Levi Lusko - Preparing Your Children to Spread Their Wings
Psalm 128 is where we are if you're just coming in now. We are in a series of messages, or really, one message broken up into multiple weeks, which is how we generally approach things around here, which is why it's so awesome to come back, and then to come back again, and then to keep on coming back. And we're digging into Psalm 128, a passage of scripture we encouraged you to memorize. Did anybody memorize Psalm 128, anybody here? How about... OK, come on up here. Let's hear you say. Come on up here. You notice that? That hits different, doesn't it? You're like, yeah, I had memorized it. You're like, no, I don't know about that.
Who memorized it and is willing to say it up here right here? Anybody? I know Kyle will. Yeah, but you were paid to memorize it. What are you talking about? Anybody not on the church staff or internship that's like, I've committed Psalm 128, don't make me start walking around. I'm going to, there's not one person who will say this scripture verse on the microphone today? Not one person? OK, there we go. That's my guy right here. What's your name. Mark. OK. My first time here, and you're going to make me do that. It's your first time here, and you already know Psalm 128? Yeah. All right, let's see it. All right, so... No, I get to hold the mic. OK. Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord and walketh in his ways. He shall eat the fruit of his hands and, I haven't done this for a while. And you shall be happy. And you shall be happy all the days of your life. Your wife should be like a fruitful vine.
I like the mid-stream shout out right there, "by the fruitful vine by the size of your house and your children like olive plants". Well, that's another psalm. No, that's it. That's it. Is children like olive plants? That's what I'm preaching about today. Round about your table. Yeah. Wow. OK, and then it says something else. "The Lord bless you out of Zion. Oh, the Lord bless you out of Zion and children's children. May you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life". Yes, may you see your children's children's children. And peace be upon Israel. Come on, let's hear for Mark, everybody. Mark crushed it. Crushed it.
So that's what we're talking about in these days. And in this specific message series, my assignment is to talk to you about preparing your children to spread their wings. I want to talk to you about preparing your children to spread their wings. It's been said that the only kind of exam you can't cram for is a dental exam, and there is some truth to that. Man, when you get to that, you can't like spend the, say, I stayed up all night drinking Red Bull and flossing the night before my... when you get a dental exam, you find out what you did or what you didn't do. And I think when your kids turn 18, when your kids grow up, when your kids get to that spot, you find out. It's like an acid test. It tells you what you did or didn't do.
You can't stay up the night before your child's 18th birthday and cram a decade worth of daddy-daughter dates, and intentional conversations, and weekends where you were in church together, and summer camps, and you can't do that. You get to that moment and you discover, did I or did I not do the things that I was called to do? And so what I want to do today in this time that we have before we take Communion and come to the Lord's table with our hearts as they are, not as we wish they were. So if any of this message touches regret, touches "I wish I had," touches "I'm not where I wish I would be, and there's divorce in my story," and all the myriad things that the enemy is going to try and rub your nose in, we're going to bring all that with us to the Cross.
We're going to bring all that with us to the table. We're going to bring all that with us as we remind ourselves again that there's one perfect parent, and it's not you, and it's not me. Good news and bad news. Good news, your kids need a perfect parent. Actually, that's bad news. The bad news is, your kids need a perfect parent. I'm like, nailed that line at the 11:00. You just watch me. Kyle is going to be like, nailed it. When I do it at 11:00, you just watch that. And tell me, at the 9:00, you get the rough stuff, all right? The good news is, we have a perfect parent for every one of us, for our kids and for ourselves, and it's our Heavenly Father. And so we can all just relax a little bit and where we wish we were. We can start out with this agreement, that every one of us have room to grow when it comes to our parenting. God knows I do. I mean, geez, I was, ugh.
This week, spending the time trying to prepare a message about this subject, it's just so many things that I think I want to grow, and I have a long way to go. And yet I'm thankful that Jennie and I, in these years, as we've been in this journey of parenting, 16 years, that we have learned so much, and we've gotten to see proof of concept on some things. And so I want to share with you what God's Word has to say, some things we've learned, and hopefully it's practical and helpful and that God uses it to bless you. Psalm 128 verse 3 says that your kids shall be like olive plants around your table. Mark crushed that line. I mean, he did think it was in a different Psalm, but he just crushed it eventually.
And I want to talk to you about children like olive plants. Why is it that the psalmist, when describing the results of the blessings that come upon you, the aura of divine blessing, we have said that is just on the person who fears God and commits to walking his ways? And I want to come back and anchor our comments today on that opening line. Because if we just get down to, what are four things you can do today to be a better mom? And six ways to be an intentional father, there's probably some good in that. But then it puts it back on us. But what the psalmist knew, what Jesus knows, what you and I need to know is when we start with the foundation, when we start with doing what it takes to build a storm-proof life, we anchor our hearts on the fear of the Lord.
And when we resolve out of that fear, out of that love of who He is, and that revelation of what he's done to live a life that pleases him, the outcome of that is we're going to see His blessing in our marriage. We're going to see His blessing work itself out in our children, and our grandchildren, and beyond. And so we're not making the goal, be a better parent. We're not making the goal, have a better marriage. We're making the goal, anchor our souls on Jesus. Commit to love Him and do whatever He's called us to do. And we're going to watch that stream of goodness and mercy follow us. So it's going to be an outcome and not the thing that we're fixated and focused on. Throughout the series, we've said over and over again, the greatest thing you can do for the world is to have a strong and healthy family.
The greatest thing you can do for your family is to have a strong and healthy marriage, and the greatest single thing that you and I can do for our marriages is to have a strong and healthy soul. So when we look out at the world and we see so much brokenness, we see so much pain, and we see tragedy, and we see things that we wish could be different, our response should be to not be overwhelmed by what we can't do but to do the things that we can do. I can have a strong soul. I can have a strong marriage. I can see that my family is well-watered, and I can believe that God will use that to do great things in the world. The Psalm ends with, peace be upon Israel when it started with, here's what I'm doing for my own soul.
So that's where we've been organizing our thoughts again, and again, and again. And today, we want to ask the question, why would the psalmist describe children as olive plants? Now, of course, to some degree, you cannot help but envy a table with a beautiful vine growing that you can just pluck grapes off of whenever you want and trees that are producing olives all around it. I mean, the thought of a parenthood type of a backyard eating situation is what comes to my mind. I see Coach there. I see all the kids, the table, the lights, the trees. You have shade. It's a pleasant place to be. We have, in our backyard, these trees we planted years ago. And to watch them grow has been so beautiful. And now, years later, we're just starting to see proof of concept, just starting to see that pay off, that shade.
And so that's what's on the mind. The picture is these children. They were olive trees planted, and now they're providing shade. Now, they're providing blessing. They're olive trees around the table. And I love the family home being organized around the table. I love this idea of the gathering around the table, wanting to be there at the table, food served at the table. It is, I've said before, one of my favorite pictures of what the church should be, a table, a place where the bread of life is served, a place where we're always making more room to extend. We had a party this week and my wife said, can you add the leaves to the table? We need to make more room for some more people. That should be the heart of the Church always.
If you're new here, we always come around the end of the year, what does it look like to expand the vision? What does it look like to expand the reach? What are the other places that we can go wide? We want more leaves in the table. We want to put a few more plates out. We want a few more settings. We want there to be a few more people who have heard this beautiful message. The Church loses its effectiveness and power when it becomes inward-focused, when it just becomes about my blessing, and my needs, and what can I get out of it? As opposed to, I don't come to Church to get something. I am the Church. I'm here to do something. It's a whole different thing. And the best kind of discipleship is mission.
Jesus taught His disciples on the go. Tell me the time in Jesus's life where he pulled them aside for a year and just did Bible college classes with them. It was always on the way to this, on the way to that. OK, now go try it and come back. How to go casting out those demons? How did it go doing that sermon? How did it go feeding those people? And they were just debriefing on the way, coming and going. The Psalms of Ascent were sung as they went to Jerusalem for yet another feast. That's how he taught them as they went to go teach, and heal, and reach. And the Church should be like that. I need to get focused and going because I got seven points, and I haven't even given you the first one, and we still got a ways to go.
Seven things to write down we can learn from both raising kids and planting olive trees. And according to the Psalm, I think it begins with this. Think like a grandparent. Think like a grandparent. I love how towards the end this prayer is prophetically spoken with the idea of longevity of life, and it is, may you see your children's children. And that should be something we would long for and hope for, that we would literally live physically long enough to see our children's children. And if you're not taking care of yourself, and if you're not making good eating decisions, and if you're not working out and taking care of your body physically speaking, you're potentially not doing what is necessary to be a part of an active participant in that prophecy.
Think about it. One in three children in this day and age have obesity. And it has tripled the rates of obesity since the 1970s. And we're just not eating well and able to sit around all the time and watch TVs and not drink water, these basic simple things. So we have to ask the hard questions. Are we doing what's needed to take care of ourselves so we can hold our grandchildren in our arms? We should want to. That should be a desire in your heart. But I think there's more to it than just a little, simple, cute, little blessing. I love the idea of walking my daughter down the altar, down the aisle towards the altar. I love the idea of her babies and his babies, they're coming, calling me G Daddy and hanging out with me, all that.
I think, because I've already picked my grandpa name, and that's it. I also think there's something to it. May you see your children's children. How do you parent little olive plants? I think there's something to be gleaned from the subtle art of being a grandmother, the subtle art of being a grandfather. What if you and I, you know they say it skips a generation? What if we just went ahead and skipped a generation in how we approach the kids in our home? By the time you get to be a grandparent, here's the thing, I think, that makes being a grandparent so awesome. You're a little more relaxed. Especially new parents, so uptight, so white-knuckling everything, just straining so much, right? But that's how you get hemorrhoids. Just ease up. Ease up, right? I think it comes from a failure to realize and remember that your family began the day you said, I do.
So if you think your family begins when Billy or Sally comes into the home or whatever you choose to name them, then they're now the center of this thing because they made it a family. So let me ask a question. Does it stop being a family when they leave, when they launch, when they go? No. So you are a family. You became a family, this thing began, this mission began, this calling began when you came together in marriage hopefully because you both feared God so much and wanted to walk in His ways that you thought, hey, let's just walk in His ways together. You doing anything later? I'm going to walk in His ways. You seem to want to walk in His ways. Let's walk in His ways and do it together, all right? That was Jennie and I, literally. For us, it was like, you seek God. You seek His kingdom, and that's what I want for my life.
Why don't we do that at the same time? You doing, and that's how I literally asked her out, in that voice and everything. It's an amazing thing that she said yes. So when the kid comes into the life, we're not going to change anything. Why? Because this family is a boat in a river towards the glory of God. We're glad you're in it, but we're not pulling off the boat, now. We're not going to... sorry, I can't serve. Sorry, I can't serve. Now we have a family. Now we're building a family. No. We got married together serving God. We got married together wanting to build the Kingdom, and now there's a child in it. Guess what? Gues where we're going? Guess what we're up to? Guess the family that you're a part of? And so for us, it was always a given. We're going to continue serving. We're going to bring the children along the journey. We're going to bring, I got a great memory.
Some of my best memories are Lenya in a car seat in the Strand, one of our early buildings we would meet in. And she's there. It's 2:00 in the morning. Every volunteer and person we could scrape together, and bribe, and coax is there because we had run out of money to build out the church. We were trying to do a building project literally in the heels of the '08 recession, and raising money was not going to happen. And we had run out of money, and contractors packed up and left. So we were literally shoe-stringing, and painting, and doing anything we could just to get the building open to believe for this, to believe for reaching people around the world, to believe for this sort of thing to happen. And Lenya is there in her car seat. We would put the Pack 'n Play into the scariest room where they used to make popcorn. And Olivia's in that Pack 'n Play. This just a fun journey in the adventure.
And I'm telling you, I would rather raise my kids seeking God and serving God than doing anything else on this earth. And we bring them along the way. Why? Because we're already a family when we come to know the truth of what it means for two become one. And if we think like a grandparent, we're on that mission. We're on that journey. And now we're not attaching, I think here's the second thing that grandparents have that's so beautiful. Not only are they more relaxed, but they also know the difference between what's precious and what's not. As you get a little older, you start to realize, I'm not impressed by what I used to be impressed by.
One of the things my counselor keeps telling me is, Levi, you need different metrics as you get older. When you're a young man, your metrics are, how big? How fast? How flashy? And as you get older, you have to have, just value different things than those same things, or it leads to despair. You have to start valuing unique metrics that are opened up to you in that new season of life. How many people can you release? How many people can you encourage? How can you build them up to do what they're called to do? That sort of a mentality shift takes place if you're doing it right. And I think the preciousness and non-preciousness, I sometimes as a young parent, you're wowed and impressed by maybe the wrong things. And when you get a little bit older, you look back on it, and you'll see things differently.
So if you can parent seeing your children's children in your mind's eye, you can adjust and adapt your approach. I think, thirdly, when you're a grandparent, you also have this beautiful mentality that is free from attachment, by way of your ego, to how your children are doing. A grandparent's ego isn't connected as much to their grandchildren. When you're a parent, you can, at times, parent badly because your ego's attached to it, because you're seeing it as a reflection, how your child's doing as a reflection of the job that you're doing. And so you're trying to, like, be good, be good, be good. Do this. Put a nice face on your child because your ego is wrapped up in it. By the time you get to be a grandparent, you just love that little baby for who that baby is because your ego is not attached to it. You just love them for them. You're not so much bothered by how they reflect back on you.
So what if we can parent our kids with that perspective, and wisdom, and superpower of being a grandparent? I think the world of olive trees, I watched a lot about raising olive trees this week. And one of the things they do is they take these bamboo stakes, and they stake the tree. And it gives the tree something to guide it, something to grow it. It's that vertical axis of fearing God. It's that stake into the ground. These bamboo sticks, but the gardeners I was listening to said, don't tie it to the stake too tight or you'll scar the tree. And it'll have permanent scars in its trunk because it was staked too tight. So I think grandparents have a looser touch. If we can approach our kids like a grandparent, we won't tie them so tight to the stake. There will be a little bit of sense of a relaxed perspective on it. Our ego's out of it. We're not in such a hurry. We're not so serious. We see time is this beautiful, precious gift. We love them for who they are.
Second thing we can do as we raise our kids with a mentality towards them spreading their wings is to be patient. Can we be patient with our kids? Did you know that the average olive tree does not bear fruit until the age of four on the low end, seven on the high end? A lot of work, a lot of diligence you've got to do so it's not a wild olive tree which will never bear as much fruit. You have to be patient knowing that every year you're working, every year you're laboring, every year you're tending it, every year you're pruning, every year you're assessing the stake... is it too tight to it? All of those things knowing, I'm not even going to get any fruit for the first seven years. And get this, that a significant crop will not come from that tree till year 10 or year 15.
What does that mean? You're in it for a long-term investment. You're not day trading. You're not judging on, am I get anything out of this right now? I mean, for this for those first 10 to 15 years, all that labor is really not having any big, significant payoff, and so it is in parenting. There's a lot of unseen. There's a lot of secret. There's a lot of, I don't know if this is working, but I'm continuing to do this. We have to be patient with our little olive trees that were raising and not be in such a rush. There will come a payoff if you just keep going. And I think you also, that needs to extend to yourself. Can you be patient with yourself as a parent, that you've never been here before, you've never done this? That terrible moment when the nurse loads you up and gets you out to the front of the hospital and you almost want to look to them like, what do I do next?
And they turn on their heel and they walk away. And you got a 500-page-long book printed in seven languages to install the car seat but not a shred of documentation as to what to do with this little baby. You're like, what? There's no manual. What am I to do? And so we have to be patient with ourselves that we're growing. We're learning. But part of that patience is to take the tools that you have at your disposal. Of course, God's word does teach much about how to approach our kids. And just as we can talk about the way that being a part of a local church, an active part of a local church literally causes divorce rates to plummet by as low as 30%, by as much as 50% if you're an active part of a local church, not just coming, but engaging. It literally affects the divorce rate.
But similarly speaking, it has positive effects on the family. That's true for both parents, but it is skewed heavily on the side of the father. In fact, one Swedish study showed, and you can look it up yourself, Swedish study on the effect of the father's attendance in church on their children, their successive generations going to church, showed that if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful the wife is at showing up to church, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper down the road. If a father does go to church, though, regardless of what the mom does, between 2/3 and 3/4 of the children will become regular churchgoers.
So yes, it's important, of course. And we're not saying there's... Heaven knows, we need you, mom. But what this world needs is strong men who fear God and who say, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. We will seek God. I fear God. I'm anchored in his ways. It's like the study on reading. How can we know whether our kids will become readers? The two determining factors is, do you read to them when they're young, and do they see you reading? Because as we know, kids do hear what we say, but they end up doing what we do. And so we must be patient, but we must also have a mind to grow.
Thirdly, we need to practice humility. Practice humility. When we're humble, we have the spirit that says, I don't know what I'm doing. And I actively tell my kids all the time, I have no idea what I'm doing, just FYI. Let's get that elephant out of the room right now, or in the room, that's in the room. Let's call it out. Let's get that cat out of the bag. I'm mixing all my metaphors today. I sat my daughter Olivia down who's... by the way, her name means olive branch or olive tree, and I said, honey, I know I've got a lot of room to improve. There are a lot of things that your mom and I do that we know they're wrong, you know they're wrong, and we hopefully call each other out on those things. But is there anything that we've done right that I might not realize?
And I just want to just write it down in case, and specifically, I said, is there anything that we have done and do as parents that you already in your mind know you want to put into place with your children, my grandchildren, one day? And she said, and I wrote them down. And this is it was a humble thing for me to ask her, but I was learning from her. I think that's powerful. She said that she loves that in how we've raised her and her siblings that you never have to earn trust, but you can earn distrust. And if we start out with the assumption that trust is given, distrust is earned. We give you trust, the benefit of the doubt as the beginning place. You have to earn distrust, not the opposite way around. She said that she likes it.
There's not a pressure to perform, specifically scholastically, just to do her best. She said she has loved that we always pointed her to Jesus, but she's never had it stuffed down her throat as something that she has to choose to do or in any way connected to me being a pastor, that that's somehow, now, something that's on her, that she has to choose. She said she loves time together. And she said, and I love this. She said, "I haven't always, but I love that we do so much stuff together on family day". And here she is 16, now.
There was plenty of times when she rolled her eyes, plenty of time she didn't want the waffles, plenty of time she didn't want to do the thing. But she looks back on it now fondly. And then she said, I love, also, that whenever you and mom fight, which happens every week or so, day or so, she said, I love that you apologize to us, too, and not just to each other. That if we've seen, and know that you always will come to us and call yourselves out on it. And then she said, and here's, lastly, she said, I love that you've admitted to us that everything you're doing as a parent is all based on a theory and a hunch at the moment. And we're adapting, and adjusting, and learning, and tweaking, and oftentimes learning from our mistakes.
But it really is all theories, like how we're doing as parents in the moment. And we have to choose to be humble. And in being humble, we will be servants. And in being servants, we will be giving our little olive trees what they need. For one of the things I found in everything I read on olive trees is that olive trees hate having wet feet. Olive trees hate having we feet. So drainage is important when planning an olive tree. That's why river rocks are often used. Whatever the case is, you have to make sure that the water that you give them doesn't stay there at their feet. It has to go away. And that's why olive trees thrive in such inhospitable places.
Mark Twain said, the olive tree and the cactus, I think we have the quote on the screen. These two plants, in particular, are fast friends of a worthless soil. They do well in dark places. They do well in hard places, and that's because, oftentimes, in the desert, in the hard places they live in, any water they get is immediately taken away. They hate having wet feet. And I got to thinking when I was reading that about how Jesus, we're told in John's Gospel, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, John 13:4 says, took a towel and girded himself. He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and then he wiped them with a towel with which he was girded.
I love this picture of Jesus, the ultimate tender of the olive plants, drying the feet of his little olive plants around the table. And with humility, with service, when we take care of our olive plants in that way, we admit and acknowledge when we've blown it. Tell your kids you blew it. Tell your kids you lost your temper. Call yourself out on the things you're hopefully pointing them to and that you see in them that you're struggling with yourselves. Point them to our perfect Father who is good to us even when we're not. Be patient. Think like a grandparent. Practice humility.
Here's number four. Approach each child carefully, individually, and creatively. Creatively. There is one image your child was meant to be created in, and it's not yours. Let us make man in our image, God said. Your child is not meant to be the spitting image of you but the spitting image of your Creator. And just as there are over 500 different varieties of olive trees in the world, that's an astounding number. There are a billion olive trees, but there are 500 different kinds. And different olive trees are grown for different purposes. Some, believe it or not, are grown just for the wood. Some are grown for oil but to be used in machinery. Some are grown for the oil but to be consumed. Some are grown, as you know, for the delicious fruit that is to be eaten, the olive that eat, that we think of. Kalamata olives, we love it in a salad. We love eating them with hummus and with some pita bread. There's lots of different kind of olive trees, is the point. And they all bring glory to God as they all reflect a different image of who He is.
So we are, then, to approach each child. There's no baking cookies formula. Anybody who tells you there is trying to sell you something. We have to look at each child and ask ourselves the question, what did God put in that I can coax out? Wow. So good. Therefore, listen to me very carefully. Your child is to be unfolded, not molded. God folded something in. And you're unfolding what he put in, not molding that child in your image, to walk into your steps, to fulfill your dreams that you had probably for your life that you didn't see come about, and so now you're ramming on them. But where to ask the question, God, what did you put in that I can coax out? And I need to take care of this tree individually to give it what it needs to get to where God wanted it to go.
Those are the footsteps we want them to walk in in the feet of Jesus. And how do we tailor our approach to them? We prune based on fruitfulness. Olive trees are unique to most fruit trees because you don't ever prune them in winter. You prune them in summer just after they've given off their fruit. That way, you know where to prune based on the fruit that's been produced. Otherwise, if you prune in winter, you're going to probably prune off buds that are meant to produce next year because it is the olive wood that actually leads to that next crop. And so we should be asking the question, where is their fruit and I can prune to get to more of that?
Parenting towards the bright spots is what that means. Like Chip and Dan Heath say in their book, they talk about, your kid brings a report card home. It's got four D's, a C, and a B. Most of us would spend the talk we have about the report card on the D's. How do we get those D's up? What's going wrong? What's the matter with you? I pay for this, blah, blah, blah. There's all this nonsense. We should be going, there's a B! Oh, my goodness. Look at that B! What are you doing right? What is it about that B? You've proven, there's a proof of concept. So that's fruit. So we're pruning towards the fruit that has been created. Because obviously, there's something that they are doing right, and we're trying to figure that out and unfold and not mold.
And then number five, we never underestimate the importance of what we're doing. Never, as parents, are you to underestimate the importance and the power, the solemnity and the privilege, the honor and the regality of what we're a part of when we're parenting. Why? Because this text says, if we want to get to peace upon Israel, which is the whole country, the whole country, it's going to start in the home. It's going to start in the soul, the marriage, the children. So as I take care of my kids, I can believe I'm doing something that can and will lead to peace to be upon Israel. And simply by being there in the home, father, simply by being present in the home, mom, being there for those conversations, being there for those moments, being there to teach, to love, to cry with, we can believe we're a part of something that will be doing work on this earth long after we're gone.
Do you know the oldest tree on this entire planet is an olive tree? Its nickname is The Big One. I have a photo of it I brought for you. This is a picture of The Big One. It's believed to be, this is a Smithsonian magazine, by the way. The oldest olive tree on the earth, do you know where it is? It's in Bethlehem. Think about it: 4,000 to 5,000 years old. That means that Abraham, this tree was there. David, King David, when he's writing Psalm 23, that frickin' tree heard. I'm impressed. That means that Jesus Christ himself, who was born in Bethlehem, this tree saw. Maybe the Wise Men passed it. Maybe Jesus ate fruit from it. The three that takes 10 to 15 years to get its first real crop, the tree that takes four to seven years to bear any fruit at all, it can last, it does last for centuries. The trees that are in the Garden of Gethsemane today where Jesus prayed, the olive trees that are there today, are basically babies, only 900 years old.
These things, they last for centuries. And that's what we can believe for generational change, generational impact. God is faithful to keep his covenant to thousand generations. We can truly believe, just as he is the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, that as we parent like a grandparent, as we love our little olive plants, we can believe we are unleashing something. As we point our kids to Jesus and our grandkids to Jesus, there will be a Godly, righteous legacy unleashed that can overcome and overturn generational sins and patterns of habitual blindness. And God can and will use your small, unseen act of faithfulness today, mom, dad, to do something that even 1,000 years from now will be pointed back to and in Heaven will be celebrated for all eternity.
So don't you dare underestimate the importance of what you're doing as you continue to show up in your home. How are we to talk about parenting? We're to talk about it like it the blessing that it is. Oh, I know it's hard. I know it's heavy. I know it's a lot. I know. I know tripping on LEGOs you want to cuss, right? I get it. I get it. I'm in it. I understand. There are these stupid green Orbeez all around my house. There are so many things about parenting that are heavy. But that's how we remind ourselves that it's a blessing. All blessings weigh a lot.
Whenever parenting feels heavy, remind yourself, of course it does. Because blessings are always heavy, and God's given me something weighty. Kids are a blessing from God, a reward from him. They're not just olive plants. They're also offensive weapons, arrows in the hands of a warrior. Your children are to be launched out to bring God glory and to expand his kingdom as they shine as great lights in this dark world. Amen. Yeah. All right, that's my message. I hope you liked it. The final point, though, is where we're going to end and land this plane. And we're going to remind ourselves to not attempt to in our own strength. How do we remember, what should we know is we raise our kids? To never attempt to in our own strength.
That's actually number five... or actually number six. Do you have notes, Jane? Where am I at? Is that six? OK, excellent. That's not my message. It's not over is what I mean. When I said that's my message, I was, I mean, it's part of my message, but it's not all my message. Don't attempt to in your own strength. There's this beautiful story in Zechariah 4 involving two olive trees. And it's told as a way of getting across this point. Jot this down, Zachariah 4:6. This is the word of the Lord, parents. Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord Almighty.
That whole story talks about a perpetual olive oil machine meant to remind Zerubbable, who was trying to do something that felt impossible, that it was God's strength and not his. It was two steps to the left from human achievement, getting over to the grace lane into what God can do as you trust in his Holy Spirit. Olives are always a picture of the Spirit. When the oil is produced, that is something that speaks of blessing refreshment, but ultimately, God's power and anointing on your life. And if he's called you to it, he is faithful to see you through it. So you can trust in his power today.
All right, lastly, the real end, the actual close, begin with the end in mind. If you brought your child home from the hospital yesterday, if you brought your... and you're watching probably online in that postpartum life. It's real. You, from the very beginning, want to have the end in mind. Now, of course, I do mean the end of releasing them into their calling, releasing them into what God has for them. Think about it. When you hold your baby in your arms, you are 936 weeks away from their high school graduation. It sounds like a lot, but it's not, is it? 936 weeks. I know it sounds like this huge thing. 936 weeks is all the Saturdays you're going to get. That's all. That's all of them. 936 weeks is this journey. So you want to begin parenting with that end in mind.
What do you want it to be like as they get to that moment? And to do that carefully, don't get overwhelmed by the immensity of the journey. Break it down by remembering the stages. Break it down by remembering the stages. Sandra Stanley, my friend Andy Stanley's wife, she says there are four stages to parenting. The first stage is discipline. Obviously, discipleship is part of that. The second stage is training. The third stage is coaching. And then, hopefully, the fourth stage that lasts forever is friendship. And a lot of mistakes are made when you try and bring friendship up too soon and be buddies when you need to be a coach and your kid needs more of a parent than they need a friend in that phase. But it also is a mistake when you skip the first stage and try and bring that in later and they're undisciplined because you didn't take that phase to actually discipline them. But I love this, because it takes those 936 weeks and it breaks it down into chunks to know what phase you're in.
And I really think this is how God wants us to think about parenting because of something in the Bible called the rule of first mentions. And some of you might know that the first time a word is ever used in the Bible is significant because it tips God's hand as to how he wants us to think about and have our informed thoughts on that word. Most of them are in the book of Genesis. The first mention of the word worship, the first mention of the word love, the first mention of the word covenant, the first mention of the word grace, and so many of these things point back to things that took place in the life of Abraham or things that were in connection to Adam and Eve.
But one of my favorites I discovered this week, I didn't know it. They didn't teach it to me in Bible college, was the first mention of the word olive is when Noah and his family at the end of the flood are trying to figure out, because they're done. They're parked. The boat's done. It's not moving. It's on Mount Ararat. And they're trying to figure, Noah is trying to figure, is it safe to send my kids out into this world yet to start their new lives? First, he sends out a bird called a raven, and it just flies around. It doesn't find anywhere to land. And he does that because ravens are basically the garbage disposal of the sky. Apparently, they'll eat anything. So if there's anything edible, if it's safe to live out there, they'll find it first. But that thing just flies around. And then he sends out a dove. And the dove flies around for a while then comes back. And then he sends another dove out a week later, and that dove comes back with an olive branch in its mouth. Meaning, the trees are starting to show up. And then he waits another week and he sends it out, and it doesn't come back at all. Why? Because it's found a home. It's now spread its wings.
How interesting that in Psalm 128, kids are like olive plants when the very first mention of the olive is thinking about in stages and increments... is it safe to send out? Are they ready to go out? Is it is it now time to go out? From the very beginning of parenting, we should be thinking about that moment when they have all discretion, all options, no guardrails, no training wheels. And if we're not preparing them for that by allowing them the grit to make some decisions, and a little bit more, and incrementally more, OK, now you're out, and it's back. Now, you're out, and it's olive branch. Now, you're out, and it's this.
We really do have to feather the clutch. Can't be too much. Can't be too little, or they will not be ready. But it's not just the end of high school, the end of the college years that we should be thinking of. We should be, our entire lives, those 936 weeks of parents, be thinking about the end of their life. Is your child... have you prepared them? Are they ready to stand before God? Getting into college is awesome. Getting into Heaven is better. And what have you done? How have you shouldered up to the task of getting your child ready to stand before God, and to know the Gospel, and to know grace, and understand you can't get into Heaven based on what you did but based on what Jesus did?
Nothing will give you greater peace of mind, nothing will cause you to be able to say, laying your head on your pillow, I finished the work God called me to do, and I prioritized the winning of my soul to Jesus Christ, to know him and to know that whatever I do, if my kid gets into the NFL, if my kid goes off to dance and sing on Broadway, great. If you end up in an Ivy League school, fantastic. Praise God for you. I hope you excel in everything he has for you, little olive plant. But more than anything else, I want you to know Jesus and be found in him so we together have forever.
What have we done if we haven't focused on that? Jesus prayed in a garden surrounded by olive trees before he went to the Cross, and I think it's fitting for us to launch into this time resetting, recalibrating, retruing our hearts, our families, our homes, and our forever by coming again to the Cross. This picture of prayer, this picture of the bread, and the table, and the cup, it's a chance for us all to do what's needed on each moment of crossroads, each moment of transition, each moment of a new season.
And Father, we do sense you calling us to something different, to abandon, maybe, old plans, to confess, God, patterns that have shown up again and again, ways that we haven't even realized we ended up becoming our parent or our grandparent even though we set out not wanting to. We thank you for being our perfect parent. And we believe for our sons' daughters, and our sons', and our sons' sons, and our daughters' daughters to do great things for you through us building that altar in our home, planning our family in the house of God, prioritizing being in his presence. Thank you for what you're going to do, which is keep your covenant, keep your word, do what you said you would do. As we fear you and walk in your ways, believe for your blessing, and with prayers in our heart, we stand on the promises of peace being unleashed to infinity and beyond.
If you're here today and there's something in your heart, something in your spirit that you just need to give to God, maybe it's a vow, maybe it's an I'm sorry, maybe it's an I love you. Maybe you're single and you say, I'm not even married yet, but I already know that's what I want. I want that picture. I want to be a part of that. Could I just ask whatever your hand means to you, that in this moment, church online, every location, you just raise up a hand to God if he's touching some part of your story today, some part of your heart today. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. With your hands still raised:
Father, I pray your blessing upon these who are committing to walking your ways, who are saying, I want little olive plants. I want a fruitful vine. I want a table in my story, a place of laughter, a place of gathering, a place of meals. I want to walk with Jesus and point my children to you. I'm believing for some, there's the heartache of maybe kids that won't even answer phone calls, relationship that's not there. Some of those things weren't done, so now it's hard to experience that friendship phase that could be there because there was an absence, an anger, and an icy silence back then. So we believe you today to restore, God, what locusts have eaten. We believe today as we confess our sins, you are faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us well in righteousness. Bless these as they raise their hearts up to.
You can put your hands down. I want to now give a moment for anybody who's not yet said yes to Jesus to make that all-important decision of giving your life to Christ. You know, you'll never be right with your son, or daughter, or wife, or husband until you're right with God. The best thing you can do for the world is to get right with God in your own soul. We talk about our kids being in Heaven. Let me ask you this question. Will you be in Heaven? Jesus said to a group of religious people one day that there are many who will not be in Heaven who thought they would and they will argue all the way to Hell about what they did for God and how they were good people and religious people and kept the Ten Commandments. He said, but I'm going to tell them on that day, I never knew you.
Ultimately, we're not talking about religion. We're talking about a relationship. And if you would like to have a relationship with Jesus, he wants that. So what do you do? You tell him you want that. So right now, I'm going to give you space to do that. This could be your day of salvation. This could be your moment of a new beginning with God. Everything could change right here, right now. I'm going to pray a prayer. And if you're ready, say it out loud with me. Mean it in your heart. Church family, say it with us. We're making some more room at the table:
Dear God, I know I'm a sinner. I'm lost. I'm empty. Please forgive me. Come into my heart. Thank you for your love. I turn for my sins. I turn to you. Just like the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, thank you for new life in my heart.