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How to Raise Godly Kids in an Ungodly World, Part 1

From the series How to Raise a Healthy Family in a Modern World

Chip delves deep into the Principle of Focus and the Principle of Modeling, when it comes to raising a healthy family in a culture that doesn’t value the nuclear family of the Bible.

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Message Transcript

The question I have been given is: what counsel would you and Theresa pass on to parents and grandparents? And we don’t have fifty years together, but what I can tell you is this, is that if there was one passage I would go to, and this isn’t the passage like Deuteronomy 6 about what and how to do it. And it’s not even in Ephesians 6 about specific action items.

But I think there’s something about how we think about being parents and I put it on the front of your notes: Psalm 127, of all the things in Scripture that have framed my thinking and Theresa’s thinking because there are some values here.

I want you to follow along as I read. It says, “Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted. Unless the Lord protects a city, guarding it with sentries will do no good. It is useless to work so hard from early morning and late at night, anxiously working for food to eat for God gives rest to His loved ones.”

So, all I want you to know, those first three verses, you get this idea that your activity, your activity to build something, your activity to protect, to protect your children, your activity to work and all your energy and make something happen – the first three verses are: unless God is in it, it’s to no avail.

Of all the things, I didn’t grow up as a believer, Theresa didn’t grow up as a believer, we came from parents who really did love us, but pretty dysfunctional in terms of the alcohol and the background.

And what we knew, and I think it was a blessing, we knew that we didn’t know how to be the kind of parents that God wanted us to. We knew we didn’t know what we didn’t know.

And hear, dependency. Just realizing no matter what you learn, how many books, how many videos, what schools your kids go to, at the end of the day the most important principle in all parenting is that you need God. Your kids need the hand of God and the favor of God.

And I have watched, I have watched my wife for, now, forty years on her knees before God. And us together before we go to bed at night, asking God, begging God. And, by the way, I will tell you that all four of my grown children walk with God, they all have married well, they are all raising their kids in a way that is far better than we did.

And Theresa and I can’t take credit. I want you to hear, this is not from a couple of experts that have it all together. This is from a couple people that didn’t know what they were doing, that begged God for help. But I will tell you this though, we believed that God’s Word, this is how you become a mom or a dad or a grandparent.

And we got around people that would help us. But what we understood was God builds the family. God protects the family.

The second three verses are maybe the biggest value point. “Children are a gift from the Lord. They are a reward from Him. Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands. How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them. He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers in the city gates.”

In our day, children are not seen as a gift. Sometimes they are seen as a liability or a nuisance or we don’t want them to interfere with our lives or we want someone to babysit them or take care of them. And this is the other big value.

First is, only God can work in their heart and as a mom or a dad or as a grandparent raising kids, all that we can do is create the kind of environment that the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, through great relationships and other people could help our kids become what we long for them to become. In fact, better, what God longs for them to become.

The second though is that there is this sense of: it’s a stewardship. Our kids are a gift. They are precious. This is the most precious gift God will ever give you. And He says that there is this process that they are not just a gift for your enjoyment, but it’s like a young warrior.

Notice there, it’s a picture of these arrows. In other words, these children, our goal is to launch them into the world. Our goal is to help them discover: why did God make them and what did He make them to do and how do we help them discover their gifts and how do we give them a passion for the things of God that, in the world and all the problems, that our children would go out and our children would make a difference?

And then I love this at the end. It says, “When he is old, he won’t be put to shame.”

I had a special little thing here at the church and I bumped into one of my sons. And I got to talk with him about his family and a couple of his little ones who were around. And I just, I was asking him a few questions about this message. And I just was listening to him and he was telling me, “Dad, I think it’s harder now to raise kids than any other time.” And he said, “I don’t think parents, I don’t think they are aware of the exposure of what is happening to some of their kids and the level of intensity and the level of energy it takes in our day to really be a great parent.”

And what I realize is is that I am now, I am now learning from my kids about how to parent and better how to be a grandparent.

Well, as you turn the page, if we only had, say, twenty or twenty-five minutes to have coffee and you said, “There are a lot of books, there’s a lot of techniques, there’s a lot of great things I can learn about parenting, but if you had to boil it down, something very easy to remember, Chip, what would you and Theresa say to us?” …about being an effective, about being a godly parent or grandparent?” See, my goal, I want my kids to be positive and I want them to be “successful” in a certain sense. But I titled this message “How to Raise Godly Kids in an Ungodly World.” And so, here are the three questions that have shaped our parenting. These are the ones that now, with my grandkids, I am asking these same questions.

But question number one is this: what is my number one goal? As a parent, ask yourself, what is your number one goal? What do you want to see happen more than anything else? What really matters? You only get one goal. What does success look like? If you’re a parent, you’re asking yourself: What is my number one goal? What, as far as it depends on me, what am I asking the God of the universe, the God of the Bible to do? In my child’s heart and life, what is my goal?

And the answer is in Ephesians chapter 6, verse 4.  I have put it in your notes.

The Phillips Translation says, “Fathers, do not overcorrect your children or make it difficult for them to obey the commandment. Bring them up with Christian teaching and Christian discipline.”

I want you to put a line under don’t overcorrect them, put a line under bring them up, and then I want you to put a box around the word teaching and a box around the word discipline. And let me just say, this isn’t an accident. Notice, it says “fathers.”

Fathers, you have an instrumental role. You are the point person in your family. You are the person that is morally responsible for the outcomes and you do it together with your wife. And those of you that are single parents, you need us, as the Church.

But, fathers, here’s the temptation: “Don’t exasperate,” or, “don’t overcorrect.” Don’t be a picky dad. Believe me, my kids understand what that looks like. But the second is the positive, “But bring them up.” It’s a very interesting Greek word. It means to rear; to nurture. In the ancient Greek language, it meant the physical development. Later, it came to be known, the full development emotionally and spiritually of a child.

So, in other words, my number one goal is not to overcorrect, but I want to bring them up so that they spiritually, emotionally, and physically become all that God designed them to be. And first and foremost, what that means is: you don’t parent out of fear. You parent out of focus. You say, You know something? What is my number one goal?

I put it this way: my number one goal is for my kids and my grandkids to be holy, to be Christ-like.

In other words, it’s character. I want my kids and my grandkids, regardless of what school they go to, regardless of how much money they make or don’t make, regardless of anything else, what I know is they will be happy, they will be successful if they are godly, if they walk with God.

And that takes incredible intentionality and incredible hard work. I call it the principle of focus. And here’s the question all of us have to ask. And no one is immune in this room. Do you want God’s dream for your child or do you want the American Dream?

What matters most? When you begin to think about what school they go to, what college they attend, what sports they play, what opportunities they have, who are their friends? Is the filter in all those decisions: what will help them spiritually and morally develop and become a man or a woman of God? Or is it about prestige? You know what? It’s fine if your kid makes the traveling team unless the environment on the traveling team is moving the whole family and your child away from God.

It’s fine to be a great musician, it’s fine to get into a great school, but if the focus of a child is: I am only accepted, I am only valued…

And where your real goal is that they be successful, that they be happy – here’s what I am going to tell you. I can’t tell you the number of parents, grandparents, single moms, single dads that I have wept with and talked with who, their kids are successful and they went to great schools and they are very musically talented and often very athletic and they are far from God and they are far from their folks.

So, let me ask you, what is your goal? What is your goal? And then, if that’s really the goal, if your goal is to help your child, at whatever age. Whether they are two, whether they are twelve, if they are twenty-two, if they are forty-one they are still your child. What is your goal? You still have a relationship. My goal with each of my grandkids, my goal with all of my adult children is: how can I help them really walk with God and know Him?

And notice, I am given two things: Christian teaching and Christian discipline. Basically, there are two things we have to offer. Our words, teaching; and discipline, our actions. And it looks different.

But when they are two years old, there are certain things you say and there are certain actions. When they are little – eight, nine – there are certain words and certain actions. When they are teenagers, when they are young adults, when they get married.

But God wants us to know that He has given us instruction as parents, as grandparents. And so, you start off as telling them what to do, and you are the teacher. And then, pretty soon, you realize that they are going to get their own values, you start asking more questions. And then, pretty soon, you transfer more and more responsibility as they are teenagers.

Then they are young adults and they are making their own decisions, then you go from the teacher to the coach to the counselor and then you get to where I am, and I’m just a consultant now. Seriously. I don’t give advice most of the time unless I am asked. And I pray for those opportunities. And you build a relationship and you stay connected because this is the number one goal.

The second is not just: what is my goal? But what is my number one role? Of all the things you can do for your kids, of all the things I can do for my children and my grandchildren, what is my number one role?

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians chapter 4, verses 14 to 16, “I am writing this not to shame you, but to warn you as my dear children. Even if you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel.” Now, notice this command. “Therefore, I urge you to imitate me.”

I call this the principle of modeling. Are you ready for this? It’s really, it’s simple to say; it’s really hard to do.  I want to be the kind of example that my kids would say, “I want to live the kind of life that I see my dad living, that I see my mom living.”

Now, by the way, don’t hear perfection. But I want to model what it means to be dependent. I want to model what it looks like to drive your car with the Holy Spirit living inside of you. I want to model: what do I do when I blow up in anger? I want to model: what does it look like to care for the poor? I want to model: what does it look like to honor God with my money, to become a generous person? I want to model: what do I do under pressure? I want to model: what does it look like when the future is uncertain? I want to model: what does it look like to trust God when your mate gets cancer? I want to model: what does a step of faith look like when God whispers in your ear and He calls you to move across country or change locations or change jobs?

I want to model what it looks like when there is a relational problem in the family and you don’t want to have one of those hard, hard conversations. And I want to model this sense of: Oh, God, will You give me the grace? And then calmly and lovingly say some very hard things.

In fact, I want to model what it looks like to have someone say some very hard things to me that I don’t want to hear and all my defenses flare up and then just by God’s grace put them down and look into the eyes of one of my kids or my wife and receive the reproof that I need. Imitate me.

See, all the research is telling this, you read the reports like I do, sixty-eight percent of children from Bible-believing, evangelical homes, five years after they leave your house, out of high school, almost seventy percent of them don’t walk with God.

Let me give you the three reasons why people lose their kids.

Number one, the most fundamental one is this: their kids don’t see the reality of Christ being the center and the passion and the core of their family life. They can bring them to church, they can send them to a Christian school, they could even write a check, but what they don’t see is a mom and dad whose life is centered around the Word of God. They don’t see people that sit around the table and talk and share hearts. They don’t see people that are saying, “I don’t know what we are going to do. This is a big problem. Let’s all get together and sit on the living room floor and let’s pray about this together.”

They don’t hear their mom or their dad talking about: “You know what? There was someone at work and they are going through a difficult time. And I think we need to take some of our money and we need to help them.”

Faith is more caught than taught. They pick it up. But it’s not just your positives. They also need to see modeled: what do you do when you mess up?

It was a very foreign concept to me as I read a lot of books and I wrote my thesis, actually, at Dallas Theological Seminary, on the role and responsibility of the father in transmitting values in the family.

But what I knew is that I didn’t know how to be a dad and I thought, If I have to write this big, long paper, I should tackle the most important thing as a dad.

And what I learned in that is the role of the man and the role of a parent and what we are called to do, when we mess up, we need to own it. And it was a foreign, a foreign idea that, let’s just say, just hypothetically of course, that when my kids were small or when they weren’t so small and they did something that really bothered me and I told them, “Don’t do that,” and actually, it was kind of crazy, but they did it again and did it again and did it again.

And then in my effort to really help them understand, “I don’t want you to do that,” I came out and said, “If you do that one more time, I’m going to…” right? And then their little eyes get this big and they are scared to death. And then I had this overwhelming guilt. I’m sure none of you ever struggle with that but…

And what I realized was what they did was wrong, but how I disciplined them was just as wrong or more wrong. What do you do with that? What do you do when you blow it, as a parent? What do you do when you blow it as a grandparent?

Here’s what I can tell you: I had to learn over the years to, when they were small, to get down on one knee and look in their eye; really get their attention. Sometimes grab their head, you know? And I would say their name and then I would say, “When you did this, I want you to know that you disobeyed me and it made me very upset,” or, “I chose to respond that way. And what you did was wrong. And I forgive you. But I want you to know that the way I talked to you, in fact, the way I yelled at you, God spoke to my heart and He told me that was very wrong. And, so, will you forgive me?”

And we started that very, very early. And it’s an amazing thing to see a four-year-old look at you and go, “I forgive you.” I said, “Oh, thank you.” And then, normally, I would sit down when they were small like this and I would have them climb into my lap. I’d put my arm around them and we would pray together. And, actually, some of the times where I disciplined my children or I confessed my sin to my children, were some of the precious times.

And you know what they learned? They didn’t learn their dad or their mom was perfect. What they learned was: my heart’s desire is I want to be holy and loving before my God. I want the life of Christ lived out in me. And so, that’s my number one goal for me, my number one goal for them.

What they learned was the role that I play is I want to be that example. I want to be that example doing the right thing and I want to be that example when I don’t do the right thing, to own my stuff, and to repent, and so they understand how to own their stuff. Because, right? Sometimes our expectations are so unrealistic of our kids, aren’t they?
We look back at our childhood and we did this and this and this and this and then when our kids, “What are you doing?”

Principle of modeling. Someone has wisely said, “Your children will come to day where they will not do what you say, but when you look at your children, by and large, they will become what you model.”
The little line that I have thought about many, many times has been: I want to be – you might jot this down – what I want my kids to become. And it’s never too late. I have seen it happen where you have got twenty-eighty, thirty, thirty-five-year-old kids and you are sitting here thinking, I wish I had this series or I would have applied this years ago. If you will be, right where you’re at in your stage of life, what you want them to become, I will tell you, the Spirit of God will begin working, not just in you, but He will work through you.

So, three questions have shaped our parenting. Question number one: what is your number one priority? It’s that my kids would be holy and walk with God. Question number two: what is my number one role? I have a lot of different roles, but number one role is I want to model a dependent, loving relationship on the living God and walking in holiness.

The third question is: what is my number one responsibility? As a parent, there are a lot of responsibilities, but what is number one? The apostle Paul would write to the church in Thessalonica, follow along, it’s in your notes. “Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you, not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well.”

And then he goes on to say, “For you know how we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children” – and how do fathers do it? “Encouraging, comforting, and urging you” – what? “to live lives worthy of God who calls you into His kingdom and glory.

Now, did you notice the apostle Paul, he gives them two pictures. He said, “How did we live among you? We lived among you like a caring, sensitive, nurturing mother.” Those are the issues of the heart. “And we lived among you as a father,” and he uses, I did a word study on those three words. Those three words, he says, “We encouraged, we urged, we implored.”

The word comfort there, it’s a decent translation, but in essence, he says, “We did whatever it took. We would say it nicely, then we would bring up the intensity,” and the final word is, “we brought whatever consequence is necessary to help you learn.”

And so, it’s this picture. All of our kids need clear boundaries. That’s what produces security. And all of our kids need very, very tender hearts and lots of love. And if you can imagine, like there is this highway. And your kids are on this highway and you’re the parent and you’re – when they are really small you’re really close to them and pretty soon they get farther and farther away. But the one guardrail is: here’s a boundary. You can never have your own selfish way. It’s going to be some tough love.

And over here is a boundary. There is nothing you can do, there is no action, there is no crime, there is nothing you can ever do to make me stop loving you. I will love you unconditionally, but I will not allow you to have your own selfish way. And you will find that you’ll be on this journey and you’ll bounce back and forth and there will be times where you will cry with your children and you will love them and forgive them when they make horrendous mistakes, because they are human just like you. And the arms of God will be your arms and the eyes that weep with them will be your eyes.

And there are other times where they will be in mild or very strong rebellion and you’ll set some boundaries and you know what?

You’re the worst person in the world and they don’t love you anymore and they slam the door and, believe me, I’ve got four kids. We went through lots of ups and lots of downs and any sense that you mistakenly have of my sweet wife and me and we are the, just, loving, godly family and all of our kids just turned out right. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It was a battle, it was a journey. We went through difficult times. They are in the wrong relationship. Seasons of rebellion, seasons where one of them just lied all the time, one that was so negative all the time, one that had no confidence.

And each individual child, it was a journey. There’s not some formula that works for all of them. But here’s my number one responsibility. My number one responsibility is to build the kind of relationship where they feel deeply, deeply loved – significant; and where they clearly know where the boundaries are – secure.

See, that’s what God does for us. And that’s what God wants us to do for our children. I call it the principle of relationship.

Your values and beliefs. Now, these are not the values and beliefs that you say or that you, on a test would say, “Oh, well yeah, God is important. Oh, yeah, family is next. These are my values.” No, no, no. I’m talking about the ones you live.

I’m talking about, if I looked on your calendar, if I looked at your finances, if I could read your mind about your dreams, if I could hear the words that come out of your mouth. You see, that’s what your kids get. And the bridge, if you want them to have a heart for God, if you want them to walk in a manner that is worthy, if you want them to be caring for other people, if you want them to be people of integrity, here’s what I am going to tell you, the stronger your relationship with them and you know their heart. And to know their heart, then you need to understand that each kid is wired differently. So, you become a student of every one of your children.

There is one of my sons that, if I raised my voice, he would feel crushed. I had another son that – I never did this, by the way – but metaphorically, if I took a two-by-four and just went right across his head and it splintered, he would go like this and go, “Is that all you got?” And they were just so different.

I had one that was super sensitive. I had one that just wasn’t sensitive at all. I had one that needed a lot of personal time. One that doesn’t want to talk deeply all the time. Each one of your children are uniquely made by God with a unique DNA and what my job and your job is is to help them feel deeply, deeply loved and deeply, deeply secure.

I’ve done a lot of research about what helps kids feel secure and loved, but here are eight things that build a relationship with your child where there’s a bond.

Because, here’s what I want you to get. I have been through all this. They are going to have a crash in some area, probably, morally. They are going to have a crash, some of them, in some addiction. They are going to have a crash where they are going to break up with someone. They are going to have a crash where they are super disappointed. They are going to go through all kinds of ups and downs, and here’s the key.

If there’s this bridge that’s built between you and them where they can come, even when they have really blown it, and be honest and share and know that no matter what, you still love them, but also know no matter what, you’re going to be consistent and hold those boundaries and help them learn, here are eight ways to do that.

Number one: express unconditional love. And, by the way, I know we are doing better as a culture, but verbalize that, will you? These big, grown boys of mine. You know how they end every phone conversation still? “Love you, Dad. Love you, Dad.” Tell them. And then model that. Let them know that their performance is not what you value. You value them.

And a lot of that happens with the kind of words that you can say, not just, “You look pretty,” external. Or, “You got good grades,” performance. Or, “You’re a really good athlete.”

“I watched you in the game today, son. I thought the way you responded when they called a foul on you that didn’t happen really impressed me.” Where am I going? See, you want to affirm character. “And, by the way, you had a great game. Twelve points. Way to go.”

Second, scheduled time. This is absolutely critical. Scheduled time. In other words, it doesn’t just happen. Dinnertime. The research is amazing. In fact, there are websites now about the value of eating together. Believers or unbelievers. Eat together. Scheduled time: bedtime.

Scheduled time as they get older. You go out for coffee or a smoothie or whatever you like. Every other week with each kid.

Third, focused attention. No TV, no screens. By the way, when you’re in the car. Don’t let everyone put in headphones and don’t go on a trip and have screens going everywhere. If you want a little bit of that, okay. They can’t get away! They are in the car with you! Maximize it! And it’s okay if they roll their eyes. But talk. Share. Tell stories about your life. Tell them where you have fears. Share your concerns. Create dialogue.

Four is eye contact. It’s just all – it’s powerful. When you talk, look into their eyes. Start very young. Look into their eyes. Let them know that you know that person inside of there really matters.

The fifth is consistent communication. And whether you do that around the dinner table, whether that’s going out on dates with your kids. But consistent communication. Whether that’s texting during the day, whether that’s an email. Or, you want to know what they think? I had my kids read certain books and then I made them do a book report. And I paid them for the book. I wanted to get good things in their mind and I wanted to communicate with them on a regular basis, especially for those of you that travel. Get that FaceTime thing going.

Don’t send the message that you are always busy, busy, busy, busy. Because no matter what you say, no matter how many gifts you bring from your trips, your kids’ heart resonates when they know that you care and you communicate.

Number six is meaningful touching. And this is – there’s a reason why kids love to wrestle. They just love to be next to you. And so, dads especially, as your daughters are reaching adulthood and womanhood, those twelve, thirteen, fourteen and they are coming of age, they need non-sexual hugs from a big, strong man they trust. And that’s you. Meaningful touching. Hugs to those boys.

Seven is have fun together. I know I sound intense, but, man, we had so much fun. We played games together, we played sports together, we did crazy things together. Just have fun together. It’s like oil to the whole family relationship.

And, finally, pray together and pray often. I cannot tell you the power of how God draws our hearts together. If you’re married and not a single parent, this is an important thing for you two to do together. It starts out very uncomfortable but it will change your marriage.

And then do that. And not just perfunctory, “Thank you for the food, amen.” Heartfelt prayers. Pray about problems. Pause when something great happens. “Let’s just thank God right now.” And don’t make it just always at church or around the table. Or, right in the middle of in the car, taking a walk. And, by the way, you don’t have to close your eyes. Did you notice that Jesus looked up to heaven and He prayed? You can pray with eyes open! And just let your kids know that talking with God together is just the normal Christian life.