Teaching our children “success” (Deuteronomy 6)

  • What does success in life look like? If you are a mother or father, how are you modeling success in front of your child?

It’s only natural to crave success.  After all, no one sets out in life to be just “average.”  But success can mean different things to different people.  Success depends entirely on one’s goals.

If you’re a mom or a dad, I’d wager that “success” means that your son or daughter comes home with a solid report card, or gets a lot of cheers on the soccer field.  Success means they grow up to marry a good, moral Christian spouse and raise kids who likewise are upstanding little achievers who don’t drink or lie or swear.

All of this, of course, is achievable without Jesus.  “Success,” when measured this way, is little more than external performance at best and a form of self-righteous idolatry at worst.

When the people of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses led the people in something of a “revival service,” a way of reiterating their role in their relationship with God.  In one of the most famous sections of Deuteronomy, God tells his people what successful parenting looks like:

“Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, 2 that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.

3 Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey

4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:1-9)

Success, in the Christian sense, isn’t about achieving a list of goals—as worthy as that may be.  Success is about being faithful to the character of God.  Now, that doesn’t mean we raise a generation of monks and ministers.  But it does mean that we raise a generation of men and women who see their career as part of God’s larger story.  There was a puritan proverb long ago that said: “God loveth adverbs.”  The meaning, of course, is that God is as concerned with what we do as he is how we do it.  How do we raise soccer players who show God’s love to their teammates and coaches?  How do we raise boys and girls who honor the boundaries set by God (and their parents) when it comes to dating?  How do we raise young adults who choose a career path that doesn’t merely maximize their potential, but becomes an avenue for living out the gospel in their workplace?

I realize this is a larger conversation, but for the purpose of this summer we would like to challenge you to get involved in our Vacation Bible School program here at Tri-State Fellowship.  You can click here to find the details through our Facebook page.  Our prayer is that we impact the hearts and lives of the children who participate, as well as their parents and those in the community who might be entering our walls for the very first time.

And even if you’re unable to participate directly, we ask that you pray diligently for the success of this event.  After all, our children will grow up to believe in something.  We pray that God’s story would be the one that takes root.

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Myth 2: Praying and reading the Bible are habits for nuns and spiritual mystics (Deuteronomy 6)

You are an Independent Free Agent (Deuteronomy 6:1-9)

So where are we dependent as Christians, where are we interdependent, and when are we independent? It probably seems like as pastors that we talk about all three of these ideas at various times, and that would be true.

Our theme for the second of the six weeks of the Momentum series has been to address a second myth that we have surfaced: Praying and reading the Bible are habits for nuns and spiritual mystics.

When we think of spiritual mystics and professionally religious types of people, there is a tendency to think that those people are the ones who are particularly given over to what we might also call “the spiritual disciplines.”  And to some extent, yes, those who work professionally with the Scriptures have a highest standard of expectation in this regard. But there is no doubt from all biblical teaching that God wants to have an open flow of dialogue with us: from Him through the Word of God, and from us back to Him in prayer.

It is in this sense that I am speaking to you of being an independent free agent before God. We are dependent upon God and His Word and the work of the Spirit living through us, and we are interdependent upon each other as we serve one another with the gifts that God has distributed throughout the body of Christ. But we are independent to manage our own spiritual development through knowing God in His Word and communicating with Him through prayer.

Today, in the modern enlightened age, there is not the same need that people had over the centuries to be dependent upon a monk, a priest, a pastor or whomever to teach them what they needed to know and could not learn independently on their own. You can read, you can gather printed resources, and as never before, you can surf the world in a nearly limitless way. (Although a point to be made about surfing is that you need to be aware that there is everything out there – good and bad. You need discernment, which adds more fuel to today’s argument for being a person who is knowledgeable in biblical truth.)

The Scriptures throughout picture this discipline of Bible reading and prayer as a daily sort of thing, as necessary as anything else that sustains your life. It is a daily “as you go about life” routine more than a “when you get together with other Christians” event. So many people today only read the Bible or pray at those times they are around other believers, and that is not the vision at all that God has for us.

A great picture of God’s vision is seen in the passage in Deuteronomy 6 – a passage that I’ve often described as the John 3 passage of the Old Testament. In the same way that we see John 3 as embodying the central message of Christ’s mission with John 3:16 as the core, the Jewish people saw this chapter as the central definition of who they were as God’s people, with 6:4 as the central verse.

Verse 4 defines God uniquely (and truthfully) as compared to the polytheism of all the nations around them – who had rejected the true God years before. Israel had the one true God – there was no pantheon of competing Gods to have to worship and appease. No, this one true God had given his commands to them, and if they would love him, know and follow his commands, life would go well for them.

And we see the daily element in this. It was not just something that happened when they hung out with Aaron and the Levites at the Tabernacle place of meeting. No, it was an everyday thing that permeated life. It was to be a regular daily conversation that happened, particularly in the family system, from the time of rising to the time of going to bed.

If we hear from God through His Word, if we commune back with Him through prayer, and if this is to be a pervasive part of our lives, then we need to make plans to prioritize it in our lives.

The bad news: this takes some work and discipline. The good news: It is not that complicated or difficult to do, and IT WORKS!

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

6:1 – These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Annoying Rich People – Deuteronomy 6:1-26

There are two types of annoying rich people in the world who flaunt their wealth. The first is the guy who simply was born in the right place at the right time, and then he managed to live long enough to inherit the incredible wealth that existed even before he was a spark in someone’s eye. The second annoying type is the one who talks incessantly about all his hard work, but seems to forget the strength and good health God allowed him to have and all the infrastructure around him that helped facilitate the rewards of his labor.

It was this second category of person that Obama was seeking to address in his ill-advised campaign remarks when he said, “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. … Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”  This, of course, offended the bulk of business owners who are not actually wealthy, and rightly saw that their conscientious hard work was devalued. Yet, apart from the unfortunate categorizations, the President did have a legitimate point that the ability to work hard and succeed is built upon the shoulders and inter-connectedness of others who have done the same—before us and around us.

When standing at the front door of a successful business, it is easy to forget and overlook both the diligent work over a long period of time that went into it, as well as the surrounding infrastructure that likewise contributed to making it possible. And so, in our reading today, Moses reminds the people that when they would soon be standing successfully in the towns and countryside of the Promised Land, that they should remember that the buildings, wells, and vineyards were not of their construction; rather, it was God’s strength through them and by his provision that these riches existed for them to enjoy. They needed to have an accurate “remembrance.”

That is the big idea today – remembrance. It is not a stretch whatsoever to state that whatever we have is due to God’s grace and provision. Life itself is from him. Our health and ability to succeed is from him. We stand upon the generations of others before us who have done much to make anything we enjoy possible – including the passing down of timeless truth to us.

By nature, our reality goes as far as our personal remembrances and experiences. The rest of true reality needs to be taught to us; and in turn, all we know needs to be taught by us to those coming after us – to our children in our homes and in our church family.

Here are some formulas for success and failure …

Remembrance + trust + obedience = success.

Forgetfulness + independence + disobedience = failure.

Left alone to our own devices and natural drift, we will tend to forget and devalue the work of God in the past. That is the problem Israel had, and it is a problem endemic to all generations apart from the older folks reminding the younger about these truths. An illustration is given in today’s passage in verse 16,  “Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah.”  This story from the time of the Exodus from Egypt was one the Israelites would rather not recall, though it was an event they needed to remember. The people under Moses were in a position where they were out of water. And though they had previously seen God’s incredible provision for them, in a lack of faith and trust, they grumbled and rebelled. Essentially, they had forgotten – failed to remember. So the story of Massah is recalled here (and in a number of other places in the Bible) as “exhibit A” of unbelief; and the exhortation is, “Don’t be like that!”

That’s the lesson!  Don’t be like that! But that is how people will be – our children and youth especially – if we don’t help them remember! And it is my role as the lead pastor in this place to remember to remind you to remember and help the rising generations to remember! Don’t be like the annoying rich person who forgets the source of his success. I’m writing this in advance of the first sermon, and you’re reading it after it has been done, but I’m likely to have yelled a little bit at this point! But it is the main thing that I believe God has told me to tell this church … so I’m doing it.

Love the Lord Your God – Deuteronomy 6:1-26

6:1These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. 16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. 17 Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. 18 Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors, 19 thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said.

20 In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21 tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders—great and terrible—on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. 23 But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors. 24 The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. 25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”

NO, You Didn’t Build That! (Deuteronomy 6:10-25)

“Lest We Forget”

President Obama took a lot of heat in the last campaign for a speech he made  in Roanoke, Virginia where he said, “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business—you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Of course, for those who have taken the risks associated with business entrepreneurship, this seemed condescending. Having watched (and to some extent participated with) family who have built businesses, I understand the offense, even as there is a point to be made about those who have gone before us and created the infrastructure upon which we all stand. One commentator wryly remarked, “Yes, we are all ultimately indebted in some measure to the inventor of the wheel, but as anyone who has built his own successful business knows, it was good to him because he was first good to it.”

But if there was ever a group who legitimately needed to be told “you didn’t build that” it was the Israelites … if there was ever a group who might get a false notion of personal excellence … if there was ever a group who might forget that their abundance came not from their own strength and construction, it was the Israelites. They were going to inherit a land with houses and wells and vineyards all in place. Yes, they would fight the battles, but they could not have prevailed apart from the Lord removing the defenses of their enemies from them.

Time is not only the great healer, it is the great “forgetter-maker.”  It is easy to forget the sacrifices of someone in the past who you do not personally remember. Most of us do not even remember anything about our own ancestors more than about four generations before us. Forgetting is easy – hence the appropriate abundance of memorials in stone built to commemorate great moments of sacrifice to achieve victories and abundance. There is no greater sacrifice than of one life laid down for another. And Christ’s death is the ultimate example, which we commemorate regularly in the communion … “in remembrance.”

“Lest we forget” is a phrase that is oft found on memorials, shrines, and graves. It comes from the final line in the five-stanza Rudyard Kipling poem of 1897 upon the Diamond Jubilee celebration of Queen Victoria … here are the first and fourth stanzas:

God of our fathers, known of old—
Lord of our far-flung battle line—
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe—
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Deuteronomy 6:10-25

10 When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

13 Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. 14 Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; 15 for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. 16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you did at Massah. 17 Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. 18 Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you and you may go in and take over the good land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors, 19 thrusting out all your enemies before you, as the Lord said.

20 In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” 21 tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 Before our eyes the Lord sent signs and wonders—great and terrible—on Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. 23 But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors. 24 The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. 25 And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”

Living 24 / 7 / 365 … (Deuteronomy 6:1-9)

The fans of the Baltimore Ravens are crazy! Now honestly, I don’t mean that in a bad way … quite the opposite really. They are true “fans.”  Think about that word “fan” and what it means and from where it comes. It is a shortened version of the word “fanatic,” which describes someone who is sold out in support of a team or cause.

ravens fansDuring the 2011 football season, one of my sons had suffered a very serious chainsaw accident and was in the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore. The second of his reconstructive surgeries took place on the Sunday morning of a Ravens home football game. We were close enough to the stadium that you could likely open the windows and hear the cheering!  But what was interesting to me was how every TV set in every room was tuned in to the game. The doctors and nurses were making their rounds, but they appeared honestly more focused on watching the game themselves (as they moved room to room) than providing focused medical care. That is passion, fandom, and support!

We need to be that way for God. I’m not saying we need to wear #7 purple and black jerseys with “Yahweh” across the shoulders (although, truth be told, those jerseys would need to be blue and silver). But we need to have that defining internal passion that goes with us all the time – 24 / 7 / 365 … you know what I mean.

The human tendency is to make God and His commandments a compartmental component of life… something we drag out on Sundays and perhaps for an observance here and there. What is needed is constant definition. It needs to be THE value that defines every moment of life, informing whatever we are doing.

Beyond that, it becomes the daily intentional responsibility to pass this value along to rising generations. Though it is certainly appropriate to have specific times and classes where this most prominently occurs, the greatest success is for it to be absorbed from everything about the everyday moments of life. The old phrase applies here: more is honestly caught than taught. Teaching is great, but truth is really caught by children when they see it truly modeled in the lives of those older generation people who they respect.

It is not enough for our faith to be about us and our interests; it has to also be about the generations behind us.  God said it, Moses said it, Randy said it … Boom!  Do it. Revive!

Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Love the Lord Your God

These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.