Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
1Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, 2so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. 3Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you.
4Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:1-9, NRSV)
There is a young man who grew up in this church. For years he was a constant fixture around this place. He was baptized here as in infant. Some of you were here that day. You may remember how the whole church promised to do whatever we could to help him come one day to trust and follow Christ.
As a young boy he went through Sunday school where he learned from many of you that Jesus loved him because the Bible told him so. He believed it. When he got older he was an active member of our youth group where he made a few lifelong friends and many lifelong memories. Year after year our youth group leaders talked with him about a God who loved him and had amazing plans for his life. He listened to them and thought hard about what they said.
For eighteen years he experienced God’s love in this place. People here called him by name. He knew he was a part of this family. Some of you prayed for him. Everybody was surprised at how fast he grew up.
Some years ago this young man went away to college, but after graduation he moved back into the area. He lives nearby. But sadly we don’t see him much. Not like we used to. This church which was once a regular part of his life is now a place he visits at Christmas and Easter.
Understand, he still believes in God. He just doesn’t think about Him all that much. If you asked him what he thought about the Bible, he’d tell you it’s a good book worth reading. He just doesn’t read it himself. He continues to have nothing but good feelings towards this church and if somebody he knew was looking for a church he’d tell them they should come here to Faith. He just doesn’t come himself. If asked to identify his religion on a survey, he would check the box marked “Christian” without thinking twice. Christ, however, is not the one who is the focus and the leader of his life these days.
Don’t you wish that somehow things had turned out differently?
The greatest gift we have ever been given is the love and salvation our God freely offers us through Christ. God has delivered us, forgiven us, led us into life, offered us a grand purpose, promised us the deepest desires of our souls. God has guaranteed that if we make Christ the center and foundation of our lives, if we love him with all our heart, soul and strength, we will discover a life more abundant than we can ever begin to imagine.
Now, as we just read in Deuteronomy, we are not only to receive this gift for ourselves but we are to do whatever we can to pass it on to our children. One translation of that verse reads, “Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children.” There is nothing more important we can give to our kids than a love for Jesus Christ.
I was recently with a group of other parents in our church and we were asked to talk about our deepest longings for our children. Without exception, every parent around the table that night said essentially the same thing. More than anything, we want our kids to know Christ, to love Christ, to walk with Christ their whole life.
Of course, we also our kids to succeed academically, athletically, socially, economically, emotionally. We want them to enjoy good jobs, good families, good reputations, good health. But as Christian parents we know that even if they have all this and more but do not have Christ, in the end they will have nothing. We believe Jesus when he warned us, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his very soul.”
The primary job of Christian parents is to guide, and encourage and train their children to know and love Christ. Parents are on the front line in this. But we, as a church, are supposed to be right there beside them. Parents or not, God has given each of us responsibility for passing on our faith to the next generations. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a church to raise a disciple.
Which brings me back to the young man I spoke of earlier. When our children, any of our children, grow up here and then, as adult, not only wander away from the church but, more importantly, wander away from Christ, it’s not only parents who need to be concerned. We all need to be concerned.
As you listened to me describe this young man who grew up here at Faith, I wonder if a particular name or face came to mind. If not a young man, maybe you thought of a young woman you know who fit the same description. To be honest, I wasn’t describing any one in particular. Don’t waste time trying to figure out who specifically I was talking about. Fact is, the description I gave fits a lot of young people. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we all had different names and faces that came to mind.
This is the story of a thousand kids and more. Kids from Faith. Kids from the church I grew up with in my hometown. Kids from churches around the country I’ve served as youth pastor. I’ve got a couple hundred friends on Facebook who grew up in loving, healthy churches from which they eventually walked away.
The people who study these things tell us that 75% of young Americans claim to be Christians. However, when these men and women are then asked if they would describe themselves as “highly devoted” in their faith, only 8% agree that they are. Most of these self-identified Christians freely admit that they don’t actively participate in the life of the church, they don’t read the Bible or pray regularly, they don’t feel close to God, and they don’t consider faith to be a high priority.
What’s notable in all this is that these young people, in general, don’t seem to have anything against God, or the Christian faith, or even the church. In fact, in most cases they acknowledge God, categorize themselves Christian, and speak positively about the church. But when it comes down to it, none of that seems to make much of a difference in their day to day lives.
Kenda Creasy Dean is a researcher who wrote a whole book on this subject called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the AmericanChurch. She summarizes it this way: “American young people are, theoretically, fine with [the Christian] faith – but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school.”
This is the reality in the contemporary American church. The epidemic is nation-wide, and we are not immune here at Faith. The fact is, if you were to go back over the records of all the young people who grew up at Faith Presbyterian Church over the last 20 to 30 years, they would line up with the national statistics. They all likely have good things to say about this church, and yet a majority of them are not currently active in the life of this or any other Christian community. And while God is acknowledged in their lives, in most cases – and they would admit this – He is far from being the focus and center of their lives.
Understand, I’m not talking here about whether or not young people are saved. That’s not my business. That’s God’s business. These deepest dimensions of faith always elude our measurement or judgment. Still, all indications point to the fact that for many young people who were raised in the church, God is no longer Lord and Leader of their lives, but is instead more like a cosmic butler to be called upon when a need arises or a divine therapist you go to when you need a shoulder to cry on. For so many of this generation of Sunday school alumni, God is far from being the One they love with all their heart, all their soul, all their strength.
God has commanded us to get these words into the lives of our children and the sober truth is that in many instances that hasn’t happened. And a growing number of us here at Faith, along with many others around the country in churches like ours, want to honestly face this reality and give it our focused and prayerful attention.
Mind you, we are not discouraged. I’m not discouraged. There is great hope. With God, there is always hope. We also don’t want to feel guilty about this. That won’t help. Guilt never helps. What we want to do is begin a congregation-wide conversation along these lines. Some of us have been thinking about this for some time. We believe now is the time for us all to think about it.
The faith of our young people will be our focus these next three Sunday mornings. Specifically, we will talk about how we can help our children – both our children who are still at home and our children who are grown – how we can help them G.E.T. faith. How can we guide our children with faith, encourage our children towards faith, and train our children in faith.
What can we do to help them get faith? Because, of course, we can’t give them faith. We can’t make people trust Christ. Only the Holy Spirit can ignite faith. All the human effort in the world can’t light the fire of faith in even one human soul. We can, however, help to prepare the kindling.
Kenda Dean talks about making our children combustible. It’s a great image. She says there are things we, as parents and as a church, can intentionally do that make a kid ready to catch fire so that when the spark of the Holy Spirit lands in her soul, that spark ignites a flame, which turns into a blaze, which eventually consumes an entire life with the burning love and grace of Christ.
These three weeks we are going to talk about three types of kindling, three ways God is calling to get all this inside our kids so that they, in the end, get faith. First we are to guide. Then we are to encourage. Lastly we are to train.
Today I want to talk briefly about the first piece of kindling. What would it mean for us – again, not just parents but all of us – to guide our children into faith?
First off, let’s ask what it means to be a guide?
Several years ago I was trying to learn how to fly fish. I’m still learning. For my birthday that year, my wife gave me a day with a fly fishing guide on Deer Creek, just outside ofChico. This guy was a pro, and I knew it from the moment I heard his name. Hogan Brown. That is not the name of a guy who sits at a desk all day. I knew that if I was going to learn how to fly fish, Hogan Brown was the man to teach me.
Let me tell you, I learned a lot that day. I learned about gear. I learned about safety. I learned about bugs, and how to tell what the fish are biting. I learned technique, which is crucial in fly fishing. As some of you know, this isn’t just sticking a worm on a hook and dropping it off the end of the pier. Fly fishing is an art form. You watch A River Runs Through It and they make it look so easy. It’s not. Trust me. It’s difficult to master. I’m not sure I ever will.
Well, the whole morning Hogan was right there with me, trying to help me learn how to hold the rod, let out line, get in a rhythm, place my fly, set the hook. Let’s just say he was a very patient man.
All the instruction he gave me was tremendous. But do you want to know what I found to be most helpful that day? The thing that helped me the most was when Hogan Brown, fly fishing guide extraordinaire, got in the river himself, took his rod in his hand, and let me just sit and watch as he did his thing. You can talk to me all day about how to fly fish. What’s going to help me most is if I can watch you do it. I hear what you’re saying, but show me. Get in the river and show me how all this knowledge, all this technique, all this equipment, can actually help a person land a 14 inch rainbow trout.
To guide our children into the Christian faith means we have to show them the Christian faith. Our kids have to see in our lives that all this talk, all this worship, all this church activity, in the end actually leads to a faith that changes lives.
This is, to be honest, some of the problem. When you talk to young people these days that grew up in the church, you’ll find that it’s not that they have anything against the church. They don’t. They just don’t see that the church, or the faith that it promotes, is all that relevant.
Our children have heard the church talk about the love of Christ which radically transforms people to love their neighbors in sacrificial ways. What they need now is to see us actually love our neighbors. They need to see us love the people we don’t like all that much.
Our children hear the church claim that material security is actually no security at all, that earthly treasure which fades away should always be exchanged for heavenly treasure which lasts. What they need now is to see us make real steps to give generously, live simply, hold loosely to the things of this world.
Our children hear the church talk about God’s burning passion for justice among the poor. What they need now is to see us make significant changes in our lifestyles so that we can, indeed, love the poor like Jesus loved the poor?
Our children hear us talk about how critical it is to walk with Christ every minute of every day. Now they need to see us read our Bibles. They need to catch us on our knees in prayer. They need to watch us as we seek God’s guidance in the daily routine of life. They need to hear us boldly, but humbly, sharing our faith with those who do not yet believe.
Our children know that the Bible teaches us that the man or woman who follows Christ is headed up a narrow, steep path that will, time and time again, set the Christian at odds against the values and practices of the prevailing culture. Now our children need to see us living lives that look profoundly different from the lives of those around us who do not claim to be Christ’s followers.
Thankfully, in some cases they do see these things. Of course, there are many examples in the American church of men and women whose lives are on fire with Christ. Sadly, however, there are at least as many examples of church-goers who may believe all the right things but whose lives seem to be largely unaffected by those beliefs. They may talk a lot about fly fishing. They just don’t get in the river and actually catch fish.
Once again, Kenda Dean is helpful here. She writes, “[Young people] are looking for a soul-shaking, heart-waking, world-changing God to fall in love with; and if they do not find that God in the Christian church, they will more certainly settle for lesser ‘gods’ elsewhere.”
Let me be clear. It’s not that our children are looking for us to be perfect. They’re not. The Christian life isn’t about perfection anyway. It’s about trust. Just because you give your life to following Christ doesn’t mean you suddenly have it all together. Authentic Christian faith has plenty of room for repentance, and questions, and confession, and doubt, and humility. Christian disciples are broken people on a lifelong journey. Christ is working with us, healing us, shaping us, mending us as we live in daily dependence upon His grace.
This is what our children need to see. They need to see it. Faith has to get inside us first before it can get inside them. We have to be their guides.
As I thought about this during this past week I was reminded of that pre-flight safety talk the flight attendant gives before the airplane takes off. If you travel, you’ve heard it a hundred times.
In the unlikely event of a loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will automatically drop in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.
I’ve never had to try and convince one of my children to put on an oxygen mask in an airplane, but it makes sense to me that I’m going to be better able to help my child if I’m first getting a good supply of oxygen myself. It also makes sense that my kid might be more willing to put that funny mask on if she sees me put one on first.
The Apostle Paul captured this well when he wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” Paul talked like this a lot. He understood that it was incumbent on him to be a guide to those who were younger in the faith. He would imitate Jesus so that they could imitate him. It wasn’t enough for people to hear from him about the faith. They had to see it in him. They needed a guide.
Now, please do not hear any of this as a condemnation on our church. In fact, in many ways I believe that our church is increasingly becoming a community of people who are, in many instances, authentically living out the Christian faith in ways that deeply matter. Furthermore, there are many churches I know who could learn a great deal from this church about how to embrace young people with the love of Christ. On a personal note, I am eternally grateful as a father that my own four children are growing up in a community where they are constantly rubbing shoulders with so many adults who are increasingly devoted – heart, soul and might – to following Christ wherever he leads.
Don’t hear this as a condemnation. Hear it as a wakeup call. Or hear it as a reminder. At the very least, hear it as an invitation into a conversation. In your Life Groups these next few weeks, I urge you to talk openly and think carefully about these things. At home this week, whether or not you are parents, reflect together both on what I’ve said this morning and what you’ve experienced yourself. Let’s think hard together about what it is we can do to better guide our children to faith in Christ.
As you do, let me ask one thing of you. There are about 150 children and youth in our church at this time. Would you begin to pray that God would place the life of one of those children on your heart? One child who is not your own. One child, one junior high kid, one high school or college student that would become a focus for you. One you could begin to pray for. One you could begin to get to know. One you could begin to encourage. One you could eventually help to guide and train. One you could begin to love with the love of Christ.
As we have this conversation together over these next few weeks about all of our kids, will you also ask God to lead you to just one of our kids.
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Read Deuteronomy 6:1-9. Why do you think that God commands us to recite these words to our children when we are at home, when we are away, when we get up in the morning, when we go to sleep at night, and also to post them all over the place for them to see? Why the heavy emphasis here?
75% of young adults who grew up in the church self-identify as Christians. Only 8%, however, describe themselves as “highly devoted.” What’s going on here?
Think about a person you know who grew up in the church but eventually walked away when they were older. Why did they go?
Do you feel like it is your responsibility to do whatever you can to pass on the Christian faith to other people’s children? Why or why not?
When you were growing up, who was a Christian person you knew who, from your point of view, truly lived out their faith? What sort of impact did this person have on the formation of your own faith?
What are some things that we as a church community can do to guide our youngest members towards faith in Christ? How can we live out our faith in front of them? Have an extended conversation about this.
C.S. Lewis said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Do you agree?
Further ScriptureReadingsfor the Week:
Monday: Mark 8:31-9:1 – All or nothing
Tuesday: I Corinthians 4:14-21 – Fatherly admonition
Wednesday: Romans 12:1-8 – A transformed life
Thursday: I Thessalonians 2:1-16 – Blameless lives
Friday: II Thessalonians 3:6-15 – Imitate us
Saturday: In preparation for worship tomorrow, read II Timothy 3:14-4:5
 Deuteronomy 6:6-7, The Message.
 Mark 8:36.
 Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, (Oxford: University Press, 2010), p. 10, 19-20. Dean is citing a comprehensive study done by Christian Smith and Melissa Lundquist Denton entitled, Soul-Searching, The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.
 Dean, p. 3.
 I’m indebted to Kenda Dean for the concept of combustible faith. She writes, “Only the Holy Spirit ignites faith, transforming human effort into holy fire that comes roaring into our lives at the first hint of welcome, insistent on igniting us, sharing us and being shared.”
 Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster, The Godbearing Life: The Art of Soul Tending for Youth Ministry, (Nashville: Upper Room, 1998).
 I Corinthians 11:1.
 See, for example, I Corinthians 4:14-17, I Thessalonians 1:6, I Thessalonians 2:8-12, II Thessalonians 3:7-9.