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Reclaiming The Family

Making A Difference Where You Are

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | June 12, 2005

Selected highlights from this sermon

In Countering the Culture, Pastor Lutzer began giving us seven “commandments” that parents must follow in order to raise godly children.
In this message, he shares the final seven lessons that will help us become counter-cultural in an age of decline where the traditional family is being severely assaulted.

One revelation: the problem isn’t always the world – it’s the family itself. If we’re not protecting our young, we’re leaving them open for their souls to be stolen by the world.

The question before us is this: how do we become counter-cultural in an age of decline, in a time where our families are being so severely assaulted? The family is the basic unit of society in all cultures, Christian or non Christian. Yet we find today that there are enemies that are stealing the family and stealing our children. Today pornography has expansive First Amendment rights and there are some that would say that teaching abstinence is unconstitutional. What do we do in the midst of an atmosphere like this?

As Christians we believe strongly that it is the family that is supposed to convey the Christian faith to the next generation. That is what the Bible teaches. Yet clearly it is not happening because we are losing young people to the world.

The problem is more serious I think than most of us realize. One of my daughters emailed me this article that was in Parade magazine a few years ago. A man wrote the article who is an attorney for abused children and he defends them in court. He is a humanist because he talks about the human race evolving over a period of time. We can forgo that because I want you to get his insight. What he sees is terrifyingly true.

He believes that the long term survival of our culture is at stake. He says, “The fundamental failure is this: we are not protecting and preserving our own notion of the human family, as the safeguard of our species has not evolved. Instead it has gone in the opposite direction. It has devolved. It has devolved to the extent that we tolerate unprotective, even violent parents. It has devolved to the extent that we tolerate predators within a child’s circle of trust, in schools and clubs and within religious organizations. It has devolved to the extent that abusers, even when they have been identified, are permitted further opportunities to prey. It has devolved to the extent that we insist on the rehabilitative potential of those who viciously injure and/or sexually assault their own children. And, it has devolved to the extent that we permit convicted predators of children to be released and walk among us.”

In the article he contrasts the human beings with animals. He says that wolves are predators, most assuredly, but they will protect their own and actually attack other parents of little baby wolves who are not protecting their own. They’ll take over and protect them. What he is saying is that the animals are much better than we are.

He says, “The family is self-destructing, destroying itself from within by its failure to nurture and value its offspring.” Wow! In these messages I have been presenting the world out there as attacking the family. He is saying that the problem sometimes is the family itself. That is a much more serious problem. The situation would be hopeless except for God and except for people like you who are listening to this message. We hold in our hands the key to changing the culture and to changing the direction as to where things are going. How helpless and needy we are in God’s presence to do this.

If you were with us last week you know that I was lecturing on eleven commandments. Moses had only ten, but I had eleven. I finished number seven and promised you the rest today. But then what should I do with the other message I was planning to preach? Well, what I have decided to do is to take the eleven commandments and make them fourteen. Moses never had the option of having eleven commandments because God only gave him ten. But because I am making these up I can have as many or few as I want. I can change the number of commandments as long as they are mine.

I am going to give you today seven more commandments and incorporate into some of them the ideas that I was planning to preach in the final message in this series. We are going to plunge in at commandment number eight. If you are visiting or listening by radio you will say, “What are numbers one to seven?” Sorry about that but you have to get the tapes, CD or DVD or whatever else there is available to you. We are plunging in at number eight.

Number eight is to create an environment conducive to upright behavior. Parents do not allow children to have a television or a computer in their bedroom. Do you realize how addictive these things are? Certainly there is pornography on the internet and other kinds of things that are violent. Even apart from that these things are powerfully addictive.

I was talking to a man some time ago who is in Christian work. He said to me that his wife spends up to twenty-five or thirty hours a week on the computer playing video or computer games. Apparently she belongs to some kind of a club where all the people get together and they are playing this game. It’s her outlet; it’s her way to relax. Isn’t that fine, but what does that mean for the marriage? What does that mean for the children?

You can put filters on your computers most assuredly, but even they sometimes can be circumvented. What’s happening today is that the predators are trying to stay ahead of the technology. It’s a constant battle. Be actively involved in what your kids are watching and how much time they are given to watch it. Create an environment conducive to upright behavior.

I look at my own heart and I am terrified to think what could have happened to me if I had been brought up in today’s world, with all of its temptations and pressures and its opportunities to sin.

Number nine is to walk the fine line between grace and law. There are some men that are totally all law. They say, “We have rules in this home and you’d better obey those rules.” I have seen parents cause their children to be angry when the Bible says, “Fathers do not provoke your children to anger.” Because of the excessive and special control of their children they think, “I am going to shape you into something that I wasn’t and here I am to do it!” This is especially true of parents who have been abused. Then the children rebel against their parents.

Have rules and insist that those rules be kept. But always make sure there is abundant grace. Take circumstances into account and use discretion. Have an open atmosphere where children can ask questions about sexual matters or what is happening in school, and they can ask those questions without being condemned. So often children complain because they feel they can’t talk to mom and dad. Mom and dad know in advance what the children are going to say and mom and dad have an answer instead of mom and dad connecting with the feelings and the pains and the hurts of their children.

Number ten is to teach your children wisdom. It’s popular to say, “Take your boys to ball games and football games and bond with them.” That is a wonderful idea! But that’s not the end of it. Take them through the book of Proverbs. I am not saying you should hammer them with the Bible. That is an extreme that kids rebel against also. But it says in the book of Proverbs, chapter one, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Teach them wisdom.

You go through the book of Proverbs and you have wisdom regarding all kinds of things, like the kind of friends they should choose. In chapter one, verse ten it says, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, ‘Come with us and let us lie in wait for blood,’” like the kinds of crimes that some kids are committing today, “‘do not go with them.’”

How do you choose your friends at school? That’s the kind of wisdom we have to pass on, or the warning regarding sexual sins and the way in which children should watch their words. There are dozens of verses in the book of Proverbs about that. There are also verses about money management. Teaching your child wisdom means that you are teaching them how to live in this world and all those different areas from a biblical point of view.

Commandment number eleven is to teach them personal accountability. This is actually the passage that I had intended to preach the entire sermon on, so I am going to give you a summary of it. It is found in the eighteenth chapter in the book of Ezekiel. If you have your Bible today and haven’t yet turned to any of these passages that I have so hurriedly referred to, the eighteenth chapter of the book of Ezekiel is fascinating.

There are people who write me letters, and I have received a number of them since this series began, who have said something like this: “What about the sins of the fathers? They say, “My father was an alcoholic,” or “My father was promiscuous. Does that mean I am somehow boxed in because the sins of the fathers are passed on to the generations? To what extent can I break out of my family mold?”

That’s a very good question. God very clearly says in the eighteenth chapter of the book of Ezekiel that everyone is going to be responsible for themselves. He gives three scenarios that I will very quickly outline.

Scenario number one is when you have a righteous father but a violent son. This is a righteous father who is described in the preceding verses. It says in verse ten, “Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things,” etc. etc. Now we are going to skip all the way to verse thirteen. “He has done these abominations and shall surely die and his blood shall be upon himself.” Boy, it is time to pause on that one.

What God is saying is that you sometimes have righteous fathers who produce violent sons. What parents say to themselves as they look at their child who has not followed God is, “What did we do wrong?” Sometimes the answer is, “Nothing!” It is possible to have righteous, Godly parents and unbelieving, violent children. That is what the text says.

Some parents need to be liberated from the false guilt that comes when they believe that their adult children are a barometer of their own parenting. We have to be able to judge parents by what they did and their response rather than by the way in which their children turned out. It says in the Old Testament that Samuel, who walked with God had children who, “Walked not in his ways but turned to immorality.” Scenario number one is that each person is going to be held accountable.

Second, there is another scenario found in verse fourteen. We are now talking about the violent son and he says, “What if he fathers a son who sees all the father has done, he sees and does not do likewise, he does the righteous things.” Verse seventeen says, “He obeys my rules and walks in my statutes. He shall not die for his father’s iniquities; he shall surely live.”

Those of you who have had bad parenting, those of you who have had violent fathers or an alcoholic father or anything else, the simple truth of scripture is that you can live differently. You do not have to live the way your father lived. In fact the text says, “You see the sins of your father and you turn against it and say, ‘I am going to live a righteous life.’” This is another scenario.

What is the summary of all this? Verse twenty says, “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor shall the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.”

There is individual judgment. You will not be able to stand before God on the Day of Judgment and say, “The way I acted as an adult is my parents fault.” Now your parents, if they abused you, they will be judged also by God. But the fact is that we have radical, individual responsibility.

There is one other scenario in the text that I will point out and it is this: a wicked man can change his ways and God forgives him. You’ll notice it says in verse twenty-one, “But if a wicked man turns away from all of the sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall live; he shall not die.” God says, “If you are living today in an unbiblical, sinful lifestyle, if you turn from your sins God will bless you and you will live.”

We have individual responsibility and radical accountability before God. We have to teach our children that. There comes a time when our children are old enough and we need to share our hearts with them, give them a warning and then after that simply say, “But the responsibility rests on your shoulders. You are personally responsible before God for the direction that you take.” You can control your children when they are young but you cannot control them when they become older. They become accountable for their actions.

Number twelve is to understand the need for personal conversion. The Bible says in John chapter three, verse six, “Jesus said, ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh, but that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.’” We’ve all been born of the flesh. That is how we get here on planet earth. But not all who are listening to this message have been born of the Spirit.

What your child needs to do is to be converted by God. The following scenario often happens in a Christian home. A child grows up and he hears the Gospel and prays a prayer to have Jesus come into his heart. Afterwards he begins to doubt his salvation and his parents say, “No, no, no. You accepted Jesus when you were five or six years old.” The child has no assurance of faith. It is a mistake on the part of parents to give assurance to a child, lest it is a false assurance.

Not everybody who prays a prayer is saved. You can pray a prayer, but that prayer is not necessarily an expression of a heart that is transferring its trust to Jesus because it realizes that without Jesus there is judgment. It is possible especially with children to get them to pray the right prayer and to say the right words, but they have no conviction of sin. They have no sense of their need before God so they do what everybody else does. They pray to accept Jesus, especially because mom and dad want them to.

We as parents have the responsibility of explaining the Gospel to our children and to help them understand that Jesus died for them and to teach them about sin. I think I commented on this in one of the previous commandments, to teach them about their conscience. But we can’t convert them. Nobody can cause a child to be saved. Only God can do that and God works in their hearts to bring it about. We really need to depend on God and not our ability to get them to pray a prayer, however important that might be at a very special moment.

So I have to ask you today as an adult, are you converted? When we are converted, the blessed Holy Spirit of God does a work in us. There is something in us that wasn’t there before our conversion. What is in us now has been created by God with a whole new set of desires. We now desire God.

I was fourteen years old out on the farm and I was struggling with assurance of salvation. I was brought up in a Christian home, but at the age of fourteen I finally prayed with my parents and they told me to receive Christ by faith after days of feeling convicted by sin. I really marvel now when I look back because the sins of which I was convicted in the minds of many would be very, very trivial. But nothing is trivial when you are confronted by a holy God.

After that I came to full assurance of faith and I remember I woke up the next morning saying to myself, “I know God.” God’s presence was so real. Suddenly I began to have a hunger for the Word of God. I began to read the Bible and memorize the Bible. That is birthed in us by the Holy Spirit.

No parent can change his child’s desire toward God. God does the changing. We can only expose them to the truth and trust that they will personally come to faith in Jesus Christ. Understand the need for personal conversion. Apart from that, where do children go in today’s world?

Number thirteen is to make God the center of your whole life. Sometimes I have heard people say, and maybe I’ve said it too, “You know we should have a hierarchy. God is at the top, that’s my most important relationship, then my family, then my vocation, then entertainment or whatever.”

You know that is really nice to say, but that makes no sense to me. Let’s suppose that your vocation is forty or fifty hours a week. You can’t give God that much time. You can’t be reading your Bible and praying fifty hours a week. You can’t be giving your family equal amounts of time. There are only 168 hours a week!

What you have to do is think about bringing God in the center of everything. God is in my vocation. When I am working those fifty hours I am working for God. Don’t ever work for your boss. Number one, he’s hard to get along with. Number two, you aren’t getting paid enough. Number three, after you do something wonderful he will give somebody else the credit! Don’t work for him. Don’t do that because it will drive you crazy.

I think that’s what it meant in Deuteronomy chapter six when it says, ”Talk of these things when you sit in your house, when you walk along the way, when you are going to the field, when you come back and when you go to bed.” It doesn’t mean be constantly lecturing your children about God. It just means you need to show your children how to incorporate God in all that they do so that God becomes the centrifugal force of all your activities. Then what will happen is that the kids will pick up on that.

And may I include under point thirteen, pray, pray, pray, and pray! Never before have children and grandchildren needed so much prayer. We live in an age where temptations are absolutely everywhere, where the world is pushing in upon us and sometimes we feel so helpless and so alone that we don’t know where to turn. Keep turning to God and praying and praying and yielding and submitting and worshiping. We are expecting miracles in our families. If our kids are going to walk in His ways, we are expecting miracles in our families that only God can bring about.

Sometimes there are those that look at my parents who have raised five children and say, “Isn’t that so wonderful that your children are walking with God.” You ask them sometime and they will say, “It is entirely a God thing.” You do your part, but at the end of the day only God can make our children have such a passion for Jesus that it is greater than their passion to sin. Only God can bring about that kind of passion.

Commandment number fourteen: be there for your children in joy, in sorrow, when they encourage you and when they disappoint you. Hang in! I’m ending today by reading a letter that was written by a young woman to her father. This young woman publishes articles in a newspaper and this is her article. She actually published the letter that she wrote to her dad. I know her dad very well, though I do not know her. This is a letter that is worthy of our attention.

She writes, “When a child runs away from its home because it has brutal parents it is excused. But when the child leaves an attentive mother and an affectionate father, what shall we say? If the sheep quits a barren field to seek after needed pasture, who shall blame it? But if it leaves the green pastures and forsakes the still waters to roam over the arid sand or to go bleating in the forest among the wolves in the midst of danger, how foolish a creature does it prove itself to be?”

Now she tells her story. “When I was a teenager I made a very grave mistake. I ran away from home. Not like most rebellious kids run away from home, with a night at a friend’s house or a bag of clothes set on the porch. I really ran away. For nearly three months no one knew where I was.” In fact, I remember meeting with her father when he didn’t know where she was. In tears he and his wife were praying.

She continues, “No one knew where I was and many had even given me up for dead and with what I saw and did I certainly could have been. But, God is merciful and gracious. I did not run away because I was treated badly. In fact, I was pretty spoiled. I was not abused or neglected in any way. In fact, I was constantly nurtured and encouraged in all areas of my life. But I guess that in my radical teenage mind I thought that the few simple rules that I had been given were barring me from freedom and keeping me from really seeing the world. But when things got so bad that my life seemed to be in danger and there was no longer fun in sin I called home.”

“Nearly thirty years later I can still remember my fathers loving response. I called them collect from a thousand miles away, sobbing at the other end of the line. He did not ask me to tell him the bad things I had done. He did not ask me where I was at or even if I was ready to come home. The first thing he asked was, ‘What can we do to help you?’ Many of us would not have received such a merciful response from our earthly parents. In fact, I must admit that as a parent now myself I’m not sure I could give it.”

“The Bible however uses the parable of the Prodigal Son to illustrate that this mercy and even more is exactly what our Heavenly Father has for any of us who are ready to come back home. The Prodigal Son’s father loaded him with blessings yet he still chose to leave his father’s house and journey into a far country. He wasted the things his father gave him on riotous living. Still, it was only when he reached a low point, once his substance was gone and he was wallowing with the pigs and he could no longer even find food to eat, only then was he ready to come home.”

“But the best part is that no matter how low we’ve fallen or where we’re at or what we’ve done, our Father not only welcomes us, but He, like the prodigal’s father comes to meet us. In the account of the prodigal it says that, ‘When he was yet a great way off his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.’”

Notice in passing these are now my comments. The father did not send a delegation to try to find his wayward son. There comes a time of personal responsibility where adult children just need to find their own way and learn life’s lessons the hard, disastrous way. Even if you’ve wasted all that He’s given you, he wants to bless you again. The prodigal said to his father, ‘“Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and in thy sight. I am no longer worthy to be called thy son.” But the father said to his servants, “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him, put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. Bring hither the fatted calf and kill it. Let us eat and be merry. For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”’

And now the concluding paragraph of her letter is my heart to you today no matter where you might be listening to this message. “It’s not too late and you’re not too far away. As soon as you make up your mind to come home the Father will be there to meet you. Angels will celebrate your return and your Father longs to welcome you home.”

That is certainly true of our Heavenly Father who longs to welcome you home. That is the starting point for some of you in your relationship with God because you have never felt the warmth of the Father’s home, the love of his forgiveness and the blessedness of trusting his Son who died to redeem us. That ultimately is the only message that can help us in a culture that is falling apart. At the end of the day it’s the Father and his Son who welcome us back home.

Would you join me as we pray? “Our Father, in this world with all of its temptations, right now in this prayer I am thinking of people who have fallen into all kinds of sins that nobody knows about that they are trying to keep from others. Already sometimes young lives are scarred by the temptations that sin has brought about. We come to you in our need, but we come to you believing that you have a heart for us. Some who are in the far country eating out of the pig troughs need to come home. Others need to be reconciled with their children. Fathers need to humble themselves and ask their children to forgive them. Mothers need to repent of the hatred they have toward children who were begotten in a defiled bed. We pray today that the love of Christ and the strength of Christ might be upon us.”

Before I close this prayer, how many of you would say today, “Pastor Lutzer I know as a result of this series of messages I have a decision to make and by God’s grace I am going to make it?” Would you raise your hands please? I do see some hands going up. You have a decision to make and with God’s help you are going to make it. “Father, for all those who have raised their hands and those who have not but should, grant us much grace we ask, in Jesus name, Amen.”

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