The excerpt below was taken from a lesson series entitled “Moral Courage: Paving the Path to Help Your Children Love the Lord,” on Sunday, August 13, 2017 in Omaha, Nebraska, USA. I grew up in Southwest Iowa in a small town off of I-80 called Atlantic. I went to Northwestern University, just north of Chicago, and became a disciple as a freshman in early 1988. I married my wife Deb on graduation day in June 1991 and we then moved to Los Angeles to help the campus ministries in the LA church. We moved to Orange County in 1993 and have been part of the church there ever since. We have two daughters – Haley (21) is a senior at Georgia Tech and Sydney (20) is a junior at UCLA. Both were baptized the summer after their eighth grade school year. I have had the honor of serving as an Elder in the Orange County Church since February of 2011. Tim asked me to share a few thoughts as part of his sermon on Nehemiah 10 about the challenges we faced in raising our daughters, specifically as it related to fighting against the pressures and influences of the world around us. I hope you may find something in here helpful to you and your family. Let me begin by saying that any good things that we may have done as parents has been by the grace of God and due to the great training we’ve received and Godly examples we’ve seen over the last 30 years in God’s family. In my flesh, I am selfish, prideful, worldly, fearful and anxious. It’s only through God’s mercy that our daughters became disciples and have flourished spiritually. I am so grateful for the discipling, training and accountability we have received over the years. It has protected our hearts and saved our children’s souls. I have to admit that over the years as I’ve read in the Old Testament about how God’s people continually struggled with idolatry (e.g., the golden calf, Baal, Asherah poles, etc.) that I would sometimes think to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding me – a golden calf? A pole? Really? I would never be tempted to chase an idol like that.” And then I would stop short and think about the idols that I do chase and would realize and be convicted by the fact that they are just as empty and unfulfilling as a golden calf. God knew then that if his people became too much like those around whom they lived that they would suffer spiritually and perhaps forfeit their salvation. And he knows the very same thing holds true for me today.

The idols that I have struggled most with in raising my children have been the idols of success and achievement (for my kids). SAT scores, GPAs, athletics, you name it. This is the standard by which families in Orange County are measured. And while I could make it sound good in my head (“I want my kids to be successful, to go to a good college, to have confidence and a healthy self-esteem”), the reality was my heart would often go to a bad place. I wanted my kids to be successful so I could boast, both inwardly and outwardly to those around me. To my neighbors, co-workers, friends and even my brothers and sisters in Christ. While I was perhaps never so brazen to put it in those exact words, the truth was I was looking for personal fulfillment through the success and achievement of my kids. It was less about them, and much more about me. Fortunately, I had a few things going for me. First and foremost, I had God’s grace and mercy. Second, I had men in my life who would lovingly challenge me when they saw me get off track. And last, I was at least a little bit self-aware. I recognized this was part of my sinful nature and I prayed about it all the time. There were a couple of verses that really helped me (although I didn’t always like what they said):

  • “What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” – Luke 16:15
  • “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” – James 4:4
From an early age, we spent countless family devotionals and one-on-one times with our girls talking about priorities and how God and his kingdom needed to come first. We spent time over the dinner table talking about real-life practical situations and how the girls should handle them. We modelled for them a commitment to church, midweek and our one-another relationships. We read this verse all the time:
  • “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” – Matthew 6:33

Admittedly, “all these things,” referenced by Jesus, is talking about the necessities of life (food, shelter, clothing). I believe the principle applies to other things that we desire, and aren’t in-and-of-themselves sinful. Jesus just wants our hearts to be fully devoted to God and his kingdom. You can have both, but God must come first. We worked really hard at training the kids to put their faith in God’s promise, but also to make sure they understood that they needed to be resolved to put God first, even if God’s fulfillment was delayed or not exactly how they wanted it to be (Daniel 3:17-18). I now want to share a few practical examples of how this played out in our lives. Haley’s sport of choice was soccer and she and her team progressed quickly through the competitive travel-ball “club soccer” ranks. She let her coach and teammates know from the beginning that she would miss practices on Wednesday nights due to church and would often have to miss Sunday tournament games because of church as well. At first, this was okay, but as the team kept winning its division and moving up (Bronze to Silver to Gold), the pressure from her coaches got ever more intense. As a family (and at Haley’s urging), we did the “unthinkable” by Orange County standards and had Haley move down from a Gold team to a Bronze team. Yet, God blessed her with being MVP of her high school freshman team, the varsity team winning a National Championship her sophomore year and her being a varsity letter winner. Haley was an outstanding student (10 AP classes, 4.5 GPA, 2290 SAT) but never missed a midweek, teen Bible talk, teen devo or church service, because of homework or studying. She got into almost every college she applied to and in spite of getting into an Ivy League school, she based her college choice on the strength of the local church and campus ministry. God has blessed her at Georgia Tech with a thriving, growing campus ministry of 200 students and he has also blessed her academically (3.88 GPA; graduating in 3.5 years with a Biomedical Engineering degree) and socially (clubs, intramural sports). While my pride wanted her to go to an Ivy League school, Haley chose by far what was best for her spiritually. Sydney was a great athlete and due to her having Cystic Fibrosis, we encouraged athletics as much as possible, as exercise is great therapy for CF kids. Her first love was softball and she excelled each season, always making the All-Star team in our city’s league. After her eighth grade year, her All-Star team won districts, then sectionals and then regionals eventually making it to a national tournament. No team from our city had ever made it that far and we were so excited for her until we saw the schedule and realized the tournament was the same week as church Teen Camp. Without batting an eye (her mom and I were a bit torn however), Syd told her coaches and teammates she would have to miss the national tournament even though she was the starting first baseman. One week after Teen Camp, Syd was baptized into Christ! As Sydney entered high school, her sport of choice was lacrosse. She made the varsity team as a freshman but the varsity team practiced every night from 7 to 9pm. Syd told her coach she would have to miss Wednesday night practices, but she could work with the JV team earlier in the evening. The coach said that given her decision she could not be on varsity and maybe not on any team at all. He asked her again if she was serious and she immediately said, “Yes!” As she walked off the field with tears in her eyes, I was furious. Where was her “Matthew 6:33” moment? She went to bed that night very sad but resolved. The next day she received a text from the coach saying that he had spoken with the varsity team captains and they wanted Syd on the team. Her missing Wednesday night practices would be okay with them, because they knew how hard she would work on her own. At the end of season banquet, the coach shared in front of all the players and parents this story and how he had been extra hard on her during that conversation to test how deep her convictions were. He came away incredibly impressed with her faith. Syd was named Most Inspirational Player that year, won four varsity letters, was named All-Conference her junior and senior years and was voted team captain her senior year. I share these stories not to boast (because honestly I struggled more than my kids did), but in the hope that these examples of God’s grace, mercy and faithfulness would encourage you and your children to put God first. If you find yourself struggling with any of the things that I wrestled with in my sinful nature, I pray you may surrender them to God. When we’re humble, God is empowered to do extraordinary things in our lives and in the lives of our children. (1 Peter 5:5b-7).

Gratefully, your brother…

Dave Eskew, Elder, Orange County Church