This weekend, as we continue our series in “Can You Relate?”, Todd teaches us about the importance and responsibility of relating to children. It is a great privilege to pour into the next generation, no matter your life stage or relationship status. The greatest thing you can do to positively influence the next generation is to be—above all else—passionate about Jesus.
How We Relate To God
Hello. How is everybody doing? Better than me, I hope, in some ways. I have that thing that has been flying around, and my voice shows a little bit, but I would not miss this weekend, because I am so excited about what we're doing in this series called Can You Relate? It's a series about all of our relationships in life. Can you relate to a holy God who by no means will let the guilty go unpunished? How do you relate to that God? Because we know we're all a little bit guilty. We spent an entire week on that.
What we've done with every single message that was focused on some relationship we all have is given you one word that if that word defines that relationship it will help you in that relationship the rest of your life. We told you that the word you need to think about when you think about God and how you relate to him is not as some overbearing, holy God who wants to consume you in wrath. That is true. He wants you to rescue you, though, from the wrath that is to come.
You need to think of God as a good, good Father who has demonstrated his love for you in that while we were yet sinners he came and gave us provision. He sent his Son for us. We have a good, good Father. He wants it to go well with us. He didn't leave us in the dark, so he gave us the Bible, his Word. If you don't treat the Word like a treasure that you mine in to find the words of life you have a wrong view of God.
This is not a moral rule book; this is the loving effort of a Father to tell you who he is, why you're here, where you're going, why the world is screwed up, how to make it right, how you can live right. So this is a blessing. This is a book where a loving Dad wants to sit with you and shepherd you, that it may go well with you.
Then we talked about a life stage every single one of us is in for a good long while and how you ought to view your relationship with singleness. We used the word gift. If you don't see it as a gift, you're going to squander some of the most precious years of your life. Then we talked about our relationships in the most intimate form, in marriage, and we said if you don't view your spouse the same way you were to view singleness, as a gift, you have all kinds of trouble.
I would encourage you to keep listening to all four of those messages and to have the good Father who has given you a treasure and the gift of living faithfully with him as a single person or in marriage so you can prosper in all that you do. Today, we're going to talk about our relationship with children; parenting, specifically, but all of us relate to those who are behind us generationally.
The word I could use is gift again. That's what the Bible says. "Behold, children are a gift from the Lord." But I won't use gift. We'll shake it up after two weeks, and I'm out of cash. (Listen to last week's message.) What I want to do is give you another word you need to think of when you think of kids. To set it up, I want you to watch something that is a commercial made by a place that kids love to go to. It's The Happiest Place on Earth.
As you guys may or may not know, for a long time Disney World would go to a certain group of players before the big game, before the Super Bowl, which is happening today, and say to them, "If you win the Super Bowl and are the MVP, when you're running off the field one of our reps is going to come up to you with a camera, and they're just going to shout at you, 'Hey, Tom Brady! Hey, Troy Aikman! You just won the Super Bowl. You were just named the MVP. What are you going to do next?'" Then here's the reply. Watch this.
Eli Manning, Joe Montana… You saw Emmitt Smith. You saw them all up there. They were all talking about what they're going to do, and here was the marketing line. It was brilliant, because every young boy, especially, dreams of that moment when you lead your team to the biggest win in the biggest game and you were the biggest contributor to that win. You're at the very top of human accomplishment. What else could you possibly want?
So they say in that moment… "Hey, man, you just won the Super Bowl. You're the MVP. What are you going to do next?" Like, "How can you top this?" They go, "I'll tell you how. I can go to Disney World! Because that's the happiest place on earth." That's the idea. What a great ploy. Well, here's what I want to tell you. What you need to understand about your role as a parent, specifically, is at some point you need to take your kids to Disney World or Disneyland, and when you're there and they look at you and say, "Mom and Dad, this is the happiest place on earth," you need to say,
"No, it's not. The happiest place on earth is when you know your good, good Father and you understand that this book is a treasure and you treat every day of your life as a single person like it's a gift to live for him and to enjoy him and to prosper underneath an intimate relationship with him, and one day, if God so aligns it that you're running hard after him, on mission for him, and you find somebody of the opposite sex who loves him like you do and wants to live on mission for him and you join with him, what a gift that would be. The happiest place on earth is being deep inside the will of God."
That, my friends, is the way you lead children. You make sure they know that the happiest place on earth is to walk intimately with the Father who loves them. I have to tell you, so many people go to Disney World, and the last thing they're thinking about is family devotionals, but there's not a better place on earth to show them that there's a happier way to go through earth. By the way, about the sixth time they've eaten the same meal and stood in line for 45 minutes it's an easy sell anyway.
I want you to think about what would happen in your life if I told you, "You could take your kids to Disney World or Disneyland. All you have to do is intimately seek God in everything you do. When you blow it, you're still not disqualified. You just have to acknowledge, 'Hey, that right there wasn't me taking advantage of my good, good Father and his kindness toward me.' You just correct it. You acknowledge it, you seek forgiveness, you make amends, and you go forward again."
If I told you you live that way for a week and you could take your family to Disney World, you might go, "I'm all in, Todd. I'll be attentive to God's Word. I'll do everything I can to honor it and treasure it. I'll treat my spouse as a gift. I'll seek my good, good Father, and when I don't and I screw up I'll just acknowledge it. And you tell me in a week I'll get to go to The Happiest Place on Earth?" I'll tell you in a week you'll be in the happiest place on earth.
Now if you don't believe that, you're going to have a really hard time having a truly successful relationship with your kids. Last night I was here late enjoying DTown, which is one of my favorite weekends of the year. As we were here and having an amazing time and celebrating this event… Well, rather than trying to explain to you some of the energy and excellence we put into that event, let me just show it to you. Watch this highlight film our media team was up all night working on for you. Check this out.
Amazing. One of the things I said to the students when I was here with them last night was, "Hey, we're not trying to compete with the world, because we don't need to. The world can't compete with the goodness of walking with Jesus." But we do want to let kids know they're worth our very best. We have never, ever thought of children's ministry as something we do in order to kind of contain children so we can do real ministry. We've always thought kids are worth our very best, and we give them our very best.
In fact, it reminds me of a story about D.L. Moody, who was a great evangelist. One time he came home from a particular crusade he was leading, and he encountered a friend who said, "How was the night's meeting? How did it go?" He said, "Well, I had two and a half conversions." His buddy looked at him and said, "You mean two adults and one child?" Moody responded and said, "Nope. Two children and one adult. That adult has already lived half his life. We had two full conversions right there."
Listen, gang. There is power in investing in children. If you want to change our culture, you want to change our children. Abraham Lincoln is the one who said that the philosophy of children in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next generation. You are raising your rulers. I'm about one year into being a grandparent, and I have already seen that for me to be a great grandparent my time is already up with my sweet little Ramsey.
Why do I say that? Because no matter how much I show up to love her and be with her, I'm not going to spend one-one hundredth of the time with her as her mama who I raised. You cannot be a great grandparent if you're not a godly parent, because that kid is going to suffer or thrive underneath your disciple.
My little granddaughter should come up and kiss me and say, "I thank you for raising a godly mother who married a godly man who became my godly father. You are a gift to me because you taught her to love a good, good Father, to treasure the Word, and see their marriage and one another as a gift." That will create security in a child.
The word you need to think about when you think about children is disciple. They are learners, and it is our privilege to build into them. It's interesting. So many times the church is hesitant to make claims on children's hearts. Listen. When it comes to baptism here and kids going through a public declaration of their faith, we want to make sure children really understand their faith, but that's not because we don't think children can give their hearts to something when they're young.
By the way, though the church is sometimes reluctant to claim the hearts of children, Satan isn't. Advertisers aren't reluctant to try and reach the hearts of children. It is tragic that we don't do everything we can to help kids understand the goodness of Father. We're not talking about torturing them and manipulating them emotionally or any other way. I'm talking about modeling for them the goodness of God.
We were in the middle of all the amazing time we had at DTown this weekend, and my buddy David Penuel, who is part of the leadership, came up to me and said, "Todd, you make sure you tell those parents tomorrow that this is just an event. This event, as amazing as it was, is going to be quickly forgotten, and what won't be forgotten is the everyday parent who lives faithfully before them. That will have a hundred times as much of an impact as this event."
Too many parents' strategy is just to farm it on out to the church. That's their plan. What happened this weekend was amazing. We had young adults, hundreds of them, who are committed to walking with kids. Some of them pick them up at Starting Blocks, and then they move them to K-1 Race, and then they go to On Your Mark, and then they move to Crossroads 45, and then they pick up with them in Wake, and then run with them from sixth grade all the way through Shoreline through twelfth grade.
They will give their life to these kids. They'll impart sometimes 7 to 12 years of their life to the same group of kids they grow up with, but they are a supplement. They are never to be a substitute for what God ordained would be the primary place that kids would be loved and encouraged. Mom and Dad, you need to know that every now and then we'll see a kid who thrives despite the fact that there's indifference in their parents, but typically, kids who are halfway in are usually kids of halfway-in parents.
They value their kids' sports more than they value their kids' spiritual development. They value their kids' academic success more than they do their attitude about a good, good Father. They attend church but don't attend to God's business, and those kids watch you. When I was raising my kids, one of the things I did often was I would sit them down and give them a little survey. I would ask them periodically about what they were seeing in my life, what they saw in my bride's life, and how we were doing as parents, how we could encourage them a little bit.
I brought one of those surveys here with me. One of the questions that was on the survey… Every time, I would change the questions. Some of them were things like, "What's something we do as a family that you definitely want to do with yours?" I would start this when they were old enough to write. So they would write down, "This is something I love that this family does that I want to do with my family."
I wrote down, "What's the one thing that you're sure you will not do with your kids? What's your favorite part of being a Wagner? What's your least favorite part of being a Wagner? What's something you wish you did more with your parents? What was your favorite memory with your dad last year?" There were others I had, and they were randomized and handed out at different times, but on every survey there was always this question: "What are the top three things your mom and dad are most passionate about?"
If the answer that came back didn't have as #1 some childhood expression, whether they were 4 or 14, of an answer that said, "Dad, you are passionate about me knowing the goodness of God, his love for me, and that there is no happier place on earth than to be intimately acquainted with, reconciled by grace, and walking passionately with a present Father who cares for me," then I knew I wasn't doing what I needed to do as a parent.
No matter what else I was doing, if that didn't show up, if they said I was more concerned about their grades, more concerned about their athletic development, more concerned about their external behavior, more concerned about some silly hobby or hunting or golf or exercise or a car or a college team, I knew I was failing them as a parent, that I was selling something else as the happiest place on earth and I was going to do sometimes irreparable harm to my children.
There is no greater gift you can give your kids… I'll say it now, and I'll say it again a little bit later. When people ask me, "Hey, Todd, what's the number-one thing I can do in order to bless my children?" the answer is, "Passionately pursue Jesus Christ in your own personal life." If you want to know what the second one is I would tell you it's, "Passionately pursue your spouse." By the way, you can't do the second well if you don't do the first well.
If you want to live a godly heritage, if you want to be a disciple-maker…because this is discipleship. It's so confusing sometimes to think about what discipleship is, but here's how I'm going to tell you to disciple somebody: have on your heart what's on the heart of God while you spend time with people you love. Folks, you're not giving just a message to, but you're imparting your very lives as well, as Paul wrote he did to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 2:8. "You became very dear to us, and we imparted to you not only the gospel of God but our very lives as well."
You cannot be an effective disciple-maker if you are not yourself a disciple. A student will not be greater than his teacher. Every now and then we see kids who thrive despite the fact that their parents are largely indifferent, but halfway kids are typically in a direct relationship and are raised by halfway parents. You give me two fully devoted followers of Christ for parents, and I like that kid's chances. I'm not talking about parents who say they love Jesus. I'm not talking about parents who go to church.
Don't try and get your kids excited about Wake, about Shoreline, about On Your Mark. Don't try and get your kids excited to go to church. You get your kids excited to know the goodness and kindness of Jesus Christ, and you show them and model for them what it's like to be part of a family that is the church and you invite them into that community and show them that here are others who will encourage them in the most important relationship in human life.
I'll say it again. You give me a kid with two fully devoted parents and I like their chances. You are their best hope. It's not something you can substitute out. By the grace of God you're in a place like this where there are supplements all around you, but you want to be an individual who is on point and ready, somebody who has a plan.
Socrates said, "Could I climb to the highest place in Athens, I would lift my voice and proclaim: 'Fellow citizens, why do you turn and scrape every stone to gather wealth and take so little care of your children, to whom one day you must relinquish all?'" Spurgeon said it this way. He was a great communicator. He essentially said, "Don't house the chaff and burn the grain. Don't boil the husk and discard the corn. Make sure you invest in the most important thing."
There is nothing more important than children. They are our hope for the future. We are raising our rulers. If we want to change our culture, we change our children. Investing in them is investing in the future. There is no better way to affect a life than to invite them into your home, share constant meals with them, let them watch you seek God, confess your sins, celebrate his blessing, and do that for 18 years. That's what I have been in the middle of. I have been in the middle of, with six different kids, an 18-year discipleship program.
I have been doing everything I can to model for them one thing: "There is a good, good Father, and when you walk with him it is the happiest (that's the word blessed in Scripture) place to be. Life isn't perfect. You sometimes get cancer. There are sometimes tragedies that befall you. Your body doesn't develop at the rate you want. You may not look in the mirror and see what you want to see, but you are fearfully and wonderfully made. God makes no mistakes. You are a gift. Your life is a gift, and God intends to bless you. Walk with him."
I am constantly reminded of the seriousness with which Jesus himself addressed this. It is amazing to me how our society doesn't view children the way God wants us to. We have all kinds of variant views of children, and you'll hear different things. You'll hear stuff like, "Kids are a burden, Todd." It shouldn't surprise us that our culture values what God says is futile and wants to do away with what God says is a blessing.
It shouldn't surprise me when the world thinks that way, but what's shocking to me is how much I hear that mindset trafficked inside communities even like this. When we think children are anything but a gift, when we see them as a burden, an interruption to a career path, a distraction from the life we wanted, we have bought a lie. Children are not a burden. I love Mark Twain's perspective on this as representative of the world.
He says, "Here's the deal. When you have a kid, enjoy them. When they turn 13 put them in a barrel, nail the lid on top, and feed them through the knothole." Then he said, "When they turn 16 plug the knothole." It doesn't surprise me that that's what Mark Twain said. Think about who he was. He was one of the greatest American humorists ever. He would ride around the world in trains, and he would travel. He would increase his fame and his wealth, and he had a boy at home and a wife who was basically widowed.
When Mark Twain showed back up and tried to speak into that kid's life, that 13-year-old was like, "Hey, Dad, where have you been? You haven't been around my whole life. What do you mean you want to speak into my life right now?" That 13-year-old has learned to be his own man, and he doesn't want to hear from you about what matters and what's right, because you haven't been around to show him that.
When you get that kind of kid who's trying to figure it out and doesn't want you to figure into that process, you're going to want to put them in a barrel, but when you have a plan and you have a presence in their life, teenage years are a blessing. There was a time that the Wagner household had five teenagers at once. We had five kids in our first seven years of marriage, and all of those kids eventually… A lot of people were like, "Oh my gosh. That was crazy." I can remember people were like, "You just have to survive."
That's another mindset we have: "We just need to survive the child-rearing years." No, you don't. You need to dive in during those child-rearing years. I said "no" to a lot of opportunities to travel and to go other places because I wanted to be present in the lives of those kids. I wanted to have a relationship with them. Too many people and too many guys, Mark Twains, think the way kids spell love is S-T-U-F-F. It makes us feel good when we can buy them stuff, take them places like Disney World, but the way kids spell love is T-I-M-E.
There are all kinds of kids who have been taken to Disney World who can be numb from the pain of their distant relationship with their parents while they're distracted by all that Mickey offers them, but when they go back home to an absent daddy or a controlling mama who doesn't know how to make that home the happiest place on earth, Disney World is a bad trade. You want to dive in when they're young.
You don't want to survive the child-rearing years; you want to go, "This is when I'm going to build a relationship so that these kids grow old and they know I love them and I have their best interests in mind, and as they start to have more freedom and more opportunities their very first thought is, 'Let me go back to that mom and dad who have been present and haven't been out there trying to appease me with stuff (or at least they say it's for me; I know it's not) but who have shown me that I'm the most important thing in their life. I bet they have something to say about the choices I'm making now that'll help me thrive now, even as I've seen them be present and love me through those earlier years.'"
Our teenage years were a blessing. We loved having five teenagers in our house. It wasn't perfect, because they're just like me. They're sinners who every now and then don't do what a good, good Father wants us to do. We don't treasure God's Word; we treasure our own way. We don't treat each other as a gift. But we would come to our senses, we'd seek forgiveness, we would reconcile, we'd make amends, we'd grab hands, we'd remind ourselves of the goodness of God and his way, and we'd make it the happiest place on earth again. We'd do it continually.
Every time we shared a meal we would stop, and before we'd commune together by breaking bread and drinking the drink we would stop and go, "This is supposed to remind us of what love looks like, that God died for us, his body was broken for us, his blood was shed for us. We're not supposed to eat and drink in an unworthy manner. If this is reminding us of the love of God, how are we doing at modeling that love for one another?"
There were many Wagner meals where the food grew cold because we had to say, "Hey, I'm not doing well with you right now." The kids would sometimes see a tension between their mother and me that would happen over the course of a day, and we would just say right there, "We have to ask your forgiveness. We have not been modeling for you what love looks like between a mother and a father. I've asked your mom's forgiveness for this.
You heard the way I spoke back to her. You saw the way I handled that situation, and I've asked your mom's forgiveness. You saw it; I'm asking yours. We're at peace, and we've forgiven each other, and we welcome you to the blessing that is our desire to honor and treat each other as a gift. All we're trying to do is reflect the love of the God who reconciled us to him, even though he had no part in the fall. Your mom and I both acknowledge we have a little bit of the problem, each of us, our own in this relationship."
You don't think that brought security to those kids, that they saw us be passionate about our love for each other and making sure that home was an inviolable commitment to oneness? You can be sure it did. There is a great quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer who you guys know did a lot to stand up against the horrors of fascism in Nazi Germany. He said the test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children, and that's true.
I just want to insert this right here. Our society is falling apart. In fact, yesterday I picked up the Dallas Morning News, which begs the question, "Who picks up the newspaper anymore?" I was running through a corner bakery and they had papers lying around, and I just couldn't miss the headline. This is yesterday's headline in the Dallas Morning News: "US Child Abuse Stats Shoot Up." It said primarily because of the significant increase in two states. They're both conservative states: Indiana and Texas.
They talk about the brokenness of the Child Protective Services in both of those states. When you talk to our friends in the CPS here in Dallas they will tell you one of the problems is that we don't have the right number of good families to place these children into. You know that we have said, as a church, our goal is to have more families ready to take foster kids whose homes are no longer fit for them to thrive in and to be blessed in than there are kids waiting.
Right now there are more kids waiting for homes than there are homes. We want more homes waiting for those kids than there are kids in that system. Right now, a lot of the kids in Dallas County are shipped out to other counties away from their home. Our goal is to not just want to take those kids.
Our goal is to be a disciple-making church that helps people understand the grace of God that went to work in our lives, so that when CPS takes kids from an abusive home they would say to that mom and dad as they explain to them why they've lost parental rights, "If you want to get your kids back… We can't make you do this, but I'm just going to tell you something.
You need to go to Watermark Community Church, because they will teach you how to find forgiveness and healing and regeneration and get your life back in order in such a way that we would be pleased to put the kids back in your home. That church doesn't want to just provide families for your kids while this family is unhealthy. That church wants to make you healthy."
That's our goal. We want to be a church that is available to take away the excuse that someone can't change and if people won't change that those kids can't be placed in loving environments. So I'm encouraging you to jump in on that train. If you're interested in that, take that little perforated section, whatever campus you're on, and just say, "Tell me more about how I can get involved in the foster care or adoptive services business."
Meanwhile, let's make sure our home is already a place where kids can thrive. There's a gal I sometimes read who's a cultural commentator today in our country. She wrote this, and I thought it was really good. One of the relationships I'm going to talk about in a couple of weeks is our relationship with people of different races. Can you relate to them?
She wrote, "Slavery was institutionalized racism. Abortion today is institutionalized murder. I find it ironic that we continue to hear about the guilt of America being its racist past, yet there is little said about the guilt of America for its murderous present. The supremacy of death and the dehumanization of our children are inherent in these laws, similar to the supremacy of whites and the dehumanization of blacks in [our darkened history]."
Boy, that is so true. Gang, there has been institutionalized racism in this country that we have to own and deal with, and I am so proud of the way that's happening here and in many people who know that we're all God's children. I'm glad we're tackling that as we should. Meanwhile, there is institutionalized murder that is continually celebrated in this country, and 40 percent of the abortions that happen in this country happen in households of people who say they attend evangelical churches. Somebody explain that to me.
The answer is we have half-in parents, so we have over a million kids who don't even make it into this world one time. Listen. If you made that abortion decision, we have a ministry here called Someone Cares. We have a ministry here for women. We have a ministry called Forgotten Fathers. We love you. We want to help you deal with that tragic mistake, find the forgiveness and healing we've all found, and help you start to value God's perspective on life the way he does.
Folks, not only do we care about them in the womb, but we want to care about them all the way to the dorm room, and we want to make our community a place where children thrive. We don't survive the child-rearing years; we are fully present and we are all in. You can tell a lot about a culture by the way it treats its children.
Like I said, Jesus was not silent on this issue. He spoke about it. Mark 10:13 says, "And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them." Think about that. These are guys who are hanging around Jesus, and they had this mindset that kids shouldn't be brought to Jesus.
By the way, just so you know, folks who study such things will tell you that 95 percent of individuals who make a decision to follow Christ do so before the age of 25. Catch that. Ninety-five percent of individuals who abide with Christ made some decision to honor him and to ask him to be their Savior… You might say, "Well, kids can't fully understand what they're doing."
Can an adult fully understand the ramifications of the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ on their life? It's beyond all of us, but if those kids don't make a decision at some point before they are 25, the number of converts since then become miniscule. I love the way we're seeing adult lives change here in our community, because we're going after them, but let us not ever do it to the neglect of the children God gave us.
Let me just tell you something. Satan isn't waiting until your kids grow up to try and get their hearts. TV isn't trying to wait till your kids grow up to get their hearts, and neither should you. You don't sell them a bill of goods; you show them the blessed way. You want to say, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ." You want to say, "The things you have learned and received and seen in me, practice these things, and the peace of God will be with you."
It is not shocking to me that there is an epidemic of anxiety, despair, and depression in our youth in America today. Why? Because we have an epidemic of parents who don't walk with God. That's why you see so many kids… What do we do when our kids struggle? We don't run to Jesus; we run to the doc. A prescription is written, and we just try and stabilize them. We numb them.
Rather than deal with the reality of the dysfunction of the world they live in and give them the hope of God, we appease ourselves that it's not our problem, that there's something wrong with their wiring. I think we'd better make sure there's nothing wrong with the home first. This, gang, is serious business. Jesus says, "Don't hinder the children from coming to me." This is what he said.
"But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, 'Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.' And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them."
I could talk about this all day long, but I just want to say one thing. One way to hinder a child is to not give them something to aspire to or be attracted to. You are hindering a child if you, the primary person who can model for them what the happiest way of life is on earth, are indifferent to that relationship. It happens way too often right here.
So we are committed to helping you have a mindset of, "I'll never be a good parent if I don't run hard after Jesus. I'll never be a good parent if I don't love my spouse like they're a gift. I want my kids to know I could take them to Disney World and that wouldn't be the happiest place on earth if we don't abide with our King."
One of my favorite American poets is a guy named Edgar Guest. He wrote a poem called "I'd Rather See a Sermon." I used to have it memorized. It goes like this:
I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I'd rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye's a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example is always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.
I soon can learn to do it if you'll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I'd rather get my lessons by observing what you do…
That is the model of Scripture. It's to be with people you love while you have on your heart what's on the heart of God. That's how you make disciples. That's why the Spanish proverb is very true, which says that an ounce of mother is worth a ton of priest. That's really good, isn't it? It's a fact. So we want to be individuals who make sure we give them all that they need.
When you are out there and your kids ask you, "Dad, what's the happiest place on earth?" you ought to just spill out Proverbs 3. That's what ought to happen. "Son, you want to know what the happiest place on earth is? '…do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments…" Because my commandments are God's commandments. "…for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you.
Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. [For then you will find favor with both] God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones.
Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine. My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord or loathe His reproof, for whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as [I, a father, correct the son in whom I delight] .
How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. For her profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain [far] better than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace.'" This is what you should say when your kids go, "Dad, where can I find life?" You should just spill this out.
" 'The Lord by wisdom founded the earth [son] ,by understanding He established the heavens[daughter]. By His knowledge the deeps were broken up and the skies drip with dew. My son, let them not vanish from your sight; keep sound wisdom and discretion, so they will be life to your soul and adornment to your neck.
Then you will walk in your way securely and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.' It won't be ruled by anxiety and despair and depression, thoughts of suicide and cutting. 'Do not be afraid of sudden fear nor of the onslaught of the wicked when it comes; for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.'"
I want to insert right here that while it is absolutely true that you are your children's best hope, we all probably take too much blame for the choices our kids make and too much credit when it goes well. Some of the godliest parents I know at Watermark have a prodigal child. I'm not saying you can control every choice your child makes. Adam and Eve had a perfect Father, and it wasn't his fault.
But let's make sure you are on point and doing everything you can to know you are as present as you can be with a plan, not being a buddy but being a parent for the glory of God while you passionately pursue Christ before your kid. Listen to them. Ask them what it is in your life that is exasperating them, that's taking the spirit from them. "What do you see in me that makes you think the God I know is not a God worth serving?"
That's what is says in Scripture. "Raise up your children in the fear of the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate…" The word is I like words. Ex-aspirate. Ex (to take from), aspire (to give breath to). Don't take the spirit from your child, Dad, by saying, "Don't do what I do; do what I say." Don't tell your kids there's life somewhere and run somewhere else. This, by the way, is how Communism was born. Do you guys know that?
Karl Marx was a Jewish boy being raised in Germany by a father he revered and honored and loved. His dad taught him about Judaism and about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then they moved to another town in Germany. They got to that other town in Germany. It was a Lutheran town that wasn't informed by the Scriptures in the way it should have been, so it didn't have a view toward Judaism that was anything biblical.
Karl Marx's father came home one day and told his family they were no longer Jewish; they were Lutheran, not because they had run into God-fearing Lutherans who helped this Jew see that the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets was this Jewish Messiah named Jesus, that they didn't need to stop being Jewish, that, in fact, the most Jewish thing they could do was to embrace the God who Martin Luther knew about.
No, that's not why the senior Marx came home and said, "We're now Lutheran." He came home and he said, "My business is not going to thrive here unless I'm a Lutheran. I can't tell these people I'm a Jew. They won't shop where I offer goods, so we're now Lutheran." Young Karl Marx lost all respect for his father. He left Germany. He went to London. He studied economics and social history at the British Museum.
He sat down there and wrote a treatise called Das Kapital where he said, "Religion is the opiate of the masses. It can be explained purely in economic terms." At one point, 73 percent of the earth was under this man's godless worldview, and it all started because he saw a daddy who honored riches more than really understanding the Scriptures.
I guarantee you if that Jewish father came home and said, "Let me just tell you something. We're going to do the most Jewish thing we can do. We're going to believe in Jesus. I've just bumped into somebody who showed me that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the promises I've told you. The reason we love our God is because he was going to give us a deliverer. He has given us the Deliverer.
All this time I thought the Deliverer was going to be somebody who took us away from the oppression that was being dispersed from our homeland. No, he came and delivered us from the oppression that is sin. God will restore us one day to all that he said, but for now let us rejoice. Hope has come," you would have had a completely different story with Karl Marx.
I talk to so many people who say the reason they don't have more kids is because of financial reasons. When I got married, I was making about $11,000 a year before taxes. Two years later, we had our first kid. In fact, I can remember going to ask my wife's parents if I could have her hand in marriage. The job I was in, making about $11,000 to $12,000 a year, I was leaving. So they said, "Well, Todd, how are you going to provide for our daughter?" I just said, "Well, I'm going to continue to work hard. I'm confident that God will provide."
It reminds me of the joke of a guy who went to ask for a hand… This didn't happen to me, but it could have. A guy went to ask this guy if he could have his daughter's hand in marriage, and he walks in the room and the guy asks, "Well, how are you going to provide for my daughter?" He goes, "I don't know. I'm just trusting that God is going to provide." He walks out of the room, and the guy meets his wife. His wife said, "How did it go?"
He goes, "Well, I have some good news and some bad news." He goes, "The bad news is the kid doesn't know how to work for a living, and the good news is he thinks I'm God." Let me tell you something. My wife and I didn't ever set out to have a large family. We both knew we loved God and we loved kids. We knew that God said children are a gift from the Lord, and we both love the privilege of giving birth to and shape to eternal humanity made in the image of God.
I said to the Lord early on, "Lord, if you'll help me provide for them and feed them, I'll abide with you so I can love them. I'll tell them the goodness of who you are and show them that your Word is a treasure and that life is a gift to live for eternity and enjoy it for you, why there's brokenness, why there's trouble, maybe why someone might be born with birth defects. I don't know, but I know that they're fearfully and wonderfully made and there's going to be a day when you're going to make it all right. You help me provide for those kids, and I'm all in."
I can remember in my early 20s I was reading in my Bible in Psalm 37. I came across verses 25-26. It says, "I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread. All day long he is gracious and lends, and his [children] are a blessing." I shut my Bible and just said, "Okay, Lord. I'm not going to run after this career path that would give me riches in gold where I can give a lot of money away. I'm going to give myself to fully serving you in every way that would bring you joy and bring me joy."
I knew I loved sharing Christ with people. I just wasn't sure I wanted to do it making 11 grand a year. But I said, "You know what? I don't care about the 11 grand, Lord. You say that if I seek you I can be gracious and lend, and even more, my children will be a blessing." I'm going to tell you God has more than taken care of that. I tell young men all the time… This whole idea of birth control that's out there? I hear so many guys say, "We're just not ready to start a family. We're trying to build up a little income."
I say, "Man, if you wait until you have enough money to educate your kids, you'll never have enough money to have a child." God doesn't say you're going to be successful if you send your kids to an Ivy League school or have them get some private coaching so they can get a D1 scholarship. No, you're going to be a success if you radically pursue Christ. I would tell you start to have as much of God's blessing in your life as quickly as you can today, and if you're righteous God will help you provide for them.
It doesn't mean you'll live in a certain area in a certain kind of house or take certain vacations, but the happiest place on earth is in a home where Mama and Daddy get it. You start having kids. I couldn't encourage you more to listen to my Real Truth. Real Quick. on…How Many Children Should a Christian Family Have? Please listen to my Real Truth. Real Quick. on…Is It Okay for a Christian to Use Birth Control?
I'm going to tell you this really quickly. If you think of kids as anything but a gift, you're not thinking biblically and you have been sold a lie. This amazing DTown weekend, all six of my kids were involved in some way. I take that back. Really five were. One was home raising my granddaughter. Three of them were here serving. They've grown up here, and they've seen the power and the love of the supplement that is the Watermark student ministry, and they were here serving. Two were here still actively participating. It's a blessing to see that.
The Scripture says this. Psalm 127: "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it…" I could talk a lot, but I'll give you one application for that. What I think is about to happen in Psalm 127 is God is going to show you how not to live a life of vanity. You can build a great house with many accomplishments and have all of Athens, and your life is vain.
If you want your life to matter and be enduring, this psalm takes you here: "Behold, children are a gift of the Lord … How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them…" I would encourage you to take care of those kids. Take those little arrows, those disciples, and aim them well. A couple of quick things, and then I'll land it.
1._ An arrow is going to go where you aim it, so you have to have a plan_. If I could give you just four simple things to remember in this little message, it's simply that:
A. Have a plan. If most of us treated our jobs the way we raise our kids, with so little thought and planning and effort, we'd be fired in a week. You have to have a plan.
B. Have a presence. You cannot be a great mom or dad if you are not present with your kids.
C. Be a parent. Don't be their best friend; be the best parent. Kids want to know that there's some authority in their life that is going to stand up against even the love of the things their own flesh is drawn to. Don't worry about the fact that they say, "Nobody else's parents are going to tell them they can't do that."
You tell them you're not anybody else's parents. You tell them, "Hey, listen. I may be the only parent in this community… I may look like an alien parent to you," because that's exactly what you are if you raise your kids with a biblical mindset. You're like an alien and a stranger in the land. That's exactly what it says in 1 Peter.
D. Be a passionate follower of Christ. Kids will go where you aim them. To aim something you have to practice it, and you have to keep working with it to get it to go the right way. Not every time you're going to hit the mark, but you keep gently returning, gently returning, gently returning. Kids go where you aim them.
2._ Arrows can be a source of great blessing or a source of great destruction_. When you just lay your kids around and don't care for them, that's like having a loaded gun in your house. If you don't use it well, somebody else is going to pick it up, and it's going to become a source of destruction. There is no pain like the pain of a godless child.
Do you guys know "Squeaky" Fromme? How many of y'all know the name "Squeaky" Fromme? You are probably my age or older if you do. Not very many of you. "Squeaky" Fromme was a follower of Charles Manson. She was distinguished as a follower because she tried to kill the sitting president at that time, who was President Ford. She had a failed assassination attempt against him.
When "Squeaky" Fromme, who came from a prosperous suburb, was questioned why she ever became a follower of Charles Manson, she said, "Because when I was a young girl my daddy abandoned me for greater things, and I swore the very first man I met who loved me, I would give my heart to him." Charles Manson when he was put on the stand and was asked how he got those kids to follow him, he goes, "Are you kidding me? They were your kids. You turned them out, and I took them in."
When you forget your children, when you think there's something more important in your life than investing in your kids, you have a loaded gun lying around that somebody who doesn't have their best interests in mind is going to pick up, and it's going to become a source of destruction and sadness in your life and others.
This, by the way, is why God warned us the way he did in Hosea, chapter 4. It says, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." They think kids are a burden. They think they have to just survive the child parenting years. "Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children."
Do you want to know why our country is struggling? Because we're being led right now by a bunch of children who weren't discipled. We're led by a bunch of children who weren't taught how to be rulers with selflessness, that fulfilling their own fantasies… It's amazing to me that we've gotten so broken in our country that when a kid thinks there is something other than the biological sex they're assigned we help them move farther into mental illness. It is amazing to me, and it's just evidence that we have lost all knowledge of the goodness of God.
I'm going to read this last story, because it's one of my favorites. I can hardly read it. Every time I read it it chokes me up, but it's a good simple story. It's called "What My Father Wore." "What my father wore embarrassed me as a young man. I wanted him to dress like a doctor or lawyer, but on those muggy mornings when he rose before dawn to fry eggs for my mother and me, he always dressed like my father.
We live in south Texas, and my father wore tattered jeans with the imprint of his pocketknife on the seat. He liked shirts that snapped more than those that buttoned, and kept his pencils, cigars, glasses, wrenches and screwdrivers in his breast pocket. My father's boots were government-issued with steel toes that made them difficult to pull off his feet, which I sometimes did when he returned from repairing air conditioners, his job that also shamed me.
But, as a child, I'd crept into his closet and modeled his wardrobe in front of the mirror. My imagination transformed his shirts into the robes of kings and his belts into soldiers' holsters. I slept in his undershirts and relied on the scent of his collars to calm my fear of the dark. Within a few years, though, I started wishing my father would trade his denim for khaki and retire his boots for loafers. I stopped sleeping in his clothes and eventually began dreaming of another father.
I blamed the way he dressed for my social failures. When boys bullied me, I thought they'd seen my father wearing his cowboy hat but no shirt while walking our dog. I felt that girls snickered at me because they'd glimpsed him mowing the grass in cut-offs and black boots. The girls' families paid men (and I believed better-dressed ones) to landscape their lawns, while their fathers yachted in the bay wearing lemon-yellow sweaters and expensive sandals.
My father only bought two suits in his life. He preferred clothes that allowed him the freedom to shimmy under cars and squeeze behind broken Maytags, where he felt most content. But the day before my parents' twentieth anniversary, he and I went to Sears, and he tried on suits all afternoon. With each one, he stepped to the mirror, smiled and nodded, then asked about the price and reached for another.
He probably tried ten suits before we drove to a discount store and bought one without so much as approaching a fitting room. That night my mother said she'd never seen a more handsome man. Later, though, he donned the same suit for my eighth-grade awards banquet, and I wished he'd stayed home. After the ceremony (I'd been voted Mr. Citizenship, of all things), he lauded my award and my character while changing into a faded red sweatsuit.
He was stepping into the garage to wash a load of laundry when I asked what even at age fourteen struck me as cruel and wrong. 'Why,' I asked, 'don't you dress "nice," like my friends' fathers?' He held me with his sad, shocked eyes and searched for an answer. Then before he disappeared into the garage and closed the door between us, my father said, 'I like my clothes.' An hour later my mother stormed into my room, slapped me hard across the face, and called me an 'ungrateful little twerp,' a phrase that echoed in my head until they resumed speaking to me.
In time they forgave me, and as I matured I realized that girls avoided me not because of my father but because of his son. I realized that my mother had slapped me because my father could not, and it soon became clear that what he had really said that night was that there are things more important than clothes. He'd said he couldn't spend a nickel on himself because there were things I wanted. That night, without another word, my father had said, 'You're my son, and I sacrifice so your life will be better than mine.'
For my high-school graduation, my father arrived in a suit he and my mother had purchased earlier that day. Somehow he seemed taller, more handsome and imposing, and when he passed the other fathers they stepped out of his way. It wasn't the suit, of course, but the man. The doctors and lawyers recognized the confidence in his swagger, the pride in his eyes, and when they approached him, they did so with courtesy and respect. After we returned home, my father replaced the suit in the flimsy Sears garment bag, and I didn't see it again until his funeral.
I don't know what he was wearing when he died, but he was working, so he was in clothes he liked, and that comforts me. My mother thought of burying him in the suit from Sears, but I convinced her otherwise and soon delivered a pair of old jeans, a flannel shirt and his boots to the funeral home. On the morning of the services, I used his pocketknife to carve another hole in his belt so it wouldn't droop around my waist. Then I took the suit from Sears out of his closet and changed into it.
Eventually, I mustered the courage to study myself in his mirror where, with the exception of the suit, I appeared small and insignificant. Again, as in childhood, the clothes draped over my scrawny frame. My father's scent wafted up and caressed my face, but it failed to console me. I was uncertain: not about my father's stature—I'd stopped being an ungrateful little twerp years before. No, I was uncertain about myself, my own stature. And I stood there for some time, facing myself in my father's mirror, weeping and trying to imagine—as I will for the rest of my life—the day I'll grow into my father's clothes."
Guys, I love the statement that a father is a mirror young men use to dress themselves. There's a proverb that says, "Raise up a child in the way he should go." Dress him right, and when he is old he will put those clothes back on. What are your father's clothes? Are you putting them on?
Father, I pray that we would disciple our children. I pray we'd take seriously the call to see children as a gift, that we would quit hiding behind wanting to be able to provide for them but what we really want to do is seek more comfort for ourselves. I pray we'd have kids. I pray we'd be present with those kids. I pray we'd have a plan for those kids.
I pray we wouldn't have kids so we could have friends, that we would shepherd them and we would be passionate followers of Christ, filled with grace and truth, clothed in humility and honor and righteousness as we abide with you, and that it would comfort our kids and that we would make our homes the happiest places on earth because we walk with you. We love you. I pray we'd follow you. In Jesus' name, amen.