This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Deuteronomy 6:1-12
Sermon prepared by Rev. John Kuperus, Blyth, Ontario
Reformed Christians have been strong supporters of Christian education and have invested heavily in educating their children in the ways of the Lord. This tradition has had tremendous impact on the world as students enter into the work place with the world and life view that God is at the center of all of life. The marketplace is blessed by students who have a foundation that this entire world belongs to God.
Historically, knowing Jesus Christ in education was included in North American public education as well. In the words of a 1642 document written to promote Christian learning on the North American continent, this document states: ‘Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well (that) the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life (John 17:3), and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning…’ (Christian Day Schools by D. L. Kranendonk p. 11).
Another document showing the importance of Jesus Christ being central is from the National Education Association in 1892, which made this statement: “If the study of the Bible is to be excluded from all state schools; if the inculcation of the principles of Christianity is to have no place in the daily program; if the worship of God is to form no part of the general exercises of these public elementary schools; then the good of the state would be better served by restoring all schools to church control” (from The Truth Project by Focus on the Family).
Times have changed in Canada and U S. Our governments and the institutions of higher education are no longer supportive of Christian belief. We now find ourselves in a culture that is hostile to the God of the Bible. A push is on to remove any traces of God by removing the 10 Commandments, public prayers or anything to do with the Bible. What is critical for followers of Jesus Christ is that we need to be aware of the times we are living in.
God speaks to us regardless of whether or not our culture is supportive of him. God speaks to us in Deuteronomy 6 where we hear Moses saying, “These are the commandments, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land … So that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life” (vs. 1-2). God’s message to us continues, “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. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates”(vs. 6-9).
How did the Jewish people do in following the Lord’s command? As we read their history, they had times of obedience to the Lord and then there would be a drifting away. When they drifted away, God would send prophets to warn his people to return to the Lord, and when they did not listen, God would give them over to other nations to conquer and oppress them. In response to the oppression, the people would cry out to the Lord and God would deliver them.
One prophet, Hosea, records events in his day when he said, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests; because you have ignored the law of your God, I also will ignore your children” (Hosea 4:6). That was a sad commentary of the situation in his day.
What about our day? We too want to be intentional about passing our faith to the next generation and make sure that our children are enrolled in church programs and we may seek out Christian education or we home school. If we use the public school system, we supplement our children’s education so they too will know Jesus Christ.
In our church, we affirm that we will instruct our children in the ways of the Lord at the time of baptism when we ask the question to parents baptizing children, “Do you promise, in reliance on the Holy Spirit and with the help of the Christian community, to do all in your power to instruct these children in the Christian faith and to lead them by your example to be Christ’s disciples?” (Hymnal p. 961)
One of the challenges we face in our tradition is that some of us have been raised with the understanding that “they will know that we are Christians by our love” and we never talk about our faith. In some families prayers are silent and we read the Bible but never engage in a personal way. Deuteronomy 6 is clear that our faith in God is to be talked about and that includes when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up. God wants us to share our faith.
Mark Holmen in his book Building Faith at Home states, “Most Christian parents do not believe they are doing a good job at facilitating the spiritual development of their children” (p. 47). He supports this statement with a survey that was taken showing how we are weak in communicating our faith.
* 12% of youth have regular dialog with their mother on faith/life issues
* 5% of youth have regular dialog with their father on faith/life issues.
* 9% of youth have experienced regular reading of the Bible and devotions in the home.
(Building Faith at Home p. 20-21)
When the survey is stated in the positive, we can turn it around and say:
*88% of youth do not dialog with their moms on faith issues
*95% of youth do not dialog with their dads on faith issues
*91% of youth do not have regular Bible & devotions in their homes.
This is a sad statement. How can our faith be passed along if it is never talked about? Now sometimes more is caught than taught, although why aren’t we talking about our Lord and Savior? Are we ashamed of him? Is this a tradition that was handed down to us and we keep it going? Or do we feel ill-equipped to talk about our faith? Each of us may answer that question differently, yet as we read Deuteronomy 6, God is clear that he wants us to talk about our faith. Otherwise we may find ourselves in the same situation as in the days of Hosea, where “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge?”
An additional challenge we face is stated by Dawson McAllister, a national youth ministry specialist, who wrote, “90% of kids active in high school church youth groups do not go to church by the time they are sophomores in college.” 1/3 will never return. (Building Faith at Home p. 32).
Now these are statements and surveys from a book, yet they strike a cord with us. How many of our families have children, nieces or nephews, or friends who have turned their backs on God and his church. Are we like the Israelites and sliding away from the Lord?
A positive example that stands out in Jewish history is Daniel and his three friends. The prophets had been warning the Jewish people generation after generation that God’s judgment may fall because of their disobedience, yet nothing happened. They were enjoying God’s blessings and benefits, but they didn’t want to be bothered with the responsibilities to maintain the relationship. Hosea 13:6 says it well, “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me.”
Suddenly things began to change. In 605 BC Babylon, a superpower, led by King Nebuchadnezzar came against the nation of Judah. Daniel 1:2 says, “The Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hands.” He took 10,000 professionals back with him. They were the bright students and the professional class of the nation. They were the wise and intelligent individuals of the land. Nebuchadnezzar took the professionals back to Babylon, because he wanted to make their nation fit into his empire by Babylonizing them. Babylon was a superior civilization and when the young professionals were educated in their culture, their eyes would be opened. Even though Babylon had many gods and Israel had one God, the students would soon come to accept and embrace the new and better ways of Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar would destroy the biblical worldview of the whole professional class of Israel, and those professionals would bring back the new and better ideas to their people.
Daniel stands as a testimony that regardless of the pressures of the world, we can stand up for what we believe. When it came to eating the king’s food, we hear “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself” (1:8). When it came to bowing down to the golden image that the king had set up, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, “…we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (3:16 & 18). They were willing to stand up for what they believed even to the point of death.
For these men their initial training was in Jerusalem. They were probably 12-14 years of age when they were transplanted. In today’s terms, suppose our 12-14 year olds were pulled out of our country and put into Saudi Arabia to enter their education system where they teach the Koran. The question is whether our 12-14 year old would be able to hold their faith in the midst of the pressure of that culture. Would you still give allegiance to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Or would you be bitter because you were torn from your home and family and reject the faith of your fathers? Would you continue to pray and be able to articulate your faith in the God of the Bible in that culture? That is what Daniel experienced in his time.
Friends, education is building an infrastructure in the lives of our children. This is very important. God says, “These are the commandments … God directed me to teach you… So that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live …” (Dt. 6:1-2). “These commandments are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home amd when you walk along the road” (Dt. 6:6-7).
Teaching our children the commands of our Lord is clearly the responsibility of parents. As parents, we are blessed by having options to help train our children. The options available are public schools, home schools or Christian schools. Regardless of what option we choose, God’s command to teach our children his ways applies to all of us. The blessing of home school and Christian schools is that we are intentional in training our children in the ways of the Lord.
Our tradition supports Christian schools, yet not everyone takes advantage of this option. There are a number of reasons given. One is that Christian Education is too expensive. Cost is a reality. If we let money be our guide, then we would let our children be taught by the state because we are contributing to that already through our taxes. If our guide is to honor God by training our children in the ways of the Lord, then Christian education makes sense.
Another reason given for not using Christian schools is “I want myself and my children to be a salt and light in our community.” This is important, yet the challenge our children face is that they need to be equipped to be a witness. We do not put our ministers in the pulpit without first training them. We train our doctors and dentist before they enter their profession. To be effective as salt and light in our community, our children need to be trained how to be a witness for Jesus Christ.
A third reason people give is that Christian schools shelter our children from the real world. That is true. We do the same thing with plants. We have greenhouses to start them and once the time of frost has passed, then we put them outside. Christian schools are there to protect our children and prepare them to be salt and light in the world.
A legitimate reason for whatever option we chose is that we believe God has called us to use this option. When God calls, God will equip and we need to respect and honor God’s calling us. In the end, wherever our children are trained, we have to ask ourselves, are we up to the challenge? The apostle Paul says, “Fathers, …bring them (your children) up in the training and instruction of the Lord”(Eph. 6:4).
What is the benefit of training and instructing our children in the Lord? God speaks to us through the prophet Jeremiah and says, “'You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD” (29:13-14). Deuteronomy 4:29 says the same thing, “But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Our reward for seeking the Lord is that we will find him. It is in him that we have a refuge, a peace and a joy that we can find in no other place.
An added benefit of Christian education is that many of our Christian schools have excellent academic standings, they are safe and orderly environments, and they are places where moral and ethical (biblical) values are communicated.
In conclusion, we do not want to be destroyed because of a lack of knowledge. Instead, we want always to remember our Lord who delivers us from the land of slavery, our sin. And may we always encourage our children to seek the Lord in all they do and to enjoy the blessing of living life for Him.
Suggested Order of Worship
Welcome and announcements
We Lift Up Our Praise to God
*Call to Worship: Psalm 78:4
*Gathering Hymn of Praise: “This Is My Father’s World”PH. 436
*God’s Greeting: “May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with us all. Amen.”
*Hymn of Praise: “How Shall the Young Direct Their Way?” PH. 584
We Receive God’s Grace in Jesus Christ
Call to Confession: Psalm 139: 23-24
Prayer of Confession: 'Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self esteem. We have been too busy to spend time with our children and care for their hearts. Our children have heard us pollute the air with profanity. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment. Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Amen.
Song of Confession: God, Be Merciful to Me PH. 255 (vs. 1-2)
Words of Assurance: Psalm 130:3-4
God’s Will for Our Lives: Exodus 20:1-17
Song of Rededication: Have Thine Own Way, Lord PH. 287
We Hear God Speak to us in His Word
Prayer of Illumination: Your word, O God, is living and active; it penetrates into our depths and exposes our evil desires in order to cut away the filth of our lives and save us from self-destruction. By your grace, speak to us this Word so we may be led into the mysterious glories of your eternal life.
Scripture Reading: Deuteronomy 6:1-12
Sermon: “Training Our Children in God’s Ways”
Prayer of Application:
Father, as we are living in a culture that is not supportive of Christian beliefs, we hear Your call to bring our children up in the training and instruction in You. As we go forward in our promise to do all within our power to train our children in the Christian faith, increase our faith as we seek you with all of our hearts. Forgive us if we have not honored You. We pray this in Your most holy and precious Name Lord Jesus. Amen.
We Respond to Our God with Thanksgiving
*Hymn of Response: Tell Your Children PH. 588
*Benediction: Hebrews 13:20-21
*Closing Song: Let Children Hear the Mighty Deeds PH. 585