Building Strong Relationships: The Parent and Child Relationship
Ephesians is a book of instructions about relationships. Relationships with God the Father, relationships with His Son, relationships that we are to have with the world, relationships with the church, with our partners, our mates, our spouses in life, and relationships inside our homes. These are all relationships that we are to bring under God’s authority and ways. Ephesians also speaks about another type of relationship. It speaks about a relationship that we are to avoid. We are to avoid anything that strengthens or encourages our relationship with the evil one. Ephesians chapter 4 talks about anger and warns us that anger can give Satan a foothold in our lives. To give him a foothold in our lives is to strengthen our relationship with him.
Ephesians chapter 6 tells us to put on the spiritual armor that will allow us to defeat Satan’s attempts to harm us. Ephesians 6:11 puts it this way: “Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against the strategies and tricks of the Devil.” Jesus said, “I have come to give you life, to give it to you in abundance, but the thief comes to steal, to kill, to destroy, to steal your life” (John 10:10). In spiritual warfare a spiritual thief purposely sets out to steal those dispositions of faith that yield joy and perseverance in our lives. The thief comes to kill your joy and weaken your resolve. “You have no cause to be happy,” he might say. “Look at all the things that are going wrong in your life, God does not care about you.” Or, to those who are inclined toward agnosticism or atheism, the thief says, “See, there is no such thing as God, afterall, if he were real would he allow you to suffer.” He is out to steal and kill your joy. He is out to destroy our relationships by stirring up anger and strife and encouraging interpersonal warfare. God calls us to peace. Jesus said, “May my peace be with you.” Satan seeks to destroy that peace because he knows that it is an important ingredient in a strong Christian walk.
God designed us to live in relationship with Him and one another. God’s desire is that homes are places where relationships flourish, where character is built, where esteem is strengthened, where God is honored, and peace reigns. This paper is going to center on the parent-child relationship. Ephesians chapter 6 gives instruction to each. Children, or youth, are called to honor and obey their parents. Parents are to be nourishing without exasperating, to be stretching without snapping. Verse 6 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” God’s plan is that loving and wise parents give their energy and time to educate and prepare their children to be lovers of God and responsible and contributing citizens. Parent to child education includes spiritual, social, and emotional elements. Children are born with social, spiritual, and emotional needs. But they are ignorant about good and bad ways to meet those needs. Many things in the world can hurt them. Parents have been given the responsibility to guide their children toward healthy and godly living.
The word “children” is “technia” in Greek. It means “offspring”. It basically describes what we would call today, “dependents." Dependents on your tax forms for instance. It refers to any person living under your roof whether he or she is 9 or 19, 3 or 23. If you live under the roof of your parents, then you are “technia.” If you eat their food, if you use their bathroom, if you depend on them for support at college, then this is God’s Word to you because you are “technia.” Until you are on your own, you are “technia.”
What does “obey” mean? It is an interesting word because it is a compound of two words. It means to listen under the authority of someone else. It is not simply to hear, but to put yourself under their authority and listen to what they have to say. It carries the idea of a soldier ready to engage in battle. The obedience is to be immediate and with good attitude. Obedience is to be immediate, but if a child does not understand, if it is not clear why something had to be done, they are to ask mom and dad afterward. Generally speaking, a child’s obedience is not based on understanding but honoring obedience toward the parents. Understanding can be gained afterward. Obey and then ask for understanding.
Who are they to obey? It says, their “parents in the Lord.” Now I want you to be real clear on this because there is a misunderstanding about this passage. Many times it is interpreted as teaching “obey in the Lord, your parents” as if it’s trying to say, “If your parents tell you something to do something that is outside the Lord’s will, then you are not to do it.” Although it is biblically accurate for a child to refuse an ungodly directive, that is not what this passage is saying. Just in the same way it says in Colossians 3:20, “Children, obey your parents in everything for this is well-pleasing to the Lord.” Here it says, “Children (offspring) obey your parents in the Lord” and the word here for parents is “genao.” It is the word that is related to the word “genesis” and it comes from a root that means “to be” or “to become.” What it is saying is, “Offspring, hearken, listen, put yourself under the authority of those from which you have sprung out of. Obey them for God has given them authority over you to nurture you and take care of you, until you are able to take care of yourself.” It is God’s plan to have parents raise their children to love God and respect their neighbor. For a child to step out from under this order is to go against God’s design. It is to be rebellious against God’s ways and truth!
From the very beginning, God established “no’s” for our protection. He put Adam and Eve in the Garden and said, “See that tree—No!” And what did they say? “Yes!” When you look at the Ten Commandments, how many of the Ten Commandments are stated as negatives, as “No’s?” All but one. You shall have no other gods before me, no idols, no disrespecting of God’s name, no working on the Sabbath, no murder, no adultery, no stealing, no lying, no coveting another man’s wife or possessions. There is only one command stated positively. Honor your mother and father. Parents are to teach their children by telling them “No!” when it is appropriate. “No” is the power of obedience. “No” brings strength to our lives. The “no’s” that God wants us to have are for our good. They are for our protection. “No” teaches you many things. “No” teaches self-discipline and encourages maturity. It teaches us that our wants are not always the best. Proverbs 25:20 declares clearly, “Like a fortress with broken down walls is a man that has no self-control.” Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes, but fear the Lord and shun evil.” Say “No!” to evil.
Jesus learned the strength of “No!” in His own life. It says in Hebrews 5, although He was a son, although He was the Son of God, He learned obedience from what He suffered. Does that mean He didn’t know how to obey before He suffered? Obedience was proven through His suffering! He knew what it meant, He knew what it would be like, but until He went through it, it was not proven in His life. How you act and how you live proves what you know or what you do not know. And if you do not learn “No!” as a child, it will be harder to learn it as an adult. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is to understand “No” and have a healthy response to it. “No” can be a message of love and care.
The second thing that children are to do to contribute to building a strong parent-child bond, is to honor their father and mother. “Honor” means to attribute value and worth, to express respect. Have you learned the blessing of respect? God promises that if a child honors and respects his or her parents his or her life will be blessed. The key idea is not necessarily long life, but enjoying life. The hardest thing to do, though, is to honor your parents because they are the ones that always challenge you by telling you “No!” But they are the ones God has placed over your life to protect it. Honor them and God will bless you.
Parents, in order to build a strong parent-child relationship, you are given some responsibilities toward your children. Look at verse 4. It says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children. Instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” To bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord means to feed, to nourish, to give them what they need for spiritual, emotional, and physical growth. Just as it says that Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and men, so we are to raise our children toward maturity.
Verse 30 says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God with whom you are sealed for the day of redemption.” Teach them to listen to that inner voice of the Spirit that tells them when they are doing wrong. Teach them, tell them about God’s redemption. Verse 31 continues, “Get rid of all bitterness and rage and anger, brawling and slander along with every form of malice.” Teach them to control their temper. Verse 31 states what we are to avoid. Verse 32 states what we are to pursue for ourselves and for our children: “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Teach them to be kind and gentle and compassionate, to care about others in their classroom, to see beyond trying to raise themselves up and see how they can encourage others around them. Forgiving each other just as in Christ, God forgave them. Teach them to forgive. Teach them that God is big enough to make up the difference. That if God is for them, what does it matter who is against them? Teach them with examples, not simply with lecture, that you live these same principles yourself. Instruct them with gentleness. Do not exasperate or provoke them. Above all, teach them to be wise decision makers who are able to decide and walk contrary to the worldly and prevailing opinions around them.
One of the most interesting things that they do now in T-ball that they did not do when our kids were in T-ball is they send the parent out with every child. The field is full of parents and kids and it is wonderful because the kids would all be in a pile in the middle of the field if the parents were not out there. The children have no clue what is going on, but moms and dads stand with them and show them where to walk, where to throw the ball. “Ok, let’s go get it.” “Throw it over there.” That is what parents are supposed to be doing for their children all the time. That is God’s design for the family. Children can ruin the plan by rebelliousness. Parents can ruin the plan by abusing or neglecting their children. God’s design and plan is good. But human sinfulness can destroy the holy intent of the family. May it be said of your family and mine, “They loved God and each other!”
Making and Maintaining Peace
The Old Testament is filled with examples of destructive relationships. It is actually discouraging to read through and see the number of times relationships are dysfunctional. But it is also encouraging because God is there with them and finds ways to teach and heal relationships. In Romans 15 it tells us everything that was written in the Old Testament is given to teach us that we might have the hope of living better lives, free from the sin and conflict that fills almost every page. Hope in Christ, hope for life and hope for relationships. First Corinthians says that the things written down are warnings for us.
Genesis 4 records the story about Cain and Abel. “In the course of time, Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord, but Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. And the Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering, He did not look with favor.” Cain was approaching God on his terms. God had instructed them what they were to do and Cain said, “Well, I want to do it my way.” When you come to God, you come on His terms. He is the one that sets the standards. He is the one who sets the guidelines. Look what it says about Cain's reaction. “So Cain was very angry and his face was downcast. Then the Lord said to Cain, why are you angry and why is your face downcast?” I want you to recognize that God is watching. God sees his heart. God sees his face. He knows what is going on in his life. He knows what is going on in your life. He knows what you are thinking right now. God is present. God understands. God cares. And so what does God say to Cain? “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right. Sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you. But you must master it.” What a picture. Sin is crouching at your door. Evil desires to have you. In other words, “Trouble lies ahead that will destroy your life but you can avoid it if you will turn to Me and do the right thing.”
I want you to notice three things about this. First, notice that God notices his face. God takes note of him. It says, “Why is your face downcast?” Literally it means, “Why is your face looking downward? Why are you looking down? Why is your face dejected? What are you looking down there for? You are not going to find any answers down there.” He wants Cain to look up. Look up! When you are hurt. When you are angry. When someone does some thing to you that is unfair and unjust. When you have been violated, where do you look? The natural way is to look down. The answers you need are not there. God says, “Look up to me. Look to where the answers lie. Where is your strength? It is not down there. Look up!” God says “look up” because He wants you to have a relationship with Him that supercedes all other relationships.
Your relationship with God forms the basis of your relationships with people. It forms a foundation for you to have right relationships with others. When you understand God’s acceptance and God’s design in your heart and life, that He has gifted you in certain areas, you can put yourself in proper perspective. You can learn to relax and are free from trying to prove your superiority over other people. You see yourself as simply a gifted man or woman of God who is brought into relationship with others to bring the gifts that God has given you to those around you. And that their gifts can bless your life, as well. It is a partnership where each fills out and compensates for the weaknesses of the other. You are created in His image. Do you see yourself from God’s viewpoint? Is your opinion of yourself defined by what others say about you, what others think about you, or is it defined by the One that created you? You are created in His image. He knows your past. He sees potential for your future. He has plans for your future. Let that guide your self-image. Stop looking down. Stop looking in the mirror and look up instead. See yourself as God sees you!
Secondly, look at verse 7. It says, “…if you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” To do what is right is the second point that God wants us to understand. “To do right.” Where is Cain’s face? It is down and God says, “I want to lift your face.” It is the same word that is used in the Hebrew in that passage that says “He is the lifter of my head.” He wants to encourage you, bring you up, accept you. Not simply as if he were putting His arm around you but He wants to lift you up that you might gain His perspective on life. Do what is right. Do not do what you feel. Do you do what you feel? Are your actions controlled by the way you feel? “I don’t feel like it.” Or, are your actions controlled by a conscious decision to obey what God says? God has given you the ability to choose. He says, “Choose My way that your life might be blessed, that it might be well with you.”
Then thirdly, look at the rest of verse 7. It says, “…but if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you.” Can you hear it growling? Can you hear the snarls, the claws ripping the door, the anxiousness to pounce? But God says, “…you must master it.” Most of the time we hear about temptation, we recall the verse that tells us to flee from it. And there are some temptations we must flee from. Sexual immorality and spiritual idolatry are two things we are called to flee. We are called to have nothing to do with them. But some temptations we are called to master. You must control them or they will control you. That is why in Ephesians 4 it says to get rid of all anger, wrath, bitterness, resentment and malice. Get rid of them! Take control of them and rip them out of your life!
Turn over to Romans 6. Starting in verse 11, it says, “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to Christ.” “Count yourselves dead to sin.” What does that mean? We should give no spiritual nourishment to the seeds that Satan sows in our lives, the seeds that a worldly system of men and women opposed to God sows in our lives on a daily basis. We are not to let these seeds sprout their evil influence in our lives. I do not know about you, but I hate gardening. Some of you have the gift of green thumbs. I have the gift of Roundup. Before Roundup, it was kerosene, a sort of scorched earth policy. On the farm I learned very early that an empty field is a magnet for weeds. You plow that field and three days later, boing!, boing!, boing!, weeds are sprouting up everywhere. Katie, my lovely wife, understands this, so she takes care of all the gardening. She pulls the weeds, she does the Roundup, she does all those things because she knows my scorched-earth technique. But God is telling us to put down, what we call in gardening, pre-emergents. I put down a whole bag in one little flowerbed. I want nothing to sprout there. And God says, lay down pre-emergents. Emergent means: coming into existence, view, or attention. To lay down a pre-emergent is to plan ahead and fight the weeds before they appear, so that they do not ever appear. We are to seed God’s Word in our hearts and lives so there is no nurture or spiritual sustenance for those type of things. One of the facts about seeds is that it is hard to tell an onion seed from a poppy seed. Sometimes it is hard to tell what is going to bring blessing or what will bring a curse to our individual lives. God’s Word will help us understand the difference and help us recognize the good seed from the bad seed.
In a flowerbed if you put nothing in it to protect the flowers, you are going to get weeds that will eventually choke the life out of the flowers. That is why God calls us to bring goodness and righteous to a corrupt and dying world. By fulfilling this ministry we both help the world and help ourselves. By these actions we do not earn salvation, but if we are so busy doing the right things then those moral and spiritual weeds that will corrupt our lives will have no room to grow. An empty field is a magnet for weeds. A full field promises blessing for all who partake of its life-giving gifts.
Look in Romans 6:12. “Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body.” “Do not let those weeds take over your heart so that you obey their evil desires.” Evil desires, ready to pounce, ready to have you. These words describe aggressiveness. Sin is not an aberration in the human heart, in this world. It is the norm. It is what is normal unless there is intervention. We have to go out of our way to combat it. We have to plan against it, much like we have to plan against weeds. If we want to grow a good crop fit for consumption or flowers beautiful to look at we need to plan against the weeds that also want the same space. In verse 14 it says we are not to let sin master us. Who is your master? Your master is the one that you obey. Who is your master? It may not be the one with the title of boss or ruler, but it is that person or thing that controls your actions, that which you obey, that which you plan your life around. When something calls, do you go there? Is the internet your master? Is the mall your master? When it calls, are you driven to follow? You may not recognize it, but know this, “Who or what you obey is your master!”
Turn to Genesis 27. This is another story you may be familiar with--the story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob is often found scheming to get things and it invariably brings pain and isolation to his life. In chapter 27:6 it says, “Rebekah said to her son Jacob, ‘I overheard your father say to your brother Esau, bring me some game. Prepare some tasty food to eat so that I may give you my blessing in the presence of the Lord before I die.’” Can you hear God’s voice to Rebekah and Jacob, “sin is crouching at your door. Its evil desires are waiting to pounce, but you must master it.” Does Rebecca or Jacob recognize this? “Now, my son,” she says, “listen carefully and do what I tell you.” She is preparing to plant an evil seed that would plague both of them for the rest of their lives. “Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats so that I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. Then take it to your father and eat so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.” Where were Jacob and Rebekah looking? They were not looking up. They were looking at the herds. They were looking at the property. They wanted the inheritance. Did they do right? No! They lied, cheated, and deceived. Did they master sin or did sin master them? The rewards he thought he was going to get from his inheritance he never got. The blessings that he did receive came from elsewhere.
In chapter 37 is the story of Joseph and his brothers. The story teaches us about jealousy and hatred. Joseph did not have it easy. He had ten stepbrothers. In Genesis 37:11 we find that his brothers are jealous of him. Can you sense those seeds? Can you see those seeds of jealousy and the evil that will take root in their lives if they give in to it? Verse 12 says that his brothers had gone to graze his father’s flocks near Shechem. But in verse 18 it says that they saw him coming and before he reached them they plotted to kill him. Here comes that “dreamer”, they said. “Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we will see what comes of his dreams.” They were not looking up. They did not do what was right and sin mastered them.
I could go on by giving examples of David and his brothers and David’s sons who murdered and hated each other. There are many more examples of individuals who allowed evil seed to sprout in their lives and the negative consequences they experienced as a result. But we do have a good example. Turn over to Genesis 13. In Genesis 13 we read about the relationship between Abraham and his nephew Lot. Abraham saw Lot as a person rather than as a threat. We can learn four positive things about good relationships from Abraham’s behavior. Obeying God’s command, Abraham went from Egypt to the land that was going to be Israel and Lot went with him. Abraham had become very wealthy with much livestock and silver and gold. Lot also had a large flock of livestock. And with each set of herds there were many herdsmen and helpers with their tents and belongings. It became clear that both flocks could not exist on the land they had settled. The land could not support them. Quarreling started between Abraham’s herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot. Can you hear God’s warning again? “Sin is crouching at your door. Evil desires to have you, but you must master it.” Abraham does. In verse 8, Abraham said to Lot, “Let us not have quarreling between you and me or between your herdsmen and mine for we are brothers. Is not the whole land before you. Let us part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right. If you go to the right, I will go to the left.” Here is God’s illustration of what it means to do right. First, it tells us to value the person over the issue. Scripture calls us to love one another. How did Abraham love Lot? “Let us not quarrel, for we are brothers.” He values the relationship over the issue.
Secondly, he exhibits grace. Grace means to give more than the other person deserves. Not to be fair, but to be gracious. We are called as Christians to be gracious. To make peace, to strive to love and give them the best and that is exactly what Abraham does. He lets Lot choose where to live. Abraham is the senior partner in this team and he has the right to make the choice. To say, “Lot, you go here, I will go there.” But he says, “I will let you make the choice.” Lot picks the Jordan Valley. If you have been to Israel, you have noticed the difference between Hebron and the Jordan Valley. The Jordan Valley is flat and smooth, green and lush, a great place to raise herds. Hebron is rolling hills. Abram is 70 years old at this time. How do you think he is going to feel walking all over these hills trying to find pasture for his herds? Lot says, “I am going to where the pastures are full and lush. He ends up living in the city because there is so much lushness in the valley he did not have to roam from place to place with his herds as Abraham does. Abraham gave Lot more than he deserved and God honored him for it. Abraham was a peacemaker in this situation and God blessed him.
Thirdly, we see that Abraham initiated the process. In our relationships, God wants us to love one another. He wants us to be gracious to one another, he wants us to trust one another and He recognizes that problems are going to come up. He says, “I leave it to you to be the initiator.” “But, I was not the one who caused the problem,” you protest. It does not matter. Did God cause your sin? Who acted first? While we were yet sinners, He moved to initiate our salvation. He moved to initiate peacemaking. Jesus Himself said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” Recognize! We are called as brothers and sisters of Christ. We are to call the same Father Jesus calls Father, our Father. We are to live in right relationship with Him, to emulate Him, to do His work, to be His child. There is an old saying, “like father, like son.” Whose father is yours? Who is your father? Like father, like son. Like father, like sons. Like father, like children. God calls for you to inherit His characteristics. God leaves it in your court. You can carry around the baggage and hurt of past relationships or you can initiate forgiveness and reconciliation, be a peacemaker.
The Prodigal Son
As youth step out on their own into adulthood, parents wonder with bated breath what the next news will be, what the next phone call will bring—great joy and surprise or heartache and disappointment. In Luke 15 is the story known as “The Prodigal Son.” Most of you would be surprised to find out that that word “prodigal” is not in your Bible. The word “prodigal” is an old-fashioned word that simply means “extravagant” or “recklessly extravagant” and it was used to describe a rich man’s irresponsible son. This story is a parable. Parables are human stories with moral and spiritual meanings. “There was a man who had two sons and the younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had and he set off for a distant country and there he squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in the whole country and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country who sent him to his fields to feed his pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything and when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare and here I am, starving to death? I will set out and go back to my father and say to him, Father, I have sinned against God and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called you son. Make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him and he ran to his son and threw his arms around him and he kissed him and the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘…quick, bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it because we are going to have a feast today and celebrate. For the son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost and now is found.’”
Let me highlight three truths from the parable of the prodigal son. First, we learn from Luke 15:11-13 that we must release the prodigal to go his own way. That is hard to do. It is frustrating and painful. We resist it because we want to prevent our children from experiencing pain. We want to protect them from danger and harm. But God designed us to be free-will beings. And as we mature we are to grow toward that end. Turn over to Genesis chapter 2. In Genesis 2:24 it says a man shall leave his father and his mother. There is a cutting off point. Usually that is marriage, but there are also other times beside marriage. They are designed to leave.
Turn back a few verses to Genesis 2:8. Verse 8 talks about what God had done. It says, “The Lord God planted a garden in the east of Eden and there he put the man whom he had formed.” He put the man in the garden as an independent being. God designed man for independence. He designed us to be in free-will relationships. Do you understand why? He loves us and wants to give us the opportunity to love Him back. Love cannot be compelled. It must be freely given. He created us in His image with independence to freely choose to return love to Him. To lovingly release the prodigal means doing it without bitterness. The father in this parable released his son so that he knew he could come back. He knew the door would be open for reconciliation.
I have always pictured this passage as painting a very abrupt departure, as if the son said, “Give me my inheritance and I am out of here.” But the passage says that the father divided-up the estate. That takes a while to do, to figure out who is going to have what. I am sure this father is hoping the son is going to live up to the opportunity that he has been given. But not long after, it says, he sold off his estate. He liquidated it and took off in another direction.
That leads to the second point. We must allow the prodigal to suffer the consequences of his rebellion. In verse 14 it says that there was a great famine and then he was in need, he was in very great need, and no one gave him anything. It hurts to see or imagine your child in pain. But recognize, it is the consequences of actions that wake us up. Look at Galatians 6:7. “Don’t be deceived, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction and the one who sows to please the spirit, from the spirit will reap eternal life.” Do not be deceived, you cannot cheat God. You cannot fool Him. You cannot slip one by on Him. You will reap what you sow! There will be natural consequences and spiritual consequences for our actions.
Thirdly, we must never stop praying. We must never give up hope of a return. Look at Luke 15:20. “But while he was still a long way off, the father saw him.” The father was always watching down that road. He is in the field working everyday and every once in a while he looks down the south road to see if his son is coming home. “Is there anybody on that road I might know?” His heart is lifted. His eyes are turned that way each day. The father is always watching and it says, “He saw him a long way off.” There are two stories before this one in Luke 15 and they both have to do with finding something that is lost. One is about a lost sheep and how the shepherd leaves 99 safe sheep to find the lost one. The other is about a widow who loses a coin and searches the whole house to find it. Both stories end in joy because the lost item was found after diligent searching. In the parable of the prodigal son the father experiences even greater joy because he found his son. Old men do not run often. It is not dignified. His heart compelled those old crotchety knees to move as quickly as possible. We must never stop praying. We must never give up hope.
Psalm 127 likens children as arrows in a quiver and releasing them is like taking a bow, pulling back, and letting the arrow go. The good news is that God has influence on that arrow after it leaves our bow. God can change its direction. Never give up hope. Keep praying. One of the things Oswald Chambers impressed on my heart years ago was that not only can prayer change a situation, circumstance, or human heart, but it also changes the one who is praying. Never stop praying because it will keep your heart soft and sensitive to God’s leading in your life. It is easy to become bitter and angry and frustrated, but God says pray because as you pray He will soften your heart. Never stop praying. This prodigal’s father was waiting anxiously and hopefully because he was praying for his son.
The above three truths give us three guidelines for releasing our own children into the world. First, releasing them does not mean approving of what they are doing. They will never do everything your way. They will never choose to follow in your exact footsteps. Releasing does not mean that you endorse their actions. Releasing does not mean that their ways will become your ways. Their choices will always be their choices. They do not define your worth or value as a parent. They do not necessarily define your values. They defines their values. They have to choose to build on the foundation you have laid for them, presuming it was a good one. Your role is to lovingly encourage and trust them to make the right decisions. Not simply trusting them, but trusting God to be actively involved in the situation.
God could compel obedience like He does a tree or a flower or the planets in their orbits, but that would not be fitting for a creature created in His image. He could have made morality irrelevant to us, made us amoral creatures like a shark, mosquito, or penguin, but that would not be fitting for a creature created in His image. God never coerces or forces obedience. He nudges, woos, convicts, and draws us through His Spirit. I saw a great illustration of that this last week. I was in Maryland at a wonderful Bible conference and after the conference was over, I could not get a flight home, so I had an extra day and decided to go to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the heart of Amish country. I over-nighted with an Amish family. What an experience! So many caricatures, so many presumptions were blown away. This was a wonderful, gracious, loving family that explained a lot of things to me that I did not understand. Of particular interest to this message is what happens to their children after they leave high school. They encourage their children to rebel. They say, “You’ve done your schooling, now is your time to go your way.” And they let them run off to town in a car with fancy clothes and experience the world so they can make a choice as to how they want to live. Their parents have laid down a foundation of values of seeking God, of simplicity, of not seeking to puff oneself up. They let them go off to decide if they want to choose that way of life. About half the children stay within the order, within the framework of regulations they have. They convey this by being baptized into the Amish church. It is not a matter of salvation. It is a matter of committing oneself to follow the rules and way of life of the group. They choose freely to follow that lifestyle.
What lifestyle are you choosing to follow? Your parents, your God, your church give you a lot of freedom to choose to do or not do certain things. Are you choosing the best things? Within the freedom that you have, Paul says that all things may be legal but not all things are profitable. I am under grace but there are things that I could do under grace that are ‘ok’ but that are not the best thing to do as a Christian seeking Christlikeness. Are you using your freedom to do the right things, the most profitable things?
Secondly, releasing does not mean rescuing. Parents want to shield, to protect children from bad consequences of their choices. But as they do, oftentimes they end up enabling rebellion. Consequences are God’s training field for the real world. If you absolve them of the consequences to spare them the pain, they do not learn, or rather learn the wrong message. Suffering pain and distress gets our attention and encourages repentance. The prodigal son experienced hunger. But sometimes it is illness, or an accident, an arrest, or a desertion. It is safest to learn consequences in the home where parents can nurture and instruct so that appropriate behaviors and attitudes can be chosen.
I remember spanking Kara only once in her life. Kara remembers it, too. We had an invisible fence around our house--at the curb before the street. She could not go off the curb into the street. A little girl in the street is no match for passing cars and trucks. One time Kara looked at mom, looked at the street, looked at mom, looked at the street, and went in the street. What was she doing? Testing the consequences! There was an invisible fence, and that invisible fence did not hurt as she went passed it. But there needed to be a consequence that was going to hurt, that was going to hurt enough to teach her to stay out of the street where the consequences could be life-threatening. God uses consequences to train us, to inspire us, or to deter our actions. We need to do the same for our children.
Thirdly, releasing does not mean forsaking but it means forgiving. Releasing does not mean that we abandon, that we desert, that we cut them off from our family. Notice it says, “…but while he was still a long way off his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him.” He ran to his son and threw his arms around him and kissed him. He forgave him even before he confessed because he had forgiven him in his prayers. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Rejection can bring anger and bitterness and seal off a relationship. Anger, frustration, and bitterness widen the relationship gap in a family. Love and forgiveness are the only things that can bridge that gap. Pray to keep your heart soft while God works. Pray that your heart will be soft so you will be able to listen to His direction. Even though the division may not be your fault, God can use you to heal the relationship. Make it easy for them to return, to be welcomed without gloating, without retribution, without conditions, but with patience, with loving kindness and compassion.
As parents we dream of launching our children successfully into the future. And when those dreams are refused, are abandoned, it hurts. Many of you have prodigal children. Let me give you hope. Many of your fellow Christians are prodigal children. Some of you parents have outspoken, angry, powerfully rebellious children. Realize that some of the most outspoken critics of Jesus became strong witnesses for Him when they turn their lives around. Those who are most vehemently against God, that are strongest against Him, will also become strongly for Him if converted. Those who are more passive in their rebellion tend to be more passive when they turn back to Jesus. No matter how strong the rebellion, never stop praying!
Where are you at this morning? Do you need to lovingly release someone and not hold onto bitterness and resentment from the past? Do you need to reach out in an attempt to heal a relationship even though it is not your fault? You may well be the one to take the first step to heal it, to forgive, to make a phone call. God in Christ made the first move in reconciling us to Him by suffering and dying on Calvary’s Cross. He is our example!
Many times conflict and abrasion come into our lives and rub us the wrong way, but God uses these things to prune those things that hinder us from being like Jesus Christ, from having the character God wants us to have. When change comes into your life, you can focus either on the outside or the inside. You can choose to focus on others and blame them for what is going on, and become bitter, resentful, isolated, or you can look at yourself and say, “Lord, how would you have me grow through this.” Look to God and see how He’d have you stretch by His grace to be a loving, forgiving, and forbearing person. It is not our job to fix people. That is God’s job. Many times we try to change people but we must realize we cannot force lasting change. We can manipulate them, move them around, and cause them to change something for a while, but they have to want to change for it to be permanent. But we can change ourselves. And as we change ourselves, that provides a healthy environment for relationship change.
Church is your primary growth facilitator. Church is your primary growth facilitator for shaping your life, for edging, for pruning, for taking those things out of your life that should be removed. Church is also your primary growth facilitator for development, for nurturing and encouraging and strengthening your life, for adding to your life, abilities and attitudes and character that will bless you, your family, your friends, your workplace, and the community at large. For many, Sunday is the only time in a whole week that they will spend a solid hour or two seriously considering their life and God. God is shaping each of us as individuals, as couples and as families, and He brings us together as His spiritual house for four distinct purposes. Look at 1 Peter 2:4-5: “Come to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by the people, but he is precious to God who chose him. And now God is building you, as living stones, into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are God’s holy priests, who offer the spiritual sacrifices that please him because of Jesus Christ.”
First, notice that we are God’s chosen people. Literally, Peter says, "a genus eclectic." Those are American words, not Greek words, and I say it that way because in verse five, Peter uses three different words in the Greek to talk about people. And each has a distinct message. He used the word "laos" at the end, a common word indicating a simple gathering together of people. Like you would say, a crowd. He uses the word "ethnos," where we get our word ethnic, signifying a people who are distinguished by their characteristics. Like ethnic food, they have something in common with each other, something that makes them distinct from other people groups. And here he uses the word "genos," like our word generic, or the biological term genus, meaning a related family. That word is also the root for Genesis, which means to bring into being. Here, when Peter says "genos," he is bringing the whole image of all of God’s creation, that we are a genus, out of all of God’s creation. He handpicks a special group to bring them together into a related family. The word for “chosen” is the word that we get our word eclectic from. Eclectic means a various, diverse collection, something that only the person who picks them understands the connection between them. “I like that one and I like that one, one of those, and one of those.” God handpicks His family. The spiritual house that God is building is a diverse collection of individuals, each different, unique and treasured by God, living stones in a building being built by God.
As I travel, I am amazed at the people I meet. Christians from other countries that I have nothing in common with them except the brotherhood of Christ. A fellow that grows up in the plains of Kenya that I share little or no common experience, suddenly becomes someone I can relate to when I find out that he too has received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. He is a brother in Christ and there is a spiritual bond like no other bond. We are each handpicked, each one of us different. Called by Him from darkness into light.
That individual relationship is the baseline of our existence as a church. Individuals who have answered the call of God. We are a family of brothers and sisters who have said “Yes!” to God. Each individually responding to Him. Have you said “Yes, Lord, I want to have that relationship with you.” You cannot rely upon your family to do it for you. You cannot rely upon your friends. It is something you individually have to say “Yes!” to. “Lord, I want you in my life. Lord, forgive me for rebelling against you, for denying you, for defying you, for ignoring you. Lord, I want you as my Lord and Savior. Thank you for sending Christ for forgiveness of my sins. I do not understand how He paid for it, how He went through it, but He did it for me, and Lord I want that in my life. Lord, I want to say ‘Yes!’ to you. Come into my life and help me walk with you in this world.” If you pray that prayer from your heart with sincerity and conviction you have said “Yes!” to God!
Secondly, Peter calls them a royal priesthood. The priests of Israel were supposed to be the elite of God’s chosen people. Their role was to minister between God and man. Most of the time we think of the priests, we think of them in the temple offering sacrifices, in their fancy robes, burning incense and doing the ritual things--being like preachers on Sunday morning. However, they did not just hang around the temple on hooks the rest of the week waiting for something else to happen. They lived with the people. In Joshua, in Leviticus, in Deuteronomy we find how God placed them throughout Israel. God gave them cities and scattered them throughout Israel so that the people of Israel would have priests to help them in their walk with God, that would minister to them where they lived. As a church, we are called a royal priesthood. We are called to be priests to those around us. I want you to catch the importance of Peter calling Christians a royal priesthood. We serve the King of kings. We are commissioned to be His priests, to bring His message. Chiefly, we are not commissioned to be humanitarians or environmentalists or political activists or social workers but to be priests of the living God. Not to be political reformers or social activists or critics of life, but to be priests of the living God. Your chief message in this world is not equality, is not justice, is not self-help, is not positive thinking, but it is the good news of God’s love, mercy, and grace in a world filled with rebellion that is being victimized by the evil one.
Notice, Peter says that we are a royal priesthood, not simply royal priests. You are not in this alone. It is scary to think about being the priest, the one in the spotlight that everyone is looking at. “I do not want to be singled out like that.” You are not. You are brought into a fellowship of priests that work together, that care together, that team together to do what one priest cannot do by himself. It is a priesthood teaming together to do what each cannot do by him-or-her self. Together we are a priesthood of the King, ministering to the world and one another.
He goes on and calls us a holy nation. Here, the word is ethnos, an ethnic group that stands distinct. It is not distinct because of geography or language or clothes or styles or music, but it stands unique because we have a culture that is designed to be lived by God’s Word, by the directives of Scripture. We have a different perspective on life, a different set of values that determine our behaviors. We have a different reason to live that gives meaning to life and meaning to death. A people, not perfect, but reaching toward godliness. Purified by an ongoing relationship of forgiveness and grace, of mercy, a redeeming relationship. Verse 9 says we have been handpicked out of darkness into His wonderful light. From darkness into light. We are called to be the light of the world, to share that light, to share the truth, to share understanding and perspective on life as God has given it. Look at verse 11, it goes on to explain it further. It says, “Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and strangers in the world….” Did you hear that? “I urge you as aliens and strangers in the world.” God wants you to consider yourself an alien and stranger here. He wants you to recognize that you have a higher calling, that there is something more to living than just eating, sleeping, having fun, and experiencing pleasure, then dying. There is more to life than just making a living, raising some kids, see them go to college, retiring, and dying. Without God, that is all there is. “I urge you as aliens and strangers in the world to abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God.” They will see that there is truth, strength, and help for those who seek it.
As a church, as individual ministering believers, we are called to have redeeming relationships in this world. Where has God placed you? Is there any darkness in the place where you work? In the stores you go into and the people you hang around and some of your friends. Is there darkness there? Bring them light, bring them grace and truth. Jesus said in John 1, “I have come into the world to bring grace and truth.” Christ was full of grace and truth not of law and judgment. Bring light, bring hope, bring love, bring help, bring strength, be a redeeming agent in a corrupt and dying world.
And finally, Peter calls us a people possessed. The King James version says that we are a peculiar people. The phrase literally means a gathering of people brought into God. In effect, we belong to him because we have been purchased by Him. We are a people called into a close personal relationship with Him. Possessed does not mean that we become His slaves or his servants, but that we become His sons and daughters. Turn over to John chapter 17. Jesus made this clear to his disciples. In John 17:20, Jesus prays: “My prayer is not for them alone, I pray also for those who believe in Me through their message.” Second Timothy says we are not given a spirit of timidity, of fear, but of boldness, of power, of love, of self-control. He gives us His spirit to be with us, to have that close interaction, to give us exactly what we need to face every situation He brings us to with confidence and strength.
Psalm 27:1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is my stronghold. Of whom shall I be afraid?” You can walk courageously, confidently with God your Father because He sees down the road and equips you to meet all challenges. He will see you through. He gives you His spirit to guide you through it, to nurture and strengthen your heart so that you can walk confidently in each aspect of life. To speak up at work, to be a redeeming agent, to bring truth and light into a dark world can be a very scary thing, but God says, “You are my son.” “You are my daughter.” “You step up for me and I am with you. I have given you what you need. I will help you. I will protect you. I will guide you. I will strengthen you. You stand up for me and I will stand up with you!”
What is intimidating you? Step up to what God has given you. You have a God who is capable of keeping the stars and the heavens going on their course, of causing the trees to blossom and grow leaves. Don’t you think He can grow something in your life? Don’t you think He can guide the course of your life? Don’t you think He can bring people into a connection with you that will make a difference in your life and in their life? God is a dynamic engineer of circumstances. He is able to engineer circumstances beyond our imagination and to give you everything you need to take care of any situation you may face. We are called to be a chosen people, a priesthood of believers, ministering, making a difference in the lives around us. Teaming together to do what we cannot do ourselves. We are called to be a holy nation, to be a redeeming agent to the world around us. And we are called into a family relationship with the King of the universe who will give you everything you need to live a life with Him.