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Teaching Our Children

May 11, 2014

Sermon:  Teaching Our Children
Text:  Deuteronomy 6:4-9

We would like to recognize a special group of people this morning. If you have ever had a mother, would you please raise your hand? I think that is about everyone except for a few in the balcony. Happy Mother’s Day!

Our Scripture today comes from Deuteronomy 6. I invite your attention to this very important passage found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. I will begin reading Verse 4 and continue through Verse 9. Hear now the Word of God.

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.

This is the Word of God for the people of God.

Inscribed on the side of the education building at Temple B’nai Israel are some of these words, known as the Shema. This is such an important passage that it has been used for centuries and is still being used in every Jewish service of worship. These words are the very foundation of Christian religious education.

The family, of course, the oldest known institution to humans, came into existence with the human race and predates by considerable time every other institution we know – certainly church, government, and school. All of those institutions come after the family, which is the core building block.

Many forces at work would destroy the family. Home used to be a place where you could hang your hat. For many people, home has become the place where you hang your head. Even Christian homes can be dysfunctional and unhappy places of abuse. Often a spirit of anarchy, a spirit of rebellion, or a spirit that is so authoritarian snuffs out the very essence of life itself, making the atmosphere in the home one of nervous tension. Homes can be a place of fighting and shouting. Anyone who has been a parent very long knows that screaming never helps. These evil forces call for us to return to the wisdom of God. We can find no better place than this passage in the book of Deuteronomy. It is one of the greatest Scriptures in the entire Bible.

This passage has three divisions. First, it tells us a great truth: “Hear O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one.” Monotheism is the foundation of three of the world’s great religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The second division focuses on our relationship to God. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and and with all your strength.” The third division – Verses 6-9 – stresses that these truths must be transferred from one generation to the next. Here we have what we might call the core curriculum for religious education in the home. We also have the methodology by which this curriculum is to be taught.

Today is the perfect time for us to consider this passage. When you think of Mother’s Day, perhaps you think of the most intimate relationship, often depicted in religious art as the Madonna with the child. In fact, much of the art since the Renaissance period has depicted Mary holding her infant child, Jesus. It is a picture that gives us a sense of a safe relationship. It gives us a sense of security, a sense of nurturing. It is the foundational relationship in all of our lives. This image of the Madonna with the baby Jesus is a prototypical image of the meaning of Mother’s Day.

What we know of this basic relationship of mother to child is the foundation for what we know about our relationship to God. If we believe in God and believe that God is a nurturing parent – a parent who “neither slumbers nor sleeps,” a parent who watches over night and day – then we see from that basic relationship of mother and child an idea about what our relationship to our divine parent should be. So often God has been reduced to a punitive parent who demands obedience and ekes out severe punishment. This type of relationship would be toxic. If you grow up with that fear, with that image of God, you will probably never fully understand this passage from Deuteronomy. We must see this passage in the basic context of a loving parent to the children of a loving God. The more we grow in that relationship, the more loving we become to other people.

Jesus repeats this greatest declaration of the Old Testament in the New Testament. Look with me at Mark 12, beginning at Verse 28. When asked which commandment is the most important, Jesus returns to the Old Testament, to the Shema.

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

We have just studied the life of Jesus. Everything we know about his life was for the purpose of teaching us about the love of God and this great corollary of loving other people. Notice that when Jesus quotes the Shema, he adds another phrase, directing us to love God with all our mind. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Then he expands that commandment by adding a corollary: “You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

Our only proper response to God is to love Him in a way that is somewhat reciprocal to the way He loves us. We do not serve him slavishly. It is not just a matter of obedience though it is certainly that. What we do in relationship to God is to express our love for Him with all that we are – heart, soul, mind and strength – and to love Him in every way that we possibly can. We are to make this relationship the first priority in our lives. This is the key to all of life. It is the key to learning how to love other people. If we learn to love God, then we will surely learn how to love other people, to love the very people that God loves.

I would submit to you that this commandment is the core curriculum of Christian education in the home. First of all, God is one. He is the only God. We think of the little children’s prayer, “God is great. God is good.” That pretty much summarizes it. Our response to a great and good God is to love Him with our heart – to love Him emotionally.
Do you love God with your emotions? Do you ever feel angry? Do you ever feel that you would like to get back at someone because they have hurt you?

Our grandson Ben has a quick temper. I have no idea where he gets that. I could blame his grandmother, but that is not true. I have told you before that I had a very quick temper when I was a boy. I guess Ben comes by this naturally.

One day when he was a having a little hissy-fit, our son Scott said, “Ben, when you get angry, you need to count to ten.”

Ben looked at Scott and said, “Dada, ten is not enough.”

I do not know how far you have to count to deal with your anger, but I do know this. If you love God with your heart, the emotional side of your being, you want to learn to let those emotions reveal that love. That is a hard lesson to learn.

We must want to love God with our soul. Our spiritual life should be completely oriented around God. A parent can have no greater joy than seeing a teenager read an open Bible, seeing a teenager learn the importance of daily prayer. Teenagers who have learned how to orient their life around God have learned a lot that will carry them a long way. It will not completely keep them out of trouble, but it surely will be a resource for them.

We want to love God with our mind. Our minds are like computers. Garbage in equals garbage out. Whatever our minds consume should be God-honoring. Paul says in Philippines 4:8, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about those things.” If our minds are to demonstrate love for God, we must think the thoughts of God.

We love God with all of our strength. We use our physical energy so that we can be a servant of God, so that we can express the love that we have for God. We are not to be self-serving.

How we love God in these four ways helps us learn to love other people. The Golden Rule says that we are to treat other people the way we want to be treated. Learning to do that means that we must feel equal. My grandfather often said, “Kirk, don’t look up at anyone, and don’t look down on anybody. Look straight across at everyone.”

To put that adage in Christian terms, the ground at the foot of the cross is level. We are all sinners saved by grace. We are all equal. Learning to love other people out of that sense of equality is so important.

Sometimes we ask ourselves, “What kind of inheritance do I, as a parent, as a grandparent, want to leave my children?” How do you answer that question? We want them to have a good education, a satisfying marriage, a vocation that is pleasing to them. We want them to have happiness. We may even want them to have wealth. Isn’t it true, though, that we wish most of all that our children would know how to love God and other people? Nothing is more important than that. This is the very essence of what the Bible means by the kingdom of God. This is why Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will fall into place” (Matthew 6:33). Everything else will be added unto you. The priority, the core curriculum, for the Christian family is to know that God is great and God is good, to know how to love God – heart and soul and mind and strength – and to know how to love other people.

What is the methodology? How do we teach this? Follow along with me as I read Deuteronomy 6:6-8. You will see there the four steps to teaching this.

6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Step one is to realize that this process of education begins with my heart, not with my dishing out wise words to my children or grandchildren. In order for me to teach this lesson of love my heart has to be right, right with God. I must love God in this way. I must love other people this way. A teacher cannot teach a lesson without believing it himself or herself. We begin with our own heart.

Loving God with all our heart requires that we make it a personal priority. Nobody does that perfectly. Is our heart’s desire to love God? If our heart is directed toward that goal then we can teach our children and grandchildren how to love like this. One of the most sobering passages in the entire Bible appears in Luke 17:2. Jesus said, “It would be better for you that a millstone be hung around your neck and that you be cast into the depths of the sea than that you offend one of the little ones who believe in me.” In other words, if your heart’s greatest desire is something else, you need to cleanse your heart. Love God and love other people with all your heart. Then you will be an able teacher.

Verse 7 offers the second step: “You shall teach them diligently to your children.” This teaching cannot be half-hearted. It is not just imparting information about God; it is teaching with a sense of purpose. Accept the responsibility for knowing it cannot be passed on by others. We must teach them. The passage does not say that the Sunday School, the church, or some after-school program will teach the children. In this sense every child needs to be home-schooled.

A father came to me and said, “I am so upset with my child’s Sunday School teacher.”

I asked, “Why are you upset?”

He complained, “My child doesn’t know the books of the Bible. I think he should know them.”

I asked the father, “Do you know the books of the Bible?”

“Yes.”

“Why don’t you teach them to your child?”

The thought just had not occurred to him that he ought to be the one to teach his child this content.

“You shall teach them diligently to your children.” We cannot pass this responsibility off to someone else. It is our responsibility. It is not just that we moralize at the supper table. We must teach them in gentle ways. The Christian home is the greatest venue that we have for evangelism. More people come to Christ in the context of the Christian home than anywhere else. There is hardly any greater joy than leading your own child or grandchild to accept Christ.

My grandchildren love to hear me sing to them. It is wonderful that my grandchildren enjoy my singing. It is great affirmation that I do not receive from many people. I sing “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” I sing some old spirituals like “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” and “Let There Be Peace in the Valley.” I made up one little song they really like about as anything. It is just these simple words: “God loves you, and I love you and that’s the way it’s going to be.” When I sing it over and over again, they drop right off to sleep.

The third step in this methodology is the most neglected. Listen to this: “You shall talk of these things when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” We are to talk about these commandments in our home, in our car, at bedtime, and at the breakfast table.

Our homes have been invaded by all kinds of gadgets. We have a national problem – ADHD – attention deficit hyperactive disorder. We are so distracted as people. If we turn off all of those gadgets and have a conversation with our children around our table, we can teach them about the love of God. We can talk with them about how to love other people. We must push that noise out of the way.

This teaching begins when we listen to our children, when we pay attention to their concerns. We can do this while traveling, but we must turn off the CD player or radio. I learned when our children were in school that when I picked them up and turned off the radio, I would learn more in the first ten minutes they were in the car than I could learn at any other time of day. They came out of the school ready to talk. Boy, can we learn so much when we are available at that moment when they are ready to talk.

We learn this at bedtime through prayers, stories, and songs. We learn this at the breakfast table if we take the time to sit down and have a devotion together. Scripture says to talk about these things throughout the day. It only stands to reason that doing so takes time. Some other activities will not get done.

When Scott was a Cub Scout, he was required to take a five-mile in-town hike. I planned to take him on this hike on a Friday afternoon after I finished running around doing all kinds of errands. Whatever I was doing was so important. I came running in at the last minute, ripped off my coat and tie, and put on some old clothes and boots. Off the two of us went – one exhausted from the day’s activities and the other so excited this new adventure.

We started out walking from our house toward the Clement Line and got on the railroad track. The ties were too close together for my stride and too far apart for Scott’s stride. I noticed the pine trees growing up between the ties and the rust covering the rails. We walked along the track awhile, then turned off onto an old siding that ran through the woods. There an old Southern boxcar, the kind with one door, had been discarded. I went around one side while Scott headed around the other.

When we met at the back of the car, he said, “Dad, this boxcar has been here for a long time.”

Being the handy, dandy Daddy I was, I asked, “How do you know that?” I thought he would point out the rust on the wheels or maybe the trees growing between the ties.

He answered, “Look, Dad. There’s a bird’s nest on this ladder.” Then he turned, looked at me, and said, “Dad, a bird can’t build a nest on a moving train.”

He was right. A bird cannot build a nest on a moving train. Parents cannot build a home if they are always on the go. In order to teach our children, we must make the time. Scott’s comment served as a reminder.

The fourth step is so important. I started to omit Verses 8-9, which instruct us about tying leather phylacteries on our arm and head and nailing the commandments to our doorposts. The Jewish people, the Orthodox Jews, still do this. You will see a mezuzah on every hotel room in Israel. What does this mean? Scripture says the phylacteries and mezuzahs are signs, visible evidence, that we practice what we preach.

The very way that we do our work, the very way that we conduct our life, demonstrates our love of God. When our very thoughts are controlled by a love for God and a love for other people, our children will learn. They will see this love reflected in our home. It does not have to be literally nailed to our doorpost. We must ask ourselves some questions: To whom is our home open? What do we talk about in our home? What language do we use to talk about people who are different from us? What jokes do we tell? All of those behaviors become visible signs to our children and grandchildren about what we really believe. The way we live is for them a sermon. They learn by example. We must teach that God is great and God is good in the course of our regular life. We must love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and all of our strength. We must love other people as if we were the other person. Doing so is a daily task.

I know when I preach a sermon like this one some people say, “I have failed miserably. I should have done that better.” Start wherever you are in your walk with the Lord. Start right here where you are today. If you have never made a commitment to Christ, let that be the beginning. Commit your life to the Lord Jesus Christ. Let him be the Lord of your life. Let today be a good beginning.

Kirk H. Neely
© May 2014

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