June 8, 2017

Strike out or take a walk?

I enjoy watching baseball, a game I understand. While stats and technical conversations are not as interesting as the action, I know the significance of a full count: two strikes and three balls. The next pitch could determine the inning and even the game. It will make the difference whether the batter is on base or put out.

Fortner’s devotional today reminds me of baseball. He gives three ‘strike out’ pitches that parents might toss at their children: neglecting to teach them the Word of God and how to worship; lack of discipline; and setting a bad example.

As I think of these, I wonder how many Christians can say that their parents ‘struck them out’ yet they still wound up on base in the kingdom of God? This is to encourage others who, like me, did not fulfill their role in an ideal way, partly because their own parents did not do it either. Parenting well from a position of being raised without biblical guidelines is not an easy task.

Today’s passage gives Christians several examples of what it means to be filled with the Spirit and living (or going up to bat) for Jesus. Note that several of these verses are directly about roles for husbands and wives. Obedience to these not only bring glory to God, but give children an image of how the church is an obedient ‘helper’ to God. Below are two sentences that speak directly to children, and then another speaks directly to raising children in the power of the Holy Spirit:

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:1–4)

As I read the entire passage, it occurred to me that a dad who loves his wife, and a wife who partners with and respects her husband is more of an example to the children than their church-related activities.

Also, the most important command says not to exasperate or goad them to anger, but raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Some versions use ‘educate and train’ or ‘admonish and encourage’ them in the Lord. This last part could mean to raise them as He nurtures us. It could also mean being ‘in the Lord’ and filled with the Holy Spirit. In other words, from the way parents interact with their children, the youngsters are brought to spiritual maturity because they are seeing what God is like. Since most of a child’s ideas about God come from how he sees his parents, this is an important command.

Interestingly, a pastor says he noticed that “the wildest young people came from conservative Christian homes which allowed them no personal choices or freedoms.” While freedom of choice must be gradual and suited to their age and other factors, this enables children to develop personal conviction and faith, rather than second-hand parental guidelines that often will fail them when they are tested. This isn’t in these verses, but a vital part of nurturing our kids.

That is, rather than behavior which causes exasperation, parents are to nurture their children in a supportive manner. They are to “bring them up” or “nourish and protect” regarding “training” which includes the interrelated ideas of education and discipline, just as God does with His children (see Hebrews 12:5–11). It also includes punishment to produce improved behavior.

The second concept is “instruction” and any verbal reprimand or “warning” which is more appropriate for dealing with older children.

I’ve also observed that children need to know and acknowledge their sin, see Jesus and the gospel as sin’s remedy, and to rely on Christ as they encounter life’s challenges. Telling them “Chin up, you can do it” eventually leads to discouragement and frustration. All of us need Jesus.

What if parents do not do this? Does it prevent God from saving a son or daughter of bad parenting or abuse? History and personal experience offer a few examples, not enough to make excuses for poor parenting, but enough to encourage those who find out all these things when it is too late — and their children are adults.

That said, it is never too late to implement the commands of God. Mom and dad can love and respect one another, live for Jesus and set a good example of what God is like. We can apologize to our children for the times we provoked them to anger. We can tell them that God loves them, no matter how often it appeared that we did not. We can also give them freedom to make their own choices. If we don’t agree, we can say so, but we can also respect their decisions and pray for God’s Spirit to guide them and teach them through those decisions.

Jesus, I know that all is not lost. If the salvation of my unsaved family members depends on my perfect performance, no one can be saved — I will strike out. Instead, salvation depends on You. You can change the heart of the worst of sinners and bring them into a walk with You. The Apostle Paul testifies to that, and so do I. You saved me; You can save anyone.

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