How to Choose Your Children

How to Choose Your Children

John 21.15-19 / Acts 1.1-5

Dr. Jim Denison

Genetic engineering is much in the news. The idea that parents can one day determine the sex, hair and eye color, abilities and capabilities of their unborn children is exciting to some and abhorrent to most of us. It is very troubling to me as well.

But while I don’t believe in genetic engineering, I believe very strongly in “spiritual engineering.” We must do all we can to help our families and friends follow Jesus, to mentor them in the Christian faith, to encourage and influence them for Christ. Eternity is at stake.

Mentoring has ancient roots. When Odysseus went off to fight the Trojan War, he left his young son, Telemachus, in the care of a trusted guardian named Mentor. The siege of Troy lasted ten years, and Odysseus journeyed another ten years finding his way home. When at last he arrived, he found that the boy Telemachus had grown into a man—thanks to Mentor’s wise tutelage.

God wants us to be equally intentional about “mentoring” others to follow Christ through our lives and relationships. Proverbs 27:17 is clear: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” God’s call is for men, and for women; for parents, Sunday school teachers, church leaders, anyone who wants to make an eternal difference in the lives of the people we care about.

Last week we discovered how to choose our spiritual fathers and mentors. This week we close our series on key relationships by learning how to mentor others—how to choose our spiritual children.

Value spiritual mentoring

Begin by valuing spiritual mentoring as Jesus does. Remember that God measures our success by the degree to which others follow Jesus because we do. He values nothing in our lives more than the way we use our spiritual influence for his purposes.

In Acts 1 he proves that it is so. Already he has lived with his disciples for three years. Already he has mentored and guided their souls and their lives. But here he delays his long-awaited return to his heavenly glory for another forty days, so that he can mentor them some more. Learn to value spiritual mentoring as Jesus does.

David made the same commitment to his son that Jesus made to his disciples.

Remember God’s question of Solomon: what would you ask of me? Solomon asked for wisdom, and became the wisest man on earth.

Why did he ask for wisdom? Proverbs 4 tells us. Only recently did I make this connection. Here Solomon quotes his father’s advice: “When I was a boy in my father’s house, still tender, and an only child of my mother, he taught me and said, ‘Get wisdom, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:3-4). And he did, because his father taught him to do so. Because his father mentored him.

God wants us to add to his Kingdom by direct and personal evangelism. But he also wants us to multiply his kingdom by our influence in the lives of others.

If every Christian on this planet won one person to Christ today, and then that group won one person to Christ tomorrow, how long would it take for the entire human race to be converted? Two days. There are 2,024,929,000 Christians alive today, out of a total population of 6,128,512,000. By Tuesday the entire human race would come to eternal life through Christ.

This is the value of spiritual mentoring.

We must value mentoring as Jesus does, or we won’t make the time to do it well.

Michael Medved, New York Post film critic, documents the fact that by the age of six, the average American child will have spent more time watching television, videos, and movies than that child will spend in an entire lifetime talking to his or her father. We cannot allow Hollywood to raise our kids for us. We simply must invest our time and lives in leading them spiritually.

Would you stop right now and decide on this issue? If you’re blessed to be a parent, will you commit yourself to doing the best you can to be a spiritual influence and mentor for your children? Whether you’re a parent or not, would you make the same commitment for the sake of others in your life?

Value mentoring as Jesus does. Again, God measures the success of your life by the degree to which others follow him because you do. Decide to be successful.

Mature growing Christians (Acts 1)

Now let’s get specific and practical. How do we do this well? Believers in need of mentors fall into two categories: those who want to be mentored and those who do not. Let’s begin with those who do—with growing Christians, those of our family or friends who are walking with God and are open to our help and encouragement. How do we influence them for Christ?

Following Jesus’ example, first we follow the Spirit’s guidance. Jesus taught his disciples “through the Holy Spirit” (v. 2). We cannot lead our families or friends to God without God’s help. We ask the Spirit to guide us to those we are to influence. Then we yield this relationship to the Spirit, pray for the Spirit’s guidance and wisdom, and listen constantly to his leadership.

Have you prayed about your spiritual influence with your family or friends? Have you asked the Spirit to guide you? Ever? Today?

Second, we teach faith essentials.

Jesus made certain they knew that he was alive—that he was and is our Savior and Risen Lord (3a). That they knew their purpose was to build his Kingdom (3b), to extend his rule into the lives of all mankind.

He had spent three years with them, but he wasn’t done. We are never finished with this crucial work. Have you taught your family and friends the essentials of our faith? Are they committed to them?

Third, lead through relationship. Jesus ate with them (4a), as he had earlier with his followers in Emmaus (Luke 24:30) and his disciples on the shore of Galilee (John 21:12).

How to Choose Your Father

How to Choose Your Father

2 Chronicles 29:1-2

Dr. Jim Denison

A boy was asked what his dad was good for. He had a number of answers:

“A dad is good for putting worms on a hook. He is good for telling your great-aunt you don’t want her to kiss you in public; for helping you with your homework for about two years after your mom gives up; for explaining to your mom why it’s not such a huge crime to tear your pants sliding into second base; for showing you how to tie a tie—when your mom makes you wear one; for letting you run the power mower while your mom is sitting on the porch praying; for telling you the meaning of words you’re too embarrassed to ask your mom about; for carrying you when you are tired and your mom won’t stop shopping; for driving you where you want to go, especially if you can teach him not to talk much after you’re thirteen and your friends are in the car.”

Apparently dads are good for many things. That’s why our nation celebrates Father’s Day every year, and why our church does as well. And we should.

Fathers have the enormous privilege and responsibility of modeling God to our children. A father is the pastor of his family, their spiritual shepherd and leader. I want to help us fulfill this calling well.

But I also want to talk with those whose fathers were not spiritual leaders in their home. If this is your experience, I want to help you. Jesus was the only child to choose his father physically. But you can choose your father spiritually.

So let’s learn how to be godly fathers, and how to choose them.

How to be a spiritual father

Fathers are more involved in our children’s lives than we were a generation ago.

62% of us put our kids to bed, compared with 16% in the previous generation; 52% attend sporting events, up from 37%; 49% read to our kids, up from 14%; 25% do housework, up from 8%; 44% help with dishes, up from 16%.

But women are still far more likely to attend church services each week than we are. And they are 20% more likely to give serious attention to their faith than we are.

What kind of spiritual model do we need to give our children and families? What does God expect of a spiritual father and leader? His word is clear. Let me show you what we teach our new and prospective members every month—what God expects of a fully developing follower of Jesus Christ.

First and foremost, a follower of Jesus worships God.

Jesus told us that God expects us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37). We love God when we worship him—with other Christians, and personally each day.

Men, our children will value worship as we do. Are you here every week you can be? Do you sing as we sing to God, or do you stand in silence? Do you pray to him, or listen as others do it for you? Do you study his word with us or merely sit through the sermon?

Do you worship God personally every day? Does your family know that you do? Would God want your kids to worship him as you do?

Second, a follower of Jesus lives by God’s word.

God says of his word, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

We are to know God’s word, and to live by it. James was blunt: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).

And Jesus was conclusive: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love” (John 15:10). Jesus expects us to know his word, and to obey it.

Men, do you study God’s word every day? Do you make your decisions at home and at work in light of its truth? Is your daily lifestyle consistent with its teachings? Do you teach God’s word to your family? Would God want your kids to live by his word as you do?

Third, a follower of Jesus contributes to God’s work.

We are to use our spiritual gifts and abilities for God: “Each man should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). We are each part of the body of Christ—some a hand, others a foot, others an eye, others an ear (cf. 1 Corinthians 12). Each part is essential to our health and God’s purpose for our church. Every one of us must contribute out of the spiritual gifts and abilities God has given to us.

And we are to contribute financially to God’s work as well. God says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house” (Malachi 3:10). Ten percent of our income returned to God is his standard for us.

This is the way God meets the needs of our suffering world, and blesses us along the way. Proverbs 28:27 is worth contemplating: “He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.” Give to the needs of our community and world by giving to God through his church.

We are to give, not as though we are paying a bill but in gratitude for God’s grace to us: “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Do you give generously, sacrificially, regularly to God’s work through your church? Does your family know of your contribution to God’s kingdom? Would God want your kids to give to him as you do?

When Good Kids Make Bad Friends

When Good Kids Make Bad Friends

John 15:9-17

Dr. Jim Denison

Last weekend our family visited Janet’s parents in the Ozarks of north Arkansas. And so I got to do my favorite thing: floating down the White River, fishing for trout. I have never seen clearer, purer water than is in that river. I could even see the log in the river I hung three hooks on.

What a contrast from the fishing hole I used to visit growing up in Houston. You had to climb over barbed wire to get to it. There were beer cans and bottles scattered everywhere, the bank was all mud and rocks, and the water was so thick you could walk on it. But it was my fishing hole—at least until the day the owner saw me and chased me out with a shotgun.

The difference between the White River and my old fishing hole? The sources of the water—Ozark streams and Houston rain.

What sources determine who and what we are today? The direction our lives will take, the people we will become?

Two weeks ago I reported some sobering facts about teenagers today. Among them: nearly half drink alcohol weekly; 45% have used illegal drugs; 100,000 take a gun to school every day; 2,000 commit suicide daily; 40% say they are sexually active; 20.1% of teenage girls will have had an abortion by the time they reach 20 years of age. What is the source of these self-destructive decisions?

Not their parents, we can assume. What parents want their children to abuse drugs or alcohol, to commit sexual sin or suicide? Popular culture has its role in glamorizing such behavior, to be sure. But as we’ll discover today, the most formative single influence on our youth is the friends they choose. And that influence remains with us for the rest of our lives.

So any series dealing with our key relationships must focus on friendships. How do we choose good friends? What do we do when good kids make bad friends? On this subject, I need to be very simple and very direct. We’ll look to Jesus for the crucial and practical guidance we all need today.

First, how do we choose good friends?

As though your future depends on them, because it does

First, choose them as though your future depends on them, because it does.

In our text, Jesus called these disciples his “friends.” He promised that he would “lay down his life for his friends” (v. 13). He says that he will not call them servants but friends (v. 15). Now, how did he choose them?

It is an interesting fact that our Lord prayed all night long only once in recorded Scripture. How significant must an issue be for Jesus to pray over it all night? Here was the decision facing him: who would his disciples be? Whom would he choose for his closest followers, his best friends?

About this crucial issue, “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles” (Luke 6:12-13). These are the very men Jesus addresses in our text as his “friends” (John 15:15). He knew that the future and ultimate success of his life and work would depend on them. So should we.

Psychologists know that in adolescence, peers typically replace the family as the center of the person’s social life. Adolescents become more physically and psychologically distant from their parents, and friends move to the center of their relational world.

Then, as peers become more dominant, they shape our identity and life purpose, the very decisions which are formative for our lives and futures.

And these peer relationships are especially influential in introducing adolescents to problem behaviors such as substance abuse and sexual immorality. As we determine who and what we will be, our friends play the crucial role.

Note that Jesus prayed about this issue. He didn’t just think hard or reflect well—he prayed to his Father. He knew that God has a will for us in this matter.

So allow me the question: have you prayed about your friends? Have you consulted your all-knowing, all-loving Father on this issue? Choose your friends as though your future depends on them, because it does.

By your values

Second, choose your friends by your values, not your values by your friends.

Jesus chose for his friends some unusual candidates, to say the least: fishermen, tax collectors, and poor peasants. Not the rabbis, priests, or officials we would expect him to select. Why? Because Jesus knew these men would be teachable and leadable; they would depend on the power of the Holy Spirit and not their own abilities. He knew his purpose for them, and the values he wanted them to live by.

He says so plainly in our text: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit” (v. 16). Jewish students typically chose their rabbi, but this rabbi chose his students. He chose his friends to “bear fruit,” to fulfill his purpose for their lives and ministries. Jesus chose his friends according to his values, not his values according to his friends.

How often we are shocked at the “good kids” who are arrested for drug possession, or become pregnant, or get abortions. The simple fact is: they didn’t choose their friends according to their values, and in time their friends’ values became their own.

Bad lowers good far more often than good raises bad. Apart from a miracle of God’s power, you cannot change your boyfriend or girlfriend, your spouse, your friends. When the tide goes out, every boat in the harbor sinks lower.

In 1921, Norman Vincent Peale saw Henry Ford standing beside his car in front of a railroad station. He approached Ford, introduced himself, and told him how much he admired him.

Ford responded with a strange question: “Who is your best friend?” Without waiting for an answer, he scribbled on a piece of paper these words: “Your best friend is the person who brings out the best that is within you.” He signed it, “Henry Ford.” Then he said to the young Norman Vincent Peale, “Think about that and always associate yourself with the best men you know.”

When You Lose Someone You Love

When You Lose Someone You Love

1 Corinthians 15:51-58

Dr. Jim Denison

This has been one of the most challenging, and meaningful, weeks of my life.

Challenging, because Janet has been in Cuba as part of our most recent mission team to go there. They had a powerful week with more clear evidence of God’s hand on that country and our ministry there. In her absence, the boys and I ate food from every establishment in Dallas with a drive-through window. She left plenty of food for us to cook, but that would by definition have required cooking. I had to run the dishwasher twice all week, a tiny picture of my prowess in the kitchen.

This was a truly memorable week as well. Vacation Bible School was a delightful and exciting experience once again. Dozens of children came to personal faith in Christ; even more families became prospects for Christ and our church; hundreds of workers sacrificed their week to give this beautiful gift to the children of our community.

In the midst of it all, my sermon title and theme was changed by two deeply moving events. On Sunday we held a memorial service for Emily Marie Ates, a precious child who stepped into her eternal home after five weeks of earthly life; the burial was held Tuesday in Louisiana. On Wednesday our church family celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. George Edwards, a longtime church member, deacon, Sunday school teacher, Senior Adult ministry leader, and remarkable friend. From five weeks to 84 years of age—two ends of the same spectrum.

As I walked with these families through their loss and grief, I realized that any series dealing with key relationships should help us with the loss of those relationships. We all need to know what to do and what to believe when we lose someone we love. Let’s ask God together.

Where are they now? (51-52)

We come to such a place with three questions above all others. First, where is the one we love, now? Is death the end? Are they in that coffin, buried in that grave? Is this the end?

When Mark Twain buried his beloved daughter Olivia’s body he placed on her grave this epitaph: “Warm summer sun, shine kindly here; Warm southern wind, blow softly here; Green sod, lie light, lie light; good night, dear heart. Good night. Good night.” He was sure that she was there, that this was all there is. Was he right?

Our text begins with a secret only Christians can share:

“Listen,” Paul says. This is a Greek imperative, a command. Why listen? Because “I tell you a mystery.” “Mystery” means something no human can know except by direct revelation from God. Paul says, “I’m about to tell you one of God’s secrets.” So we bend our shoulders together, turn our ear to his lips, and listen with rapt attention.

Here it is: “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” “We” shows that this mystery, this promise, is for believers, and only for us. We will not all “sleep,” Paul’s common word for Christian death. But we will all be “changed.”

How long does it take? “In a flash”—the Greek word means a unit of time so small it cannot be divided. No reincarnation, or purgatory, or evolution here—instantly, in the quickest possible moment of time.

We are “raised imperishable,” he promises. From death to life, from grief to glory, from earth to heaven, from grave to God.

So we know that the one we loved who loved Jesus is with him right now.

Jesus promised us, “whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26). He promised the thief dying at his side, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

So Paul could say, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). He was sure: “We would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

If the one who died is a child, that person has all his or her life been close to God. That child never sinned, never broke his or her relationship with God, and is with God now. Jesus was very clear on this: “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt 19.14).

The one you love never died, but is in paradise, with Christ, at home. And God’s word promises that for them, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'” (Revelation 21:4-5).

And know that for them, it will be only a moment before they see all of us who know Christ as our Lord. God and his heavenly dwelling stand beyond time. He transcends it, and so do those who live with him in heaven. Revelation 10:6, speaking of heaven, says in the original Greek language, “time shall no longer be.” For us it may be years, but for them only a moment until they see us again with our Father in heaven.

So know that the one you love is loved by God, this very moment. Imagine what it must be like for them, dwelling eternally in the glories of God’s perfect heaven. I often share at memorial services these words:

Think of steeping on shore and finding it heaven,Of taking hold of a hand and finding it God’sOf breathing new air and finding it celestial,Of feeling invigorated and finding it immortality;Of passing through a tempest to a new and unknown ground,Of waking up well and happy and finding it home.

This is where they are, this moment, with God.

Why did this happen? (53-57)

So we rejoice in the good news that the one we loved who died in faith is with God. But now we suffer together with the hard news that they died at all. And if we are honest we must ask the hard question: why did this happen? Does God not care? Is he not powerful? Why does he permit such tragedy as this?