“Please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.’ Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now. Then the Lord said, ‘I have pardoned, according to your word. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these TEN times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. But my servant, Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land, and his descendants shall possess it.’” Numbers 14:17-24
A recent public interview with Houston Texan NFL running back, Arian Foster, emphasized his agnosticism over many NFL players who publicly and repeatedly acknowledge faith in God. Foster grew up in a Muslim home, where his father was constantly and violently physically abusive, despite being the head of a “practicing” Muslim home. Foster talked about sometimes speaking to “God” in private, but “God” never spoke back to him. These memories and experiences built Foster’s view of “God.” Though he has good friends in football who are devout believers and are loving and kind to him in his search for God, winsomely witnessing to him, he still does not believe there is any convincing proof God is. I remember well a conversation many years ago with a neighbor, a liberal and unbelieving journalist for a local newspaper where we then lived. His young eight-year-old daughter wanted terribly to come to our church’s Vacation Bible School with her other neighborhood friends, including my children; the church was less than a block from their house. His response was, “Absolutely not.” He said he wanted her to make her own decision about religion when she was eighteen or older. My response was, “You are most probably making the decision for her today, as you have been doing her first eight years, and will her next ten; all the formative years, deciding for the rest of her life.
The natural, instinctive power of a parent’s behavior, character, and proclivities upon their child’s own personal development and being is irrefutable. This natural power is not always totally dominant in every situation; God’s grace can pierce the stranglehold of the poor example of parents, but this lifeline should not be relied upon to escape the results of continuing, unrepentant, bad parenting. There are many examples of children who have been “brands plucked from the fire” of their home life by God’s grace, whose coming to faith foiled the devil’s plans for them resulting from poor parenting. But the truth of “like parent, like child” is borne out by repeated experience throughout history, and the Scripture warns every parent who has ears to hear about it. There are serious consequences to unrepentant living in rebellion to God and spurning His sole prescription for how life is lived successfully; all other self-prescriptions are “sinking sand.” God sent His Son to make sick people well; every human being is born sick. Only those who earnestly seek the Great Physician will find healing from the universal fatal disease of sin. It is sin that is the common germ in unsuccessful parenting. The ultimate gauge of success is whether your children and their children will experience eternal life.
Being right with God is preeminently the best preparation for becoming a parent and sustaining godly parenting. In the midst of parenting, it is the only way to rectify what has proceeded in the life of your child. The grace of God can do wonders in healing what has been previously done poorly. Never think it is too late. Even as a rebellious teenager, your child can be salvaged by God’s grace through his parents becoming “sold out” to God through His Son. The principle of “like parent, like child” is still definitive during the first five years, and through the next five, and the next. Yet the spiritual transformation of parents even after the “deed is done” is all you can really do now to rectify what was done poorly in years past. Your new example and earnest prayer for your teenage or adult children may well do wonders for their own transformation, even if belatedly. The worst thing you can do is become despondent that it is too late. Nothing is “too late” for God before the Lord returns. Take hope and example in the actions of the widow in Luke 18:1-8.
The text for today tells us that our own sinful life affects the lives of the generations that proceed from us. It tells us the power of our own rebellion; our children will be rebellious as we were, as will their children, your grandchildren. But the power of sin can be broken and reversed; this is the whole point of this text. Loving God is more powerful than the generational power of rebellion against God. The impact of loving God in your own life proceeds to thousands after who are impacted by your example. Your spiritual legacy extends by God’s promise to generations by your faithful following of Jesus Christ in your life. You can influence for good and eternity the life of your great-great-granddaughter or -grandson. This is what God is saying here. Do not let this truth go in one ear and out the other as just vaporous words. God tells you and me, “My word will not return unto me void. It will accomplish the purpose for which I sent it.” Cling to Him, His words, and His promises. He and they are the ONLY firm anchor in the constant hurricane of this life.
“Troubles almost ‘whelm the soul, tempters seek to lure astray, storms obscure the light of day; but in Christ I can be bold, I’ve an anchor that shall hold.
And it holds, my anchor holds. Blow your wildest, then O gale, on my bark so small and frail; by His grace I shall not fail, for my anchor holds, my anchor holds.”
(4th verse of William Martin’s hymn, “My Anchor Holds”, 1902)
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