No Place Like Home: A Letter To My Children
II Timothy 1:1-7
I read to you the first verses of Paul’s second letter to Timothy, where Paul begins that letter by paying tribute to Timothy’s faith. But I want you to listen closely to the words Paul writes, for it is quite clear that Paul understood from whence had come that faith. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“Paul an Apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God, according to the promise of the life which is in Christ Jesus, to Timothy, my beloved child. Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God whom I serve with a clear conscience, as did my fathers, when I remember you constantly in my prayers. As I remember your tears, I long night and day to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and then in your mother Eunice, and now I am sure dwells in you. Hence, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands, for God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-control.”
Soli Deo gloria, to God alone be the glory. Let us pray.
Now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
A letter to my children. I suppose that there are some who would think that that hardly seems appropriate for a sermon, and yet because of my faith in Jesus Christ; and because of this very touching passage of Scripture where Paul writes to Timothy and underscores the value of passing the faith along from one generation to the next; because of my contact with and my love for you and your families; and because of the experiences that I face in my own family, there are some things that I feel compelled to say. Not just to my family, but to yours as well. And so today, in your hearing, I write a letter to my children: to Meg and to Beth and to John David. I think that my letter would have two pages. On the first page I would put my pleadings, and on the second page I would put my promises.
The first page, that would be the page where I would list my pleadings.
And I would plead first of all for my children to have an understanding of God’s love in Jesus Christ. I don’t think we talk enough with our children about the love of God. Donald Barnhouse tells of how on one occasion he and his wife came home late one evening, only to find their little girl sitting up in the living room with the babysitter. The little girl was crying. The moment she saw her father, she ran to him and she said, “Daddy, you do love me, don’t you?”
Barnhouse picked her up and he said, “Of course I do. Why would you ask?”
And the little girl through her tears said, “Well, the babysitter said that if I was bad, you wouldn’t love me anymore, and I’ve been bad. But Daddy, you do still love me, don’t you?”
And covering her with kisses, Barnhouse said, “Honey, when you are good, I love you with a love that is very happy. And when you are bad, I love you with a love that is very sad, but I always love you because I am your daddy.”
That’s the first thing I would say to my children. I will always love you, because I am your daddy. But then I would go on to say to them that God loves them just like that, and yet even more, believe it or not. For God loves them without reserve or condition. God loves them yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forever. And I want them to understand nothing will ever stop God from loving them. And I think I would tell them how Edward VIII abdicated the throne of England for the sake of the one he loved, and how there is a parable in that for us. Because you see, there came a day when God’s own son laid aside the Diadem of Heaven for the sake of the people He loved. And He came to this Earth, and He lived and He died and He lived again, all that we might have life and have it abundantly. You see, I want my children to understand that once a King gave up His crown for them.
And then, I would plead with my children to develop some strong relationships with some adult Christians. Now I know they’re going to have good relationships with young Christians, but I am concerned that they have strong relationships with some adult Christians. You see, I want my children to know some of the great saints of the Church, some of the saints like some of you who are here. Some of you who have borne your faith with power and with dignity. Some of you who are honoring Christ every day by fighting his battles in the world. Some of you who have faced tragedy head on and have overcome it by the power of that faith.
You see, I’m not so much concerned that my children know saints who live in pink and blue heavens as I am that they know saints who live in a black and blue world; saints who are wrestling with the great burning issues of the day, but not wrestling with them alone, rather, wrestling with them with Jesus Christ. Those are the kinds of Christians I want my children to know, to look up to, to learn from, to be inspired by. Yes, those are the kinds of Christians I want my children to know and to love.
And then it would be my plea that my children have at least one good Christian teacher. They’re hard to come by these days. Oh, there are a lot of teachers who are Christians, but too many of them are afraid to show it. I had a good Christian teacher in the fourth grade in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her name was Mrs. Villarubia. Took me half the year to learn how to pronounce it. And she was tough. Oh, was she tough. I can still feel the fear and trembling with which I approached her class every single day. But she was a great teacher and she was a great Christian, and she let it show.
I remember once she asked us as an assignment in class to write out a paragraph about some story, just any story that had made an impression on us. I chose to write that day on the Good Samaritan. After class, she called me aside. She said, “You ever thought that one day you might like to be a preacher?” That’s all she said, but she planted a seed. Took a long, long time for that seed to grow, more than 12 years in fact, but I’ve never forgotten her for it. And it would be my plea that my children should have at least one good Christian teacher who wasn’t afraid to let that Christianity show.
And then I think I would plead with my children that they have at least one good Christian friend of another race. You see, it’s very important to me that my children should grow up to be color blind. It’s when they’re children that we teach them how to hate and how to fear. It’s when they’re children that we embed in them our prejudices and our intolerances. And I don’t want my children to have these things if I can do anything about it at all, and so I want to plead with them to have at least one good Christian friend of another race.
I remember hearing the story of a little boy called Ponyo who lived out in the African bush, in a small village there. One day, his family, the other members of his family – at least so he thought – were out in the bush hunting, and by accident the little hut that he called home caught fire. And as he stood there watching what had been his home in flames, suddenly he heard a sound from inside. Immediately, he dashed into the midst of that flaming inferno, and at the risk of his own life he managed to drag his brother to safety from the fire. Later on, the other villagers who were amazed at his bravery asked him what on Earth he was thinking about in a moment like that when he dashed into the flames, and he said, “I wasn’t thinking about anything. I just heard my brother crying.” I want my children to hear all their brothers and sisters crying.
I want them to know that, while it is true that God in His infinite wisdom has chosen to create His people in a veritable rainbow of colors, that down inside we are all just alike. I want them to understand that it doesn’t matter what color your skin may happen to be, you still hurt and you still dream and you still hope and you still laugh and you still cry just the same. And I think I would remind my children that one of the first songs that they ever learned to sing after they came to live with us and to be our children was this. “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Oh, I know, such friendships would be fraught with difficulties because, God forgive us, we haven’t yet learned an answer to that old problem of race. And I don’t know that my children are going to know an answer, but I know this. I want them to have to wrestle with it. I want them in the name of Jesus Christ to try and find an answer. I really mean it. I want my children to grow up to be color blind.
Well, those are my pleadings, and I would put those on the first page.
But then on the second page, I would put my promises.
The first thing that I would promise my children would be my testimony. I would tell them in as much detail as I could, with as much feeling as I could muster, how it is that I have come to know and to love Jesus Christ as my Lord and my Savior and I have become convinced beyond any shadow of a doubt that He loves me and will love me forever. I will try to describe for them just how real this Jesus is every single day that I live, how He is there every step that I take. How He guides and directs me as I make decisions each day, both the big ones and the little ones. How He has always responded whenever I’ve called out to him in need, and how I’ve struggled again and again and again to surrender my whole life to His command. And how His Holy Spirit burns like a never-failing fire deep within me. I would share with my children my testimony.
But as I shared with them my testimony, I would want them to understand that at least insofar as faith is concerned, I do not feel that I have arrived. I would want them to know that I can never build a ceiling over my belief in Jesus Christ. I wouldn’t pretend for a moment that I knew everything there is to know about this Bible or about this world in which we live. I wouldn’t want them to think for a second that I had hold of all the mysteries, or that I know all the answers, or that I always do what’s right or best in life. I’d share with my children my worries and my anxieties, my mistakes and my failures. I’d talk with them about my fiery temper, and about my thoughtless selfishness, and about some of those other things in my life of which I’m not very proud. I’d tell them that there are times when I doubt, and there are moments when I’m afraid, and there are days when I’m a slave of despair. I’d share these things with my children.
And I will not be ashamed if one of these days, after I’m dead and gone, if my children say something like this about me, “Dad never arrived, but he was always on the way. He never claimed to have all of the truth, and he never got it all, but he never quit reaching for it.” Yes, I’ll be happy if after I’m gone my children can say something like that. Because you see, it’s been my observation that parents who keep climbing and growing in the faith have children who climb and grow after them. So that’s the first thing that I would promise my children. In as much detail as I could give it, I’d promise them my testimony.
But then I would promise them that I would be forever faithful to the Church. I would remind them of how on the occasion when they were baptized I took vows, solemn vows of commitment to Jesus Christ and to his Church. And then having so committed myself – even if I were not a minister – that having so committed myself I would be involved in the Church. I would not be like those people who keep their names on the Church role but who aren’t involved. No, I’d be involved even if I weren’t a minister. I’d work to see to it that the Church provided the best possible teachers, and the best possible facilities, and the best possible atmosphere for the Sunday school program. I’d want the Church of which my children are a part to be sufficiently concerned about the things of Christ, that the Bible would be taught without apology, and that they would be granted the opportunity to grow in their relationship to Jesus Christ.
And I would want the Church of which my children are a part, to be sufficiently concerned about the local mission of the Church, to always keep the buildings in first-class condition, and to always maintain the programs at maximum effectiveness. And I would want the Church of which my children are a part to be sufficiently concerned about the ministry of Jesus Christ into the world, that they would give generously, not begrudgingly, but generously of the fantastic resources which God Himself has given in the first place. I would want to see that the church of which my children are a part remains utterly faithful to holding high the saving, redeeming Gospel of Jesus Christ and that the church of which my children are a part remains equally faithful to trying to right the wrongs that exist in our society in the name of that same Jesus Christ. I would remind my children, for all of its human limitations and all of its painful shortcomings, that the church is nothing less than the chosen people of God on this Earth; and that it is my deepest prayer for them that the three of them shall decide in their lives to always, always take their stand with the people of God, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Well, I suppose there are some other things I would like to include. I think I’d want to put something in there about receiving everything that life has to offer, but keeping only a few things. I think I’d want to put something in there about loving life absolutely to the fullest, but never loving it so much that they would ever be afraid to leave it. I think I’d want to put something in there about always maintaining the gift of laughter and yet all the while remembering that life’s most beautiful moments do not provoke laughter but rather provoke tears, tears of deep emotion and abiding joy.
And then, I’d tell Meg and Beth all over again about that wonderful Christmas Eve Day when God first brought them to live with us and they became our children, and how from that moment till this they have made the angels sing in our lives. And I would remind them that when they want to know what it means to be a woman in Christ, they could begin by looking at their mother. And I would go on to tell John David all over again about that bright day one October when Meg and Beth went to pick out their little brother, and how he then became our little boy, our son, and how he has brightened our lives ever since. And I would urge him to be like Jesus, angrily blazing away at the wrongs that exist in our world, but always tenderly touching the lives of those in need he happens to encounter along his life’s way.
I’d urge the three of them to always retain a sense of wonder, to always gasp a little bit every time they see a dazzling sunset or a hillside aflame with autumn color, or the lovely, lifting, lilting flight of a seagull. And I’d ask one thing more of them, that they would be forgiving. Forgiving of my failures as a parent, forgiving of anyone who might wrong them along the way, for whatever reason or for no reason whatever, and to be forgiving of the sin-sick, war-torn world that I offer to them. In the last paragraph, this is what I would write. “In Jesus Christ, your mother and I have come to know what it is to live and to love and to believe and to hope. Always then, my children, always look to Jesus. He will never fail you. In my thoughts, I kiss the three of you, and I wish for each of you life abundant in Jesus Christ here and hereafter.” I’d sign the letter like this, “With all the love one heart can hold, Dad.” Let us pray.
O God, may our homes and our hearts be the dwelling place of Him who comes to claim us as His very own: Jesus, Your son, our Savior, Jesus. Amen.