For four consecutive years, I was invited to speak to the sophomore health class of a local high school on the topic of values. Knowing how sensitive the public school system is, I would carefully prepare my presentation each year so as not to be offensive to anyone.
I opened my speech with an illustration that in America if a person is convicted of stealing a bald eagle’s egg out of its nest and killing the embryo, he would be fined $5,000 and sentenced to six months in jail. But, in most cities across America, a young lady can get an abortion without parental consent and without fear of being punished. I pointed out that the life of an eagle has taken precedence over the life of a child growing in its mother’s womb.
At the conclusion of my values presentation, an outraged high school health teacher approached me with anger in her words. I could hardly believe what was spewing from her lips. She wondered how I dared suggest that abortion is wrong. I wanted to shout, “Because it is! God’s Word says so!” But I restrained myself and listened as she vehemently presented her viewpoint. Needless to say, she was convinced women to have a right to choose the fate of I their unborn child, and she didn’t want her students exposed to an opposing opinion.
Where are the values our country was founded on? Are they still ingrained in our children, or are they lost forever? Unless we see a spiritual awakening in America, it will be difficult to restore the moral fabric that wove this country together. For believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, there are specific ways to teach our children how to develop values in accordance with God’s Word.
RELATIVISM VS. ABSOLUTES
In many American homes, including those of Christians, values are not represented for the young person to model. I have asked individuals who lived through World War II and the Korean War, “Were you taught moral absolutes as a child?” The response is always a resounding yes. They said the same problems that exist today were, to some degree, present during their upbringing. They cheated on tests, went to parties where alcohol was available and were sexually active. But they were quick to add that the problems were not as widespread.
Teens today are tempted with the same things faced by young people of thirty years ago. The only difference is that more are acting on the temptations and getting away with *. We’ve lifted the restraints and, in turn, values have gone by the wayside. Many teens have no concept of purity and morality.
For the past three decades, we’ve experienced an erosion of morality and a lack of support for the value system that made this country great. Families are dying, primarily because we have rejected the values of our forefathers in favor of a philosophy of relativism. There are no more absolutes.
For many years our country has been shifting from a society of values to a society calloused to sin. What used to be considered sinful is now tolerated. Perhaps the only nationally recognized sin remaining is that of intolerance. This should cut deep into the heart of the believer, for this philosophy suggests the real sinner is one who believes in a godly standard of behavior. On the other hand, those who cheat on their spouse, have premarital sex or have an abortion are considered normal. Believers are labeled extremist and ultraconservative for championing the cause of morality.
I read where a baseball game being played by inner-city youth was interrupted in the fourth inning by a murder. A neighborhood drug dealer was gunned down by a rival who wanted his marketing turf. As the boys watched the murder take place, they became anxious and frustrated, not because a young man was gunned down, but because the police interrupted their game. How indicative this is of a society devaluing human life. Because of moral and ethical decisions made by their parents, today’s youth have been loaded on a high-speed train traveling across the land, out of control, destroying every obstacle or value it comes across. It’s time for the train to get a new conductor with a new destination. That’s what God longs to do, but He is waiting for parents and the Church to make a stand for biblical values.
Our children are bombarded with messages from the media. Through television, radio, records, tapes, CDs, and magazines our youth are indoctrinated with the message of relativism. Few families escape the influence and repercussion of media-philosophies. Influenced by what we watch on television, we say and do things we’ve learned from a value-less system. Our ability to communicate truth and combat impure thoughts is diminished. The old adage “garbage in, garbage out” is apropos for the influence the media is having on young people and families.
There is a move in our public secondary schools today toward “value clarification.” Because of the condition of students and public schools as a whole, scholars are now advancing the concept of teaching students the importance of character, integrity, and virtue. Indeed, these values are biblical in nature, and when taken at face value, it sounds good to teach our kids right and wrong. But without something acting as a standard, what constitutes “wrong” becomes merely a matter of opinion.
Hope for society is found in the eternal Word of God. God gave us the Ten Commandments to be the standard for our actions. Christ took it a step further.
Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”–Matthew 22:37-40.
Our courts, however, have banned the ten commandments from public schools along with the rest of God’s Word. What then is the standard for this present generation?
TRUE VALUE CLARIFICATION
Webster’s Dictionary defines value as “something (like that of a certain principle or quality), intrinsically valuable or desirable.”‘ In other words, values are principles that are esteemed as being highly desirous. Parents are primarily responsible for the transference of values and standards that their children can emulate. Those standards must be established and adhered to based on the Word of God. Dr. Haim Ginott says, “A parent’s responsibility is not to his child’s happiness; it’s to his character. What a challenge to parents, to raise and train our children in the ways of Christ. Too often we attempt to make our children happy by providing the material items they think they need and cheat them out of what they truly need, which is good character. The values instilled in them are manifested by a reputation that reflects moral excellence.
These values are developed over a period of years, beginning at birth and continuing throughout adolescence. Primarily they are instilled during the early formative years, then challenged at adolescence. If parents do their part to teach biblical values at an early age, the chances are good their child will maintain a life based on values and manifested through character. Proverbs 4:11 says, “I would have you learn this great fact: that a life of doing right is the wisest life there is” (TLB).
How does a parent instill values and character into children? Before that question can be addressed, parents should consider these questions:
What kind of person am I? Many would say they grew up in homes where they were not taught values that reflected the standard of Christ. Instead, they were taught cultural values. In turn, children will reflect parental values demonstrated to them. Bruno Bettelheim says, “The only way morals can be taught (to children) is through the moral life of the parents.”3 As the father of two children, I recognize the responsibility of knowing my daughter and son will become what my wife and I are. How do I rate in the following areas:
Acceptance of People. Am I prejudiced? Do I criticize people I don’t know or who are different from me? Do I show respect for strangers? Would my children say I am accepting of people?
Conflict Management. Do I deal with tension when it arises, or do I hold grudges? Do I share my feelings in a constructive manner during conflict, bent on reconciliation? Do I take action to better a situation once conflict is resolved?
Faith. Do my children see my commitment to God? Are spiritual matters discussed in my home? Do we go to church as a family? Would my children say I have a strong faith?
Integrity. Do I exaggerate stories when talking to friends? Do I lie in order to get out of conversations on the phone? Do I always tell the truth about my children’s ages, even if it costs me more money? Would my child say I’m honest?
Love. Do I openly express affection? Do I place conditions placed on my expressions of love? Do my children see that I love my spouse? Would my children say I’m a loving person?…
Servanthood. Do I rush to be first in line? Do I help clean up after an event or party? Do I always have to sit in the front seat of the car? Am I comfortable sharing my belongings? Would my children describe me as a servant?
What kind of person is my child? This question will force me to evaluate what my children consider important, what they value. Do they reflect values in line with God and His Word? Children who mature into stable adults commonly have a caring parent who has been a positive role model, one who has taken time to evaluate themselves and their children on an ongoing basis, making sure everyone stays on track. Here are some questions to help us gauge where our children are in the development of godly character:
What are my children’s interests? This is a significant question when attempting to evaluate their values. Are they interested in godly activities? Do they place too much emphasis on members of the opposite sex? What kind of music do they listen to? What kind of friends do they have?
How much do my children reflect their culture? Do they demand brand name clothing? Do they watch a great deal of television? What types of movies do they like? What kind of language do they use?
What kind of faith do they display? Do they want to please the Lord? Do they like to attend church? Do they have a passion to uphold the standard of Christ?
Do they have integrity? Are they honest? Do they exaggerate the truth in order to win favor with their friends? Do they hide things from me?
How do they express love? Can they express affection freely? Do they love others genuinely? Are they emotional or unemotional?
What kind of person is God? The answer to this question is vital, for God is the source of the values we desire to instill in our children. We should try to emulate four particular attributes of God as examples for our children:
Holy. The holiness of God is a recurring theme in the Old Testament. Isaiah 6:1-3 speaks of God’s incredible holiness: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory!” Moses, Job, and Isaiah all had visions of the holiness and perfection of God. Leviticus 11:43-45 says, “Be holy, because I am holy.”
Righteous. God always does what is righteous and just. He reveals His righteousness and justice by rewarding the righteous (see Hebrews 6:10 and 2 Timothy 4:8) and in many other ways so that after the Judgment no one can say they do not deserve their sentence. (See Revelation 16:5,6.) God forgives the repentant. (See 1 John 1:9.) He keeps His word and promises to His children. (See Nehemiah 9:7,8.)
Merciful and Kind. He is a God of mercy, willing to withhold punishment. His kindness leads Him to bless His obedient children. A wonderful reward and blessing await those who uphold His standard. God’s mercy and kindness are illustrated in the parable of the Prodigal Son. (See Luke 15:11-32.) The prodigal son had been influenced by the culture of his day. He left a secure home to pursue the pleasures of the world. It was fun for a season, but when the money was spent, he ended up in a pigpen. With no money and no place to go, he returned home. His father welcomed him with open arms and gave him a feast. The father had the right to deal harshly with his son. Instead, he bestowed mercy on his son, giving him what he didn’t deserve. That sounds like our God. “He is merciful and tender toward those who don’t deserve it; he is slow to get angry and full of kindness and love” (Psalm 103:8, TLB).
Loving. Christianity is one of few religions that has a Supreme Being of love. Other religions have gods who are angry and hateful, always needing to be appeased. First John 4:8-16 says that God is love. He loved us so much “that he gave his only Son so that anyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, TLB). God has such a constant interest in the physical and spiritual welfare of His people that He is compelled to make sacrifices beyond human understanding to reveal His love. He is the ultimate expression of love.
As parents, we’re concerned that our children reflect the right values. We’re faced with a great challenge to help our young people focus on what is really important in life–and that’s being, not doing. We can ask the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s greatness to our children and to allow His light to guide them to what is truly valuable in life. We must continually evaluate where our children are, then keep them moving toward the character of God, eliminating undesirable character traits along the way. Our society is lacking in four major areas today, perhaps because parents have neglected to instill these values in their children:
Morality. The moral fiber of America has been shredded by the liberal perspective on issues such as premarital sex, abortion, pornography, homosexuality, and incest. In thirty years, our country has declined into moral chaos.
The television show “20/20” recently aired a segment entitled “The Menstrual Extraction.” This is an increasingly popular home abortion device. I wept as I watched the program. They performed an abortion by using the menstrual extraction process. The woman who had designed and performed the process looked into the glass container that held the extracted fluid from the woman’s uterus and exclaimed, “l think we got it all.” I couldn’t believe how insensitive they were about what we know was the death of a seven-week-old fetus. Our schools say, “Use condoms.” Our families say, “Get an abortion; we don’t have time or money to raise another child.” The women of this country say, “it’s my body, and l can do whatever want with it.” What happened to America’s sense of morality?
Christian youth are having sex and engaging in other immoral acts almost on the same scale as teens outside the church. This is happening because believers have brought the values of the world into the church. In Romans 12:1,2, the apostle Paul urges us not to emulate the behavior and customs of the world. He challenges us to allow God to transform our spirits and find true fulfillment in the ways of the Father. If we who comprise the body of Christ, especially parents, don’t begin to look at our own moral conduct, how can we expect our teens to behave differently than their non-Christian peers? We must demonstrate a standard of holiness, patterning our lives after the attributes of God. Then our young people will have a genuine role model that follows Christ.
To instill morality in our children, we must begin by determining their level of morality. This evaluation can be made by first considering their conduct as it relates to Scripture. The Bible is filled with moral absolutes that are contrary to cultural mandates. We should discuss issues such as dating, premarital sex, and abortion with our teens. They must know we care enough to ask, “How can I help?” and “What can I do to help you understand what is right and wrong concerning moral issues?” This topic of conversation may not be easy to conduct with our teens at first, but it is important that we get beyond our shyness and deal with these issues face to face. It could make all the difference in how our young people conduct themselves, which could make all the difference in the direction their lives take.
Integrity. This value is missing in our culture. Too often we read or hear about those in leadership positions from pastors to presidents who have engaged in illegal or immoral behavior. No wonder our young people lack character and integrity. Integrity is what others see in us. It displays a lifestyle that’s been proven over time and is consistent with the Word of God. It seems to be a rare thing today to find an individual who’s respected for his or her integrity. We are afraid to place our confidence in someone in leadership because of the lack of integrity we find in society.
Integrity must be developed in the formative years of a child. To help build integrity in a child we must encourage “right thinking” by discussing with the various acts of dishonesty we read about in the newspaper or see on the local news. We can help our children discern the motives of the perpetrators and compare their actions with the biblical perspective. Role-playing is another way to teach children integrity. Use real-life situations to give a clear definition of right and wrong actions. For example, act out cheating on a test, using a fake ID, or lying to a parent. Discuss the consequences of dishonesty, especially the way it damages a relationship. Share how one lie can lead to another in order to cover up the first lie. If we can teach our children the importance of honesty, which is the root of integrity, we can help them experience healthy relationships in their home, school, marriage, community, and government.
Respect. I was taught the value of showing people respect. I was taught to call my minister “Pastor.” If I dared call him by his first name, my backside would have been blistered. Today, however, many young people are very familiar with the adults in their lives. “Pastor,” “Sir,” and “Ma’am” are not a part of their vocabulary. Manners and respect for people are virtually nonexistent in some parts of our country, and young people are being taught (by the media in particular) to challenge authority. That doesn’t dismiss our responsibility to teach our children respect as it relates to their peers, families, and authority figures; it merely intensifies it.
Scripture instructs us to respect three areas of authority. First is the absolute authority that belongs to God. Moral law begins with Him, and laws of nature express His authority in the natural realm. Second, we are to respect the authority provided by the U. S. Constitution. This authority is based on the consensus of those who live democratically under its control. Government, public education, military, public service officials, and representatives have authority because it’s been given to them. Third is the area of delegated authority, conferred by a higher power. A police officer, for example, can make an arrest because he has been given authority by a higher law and power.
The Bible has much to say about respect: for mother and father (see Leviticus 19:3); for the elderly (see Leviticus 19:32); for husband and wife (see Ephesians 5:33); for our earthly masters (see Ephesians 6:5); for deacons (see I Timothy 3:8); for those who need an answer with regard to Jesus (see I Peter 3:15).
Responsibility. To be responsible is to be reliable, trustworthy, and stable. It sounds much like integrity, but unfortunately, it’s difficult to find teens who are responsible. Commitment to God goes much further than a verbal response of “come into my heart.” It involves responsibility. When we commit to the kingdom of God, we commit to being responsible and faithful to the commands of God. Is this the case in our homes, our churches, our schools? We beg for people to be committed to ministries in the church. We plead for workers to help with projects only to have three or four show up to help paint or clean the church. They’re reliable, however, when we announce an activity that appeals to them. Teens have been programmed to believe that if a cause doesn’t involve compensation or personal gain, there’s no reason to be responsible for it. It’s been suggested that twenty percent of a church congregation does eighty percent of the work. Teens have assimilated that lack of commitment to the body of Christ and allowed it to affect other areas of their lives.
In Luke 19:17, Jesus tells the parable of the master and his servant: “Well done, my good servant!.. Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.” Those who have been faithful and responsible in the Lord’s service will be richly rewarded in heaven. What a great hope we have. We need to teach our children how to be responsible by demonstrating responsibility. We’ll all reap the benefits.
The youth of America are facing a values crisis, treading water in a tumultuous sea of doubt and confusion. Parents must be in the water with them, ready to guide them to the Life Preserver of their Savior, Jesus Christ, if they’re to survive. Once they fan in love with Jesus, they’ll embrace His values.
Our primary responsibility to our children is to live a Christ-honoring life, to have His values evident in our words and actions. That is how we will develop values in our children. Remember, “a parent’s responsibility is not to his child’s happiness; it’s to his character.”
The Reverend Barry Sappington, an ordained Assemblies of God minister, is student ministries pastor at Bethel Church in San Jose, California. He graduated from Trinity Life Bible College and has been involved in youth ministry in Northern California for eleven years. He is a highly touted youth speaker at camps and conventions.
He and his wife Kandee have two children.