This is the second week of our series called Family Vacation. Family vacations are awesome, but they are also crazy. They are a blast, and they are a huge pain. They create memories that you’ll cherish forever and memories that you would love to forget.
Family vacations are messy adventures, because the family itself is a messy adventure.
In this series, we’re talking about the reality of family life. We’re not talking about the family that you see on Facebook and Instagram. We’re talking about family with no filter. We’re talking about the gritty, messy reality of family life.
And today, we’re going to talk about what matters most in your family. And it’s not what most people think. Specifically, we’re going to talk about the most important thing when it comes to parenting. If you have kids, or you will someday, then this is a crucial message for you. So let’s pray for God to open our minds and hearts to hear the most important thing.
We say this at Connect all the time. In fact, we say it almost every week. It’s all about Jesus. It’s the very first core value of our church.
But it’s not just our church. This has got to be the very first core value of my family. And it has got to be the very first core value of your family. It’s all about Jesus.
That’s the most important thing. It’s all about Jesus.
Remember when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ homerun record back in 1998? I know that the whole thing with McGwire and later with Barry Bonds has been tainted because of PEDs, but just put that aside for a second.
You know one of the first things I remember about McGwire’s record homerun? He missed first base! He got so caught up in the moment that he missed first. He had to stop, turn around, and touch first base before he could continue trotting around the bases.
So many of us want to hit a homerun in our family. We want to excel. We want to exceed expectations. We want to knock it out of the park.
But a homerun doesn’t count if you miss first base. And this is first base. It’s all about Jesus. If your family isn’t all about Jesus, then you can’t hit homerun. You can’t hit a triple or even a double. If it’s not all about Jesus, then you’ve missed first base, and you’re out.
Check out these wise words from Solomon in Psalm 127. “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” (Psalm 127:1a, NIV)
You are building something in your home. You are building something in your marriage. You are building something in your family. But if you aren’t partnering with God in the building, it’s all in vain. If Jesus is not the foundation, it’s not going to work. It’s not going to last.
In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4, NIV)
This is the target. This is what parenting is all about. This is the most important thing. To bring your children up in the training and instruction of the Lord. I know this verse is addressed to fathers, but it easily applies to moms, too. In fact, it’s possible that “parents” is a better translation than “fathers” anyway.
This is what it’s all about as parents. What is the most important thing? Discipleship. In other words, raising our kids to be disciples of Jesus.
That is THE most important thing for God-honoring parents. Not good grades. Not excelling at sports. Not getting into the right college. Not helping them find a good job. Those aren’t bad things, but they aren’t the most important thing.
The most important thing is discipleship. Raising our kids in the training and instruction of the Lord. Helping our children to understand what it means to actually be a disciple of Jesus.
This is not “normal.” This is not the most important thing for “normal” families. This isn’t “normal” parenting. Even in a lot of Christian families.
But when I look around, and I see statistics that say that 70% of kids are going to walk away from God entirely when they get to college…I think it’s pretty easy to see that normal isn’t working. It’s time for normal to get kicked to the curb, and it’s time for us to embrace what it actually means to raise our kids in the training and instruction of the Lord. It’s time for us to embrace what it actually means to disciple our kids.
So let’s talk about some of the “normal” trends that we see in parenting today. And then let’s talk about how we can kick that normal junk to the curb and really disciple our kids.
I’m going to borrow pretty liberally from a message I preached about a year ago. Preachers always borrow from each other. I borrow from other preachers. Other preachers borrow from me. So today, I’m going to borrow from me, too. But it’s cool. I gave myself permission to do that. Seriously, the principles that we talked about in that previous message are so important that they need to be repeated.
So let’s go. How does being “normal” contradict with being a disciple?
First of all, normal parents teach their kids that, “It’s all about you.” The life of their family revolves around the children. After all, God wants me to love my kids…so I just design it so my whole world revolves around them.
And this is all well-intentioned. After all, we all see the devastating effects when kids are neglected, unloved, or even abused. And I’ll tell you right now, nothing makes me madder than that. It’s heartbreaking when kids are starved for affirmation and affection and love.
And so a lot of Christian parents see that…and then they proceed to overreact in their own families. They make their kids their whole world. Everything is about the kids. Everything revolves around the kids. Everything takes a backseat to the kids. Even the marriage goes on the backburner for the sake of the kids.
Can I give you a word to describe this? It’s a word that you’re not going to like. It might even be a word that offends you. But it’s definitely a word that describes what I see in a lot of Christian families today.
The word is idolatry. I see it in families where kids are elevated. Venerated. Dang near deified and worshipped.
Should you love your kids? Absolutely. Should your kids be the center of your universe? Absolutely not, because that’s where Jesus belongs. And to be honest, it doesn’t do your kids any favors when they become the center of everything. That ends up instilling selfishness and narcissism in them…which is pretty much the polar opposite of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
At our house, I will often tell our boys, “You know what, this isn’t about you.”
“Dad, I don’t want to do this.” “That’s good to know, but it’s not about you.”
“Dad, I don’t want to go there.” “That’s awesome. It’s not about you.”
They’re learning that when they hear those words, they might as well stop arguing because they’re not going to win. And it’s all because I want both of my boys to understand this simple truth. There is a God, and you’re not Him. You will not be worshipped. You will not be the center of our family’s universe. That spot is already filled by a guy named Jesus.
Our kids need to learn this truth from us: your life is not about you. But the problem is that a lot of us can’t teach them that lesson because we never learned it ourselves…which is exactly why we get spiritually stuck. You can’t be a self-absorbed disciple of Jesus. If your goal is to focus on you, to take care of #1, “I’m looking out for me because nobody else is going to,” you’re going to be miserable. One of that fastest routes to misery that I know if to allow your life to revolve around you.
In Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4, NIV)
“Value others above yourselves.” Translation: it’s not about you. Your life is not about you.
Now, that’s about as countercultural as you can get. We live in one of the most self-absorbed, narcissistic cultures that has ever existed.
For example, vaguebooking. Anybody else sick of this? Somebody posts a vague status on Facebook. They just write, “Ugh.” Or, “I’m so over this.” Or just a simple L.
No explanation. No more details. Just a vague complaint, that most of the time can be translated, “Please pay attention to me! Please feed my narcissism! Please, please, please ask me what’s wrong!”
Look, you had a bad day. I get it. My family has had more than our fair share of bad days lately. Trust me, I get it. And I’m not suggesting that you be fake on social media and act like everything is hunky dory when it isn’t. If you were here last week, then you know that’s not what I’m saying.
But Facebook drama is not the way to sort it out, either. It’s just going to come out as, “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me!” Which is the polar opposite of being a selfless follower of Jesus.
The point is, if you’re always trying to get everyone to pay attention to you…if it’s all about you…then you’re going to have a hard time discipling your kids, because selflessness and sacrifice is Discipleship 101.
Okay, now that everyone is sufficiently offended, let’s keep going.
Here’s another “normal” trend that I see in a lot of parents today. Discipline feels unloving. “It feels unloving to punish my child. And it also makes my child sad or mad, and I don’t think they’ll love me anymore.”
I’m going to give it to you as straight as I can. The most important thing in our parenting is to disciple our kids. And there is no such thing as an undisciplined disciple.
Check this out from Revelation 3. And keep in mind who is speaking here. It’s Jesus. Jesus said, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.” (Revelation 3:19a, NIV)
Jesus just turns “normal” upside down. Normal says that it feels unloving to discipline. Jesus flips it upside down, and tells us that discipline is an act of love.
Listen to what Solomon wrote in Proverbs 13. “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” (Proverbs 13:24, NIV)
Again, this truth turns normal on its head. Normal says that it feels unloving to discipline my child. The truth says that if you withhold discipline, you hate your child. Hate. That’s a strong word, but it’s not my word. That’s the Bible’s word. So if it makes you mad, don’t take it up with me. Take it up with Author of the book.
Check out these words from Proverbs 23. “Don’t fail to discipline your children. They won’t die if you spank them. Physical discipline may well save them from death.” (Proverbs 23:13-14, NLT)
I love the sarcasm that you sometimes find in the Bible. Your kid won’t die if you spank them. That’s Grade A sarcasm. It’s also Grade A truth. They won’t die if you spank them, but that discipline might save them from death down the line.
Now, I shouldn’t have to say this, but in our culture today, I do. I am not advocating child abuse of any kind. And if you think I am, you need professional help.
Look at this verse from Proverbs 13 again. What’s it say? It says that the one who loves their children is CAREFUL to discipline them.
When a parent disciplines their child, it is done carefully. That’s really important to remember in the arena of spanking. It is not done in anger. It is not done in the heat of the moment. It is done calmly. It is done carefully.
We’re not talking about crossing the line from discipline into abuse. That’s a completely different story. God will never, ever endorse child abuse. That’s why He commands that discipline be dished out with great care.
You’ve got to know where the line is. If you have anger issues or violent tendencies, then you need to get yourself some help. Talk to me and let’s get you hooked up with a great counselor. But don’t you dare spank your child if there’s even a chance that you can’t control yourself.
But for most of us, if we follow the godly wisdom of waiting until our anger subsides, we can give our kids a firm, memorable, God-honoring butt whipping.
Can you say politically incorrect? Can you say Biblically correct? Given the choice of being politically correct or Biblically correct, I’ll take Biblically correct every single time.
Now, obviously when your kids get older, spanking goes by the wayside and other forms of discipline come into play. But the principle of biblical discipline still applies. If we withhold discipline, the Word of God says that we hate our children. If we love them, we take great care to discipline them. It will save their life. It will save their soul.
The bottom line is discipline is loving. It doesn’t mean you have to like it. It doesn’t mean you have to enjoy it. But it does mean that if you love your kids, you have to do it.
If you’re afraid to discipline your child because you always need them to like you, then you need to grow up. We’re not in Jr. High anymore. Your child doesn’t need you to be their friend right now. They need you to be their father. They need you to be their mother. You will have the rest of your life to be their friend. When they grow up, move out, get married, you get to be their friend. But right now, they have enough friends. What they need is a mom and a dad who love them enough to discipline them. Because again, the most important thing is to disciple our kids. And there is no such thing as an undisciplined disciple.
Here’s one more “normal” trend that I see in a lot of families. Grace doesn’t live here. Grace is what we say before meals, but it’s not something that is lived out.
I see it in families where their kids are simply not allowed to fail. I helped coach my son’s soccer team last fall. After one game, I remember watching a mom from another team berate her young son at the soccer field because he didn’t play as well as she thought he should.
I’ve seen dads hit the roof when their kids didn’t excel in every subject at school like their dad thought they should.
I’ve seen it in countless parents who set the standard so high that their kids can never reach it. And when they inevitably fall short, they live with the very real knowledge that they let their parents down…which is devastating.
Go back to our theme verse for today. In Ephesians 6, Paul wrote, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4, NIV)
Do not exasperate your children with unrealistic expectations. With unreachable goals and demands. And by withholding grace when they fail.
There is a time for discipline. We’ve already covered that. But even in those times, your discipline has to have an expiration date. The length of the discipline should be directly proportionate to the severity of the offense. But once the time of discipline is over, it is over. The next phase is forgiveness.
After a discipline event, the next step must be forgiveness. Your kids should know that an apology is expected. A prayerful apology to God for dishonoring or disobeying their parents. And an apology to you as their mom or dad.
And then, you must voice words of forgiveness. It’s not enough to think it or feel it. You actually have to say it. Let them know that you have forgiven them and you are moving on. It’s over. That can’t just be words. It has to have some teeth behind it. If you say it’s over, then you have to live like it is over.
And you know what that will do? It will give your kids a tangible view of what the grace of God is like. When God forgives us, it really is over. It is unmerited. It is completely undeserved. Once grace takes control, it’s over. No more grudges. No more guilt. Our parenting should be a direct reflection of that kind of grace.
Remember what we said at the beginning. Our target is discipleship. The most important thing is to bring our kids up in the training and instruction of the Lord. That means that it’s our job to teach them about grace.
But a lot of us can’t teach our kids about grace because we don’t understand it ourselves. There are way too many people who claim the Name of Christ, but still let the ghosts of their past haunt them.
Grace means that your past does not dictate your future. If it did, then the grace of God is completely without power.
The power of grace is that God can change any life. Any life. And I’m living proof.
When I look at my past, I am completely ashamed. I have committed sins that just devastate me. When I think about my sinful past, it destroys me. And if you’re thinking, “Yeah, right. You’re a pastor. What kind of past could you have?” It would blow your mind. And every time I dwell on what I used to be, it wrecks me.
But when I look at what God did for me, it amazes me. It blows me away that Jesus would leave His place in heaven and come to this broken, dark, screwed up, sinful world. More than that, I cannot comprehend why He would trade His throne for a cross…all for me.
And that cross is enough to erase my past. It is enough to eradicate the ghosts of my past.
It is not spiritual to live in the guilt of past sin. A lot of people believe that, “If I always dwell in the guilt of my past sins, that means that I recognize how bad my sin really is. That is very spiritual.”
That isn’t spiritual. It’s stupid. And worse than that, it is sinful. It is sinful when we allow the ghosts of our past to dominate us because it makes a mockery of why Jesus came in the first place.
In Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul wrote, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1a, NIV)
That verse is purposely repetitive, because God wants to make sure that we don’t miss the point. The whole reason Jesus came was to set us free.
Obviously there has been a lot of talk this week about freedom with the July 4 holiday. And it’s awesome. It’s an amazing blessing to live in a country where we are free to worship without fear. And we honor the men and women who have served and sacrificed to preserve that freedom for us. It’s something that we can never take for granted.
But it astounds me how many of us live politically free, but we also live as a spiritual slave. Paul said, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Freedom is the whole point! Jesus came to release you from the prison of guilt. To free you from the ghosts of your past.
And everyday that you refuse to let go of your past, you are mocking the very reason that Jesus came. Jesus came to set you free.
Earlier in the book of Galatians, Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, NIV)
If you are a follower of Jesus, then you have been crucified with Him. Your brokenness, your sinfulness, your past has been put to death. And now, Paul reminds you that you have been given a new life. It’s a life of faith in the Son of God. Not faith in what you can do. Faith in what He has done. He loved you. He gave Himself up for you.
Your past has been crucified…but you’ve got to be willing to let it die.
Here’s the truth about your past…if you don’t let it die, it won’t let you live.
Last week, I woke up at 5:30 am on Tuesday morning. I didn’t have anywhere to be that early in the morning. I didn’t set an alarm. I just woke up very early on a Tuesday morning.
Tuesday just happens to be trash day in our neighborhood. And as soon as I woke up early Tuesday morning, my mind was filled with a terrifying thought…I forgot to take out the garbage last night.
So I immediately hustled downstairs. Opened my noisy garage door and rolled my noisy trash can out to the street. I’m sure my neighbors loved that at 5:30 am.
But I did it anyway, because I remembered having this thought the day before: “Man, something really stinks in this trash can.” I don’t know what it was, but something in that trash can was getting ripe. And I wasn’t about to let that sit and bake in the summer heat for another week. That trash was going out today!
It’s crazy to live in this kind of stench when you don’t have to. And I knew I didn’t have to. There is a big ol’ truck that drives through my neighborhood every single week, and its sole purpose is to take my garbage. All I have to do is give them my garbage, and they take it away.
Can I tell you something? All you have got to do is give Jesus your garbage, and He takes it away. But a lot of you are choosing to live in the stench. You’re choosing to remain in the filth. You’re choosing to hang onto your garbage instead of letting it go. You can’t teach your kids about grace, because you don’t live in it yourself. You can’t say that your family is all about Jesus if you are living in the garbage of your past.
One more time from Galatians 5: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1a, NIV)
That’s what I desperately want for you. That’s what I desperately want for your family. I want you to know that absolute freedom that comes when it really is all about Jesus.
You don’t have to be perfect. Your kids don’t have to be perfect. Because it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being free.