Rev. Jeff Chapman, Faith Presbyterian Church
‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’
Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching,29for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:24-29, NRSV)
Jesus’ parable of the two foundations is one of his most famous. For good reason. He tells it at the end of the Sermon on the Mount as a way to summarize the heart of his teaching. It presents a very stark choice we all face. Will your life ultimately endure on the rock or crumble in the sand?
This morning I want us to look at the lives of our children in light of this parable. To begin, let me ask a very easy question. Which of these two destinies do we wish for our children? Do we want our sons to build their lives on a foundation of rock or a foundation of sand? When the storms of life come, do we hope our daughters lives will stand strong or crash to the ground?
Let me ask those of you who are children and youth, which sort of life do you want to have for yourselves? Do you want the house on the rock or do you want the house on the sand?
Of course, we all want lives founded on the rock. We all want lives which endure. Which leads to this next question. What do we need to do to make sure that happens, for ourselves and for our kids? How do we make certain our lives are built on a solid foundation?
Jesus is crystal clear. As a young person group up, if she hears the words of Jesus and acts upon them, she will begin to build a life on a foundation which cannot be shaken. If any life is ultimately to endure and flourish, it must be built on the Word of God. This is what Jesus taught us.
Now as parents there are so many ways we want to train our kids. When my son Noel was born a friend of mine, who knows my love for the game, gave me a baseball. Noel shared his crib with that baseball. I like to imagine that before he could even lift up his head that he had formed a special connection with that ball. I used to position his tiny fingers in just the right way along the seams. I knew someday that I would train my boy to throw a curveball.
Training wheels. Violin lessons. Math tutoring. Dinner table manners. Mowing the lawn. Balancing a checkbook. Baking a cake. Driving stick shift. The job of a parent is focused on the training of children. And as Christian parents, we recognize – or, we ought to recognize – that the most important training we have to offer our kids has to do with the Word of God. For if your kid grows up to reject the message of Christ, his well-refined, well-educated, well-rounded life will be built on a foundation of sand that will eventually give out beneath him.
We as parents, and we as a church coming alongside parents, have the job of helping our kids get rock-solid faith. That means, as we talked about two weeks ago, we guide our kids by modeling faith for them. It also means, as Patrick talked about last Sunday, we encourage our kids by praying for their faith. Finally, today we’ll talk about what we must do to train our kids in faith? That’s the question I want us to focus on this morning as we wrap up this series.
I want to turn to the apostle Paul for some help here. Now Paul was not a parent. He had no biological children of his own. He did however have many “children in the faith”, men and women for whom he was a spiritual father. None of these children was closer to Paul than a young man named Timothy, a man Paul even referred to as his “dear son”.
In the 2nd of his two letters to Timothy, Paul writes these words. Imagine them as words spoken from a father to his son.
But as for you, Timothy, continue in what you have learned and firmly believe, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
One thing we learn here is that Timothy started life at a great advantage. He grew up in a household where his family and his community trained him in the scriptures. Earlier in Paul’s letter we learn that two women were particularly instrumental in this training, his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. Echoing the earlier teachings of Christ, Paul now reminds Timothy to keep his life founded on these scriptures in which he was trained. Paul is telling Timothy that there is nothing like the written Word of God for showing a person the way to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
Let me make sure you understand this. We are not saved by the Bible. Furthermore, the Bible is not the only way we can come to know God. That’s not what Paul and Jesus are saying. What they are saying is that the message of God’s Word, communicated to us through the scriptures, is the primary way we are led to the salvation we find in Christ. If you want to build your life on the solid rock which will never fail you, you’re going to have a hard time doing so without being trained in the scriptures.
It’s a bit like this. Imagine trying to follow a trail through a dense mountain forest on a dark, cloudy night. Theoretically, it would be possible to grope your way along in the dark on your hands and knees feeling for the trail as you go. If you got lucky, you might eventually find your way safely through the forest. How much better it would be, however, to have a flashlight to show the way? It’s not that the flashlight is the way through forest. Right? The trail is the way. Without the flashlight, however, it’s going to be near impossible to find the trail and stay on it to the end.
Psalm 119:105 puts it this way: “Your word, Lord, is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” It’s what Jesus meant when he said that whoever “hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who builds his house on the rock.” God’s Word leads us to salvation.
If we keep reading in II Timothy, Paul tells us how.
All scripture is inspired by God [or, God-breathed] and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
Most words we read in life are human words, conceived in the minds and hearts of men and women. The Bible is different, mysteriously and wonderfully different. The words of scripture come straight from the heart and mind of God, delivered to us through men God chose to write them down. The God of creation has spoken to us directly and He has done so through the scriptures.
Through the Holy Spirit, there is power in God’s Word. There is power to teach, to help us learn the truth about who God is and who we are. There is power for reproof; the Bible exposes our rebellion, shows us how we have got off track. Then there is power for correction as the Bible shows us how to get back on track. Finally, the Bible has the power to train us in righteousness, to shape us to become useful to God and to others in our lives.
Many of you know this already. If you have read it in faith, with a humble and open heart, you already know all this to be true. The Bible, though ancient, will always be by far the most relevant book available to us. The deepest, most trustworthy wisdom in the world, in all areas of contemporary life, is found in the pages of scripture. Money management. Marriage and sexual intimacy. Parenting. Friendship. Stress. Pain and heartache. Vocation. Death and dying. The very purpose of life. On these subjects and a thousand others, there is no greater authority in the world than the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
At the same time, however, the Bible is not primarily an answer book. It does contain some answers, of course. Lots of answers. But that’s not the main reason God gave it to us.
A cookbook is an answer book. You and I can open the same cookbook and both turn to page 239 and follow the instructions printed there. And if we pay attention and do what we’re told, in about an hour we’ll each pull a meatloaf out of the oven and each of our meatloaves will taste pretty much the same. That’s how an answer book works. It’s static and rigid. Page 239 is always going to give you the exact same information which leads to the exact same result.
The Bible doesn’t work like that. Unlike other books, the Bible is not static and rigid. It’s not words forever fixed on a page. The Bible, instead, is alive. The writer of Hebrews put is this way:
…the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart…
The Word written is alive because Christ, the Word made flesh, is alive and his Spirit moves through the scriptures, using them to teach, to rebuke, to correct and to train. This is why you and I can both look up page 239 in the Bible and read the very same words in the very same passage on the very same day and, after humble reflection and prayer, find that the living Christ will meet us both there but likely say two very different things to each of us.
We both may read the very same words on p. 239, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” As you read it, our Heavenly Father knows that you need to be encouraged today. So He speaks to you words of comfort, reminding you, “I am your Shepherd. Don’t worry. I will watch over you always.”
Our Heavenly Father knows that I, on the other hand, am at a place in my life where I need to be kicked in the pants. So He uses those very same verses to challenge me and correct me, saying, “Jeff, you’re trying to be the shepherd and you’re no good at it. Cut it out. Get out of the way and let me lead.”
The Bible, you see, isn’t just words about God. In some way we meet God, the living Christ, in the scriptures. And in the encounter, if we humbly listen and take to heart what God is revealing to us, acting on it in our lives, we begin to build lives on a foundation that will withstand every storm we will ever face, including death itself. This is what Jesus is trying to teach us.
With this in mind, let me ask this question. Is this not, above all else, what we want for our children? Yes, I love it that my son can now throw a pretty good curve ball. That training paid off. Athletic, academic, social, financial, musical, artistic training is all of value. But more than all of that, our kids need to be trained in the scriptures. They need to know what God’s Word teaches. We need to train them to engage the Bible in faith. We need to do whatever we can to set them up to meet the Living Christ in God’s Word so that He can instruct them in a faith that leads to rock-solid salvation, a salvation that not only benefits them but also benefits the world around them. For you see, our kids, just like us, have a high calling in life. They are called to spend their lives for the sake of Christ that they would be used by Him to make an eternal impact in this world. When it comes to training our children, there is no important training we can give them than the training they receive in the Word of God.
With all this in mind, let me shift gears here and, before I wrap up, speak for a few moments to different groups of you here this morning.
First, let me talk to those of you who are still living at home with your parents or grandparents. Whether you are in 3rd grade or in high school, listen to me carefully. I want you to understand something.
In just a few years from now you are going to be given a lot more freedom than you have now. As a child or a teenager right now, your parents make a lot of decisions for you. You have to eat your broccoli before you eat your ice cream. You may not be able to watch what you want to watch when you want to watch it on TV. You have to go to school; it’s not a choice. You have to come to church when some of you, I’m guessing, might rather be somewhere else this morning.
All this is going to change in a matter of time. What you eat, what you wear, what you watch, how you spend your time, who you hang out with, all those choices will be yours. There will, of course, be consequences to your choices, but they will be your choices to make. And this will include, by the way, what you choose to do with Jesus.
Listen to me. Our job, both as your parents and as your church, is to do our absolute best to guide you, and encourage you, and train you in the Christian faith. Our job is to expose you to the Word of God in scripture, to the truth which is meant to be a rock-solid foundation for your life. Our greatest hope for you is the same thing Paul hoped for his dear son Timothy, that you will continue in what you have learned from childhood and that in the end you will be wise enough to let us instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. That is our hope for you. That is our prayer.
Next, a word to those of us who are in the midst of raising children. Please know that this season of life offers a golden opportunity. No other person on the planet has as much influence on your children during these years as you. It’s not even close. Therefore, I urge you to do whatever you can to model faith for your kids, to pray for the faith of your kids, and train them in the faith by rooting them in the scriptures. Find time, around the dinner table, at bedtime, as you drive around town, as go about your days, be intentional about finding opportunities to open the Word of God to your kids. If your children are still young, the number one thing you can do is to read the Bible to them every night at bedtime. Before you open up Dr. Seuss, open up the Bible. Give them the gift that Timothy was given, nurturing them in the scriptures even from infancy.
I know that many of us feel ill-equipped to do this. I’ve been to seminary and I often feel ill-equipped to walk my own children through the Bible. I get it. Know that the church is here to help you. Our family ministries exists to help you with this. Let’s together make sure we don’t miss this golden opportunity.
One word to those of you whose children are grown, particularly to those of you whose adult children have not, to this point, decided to follow after Christ. Take heart. Be encouraged. Even as I speak God is pursuing your son, chasing after your daughter. Our Father in Heaven is a Shepherd who will not rest until every single one of his sheep is brought safely home.
Do not underestimate the influence you still have as parents. Model your faith for your adult children, as longingly and as graciously as you can. Pray for your children and for your grandchildren. Pray for them fervently. And as opportunities arise, and as they express openness, share with them what God is teaching you in His Word. God never gives up on His children. Neither should we.
Finally, a word to the rest of us. Speaking for other parents who are in the thick of things, we want you to know that we need you. There will come a day when we really are going to need you. For many of us that day has come.
You see, when our children are little we can tell them anything and they believe it. It’s wonderful. Your six-year-old loses her first tooth and you tell her that if she puts that tooth underneath her pillow that night that a magical fairy will sneak into her room as she sleeps and take her tooth away and leave, in its place, cold hard cash. You tell her this wild story and she believes you. Without hesitation she believes you.
Man, those were the days. They don’t last. You tell your thirteen-year-old that the sky is blue and he immediately has three reasons why you have no idea what you’re talking about. There comes a day when young people stop believing things simply because mom and dad say that they are true. This applies to tooth fairies and it also applies to Jesus.
This is the day when we parents need the rest of you. When our kids turn away from us to test out what they have been told, we need them to turn and find waiting for them a community of people they know and trust who can confirm for them what it is we have been telling them all along. At that time, if our kids discover a whole host of people in this church who have, for all these years, modeled faith in front of them, prayed for faith for them, and are ready to share in training them in faith through the scriptures, those young men and women will see that the Gospel is not just some half-cooked idea their parents tried to force on them like vegetables but is, in fact, a message that has the power to save and transform not just a community, but the entire world.
As your pastor, and as a parent myself, I thank you. Thank you for your steadfast commitment to becoming the kind of church that does whatever it can to help our children get faith.
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Read Matthew 7:24-29. Is it really true that if you put Jesus’ message into practice your life will endure but if you reject Jesus’ message your life will end in destruction?
What comes to mind when you apply this parable to our children’s lives? (Either your own children or the children in our church)
Read II Timothy 3:14-17. What are the most important things we learn here about the Bible?
Paul declares that the scriptures are “inspired.” Some translations use the phrase “God-breathed.” What is Paul teaching us here about the Bible? Did the words of the Bible really come out of God’s mouth?
Paul says here that from childhood Timothy was nurtured on the scriptures, which instructed him for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. How can we make sure that our own children here at Faith receive this same priceless gift?
What is the best training you have ever had in the scriptures?
Martin Luther once wrote, “If ever the church is to flourish again, one must begin by instructing the young.” Do you agree?
After this sermon series, what is one practical step you want to take to help our children and youth G.E.T. Faith?
Further ScriptureReadingsfor the Week:
Monday: Psalm 78 – Tell of glorious works
Tuesday: II Peter 1:12-21 – Prophesy of scripture
Wednesday: II Timothy 1:1-18 – A son encouraged
Thursday: Psalm 119:89-112 – A light to your path
Friday: II Timothy 4:1-8 – Careful instruction
Saturday: In preparation for worship tomorrow, read John 8:21-30.