In the 1730’s, the Pioneer Valley was the center of The Great Awakening when Jonathan Edwards preached in Northampton, MA. According to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, Massachusetts and New Hampshire are tied for the top spot in least churched states in America. They are closely followed by Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut. How did New England go from godly to godless in 300 years?
Why do godly parents sometimes have rebellious children?
When I became a Walk Thru the Bible seminar instructor in 1987, I was introduced to “The Three Chairs Principle.” It looks at three examples in the Old Testament that help answer the questions above.
The principle is seen best in what happened in the generation that follows Joshua. Joshua 24:14-15 contains Joshua’s farewell message to Israel.
“Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:31 and Judges 2:7 explain what happened in the next generation.
Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel.
And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel.
Judges 2:10-12 reveals what happened in the third generation.
And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.
Joshua had a firsthand experience with God. Miracles were part of his daily life—crossing the Jordan, seeing the walls of Jericho fall down flat, praying for the sun and moon to stand still to give him a longer day to achieve victory, to name a few. The elders who followed Joshua had a secondhand knowledge of God’s power. Joshua did the great works while the elders saw the great works. The third generation did not even know the stories about God.
Firsthand experience develops convictions—“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Secondhand knowledge develops beliefs. While the elders believed God was powerful, the opening chapters of Judges reveal they did not trust him to drive out the enemy. Consequently, they gave a half-hearted effort and did not obey completely. No knowledge or experience develops opinions, namely that God was not worth following. Judges 21:25 sums up their philosophy, as “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
The second example is seen in the family line of David, Solomon, and Rehoboam. David was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). While he was far from perfect, he acknowledged and confessed his sins when he was confronted (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 51). In contrast, Solomon had a half-heart for God. He compromised every command given for the king to obey (Deuteronomy 17:14-17; 1 Kings 4:26; 10:14-29; 11:1-10). Rehoboam, David’s grandson, took it one step further as he had no heart for God and rejected wise counsel and pursued his own agenda (1 Kings 12;1-24). David was primarily concerned about pleasing God. Solomon was focused on pleasing others. Rehoboam was solely concerned about pleasing himself.
The third example is seen in the family line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The key insight in this example is tracing the words “altar” and “well” through Genesis 12-28. “Altar” represents the idea of worship while “well” represents the idea of work, since these men were shepherds. The first thing Abraham did when entering a new region was to build an altar. The first thing Isaac did was to dig a well. Jacob offered to build an altar, but only if God delivered him from his problems. Abraham’s first priority was worship; Isaac’s was work; and Jacob’s was wealth. Abraham’s theme was God; Isaac’s theme was me and God; Jacob was all about me, until God broke him and gave him a limp.
|2nd Chair||3rd Chair|
|Firsthand experience||Secondhand knowledge||
|Whole heart||Half heart||
|Please others||Please self|
|Me & God||Me|
Many of us did not have the greatest role models growing up. Perhaps you weren’t raised by a first-chair Christ follower. That’s ok. The key is to remember that the legacy you leave is more important than the heritage you receive. You can make the choice to sit in the first chair and to raise first chair kids and grandkids.
What do you do if you are in the first chair, and your kids and grandkids are in the second or third chair? While they need to make the choice to change chairs themselves, you can nudge them in that direction. Place them in situations where they are forced to make choices to trust and depend on God. You can also expose them to other committed first-chair kids. The key thing you must not do is rescue them and bail them out. While this goes against our nature as parents, sometimes God’s best lessons are learned through crisis and difficulty.
I spent the first half of my life seated in the second chair. I grew up in a Christian home, trusted Christ as savior while I was a child, and generally was a “good” kid. After college, I realized I did not know how to live by faith because I never had to. When I went to seminary, I wrestled with whether God wanted me in ministry or whether I was just trying to please my mother who wanted a son in ministry.
Halfway through seminary, I bottomed out. The Bible had become an academic book. I stopped praying. I was in a spiritual desert. I came to realization that I either had to walk with God or walk away, but I would not be a hypocrite. So I made a conscious choice to change chairs.
This does not mean I am perfect today. Ask my wife and kids and they will tell you the truth. But it means I fasten my seat belt and five-point shoulder harness to keep me in the first chair. If I don’t constantly recommit myself, I will naturally slide into the second chair of compromise. I can focus more on pleasing people than pleasing God. One reason I keep going back to Russia is to place myself in situations was I have to take risks and depend on God.
Questions to consider:
- Which chair best describes your condition today?
- If you choose to do nothing, which chair will your child(ren) most likely occupy?
- What is one measureable change you can make which will help you or your child(ren) move to the first chair?
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on February 3, 2019. It is the final message in a series on the book of Joshua. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.