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Influencing Children - Abusive or Loving?

Several months ago I overheard a brief exchange between friends of mine who are followers of Christ and it was very disturbing.

Friend #1 said, "I was raised in a home where my parents didn't try to influence our religious choices" to which friend #2 replied, "wow, you're lucky."

You're lucky? I strongly disagree.

Mark 10:13-16

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

Note that in the above passage, the children aren't just sauntering up to Jesus on their own, the parents are bringing their children to Him. There is a disturbing new mindset trending with young families - even Christian families - and it is this: trying to influence our children's beliefs is a form of abuse. This is absurd of course, but it is becoming a prevalent thought process nonetheless. Surprisingly, these same parents who don't want to sway their children toward faith in Jesus have no problem influencing nutritional decisions or vaccination schedules or training them to wash hands and brush teeth. We parents seem to agree that children need to be guided and trained in healthy physical habits and yet, when it comes to our children's spirituality, many parents take a hands-off approach. This makes no logical sense, it is not what is modeled for us in scripture, and it is evil. ("So...tell us how you really feel...")

I have seen the following analogy printed in several sermons and magazine articles, and I thought I would share it here as well.

A preacher wanted to show off his garden to a man who wouldn’t let his children attend church. The man said he wanted them to wait until they were old enough to decide for themselves. When they walked in to the preacher's garden, it was full of weeds, which were choking out the squash, beans, and tomatoes. The man said, “This is a pitiful excuse for a garden!” To which the preacher replied: “I just wanted to wait until the vegetables had a chance to decide for themselves what they wanted to do!”

Someday our young children will grow to an age where they must decide for themselves whether or not they will love and submit to Jesus as Lord, but as the above analogy points out, by the time they reach that age their hearts may already be in a heap of trouble. It is our God-given role as parents to shepherd the hearts of our young children. We have the great joy and privilege of laying the groundwork of faith by modeling the peace and rightness of God's law and the beauty and joy of His presence. Today we can influence our children toward faith in Jesus. Today! The world calls this brainwashing or abuse, but the Bible calls it love. And so we, like our children, must choose for ourselves which voice speaks truth. Choose wisely.

Matthew 18:2-6

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

2 Timothy 3:14-15

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom[a] you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 21:16

From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise

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