Dear Parents / Parents-to-be @ New City,
I have been wanting to write this email for quite some time now.
There is perhaps no greater challenge for Christians in the world today than in the area of parenting. While there is an ample supply of Christian parenting materials in the market, few directly address the issue of Christian parenting from the perspective of Christian discipleship. Yet biblically, Christian parenting can never be separated from Christian discipleship. In fact, one may argue that Christian parenting is Christian discipleship.
A number of you have recently studied John 1:19-51 with us.
Remember the four earliest followers of Jesus: Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathaniel? We often think of their “abandoning of everything” to follow Jesus is a result of some “magical spells” Jesus cast on them. But the truth is that, when we look closer at the text, these young men were simply doing what was “natural and logical” to them. As it turns out, all of them “were brought up” to become full-time Messiah / Kingdom waiter-follower and part-time whatever they happened to do — carpenters, farmers, fishermen you name it. Their community of faith, and in particular their immediate families, must have had a direct and profound influence on them. And this is how Christian parenting must be, i.e. to prepare our children for a life-long “radical discipleship” relationship with Jesus!
Without a doubt, the key word here is “radical.” As you should still remember from our past two sermons in Mark, Jesus is calling us to a life that is radically — and not just superficially — different from the world.
While the people of this world live to pursue / conquer things of this world, the people of God live for a new and heavenly kingdom. While the people of this world consider wealth and status to be the indispensable ingredients of a blessed life, the people of God rejoices in the true kingdom blessing of sins forgiven, life redeemed and renewed by the death and resurrection of Jesus. And while the people of this world carefully follow the path of earthly success and glory, the people of God faithfully follow the footsteps of Jesus towards a life of boundless mercy and abandonment.
This then is the very essence of the Christian life: it is a life of pouring out / emptying (cf. The Widow’s Penny) for Jesus and His kingdom! And the people of God will do this joyfully and eagerly because they are following a Savior and Lord who had for their sake poured out / emptied His own life! How beautiful is this Gospel of Jesus Christ?! And as we pour out / empty our lives, we are drawn closer and closer to the life of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. How wonderful?! And what a privilege it is to follow His footsteps?!
But there are many obstacles towards a life of pouring out / emptying. As I took pain to elaborate this past Sunday, for many of us in America, the pursuit of “financial security” is the very cap which blocks the water from being poured out / emptied. In fact, some hold so tightly to the cap hardly any water could come out of the bottle. While we may not dream of becoming billionaires, the pursuit of “financial security” / the (middle-class) “American Dream” — instead of God’s kingdom — is no less, if not more, harmful to our souls and immensely wicked in the sight of God!
We must repent and believe anew in the Gospel. We must pursue God and not the things of this world, lest our souls become corrupt and perish in the eternal fire.
It means first of all that we must be more concerned about our children’ spiritual growth than that of their academic / intellectual development. And to do that, we must first be more concerned about our own spiritual growth than our economic and career progression! How could we direct our children to the Lord if the very direction of our own lives is heavily skewed towards this world? There is simply no other way: we must stay watchful and persistently reject the values of this world. Two practical matters come to mind.
In the home-school coop which our children attend, we ran into quite a number of God-loving families. And as much as these parents love their children and are deeply concerned about their education, they do not always exhibit the kind of “dreams and aspirations” typical Asian parents would place on the children. A good percentage of these home-schooled kids would attend small Christian colleges that few of us have heard about. Others would go to community colleges, get 2-year associate degrees, and then enter into some kind of a trade-school. These parents seem far more interested in their children’ education than their schooling, which is quite opposite to the typical Asian values.
Another time, Kathy met a (I think Christian) home-schooling family online, who “ate beans for a whole week” because they were short of money. The family chose “home-schooling” over additional paychecks. They chose “more time with the children” over “more material things for their children.” Now as much as I hate “eating beans for a whole week,” I love such freedom from the care and pursuit of the material world. This is also a precious reminder that our true gifts to our children lie not in the material things we afford them — even if these things are good and desirable — but in the lives we share with them, the freedom we impart on them, and the (spiritual) legacy we leave behind for them.
Now, I do not mean that we should literally follow the examples cited above. Each kid is different and each family situation is different. Truth be told, I would very much want my children to go to 4-year colleges, and I would likely get Kathy out of the house to work if we have to live on “beans.” Yet, in Christ Jesus and as a citizen of the new heaven and earth, I want even more to be set free from (some of) the bondage of my Chinese (worldly) heritage! I want to be able to rejoice when God reveals a different plan (than what I may have in mind) for my children. And I want to be reminded daily that material things are not the ultimate blessings in life — both for ourselves and our children. The true blessings are always in Christ!
Therefore, we must continue be set free and learn to pour out / empty ourselves for Jesus… As your pastor, these are the things I would earnestly pray for you and your children, and I would urge you to pray the same for you and other families in New City.
Come lead us, King Jesus! Rule over us and cause us to be poured out / emptied… that we may gain You and all the eternal treasures in You!