I've just returned from a funeral in Casper, Wyoming.
There were several highlights, and I'd like to share just one. The one most meaningful to me as a father.
Is there any real benefit to growing up in a Christian home? I know that in the never-ending debate between paedo (infant) and credo-baptists (adult believers only) the "credos" usually assume that there isn't. After all, "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." What difference does it really make whether a child, born in sin, comes into the world in a Christian or non-Christian home? Both are in need of salvation, which is brought about by the Holy Spirit. About that both paedo and credo-baptists are agreed.
But the paedo (infant) baptist goes further, believing that the covenant, which always runs through families in the Bible, provides real (though not in and of itself decisive) benefits, real means of grace, to children of believers. History matters. Context matters. Creation itself, with its wide range of relationships, really matters. The ultimate truth that individuals stand before God, either in Christ or outside of him, does not erase or negate earthly realities and proximate truths like one's familial relationships. After all, God created the world of context and relationships. He works in and through them. Being a child of the covenant, being taught that God is OUR God, not just the parents' God until such time as the child makes a "decision," provides very real benefit. The benefit is the covenant itself, the belief and consciousness that Jesus is mine and that God is my father, and that the Holy Spirit effectively communicates Christ to me. Growing up with that kind of consciousness makes a big difference, indeed.
Let me back up. Years ago, while we were away from our home church in Billings, Montana, our pastor apparently preached a sermon in which he explained what a "benediction" is: a "good word" from God. When a worship service ends, God gets the last word, and it is a word of blessing. Our pastor taught the congregation that they should not bow their heads during a benediction, for it is not a prayer. It is not us talking to God. It is God talking to us. Further, he told them they should receive this blessing from God in their physical actions. They should look up as the pastor delivers the benediction, and they should hold out their hands in front of them, physically "receiving," as it were, this blessing.
When we returned home, this practice was widely in full swing. People held their hands out and looked up to receive the benediction. I never quite got comfortable with it, being a native Presbyterian, and we never use our bodies in worship, much to our shame. But my kids have no such DNA problems.
You should also know, by way of background, that I never have the privilege of receiving the benediction while standing with my children. As a participant in the music ministry, I am always up front when it happens.
Very few people at this funeral were Christians.
The end of the service came, and the pastor said, "Let us close with a benediction."
To my mild surprise, instinctively, without missing a beat, there was my eldest daughter, ten years old, standing next to me with her hands outstretched. Nobody else in the place did such a thing. A moment passed and she became a bit self-conscious of the fact that she was the only one holding out her hands to receive God's blessing. Slowly but surely, she began to draw her hands back, and I saw it happening.
I reached down and grabbed her hands. I forcefully thrust them out further.
I was not just teaching her a lesson. I was teaching myself a lesson I've been long overdue in learning.
Never, ever, ever let the apathy and/or ignorance of others around you keep you from receiving the blessing of God. My daughter just knew, without having to wonder or think about it, that this was a word from HER God, a word of blessing for HER, and there she was, ready, eager, and willing to receive it. Until the thorns (in this case, a gathering of tares among the wheat) started to choke it out and fill her mind with some doubt about that fact. No! I hated seeing that doubt creep in, and instinctively did what I could to stop it.
It is one thing to grow up wondering if God has a blessing for me. It is quite another to grow up knowing that God has a blessing for me.
Does it make a difference for a ten year old?
I don't think there is any question about it. And the scene of my daughter expectantly standing there with her outstretched hands is a highlight I will treasure deep in my heart.
Treasure... and learn from. My stoic, Presbyterian DNA be damned. This Sunday, I know what my hands will be doing. Following my daughter's example.
What do you know? Covenant families do make a difference. And not just for the kids.