Week of January 15

[This devotional addresses a current, “Pop-Up” moral issue]

Training Children not to Stall the Moral Engine

Read: Genesis 44-46; Luke 18
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Proverbs 1:7, ESV
“But Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’”
Luke 18:16, ESV


The King James version of the Bible contains the oft-quoted verse, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for such is the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16, KJV). The opening word means “to permit” or “to allow,” and we may easily capture the sense of Jesus’ words, but what do we do if children themselves are the cause of literal suffering?

Late last week the news media broadcast the account of a six-year-old child shooting his teacher in a Virginia Beach, Virginia, public school. Yes, you read the sentence correctly. Something terribly wrong occurred and, since the moral issue has “popped up,” we will turn our devotional thoughts today toward this timely ethical concern.

The Meaning of the Bible Passage

Grown-up disciples demonstrate childlike dependence!
First, we choose to turn to God’s word to seek some comfort and guidance regarding our children. The well-known passages on Christ’s care for children come to my mind anytime I think about our innocent ones (Luke 18:15-17; Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16). We know the intent of the Gospel writers to point out that all humans are significant, including children, who were often overlooked and considered to be disposable in the world of Jesus’ day.

The Lord’s disciples are never to exclude the insignificant ones! A. T. Robertson, a New Testament and Greek scholar of the last century, said “Jesus makes the child the model for those who seek entrance into the kingdom of God, not the adult the model for the child” (ATR). We must first accept Jesus with childlike dependence to be His minister.
Something touched a nerve in Jesus when His disciples rebuked parents for bringing their children to Jesus. The word “rebuke” takes on the meaning of verbally correcting or scolding someone (Luke 18:15). Jesus used the same word when He rebuked the wind and waves in Luke 8:24. This became a teachable moment, because He then summoned the parents and children to Himself.

He then corrected the disciples for their use of verbal wind and waves (cf. Mark 10:14; Matthew 19:14)! Have you, yourself, ever been a “tempest in a teapot” with innocent ones? The twin moral principles of human significance and childlike dependence we likely know already, but we are shocked when an “innocent” child assaults an adult teacher and caregiver!
Children require grown-up guidance
I do not know the background reasons why the child brought a handgun to school and used it to assault a teacher. I do know, however, that children require training in what I will term the Four R’s: reading, writing, arithmetic, and moral responsibility. Solomon states a powerful message that holds implications for a flourishing life, regardless of one’s age.
The first seven verses of Proverbs form a prologue to the entirety of the book, and Solomon begins by calling us to master its contents. He claims that learning the contents will give a person the key to a successful life. Verses 2-6 provide us with the purpose of the book, to teach wisdom to the reader. The book is both for children (v. 4) and for the mature and learned (v. 5) (NAC). Let me offer a pathway to wise living that grows not only from within the Book of Proverbs, but the entirety of the Scriptures.
Core virtues that frame a flourishing life
Life that leads to success requires four basic virtues to be instilled in a person. First, acting rightly provides one essential part of the frame that surrounds all that God is doing in our lives (see Proverbs 2:7; 3:27). A second core ingredient that is important for life’s framework is to use one’s freedom wisely (“autonomy”; cf. Proverbs 1:8-19). A third important principle for wise living is to treat others fairly (“justice”; Proverbs 2:8-9; 3:28-29). Finally, respecting the lives of oneself and others is a key element in framing one’s life (“life’s sanctity”; Proverbs 1:8-19).
Solomon teaches us that such practical wisdom is grounded in a foundational commitment to God. I am certainly no Monet, but I do know that a good painting must have background, whether we begin with a coat of primer for painting a room in our home or lay down a backdrop of color on the canvas. Our base color in our life portrait is “trusting wholly” in the Lord (3:5). Solomon uses a word that means the sense of well-being that comes from finding one’s security in the Lord.
Interestingly, we likely allow our understanding of belief, found in the New Testament, to color our interpretation of Solomon’s words in Proverbs 3:5. The point in this context, I believe, is more like the security of a child. God makes us to “feel safe.”

False sources of security include: man (Psalm 118:8), riches (Psalm 49:6), military strength (Deuteronomy 28:52), and one’s own righteousness (Ezekiel 33:13). The wise person makes certain that his or her “safety zone” is the Lord. It is not much of a moral stretch for me to state that the child shooter and you and I will find our lasting security not in guns and drones, but only in the God who cares for us and beckons us to fall into His arms!

A Message for Our Lives

Here is a direct point of application. Wise parents know the importance of equipping their children to center their lives in Jesus Christ. They will follow with biblical training that the parents must provide and model (Ephesians 6:1-4). Here is a brief anecdote to illustrate the point.
My earthly father, now deceased, taught me what Aristotle would term practical wisdom by patiently showing me how to do things, like mow the yard, repair plumbing, and do minor repairs and upkeep on a car. I’ll never forget receiving my Driver License learner’s permit.

Dad helped me earn the permit by demonstrating, and then allowing me to practice, things like parallel parking. Ah! The greatest lesson that he gave me was how to hold a standard shift 1968 Volkswagen Beetle on a steep incline at a railroad crossing and major traffic intersection!

He humbly let me know that he, himself, had to learn with the help of others. His patience as I learned—yes, I stalled the car several times on the incline—was a tremendous encouragement. Then, it was his readiness to race to my aid, when he set me free to drive on my own, that gave me security. I remember his help the time the car ran out of gas on a busy thoroughfare!

Dad and mom both modeled and taught my older sister and me how to love and obey the Lord. It is the holism that supplies children with what they need in life. Your earthly parents may have failed in this regard, but the invitation today is to mold your children’s moral lives by being present and active in the home regarding their total moral development.
Here is my moral message. A broken and angry teenager stunned the world last year by entering a Uvalde, Texas, Elementary School and murdering teachers and schoolchildren. Once again, a child committed an act of violence on innocent lives. The story that was lost in the confusion, agonizingly slow response to the the initial crisis, subsequent public outcry, and politics of gun control, was that the young man had grown up in a severely dysfunctional home!

I imagine that the six-year-old child has experienced some of the same brokenness at home. Our culture too often turns a blind eye on the significance of holistic moral training in the home, which includes practical education and moral training. Sadly, we Christians contribute to the problem without even knowing it.
Christian parents, I do find value in teaching our children how to excel in things like playing the piano and participating in sports, but never to the point where they learn to disvalue, due to our neglect, God’s call to be trained to live wisely in the world.

We have not fulfilled our parental mandate to teach and train if we fail to provide our little ones with moral instruction in God’s way to live life. Yes, indeed, permit the little ones to come to Jesus, but do not hinder His same access to you!

(Click here to read an article that I have written on profiles of those who commit school violence and the contributing factors in the home).

For Thought and Action

1. We have ways to measure the oil level in our vehicles, the temperature in a room, the wind sweeping o’er the plain, and our eyesight, blood sugar, and heart rate! The Scriptures provide us with a way to measure our moral readiness to live rightly in God’s world.

Check your preparedness today by seriously evaluating how you are framing your daily moral life and that of your children. Take active steps to equip your little ones to find their center in a relationship with the God who loves them and cares for them.
2. For Families: Perhaps this might be a good time as parents to do your own experiment. As your children are watching television, movies, or playing games this week, pick up your small notepad and a pen and spend one hour watching with them.

In that hour, take note of how many times someone commits an act of violence. List them (being sure to include how many times something is blown up on a video game) and total them at the end of one hour. Multiply this figure by how many hours a week your child watches movies or television shows or plays these kinds of games. Then consider what images and sensory experiences (visual and audio) are filling the minds and hearts of your children.

Now, think about your typical family routine each week. How many hours does your child spend hearing Bible stories, memorizing scripture, participating in church activities that teach about God’s Word or missions or growing in Christ-likeness? As you compare the two lists, pray and ask God about whether you might need to change some patterns in your household in order to mold the moral development of your children now, and encourage their eternal devotion to Christ.

May your paths be straight,  
Larry C. Ashlock