Today, I’m double dipping, in a way. I’ve promised that Fridays would bring a devotional thought from the Lutheran Confessions. And today’s devotional thought will keep that promise; but it will also speak directly to the Christian family, and I pray the Holy Spirit would use it to encourage all of us in the Way of Christ.
6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
At the beginning of each section of the Small Catechism, Martin Luther includes this phrase: As the Head of the Family Should Teach Them in a Simple Way to His Household.
In the name of + Jesus.
Parents (and grandparents) do much for their children, there is no denying that. They get up early, they work long hours, they prepare meals, they repair the house, they discipline, they console, they explain. They load them into the mini-van and drop them off at school, or at piano lessons, or at soccer practice, or to go hang out with friends. They spend their money on school clothes, and sports gear, and entertainment, and food, and even more food. Parents do so much for their children that it would be impossible to list everything that is done by parents for the sake of their children. I’m afraid, however, that in many of our homes, the most important thing parents (and grandparents) could ever do for their children is being lost.
Amidst the busyness of our modern-day schedules, and with many homes having mom and dad both working full time (or with only one parents in the home), and with the pressures of society to have our children participating in sports, and music, and scouts, and whatever else “everyone else is doing,” even Christian parents find it difficult to squeeze into their busy schedules the most important thing that they could ever do for their children.
I know this, because it happens to me, too. You see, pastors and their families aren’t immune from these temptations. Pastors are Called and Ordained servants of the Word, but if the Lord has blessed a pastor and his wife with children, that never-ending list of things which parents do for their children applies to them as well. He got up early to make breakfast for the kids, and then took them to school. And since he’s spent the day studying Matthew for a Bible Class, and translating John in preparation for Sunday’s sermon, and coming up with a creative way to teach the Small Catechism for those confirmation kids, and delivering Holy Communion to a shut-in, and sitting with a grieving family who has lost a loved one, and writing up a report for that night’s board meeting, and reading a passage of Scripture to one of God’s children in the congregation who is hurting, when he gets home for dinner, he’s tired. And since he has 45 minutes before he has to head back to church for that night’s meeting, you can imagine, that lighting the candles on the family altar and opening the Bible and the hymnal for family devotions when the kiddos don’t look like they’re in the mood to sit much longer, is not what he is most desiring to do.
But even pastors are fathers; and their wives are mothers. And that means they’re just like you. That means that, just like you, there is one thing that our children need from us more than any other. More than any other thing that we can do for them—yes, even more than food on the table, and clothes on their bodies—our children need from us to give to them the faith.
You might think I’m talking about parents bringing their children to church, or making sure their little ones are in Sunday School. I’m not. Those issues are related, to be sure, but there’s something even more basic about what parents can do for their children.
You see, that passage above from Deuteronomy wasn’t written to priests, or to pastors. It was written for parents—fathers, specifically. And in that passage the LORD calls a father to be sure that the first thing he is giving to his children, is the Word of God. And what about mothers? Well, mothers in households where the father is making sure to give his children the Word of God, will serve as the partner she was created by God to be. But unlike piano lessons, and dance class, and chaperoning the weekend trip with the boy/girl scouts, teaching the faith to your children by giving them the Word of God is not something to be delegated to others.
All around us, we lament the breakdown in society, and all the while, the Word of God is heard in the home less and less (again, attendance in Church is for another day). We say that we trust in God, and that we believe His Word, and that we want our children to stay in the church when they’re older, but then our schedules reflect that we would rather give them many other things before we give them the most important thing.
So what are we to do? Our jobs aren’t going to lighten up, and our children won’t need any less of us? What is the solution, if we actually do desire to be doing what the Lord has called us to do as parents?
Well, first of all, repent. It’s okay, that’s not a dirty word. Simply repent. Confess that you’re not a perfect parent. Confess that you haven’t been the best father, or the best mother, or even come close. Confess that you’ve allowed many things to squeeze out God’s Word from your home. Confess that you need Christ’s forgiveness.
And know, that you have been forgiven already. Jesus died two thousand years ago, and paid the price even for the sins we commit as parents. And because he rose on Easter, we know that the Father accepted that sacrifice, and that our sins are gone. Satan’s accusations are now as empty as the tomb! And that’s good news!
Ah, but there are your children. They’re not going anywhere, now are they? So live as a renewed, forgiven, father or mother. Get home tonight, and pray before dinner. When your children are going to be, grab your Small Catechism and lead them in Luther’s Evening Prayer. When you’re able to fight your fatigue, and your schedule allows you to be together, make every effort to read that day’s Bible Story after dinner, and ask your children if they have any questions. Have a commandment of the week that the whole family will learn and see which stories on the news keep that commandment, or break it. And most importantly, when your child sins against you, don’t tell them, “it doesn’t matter,” or “that’s okay,” tell them, “I forgive you, because Jesus forgives you.”
There’s no magic formula for this, and you might not even do it with a happy heart, or a joyful sprit. Like so many other things you do for your children, you will just have to do it because you know it is what they need. But I promise you that when your children start to speak the Lord’s Prayer with you, and when they begin asking questions about Jesus’ death and resurrection, or when they ask you to forgive them, there will be no lack of joy in your heart then.
Father’s that give their children the Word of God, are giving their children Jesus. It really is that simple. And when homes are filled not only with parents and children, but with the risen Lord Jesus Himself, then our homes will be beautiful, no matter how long it has been since the carpet was cleaned!
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Visit, O Lord, the homes in which Your people dwell, and keep all harm and danger far from them. Grant that we may dwell together in peace under the protection of Your holy angels, sharing eternally in Your blessings; through Jesus Christ, our Lord (LSB, p. 315).