I recently was asked to give this “Ted-Talk” style presentation at our Western Region Conference, and people have continued to ask me to reprint this for them. For that reason, I have decided to share it with you today in this June edition of Priority.
I have challenged myself today to an IMPOSSIBLE task. I am going to begin with a statement that is going to make most of you absolutely disagree with me—with everything in you! But if you’ll give me the chance, I believe that by the time you are finished reading this article, you will not only agree with the statement, you may even thank me for making it. IMPOSSIBLE? Let’s find out. Here’s the statement:
God wants every one of us who are parents to SACRIFICE our kids EXACTLY like Abraham did on Mount Moriah.
Read that through again, slowly, and then let’s see if you will come to agree with me in the next ten minutes.
First we need to demolish our old understanding about was going on there on Mount Moriah. If you grew up in the church, you probably saw pictures of Abraham as an old man leading his little boy up that mountain or with his knife raised over the little guy on the altar.
WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. That’s not what happened at all!
How do you know, Steve?
In Genesis 22, God SPECIFICALLY says that Abraham had ISAAC carry the logs for the fire—UP THE SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN. Now, my grandchildren are wonderful, but at their age they couldn’t carry twigs and grass across a flat surface for very far, let alone CARRYING LOGS UP A MOUNTAIN.
Starting up Beersheba (at 980 feet in altitude), the last leg of that journey up into the mountain would have meant climbing on foot a thousand feet up a rugged terrain to the top!
And by the way, how many logs would it take to BURN UP a large sacrifice? Fifty pounds of logs MIGHT do it. It takes a full-grown man to carry logs like that up a mountain!
So unless Isaac was actually from the planet Krypton, this is a FULL-GROWN SON we’re talking about, not a little boy. This was NOT child-sacrifice, no matter what you have been taught.
If Abraham, nearly 130 years old by this point in his life, had tried to chase down (and then tie down) a squirming little boy, he would never have had the speed or strength to do it. This was NOT a little boy.
I know what you’re thinking: If Isaac was actually a young man at the height of his strength, then how did Abraham (who would have had a hard time catching a toddler by 130 years old) force him to be tied hand and foot and laid down onto an altar of wood? Honestly? There is NO WAY!!
SO WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON? (You’re going to love this!)
- The Bible tells us that God took Abraham to a very SPECIFIC mountain which was a three-day journey away! Here’s what the Genesis 22:2 says: Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Did you know that they passed several closer mountains to get to Moriah? Why were they going to that particular mountain?
The Bible makes clear that ON THE WAY, the Lord explained where they were going and why. How do we know that? In verse 2, the scripture says, “… a mountain I WILL show you.” And in verse 9 it says, “… they reached the place God HAD told him about.” In verse 2 God said, “I will.” By verse 9, the record states, “God had.”
- Sometime during that three-day journey, God told ABRAHAM something SO MIND-BLOWING that he was willing to lay his adult son on the altar. And I believe that by the time he explained everything to Isaac at the top of that mountain, Isaac lay down on that wood in full, voluntary cooperation!!
- What did God tell him? Does it help you to know that Mount Moriah was the exact site of the future city of JERUSALEM? (We know that from II Chronicles 3:1: “Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah ….”)
- God TOLD Abraham what GOD HIMSELF would do on that mountaintop with HIS OWN adult son Jesus, who so trusted HIS father that He would lie down willingly on the wood of the cross! In fact, God permitted Abraham to SEE what would take place there!
- That is why Jesus told the Pharisees centuries later on that same mountaintop, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day. He saw it, and was glad!” God had let him SEE it!!
- We are taught in Hebrews 11:19, “Abraham concluded that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead.” WHY did Abraham come to that conclusion?? Because God had told Abraham His plan to sacrifice JESUS on that mountain, and then to raise Him back to life!!
When Abraham trusted what God said enough to walk up that mountain with his son, his obedient faith was unlocking the way for God to sacrifice His OWN Son on that same mountain ridge of Moriah—which would someday be called Jerusalem.
The statement with which I began was this:
God wants every one of us who are parents to SACRIFICE our kids
EXACTLY like Abraham did on Mount Moriah.
In what way did Abraham sacrifice his son on Mount Moriah?
God saved the world through the bloodline of a father who raised his son with SUCH love for God that he would willingly give his life to save the world.
In the couple of minutes that we have left, I’d like to reveal how YOU can best raise your children so that when they are adults, they will give their lives to serving Jesus.
I BELIEVE WE CAN DO THAT WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY ENDING CHILD-SACRIFICE IN THE PARSONAGE!
To do that, I need to warn you: There are two DEADLY paths up Mount Moriah, and I want to plant warning signs on both paths because they could cause the spiritual death of your kids.
The FIRST DEADLY PATH up Mount Moriah path is to sacrifice your family BY FORCE on the altar of ministry.
Well-meaning missionaries made this mistake for decades, sending their kids away to be raised in boarding schools while they focused on their missionary work. In some cases it turned out OK by God’s grace, but I shudder when I think of the generations of MK’s (missionary kids) who turned away from the Lord because they felt ABANDONED by their parents. Even those who didn’t feel abandoned have often had a hard time in life. I know many of them!
Listen, I admire the sacrifices that missionaries have always made for the Lord’s work, but that isn’t the one I admire the most.
If anyone doesn’t provide for the needs of those in his own household, he is worse than an unbeliever!! (I Timothy 5:8)
Pastors, missionaries, leaders—DO NOT neglect your own children for the sake of your ministry! God COMMANDED you to walk with them and talk with them and teach them about Him!!
AND ALL OF THAT TAKES TIME!!
The SECOND DEADLY PATH up Mount Moriah is the one I ACTUALLY see more often today. Pastors are so determined NOT to sacrifice their children that they actually GUARD their children from the ministry as if the ministry were an enemy!
Here’s why this is a fatal path: kids are geniuses at picking up your feelings and attitudes; if you guard them FROM the Lord’s work, they grow up guarding their hearts AGAINST the Lord’s work—and all too often, even against the Lord of the work!
THAT TOO IS A HORRIBLE FORM OF CHILD SACRIFICE.
LETTING YOUR KIDS COME TO SEE THE MINISTRY AS THE ENEMY OF THE FAMILY IS A CERTAIN WAY FOR THEM TO HATE THE CHURCH IN THEIR LITTLE HEARTS AND PERHAPS EVEN COME TO HATE JESUS, THE LORD OF THE CHURCH.
TWO TERRIBLE MISTAKES:
- Sacrifice your family in order to do the Lord’s work because you think it is noble to ignore the precious little ones entrusted to you, OR
- Sacrifice your family SPIRITUALLY by guarding them FROM the Lord’s work so that your children eventually look at the church (and the Lord) with narrowed eyes of suspicion and hold the church at arm’s length as adults.
Frankly, Satan doesn’t care which side of the canoe your family falls out of as long as your children drown!!
Now for the great news!! There IS a safe and middle path!!
The lesson of Mount Moriah is this:
God wants us to INVOLVE our kids in ministry,
not sacrifice them to it.
By God’s grace, He enabled Sue and me to learn some wise lessons from others who had gone before us in this life, and thanks to HIS kindness and THEIR wisdom, our ministry never poisoned our children.
All four of our children are now adults, and we are continually so grateful at how much they are all on fire for Jesus. They ALL text each other all the time with prayers and verses and encouragement, and they have all led people to Christ as adults and continue to do so. And they’re raising all of our grandchildren to LOVE and to SERVE Jesus.
It is our testimony that it IS POSSIBLE to make ministry and family INTERLOCKING, so neither sacrifices the other!!
We made plenty of mistakes in parenting, just like everyone else, but the principles that others taught us helped us to protect our children, and I believe that they will help you to protect yours. Here are a few to get you started:
1. Many of us learned Proverbs 22:6, “Raise up a child in the way that he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” In the Hebrew, the emphasis is different. It is like this: “Raise up a child in the way that HE should go …
In Israel when a mother had a newborn who wouldn’t latch on to nurse to receive needed nourishment from the mother’s milk, she would rub some sweet juice from dates or some honey on the PALATE of the baby’s mouth. When the baby would taste that sweetness, he or she would suck on it, and their appetite would be stimulated.
THAT IS WHY THE WORD FOR “RAISE UP your child” is khaw-nak, meaning “the roof of your mouth.” The Bible is saying, STIMULATE THE APPETITES of your children for the Lord in the way that they were uniquely made, and they’ll still be living like that when they’re in the nursing home!!
That leads to this …
2. Don’t force your kids to have the same spiritual gifts that you do. Some parts of your ministry may frighten them. They might NOT feel comfortable standing up in front of hundreds of people!
Raise up your children in the way THEY should go—not in the way that YOU think they should express their young faith. They are not your performing seals. If they LOVE to stand and quote Bible verses, then let them do it! If they shrink from that, then celebrate the way that THEY love to serve Jesus!
The spiritual gifts and roles that God has for your children are mostly hard-wired in them from birth and should be detected as EARLY as possible. Our four children are VERY different from each other, and they all love the Lord in their own unique and incredible ways.
3. Never take your ministry problems home with you. YOUR CHILDREN OVERHEAR EVERYTHING YOU SAY—even when you think they are asleep in bed!! When you complain to your spouse about a painful board meeting, your children only hear that someone at the church is HURTING daddy or mommy, AND THEY GROW TO HATE THE CHURCH THAT IS HURTING YOU.
Speak only praise in front of your children. If you MUST unburden yourself of those feelings, do it FIRST ALONE IN YOUR PRAYER PLACE—SILENTLY. Then if you still need to talk to your spouse, do it on a walk when the kids aren’t around. (But you even need to guard YOUR SPOUSE from the risk of resentment.)
4. When your children DO notice problems at the church, tell them, “Yes, buddy, sometimes there are problems at churches; but no matter WHERE one works, there will be problems. That’s why we all need the help of Jesus!” IN OTHER WORDS, NEVER MAKE IT ABOUT THE LORD’S WORK. MAKE IT THE PROBLEM OF HUMAN FALLENNESS IN GENERAL.
Tell them, “This is HARD WORK, but it is a PRIVILEGE to serve the Lord this way, and He is going to give me a GREAT REWARD someday for doing it!”
5. Never let your church people put your kids on a pedestal or shame them for acting like other kids, as if they should be everyone’s example. That kind of pressure is legalistic and cruel to your kids. It sets a double standard, and the justice part in their little hearts says, “THAT’S NOT FAIR!!” Instead, TELL YOUR CHILDREN, “We want you to do what pleases Jesus because we love HIM and NOT because your dad or mom works at the church.”
And when it becomes necessary, defend your kids from double standards IN FRONT OF YOUR KIDS!
6. Finally, make sure you tell your kids WHY you do what you do for the Lord. TELL them how wonderful Jesus has been to you and how glad you are to serve Him. TELL them that it is worth it to love and serve Jesus. And let them ask you questions after every ministry moment (on the way home) so they can learn.
Did Isaac learn to love the Lord through his father’s example? The Bible tells us that he always feared the Lord; and the rabbis tell us that when his wife Rebekah couldn’t have a baby, Isaac took her up Mount Moriah, told her about that place, and prayed THERE that God would open her womb. But we don’t have time to talk about the twins.
For now, let’s decide to raise our children so wisely that when they are adults, they will lay themselves down on the altar of God’s choosing as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to Him.