A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on May 9, 2010.
Consistently responsible parents, attentive to their principles, their adult relationships, and connected to their youngsters, rear responsible children.
—Roberta Gilbert in Connecting to Our Children
I think we all know that, when we communicate with each other, often what we communicate is more than the words. Words are important and what we say is critical, but there are other factors. For instance, there is body language. If you ask me to do something and I say, “Sure,” then you think I am going to do it. If you ask me to do something and I say, “Sure,” and give a big eye roll as I often did to my parents growing up, you know it is not going to happen. No matter what the words say, body language communicates something else.
Body language is one of the easy ones. You can go out and buy a book on body language. But there are harder ones, things like the implied message, and the message behind the words. The implied message is often much more subtle. Sometimes it is even unconscious but it is just as powerful. Let me give you one of the great ones from TV commercials.
There are two men on the screen and one is a Mac and one is a PC. The Mac guy is pretty cool. He is dressed the way that people his age typically are dressed. He is rather relaxed and nothing ruffles him. If a PC has a virus, he is not concerned because Mac’s don’t get viruses. If a PC is upset because he has to update drivers to make his printer work, Mac is unflappable. Everything is OK.
PC is a geek in a suit. PC gets real uptight about everything. PC never comes out on the upper end. Of course, the overt message is, if you use a Mac you don’t have to worry about viruses. If you use a Mac, you just plug in your printer, camera, or whatever you need and it is not a big deal. But the implied message is that cool people use Macs and people in suits use PC’s. It is not a hard message to get.
TV commercials are some of the best. You look at personal care products or almost anything where the person who doesn’t use the product being advertised looks frumpy. The clothes are a mess and the hair is not right. But the people who use the product look like what everybody wants to look like. The implied message is very clear. It is not that the product makes your hair or face cleaner, but that the product will make you attractive and desirable.
Unfortunately, in matters of faith, preaching, and church, there are times when we use implied messages and they are not always good. Let’s just say you have a health crisis in your family and you confess worry. Some well-meaning friend says, “Well, the Bible says if you will just have faith, it will all be taken care of.” The overt message is that the Bible does say that, but the implied message is often, “You really don’t have very much faith, do you?” We walk away from that not feeling encouraged that we have faith, but rather feeling guilty, and sometimes shamed, because we don’t have enough faith. Those kinds of messages get conveyed too often in matters of faith.
Family presents many, many golden opportunities for implied messages and many of them are not conscious. Here is one message. The parents walk in. Two brothers are fighting. One brother is on the floor, crying and holding his stomach. The other brother is triumphantly standing over him. The parents spank the standing brother and tell him, “It is not nice to hurt your brother.” Do you see the implied message there? You are not supposed to hurt your brother, but I am going to make sure this hurts enough so that you know not to hurt your brother.
Here is message No. 2. A family member picks up a child from school and the SAT scores are out. “What did you make on your SAT?”
“Oh, really? I heard Sara made 1250.”
What is the implied message? That you made 100 points less or if you really wanted to be good, you would be like Sara. Sometimes the implied message is more powerful and talks over the top of anything else we could say.
Have you seen the commercial where a guy is interviewing for a job and in the background if you listen very closely, you can hear him talk about his degrees and experience, but he has a stain on his shirt. The stain on his shirt is talking so loudly that you can’t hear what he is saying. They implied message, consciously or unconsciously, oftentimes negates anything we might say with our mouths. Whatever our words might be, the implied message makes everything else seem like we have not said a word. Hold that thought for just a moment while we think about the text.
The scripture is from the Book of Deuteronomy and it is the second giving of the law. Moses has led the children of Israel through all their wanderings in the wilderness and they are about to go into the Promised Land. Moses gives them these sermons and he is trying to tell them, once again, that they are God’s own. As God’s own, this is how you live and this is what God requires. In the passage of scripture for today, there are essentially two parts to it. One is remember. “Remember yourself what you have experienced. Don’t forget that there was a time when you stood at Mt. Sinai, saw the glory of God, and the Ten Commandments came to you. There was a time when you witnessed the power of God in your lives. Don’t forget.”
The second part is, “Teach them to your children. Keep them alive in your own hearts. Teach them to your family and remember that you are not alone in this commitment that you make. It is not only to you, but to all your descendants and all your generations. You believe and serve. Teach your children to believe and serve.” The simple message today would be “We all should teach children that we have responsibility for, we all should teach these children to believe and serve God.
It is Mothers’ Day. We have all come to church today, we all have the commitment, and we can very easily say, “Hey, I’m here. I believe these things. I am off the hook. I am going to start visualizing my backhand or my golf swing. I am going to start planning my week because I am off the hook. It is for the people who don’t really get this that the preacher is talking to today.”
The thing I want to emphasize is that we all believe this overtly. We all believe that God is real, Christ is good, and church is important. We would all say that we are committed to this, but the implied messages of our lives often shout over this and send a different word to the children for whom we are responsible. For instance, if we send our children to Sunday school, church or something else without us ever going and we say to them, “You need this, but I need Starbucks more, so I am going to drop you off and I am going to Starbucks.” What is the real message? What do our children really hear?
If we say to our children before they go to bed, “Don’t forget to say your prayers,” but our children never hear us pray, what is the message that children really here? Is it important to say prayers or not? “I am told to, but I never hear my family do it.” What is the message?
Jesus loves the poor and we went to be concerned about the poor, but if I make my choice about friendships based upon economy, status, what other people have, and the way that other people dress, what is the message that the children I am responsible for hear? If we don’t live as we instruct, do they ever hear the message? It could be about morality or any other number of things. It could be about the fact that accepting Christ is the most important decision you will ever make, but we are going to live for grades and the college that you are going to go to. What is really important and what do children pick up?
If we are honest about the implied messages, we will realize that sometimes what we really believe and what we think we are actually telling our children is getting wiped out and they are hearing something entirely different from the implied messages of our lives.
Our own faith and our own practice have to be paramount if we are going to pass it on to our children. It is not simply enough to say, “Pass on faith,” but it is “Pass on your faith. Pass on what you experience, what you remember, and how you follow God. Pass that on to your children.” In order to teach our children, we have to learn. In order to teach our children to do and to serve, we must do and serve. If we really want our children to value Christ, then our lives have to demonstrate that we have Christ.
I had forgotten so I counted it up this morning. Between the ages of 20-25, in summers, during senior year at college, and right after college, I worked in five different churches as a youth minister. My experience at those times was that there would always be some family in the church that would bring a youth to church, typically around the ninth grade. While they had not done much to communicate clearly what their lives were committed to in Christ, they would bring their child and want the church, the youth program, and the youth minister to somehow salvage everything. They would want them to fix it so that their teenager now cared about God. Nothing is impossible with God, but I will tell you that it gets harder when the message that they have heard all their lives is, We don’t care enough to make this important in our lives. Studies show that the most critical influence in a child’s life (child meaning from a one-year-old to a child off at college) is family. As family, it is often easy to think that they are not listening and are not paying attention. Parents say, “I say these things, I try to discipline, I try to instruct and they are not giving me the time of day.” But they are noticing. They are paying attention. They really are. What we need to commit ourselves to today is that all the messages of our lives are consistent with the things that we say. We need to live the faith that we hope they will live someday. We need to believe the things that we hope they will believe. We need to act in accordance with Christ’s command the way we hope they will act in accordance with Christ’s command.
It seems that it happens far too often, but just within the last week or so, there was a story in our newspaper about a mother in Atlanta who took her very small child to work and left the child outside in the car in a car seat all day while she was at work. If you have seen the story, you know the outcome. The child was dead when the mother came back out to the car. We hear those kinds of stories and we think, “How could anybody neglect their child like that. None of us would ever do anything like that.” But when we neglect our own faith, when we neglect the consistency of our own lives and the implied message that goes along with what we tell our children, we neglect the spiritual development of our own hearts and the spiritual development of our children.
May we live in such a way so that we communicate to our children, with all our heart, what we believe. It is critical, it is vital, it is eternal, and it is something that we want them to have.
May God help us all in our commitments this day.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.