Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Stepford Children in the Church?

[This entry follows a sermon titled "Can I Really Trust God?"  Click here to find the audio.]

The Stepford Children was a made-for-TV movie aired by NBC in 1987, and it was a sequel to the 1975 film The Stepford Wives, which was remade in the last decade (I haven't seen these movies either, but stick with me...I'm going somewhere). In The Stepford Wives, men essentially turn their wives into robots, and in The Stepford Children, the attention turns on rebellious teenagers. The Men's Association in Stepford, Connecticut, is turning out robotic kids who love their homework, are accomplished in various ways, and are obedient.

The whole 'stepford' idea is the pursuit of the perfect, nuclear family. The Men's Association believed that there really was a path to perfection...that they could control their own familial destiny, so to speak. In the end, things fall apart...actually, they explode. The Stepford Children ends with the non-robotic heroine and her two non-robotic children riding out of town, and malfunctioning machines at the Men's Association cause it to explode. It's as if the story tells us, "If you think you can make the perfect family, don't be surprised when it blows up in your face."

In the realm of Christian parenting, there is a temptation to believe that if we can just instill all the right information and behavior patterns into children, they will turn out fine.  Yet, the statistics tell us that things aren't fine.  All our attempts to create spiritual Stepford children are blowing up in our collective faces!  What does that have to do with Isaiah 40?  Fair question...let's talk about it.

Isaiah 40 is one of those passages that we should visit often...it is a reminder of both the power of God and the love of the God we serve.  In studying verses 12-31, you run into a lot of questions...rhetorical questions like "Who taught [God] the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?" (v. 14).  The understood answer is, "No one."

Yet, there is a different kind of question among these verses, too.  It's not a rhetorical question meant to teach the audience...it's a genuine question meant to confront the audience.  And it's found in verse 27: "Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, 'My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God'?"

Yes...these are statements that many people make.  Yes...these statements seem to be part of the fabric of life in a sin-riddled world.  Yet, God's question is a serious question.  Through the use of capital letters, the English translation reveals that "LORD" here is the covenant name of God...Yahweh.  In other words, this statement about God is not coming from one who hasn't been taught about the nature of God...it's coming from an insider, a devoted attender of the temple, a person in the community of faith, a child of faithful parents...i.e., someone who has been taught.

The man saying this kind of thing may very well have been taught when he sat in the house or when he walked on the way.  The woman questioning God's care was probably instructed when she laid down and when she rose.  The people here may have been taught every day of their lives...in formal and informal ways...yet they are still questioning the very theology they have been taught.

My initial response to such things is to be humbled.  As a pastor and as a father, no matter how diligent I am in teaching, I cannot guarantee the outcome.  If my children are going to be converted, to live holy lives, to walk through difficulty in faith, etc., it will only be by God's grace.  Of course, God has prescribed that parents must teach diligently, but He has not given us a formula for turning out spiritual Stepford children. 

This means that as disciple makers...whether parents, friends, coworkers, or pastors...we must call out to God for help.  If God is the only One who can bring the change and growth we long to see in those we teach, then prayer must be a habitual practice.  It is a humbling thing to invest your life in other people knowing that all your investment must be met by God's blessing to be effective...and that humility is a healthy thing.

My second response to such a truth is to be energized.  Sounds like a contradiction, doesn't it?  Well, it's not.  You see, the necessity of God's blessing is no excuse for laziness in teaching...any more than God's sovereignty is a viable excuse for evangelistic apathy.  The truth is...God has said that His Word will not come back void, and while that is not a promise for automatic salvation and growth, it is a promise that God works through His Word.  God's chosen means of working in our lives...whether for conversion or sanctification...is through the vehicle of His Word.

As one who longs to see change and growth in my children and in others, I must be actively involved in sharing God's Word.  I must be sharing it to evangelize unbelievers...I must be sharing it in raising my children...I must be sharing it to encourage and correct other believers.  And while I only recently heard another story of a man converted through simply reading God's Word, the primary way God gets His word to people is through other people.  The same is true with our children...the primary means by which God develops faith in children is through the teaching of their parents.

I know it's a bit of a rabbit trail from Isaiah 40:27 to these two responses, but as I meditate on the setting of the verse, I find it is a helpful one.  May we all humbly cry out to God to bless our efforts in sharing the Word with believers and unbelievers...knowing that we can't creat any spiritual Stepford children.  And may we all be energized to keep sharing the Word...knowing that God works and transforms lives through the power of His Word!