Love and Obedience

Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NRSV)

At the center of God’s law is love.  It is the great motivator for those who desire holiness before God and wholeness before the mirror.  When we commit ourselves to loving God wholeheartedly, our obedience is fruit on the vine.  The Shemah (the passage above) is a critical turning point in the lives of the Israelites.  They are being reoriented from duty and obligation to love and gratitude.  God is leading them into a different relationship than they had been accustomed to.  Years of slavery had taught them to obey out of fear – fear of punishment, fear of death.  The only fear love provides is the fear of disappointing the object of our love.

It is easy to teach our children to obey out of fear.  We can change the fortunes of their life effectively by cutting off resources or diminishing the size of their world.  At some point we need to move them from this fretful compliance to an obedience rooted in love.  Over time our children should be more afraid of disappointing us than any punishment we might levy against a transgression.  This calls parents to an authority over their children that is rooted in love.

That is the catch.  Our obedience to God is rooted in love because He first loved us.  We cannot lead our children into loving obedience if we do not love first in our authority over them.  Anger, frustration and selfishness can undermine that authority very quickly and our children will either obey us out of fear or rebel out of their own anger, frustration and selfishness.  Handling the authority God has given to us over our children with love is not a magic pill, however.  God’s people still disobeyed after God had blessed them with His love, but God remained unchanged.

A belief in the constancy of God’s love needs to begin with the growing presence of that love in us for our children.  An obedient heart submitted to the will of God is nurtured in the presence of love and discipline.  May we as parents move our children toward wholehearted love and genuine obedience.

Lord, help me to live a life of love and obedience in the presence of my children.  Grow in me the humility and maturity to love my children as you love me.  Lead me constantly forward into Your amazing, relentless love. Amen.

Rules Are Not Made to Be Broken, the Broken Need to Be Ruled

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.” – Exodus 20:1-6 (NIV)

Everyone has a ruler.  We all have something that defines our thoughts and actions.  There is a power or presence or person that holds sway over us in a way that nothing else does.  For the believer, our ruler is God.  This does not mean that we always act as if God rules us, but that we have chosen God as our ruler.  For others, it is their career.  For some, it is their relationships.  Still others are ruled by their passions.  Children have a ruler from the moment they are born: self-interest.

This may seem harsh, but it is reality.  Children are interested in their needs and their needs alone.  They have to learn to share.  They have to learn to consider others.   They need a ruler.  In the home, fathers and mothers are that ruler, setting the tone for their children to understand and accept God as their ruler later on in life.  The people of Israel needed a ruler, and rules, but they were ruled by self-interest.  God had sent them the Ten Commandments, but they wanted a God they could define and rules they could follow without any effort.

God’s rules create boundaries and give shape to things.  They help us make decisions that honor Him and bless those around us.  They bring focus and definition to the fuzziness of a confused and contradictory world.  Rules give us a language that explains the motivation and meaning of our actions.  God’s rules help shape us into the image of His Son.  God’s rules mold us into creatures fit for heaven.

Teaching our children rules helps prepare them for a ruler.  When we teach them how to share, not to lie, or clean up their own mess we are preparing them for God’s commands.  Rules are not to be broken.  Rules mend.  Rules make us whole.  Rules allow us to experience a freedom we can never experience in anarchy and rebellion.

Lord, help me teach your rules to my children in grace and love.  Give me the wisdom to define the boundaries of righteousness to my children as they grow and mature.  Let me set and example by living within your rules each day. Amen.