Monday, June 16, 2014

5 ways to raise children that love Jesus and His church

I sat with a friend a few weeks ago as our kids ran around playing. We drank coffee and we talked about lots of things, but the part of the conversation that stuck in my brain was about our kids and their knowledge of God.

"I just want them to have what I have. To know what I know about God," she said, as her eyes followed braids and bandaids leaping from one spot to another.

I could almost hear the crowd of witnesses crying out from the clouds above. All the mamas and the papas, the former prodigals, the once-upon-a-time older brothers, the misfits, the broken believers, and the Jesus lovers sang out in a mighty chorus, "Amen and hallelujah!"

Once you fall in desperate love with the Son of God, life only makes sense in the light of His glorious love. Jesus is the brother who let us selfishly grab at our share of the inheritance and then handed us His to boot. Christian parents want their kids to join the happy family.

But it seems so many fall away. Is it the church's job to woo these young ones? Is the voice of our selfie culture so loud it drowns out the gospel? What will it take for kids raised in the church to know the passionate love God has for them?

What I really want my kids to know is that people do some crazy stuff when they fall in love. (Can I get an amen for that one?)

I changed the color of my hair when Mr. Fantastic came to LA from Austin for our first date, because I knew he would run screaming with horror if he saw pink highlights.

He spent more money than his naturally frugal self would have ever considered spending on an engagement ring because he knew that I would run around screaming with joy when he opened the ring box.

Some lovers begin new hobbies, read books they would never read, sing songs under moonlit balconies, move across the world, radically change dietary habits, walk away from promising careers, or simply give up a lot of personal freedom to make their beloved their highest priority.

If faith looks a little weird, it's because we get crazy for Jesus when we fall in love with Him. But what's that got to do with other people? Can we just be in love with Jesus on our own and be good to go to heaven?

The overarching message of Christ is clear: it's not just about one person. Jesus dies fr the world, He loves the Church, and the Church is a family. Too many young people are running away from organized faith, and they're missing the point of sacrificial community.

Even outside of God's family, loving one person naturally brings additional people into our lives. When we get married, we inherit in-laws and family members. When we birth or adopt babies and children, we don't get to choose the kind of person we must now love. In blended families, there is a complicated juggling of lives and hearts as the love two people chose affects the lives of all the beloved people in their lives.

Love brings us bonus people. We have to be ridiculously, crazy in love to accept the challenge of making messy human relationships work.

As Christians we are called to a ridiculously crazy love for Jesus. Without that, church is rote religion and our faith makes no sense:

Eat His flesh, drink His blood, remember His sacrifice. Participate in His suffering and praise Him when you face difficulty. Go and make disciples of all the nations. Follow Him and don't worry about yourself- at all. Love God most of all, and others more than yourself. Be last, be least, be nothing and then you'll know true greatness.

Who can possibly accept that kind of teaching when counting the cost of following the Son of Man- unless you are madly in love?

Oh, yes, we love this wonderful Lord who lived among us, suffered under our sin, and rose in glory to give us eternal life, and so we are part of his Church. Jesus becomes our brother- arguably the greatest brother ever. And all the people around us, who He also lavishly loves, become our bonus family.

I want my kids to look around at the world and all the people God has made and died for, and know that this is the Kingdom of God. I want them to celebrate God on Sunday mornings and know that the Christ followers around them are their family forever. I want them to never want to leave the Church because they treasure the people who are God's treasure.

Our love for Jesus is what makes the mess of human sinfulness worth cleaning up. If we don't first kindle the flame a sold-out, desperate love for Christ, church will never really make sense.

Dear Christian parents, we walk by faith and we lead by principle. Live a life full of passionate faith, obey His commands even when it's painful, joyfully lay down your life and love God first and others more than yourself. Fulfill the gospel in your own life and give your kids the chance to see the benefits of following Christ.

Here are 5 of the many ways we are attempting to lead our kids like that, into a mature, sold-out love for Jesus and His church:

1. We go to church every Sunday (unless we are sick). Sports games, late Saturday nights, the desire to lounge on a Sunday morning, visiting friends or family, projects around the house, and everything else can wait. This is, in part, about duty, but it is also about faithfulness and community. It pleases God for His people to come together, and it keeps us humble to give Him his due worship.

2. We encourage our kids to read the Bible every day- and we read the Bible every day. How can they love Jesus if they don't know who He was? Sometimes we read it together with them, they read a line then we read a line. We also have devotionals and Bible studies for them to do, as well as graphic novel Bibles that are just straight-up fun. But even so, once they are old enough to read, they read from a real Bible, too.

3. We believe the best, forgive, and pray for others. Community is learned. Grace and trust are tools we hone in our relationships. Maybe the kid who cut in line at school was in a big hurry. Perhaps the man who sped past us on the highway is hurrying to the hospital. It's possible the friend who forgot to send a birthday invitation really just forgot. Let it go. Pray for God to meet them, to bless them, to help them, to pour out His love on them.

4. We teach them that we are called to serve others. We pick up trash that isn't ours. We clean messes that we didn't make. We fix breakfast for the grumpy who are too sleepy to ask kindly. We feed the homeless together. We pray for people we know, and people we don't know. We look to love and lay down our lives in small ways, so that when God asks us to do big things, we will be ready.

5. We talk about our own love for God, especially when it's hard to obey Him. When our circumstances are age appropriate, we share our own frustrations and leaps of faith. When we are praying for God to do something big, we ask them to pray too. When God blesses us, we lift our hands in praise and dance around with little feet following us. Our faith in God is real and tangible, and our kids have brushed up against it a time or two. It helps them to know we "get it", and it helps put skin on loving Jesus.

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