Thursday, March 22, 2007

Children: God's Gift, Our Responsibility

Text: Psalms 127:3-5; Luke 2: 39-40; 52

Children are God’s gift to us. It is our responsibility to ensure their healthy mental, physical, spiritual and social growth.

1. Introduction

I have been privileged to be working with children for more than 20 years of my professional life. I love children. Children are not easy to work with. They have ‘pee’ on me, ‘dodo’ on me, vomited on me, wiped their dirty hands on me and even bitten me. But somehow, they also like me. When they come to my clinic, they like to give me hugs and kisses, share the sweets in their mouth with me and one even offered me her baby brother. Children are a joy and a blessing. This evening, we shall consider children as God’s gift and our responsibility to this gift that God has given us.

2. Children: God’s Gift

Psalm 127
1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labour in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
3 Sons are a heritage from the LORD,
children a reward from him.
4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are sons born in one’s youth.
5 Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

3 Children are a gift from the Lord;
they are a reward from him.
4 Children born to a young man
are like sharp arrows in a warrior’s hands.
5 How happy is the man whose quiver is full of them!
He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates.

Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift?
the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
Like a warrior’s fistful of arrows
are the children of a vigorous youth.
Oh, how blessed are you parents, with your quiver full of children!
Your enemies don’t stand a chance against you;
you’ll sweep them right off your doorstep.
(The Message)

Contrary to popular belief, it is not easy to produce children. It is always a miracle when a child is born. From the time of conception when a sperm fertilised an ovum to the time when the fertilised ovum is implanted in the uterus to the development of a newborn, hundreds of things can go wrong. 60% of fertilised ovum are aborted spontaneously – due to abnormality of the fertilised egg, or failure to reach the uterus, failure to implant in the uterus and failure of the uterus to sustain growth. And during the process of growth in the uterus, the fetus is susceptible to infections, changes in the mother’s health, mother smoking or taking drugs, and maternal diseases like hypertension. Thus it is a miracle everything a baby is born. Life is so precious.

3. Children: Our Responsibility

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.
52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

3.1 The Parents

3.1.1 Joseph
The foster-father of our Lord (Matt. 1:16; Luke 3:23). He lived at Nazareth in Galilee (Luke 2:4). He is called a “just man.” He was by trade a carpenter (Matt. 13:55). He is last mentioned in connection with the journey to Jerusalem, when Jesus was twelve years old. It is probable that he died before Jesus entered on his public ministry. This is concluded from the fact that Mary only was present at the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee. His name does not appear in connection with the scenes of the crucifixion along with that of Mary (q.v.), John 19:25.
At 5 years old, children began to learn the duties of life under the care of their fathers (Deu.6:20-25; 11:19). Joseph would have begun to teach Jesus at 5 years old.

3.1.2 Mary
Hebrew Miriam. The wife of Joseph, the mother of Jesus, called the “Virgin Mary,” though never so designated in Scripture (Matt. 2:11; Acts 1:14). Little is known of her personal history. Her genealogy is given in Luke 3. She was of the tribe of Judah and the lineage of David (Ps. 132:11; Luke 1:32). She was connected by marriage with Elisabeth, who was of the lineage of Aaron (Luke 1:36). While she resided at Nazareth with her parents, before she became the wife of Joseph, the angel Gabriel announced to her that she was to be the mother of the promised Messiah (Luke 1:35). After this she went to visit her cousin Elisabeth, who was living with her husband Zacharias (probably at Juttah, Josh. 15:55; 21:16, in the neighbourhood of Maon), at a considerable distance, about 100 miles, from Nazareth. Immediately on entering the house she was saluted by Elisabeth as the mother of her Lord, and then forthwith gave utterance to her hymn of thanksgiving (Luke 1:46–56; comp. 1 Sam. 2:1–10). After three months Mary returned to Nazareth to her own home. Joseph was supernaturally made aware (Matt. 1:18–25) of her condition, and took her to his own home. Soon after this the decree of Augustus (Luke 2:1) required that they should proceed to Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), some 80 or 90 miles from Nazareth; and while they were there they found shelter in the inn or khan provided for strangers (Luke 2:6, 7). But as the inn was crowded, Mary had to retire to a place among the cattle, and there she brought forth her son, who was called Jesus (Matt. 1:21), because he was to save his people from their sins. This was followed by the presentation in the temple, the flight into Egypt, and their return in the following year and residence at Nazareth (Matt. 2).

There for thirty years Mary, the wife of Joseph the carpenter, resides, filling her own humble sphere, and pondering over the strange things that had happened to her. During these years only one event in the history of Jesus is recorded, viz., his going up to Jerusalem when twelve years of age, and his being found among the doctors in the temple (Luke 2:41–52).

In the earliest times, mother do not wean their children until they were 30 months to 3 years old, and the day they were weaned was kept as a festival day (Gen. 21:8; Exo.2: 7,9)

Mary and Joseph are ordinary people living in extraordinary times.

3.1.3 Observance of the Law

They were devout Jews. They observed the Law, which is the greatest compliment anyone can give a Jews. They understand the role of the Messiah.

How do you bring up a child who is to be the Messiah of your people?
§ Premier school?
§ More tuition?
§ Special motivational courses?
§ Ballet, art and piano classes?

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 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. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

(1) Start with you
(2) Teach your children – Role modeling. Total immersion in a lifestyle that shows what is confess is the same as what you confess.

3.2 Taking Care of God’s Gift: Our Responsibility (Luke 2:40; 52)

3.2.1 In Wisdom (Mental)

I always wonder why Luke lists wisdom before stature. Mental development before physical development. Now I realise what he has done. Brain development is always faster than physical development and is often not so apparent as physical development. As the brain grows, it acquires new knowledge, now experiences and new skills. It is interesting that Luke did not emphasis on knowledge but wisdom. We can have a lot of knowledge without being wise. And it is the most difficult part of parenting to teach our children to be wise. We can teach our babies flash cards, train them to recognise pictures and words early. Our school education system teaches our children to absorb knowledge like sponges and regurgitate it for the examinations.

3.2.2 In Stature (Physical)
As parents, most of us concentrate on meeting the physical needs of the child. That is important. The child needs food, shelter and good healthcare.

3.2.3 In Favor with God (Spiritual)
It is our responsibility to help our children grow spiritually. We need to teach them to pray, to read the bible and to attend children’s program in church.

3.2.4 In Favor with Man (Social)
The other area we need help our children develop social skills. The dangers we parents faces is either over-protectiveness or being too permissive. Being on the School Board of Hilltop for many years, I have seen many of both types of parents. One will turn up with a list of things the child cannot do – cannot run, cannot sit near the window, cannot go to play in the sand pit, etc. Others, when we told them that their child is spoilt or is bully other children will either get angry or say. “Tidak apa. Boys will boys”.

4. Lessons for us

4.1 Role Modeling

As our Prime Minister said, ‘Leadership by Example’. Children learn more by what they observe than by what we teach them verbally. How we behave in our personal life at home, how we behave to our spouse and how we deal with others in our work and our social lives are object lessons for our children. Most of us put up our mask and appear an angel outside but behave like a devil at home.

It saddens me greatly to when one parent attacks his or her spouse using the children. One person that I know complains continuously about her husband to her children; “Don’t be like your father. He is good for nothing. Cannot hold a good job. Cannot bring enough money home. I hate him. Don’t be like your father when you grow up. He doesn’t come to church. Now when you grow up, you must be a good Christian like me. Jesus said we must love one another as He has loved us.” What type of message do you think the mother is giving to the child? Do what I say, not what I do.

4.2 Teaching
We are to teach our children. It is important to realise that children are not miniature adults. That is where many of our teaching failed. I have seen mother trying to reason with a 3 years old child. “Now if you take this toy from the shop, it will be stealing. The Bible said stealing is bad.” The child has absolutely no idea what the mother is talking about.

Piaget has done a lot of work in understanding the mental development of the child.
(1) 0-2 years: The stage of sensorimotor intelligence.
During this stage, the child is primary sensory and motor. The child does not internally represent events and think conceptually, although cognitive development is seen as schemata are constructed.
(2) 2-7 years: The stage of preoperational thought.
This stage is characterised by the development of language. Reasoning during this stage is dominated by perception and thus prelogical or semilogical.
(3) 7-11 years: The stage of concrete operations.
During these years, the child develops the ability to apply logical thought to concrete problems in the present.
(4) 11-15 years and older: The stage of formal operations.
The child becomes capable of applying logical reasoning to all classes of problems.

Thus our teaching must be appropriate to the learning level of the child. Must damage have been done, when our teaching is inappropriate to the child’s understanding level?

In the Disney’s movie, The Kid, starring Bruce Willis as a highly paid image consultant , Russ Duritz, who is approaching 40 years old. In his job, he is successful but his personal life is a mess. He cannot relate to people, is obsessive compulsion and has a nervous tic of his eyes. As the story develops, he met a younger version of himself 8 years old and he tried to help his younger version to deal with his problems so that he does not end up the way he is now. Initially they thought the problem was that he was bullied in school. In the end, the found that the mother was dying of cancer, the father was angry because he was so helpless. He was so angry that he said to the kid that you are causing your mother to be sick. Stop crying. The mother died a short while after that and the Russ grew up thinking that he has caused his mother’s death. He never cried since them. This is a powerful story about how as adults we have the potential to seriously damage our children’s lives.

4.3 Praying

We must be praying for our children. As Psalms 127 indicate, it is the Lord who helps our children to grow and is incharge. Do we have a prayer list for our children? What are the things we should pray for our children?

q That there will never be a time they don’t walk with You
q A saving faith (thanksgiving if already Christian)
q A growing faith
q An independent faith (as they grow up)
q Persevering faith
q To be strong and healthy in mind, body and spirit.
q A sense of destiny (purpose)
q A desire for integrity
q A call to excellence
q To understand their spiritual gifts
q To understand the ministry God has for them and their spiritual gifts
q Values and beliefs, a Christian worldview
q To tithe 10 percent and save 10 percent of all earnings
q To set and work towards realistic goals as revealed by the Lord
q That I will set aside times to spend with them
q To acquire wisdom
q Protection from drugs, alcohol, tobacco, premarital sex, violence, rape, and AIDS
q The mate God has for them (alive somewhere, needing prayer)
q To do daily devotions
q Forgiveness and to be filled with the Holy Spirit
q Glorify the Lord in everything

5. Concluding Remarks
Let me end with a story. One day, a time management consultant stood before a class of CEOs. He has a big jar on his desk. Beside his jar, he has a dozen fist sized rocks, a pile of gravel, a pile of sand and a pail of water. Then he told the students to fill the jar. One of the students poured in the gravel, then the sand and the water. Then he began to fill the jar with the dozen rocks but just cannot fit the rocks into the jar. The lecturer than took another set of jar, rocks, gravel, sand and water. First he carefully placed the rocks into the jar until it is filled. Then he put in the gravel and shook the jar until the gravel settled in between the rocks. Then he did the same with the sand. Finally he pours in the water and the jar was able to contain everything. The he asked the student, “You have the same jar as I have. Why does your jar not contain all the rocks, gravel, sand and water as I did?” The student answered, “I put in the rocks last’. The lecturer said, “That’s true. If you cannot put in the big rocks first, you’ll never get them in at all”.

What are the ‘big rocks’ in your life? Your children, your loved ones, teaching and mentoring others. Remember to put these ‘big rocks’ in first or you’ll never get them in at all. If you sweat the small stuff (the gravel, the sand), you’ll fill your life with little things about which it don’t really matter, and you’ll never have the quality time to spend on the big important stuff. So ask yourself, “What are the ‘big rocks’ in my life?” Then, put those in your jar first.

Soli Deo Gloria

Recommended Reading
Barry J. Wadsworth, Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive and Affective Development (White Plains, NY: Longman, 1996)
Patrick M. Morley, The Seven Seasons of a Man’s Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995)

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