On Sunday we were looking at Luke 18 and the account of Jesus meeting with the Rich Young Ruler who despite having lived a good life Jesus identifies as having an idol problem. Whilst he has loved others his struggle is in loving God above his money - as Jesus speaks to the man he says sell all you have, then come and follow me. The man cannot do both, he has to decide - either God and the kingdom is his number one desire of his stuff is. Tragically the man goes away sad!
One of the issues we were thinking about was what our idols are and it bought up the whole issue of gospel parenting - can we as believers love our children too much? And how do we know whether we have gospel love for our children or idolatrous love for our children.
The bible would affirm that we as parents should love our children, Jesus says that we know how to give good gifts to our children - presuming we love them. In Deuteronomy we see commands given to parents concerning their children and throughout the Old Testament there is a sense of parents needing to love and lead their children. It is right and godly that we love our children they are a gift from God to us.
But as with all good things they can become an ultimate things, they can become idols. So how do we love our children in a distinctive gospel way?
Partly this involves what it is we most want for our children. Distinctive gospel parenting wants our children first and foremost to come to faith, to know God through Jesus and to serve him. It means our dreams for them are gospel focused not exam results, marriage, home etc... And this will be more than just a head desire, it will be a heart desire which determines our actions and behaviour throughout our children's lives.
It will mean at times being in conflict with our children. If our children go through a stage of not wanting to go to church we will not bow down to their will. But will discuss with them why it is important, why it is a family priority and at times simply take them. Though on the flip side churches must recognise that children are part of the kingdom community, value them, include them and encourage them to serve.
It means our priorities set the agenda in the home. We will model our priorities to them in the home in terms of what we long for them to be. The parent who pushes school performance, exam results, and academic achievement is saying to their child that is what will make you happy not the gospel. I think for many of us stepping off the treadmill of parenting one up man ship in terms of reading bands, Sat's scores, exam results and the like is a key gospel distinctive. What will make our children happy and what ought to make us happy is them knowing and serving Jesus, not academic performance.
Time is the way in which children measure how much we love them. They will soon learn that they are our idol if everything in our world revolves around them. We can't do this because the children... we can't do that because the children... A healthy look at our diaries is a good thing. We ought to encourage our children to engage in activities but what they want to do ought not to be all consuming.
What is family? That is one of the fundamental questions we have to ask ourselves. How do I think of family? How do I guard and protect it? We are all family with the phrase an Englishman's home is his castle, I think there has been a subtle shift in the last generation to an Englishman's family is his castle. How often do we invite others into our families? Do we really see church as our family? Or is that just an idea we know we should espouse rather than a reality to live out?
There is much more to say about this but maybe another time. How can I tell if my children are an idol, or a potential idol? For now here are some questions to answer honestly and think through?
a. What is your greatest dream for your children?
b. What do they say your greatest dream for them is?
c. How much do they dictate the pace and activities of life in your home?
d. Is your family your castle?
e. Where does church family fit into your family and your family into church?