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Fewer Sermons; More Grace.

posted May 18, 2015, 3:37 PM by Kelly Griffin   [ updated May 18, 2015, 3:41 PM ]
A Sunday school teacher, trying to teach students the joyous meaning of Hallelujah, said, “What word do
church members shout with joy?” One very astute youngster sang out, “Bingo!”

That illustrates one of the most critical principles of parenting: Kids learn more by what we do than by what we say. William F. Farley in a book on parenting goes so far as to say, “. . . example is the first principle of parenting."

I’ve seen this dramatically illustrated many times, perhaps never more vividly than when one of my brothers was trying to get his son, three-year-old, Michael, into bed one night. He had new Mickey Mouse sheets, and the sight of that oversized mouse in his bed was too much for Michael. No amount of coaxing and no verbal strategy had any impact. Michael continued to cry and refused to go. 

In the end the resolution was simple. Dad finally jumped into the bed himself, pulled up the sheets and
was soon snoring away. Shortly he leaped up, stretched contentedly and invited Michael to try, which he did without another word of complaint. It was a fascinating display of the power of example.

It’s a great biblical principle. Paul urges in Philippians 3:7, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” It was in this same spirit that he urges the young pastor Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (I Timothy 4:12). That instruction goes double for parents.

The fact is we are an example whether we acknowledge it or not. It’s just a question of what kind because the principle works both ways – like the mother who asked her son, “Jimmy, do you know what happens to little boys who use bad language when they are playing?" Jimmy replied, "Sure, Mom. They grow up and play golf!" It’s sobering to realize that children will grow up to be what we are – not what we say.

Which raises the vital question of what to do when we screw up as a parent. The natural reaction is the same as always – cover it up. Hide it. Don’t let the kids know. Which is, of course, exactly the wrong reaction. Why? Because they already know! You can’t hide anything from kids! Surely all parents know that. They see right through to the core of our treacherous hearts. Very little is hidden from their careful scrutiny.

So what to do? Acknowledge our failures. First to the Lord, but second to our children. Apologize. Confess precisely what we did wrong and ask forgiveness. “From my child?!” Of course. Doesn’t God say, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another . . .” (James 5:16). There’s no age limit on that instruction.

What it boils down to is this: since we are not perfect, we cannot give our children a perfect example. Might as well admit it now. So – by example – we either teach them to cover up and hide. Or we teach them to confess, come clean and seek forgiveness. Which kind of child do we want?

Best of all, in doing this, we show them the gospel. The gospel says, since you can’t be perfect, confess your sins to God and because Jesus paid the penalty for them, He will forgive. He is “mighty to save” (Isa 63:1). That’s worth living out for our children.

Someone has said, “It is easier to preach ten sermons than it is live one.” Perhaps it’s time to give our kids a break. Fewer sermons; more grace.

Dave McNeff is pastor of the First Congregational Church of Eaton (