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Teach the Children

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NIV)

The Hebrew word hear in this scripture is the word shema. It means "hear" in the sense of "listen up". Pay attention. Don't miss this. This text came to be known as the shema to Israel. It contains some of the core teachings God's people are to understand and believe.

The Lord is one. In a culture marked by polytheism, Israel is called to claim one God. The only true God. The living God. Only Christians, Jews and Muslims have claimed this central truth that there is only one true, living God.

Love the Lord your God. This one, true, living God is all about relationship, not just a religion of making sacrifices and obeying commandments. Everything we do in our lives can and must flow from our love for God if we are to please and honor Him. Jesus named this shema understanding as the greatest commandment of God, and added a second, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Mark 12: 29-31) Love for God expresses itself in love for others. Love for others is the simple, consistent outcome of loving God.

These commandments I give you today are to be on your hearts. They are not just propositions to believe in our minds. They are living, breathing principles that are part of our deepest, truest self. It's who we are and who we are becoming that determines how we act and what our moral, religious life looks like. Legalistic adherence to commandments leads to judgmental superiority over others. Loving God with everything leads to loving others well.

Impress them on your children. There it is. Teach the children. Teach your children. The main responsibility to teach my children and grandchildren about God lies with me, not with school or church or Sunday School. Learning to love and follow Jesus begins in our homes.

The first and most important strategy in raising children who love God and live moral, honorable lives is not taking them to church and handing them off to a Sunday School teacher or Children's Pastor. It is living out real faith in our own lives. Because like it or not, the children are watching and they imitate what they see in the most significant adults in their world - their parents.

If we believe the scriptures deeply enough to live by them, our children will come to believe them for themselves. If we love God and honor Him in our relationships, our children will follow our example. If we are people of prayer, our children will not only learn to pray and how to pray, they will come to know and understand the value of being a praying person. If we read and study the Bible, both for ourselves and with them, they will catch the hunger to know the Word of God well and live by its precepts.

And sadly, the opposite is true. If we act all religious at church and then lie and cheat and swear and get drunk all week, they will see that faith is actually not real enough in our lives to affect our living. If we elevate our desires for that dream house and the newest, nicest car (or truck) and all the stuff we want over tithing and giving to others and missions, they will see the real priorities of our lives and imitate them. If we treat prayer like a cosmic 9-1-1 call, only calling on God when there is an emergency and we are desperate, they will develop a Deistic concept of God: that He is out there somewhere watching, but not really involved in our lives unless we need a miracle.

Truth is: Christianity is caught more than it is taught. Following Jesus as a disciple is apprenticeship more than it is an academic exercise in learning truths. And God's love - real love - unconditional, sacrificial love is contagious. We were created for love. We are wired to find our deepest selves and highest purpose in loving relationships.

We love because Jesus first loved us and laid down His life to redeem us from sin and death. We owe Jesus everything, and the one thing He asks of us is to love Him back. He knows if we love Him well and His real love saturates our lives, then we will naturally and automatically love others and keep God's commands.

The children are watching. Whatever children you have in your life need one thing from you: Love God so that He and His commands are in your heart. Your kids and grandkids need this the most. The kids down the block will be blessed to have a neighbor who loves them well instead of yelling at them to get out of his yard. The children at church will know God is love when they experience love from the whole body of Christ through every one of us.

God's love is contagious. Our children will catch it and it will make them well and whole. Let's teach the children to know and love Jesus. Hear, O Israel. Listen up, church. Don't miss this. It is the main thing we have to be and do. And we all know: The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing...


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