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Who will your children worship?

David B. Crabtree

The most popular 19-year-old in the world takes the stage clad in skintight leather and a no-secrets halter. Her energy level could light a small city. The band is world class. The dancers move as one to create a provocative backdrop for the platinum-blonde superstar. She belts out a lyric that really doesn’t matter. If you don’t know what this show is about, you’re dead or crazy. The kids have no trouble getting the message.

The sexually charged performance doesn’t seem to bother Dad or Mom who shell out 25 bucks for 12-year-old Sally to attend a Britney Spears concert. Nobody seems worried about role modeling, appropriateness, influence or (dare I say it) holiness. Dad sure doesn’t like it when Sally starts to dress like Britney, and dance like Britney, but what can he say? He bought the ticket! Sally seems to be losing interest in the church — must be something wrong with the youth pastor.

After the recent death of a mega-celebrity from another corner of American society, Molly, 16, weeps at the loss of her hero. "He changed my life," she says. "I’ll never be the same because of him." She’s talking about the late stock car driver, Dale Earnhardt. She claims to feel his presence. "He’ll always be with us," she wails. Dad and Mom join in mourning, each stating a feeling of profound loss. They once met Dale at an autograph table. He gave their lives meaning – how? "Can’t really put it into words," says Molly. The family has no religious affiliation. They claim uncertainty in all spiritual matters except for heaven. "Heaven is where Dale is now" – it’s a belief they will fight for.

Countless bedroom walls are decked with posters of the guy who bats, drives, kicks, throws, catches, or dunks the ball best. Though their post-game interviews are predictable, inarticulate, arrogant, ignorant or silly, the dedicated young fan (short for fanatic) hangs on every word. Childish and churlish behavior by the sports idol is excused as a response to the enormous pressure the "youngster" carries. Moral depravity, drug abuse and legal scuffles are secondary to talent and athleticism. He walks like, talks like, and acts like a thug, yet he is elevated to icon status and the object of adolescent idolatry. Winning is everything. Success is measured in gold rings and limousines. He is the rich young ruler on drugs with an attitude. Little Billy copies all his moves, watches all his games, wears his jersey number to school, quotes his stats and adopts his attitudes. Once upon a time, Billy wanted to be like Dad; now he wants two tattoos, unearned respect, and an extended adolescence.

Who will your kids worship? God or gold? A Savior or a singer? Will they lift their hands in praise to Jesus Christ, or Metallica or Eminem? What harmony can be found between Britney Spears on Saturday night, and a call to holy living on Sunday morning? Will your children find their moral compass in the Bible, or in the words and actions of their sports heroes? What values will they embrace in a world stripped of absolutes?

But we cannot just direct our attention outward. The underlying question is what lessons are our children learning by watching us? Are we their primary influence, or have we given the godless permission to shape their lives? If asked, "Who is the strongest Christian you know?" would your kids name you? They’re looking for someone to look up to. Will they follow your gaze to look to the Lord, or will they find some kind of meaning in the bright light idolatry of a star gazing culture? Who will your kids worship? Who, or what do you worship? The creeping of secularism into the church raises questions not easily ignored.

Troubled actor Griffin O’Neal alleged that his superstar father, Ryan O’Neal, turned him on to drugs. The sordid story was short-lived and dismissed as another example of Hollywood excess. The elder O’Neal was hardly tarnished by this seedy accusation. What are we turning our kids on to? The primary influence in a child’s life is the parent, and if the parent is comfortable with "R" ratings, low morals, situation ethics and greed, what depreciated values will the child hold?

Worship ascribes ultimate value to its object. What we worship can generally be defined by our greatest passion, our highest pursuit, our first priority. What would your co-workers say is most important to you? Could you defend, in open court, the statement, "Jesus Christ is the Lord of my life and the Word of God is my rule of living?" Our fallen culture glorifies the very things the Scriptures vilify: immorality, greed, power, and selfishness. If we seek power, money, and self-gratification before the kingdom of God, we have no credibility in the things of God.

Who will your kids worship? It’s a troubling question when asked against the backdrop of a compromised life. When Lot received word that God was going to destroy Sodom, he went to his sons-in-law to give warning. The Genesis record gives light to Lot’s tragic loss of influence. "But to his sons-in-law he seemed to be joking" (Genesis 19:14, NKJV). Lot’s sons-in-law never made it out of Sodom. If we will not lead the way in worship, will our kids make it out of a modern-day Sodom?

The conviction of the Holy Spirit brings us to rebellion or repentance. Repentance must be verbalized and demonstrated within the family. Kids need to see repentance modeled. Repentance and contrition are essential first steps to the restoration of parental influence. Without repentance in the face of our own sins, hypocrisy will undermine our every effort to shape young lives for God.

Theologian Carl Barth defined our culture as "aggressively pagan." Passive spirituality will not meet the challenge. Once "one nation under God," we are now a land of idols. One bows to money, another to pleasure, yet another deifies self. All fences have been removed and the "free range" welcomes all predators. Tolerance has thrown morality out of office. Innocence is robbed at an ever-earlier age.

Even in the church, holiness has increasingly been given back to God — we just can’t find our part in it. Much of the church is sleepwalking along the edge of the abyss. If there is not a massive awakening that rattles the pews, rebuilds family altars, and reestablishes the Word of God as our absolute foundation, we will lose a generation to neglect — we will lose them to the cable gods we have taken into our own households.

We cannot leave the young unprotected in this permissive age. We must search the Scriptures and rediscover our convictions. We have lost them somewhere along the way and right and wrong are no longer discernable. We must match our rediscovered convictions with moral courage and step up to God’s higher standard of living. We must leave our children a legacy of holiness and faithfulness, lest the answer to the question of whom they might worship becomes a generation’s greatest sorrow.

David B. Crabtree is senior pastor of Calvary Church (Assemblies of God) in Greensboro, N.C. He is the father of three teen-age daughters.

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