The passing of the baton
NEW ORLEANS (BP)--The gun sounds! If you weren't watching the starter, you surely would have been startled. However, the runners in the relay race were prepared for this particular sound. Now is the time for them to do what they have been preparing to do for a lifetime. And the crowds cheer.
They begin their quick pace around the track. Rules dictate that each remain in his own lane. This has been explained and understood for some time now. Once they make it all the way around the track, the baton is quickly and smoothly handed off to the next runner. At the very point they began the race a few moments earlier, the second group now starts off. This is repeated two more times, with two other sets of runners, until the winning team crosses the finish line and is announced as the victors.
To prepare for the race, individual work is done every day. The proper diet, exercise and mental conditioning each play a significant role in this rigorous training. Discipline is practiced day in and day out. There are no short cuts. There are no substitutions.
Group work also is needed. A particular runner might be the fastest on the track, but a missed handoff of the baton can cost the team the race. One or two runners can negatively hurt their team of four. Timing and concentration must be perfected. Each understands that he cannot do alone what all are needed to do.
So it is with the passing of the faith from one generation to the next.
First, the rules are given. Deuteronomy 4:10 reads, "Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children." The church gathers weekly to instruct families in their understanding of God's Word and His ways. We are to "bring them [our children] up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). The end result is that we pass on the baton to honor our Lord each and every day we live and parent on this earth.
Second, there is the signal to start. When does this happen? The very first day you recall your upbringing and instruction as a child, it has started. And really, before that. All through your childhood, adolescence, and young adult years, you have been training for this very moment. Then when you get the opportunity (children in your own quiver and care), you are instructed with these words: "You shall teach them [God's words] to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (Deuteronomy 11:19). In other words, every opportunity you have is an opportunity to train your children for God's opportunities.
Third, the handoff is made. In many ways, as long as our parents are alive, we are their children. We are to honor our parents (Ephesians 6:2) and take care of them. Second Timothy 1:5 says, "For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well." Here, the faith was passed down to Timothy from his mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois (2 Timothy 3:15). "The father shall make known Your truth to the children" (Isaiah 38:19). Keep your eyes focused. Your children and their children are depending on the hand-off.
Fourth, the victory is secured. As parents, when the spiritual baton is passed on to our children, we will have the opportunity to hear God say to us, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." God has been pulling for us from the very beginning. He has been our greatest Coach and Cheerleader. There is no greater pleasure for a parent than to know that we have secured victory by the way we have trained our children. God, help us to pray these words with passion and conviction "that the generation to come might know them [God's words], the children who would be born, that they may arise and declare them to their children" (Psalm 78:5-6).
Our choices, as parents, are clear and uncomplicated. We have been commissioned and commanded by God to teach our children about Him -- to believe in Him (evangelism) and behave like Him (discipleship). This does not mean that as parents we will always say the right thing or even be picture perfect for our children. (They are much brighter than we give them credit for being!)
There is no such thing as a "perfect parent." But with the aid of the Holy Spirit residing and reigning through us, we can become the parent that God has been preparing for us to be. What we do now will provide our children a head start as they begin their own training experience.
Enjoy the race!
Jerry W. Pounds Sr. is assistant to the president and professor of discipleship at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.