As we look ahead to the start of another school year and another year of Grow Groups, I’ve been thinking about what goals we have for our children and youth. Do we have a vision for how they turn out as adults? If you’re a parent have you thought that far ahead? When we think about that question, we so often answer with what career we want them to pursue, or other things like being self-supporting, being happy, being active in their community, being healthy, or just moving out of our house. While these are all good things, I believe that we also need to have a vision for our children and youth spiritually, and that is to grow to know and love the Lord and serve him. Unless we consciously set a spiritual goal and pursue it both as families and as a church, we will get what we aim for: nothing.
There are two people in the Bible that I want to look at, and then offer some suggestions for things we can do to raise up spiritually healthy young people. We’re familiar with the stories of Joseph and the Prodigal Son, and they provide two contrasting examples for us. There are a number of similarities in their stories.
- Both stories are about a father and his sons.
- Both stories focus on a younger son.
- Both sons go to a far country, one by choice, the other by force.
- Both sons end up in an environment that produced sexual temptation.
- There was a famine in both countries.
- Both sons worked for a citizen of that far country.
- Both fathers thought that he had lost his son.
- Joseph had a robe that was given to him by his father at the beginning of the story. The Prodigal received a robe from his father at the end of the story.
- The older brothers were jealous of both Joseph and the prodigal.
- In both cases the brothers were not happy to see Joseph or the Prodigal when they met up later in the story.
- In both cases, the father and son had a joyful reunion, and their relationship was restored.
Yet, there are also some striking contrasts in these two stories:
- Joseph began his adult life in a far country as a slave. The prodigal ended up in a far country living like a slave.
- Joseph started in a foreign country with nothing. The prodigal started life in a foreign country with wealth.
- Joseph received evil that he didn’t deserve. The prodigal received good that he didn’t earn.
- Joseph gained wealth. The prodigal wasted wealth.
- Joseph ended in the foreign land with wealth and honor. The prodigal ended in the foreign land with nothing but humiliation.
- Joseph repeated refused to commit adultery. The prodigal partied with prostitutes until his money was gone.
- With honor, Joseph brought his father to him. In disgrace, the prodigal returned home to his father.
- And in the end, Joseph received a ring from the king, and the prodigal received a ring from his father.
So, which of these two models would you see as a preferred future for your child? Joseph exemplified godly wisdom at its best; the prodigal exemplified human foolishness at its worst.
Here’s choice one: My child will leave home before he’s ready, waste all his money (and mine too) on wild partying, will sleep with prostitutes, will end up with nothing and will take care of pigs, until he finally comes to his senses. While some may say that some kids only learn the hard way, that’s a rather low expectation to set for them.
Here’s choice number two: In the most difficult of circumstances (not brought on by himself), my child will have integrity in his work ethic, will repeatedly say no to the temptation of sin, will have faith in God through years of difficulty, will respond to every situation with wisdom, will become a capable, respected leader, will harbor no animosity to those who harmed him, and will provide for me in my old age.
Choice #2 is the obvious winner; how we as parents hope for our children to turn out; how we as a church want our kids to turn out.
Of course, the response of the child isn’t entirely dependent on their parents and the church. I recognize that. But that reality doesn’t diminish our responsibility to do the best things that we can to produce a Joseph-like outcome.
So what are those things? I am drawing this material freely from a book that Angie loaned me by Larry Fowler called Raising a Modern Day Joseph. Fowler suggests five master threads that are the foundation for building a spiritually strong child. If we instill these 5 characteristics in our kids, there is a better chance of them successfully navigating into adulthood. These Five Master Life threads are:
Let’s look at each one of these and see what they mean, and how they were displayed in Joseph’s life.
Master Thread Number One: Respect.
Genesis 39:6-9 (ESV) talks about Joseph’s first rise to power in Potiphar’s house.
6 Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. 7 And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” 8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. 9 He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”
This passage shows us that Joseph had learned respect.
- He respected authority. He was determined not to do anything that would erode his master’s trust in him. He saw the temptation with Potiphar’s wife as a violation of his relationship with Potiphar and the authority that Potiphar had given him. He refused to dishonor that.
- He respected the sanctity of marriage. Joseph says “you are his wife.” Any hanky-panky with Mrs. Potiphar would violate his value system that respected marriage as a sacred relationship.
- He respected right and wrong. He says this would be a “great wickedness.” Joseph is saying: “this is just wrong.”
- He respected God. He saw that a wrong against Potiphar was also a “sin against God.” Joseph had a world view that interpreted daily circumstances in light of God’s character and plans. He knew that this dalliance would be much more than violating a standard, it would also damage his relationship with God.
Based on Joseph’s example we must teach our children to:
- Respect human authority
- Respect human relationships
- Respect God’s standards
- Respect God.
Master Life Thread 2: Wisdom
After rejecting Mrs. Potiphar’s advances, Joseph was thrown in jail unjustly. We pick up the conversation in jail:
Genesis 40:6-8 (ESV) 6 When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. 7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” 8 They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.”
These words tell us a lot about Joseph:
- He saw God as the source of wisdom. “Do not interpretations belong to God?” Although dream interpretation was a “thing” in Egyptian culture, Joseph knew that true wisdom had nothing to do with a culture, or with a profession as dream interpreter, but with a relationship with God. He knew that God was the source of wisdom.
- We learn too that Joseph was confident in his relationship with the God of Wisdom. He did not hesitate to offer to interpret the dream, depending on God’s wisdom. This is extraordinary confidence. Do our kids leave the nest knowing in their hearts that God is the source of wisdom and that they can personally rely on that wisdom?
- First, of course, they need to have that relationship. Second, it will help to weave knowledge of scripture into everyday training.
So based on Joseph’s example in this passage, our assignment is:
- Teach our children to know that Wisdom is based upon God’s Truth
- Build into them the biblical foundations for wisdom. Teach them the Bible.
- Teach them to have confidence in relying on God’s wisdom – The Bible.
Master Life Thread 3: Grace.
Fast forward, Joseph has gotten out of jail and is now ruler and administrator over the land of Egypt. Joseph has, through God’s wisdom, predicted the famine on the land and led the country in preparation and survival through that difficult time. About this time Joseph also became a father. In those times a lot of thought was given to the significance or a name and proper naming of a child. The names of his children reflected the most important lessons he had learned:
Genesis 41:51-52 (ESV) 51 Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” 52 The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
With Manasseh’s name, Joseph tells us that he’s given up bitterness and revenge. With Ephriam’s name, we learn that he’s gained grace and blessing.
- Joseph demonstrated grace. Joseph had learned to give grace, mercy and forgiveness, and to receive Joseph had the power to take revenge for the wrongs that his brothers had done to him, which makes his response even more remarkable. Where he could have punished those who hurt him, he chose instead to extend love and grace to those who had hurt him.
- Joseph forgot. Instead of nursing a grudge, Joseph, with God’s help, forgave and forgot.
- Joseph received grace. Joseph could have claimed that all his success was due to his good looks and exceptional skills. Yet, he didn’t do that, instead, he recognized and proclaimed that all the good happening to him came from God. Joseph gave God all the glory.
So we need to:
- Teach our children to respond with grace and mercy when wronged.
- Teach them to view good things they enjoy as coming from the grace of God.
Master Life Thread 4: Destiny
We move ahead some years to when Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy grain during the famine. Who could have predicted the masterful way that God wove together the evil done to Joseph into having Joseph at the right place at the right time? Genesis 45:4-10 (ESV) 4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have.
What an astounding passage!
- Joseph had a sense of destiny. By now he had a clear picture of God’s call on his life. He knew his life had purpose. There was a reason for all he had endured in God’s perfect plan.
- Joseph’s destiny was God’s to choose. Joseph would never have chosen the path his life took, yet, he clearly saw that God had mapped out his life journey. Joseph repeats the words that “God sent me” three times in this short passage. The role of a Christian parent is to give a sense of destiny that’s more specific than we find in the world. Secular authorities tell us to help our children find their destiny; but Christian parents are to raise our children to find their destiny in the will and calling of God.
To teach our children destiny in God’s Will we must:
- Transfer a sense of destiny to our children.
- Make it clear that destiny is found in following the calling and will of God.
Master Life Thread 5: Perspective
We move ahead a few more years, and all of Joseph’s family is now in Egypt. The time came when Jacob, the father, died. And Joseph’s brothers got concerned about how that death might change their situation in Egypt:
Genesis 50:15-21 (ESV) 15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: 17 ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Perspective is so critical in life. Joseph repeats in this passage his sense of destiny, and then directed attention to God’s plan and sovereignty. He made these points:
- It was the brothers’ plan to harm
- God’s righteous plan overruled the brothers’ evil plan, and in fact, used their plan to accomplish His.
- Joseph also tells them that he plans to align his future actions with God’s plan by providing for his brothers and their children.
We learn from Joseph’s example that:
- We must teach our children that God is in control.
- We must teach our children to interpret life events in light of God’s sovereignty. Things will go wrong for them, things they didn’t cause and have no control over. How they respond is what really matters.
Five Master Life Threads:
I challenge you to weave these five characteristics into every part of your child’s spiritual education. Weave them into every part of life, both yours and theirs. We’ll be doing the same as we craft lessons for all the kids and adults of our church. We love our people and we want to see them grow in every way to be Modern Day Josephs. Be sure to join us for the Bible Breakfast next Sabbath at 9 AM for good food, good fellowship, and to learn about the great classes we are offering for all age groups this Fall.