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).

We lead best out of daily relationship, personal commitment and affection and friendship. Make time to eat together, to travel together, to have fun together. Experience life together.

Jesus spent three years living with his followers. We lead best as he did, through ongoing personal relationship.

Fourth, direct to the Spirit. Lead your family or friend to experience the power of God’s Holy Spirit. They don’t need our ability, wisdom, or money—they need God’s Spirit. Lead them to him.

These disciples had to wait in the Upper Room for Pentecost and the Spirit’s entrance into their lives. We don’t. We can and must be “filled with the Spirit” today (Ephesians 5:18). We can and must yield our lives to the Spirit, confess every sin he reveals to us, ask him to guide and use us.

Have you taught your family or friends to do this? Are you controlled by the Spirit this morning?

Watch the results:

In the next chapter, each of Jesus’ followers will be his witnesses. Peter, his failed friend, will be his preacher. 3,000 will be saved. The number will grow to 5,000 families. And by Acts 17:6, the church will have “turned the world upside down.” And Jesus’ model for mentoring still works today.

So, what growing Christians are you discipling? Where are you helping someone follow Jesus? Would you ask him to guide you to that person today?

Reclaim hurting Christians (John 21)

Now, what about Christians who don’t want spiritual influence in their lives? What can we do for fallen, hurting believers? Those who aren’t here today, or anywhere like here? Those who don’t want what we’re deciding today to give?

So many believers are hurting in their faith and their lives today. I know Christians who have experienced the trauma of divorce and feel the Church no longer cares about them; those who suffer from long-term illness and feel forgotten; those who have committed moral failures and feel left out.

It’s been said that the Church is the only army which buries its wounded. What can we do to be sure that is not said of us? How can we help influence struggling believers? Jesus’ model with his fallen disciple Peter is God’s guidance for us today.

First, take the initiative. Jesus calls to Peter and the others from the shore after they’ve returned to fishing (John 21:4). He invites them to breakfast with him (12). And then he goes directly to Simon Peter (v. 15).

If he had waited for Peter to come to him, he’d be waiting still. Do you know someone who’s not here but should be? Someone who’s far from God? Someone in your home or your heart? Take the initiative—make the call, send the letter, begin again your friendship. Do it now.

Next, invite them back to Jesus (15b)

Jesus begins this way: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” By “these” Jesus means the other disciples, reminding Peter that he had earlier bragged that he did, that “though all should forsake you, I will not” (Mark 14:29). Now Jesus asks Peter to be honest about himself and his failed faith, and invites him home to himself.

Start where hurting people are, and encourage them to Christ. Jesus does not ask Peter if he is sorry for what he has done, or if he will promise never to do it again. He asks for his heart, because he knows that when the heart is given everything else will follow.

Third, reclaim them for ministry. Jesus responds to Peter’s honest love with his commission: “feed my sheep.” We love Jesus by loving others, by showing them his care in ours. Jesus doesn’t keep Peter on the sideline. He wants each of his followers to be in the game, to be engaged in personal ministry to hurting people. Wounded healers make the best healers.

Fourth, challenge them to higher commitment.

Peter had earlier failed Jesus before a serving girl; now he would be called to stand for him at the risk of his very life. Indeed, “when you are old someone will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (v. 18). Jesus said this “to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God” (v. 19). Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

And Peter did. He died for Jesus, on a cross like Jesus, but upside down because he felt himself not worthy to die in the same manner as did his Lord. Jesus challenged his fallen friend to a higher commitment, and Peter responded with heroic faith.

So may your friend and mine.


Without Paul there would be no church expansion across the Roman Empire, and half of the New Testament. Without John Mark there would be no Gospel of Mark. But without Barnabas their mentor, there would be neither. Affirm the ministry of mentoring.

Without Billy Graham millions of people might not have heard the gospel. Without Bill Bright the Campus Crusade for Christ would not exist, much less have led to Christ and discipled hundreds of thousands of college students and other Christians. Without Gospel Light Publications, most of the Sunday school literature used today would not have come to be.

But without the Bible teaching and discipling ministry of Henrietta Mears, director of Christian education at First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California, we would know of none of them. Affirm the ministry of mentoring.

Without Dr. Herbert Howard, the present campus of Park Cities Baptist Church, including our magnificent Sanctuary, might not have come to be. The global outreach of this church might not have touched so many thousands of churches and multiplied believers around the world. Many of you might not have ever come into this church. But without J. B. Weatherspoon, homiletics professor at Southern Seminary and mentor to the young Herbert Howard, we might not know of him today. Affirm the ministry of mentoring.

Where will the next Paul and John Mark come from? The next Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Herbert Howard? That’s up to us. Isn’t it?