often means little as the young people during the rest of the year disrespect their parents in just about every way imaginable. The face they are painting to the world is that they love the rebellion and depravity of their heart more than they love God and their parents. If our children truly loved us, they would be learning to respect our authority and learning how to be in submission as to the Lord.
But maybe this is part of the bigger picture. In our hurry to correct the problem, we want to “help” the young people put on a good face and often fail to realize the deeper problems that are at stake. Many of the children in our churches are hurting because of the attention they receive from their parents. Or, maybe we should say because of the lack of attention or the type of attention they receive from their parents.
For parents, the Scriptures are clear in Psalm 127:3, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” The face that many parents are putting on in front of others in their local congregations is one of bravado. They may indicate that all is well but beneath the surface, the waters are roiling as though it were a little paper sailboat caught in a typhoon.
Here is the average picture that seems to be prevalent in far too many churches no matter where we have ministered throughout both England and the USA.
Families do not worship together in a corporate setting on the Lord’s Day because there has been no true worship of God during the week. The family gets up late on a Sunday after spending hours the previous evening filling their heads with the rubbish of the world and stumble into church late more than they are on time.
Sunday mornings, instead of being a calm assurance of the wonder of being able to worship with other believers, is hectic and full of chaos. The ride to church is often a reflection of the worship of self rather than of God. The parents argue and bicker while the children do the same in the back seat.
I often remember an illustration used by Dr. Jim Berg about a smoker coming on the Bob Jones University campus which is smoke-free. The smoker would go into a restroom and take a few quick puffs. Within a few minutes, everybody in the building knew that a cigarette had been lit, but the smoker would not even notice the smell of the smoke. Why? Because they had been smoking for years and had grown immune to the smell.
The same is true within the lives of many parents and children. They are like the smoker and can no longer smell the “smoke” of their selfish lives. Instead of parents even noticing the smoke of their children, they are all arguing over what brand of flesh they are going to smoke. Parents want their way apart from Christ and the children learn from the parents.
On any given Sunday, families rush into church with fake plastic smiles, the words to beautiful hymns and choruses are barely mumbled because hearts are not in what is on the page. Most are hoping the pastor does not call on them to offer a prayer of thanksgiving, read a Scripture, or serve in some other capacity.
Many want to rush the children off to fun, games, and a wee little Bible story because it is too “difficult” to have them sit all the way through a service that the parents often do not even want to be in. The main reason there is little to no desire to train the children in the ways of worshiping and praising God in a corporate setting is because there is little to no desire to train them in these areas at home.
Prayer meetings and additional Bible studies are normally attended by less than 10% of most churches. Rarely will a child be seen in either one and the excuses will often include statements like, “Well, it is a school night and we need to get them in bed early.” What is amazing is that parents manage to say this with a straight face as their children merrily watch television, play electronic games, or surf the internet until well after the prayer meetings or Bible studies have concluded.
So, our children start in the nursery then spend time playing games and eating cookies at church from age 3-10. By the time they are ten or eleven, they are normally involved in all kinds of sports or various extracurricular activities. In a few short years, they become teenagers and they quickly want nothing to do with church anymore.
Now, Dad and Mom have to make a decision. Capitulate to the children and let them stay home, or insist that, as long as they are “in our home,” they will attend?
To insist they go, though, requires that parents not seem like hypocrites. In other words, why should they show respect and go to church when they can often see the charade put on for the benefit of others? They know when parents only go to church as a social event on the calendar and provided nothing else is more important.
Teenagers know when parents have a true desire to worship God because they will see our love for one another and for being together with other true believers, but when they see more love for the world, for the television, for sports activities, and for gathering excuses one more time to miss a prayer meeting or Bible study, then parents should not expect anything other than rebellion to our authority.
The problem is compounded then when the children grow up and begin to get in trouble. Johnny gets arrested or is involved with drugs. Susie is sleeping around and comes home pregnant one night. Then, the scene changes and parents go weeping to friends for support and wanting prayers to be offered for their wayward children, all the while wondering, “What happened? We don’t understand because they were raised in a good Christian home.”
The answer is actually quite simple. Parenting has been relegated more times than not to a mere biological process instead of a Biblical one. The parents raise their children by providing food, clothing, a roof over their head but have little to no desire to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
While they gladly meet the medical, educational, and personal needs and wants of their offspring, they have failed in the area that is the most important. Paul said in Acts 17:28, “For in Him (God), we live and move and have our being.”
Parents, if you fail to teach AND show this Biblical truth to your children, you will have failed as far as God is concerned. The children of Israel were commanded to teach their children every day of the law of God. It will not matter if your child grows up to be another Bill Gates or General of the Army or President of the USA or Prime Minister of the UK.
If they do not know the Lord, you are the one God will hold accountable for your words and actions. To do less than honor God by only keeping Him prominent and not pre-eminent, you are practicing idolatry. Yet, God is clear that His glory and honor He will NOT give to another.
The eyes of many parents have been blinded to the truth and the reality of what is transpiring because they have been smoking so long that they are immune to the smoke, that is, until it appears in a different format in the lives of their children. When they see it, instead of confessing their own sin, the end result becomes a battle of the wills. In the end, everybody still smokes and simply agrees to disagree over which brand they will each smoke.
Parents, there is an answer to the problem, but it will not be an easy fix. If you are in any of the situations I have described, the first step to change is to humble yourself before God. Confess your sin and repent before Him. Then, make the time to humble yourself before your children. Parents, your children already see your failures but will gain respect for you if you will humble yourself in this way. Admit your sin to them and ask for their forgiveness where you have failed in your God-given responsibility to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Lord willing, in future articles, we will consider other areas where we are called to be parents who serve the Lord and we’ll evaluate what we can do to change our focus. We will also consider how we can make a difference in our homes and in our churches.