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 (Manna 77: Integrating Faith with Life)
A Christ-centered Family Life
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Vincent Yeung—Cambridge, U.K.

            The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes … (Jer 7:18a)

This is a vivid description of a functional family whose members work in harmony—a dream that we all hope to achieve. In modern society, the activities in Jeremiah’s portrait are no longer commonplace, but the basic aspects of family life remain. Parents give direction to their children, sharing their experiences, acting as role models, and passing on their values, social skills and sometimes technical skills, in order to prepare them for independence when they come of age. Children obey and learn from their parents, often helping out with household chores. Some children even support their parents in their livelihood. Parents and children alike share a common goal: the social and economic advancement of the family as a whole.

Because parents want the best for their children, they will work hard to give them a good education. For some, this may mean paying for private education so that their children stand a better chance of entering a top university. To prepare them for a successful career, not only must they excel academically, children also need to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports, music, speech and drama. These develop the children holistically, equipping them with the right social and leadership skills.

However, everything comes with a price—and not only in financial terms. All these activities take time: parents have to chauffeur their children from lesson to lesson, waiting for them to finish before moving on to another appointment. Important dates are dotted on the calendar—music exams, concerts, sport fixtures, competitions, etc. The tussle for time between family, work, and church life is a pressing issue—how often are we late for church services or have to rush off because of our children’s activities? Yes, we console ourselves: “It is only a one-off; surely God understands.” However, as parents, should we not look at the bigger picture? What is our priority in life for ourselves and our children?

If we return to the description of the harmonious family in Jeremiah, we will notice that they are in fact working together to serve, not God, but an idol—the queen of heaven. Are we similarly leading a life that serves other gods rather than working for the riches of the inheritance that God has prepared for us?

CELEBRATING THEIR SUCCESS YET GRIEVING QUIETLY

We are undoubtedly proud of our children’s achievements; indeed, the Bible describes children as “the crown of old men” (Prov 17:6). Children are our support and strength (Ps 127:3–5), and we treasure the material things they bring to us. Consider the gifts we receive on special occasions, invitations to expensive restaurants, paid-for holidays, and even the occasional professional help from them. Take the biblical example of Isaac and Esau. Isaac loved Esau, as Esau was a capable hunter and brought Isaac the game he loved (Gen 25:28). Isaac enjoyed these gifts and was probably proud of Esau’s prowess.

But when our children grow up, they will lead an independent life and do whatever they think fit, such as in Esau’s case. When he was forty years old, Esau took two Hittite women as wives and his actions were a “grief of mind” to his parents (Gen 26:34–35). Or take a look at Samson, who demanded from his parents a Philistine girl as his wife. His parents could only question him timidly as to why he wanted to marry someone with a different belief (Judg 14:2–3). Samson’s marriage was doomed and ended tragically (Judg 14:20; 15:6).

Our children could have successful careers, yet we would have failed them if they are not rooted in their faith, leading a life that is not according to the truth. Whatever material gain, social standing, or success they have, will not compensate for the grief their wayward behavior will cause us. We will have a constant sense of guilt, frustrations, and sorrow, which could burden us until the end of our life. So, what should we do to ensure our children remain steadfast in their faith?

LIFE WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE AND GOD

Jeremiah depicted a family life that was offensive to God (Jer 7:18). There was nothing wrong with gathering wood, kindling a fire, or kneading dough. However, the family was working in unison to worship a false deity, the queen of heaven.

In modern times, the “god of this age” blinds the minds of the unbelieving (2 Cor 4:4). Many families work in harmony because they pursue the world and the things in it, the modern day “queen of heaven.” For this reason, God has no place in their lives (1 Jn 2:15).

Children are molded in the image of their parents. The innocent boys whom Jeremiah depicted did not know what they did was wrong; they were simply following instructions. When they grew up they would take a wife and instruct their children to gather wood to prepare sacrifices to the idol, and thus continue the same offence. Therefore, it is vital for parents to provide spiritual guidance and to walk on the right path for their children to follow.

The spiritual backsliding in the time of the judges was partly a failure of parental guidance. The new generation did not know God and the works He had done (Judg 2:10). Naturally, they followed their own desires and did evil in God’s sight (Judg 2:11). Micah’s mother did not chastise him for stealing her money; instead, when the money was restored to her, she used part of it to make a graven image as if it were an offering to God (Judg 17:1–5). Micah even anointed one of his sons to be the idol’s priest. This sad story shows us that the mother lacked moral and spiritual insight, a deficiency that was passed on to her son and grandchildren.   

Whenever we visit True Jesus Church (TJC) members who have lost contact with the church, their common responses are: “All religions are the same; they all lead people to do good,” or, “All churches are the same. It is inconvenient for you to visit me; it is easier for me to go to a local (non-TJC) church.” It is no surprise that, in turn, their children become influenced by their reluctance to come to church and will often lose their faith.

A LIVING FAITH—EDUCATE BY EXAMPLE

Perhaps we comfort ourselves that we have done our part by taking our family to church regularly. Our children have gone through the religious education (RE) system, and they should be rooted in the faith by the time they grow up. The responsibility of nurturing our children’s faith appears to have been passed on to the RE teachers. It is not uncommon for parents to complain to RE teachers when their children are misbehaving. As parents, we have not completed our duty if we simply go through the motion of taking our children to church. We need to reflect on our own faith and way of life. We need to have a faith that is manifested in our life so that people around us and our family are blessed.

The Bible tells us to train and teach our children so that they will not depart from the way when they are older (Prov 22:6; Deut 6:7). This is a holistic process. It starts from how we lead our life—when we are walking, sitting, lying, or rising up, God’s words should be in our heart (Deut 6:6–7). And the love of God should manifest from our heart in all we do (Deut 6:5). We cannot just tell our children, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Jesus deemed the Pharisees to be hypocrites as they did not practice what they preached (Mt 23:2–3). In contrast, Paul did not just preach the gospel of salvation and uphold the doctrines, but also presented his way of life in Christ Jesus as an example (1 Cor 4:7). He exhorts us to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Cor 11:1). We need to actualize this Christ-like image in our daily living to allow our family and other people to see Jesus in us. This transformation should come from within (Rom 12:2), a character change that transcends the outward display of piety by the Pharisees (Mt 6:2, 5, 16).

Elder Peter exhorts us to answer, in meekness and fear, those who ask us the reason for our hope (1 Pet 3:15). Why would anyone ask us about our hope if we have not exhibited this hope in our behavior? If we act, behave, and speak like non-believers, no one will see that we have a hope that is different from anyone else’s.

Knowing the impact of Christian living on our family, we need to prioritize and refocus our life, making room for God and cutting back on unnecessary worldly pursuits. The church has advocated the setting up of a family altar for a number of years. Worshipping God is not confined to a few hours per week in church; it should be our way of living. Daily prayers, regular Bible reading and study, and sharing spiritual experiences gained at work and in church, are key components of this family altar. We should take every opportunity to instill this way of life and Christian values in our family members through our day-to-day interactions with them. Moreover, we should create opportunities for our family to experience God and to receive His blessings.

CREATE OPPORTUNITIES FOR OUR FAMILY TO EXPERIENCE GOD

Faith is not simply an assent to doctrine, as the Catholics put it. It begins with the knowledge of God, which can be learned during church services, Bible study, RE classes and theological training. However, faith is not grounded in knowledge alone. Having a personal relationship with God is another matter. Our understanding of Him begins with knowledge. But we need to augment our knowledge with wisdom and spiritual understanding as we experience God on our journey of faith. We may become discouraged by failure and mishaps, but with trust and perseverance, our knowledge of Him will gradually take shape as we walk in the Lord (Col 1:9–10). This is why we must lead our children to not only know God, but also to walk with Him and develop their own personal faith.

Jacob was brought up in a family of faith, yet to him God was the God of his fathers (Gen 31:5; 32:9). His faith finally became his own when he encountered God, and was subsequently delivered by Him (Gen 32; 35; cf. Gen 28:21). He cleansed himself and his household, removing all strange gods from their midst (Gen 35:2–4). And on his deathbed, he recalled his lifelong experience with God, acknowledging Him as the God who fed him throughout his life (Gen 48:15).

For a positive example of how to create opportunities for our family to experience God, we can look to Abraham. Hebrews 11:11 describes Sarah as faithful because she believed she could deliver a child when she was past the age. However, she initially doubted God’s promise (Gen 18:13; 17:16, 19, 21). Her faithlessness was laid bare when Abraham unknowingly received God (Gen 18:1–2, 14). Abraham’s hospitality and good work allowed Sarah to encounter God and to reflect on her own shortcoming. And through this experience, her faith and trust were strengthened.

Additionally, Abraham’s obedience and trust in the Lord had an impact on his son Isaac. Abraham followed God’s command to sacrifice his only son, and when the angel appeared, Abraham’s faith was reaffirmed and Isaac experienced God firsthand (Gen 22:11). Isaac witnessed God’s power, purpose, and good nature. In both cases, Abraham’s obedience, good behavior, and faith allowed his family to personally experience God, which in turn strengthened their faith.

CONCLUSION

We should long for the immeasurable and unfathomable treasures of God rather than for achieving greatness in this world. This means striving to lead a life that is worthy of our calling, and in such a way that brings opportunities for our family to experience God and develop their own relationship with Him. The whole family works in unison for a common goal—to serve God and to project a Christ-like image in our life so that our family and friends can experience God through us. In this way, we will have no regrets in our old age—only sweet memories of God’s lifelong blessings upon our family.

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Author: Vincent Yeung
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