Saturday, June 20, 2015

Father's Day sermon

Psalm 127 – Raising Godly Children in Ungodly Times

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

This is a difficult subject for a preacher to preach – at least THIS preacher – because I live in a glass house and you can see with your own eyes my many faults and shortcomings.

I will be the first to say - I am an imperfect man. I have made many mistakes. Even though I preach God’s truth, I in no wise think I have arrived.

Fact is, I struggle with the very things YOU struggle with. I stand in need of teaching and correction - just as much – if not MORE so - than you. So understand - there is not one - HINT of judgement or condemnation in what I have to say today.

We hold in our hands a marvelously relevant book. God, in His wisdom provides timeless instruction to help imperfect people build happy, healthy, and holy lives.

I BELIEVE in this book.

It HAS changed me. It shows me things about myself – how I often fall short and NEED God’s grace to become what He would have me to be.

I am SO thankful for a wife who has worked with me 29 years to raise a family on the principles and precepts of God’s Word. We have not done it perfectly. We have failed in many ways. But it has been the norm of our lives to obediently follow the instruction of this Book.

Raising Godly children in ungodly times is hard. I once naively thought all you had to do was follow a few basic steps, and VIOLA! your kids turned out perfectly. The problem is, my children are being raised by imperfect parents and live in an imperfect world. And no matter how hard THEY try, they are human and will make mistakes. They will disappoint themselves, me, and yes, even the Lord.

I know what it is to question yourself as a parent... to feel DEEPLY that you have FAILED. You are concerned for your children. You want to be the parent God would have you to be – but often you find yourself at a loss - not knowing WHAT to do.

Tony Campolo, in his book Growing up in America, said, “Today’s parents are bewildered and not quite sure how to do the job. Confused about their role, they look to experts hoping to find clear instruction – but no such luck... the ‘experts’ are just as confused as parents. Sociologists offer conflicting opinions for parents to follow. Opinions about even the most basic aspects of parenting change dramatically from one year to the next.”

Don’t be surprised by the fact that this world has no idea how to raise godly children.

But God does... and His Word has NOT changed. The Bible is our one constant – in a world of confusion and sin. God STILL speaks to the contemporary family with timeless wisdom that will help us be the parents we need to be.

Scholars believe this psalm was written by Solomon, but was not added to the Jewish hymnbook until years later when King Hezekiah, so deeply moved by its words, added it to the Hebrew Psalter. In it, the Lord offers two principles for those who would lead their family in a way that honors God:

1. First we see the Vanity of Building your Home WITHOUT the Lord in vv. 1 and 2: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved - sleep.”

Solomon knew the PRESSURE of leadership. When he was young, he didn’t have a CLUE as to the cause of his father’s gray hair. He didn’t know the burdens that come with sitting on the throne. He may have day-dreamed, “Someday, I will be king!” But NOW he knows the stress of it all. It’s not all glory and fanfare - but CRUSHING responsibility. If it wasn’t for his relationship with the Lord surely his family would suffer adverse effect. “Without the Lord,” Solomon says, “all our effort is VAIN.”

All your Working is vain without the Lord. Doubtlessly Solomon reflected on all of the construction that took place under his reign. As the House of God rose up out of the ground – the massive stones moved into place – Hiram and his craftsmen working around the clock… how over and over again the builder would consult his blueprints, painstakingly following the guidelines of God.

Never was there a richer temple – made of fragrant wood overlaid with gold, silver, and precious stones.

But Solomon had enough wisdom to see that “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”

It’s STILL true, you know? You can be the benefactor of the greatest education money can buy, you can devote yourself to success and the acquisition of wealth, you can enjoy the very best this world has to offer – but without the Lord – all your working is vain. Without GOD in His proper place in your home - without HIM ordering your priorities and determining your schedule - all your hours spent chasing "the American dream" are meaningless!

Most parents are driven by a desire to provide for their children all the things they had to do without when they were kids. We feel like BAD PARENTS if we can’t buy them all the latest gadgets and cute clothes their friends have. The DESIRE to ACQUIRE drives so many of us. But when your kids leave home and forsake the Lord, you will regret the day you built without the Lord at the center of your home.

Without the Lord, all your WATCHING is vain, as Solomon says, “Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” Maybe THIS is why this psalm meant so much to Hezekiah – for it was one of the basic responsibilities of the King to defend his people against enemy attack.

You may recall that under HIS reign Jerusalem was attacked by the notoriously ruthless people of Assyria – people who would take enemy hostages and impale them on wooden poles around the city as trophies of their military conquests. On the walls around their capital they hung the carcasses of slain generals and kings to act as a deterrent to anyone who dare attack them. It was nothing for the Assyrians to behead enemy soldiers and catapult their heads over the walls of besieged cities to destroy the WILL of their foes.

Sennacherib had stationed his host of battle-tested warriors around the city of Jerusalem - 180,000 strong - and promised a merciless thrashing of the Jews if they did not become his slaves.

Hezekiah’s watchman spent many sleepless nights with their eyes fixed on the enemy, reporting their every move to their king. But in the end, the watchmen could do nothing. Jerusalem would fall WITHOUT the help of God.

What does that have to do with us?

There are enemies that would destroy your family too. As a loving and careful parent you watch over your children. You do everything you can to protect them. You want to know their friends. You want to know where they go. You may EVEN keep track of their social media. But all that watching is vain without the Lord.

Do you hear me? There is only SO MUCH YOU can do. You can’t hold their hands 24/7 - you can’t know everything about the people with whom they associate. Solomon’s point - You can’t do this without God. Which is why you need to train them to take ownership of their faith – why you must bathe them in prayer. Without the Lord, your WATCHING is vain.

Without the Lord, not only is your WORK and WATCH in vain, so is your Worry. We worry about a lot of things, but it accomplishes nothing. Worry is like a rocking chair – it will give you something to do, but it won’t take you anywhere. Worry is a sign that we lack confidence in God.

Some of us spend a great deal of time worrying about our children. But Solomon says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to His beloved sleep.” Worry is a tyrant – once it gets the advantage it will rule your thoughts and rob your peace.

His point? You can do everything you can do and it will NEVER be enough – that’s why you need the Lord.

I wonder, friend, are you building your life ON Him? Is He the priority – the reason behind the things you do? Solomon tells us - it is vain to build your home without Him.

2. After showing us the Vanity of building your home WITHOUT the Lord, Solomon describes the Victory of Building your Home ON Him. Notice v. 3: “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”

It’s sad, some of the views people have about family and children. Too many people view kids as a burden… as hindrances to the fulfillment of their personal desires and ambitions.

But according to God, children aren’t BURDENS but BLESSINGS. Three blessings are mentioned here:

First, he refers to children as our Heritage in v. 3. When the Lord builds the home, children are our Heritage. The idea behind the word “heritage” is “heirloom.” An heirloom is something priceless to a family. It says something about WHO they ARE and WHAT they value – something precious handed down from generation to generation.

What better way to view children? Our legacy is not all the possessions we acquire - or the pleasures we enjoy – NO - our children are OUR Heritage.

THEN he refers to children as our Helpers in verse 4, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.” I am glad we have a well-trained, well-armed military. I am thankful for laser guided missiles and computer operated drones that can be directed from hundreds of miles away and hit their intended target with lethal precision.

I’m glad we have such sophisticated weaponry… because we have enemies who are ruthless - who want nothing more than to wipe us off the earth.

Solomon knew nothing of that kind of weaponry. But that doesn't mean they didn’t have their own own precision. They had men who could throw a rock with a sling as accurately and deadly as we can shoot a rifle with a scope. They had archers who could split arrows on a target. Lethal technicians... with all the training and discipline they needed to defend their nation against the enemy.

And what is true of arrows is also true of children. They are our weapons against the enemy. Children do not turn out well without training and discipline. Though all kids make mistakes, they are an extension of US just as the arrow is an extension of the archer. It is up to US to aim them right. It is up to us to shape them in such a way as to serve the Lord. It isn't likely that your child will follow Jesus and do His will if YOU aren’t living the life and providing the direction they need.

But not only does he refer to children as our helpers and our heritage, third he describes them as our happiness when he said in verse 5, “Blessed (happy) is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” There is NOTHING more gratifying than to see your kids loving and serving Jesus! Nothing.

THEN there’s grandchildren.

Someone wisely observed that “grandchildren are God’s rewards for not killing our kids!”

Do you know what a blessing it is to see your children raising THEIR children to serve the Lord??? To hear them teaching their kids the same truths you taught THEM? There's nothing better!

When I look back over the Dankson legacy, there’s not much there. Not many in my extended family are saved. Not many go to church or serve the Lord. It breaks my heart to see my brothers more concerned with making a living than making a life.

That’s the Dankson legacy – til today.  I am determined to do it differently. I am determined to raise a family that loves and serves Jesus even when times are hard. I want a home where the name of God is respected, not reviled. I want my home to be a place of love and acceptance rather than fear and regret. More than anything, I want my kids to go to heaven. I want my grandchildren learning Bible stories and singing about Jesus. I want them serving the Lord. BUT IT WILL NOT HAPPEN if I build my life without Him. Oh but the victory of building WITH Him.

Some of you might be thinking, “But it’s too late for me… my kids are grown… they have their own lives… I can’t do anything about it now.” And that’s where you are wrong. As long as you have breath it’s never too late.

Why don’t you pray, right now, “Dear Lord, help me, in spite of my weaknesses and the failures of the past to be the parent and grandparent you want me to be TODAY. Forgive me for getting caught up in the rat race, for wasting opportunities to do the things that matter... using work or fatigue as my GO TO excuses for neglecting my responsibilities.

Lord, you can “restore the years that the locusts have eaten” – help me to be the man - the woman - my family needs.” Is that YOUR prayer?