Every year Julie and I get more and more curious about what Santa Claus is going to bring to our kids. Because as you know, as kids grow up and grow older, Santa has bigger and greater challenges ahead of him to bring the bling, if you will, to bring the right gifts with the right age appropriate level of cool, but also to keep Christmas from turning into just a complete materialism fest. So it gets more and more interesting every year.
This past year, though, Santa outdid himself, because really for the last two years, Joseph has been turning into a monster Miami Heat basketball fan. He’s a huge fan largely because of Dwayne Wade, who is their just incredible point guard and shooting guard. He has a freak talent but also is very open about his Christian faith and the fact that he’s trying to live that faith out in a decidedly non-Christian environment like the NBA. So Joseph’s a monster fan. And Santa brought Joseph and left in his stocking a voucher for four tickets to see the Miami Heat on their one trip to play the Rockets in Houston this year, which was incredibly ironic, because a close friend of mine had just been named president of the Rockets, and he was able to leave a parking pass with those four tickets at the will-call window, which worked out great for our family. We were in Houston watching this game this past Wednesday night, and when Joseph saw Dwyane Wade jog out onto the court for pregame lay-ups and warm-ups and everything, he was just star-struck. He was just like there he is. There he is. And finally he gathered himself just enough to say this. Literally sitting on the edge of his seat watching out at the lay-ups, he goes, Dad, Santa rocks. I said, Yes, he does, Joseph.
You see, Santa gave Joseph a lifetime gift. That experience and that night, the feeling of being there at an NBA game and seeing Dwayne Wade live in the flesh, that’s something that Joseph’s going to carry with him for the rest of his life. He will forever remember what that was like and what that night felt like. As parents, we too want to and as a matter of fact are called to give our kids lifetime gifts, to deposit into their lives the gifts and the tools and the skills that they will need to be successful, to be successful in God’s terms, first of all in their relationship with him, in their future potential families, maybe in their marriage, maybe in their chosen vocation and callings that God places on their lives. Our job as parents is to give them the gifts and the tools that they will need to be the people God created them to be.
That’s really kind of the idea behind Proverbs 22, verse 6. This is a passage of scripture that we’ve kind of established as our baseline, our anchor for this entire series called Parental Guidance. And it doesn’t matter how old or how young your kids are. This passage of scripture actually points every single one of us toward our heavenly father, God. But it does so through our earthly parents. Look at what it says here. As a matter of fact, since this is the 11:30 service, let’s read this together out loud. Y’all have been up longer than anybody else that’s come to church this morning. So we’ll do this together. Proverbs 22:6 says this. Let’s read it out loud. “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it.” Now, if you’re a parent, that right there is a lifetime verse. That’s a pillar verse to memorize, to internalize and to claim the promises of God.
Now, you’ll notice as you do that, though, that this verse does not guarantee that our kids will never make mistakes. It does not say train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not do stupid things. Doesn’t say that. Because your kids, like you, my kids, like me, have the option and the opportunity to make bone-headed decisions every day of their lives, and sometimes they’re going to do that. But the promise of God here is that he will honor and bless the parent who chooses and tries to train their children. The concept being to equip them, to dedicate them for the life God created them to lead. Not the one we want them to lead, but the one they were created by God, for God to lead. And that’s what’s going on here. And when you think about training and equipping kids, there’s a broad range of things that we need to do to train and equip them. There’s the little stuff.
I remember when Emily and Joseph were much younger, like five and six years old, my wife Julie insisted that we go to the mall and they go to the counter there at Chick-Fil-A and order their own meals. We would put the money in their hands and know how much we put in their hands so we’d know what the change would be, and made them go order. She was a first grade teacher, so she was kind of thinking this thing through a little further than I was. I was like, are you nuts? I mean, we will be here forever. We’re already at the mall. Let’s just cut to the chase, eat, and go. Please. She was very patient with me. She said honey, if we send them up there, then they’ll learn to look people in the eye, to talk to them so that they can be heard, and to ask for what they want, to learn how to handle change and money and all that kind of stuff, and they’ll be able to do this kind of stuff on their own. I said I knew that. That’s a good idea. Yeah. Duh. Who doesn’t do that?
So there are those little things that you do like that, but then there’s the big stuff. I mean, the big stuff that we’re supposed to train our kids for to get them ready for life. And when you think about the big issues of life, all of the big stuff comes back to one word. Relationship. Relationship. All of the big issues of life are ultimately relational. If we’re here just preparing our kids to go out and get a job and make a boat-load of money, we have missed the boat. If we think that our job is to get our kids ready to just take a spouse, to claim the first warm body with a pulse who winks and walks by, we have missed the boat. We’re to be training and equipping them for the big stuff, which always comes back to relationship.
First of all, faith relationship. That’s our primary job as a parent is to train and equip them to make their faith their own. And make no mistake about it. Our kids are going to put their faith in something or someone. From time to time, parents have said to me, you know, I get the whole church thing, Mac, but I don’t want to impose beliefs on my kids. And I understand where they’re coming from on that, but it doesn’t work. You’re imposing beliefs, you’re teaching and training beliefs of one kind or another somewhere along the way. Wouldn’t you rather point them to God than toward their own self or toward you or toward another person or toward stuff and things and money and materialism? We’re going to teach them values of some sort or another. And the primary purpose as a parent is to point them toward a faith in God, to direct them so that out of our faith experience, our relationship with God is spilling into theirs. Faith. And then the second major issue that flows out of that one is the issue of marriage.
Marriage. That is the most important earthly relationship factor that our kids will ever deal with, that they will ever handle as a human being, what to do with marriage. And there are two primary ways that we go through this process of getting them ready for that. The first one is very simple. We model it. Modeling marriage is the primary way that we equip our kids for it. Some people say well, Mac, I’m a single parent. I’m divorced or never married. How am I supposed to model it? And that’s a great question. But your job is the same as mine. Do what the Bible says. Hebrews 13:4 says marriage should be honored by all. Everyone. Married, single, undecided. Honor the institution of marriage because God invented it. God created marriage. Before there was ever a government, before there was ever a school, before there was ever an iPod, there was marriage. God ordained and specifically instituted marriage as the cornerstone of human relationships, of culture, of society. And so it’s all of our jobs to honor that.
So if you are divorced, doesn’t mean that you still model it day in and day out in the flesh, but it means that you honor the institution. It means that you honor the other parent of your children, that you don’t dog them and trash them to your kids. And sometimes that’s tough. But you have to honor the role that they play in the lives of your kids for the sake of your kids. Not for the sake of your ex, for the sake of your kids.
Now, if you are married, you have to model it day in and day out. Joseph is going to primarily assume how to be a husband by what he sees me do, how he sees me treat Julie. Emily is more than likely going to be drawn and attracted to somebody who treats her the same way she sees me treat Julie. Now, that right there is a little bit of pressure, folks. Wake up in a cold sweat kind of pressure, you know? Means that I don’t get to be as selfish as I really want to be, as it just comes naturally to me. I never went to selfish school, but I’m good. I mean, I can out selfish the best of them. We honor and we model marriage for them. Second of all, equip them to be the person that attracts the person they should marry. Equip your kids to be the person that attracts the person they should marry. If you’re not praying and thinking about your child’s future potential spouse, that’s a huge responsibility.
Man, we’re talking about Thanksgivings, Christmases for the rest of your life. You want to like those people. You want to enjoy being around them. The best way to do that is to equip our kids to be the people that attracts the person they should marry. What does that really mean? Look at Deuteronomy chapter 6. Deuteronomy 6:5 through 7 is another pillar verse for parents. Look at what it says. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” That’s your faith, that’s my faith as a parent, living it out. “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 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.” As a parent, it’s our job just to impress the things of God into the lives of our kids. Not to hammer them, not to beat them over the head with a Bible two by four, but to impress them, to use those teachable moments as they come up and arise. They’re everywhere. You’ve got a teenager, learning about gossip, learning about lust, the opposite sex, everything is a teachable moment. When that child lies to you, when that person comes to you and looks you in the eye and goes yes, dad, of course, and you find out later that it was no, dad, no way, in that moment, it’s a teachable moment. Point out to them how the dishonesty or the mishonesty complicated things. Show them what happened when they lied. Show them how relationship was broken and they kind of hid. Point those things out in love, gently, and show them, say it doesn’t work that way because that’s the way God wired this whole thing up.
Honesty works better. Or whatever the case may be. You’re in a deer blind with your daughter, you’re knitting with your son, wherever you are, you’re impressing these things on their hearts. You’re showing them how God is woven into every facet of every day of every year, impressing it on their hearts.
I was hunting with Emily. And deer season, you talk about a great way to teach your kids about life and to teach your daughters about boys. You know why? Because deer season happens every year during the rut. You know what the rut is? That’s when the boy deer are chasing the girl deer. It’s natural. It happens. It’s the way God wired them up. But the reason deer lose their lives is because they’re chasing females. Because boy deers lose their minds. And when they lose their minds, they’re no longer sneaky and stealthy, they’re no longer hiding in the brush. They’re out there in front of everybody. Emily, that’s exactly how boys are. Every boy. I don’t care how much he loves God, he’s still a boy. Just remember, it’s a teachable moment. You think I’m kidding. What we’re talking about doing is equipping them to create a list of criteria that they will use in selecting a spouse. We want to give them spouse selection criteria so that they are able to make their own choices, to make their own decisions.
The first criteria that we need to build into our kids’ lives is what I call the okay alone factor, that our kids are okay on their own, they’re self-sufficient, that I’m rearing Joseph, I’m rearing Emily to be okay if God calls them to be single. 1 Corinthians chapter 7. Look at this. Paul says, “Brothers, each man as responsible to God should remain in the situation God called him to.” You see, we have to teach our kids to seek the calling of God. Some people are called to be single. Some people are called to live their lives not in marriage, like Paul. That’s pretty good company. Paul says here in 1 Corinthians, he says look, if you’re not married right now, don’t go looking for it, because trust me when I tell you, marriage complicates things. It’s great if God’s in it and he honors it, but it ain’t easier. I mean, you’ve got two self-centered sinners coming together to become one, to submit to one another. That is tough sledding. That’s not the original Greek, but that’s what he’s saying. He’s saying look, you’ve got to be okay with what God’s called you to. And if he’s called you to be single, if he’s given you the spiritual gift of celibacy, celebrate that. That’s a God thing. If he’s called you to be married, that’s a God thing. It’s great. It’s going to be harder, but that’s okay. That’s good. Don’t think that God or the apostle Paul or Mac Richard is not a fan of marriage. I’m a huge fan of marriage. I am one.
So I’m just saying it’s there, but we’ve got to teach our kids to be okay alone. Our kids are not ready to be married until they’re ready to be single. Did you hear that? They’re not ready to be married until they’re ready to be single. That’s how it works. The second spouse selection criterion is the click factor. The click factor. Talking about compatibility, attraction, chemistry. Let’s start with attraction. You know what? Attraction matters. You better be physically attracted to that other person. People try to hyperspiritualize marriage. Well, that’s not really — wrong. It is that important. You’re going to wake up next to this person for the rest of your life with buffalo breath. You better be attracted to them. That matters.
I know right now some of you think that is such a man thing to say. No, that’s a God thing to say. The Bible says your wife, may she be a loving doe, a graceful deer, may she satisfy you always. That’s that physical attraction, baby. It matters. Now, that’s the surface. That’s kind of a given, that click and that chemistry, the butterflies happening. But compatibility is a soul issue. Compatibility goes to the core of who you are, of who I am, who our kids are, who their prospective spouses may be. Compatibility is the opportunity for two souls to be knit together. You’ve got to be compatible. I’m not talking about just sense of humor. She likes British comedy, I like slapstick. No. The deep stuff. Who you are at your soul level is who you are, your spirit. And so there’s got to be spiritual compatibility. We need to teach our kids this is the primary criterion. If this one’s not there, don’t go down this road. Save yourself the heartache. Save the person you love the heartache.
Look at what the Bible says. 2 Corinthians 6. “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers, for what do righteousness and wickedness have in common, or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” Don’t be yoked together. Some people say, well, that’s very narrow-minded. That sounds like spiritual apartheid to me. What’s up with God? I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me. Look, God is doing both a favor, both the Christ follower and the nonChrist follower. Because a Christ follower by definition has submitted her life or his life to Christ, stepped into the forgiveness that he offers, and therefore orients every part of his or her life around the person of Jesus Christ, that relationship. By definition, the nonChrist follower hasn’t done that. So right off the bat, you’re on different pages. You’re pursuing different agendas. And so God says as a gift to the nonChrist follower as well as to the Christ follower, save yourself the heartache.
I’m telling you right now, marriage is a crucible. And whatever differences divide you only grow as the years go on. So that compatibility issue matters. Then you take kids and put them into the mix, and the flame gets turned up even higher. So compatibility, that attraction, the click factor matters on all fronts, from the inside out. Third spouse selection criterion is the laugh factor. Laugh factor. Talking about joy. You better enjoy each other. Enjoy being around, hanging out, chilling out, cooling out, running out. Look at Ecclesiastes 8. “I commend the enjoyment of life because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him and his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.” Enjoy each other. There needs to be laughter. Teach them if they’re not enjoying the dating relationship, bye-bye. Just run. I mean, head for the hills, break up, see you, wouldn’t want to be you, look forward to seeing you in heaven, but no, we’re not doing this anymore. It ain’t fun. Because nothing is going to happen on the opposite side of the wedding altar to make it all of a sudden joyful.
If anything, the stuff that happens on the other side of the altar makes it that much tougher. You get into real life. Of course now it’s fun. We’re dating. We’re in love. Every time I pick her up, hair, make up, breath, just minty fresh. It’s just wonderful. Of course you’re in love then. That’s easy. I love it when married people go well, I just don’t feel it anymore. Get in line. It’s called love. I mean, you do it even when you don’t feel it. Loving. So the laugh factor, the joy, it’s got to be there.
Number four, this is where it gets fun. The fuse factor. Fuse factor. Anger management. Hey, now. Can I get a witness? Ephesians 4. You know some people think that anger is a sin? Did you know that? People will tell me, they’ll go, well, I know it’s wrong to be angry. No, it’s not. Rage is a sin. Wrath is a sin. Anger is not a sin. Look at Ephesians 4. It says, “In your anger, do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” In your anger don’t sin. You see right here God gives you and me the green light for righteous anger, for God-honoring anger. That’s why I always encourage couples who are dating to not get married too quickly. I know somebody will say well, we knew each other for two weeks, and we’ve been married for 30 years. That’s great. You are called the exception that proves the rule. You need time to catch each other in a variety of life circumstances. And one of those circumstances is angry.
Go back to what we were just talking about. We’re dating, we’re in love, we never fight. That’s great. Fight and show me that you love each other. That’s when it’s tough to love somebody is when you’re mad, when you’re chapped, when you’re serious about it, when you feel like you’ve been wronged and they’ve done it again. That’s when it’s tough to love somebody. So teach your kids you know what? That’s great, you really care about this person, you’re thinking about maybe, you know, someday, what if. How does the anger get resolved? How do y’all handle conflict? We never fight. Well, you’re either lying or dead. That’s the option there. So the fuse factor.
Number five, the stick factor. Stick factor. Talking about work ethic. What is this person’s relational work ethic? Are they willing to work not only in life, but relationally? Because you see, the greatest temptation in marriage is not lust, it’s not to have an affair with somebody else or to spend money that the spouse doesn’t know about. Those things are there, but the greatest temptation in marriage is to quit. That’s the big temptation, is just go, well, I just don’t feel like it anymore.
Now, I’m not talking here about when you’ve been quit on, if the marriage bonds have been broken by adultery or abandonment, something like that. God recognizes those exceptions. But it’s that temptation to just go, it’s just too hard, it’s just tough. 1 Corinthians chapter 10, “No temptation.” Say that with me. No temptation. “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man, and God is faithful. He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” I don’t feel it. I don’t feel like it. Our kids need to learn to seek out people who will do the hard, messy work of relationship, people who have that stick factor.
See, that’s part of the reason that Julie and I work at our marriage is to show Emily and Joseph this is doable. Not by me. Not because I’m a good guy. But because of God. And so we work at it. We take trips together. We tell the kids to back off. We love you, but we’re leaving without you. But you’re going to California. Yeah, we are. We’ll send you a picture. You’ll love it. Because we want them to learn about the stick factor, that this relationship that God called us to is more important than any other relationship, that the work we do as husband and wife matters more than the work we do at Lake Hills Church, matters more than the work we do as parents to them because of the covenant of marriage. No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. Everybody is tempted to quit. Everybody. Jesus on the cross, physically mortally wounded, on the brink of death’s door. Spiritually alienated and separated from God the father because he had chosen to take all of my junk, all of my sin, all of your sin on himself. The Bible says he became sin. He became sin. The sin of rage, pride, envy, lust. All of that filth he became. And he could have thought himself out of it. He could have just thought, I desire to be saved from this and rescued, and a legion of angels would have descended from heaven and returned him to the throne at the right hand of God. But he didn’t quit.
Yeah, Jesus in the wilderness with Satan and the stones turned into bread and the temple, you can have all this. Those were temptations. But on the cross, the temptation to quit must have been overwhelming. And he didn’t. He didn’t. The Bible says as a matter of fact that he endured the cross for the joy that was set before him. For the joy of perseverance, of finishing that which God had called him to accomplish so that you and I would never have to experience the pain of alienation from God, of separation, so that we could be entered into and ushered into a relationship with God through him.