I want to share with you about a deep struggle my wife and I found ourselves in. Our story might save you years of suffering. You might be like us, or maybe not, but it is hard for me to imagine parents not going through this.
What I am talking about is the great responsibility of giving birth to a child, and its eternal soul being placed in your care. Proverbs 22:6 sums it up. It's right there, smack dab in the center of the Bible, the center of God's heart, and the center of our heart if we really care and love our children.
Proverbs 22:6 reads, "Train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not depart from it."
How many believers believe that? Is it true?
There we were, in the middle of this crazy society with three children and hardly a clue about what we were doing. Two sons and a daughter, so precious to us... I worked to pay the bills and my wife took care of our home and taught the children. We were like a lot of people -- plans for our life, retirement plans, college savings plans, vacation plans, new house plans, plans to go school later... We were doing it all, full speed ahead!
One of those plans I often considered was my children's futures. I would pray that they would go beyond me, that they would be everything God wanted them to be. Most of my prayers were from a clear understanding that I wasn't doing so well myself, and I wished they would have better hope than I did.
I wasn't a bad person by any normal definition. I tried to be responsible and do good, but as I got older I was learning that I had faults -- dark little secrets like drinking on the side every once in a while, lying to make more money on business deals, deep bouts of depression that I didn't really know how to express -- things like that.
One thing that really started to bother me was that I was turning out just like my dad. I love my dad, but there was this way he used to get mad at us when we were little. Sometimes the way he talked to me would hurt so much. I swore I would never be that way when I had my own children.
But there I was, 27 years old, snapping at my children, angry with them at times. I felt so bad about it. I wanted to be saved from it, but it never happened in spite of the many times I was baptized. "Ahhgh!" I would scream at the top of my lungs and beg God to save me from it. What was I to do? If I was doomed to repeat my father's sins, what hope could I give my own children?
As life went on, though, I saw the fruit in other people's lives at my church -- their children, that is. It was so sad to me to see them grow up and be disrespectful towards their parents, controlled by peer pressure, gossiping, and all kinds of unmentionable things. Mine were still small. Like a little tree, they could be bent this way or that. But I could see the writing on the wall. My own faults were knocking at the door of their character, and if I didn't bend them the right way, I would be hard pressed to change their direction later.
This is tough stuff to talk about, but when people you really admire and respect as God-fearing folks raise angry, immodest, sexually promiscuous, lovers of money who hate their parents, teachers, or any other authority, and have more of a relationship with their phone than their father, you have to step back and ask yourself, "Is this Proverbs 22:6?"
I can just hear the naysayers, "Well, that's just being a teenager. Everyone goes through that. You can't really avoid it." But is that really true? Do teenagers have to be that way? Or is it more that people don't really know the way?
"Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."
Everyone can recognize when a child is not a child anymore. At that point, he is accountable, or in terms of this proverb, he is "old." He is old enough to drive. He is old enough to drink. He is old enough to go to jail. "Old" may bring to mind a grayheaded man, finally deciding not to sow his wild oats anymore, finally taking on the faith of his parents, but that is not what this proverb is talking about. I am willing to soberly consider that if my own children are not on the Way when they are old (meaning teenagers and into their early twenties), then neither am I. In fact, maybe I never was, because if I had been, I would have kept them right there with me.
How do you train your children on the Way? It seems as if you have to be on the Way yourself first. Abraham was a wonderful example. He had his son's heart. It says in Genesis 18:19 that God chose Abraham knowing that he would command his family to be on the Way of God. Abraham knew the Way and he loved and cared for his children, as well as everyone in his household.
I wanted to know the Way, too. I was desperate for it. I could see how Isaac had been willing to lay his life down on the altar, just like the Son of God. That must be the way of Proverbs 22:6 - to lay down your life for your friends. There's no greater way to express love. It's the way God showed His love for us through His Son.
Somehow, the way must involve fathers, friends, and children loving one another and not departing from each other. That's how the early church was when it was formed on the day of Pentecost - full of families and others all living together on the Way. The Way leads to a destination. They were all going somewhere together, with a common purpose. The Way is a demonstration. They all lived together and shared what they had. They had a simple life, not encumbered with today's trappings of phones, video games, and other things of this world, but centered on loving others, turning their hearts to their children, and making a home for the lost to come and live with them. They did it all out of love for one another, and the world knew that they were true, because of the love they had for each other (John 13:34-35). That was the Way!
So where is the Way! I couldn't stand just reading about it like some history lesson instead of it being something I could jump into and be a part of. I was in such pain.
By this time, my relationship with people at church was stretching thin. I didn't see the mighty hand of salvation at work there. I talked about these things with one preacher and he asked me not to come to that church anymore, because it could discourage others and cause them to lack faith. My heart was grieved. I didn't have a place in Christianity. The whole system was so far from what I read in Acts 2:44 and Acts 4:32.
I visited over a hundred churches, communities, and messianic congregations and hardly could get a straight answer from anyone about what is wrong with the Church these days. I got baptized many times, and even tried baptizing myself. I was still the same way, and I knew that way was going into my children. I was not on the Way. But it was as if everyone was in denial. "It's all good," they would say. "God is in control. You don't have to worry about anything. He's going to work it out." After many more fanatical attempts to reach anybody's common sense, I realized I might be crazy. I was driving all the preachers crazy, and I was driving my family crazy trying to find the answers.
Great. I gave up. I couldn't find the answers myself. There were no answers. I told my wife, "If God wants me to be saved, He's going to have to hit me upside the head with a brick because, for the life of me, I can't find Him anywhere. He's going to have to find me. I'm not saved, and neither is anyone else I know. This whole Bible thing is a joke." I threw my Bible on the shelf, feeling a little bad for what I had just said. Was it that anger thing again that I inherited from my dad? Is that why I just talked about the Word of God like that? I resolved not to read it anymore unless God spoke to me Himself. Those words in that book didn't produce life. I didn't find life there, or in the church, but only hopelessness, darkness, and death...
I guess that is the nature of being saved: you can't do it yourself. You have to be saved, and you have to be willing to wait to be saved. I don't mean just saying the "Sinner's Prayer," I mean real salvation. It's kind of like being stranded in the ocean. You cry out with all your heart, not seeing the rescue boat, but hoping it's there beyond the horizon somewhere. You scream with all your might to the God of heaven to hear you. Sometimes it takes longer than you think it will. In my case it seemed like such a long time.
I can see now that God knew the perfect time. I couldn't see it then. How about you? Have you been waiting for something real and meaningful? Have you been looking for more than words and sermons, but the Life itself - the Truth and the Way? John 14:6 says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." Whoever has Him has all three.
One day, about a year later, I stumbled upon a website that talked about people living together like the church in Acts 2 and 4. I couldn't believe it, and actually, I wasn't sure I wanted to. I was afraid of being let down one more time. I would go home at night and read about what they were doing in their many places around the world, but I didn't want my wife to know, because she might think I was going crazy again. I didn't really want to receive the hope that was in those papers I was reading. What if it was all a sham, just like every other rotten social club of a church I've ever been to. What if it's not real! But the hope continued to seep into my soul like the scent of water to a dry tree. God was calling me. His "brick upside my head" was a gentle rain to me, for which I'm eternally grateful. I finally got enough hope to talk with my wife, and we came to see.
We saw teenagers who were outspoken in the gatherings, respectful, full of love for others, and obedient to their parents. We saw many children being trained on the way they should go. We saw older couples, single brothers and sisters. It was such a refreshing sight to me to see their care for each other, and how there were no preachers controlling the worship and talk about God. Quite the contrary, actually. Everyone spoke at their gatherings, which they had every morning and evening.
They ate together, sang together, worked together in community-owned businesses. They even had an amazing restaurant where they were constantly serving guests and talking about their life. I instantly felt at home. It was hard even considering myself a guest. I had been treated like a brother, like a son, like a friend.
I had been trying to get home for such a long time, and finally found a place where no one thought I was crazy. We all cared about the same things, and even worked through hard times together. There were actually answers to my questions, and they were real answers.
A couple of days into our visit my oldest son turned to me and said, "Dad, this is what we've been looking for. We aren't leaving, are we? This place is it, isn't it?" Somehow I had never really gathered that my son was in the struggle with me. He had my heart. He was with me in looking for the real place with the real God and the real way.
I'm never going anywhere again. I've been rescued from the deepest, darkest misery I could imagine. You could take everything from me, even my life, and I will stand my ground. How could I go anywhere after He heard my cry? I want you to know that this life is real. Do you know how I know it is real? I got baptized. This time it was real. I got immersed into this Life, and He is giving me power to overcome all those sins I am so familiar with. I don't do them anymore. I'm not perfect, but I am becoming like the One I serve. And if the thought comes to you, "There's no way! It can't be real," you have to recognize that thought for what it is -- unbelief.
There is a way and it's the same way that was called The Way in the Bible. I am on that Way now, and that is where my wife and children are, and that is where you can be if you are willing to do God's will.