December 3, 2000

THE DEADBEAT SCROLLS

“Whoever welcomes a little child in my name welcomes me.” Mathew 18:5

An archeologist digging in northern Israel has unearthed some scrolls that offer new insight into how Jesus was raised.

According to these scrolls, when Jesus’ mother Mary first heard she was pregnant, she was unhappy. It’s not that she felt any embarrassment about being unmarried and pregnant. The problem was that her career was just taking off. She hadn’t planned this pregnancy, and a baby might get in the way of her next promotion.

Mary’s doctor suggested an abortion. That didn’t sound like a bad option to Mary, but after thinking about it, she figured it might be nice to have a baby, after all. According to the newly discovered scrolls, Mary then talked it over with Joseph. They decided not to get married but simply to move in together and have the baby. They both figured they could find a way to deal with the baby without losing their careers.

The scrolls go on to say that when the baby was born, Mary took a six-week maternity leave. Then she went back to work full time at her exciting and fulfilling job as a software developer with Nazareth Networking. She found a day-care center for baby Jesus that looked fairly decent and didn’t cost too much.

When the boy was two, Mary and Joseph decided that living together had been working out quite well, so they got married. A year or so later, Joseph decided that building cabinets in Nazareth wasn’t bringing in as much money as he’d like. He could make more money as a regional distributor in Caesarea. That was a long commute, however, so Joseph worked in Caesarea from Monday to Friday and spent weekends in Nazareth with Jesus and Mary.

Jesus made it through day care and pre-school. He was especially cut when he sometimes called his caretaker “mommy.” When he was six, his parents had to choose a school for him. They decided to check out the school in their district that was run by the Roman government. Tuition was free–it was paid for by taxes–and the school had a solid reputation.

According to the recently discovered scrolls, Mary and Joseph were a little uneasy with the fact that teachers at the school weren’t allowed to speak of any religion except emperor worship, but it didn’t bother them too much. The kindergarten room was beautifully decorated; the school had a good athletic program; and this was one Roman school where most students did well on standardized tests. On top of all that, the school provided free breakfast and lunch for students, to make life easier for working parents like Mary and Joseph. And so Jesus’ parents decided to send him to Caesar Augustus Public School.

Of course, they didn’t want to neglect the boy’s religious instruction completely. So each Sabbath morning, while Joseph got ready for his weekly golf outing, Mary made sure to drop Jesus off at the synagogue for Sabbath school so that he could spend an hour or so learning about the God of Israel. His parents wanted to expose him to their own religious heritage, but they didn’t want to force anything on him. They decided to leave it up to Jesus whether he should worship the emperor of Rome or the God of the Scriptures.

Well, by now you know I’ve made all of this up, and there aren’t any scrolls like this. If there were, they wouldn’t be the Dead Sea Scrolls; they’d be the Deadbeat Scrolls.    Joseph and Mary were godly people. Though they were poor, they gave Jesus much attention and a solid home. But although Joseph and Mary treated Jesus well, many parents at this very moment are treating Jesus in exactly the way described in my fictional Deadbeat Scrolls.

Welcoming a Child

You may wonder why I say parents are treating Jesus this way. Well, Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes a little child in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:5-6). Jesus takes personally the way we deal with children.

What would you think if Mary considered it more fulfilling to program computers than to nurture the Son of God, or if Joseph neglected his family just so he could get richer, or if people entrusted with God’s child sent him to a school which ignored the true God and made the government the highest object of adoration? Well, that’s exactly what’s happening to many children in our society–children with whom Jesus identifies.

I don’t have all the answers for raising children in today’s world. But one thing I’m sure of: God expects us parents to do far more in training our children than most of us are doing. Many families are missing out on so much that could be ours if only we would follow God’s pattern in the Bible instead of the Deadbeat Scroll approach of so many families.

Every parent should feel something of the wonder and responsibility Joseph must have felt when the baby Jesus become part of his family. After all, Jesus himself says, “Whoever welcomes a little child in my name welcomes me.” If Jesus takes our treatment of children so personally, then those of us who are parents should be especially eager to rear our children right.

[Prayerful, godly parents can be used by God as a mighty force for good in the lives of their children. Proverbs 6:20-23 is a passage of the Bible which gives a splendid description of how a child can benefit from good parents: “My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life.”] Let’s explore some basic facts about parenting.

Parenting is Necessary

Let’s begin with something so obvious that I hesitate even to say it–but I’ll say it anyway: parenting is necessary.

Author Mary Pride imagines a news flash that says, “Today in Notsogood Samaritan Hospital, a most unusual birth was recorded. Ms. Keepie Bizzy gave birth to a child who was 18 years old. Discussing this unprecedented event with reporters, Ms. Bizzy said, ‘I think it will become the trend of the future. What woman wouldn’t prefer a baby who was already toilet-trained and who could hold down a job instead of keeping you away from one?’ According to eyewitnesses, young John Bizzy emerged from his mother fully clothed in a business suit; and after smiling at the camera he picked up a waiting briefcase (thoughtfully provided by the proud father) and headed out to work.”

That’s not how it works, is it? Children don’t pop into the world full-grown and skilled, wise and virtuous, ready and able to take care of themselves. They need to be cleaned and clothed and fed; they need to be hugged and loved and nurtured; they need to be taught and instructed and disciplined. They can’t do this on their own. Somebody else has to do it for them. And this means that parenting is necessary.

Parenting is for Parents

The next point ought to be just as obvious: parenting is for parents. Who does the writer of Proverbs urge the child to listen to? His father and mother–his parents! Parenting is for parents! That ought to be obvious, but lately more and more of us seem to think that parenting is for anybody but the parents.

One of the leading candidates to replace father and mother in parenting is the government. Here’s a direct quote from John Swett, a pioneer in the California public school system: “The property of the State should be used to educate the children of the State… Children arrived at the age of maturity belong, not to the parents, but to the state, to society, to the country.” Did you catch that? Money doesn’t belong to parents; it’s the property of the government, to be taxed as the government wishes. And children don’t belong to parents; they are children of the government, to be trained as the government wishes.

Have you ever noticed that the age at which children leave their parents keeps getting earlier and earlier? First there were laws for mandatory schooling. Later, first grade wasn’t early enough for children to leave their parents, so kindergarten was introduced. Then came pre-school and pre-pre-school and daycare for babies.

Parents are handing their children over to others earlier and earlier in life, and not just for a few hours each day. More and more schools provide supervision of children before and after school hours, and there’s also talk about having children in school and away from their parents even more days of every year.

George Orwell’s book 1984 envisioned a nasty government run by a brutal figure called Big Brother. But what we’re ending up with isn’t Big Brother. It’s Big Mother (to borrow a phrase from Mary Pride). It’s not nasty government; it’s nurturing government. People’s minds aren’t controlled by cruel government dictators but by motherly government educators.

This isn’t just the handiwork of a few government officials. In a free society, the government usually does what most people want. Many mothers and fathers want to pursue their own interests and would just as soon get their children off their hands for most of the day, so they’re thrilled if Big Mother will take care of their children for them. Ironically, even many people who rail against things like welfare dependency don’t seem to realize how much they themselves have come to depend on motherly government to feed and care for and shape the minds of their children.

Once this becomes the mainstream approach, it means that even if you’d rather not hand children over to Big Mother, you may end up doing so anyway. Why? Because Big Mother always sends you a bill, whether you use her child-rearing services or not. Every new government program for children means higher taxes for parents. Higher taxes mean that in some families, both parents become wage earners in order for their after-tax income to be enough to live on. Higher taxes also leave you as parents with less money to provide education of your own choosing. Since you’ve already paid Big Mother anyway through your taxes, you tend to figure you might as well get your money’s worth and let Big Mother train the children for you.

Somewhere in all this, we need to ask: “Is parenting really for parents? Or must we leave it to government employees and hired experts?” One government lawmaker told of a lobbyist who was urging him to support a bill that would provide lunches for pre-schoolers. He asked the lobbyist, “Why not just expect the parents to pack them a bag lunch?” The lobbyist replied that parents probably wouldn’t know what to pack, and he added that he didn’t think parents are qualified to raise their children and that the government should take care of such things.

Now, I’m not anti-government. I know on the basis of the Bible that government has legitimate functions–but raising everyone’s children from cradle to grave isn’t among them. Parenting is for parents. This isn’t a matter for political debate; it’s a matter of biblical principle.

Parenting is a Privilege

My next point is this: parenting is a privilege. Why is it a privilege? Well, for one thing, it’s a privilege because it is so important. Nobody wants to feel insignificant or useless, so it’s a privilege to do something important. Maybe you’ve been taught to think that the place to really find yourself and be somebody is in a career and that child-rearing will keep you from your full potential. But that’s nonsense. Sure, some careers are important. But what could be more important than bringing a new life into being and helping to shape an eternal soul? Parenting is a privilege because it is so significant.

It’s also a privilege because it is so rewarding. What’s better than seeing the love in a child’s eyes? What’s more thrilling than to see a child’s abilities and personality develop and grow strong? What brings more joy than seeing a soul flourish in the knowledge of God?

Unfortunately, when we don’t understand parent power and when we neglect our children for other goals, we miss out on these rewards and we end up reaping a bitter harvest. Listen to what one woman writes: “I am sure my main motivation [for staying at home with the children] was that my mother was liberated long before it became fashionable. Everyone marveled at how she could handle job, home, committees, hobbies, etc. Everyone, that is, except her children who were just in the way… My mother is now a lonely old lady who can’t understand why we don’t come to visit more often. Shucks, I don’t even know her!” In Proverbs 14:1 the Bible says, “The wise woman builds her own house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.”

Now, contrast that with what the Bible says about a woman of noble character. Proverbs 31 says, “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed” (Proverbs 31:26-28).

Parents who are a blessing to their children will have children who bless them, while parents who care more about themselves than their children may end up wondering why their children don’t care about them. This is as true of fathers as it is of mothers. Proverbs says, “He who brings trouble on his family will inherit only wind” (Proverbs 11:29). It also says, “The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him” (Proverbs 23:24). So, then, it’s clear from God’s Word and from experience that parenting is a privilege that is very important and very rewarding.

Parenting Means Involvement

Now for the next point: parenting means involvement. So-called experts in parenting sometimes talk about quality time. They say it doesn’t matter how little time you spend with your children, as long as it’s quality time. Well, quality time is fine, as long as there’s plenty of it! Quality time is no substitute for quantity time.

Why? For one thing, spending time with a child shows them you care. A great many children spell love T-I-M-E. What’s another reason quantity time so important? Because it takes more than just a moment here or there to teach children God’s ways. Does the Bible say, “Spend a little quality time with your kids”? No, Deuteronomy 6:7 says, “Impress [God’s ways] 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.” That time in God’s word is quality time, but it’s also quantity time.

Every father is responsible to lead his family and set a pattern for daily family worship. The father, supported by the mother, must establish a time each day to read the Bible as a family, to encourage each other, and to pray together. This pattern has marked godly homes for centuries, and lack of family worship has usually marked a lack of devotion to God and a weakening of family ties. Parents must also have their own personal time with God, and they must help their children to spend personal, private time with God. Throughout each day there should be plenty of spiritual conversation between parents and children. Having a special time each day set apart for family worship is the starting point for living every moment in light of God’s Word and using every opportunity to instruct our children.

Fathers and mothers, spend time with your children, lots of it. And when you’re not with your children, take responsibility to make sure that your children are with people who teach and reinforce the ways of God. Either provide their full education at home, through homeschooling, or else seek out a parent-controlled Christian school. Government schools officially ignore God. That is no way to train a child. If your children read books or watch TV, then make sure the content builds godly belief and character rather than tearing it down. If the children are allowed to be with friends, then make sure that the friendships are healthy ones. Parenting means involvement! It means you take responsibility for everything that’s happening in every aspect of your children’s lives.

Parenting is Taking Charge

A final fact about good parenting is that it involves taking charge, using your authority to shape your children into godly people. According to Proverbs 6, this includes at least three aspects: “commands,” “teaching,” and “discipline.”

First, “commands.” Godly parents give rules for behavior– not just any rules, but rules based on the commands of God.

Second, “teaching.” Godly parents teach biblical stories and principles that ground children in God’s truth so that children see all of life in the light of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Third, “discipline.” Godly parents use the “corrections of discipline” to shape godly character in children. Parental authority is wimpy and empty if it’s all talk and no discipline. Discipline shows you mean what you say. Proper discipline encourages what is good and punishes what is bad. Discipline steers children away from sinful, selfish, harmful ways and steers them toward the upright, loving, life-giving way of God and makes them delightful persons. Proverbs 29:17 says, “Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.”

Deadbeat or Life Shaper?

What’s your response to all this? Will you do what God says in the Bible? Or do you prefer the Deadbeat Scrolls?

If you’re a dad or mom but you’ve been more of a deadbeat than a life shaper for you children, you need to change. If you’re not a Christian at all, deal with first things first. Seek a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You can’t give your children what you haven’t got yourself. Trust Jesus to forgive your sins for the sake of his death and to give you eternal life through his resurrection power. Commit yourself to studying the Bible, living by it, and shaping your children with God’s Word. If you know Jesus but you’ve been neglecting what God says about parenting, ask God to forgive your failure, and seek his help to become the parent your children need. Be as devoted to helping that child as if you were helping the child Jesus himself.

If you’re a Christian father or mother and you’ve been seeking to do things God’s way, then be encouraged. One of my favorite verses as a Christian father is Proverbs 14:26, which says, “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.” If you have faith in Jesus as your own Savior and Lord, then you faith is your fortress, and it will be your children’s refuge as well.

Now, if you’re a young person, you may be thinking to yourself, “My parents sure aren’t like that.” Well, if your parents haven’t been training you the way they should, then they’ve made a terrible mistake and they are responsible for that. But don’t repeat their mistake. Honor and love your parents, but seek to do better yourself. Don’t use their failure as an excuse for your own failures. Instead, get to know Jesus for yourself. Ask him to make you a better parent to your children than your parents have been to you. Don’t grow up to be a deadbeat yourself. Be a life shaper in Jesus’ name.

As for those of you who have been blessed with mothers and fathers who have been godly life shapers, thank God for your parents. Draw strength from the way they’ve reared you. Let your godly parents be the people who are your main influence in life. Don’t let the phony promises of gangs and advertisers and movies and music and drug dealers and sexual tempters and cult teachers mislead you. Don’t let anything pull you away from the sound way of life you learned from godly parents. As the Bible says, “Keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching… For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life.”

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.