Blessing Those Who Follow Me
June 4, 2018
BLESSING THOSE WHO FOLLOW ME
June 4th, 2017
A man went to the store with his 3-year old daughter in tow. He only wanted to grab a few things, so he grabs a hand basket. “That’s not the way Mommy does it, she takes a cart,” his daughter informed him. “I know dear, but Daddy’s way’s OK too,” he replied.
Leaving the store in the rain carrying his bag of groceries and his milk jug and holding on to his daughter, he got to the car and, not wanting to put anything down, he put the milk jug on the car roof so he could unlock the car and get the groceries into the car and his daughter into the car seat. “That’s not the way Mommy does it, she puts me in first,” his daughter informed him. “Honey, there’s more than one way to do things right,” he patiently replied. “Daddy’s way is OK, too.” As they pulled out of the store parking lot onto the street, you could hear the jug of milk sliding down the length of the rooftop, bouncing off the trunk of the car and splattering to the ground, sending milk in every direction. His young daughter looked at him, and in a very serious voice told him, “That’s NOT the way Mommy does it!”
Today I want to speak primarily about parenting, about how parents can bless their children. However, I am past the stage of parenting, yet I found that the things I read and thought about really applied to me as well as I volunteer with children and youth on a weekly basis, I am an uncle and granduncle, and I will likely have grandchildren one day. So I’ve entitled this sermon as I did because I genuinely hope that this will be applicable to most of you because of similar reasons, if you are in fact seeking to bless those who follow you.
However, whatever I share with you is not meant to empower you to go and tell your family members and friends how to raise their kids. “Pastor Spencer said that you’re doing it all wrong.”
Let me begin by reading to you from Psalm 78.
We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD (YHWH), about his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. Psalm 78:4-7
A couple of points with regard to this passage. For one, this was how the Old Covenant was to be continued from generation to generation. For believers, God’s stipulations and commands and laws are encapsulated in Jesus’ teaching. Nevertheless, it highlights the responsibility of parents to pass their faith down to their children.
For another, the assumption was, that those who were passing on the stories about God’s powerful work and his will for the people of Israel, had personally embraced and lived out the things they were speaking about it. In other words, this was not theoretical but personal knowledge. I will return to this point at the end of the message.
When we think of those who follow us, we may think in terms of different generations. Currently, there are at least 5 different generations alive, each with their own distinctions. While there are individuals still alive from the previous generation, the oldest generation is called the …
Builders (1925-45) – Went through the great depression, WWII), they were happy to have a job and they were disciplined, hardworking, and frugal. As a result, they are the richest retirees in history.
Baby boomers (1946-64) – Called the “me” generation; they felt entitled to a better life than their parents. First generation to buy a lot of things on credit.
Gen X, Busters (1965-80) - focused on their own rights over and above the common good; first generation with post-modern relativistic values; First generation that struggled with commitment. They also called the baby busters because their parent were the first to have the birth control pill.
Millennials (Gen Y) (1981-2000) – The first generation to continually be told that they’re special and so the first that expected to be treated special (incl. at work). Millennials hold strong views, they have a sense of social responsibilities and social concern. They are also the selfie generation. They are the ultimate consumers – life is full of choices to pick and choose from and they’ll pick and choose what they want. Make their own playlist. Put together their own spirituality.
Centennials (Gen Z) (2001-2017) - The first generation that doesn’t need adults for information. But they do need adults for interpretation. Even less play and physical activity, and an even greater focus on electronics, video games, cell phones. But also the generation that grew up with 9/11, constant terror attacks, school shootings, the recession, and unemployment or underemployment.
Their world is full of ...
So they may assume ...
(Instagram, drive through, text, microwave, google, siri, …)
Slow is bad
Hard is bad
(teachers and parents may hear “this is too hard”, when it’s meant to be, lack of effort)
Boring is bad
(if it’s not entertaining, it’s not important. Helping others isn’t entertainment)
(overprotected, safety is everything)
Risk is bad
(most risk averse generation)
(I deserve it just because I’m here)
Work is bad
(If I’ve always got the trophy without working then why would I work for one now?)
The problem is that if we’re unable or unwilling to deal with what is slow, hard, boring, and what requires risk and work, then we likely will struggle greatly growing up and becoming good adults, good spouses, good human beings.
Who are those who follow us? Not necessarily the generation immediately following our own. It really is anyone who is coming after us, regardless of age or generation. You can be in high school and have middle schoolers come behind you, or in middle school and elementary aged kids coming behind you.
How do we bless those who follow us? Is it making sure that life works out for them exactly as they would want it too? Many parents seem to think so.
It’s natural for parents always seem to want a life for their children that somehow is better than their own life.
Builders wanted to bless their kids with everything they themselves may not have had: a good education, a good job, a good spouse, a good house, a good car, a good retirement package, and so on.
Boomers wanted to bless their kids with everything they may not have had: more grace and less anger in the home, the latest in clothes and toys, a car at 16, more choices and freedoms, all along with a good standard of living.
Gen-X wanted their kids to be more self-assured, more empowered, less traumatized by competition or bullying, along with a good standard of living… you get the idea.
But despite the best efforts of parents, there has to be a growing realization among the younger generations that their own standard of living likely won’t match that of their parents. For example, over the last 20 years, gas prices have gone up by 2 ½ times, housing prices in our area have more than tripled, and you likely know about the increase in grocery prices. During the same time, salaries have increased on average by 40% and minimum wage has gone up less than $ 3/hour.
So on the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a good standard of living – but is that really the best way to bless those who follow us.
I’ve heard it said that blessing those who follow us is actually providing them with a standard FOR living.
So what could a standard FOR living be? Not just what they will have as adults (house, car, career), but what will they be like as adults?
All parents make mistakes in their attempt to bless their children. They do these things because they love their children and want what’s best for them at any given moment. I’ll go over a very short list, but this is only to scratch the surface.
1. Protect too much
Parents overprotect their children because they are so afraid for their children. They take the monkey bars from the playgrounds because their children might fall off them. They keep them in a sterile bubble, deathly afraid that their kids might catch a cold or hurt themselves.
When their children mess up, parents often rush in to rescue, whether it’s driving their forgotten homework to school to bailing them out of legal trouble. Parents protect their kids from the consequences of their actions.
They protect them from losing at anything. Instead of letting them experience adversity, they clear the path. They remove all obstacles to make the lives of their children easy. They don’t want their children to fall or to fail. So they swoop in and make sure it doesn’t happen. Some parents will confront the teachers of their child when it comes home with a grade that they don’t like.
What’s difficult to remember in the moment is what psychiatrist Paul Bohn wrote:
Many parents will go to do anything to protect their kids from even mild discomfort, anxiety, or disappointment—’anything less than pleasant’—with the result that when, as adults, they experience the normal frustrations of life, they think something must be terribly wrong.
Paul Bohn (psychiatrist)
If I always do things for my child, I don’t give them the chance to do it themselves and fail … they grow up thinking they can’t do it for themselves. One out of 8 millennials bring their parents to job interviews. Not a good idea, by the way.
It’s important that parents do not immediately rescue their children when they’re faced with a challenge. Adversity is a part of life, and only by facing it can children build problem-solving and life-coping skills they’ll need down the road. The truth is, that all of us need to learn that losing is just another way to gain wisdom and experience about what not to do.
Only by overcoming challenges can they experience the sense of accomplishment and confidence that comes with it.
Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin’s dad, “this will build character.”
We have to have the confidence in our children that they can figure things out.
2. Affirm too readily
Some parents affirm their kids even when there is nothing to affirm. They rave about their kids and to their kids even when they do the normal and ordinary. They are committed to building their children’s self-esteem, but they don’t realize that affirmation without accomplishment or achievement is hollow and actually undermines self-esteem.
3. Reward too often
We all know that at age 5 it’s OK to give a ribbon simply for participating. But even at 10, kids realize that those ribbons are absolutely meaningless because when everyone wins, no one does. And real life isn’t at all like that.
4. Expect too little
Some parents have unhappy memories of the rules imposed when they were children and feel that they are doing their children a favour by letting the children do whatever they want.
Some parents give their children too much screen time. Whether it’s TV, video, games, phone or texting.
Some give them too much freedom too young to experiment with alcohol or weed or even dating.
Some parents feel that they should do everything for their children so that there are absolutely no chores, no need to help at home, to clean their rooms or clean up after themselves.
Their kids end up leaving home with a sense of entitlement, unable to cook or put on a wash or clean, and unwilling to learn. God help those who marry them.
Parents need to understand that their role is not to coddle their kids but to raise helpful, independent children who have a good work ethic and are able to contribute to society. Giving pocket money ‘just because they are alive’ helps children to feel that they have a right to money rather than having to earn it.
Many parents don’t know how to set any boundaries and rules or guidelines, or they don’t know how to enforce them consistently, with lovingly and fair consequences, both good and bad.
The problem is that many children end up convinced that their getting their own way is what’s most important, and end up being selfish, cranky or volatile when things don’t go their own way, badly behaved, and not nice to be around.
Like everyone, I wanted my children to love me. I wanted them to sing my praises and appreciate me. All of us want to be “cool” parents. But if we’re doing our job right, we’ll sometimes be uncool and make them do stuff that isn’t fun, and they’ll get them mad at us and not like us sometimes. They’ll roll their eyes, moan and groan, and wish they’d been born into another family.
We need to set boundaries and consequences, and our children need to know we love them. That balance is key. It may be difficult at times to find it, but children actually yearn for parents who act like parents. If we don’t set any boundaries, that’s not love, that’s our need to be liked.
Here is something that I thought was pretty good advice:
Don’t think rules, think equations
If you do this – then this will happen. This is the good or bad result (the benefit, bad consequence) of your actions. That was not a good decision, so you’ll not have a cell phone for the next month. There are consequences to your decisions.
1 Caveat: Proper boundaries should be implemented and enforced when children are young. If we start to try this when they are in their mid-teens it will be very tough.
2 Caveat: You know that these are generalizations that don’t always hold true. Parents who have a different cultural background may view parenting much like previous generations did.
Regardless of cultural background, we now live in a society that is child-centered. Our schools are child centered. And by and large, our homes are child centered. And children like it because their parents’ lives revolve around them. And for the most part the parents don’t mind because they are happy when their children are happy. It brings them joy to buy something nice for their children and to shower them with love and affection.
But in the process it’s easy to forget that our children are meant to be loved, not worshipped. It’s easy to forget that it’s more important to do the hard job of properly parenting our kids rather than being their best friend. So when parents treat their kids like the center of the universe, they are really not doing them any favours, instead stunting their emotional growth. They are focusing on short-term payoff over long term wellbeing.
It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for yourself that will make them into successful human beings. Anne Landers
Could it be that by protecting our kids from unhappiness as children, we’re depriving them of happiness as adults?
We should be thinking long term – how will my actions affect their development? It’s easier to clean up my daughter’s room myself – but is it better?
The further we can see into the future of our children, the better decisions we will make when it comes to how to deal with them and how to truly bless them.
Loving a child is wanting what’s best for them long term
Parents should realize that what makes a person happy at age 5 or 15 is different from what makes a person happy at 35 or 40.
Wouldn’t they be happier if they were people of character, with a moral inner compass, who have a healthy view of self, who treat others well, are able to face the adversities that inevitably will come into their lives with grace and resilience, and who love God and others?
Sometimes parents are so concerned with the physical and financial and material well-being of their child, they completely neglect the spiritual side. To put it in Jesus’ words,
What does it matter if they (my kids) gain the whole world and in the process lose their eternal soul?
Doesn’t that matter more than any report card or trophy? Doesn’t it matter more than how good they were at baseball or whether or not they made the best team? When I visit the elderly and ask what I can pray for, most of them ask for the salvation of their children or grandchildren.
But when our kids are young, taking the long view may be counterintuitive in the moment.
So how do we bless those who follow us, regardless of age.
How to bless those who follow us:
1. Show up (be there)
Chances are that many of you are here today, here at church, because someone else showed up for you. Maybe they invited you to church, or they were an example of what it means to love God and others. But you’re here in part because of them.
Our best chance to bless someone is to show up for them. But the results, the blessing, may not be immediate. A preschooler or elementary kid, or someone in middle school is unlikely to tell you that what you did or said made them into a better person.
Some people think that influence over others comes from power. To a degree they have the power to make their 3 ½ year old do what they want them to. I will make you go to bed, whether you like it or not. But power runs out pretty quick. You can’t physically make your teenager do what you want them to.
Parents realize that there has to be a heart connection, and that can only happen when you spend time with their kids, eat meals with their kids, talk to their kids, ask questions of their kids.
Some parents think that influence comes from success. Some parents would like to tell their kids, “I am successful. I have standing with others. I am in charge. I am a smart person. People come to me for advice. People listen to me. People do what I say. And so should you!” But kids really don’t care about how successful their parents are when it comes to influencing them.
Some parents think that influence comes from authority. Like the authority invested in a customs official or a police officer. “As a parent, it is my position to be in charge.” But teens don’t necessarily accept that either.
Some parents think that influence comes from being right. “Hey, I’ve been around longer than you. I know what I’m talking about.” Not necessarily accepted when the teacher knowns more or the friends know more.
In a home, influence ultimately comes because of trust. And trust is earned. Not because parents have power, success, authority, and they’re right, but because they have showed up. They have been consistently present in their children’s lives.
When we show up for others then they will know that they matter to us, and that they matter to us even if they’re not everything we would want them to be.
So maybe they’ll never be a Christian, possibly because they grew up in a cult. Does that mean we cut them loose? Or do we still care enough to invest ourselves in them?
I’ve heard ‘Empathy’ defined in this way:
EMPATHY: Setting aside one’s own thoughts and feelings in order to understand someone else’s thoughts and feelings
Jesus is our example of doing this. Part of the incarnation, God coming to earth in human form, was his desire to understand, to know what it is like to be human, and therefore be able to empathize with humanity. And in this way, Jesus is our role model as well.
Don’t just look out for your own interests, but each of you also look out for the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: He was in very nature God, but did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage. Rather he made himself nothing by taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Philippians 2:4-7
Jesus stepped out of heaven into our world so that he knows what it means to be us. Jesus put his power, authority, standing, right-ness aside, in part in order to empathize with humanity.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4:15
God wanted a different kind of relationship than one based on power and fear and threat. And the reason why those of us who call ourselves Christians know that God is a safe place where they can run to, is because he understands us, he knows us and just how frail we are.
Wouldn’t it be great if we are a safe place where others can run to? If we are safe because we care and because we seek to empathize with others? If small groups is doing life we people who care?
[In his letter to the believers in Philippi, Paul tells the believers, and thus us, to put our own interests on pause in order to look after the interests of others. It is a reflection of Jesus’ teaching that we are to love others as ourselves, that we are to treat others in the way that we ourselves would want to be treated. ]
If people actually lived out the passage in Philippians, it would resolve conflicts, it would resolve relational difficulties. But it’s easily said and hard to put into practice. However, when we do put it into practice, we demonstrate that we have the same mindset as Jesus, that we see other people the way he sees them.
Humans are the only species on earth that can imagine itself in someone else’s shoes. In that sense they mirror the image of God. The problem is we sometimes don’t know what is happening in the other person’s world.
So why is the person in traffic behind me sitting right on my bumper? It’s not like he’s going to get anywhere if I move over. Why does the teenager I volunteer with every Thursday have such a negative attitude? And how will I respond to her, when my instinct is to write her off?
If I knew their stories, I would likely not make the same assumptions and it would be easier for me to put myself in their shoes. So maybe the guy behind me has to make the ferry in order to keep an important appointment. Maybe the teen has been able to manipulate her parents with her bad attitude and mistakenly thinks that’s the best way to go through life. Or maybe her dad has left the mother. Or maybe she had a sibling who died.
When confronted with those who follow after us, maybe we need to imagine what could potentially have gone wrong in their lives, or we need to ask if they’re OK or what’s going on.
Adults often judge too readily when they need to press pause and imagine or find out what is going on in the lives of others, including their children.
Kids don’t need more money, they need more interaction.
The second way to bless those who follow us.
2. Be a role model
And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ. NLT
Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. NIV
1 Corinthians 11:1
We all know the saying that actions speak louder than words. We also know the saying, “do as I say, not as I do.”
Despite appearances, parents remain the number one teacher and role model for their children. And children will always learn by example, plain and simple.
Children absorb everything around them, and they have a huge capacity to learn and mirror both good and bad behaviors from the time they are very young. E.g., Children of smokers are twice as likely to smoke as the kids of non-smoking parents.
How parents treat family members and interact with strangers, animals, and the environment, are absorbed and repeated by their children. The way that parents deal with a waitress or the cashier at the grocery store will influence how their children will act.
That means that one of the best things that parents can do for their children is to model the behaviour that they desire in their children. They need to be the kind of person that they want their children to become.
If parents want their children to eat healthy and live an active lifestyle, then that is what they will need to model themselves.
If parents want their children to be helpful and kind compassionate, you guessed it, then they need to be helpful and kind and compassionate.
If parents want their child to grow up to be happy, loving, thoughtful and respectful they need to demonstrate those attitudes themselves.
The way that parents respond in any given situation in a sense gives permission to their children to act the same. The way that parents handle stress, adversity and rejection will influence the way that their children will act when confronted with stress, adversity and rejection.
So if parents tell their kids to be kind to others one minute and then turn around and say something nasty about a neighbour or family member the next, that is not a consistent message. Or if they tell their kids to be patient, but they get angry and yell at them for the slightest thing, guess which will the more powerful message?
We teach children about anger management every day. We show them that yelling or using force to control others is acceptable. Parents need to learn to stay calm so that they can have better ways of dealing with their kids and model that to their kids. Until parents can control their own anger they will never earn the respect of their children
Whatever I want my children to be that is also what I need to aim to be.
If I want my children to be wonderful, I need to do my best to be a wonderful person myself. If I want my children to be dedicated believers, that is who I need to be myself.
I need to be the person I hope they’ll be.
Christian parents in particular need to be role models of a person who trusts God, even when faced with the hard things that happen in life.
A person who cares, even when it’s so much easier to shut down the heart.
A person who gives, even if it’s so much easier to be spend it on oneself.
A person who sometimes speaks about important things, even when it’s so much easier to talk about the weather.
But, to return to the passage in Psalm 78, Christian parents not only have to live out what it means to be a person of faith, parents are also called to share and to speak and to teach and to pass on how God and belief in him has impacted them in a positive way, and what it means to believe in God and follow his will.
WHO IS SOMEONE WHO BLESSED ME?
Someone who showed up, someone who was a role model?
WHO IS THE ONE PERSON I WILL BLESS?
If at all possible, write down the name of someone you need to show up for, who you need to be a role model to. If you don’t have a piece of paper with you, when you get home today, don’t forget to write it down.