This is the third message in our series called Nuptially Challenged. It’s the longest series we’re doing all year, with 8 messages in all. And the series is exactly what the title suggests. We’re talking about the challenges that are present in virtually every marriage.
The foundational Scripture for this series is from Hebrews 13. “Marriage should be honored by all…” (Hebrews 13:4a, NIV)
That’s our goal for this series. We want to honor marriage in the middle of a culture that really doesn’t get marriage at all.
Like I’ve said throughout this series, I know that not everyone at Connect is married. But marriage is a big deal. It’s a big deal in Scripture. It’s a big deal to God. So it’s big deal in our church, and we’ve got to preach it.
A lot of you who are single now will get married someday. And I hope this series helps you prepare for a marriage that is healthy and blessed.
It sounds cliché, but the truth is that marriage is hard work. It’s a huge challenge.
Tim Keller said, “Marriage is glorious, but hard. It’s a burning joy and strength, and yet it is also blood, sweat, and tears, humbling defeats and exhausting victories.”
If you want life to be easy, then you probably shouldn’t get married. And as we’re going to talk about today, if you’re looking for an easy life, you DEFINITELY shouldn’t have kids.
That’s the next nuptial challenge that we’re going to talk about. The challenge of kids.
I know we’ve got a lot of students in here today. I’m going to tell you something that is going to make you roll your eyes, but it’s the truth. Sometimes, you’re a royal pain in the hindquarters. You are a challenge. You have been a challenge from the day you were born.
That doesn’t mean that you aren’t loved. Actually, the very fact that you are a here today and not in military school is precisely because your parents love you. And as your pastor, I love you, too. You might not like everything you hear today. Sometimes the truth is uncomfortable. But I hope you’ll hear it anyway. I hope today can help your relationship with your parents in some small way. I hope that today can help as you date and as you ponder big life questions about future marriage and family.
And for those of us who are parents, we know the challenge of kids. Today, we’re seeking God’s truth to help us navigate the challenges that come with parenting. Let’s pray for that.
A couple of weeks ago, we read these wise words from Solomon. “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. It’s not going to work. It’s not going to last.
Now let’s skip down a couple of verses. Solomon wrote, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.” (Psalm 127:3, NIV)
Children are a blessing from the Lord. We honor that truth, even if our culture does not. We live in a culture that talks about unplanned or unwanted pregnancies. A culture that often views children as a hindrance, an obstacle, a problem.
Kenny Chesney summed it up in his song called There Goes My Life, when he sang, “All he could think about was, ‘I’m too young for this. Got my whole life ahead. I’m just a kid myself. How am I gonna raise one?’
All he could see were his dreams going up in smoke. So much for ditching this town and hanging out on the coast. Oh well, those plans are long gone.”
And he said, ‘There goes my life.’ (lyrics by Wendell Mobley and Neil Thrasher)
The song really sums up the way a lot of people view children. They are problems. They are obstacles. They crush our dreams. And that’s why many have come to view them as expendable.
There are almost 3,700 abortions every day in our country. That comes to over 1.3 million each year.
I know this is a hot button issue. It’s highly politicized and it’s extremely polarizing. But here at Connect, we believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. And here in Psalm 127, we see that children are a blessing from God. They are a blessing that we value. They are a blessing that we cherish.
We also know that there are people in our church carrying the scars and the baggage and the pain and the regret of abortion. And what we desperately want you to know is that there is forgiveness and freedom that is available to you. And if you need someone to talk with you and pray with you, we’re here. No judgment. No condemnation. Just grace and love.
No matter what our culture may believe about kids, we believe these words from Psalm 127. Children are a blessing.
One of core values at Connect is God loves kids and so do we. We are rock solid committed to quality children’s ministry and quality student ministry. And we love what God is doing in Connect Kids and Connect Students. And we also love what God is doing in the families that make up our church here at Connect.
Later on in the Kenny Chesney song, he sang, “A couple years of up all night and a few thousand diapers later, that mistake he thought he made covers up the refrigerator. Oh yeah, he loves that little girl.
Momma’s waiting to tuck her in as she fumbles up those stairs. She smiles back at him dragging that teddy bear. Sleep tight, blue eyes and bouncing curls.
He smiles, “There goes my life.”
Children are a blessing. We believe that wholeheartedly here at Connect. But now, let’s be totally honest…children are a blessing, but they are also one of the most challenging blessings you’ll ever have!
I remember hearing one pastor say that kids are 90% fun and 10% work. If that’s true, then I must be doing it wrong. I understand that kids are a blessing. I absolutely believe that kids are a blessing. But I also know that they are a blessing that comes with huge challenges attached.
Go back to what Solomon said in Psalm 127. We’re going to read a little bit more of it this time. “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psalm 127:3-5a, NIV)
There are several things to pull out of these verses. First of all, Solomon compares children to arrows in the hands of a warrior. Parenting is warfare. Pure and simple. If you’re wondering why it’s so hard, it’s because you’re at war. When is war ever easy?
War is messy. It is hard. It requires complete commitment. There will be sacrifice. And it will not be won or lost quickly. We have to be in it for the long haul.
As a parent, you have to fight everyday. You have to fight against the cultural influences that your kids are bombarded with everyday. If you watched even a few minutes of the VMAs this year…if you have used the word “twerking” this week…you know what I’m talking about.
You have to fight to keep your marriage healthy and vibrant and growing while you are parenting. So many marriages come to completely revolve around the kids. So when the kids are all grown up, the marriage is all worn out. When the kids leave, so does the marriage. It’s why the divorce rate is skyrocketing among empty-nesters. You’ve got to fight for it.
You’ve got to fight all kinds of things when you are parent. Everyday is a battle. It is war, nothing less.
Solomon compares children to arrows in the hands of a warrior. Arrows can be a blessing in the hands of a skilled archer. Or they can be incredibly dangerous in the hands of someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.
I happen to be one of those people who has no idea what he’s doing. So this is actually a pretty dangerous scenario. If I tried to shoot this arrow, the odds are pretty good that something really bad is going to happen.
But in the hands of a skilled archer…someone who has put in the time to train…someone who has made a commitment to master the skill…this arrow can be a blessing.
In ancient cultures, skilled archers were great warriors. They were a powerful weapon to defend the people of a city from attackers.
Even today, this can be a tool that can help feed a family if the hunter knows what he is doing.
This can be incredibly dangerous or it can be a huge blessing. It all comes down to the archer’s ability to hit the target
When it comes to kids, that’s what it’s all about. The ability to hit the target. Which brings us to the big question…what exactly is the target?
It’s hard to know, at times. I don’t know who said this first, but I’ve always heard that raising kids is like nailing Jell-O to a tree. It feels that way a lot of the time, doesn’t it?
Parenting doesn’t fit into a nice, neat, tidy box. Everyday is messy. Everyday is a challenge. Everyday is a battle. So how do we even know the target that we’re trying to hit?
The target is found 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 what every battle is fought for. To bring your children up in the training and instruction of the Lord. When you draw the bow back, this is the bullseye that you’re aiming for. And 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 target? Discipleship. In other words, raising our kids to be disciples of Jesus.
That is THE target 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 target.
The target is discipleship. The target is raising our kids in the training and instruction of the Lord. The target is helping our children to understand what it means to actually be a disciple of Jesus.
The problem is that a lot of Christian parents don’t understand what it means to be a disciple. There is this prevailing opinion that discipling our children means that we’re raising nice little Christian boys and girls.
Honestly, that turns my stomach. It just makes me sick. Since when did following Jesus mean that you’re a nice little boy or girl?
In Luke 6, Jesus Himself said, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” (Luke 6:40, NIV)
When we are fully trained students, we become like our teacher. When we are disciples of Jesus, we become like Jesus. And this might bust your bubble, but Jesus was not a nice little boy. If He was, He would not have been killed. You don’t execute nice little boys.
Jesus was radical. Jesus was dangerous. Jesus was unpredictable. Jesus was a catalyst for change. Don’t get me wrong. He was good. He was loving. He was kind. But don’t ever…not for one second…don’t EVER believe that Jesus was a nice, religious boy. He was anything but that.
And so, if we’re all about discipling our kids…raising them to be like Jesus…we have to accept the fact that radical, unpredictable, and dangerous are part of the equation.
So many parents believe that discipling their kids involve teaching all the things that they need to avoid. There’s an old saying that used to be used as a benchmark for what made up a good little Christian boy. “I don’t smoke. I don’t chew. I don’t go with girls that do.”
And that was it. That’s how you knew that I’m a good little Christian boy.
And that could also be why an entire generation is walking away from their faith…because they’ve been taught that following Jesus is simply sin avoidance…and some of the “sins” that they were taught to avoid are not even discussed in the Bible. They’ve never been taught about the radical, unpredictable, dangerous adventure of being a disciple.
Our dream at Connect is to be a church that is filled with radical disciples. That the families of our church are 100% sold-out to Jesus. That the parents in our church are raising a generation of unpredictable, untamed, world-changing disciples of Jesus.
If that doesn’t sound like a normal church, it’s not. And if that doesn’t sound like normal parenting, it’s not. 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 parents…and especially in Christian parents today. And then let’s talk about how we can kick that normal junk to the curb and really disciple our kids.
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 the 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’m not above telling our boys, “You know what, this isn’t about you.”
“Daddy, 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.
Here’s another “normal” trend that I see in a lot of families today. God gets a compartment of your life.
That’s the definition of normal Christianity. Everything in our lives has a compartment. And we make sure that God gets one, too. And we pass this on to our kids.
They learn how to compartmentalize. They have their school compartment. Their sports compartment. Maybe their job compartment. Their family compartment. And then, they have their God compartment. That usually fits in on Sundays.
That’s normal. And it’s totally unbiblical.
In Colossians 3, here’s how Paul described Jesus. “Christ, who is your life…” (Colossians 3:4a, NIV)
He didn’t say that Christ was a part of your life. He didn’t say that Jesus gets a compartment of your life. Paul said that Jesus IS your life.
Are your kids learning that from you? When they look at you, do they see a life that has been completely taken over by Jesus? Or do they see a life that has compartmentalized Jesus?
Normal says that, “Yes, we believe in Jesus. But we can’t be those radical wingnut people. We’ll keep our religion in it’s proper perspective.”
Paul gave us the proper perspective. The proper perspective is that Jesus is your life. Your whole life. Your entire life.
Your kids are not your whole life. Your spouse is not your whole life. Your job is not your whole life. Your accomplishments are not your whole life. Jesus is your whole life. These other things are blessings that the Lord may give you, but Jesus is your life. And any attempt to compartmentalize Him is going to have some big time consequences.
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. You’re a parent, so it’s time to start acting like an adult. 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.
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)
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.
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 saw it this past weekend when I watched a mom 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. Our target 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 we can’t do that unless we understand grace for ourselves. Grace came in the form of Jesus. It came in the form of a cross and an empty tomb. When Jesus died for our sins, and then rose again to give us victory and a brand new life. Our past is wiped away. Forgiven. Forgotten. Gone.
Some of you can’t teach that to your kids because you’ve never experienced it yourself. Today can be the day where that changes. It’s why we offer you a chance to respond to Jesus each week here at Connect.
If you’re ready to accept the grace of Jesus, we’re ready. If you’re ready to be baptized into Him, we’re ready.
Grace is what Jesus is all about. And we want you to experience His grace today.