THE FUTURE OF THE FAMILY SERIES
GROWING THROUGH THE MOTIONS – HOW TO BUILD YOUR FAMIY’S
APRIL 28, 1996
Recently I was talking to a couple of my friends about their glory days in High School athletics. Both of them were sharing with me that they were on the track team and, specifically, they ran relay races. They went on to explain to me that the most important element of a relay race is the passing of the baton. And they said that they practiced hour after hour after hour with their relay team just practicing passing the baton, transferring this object from one runner to the next. We are going to talk about passing the baton, not the baton that they will use this summer in Atlanta, Georgia during the Olympics, but the baton of faith. Parents, the most important objective is to pass the baton of faith to your children. Now single adults don’t turn me off because there are 78 million of you in America and studies show that 90% of you will get married at least once. If you get married you may have children. And when you have children, you had better be prepared for this awesome task and responsibility of building a spiritual foundation in the lives of your children. I am going to promise you something. If you learn, like I am learning, how to transfer the baton of faith to your children, you will be growing through the motions as you get involved in this exciting adventure called faith building.
Just for a second, parents, picture yourself on a track with some track shoes. The relay team is called your family unit. It is your goal to pass the baton. Think about your children as people you are going to pass the baton to. Do you have that picture? Now what are the characteristics of a well-trained baton passer?
Number one. A baton passer is someone who joins the race. The operative word here is sensitivity. You poll some relay runners and they will tell you that the most important part of the relay race is “the zone”. It is that little part of the track where they hand the baton to the runner in front of them. We have a zone, parents, and this zone lasts from birth to eighteen years of age. It goes by in a flash. During that zone we have to transfer the baton. Now some parents are still stretching in the infield. Some parents are in the stands sipping Diet Coke and putting on sunblock and they don’t even realize they need to be involved in a race. Moms, Dads, there is a race going on and it is possible to send your children down the track with great velocity but without any real direction. Lazar age parents say, “I’m going to let my children make their own spiritual conclusions. They can do it themselves. I won’t teach them or train them in any transcendent value stuff.” But the problem is that there is a flaw in that style of parenting. It is impossible to grow up in a value free environment. We are all bombarded by values every day we breathe on this planet. Sexual values. Moral values. Family values. The question needs to be, who is going to impress what values on your children. The Bible says, categorically, the responsibility rests on the shoulders of committed parents, baton passers. If we don’t train our children spiritually, Mom and Dad, who is going to answer their questions. “Where did I come from and where am I going?” “What is the meaning of life?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?” That is where baton passers step in and build some real stuff in the lives of their children.
The Apostle Paul was a great baton passer. The entire book of II Timothy is about Paul passing the baton of faith to his man, Timothy. II Timothy 4:7. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” I fought, I finished, I kept. Now some of you realize right now as I am talking that you are not in the race. I want to give you a chance parents to get in the race, because this race is a race of faith. Maybe you need to come to a point in your life where you say, “God, I understand the fact that I am a sinner in need of a Savior. I want to turn from my sins and turn to You, Jesus Christ, and by faith I want to receive You.” The moment you do that you will be handed the baton of faith. Now Jesus says, “OK, catch up to your kids.” In a lot of situations our kids have lapped us and we have got to really run in order to get in position to transfer the baton into their precious lives, to teach them and train them how to live this great stuff out. So I ask you, parents, have you joined the race? And if you are in the race, are you sensitive to the leadings of the Holy Spirit to really pass the baton of faith? Do you have that focus that the Apostle Paul talked about?
Secondly, a baton passer practices regularly. The operative word here is consistency. The Bible says this in Philippians 4:9. “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” This is where the rub comes in. The practice part, the example part. Batons are not passed in a vacuum, they are not passed when you are ten feet away. They are passed when you are running along side of your children. What kind of example are you for the little ones? I like what my friend, John Maxwell, said about parenting. “You can teach your children what you know, but you’ll reproduce in them what you are.” It is a great line, isn’t it? So in other words, Moms and Dads, if you are submissive to one another, your children will be submissive to one another and also submissive to God. Dads, if your children see you on your knees a lot, they, in turn, will pray a lot. If they see the ministering spirit of reconciliation going on, they, in turn, will also have that spirit. Christianity, like kindness, is more caught than taught. Conversely, if they see parents who bicker and fight and always hit below the belt, they are going to bicker and fight and hit below the belt. If they see parents who are materialistic and moving from one fun fix to the next fun fix, these children will move from one fun fix to the next fun fix. How is your practice going?
What if our Olympic track team decided never to practice anymore. “We are not going to practice at all. We will hit Atlanta come July and just do it. We will kind of go off the cuff. No big deal.” What would happen? They would get blown away. Parents, we have got to put everything possible into this process of transferring the baton. We have got to have a lazar beam focus and an agenda to improve our parenting skills. We have so many avenues available here at the Fellowship of Las Colinas for that purpose. There are so many great books, videos, small groups that address this need. Lisa and I are always learning, we are always trying to gain more knowledge and apply the knowledge so that we can be the best possible baton passers.
Thirdly, a baton passer knows his or her goals. The operative word here is priority. So we have got sensitivity, we have got consistency and we have got priority. Here is what our man, Paul, says in Philippians 3:13-14. “…But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” This one thing I do. Paul knew his priorities. Parents, do you know your goals? Do you know your priorities?
I have two major priorities after my relationship with God; my relationship with Lisa and then my relationship with my children. There are two profound things that have really influenced my priorities. I think you have heard about these things before. The first is a calendar and the second is a wrist watch. If you want to be a person of great priorities, a baton-passing parent who can really build something into the lives of your children, listen up. Let me show you what I mean by the calendar. When someone asks me to do something, to speak somewhere, to talk to someone, to visit a family, I always see what my family calendar says. I always do that. The family calendar rules in my life. Four years ago it didn’t. I had my priorities out of wack. The church was far too important in my life at that juncture. But I made an intentional decision to say no to that and to say yes to the family calendar.
The next priority is the wrist watch which helps me with this whole parental track meet. Bedtime is my time with my children. At least three night a week, usually more, I help put our children to bed. Now bedtime is not the only time to be with your children but is it a good time, a relaxing time, a fun time. I help them get bathed, get their teeth brushed, and I read to them. Even if the Cowboys are playing the Forty-niners, they are going to have to wait if I am doing this with my children. So I have promised the Lord and Lisa that I am going to be home at least three nights a week. Then, at least once a week, I do something special with my family, just the Young bunch. Tonight, we are going to a special restaurant together, just our family. Fifteen years from now I can become, maybe, a great golfer or a more experienced fly fisherman but right now I can’t do it. You see, a great father or a great mother is not really built parked in front of a television set, watching yet another sports event or made-for-television movie. A great parent is not someone who buys the children another toy or trinket. It is someone who is involved. We have got to know our goals. Do you have your goals set?
Fourth, a baton passer gives clear instructions. The operative word here is flexibility. There are two basic approaches to building spiritual truths into your children’s lives. The first is the gumbo approach. Do we have any gumbo lovers here? Man, I love seafood gumbo. Have you eaten at Joe’s? They serve some mean gumbo. When I get a big ole bowl of gumbo at Joe’s, I look at it. It smells good. It has a lot of different textures and colors. I always do one thing before I eat gumbo. I take Tabasco and shake it into the bowl about four times. Then when it burns as it goes down, I know it is good. A lot of parents look at their kids lives like gumbo. They say they have so many colors and textures. “I’ll give them some money, some experiences, some adventure and, oh yeah, I think I will sprinkle a little God, a little church, a little Bible in there to kind of go with everything.” That is not what we are talking about. That is not what God means for us to do. The gumbo approach fails miserably.
Another approach is what author and parent, Jeff Van Vondren, calls the circle approach. He says when he looks into the lives of his three daughters, he sees a small circle and a large circle. He says if he can fill the small circle with the love, grace and tenderness of God, and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it permeates and effects every other area and infiltrates the outside circle. The outside behavior gets changed. So parents, you can do the gumbo thing or the circle thing.
And then we come to a verse like Deuteronomy 6:6-7. “And you must think constantly about these commandments I am giving you today. You must teach them to your children and talk about them when you are at home or out for a walk; at bedtime and the first thing in the morning.” We have talked about this verse many times from this platform. Some parents get fired up and white hot with emotion and they want to just bombard their children with spiritual things. And some parents mistakenly adopt the force-feeding, force-field and punishment approach to parenting. The force-feeding approach; they are running, have the baton of faith, catch up to their child and take the baton and force it down their throat. The child gags on it. They don’t really realize that the supply oftentimes overrides and overruns the demand of their children. I know parents who have two year olds and they have bought every CD, every Christian video, every Christian song, Christian outfit, Christian book. They have signed them up already for every church activity because they are going to take the baton of faith and wack them with it and jam it down their throats. That is not the Biblical model. I know their intentions are pure and clean and great and fine. But is the supply exceeding the demand here?
We also have the force-field approach. Again, well meaning Christian parents look at their children and say, “I’m going to protect them. I am going to build a force-field of faith around their lives. I’ll never let them listen to one secular song, watch one secular show on television or hear one little cuss word from anyone.” And when they are small you can do it. No problem. The reason I call this the force-field approach is because when they get older, as teenagers, you have to become like an action figure, Spiderman for instance. You have got to jump in front of things and block forces and you are just freaked out because you are trying so hard to protect them. Let me tell you what can happen, not always but sometimes, if you are in the force-field approach. If children have taken this for eighteen years, they go off to college (even Baylor) and they suddenly see what the unbarricaded, real world is like and they are gone. Are you with me?
Some parents adopt the punishment approach. They say, “Here is the game plan spiritually. One, two, three, four. A, B, C, D. And if you don’t read your Bible and do your study on the love of God, you’ll be banished to your room and punished.” Talk about confusion. They walk to their room and wonder what this has to do with the love of God. I come from a great Christian family. My Dad is a pastor. My mother is a fantastic woman of God. They never forced me to go to church. I remember specific times when I told my Mom that I didn’t want to go to youth choir, and she would say that was fine. But I knew where she stood. I knew her values. I didn’t go through the rebellion thing, the drinking, the sex and the dope. Why? I believe because of God’s grace and because my parents effectively passed the baton of faith to me. They gave me clear instructions.
There is another paradigm, though, that I want you to adopt. I mean to say that I suggest you adopt, I can’t force it on you. Instead of the other one, instead of force-feeding, force-field and punishment, try doing this as you instruct your children Biblically. Try instead the instruction, interpretation and life-lesson approach. That is the Deuteronomy 6 approach. The instruction approach, please make sure they are here or somewhere else regularly because we train our children in an age-appropriate manner. We make sure that the supply does not exceed the demand. We spend hours and hours and large sums of money to make sure pre-schoolers, children, and youth are understanding the love of God and the grace of God and Biblical principles in an age-appropriate way. That is instruction. And that is why I say to adopt this teachable moment thing. Deuteronomy says that as you are living your life, as you are running, you can instruct them.
What would be a good example of an interpretation approach? I’ll give you one right up front. Let’s say you take your son to the Cowboys game and five rows down from you there are five guys who are drunk. That is pretty typical these days. Instead of saying, “Oh, man, can you believe these guys. What is the world coming to.” Instead of saying that, why don’t you try this one. “Son, see those guys acting like fools? Don’t you see God’s wisdom when He says in His word to not be drunk with wine? Don’t you see why smart people either don’t drink at all or drink in moderation? Do you see that?” Or maybe you watch some movie with your child and you see an argument between a boyfriend and girlfriend and they get upset and they run away from each other, slam doors, and never talk to each other again. You might say, “Is that wise? Is that good? Does that build anything? How about reconciliation. How about forgiveness.” Or maybe you see something on television that insinuates the sex act. A perfect time to say, “You know sex reserved for the marriage bed is a great thing, honey. It is a wonderful thing. But when practiced outside marriage, you have got trouble.” And you know the funny thing about television is that it shows only the passion part. It doesn’t show the morning after, the diseases, the guilt, the pain or the suffering.
And then the live lesson approach. You just let things speak to you from the word of God. A sunset, isn’t God creative? Snow, isn’t He magnificent? Then the consequences happen when you say this. Your son wants to play football in the backyard instead of doing homework. You say, “Son, if you play football now instead of doing your homework, you won’t be able to watch the Rangers game with the family tonight.” And if he disobeys you, he suffers the consequences of the decision. I have learned lessons in my life when I have suffered the consequences. Too often parents dive in and try to take away those consequences. Sometimes, if it means life or death, we should step in. But other times, parents, we have got to step back. I am not talking about a lack of discipline or a lack of instruction. But I am talking about allowing your children to suffer the consequences. Once you draw the line in the sand, don’t erase it. Stay consistent. So a baton passer gives clear instructions.
Let me talk about bedtime very quickly. Do you ever get scared before you go to bed? Come on now. Do you ever think of scary things like burglars entering your home? I hate to confess this but when I was about fourteen, I slept in a room upstairs by my brother and I would start thinking about all these things in the woods. At night I would try to creep in and get in bed with my brother who was about a foot shorter and two years younger. He would say, “Ed, what are you doing?” I would say, “I’m scared, Ben.” That is why I am big on the nighttime thing. Before bed fill their lives with a Bible story, a prayer time, a word from God.
Fifth, a baton passer begins the day. Urgency. Now you might be saying to yourself, “I have dropped the baton. I am off the track. I am in the infield stretching. I am at the concession stand. I am sipping Diet Coke and rubbing sunblock all over my body in the stands.” It is not too late to start. God is in the restoration business. He is in the track business. He will give you the baton and change your life and put you on the track with great velocity and direction and purpose and meaning. Paul could have started his letter to Timothy with lots of introductions and exhortations. He didn’t. He got right to it. II Timothy 1:6. “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God…” Hey, Timothy, now is the time. Do it. Do it. Here is the baton.
Now, let’s get to the fun part. Because all of us have children at different stages of development, or if you are single, you will have children, do we parent them all the same way? No. Think about track again. Would a track coach instruct a junior high kid the same way he would instruct Carl Lewis? I don’t think so. So, parents, you have to become intentional about realizing the different stages that children go through. Here are several stages. From birth to three years of age, make sure that you pray in front of your children, at mealtimes and at bedtime. They are going to check you out. Just like our twins, Laurie and Landra, young ones may be looking around the room or begin to eat. We don’t say, “Laurie don’t eat, stop eating.” She is twenty-two months of age. She is watching, though. We are modeling. Sing songs with them. Read them some of those cool Bible stories. Have you ever seen that book READ ALOUD BIBLE STORIES? EJ loves that book.
From three to five they are going to ask you some way out questions like, “Where is heaven. What does God wear?” Those are tough ones, aren’t they? You know what I have found? Turn the questions back on them. “Where do you think heaven is, EJ. What do you think God wears?” Also, hands on stuff is real big when they are that age. Let them do activities. Again that is the beauty of the church. The transcendent values we talked about a couple of weeks ago are talked about in the home, reinforced in the church. You can discuss them in an age-appropriate way from three to five.
How about from six to ten, what do you do? They are going to have some hard questions then. They watch to see if Mom practices what she preaches. Sometimes my children will bottom line me or Lisa. You have to think about those things. Involve them in your faith process. Share with them what God is doing in your life. But again, parents, if you don’t have the baton of faith, you can’t share something you don’t grasp.
From eleven to thirteen, let’s get ready to rumble, it is puberty time. What do you do with teenagers? I think you open up more and more. You talk about your spiritual pilgrimage. You get them involved in church and allow them to participate in some ministry. We have mission trips. We have clothes closets here. We have a lot of things the youth are doing regularly to get them outside themselves and serve others.
From fourteen to eighteen, well, it is over then. You know from fourteen to eighteen you are slowly giving them more and more decision making rope. You are slowing moving them from a one down to an eye to eye relationship. You begin to seriously study the Bible with them. You begin to pray with them. You begin to share with them struggles and just watch God do some mighty, mighty things. If you have done this stuff from the time they are about knee high, when they get tree high you are going to be so tight and so close and the baton will be so evident and you will see it in their hands and go, “God, I just thank you. Through all my mistakes, through all my stumbling, through all the times I have dropped the baton, You have held me in the hallow of Your hands. You have pushed me, You have inspired me to be the kind of parent you want me to be.”
So, ladies and gentlemen, the choice is yours. Jesus said, “Here is the baton.” We either take it and run and pass it off or we remain in the grandstands. If we pass it to our children, we can sit back and smile and watch them through every stage grow with motions.