Sunday, October 26, 2014

Meet the Kids

Honey, I shrunk the kids. 

There is no other blessing in life quite like the hand of child who wants to hold yours.

Every where we go, my little dude wants to hold my hand. Sometimes he runs ahead or lags behind, but not very often. Usually he is right there.I hear sweet word that make me smile or cause me to laugh. "'re the best daddy in the whole wide world...and Mommy is the best mommy in the whole wide world." Mommy started this thing with the kids a while back. "I love you more, the end!" It's a challenge now that our kids take seriously. If someone says, "I love you." Then, you are free to come back with, "I love you more, the end!" and there is no retort for that. Doesn't stop us from arguing about who really loves each other more and how much we love each other. Although, my little dude loves to say, "I said it's first and that's the rules!" Because, momma made up the rules and momma is always right about everything. That's up for debate too.

Children. They are a special blessing that God gives us. Sometimes we roll our eyes when we say that. It depends on what kind of day we are having with said kids. If they are making us pull our hair or go outside and scream real loud to let out the frustration of several of them not listening to our instructions. Again, I resound the thoughts and words of the great William H Cosby. There are many times where we try to get our children to follow our instructions or our train of thought. Many times they stand there and look at us with that blank, lifeless face like they cannot hear our words. There is something impeding the sound waves from entering the ear and making it's way to the eardrum. For some reason we cannot sync up with their minds and get them to see why it is so important to follow our commands. I know it is possible. But, I also remember what it was like. I'm not divulging any facts.

Here are two people in the biblical account who can be a most excellent example of what it means to be kids. Jacob & Esau. We see in our scripture today a bit of the end of the story. They are grown men with families and they are coming back together. Jacob shows Esau all that God has blessed him with in this life.

Genesis 33:5

New International Version (NIV)
Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked.
Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.”

Ah, but, their story is one for the ages. The story between two brothers at each other throats. Always trying to best the other one. Always trying to get their mother's and father's attention. It comes right down to the birthright. This great blessing was to go to the oldest in the family, to carry on the family line and name. More so, this blessing had to do with God. The promises that had been given to their grandfather, Abraham, will be passed down to the next in the family tree. "Your descendants shall be as many as the stars in the sky" This great faith of believing in God and following the ways of the Almighty are certainly the best thing any parent can offer their children. The problem is, getting them to see the importance of exactly that. As children, we all to often only see the blessing and not the Blesser. We don't realize how hard it is to get the money together through all the pain and effort of working that it took to pay for the gift that will be given on the special day. We only see the gift and know how much we want it. 

Jacob and Esau are your everyday children. Esau liked to please his father. He hunted. He cooked for his dad as he got older. He brought him the venison stew. The scripture tell us that the importance of understanding the blessing of the birthright seemed to float over his head. It wasn't of great concern to him. And, is keeping such an outlook, he missed the blessing. Jacob, on the other hand, wants to be first in line. Like kids fighting over who will sit in the front seat, Jacob is holding on to Esau's foot as they exit the womb. Jacob wants to be first. The squabble seems to follow them all through their childhood days. Always trying to be first in line. Always wanting their own work appreciated more. Every parent seems to have a child whose personality they gravitate towards. For Isaac, it is Esau. Jacob could be labeled a "Momma's Boy". In fact, it is with his mother's help that Jacob actually ends up stealing the birthright away from his brother. She covers him in a hairy, wooly cloth so that his blind father will think that it is Esau, who is known for being a hairy man. See the trouble we set in front of our children when we do not treat them equally. When we favor one over the other. We mistake God's intentional purpose for some as an excluding of everyone. No one wants to be left out. 

God had a great life in store for this child, but now the full blessing of the birthright is upon him. So, now he has to deal with it. That might not have been a bad thing. But, it wasn't intended for him. It's hard to help children see the intentions of adults. It's hard for us not to want to spoil them. We don't want them to have to deal with the harshness and realities that we, ourselves, had to face as children. We want them to have a better life than we had. Who knows why Jacob's mother does what she does. Maybe she think Esau will be fine. He's shown that he can hunt and take care of himself. Maybe Jacob doesn't have those same skills. She wonders how he will make it in this world. So, she rigs the process and gets her favorite son the blessing. It's all shrouded in mystery and we don't know all the intentions. But, do we see a bit of ourselves in the story? Do we see how we have treated our own children? Do we see how important it is the pass along our own faith and knowledge to the next generation? What is Issac & Rebekah teaching their children about God? What are we teaching our own kids about God?

Alright, I'm going to stop myself here. Because, I'm not coming into your house to tell you how to raise your kids. I am not Dr James Dobson or any kind of expert of child rearing. But, this one point I would draw from all of this. What kind of relationship with God are we showing to our kids? What ever and how ever we choose to raise our children it should be ever so important for us to address the matter of how they come to understand who God is in our lives. Is God anywhere in our discussions or our conversations? Do we treat others, especially our children, as gifts that God has given us? Yes, other people can be gifts to us, even when they don't necessarily listen to what we say or do what we want. Our children might be one of those people. We might be one of those children, too.

I don't have all the answers. When I was 27, I thought I did. All I was concerned with was the idea that I was free from my father's control. I could do what I wanted. Now, I'm 43. And, I wish I could sit at his feet a little longer. I wish I could draw from the well of knowledge and vision some more. I'm still a child. I still need the reassurance a parent gives to the child. All I can really do is make sure I give my all to those entrusted to me. We need to see the relationship here in our houses as a parallel to the relationship God has with us. A parent to a child. This parent gave all he had, his one and only son, so that everyone could have life. What are you willing to give for the sake of your little ones?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Meet the Parents

What a load to bear!

We are spending a few Sundays covering the subject of "family".
Last week was a very general sense of who and what encompasses the subject.
This week, we take time to look at the leaders of the family circle - the parents.

I can remember going to see the Ben Stiller/Robert DeNiro movie several years back.
It was not long after my wife and I had married. "Meet the Parents" showcased all that could go wrong on an insanely large level when a girl brings home her betrothed to meet the family. The movie (and it's sequels) especially focused on the great and difficult relationship between the Father of the family and the new man in the circle. I seem to recall my new in-laws sitting in front of us. My wife and I cracked up through the entire picture. I don't remember the people in front of us laughing too much.

Everything I know about parenting I learned from the great William H Cosby.
I grew up watching the Cosby Show. I listening to old Cosby stand up from the 60's & 70's where he began using his family as the vehicle to drive his comedy. By the time the 80's came, he was in a perfect position to a father figure to us all. I remember feeling as if the relationship between Theo and Heathcliff Huxtable modeled my own father-son time. Now, I wonder if I'm headed down that same road looking at the boy growing up with my smile and eyes.

Who doesn't recall the conversation between Theo and Cliff about growing up, going to college, becoming something in life?? "I brought you in this world, I take you out!" Ah, trying to give your children direction; trying to give them something to follow. It's all wrapped up in honor and respect. We hope they will listen. We hope they will follow. Then we come upon scripture that reads like this.

Exodus 20:12

New International Version (NIV)
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Whew! That's heavy, now. Right smack in the middle of the ten commandments comes  these words about making sure these to people are lifted up. The ten commandments can be broken down into two sides. The first 4 have to do with our relationship with the Almighty.
“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Then, the next 6 have to do with our relationship with our fellow man. “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

What begins our relationship with mankind is how we relate to the two people who have brought us into this world. Our mother and our father. Honoring them is where our relationship with God and our relationship with the rest of mankind intersect. The people who fed us, clothed us, nurtured us, admonished us, put up with us, and cried and prayed for us are the ones whom we find all we need to know about God from. I wish this was true for everybody. Not everyone has the privilege of seeing the great knowledge of God through their earthly relationships. Too often we are neglected this opportunity. Broken marriages. Broken homes. They leave us handicapped in our discovery of seeking out the truth of God. However, God has "not left us as orphans", the scriptures would encourage us. I know personally the enlightenment of what Paul speaks in Romans 8. Paul uses the idea of "adoption" when speaking of our spiritual birth in Christ. I know what it's like to be included in the family of God because I now recognize God as my father and Christ as my brother. The Almighty brings us in, gives us a new name, makes us part of his family. 

If you do know the goodness of seeing the person of God through the action and mannerism of your family circle, good for you. There is no other blessings in life that can match that. Do you see the instruction and guidance of the Almighty in the life of your father? Do you see the nurture and love of God in the face of your mother? Even if you do not, even if there is a harshness to those memories, we are admonished to honor them. We lift them up so that God might make us a blessing and help us in the place where we are in life. If you are a parent and you happen to be taking the time to read this, are you giving your children something they can honor? Are you giving your children something they can lift up? Good memories go a long way in directing them along the pathway of life. I have a mixture of harsh realities and nice thoughts that have taken me a long time work out in my heart and mind. I have had it out with my father a few times since I left home. We have had a few arguments over the years. I have made my accusations and my pleas. Yet, still, I think of him as the one who knows all. His direction and his plan are the plans & directions I should be following. And, God has blessed my life because of it.

The parents. Mom. Dad. Honor them.
And, honor God for giving them to you.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Family Picture

Everybody say "Cheese!"

Who is in the graph of your life?
There are many issues and subjects and things that make up the dogma of our lives. But, who are the people in our midst? The word family is a broad and yet precise word that describes the people we allow to or maybe have been set into the world of our lives.

As we talk about sanctification, we speak about the subject in terms of being set apart from things and giving things to the Lord that he might make them holy and for the purposes of God. Family might just be an area where both things are happening. For this message and the next two we will cover the subject of family. Through these messages we will see the broadness and specifics of family. There are hereditary matters that seem to plague us and disturb us. There are people we bring into our folds that may not have been part of the biological make-up. There is also the Christian family. These people are joined to us by all of us coming in to the family of God. Family, most certainly, can know no bounds.

What do you call family? It is this question I put in front of us as we see a very familiar scripture.

Joshua 24:15

New International Version (NIV)
15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

I'm finding the more I dwell on this subject, the harder it is to complete this message.
Why is that? Family is a very personal subject for me. Maybe it is for you also. There is much family that we wish we were closer with and more personal in relationship. many times it simply isn't so. In the last message we covered faith and how diverse and interconnected the subject is to many other issues and people in the graph. Family might outrank it. For many of us, family is just that important. There are moment when you think you can go without it. There are times when you can't live without it. Stop and think about the interconnectedness of family to other areas in your graph. If you have your graph handy, write "family" in a square and then start making lines to other areas that are obviously connected.

Family ---> Church - You are probably sitting in a pew this morning because of family. Maybe you were raised in this setting. Sitting in the very pew that you and your family have always sat in. I remember our pew in the Disciples of Christ church where we were raised. We had one of the support poles for the balcony going right up through our pew. My grandparents sat in the pew in front of us. Many of our cousins and aunts and uncles filled in the rest of these two pews. The only problem with sitting where we did was that there was a struggle over who was going to sit on which side of the pole going up through our pew. If you happened to be on the side next to mom, then dad could reach around her and flick you with his finger and thumb. If you happened to be having a hard time staying awake in church that morning, then dad would flick you in the head and you would hit the pole. Don't know if anybody else heard the "DONG" from the pole, but I heard it between my ears.

Family. Sometimes you want to be with them. Sometimes you're OK being separated from them. 

Family ---> Finances/Money - Whew! That's a mammoth subject to cover. We need money to support our families. We need to work a job. (Draw that line from Church to Money to Job, now.) Yikes, there's some definite interconnectedness going on there. The family is in need of support. The family is in need of love. We show our support with a birthday card, as we stuff a few bills inside. How hard did you work to set aside those funds so that the family could take that much needed vacation this summer? How hard did you work for that money that so & so took from you and never paid you back? Or, stole from your purse? Family and Money can be quite the matter to deal with for us. There's no other place where we see such support and such decisiveness. I've officiated funerals where the family seems to be in such a hurry to get so & so into the ground just so they can get to dividing up the money and estate. These two areas can be a twisted matter to overcome. 

Family. Sometimes you want to be with them. Sometimes you're OK being separated from them.

Lets think about some of those area we brought up when we covered the graph back in August and tie them in with family.

Family ---> Politics - I should probably stop myself right there. What must it be like to be in a family where viewpoints differ across party lines? Yikes...

Family ---> Aging - How do we handle things when we see family members growing older? How will we take care of them? Who will be the one in the family to be the executor of the estate? Do you have he support of your siblings so that you aren't the only one there taking care of things? Are you the one leaving all the important matters to some other sibling and not getting involved like you should?

Family ---> Driving - If I opened the floor right now we could spend the rest of our time sharing about all the things that happened in the car while driving with family. Most of it would most likely revolve around breaking up fights in the back seat. The poking. The proding. The yelling. There would be good stuff too. The trips to special places. The holidays. The treats. One things my dad used to like to do in the car was drive like a maniac just to scare me. He knew how to handle himself behind the wheel. Working in the garage with Grandpa Shank growing up, dad knew his way around a car. He even had his old '73 Mercury Capri on a couple race tracks earlier in life. Especially during the snowy, icy weather dad would pull into our curvy driveway, which went uphill, and the floor it and twists the wheel all over. Our back end would be swerving all over and I'd be screaming like a little girly girl in the backseat.

Which parent in your family is the one who gets to teach the teenager how to drive? I can see the look in your eyes as I bring it up. "Don't even go there dude!" Both my folks helped with the driving stuff. My mom took my to the school several times to get out the cones and do maneuverability. I was actually pretty good with the cones. Got a 95 on my exam in the cones at the driving school. Learning how to drive a stick was another matter. I never did actually master that. I can remember the day dad just came to my room and got me. Told me what we were going to do. He put me in that old Mercury Capri and we tried to drive around our 3 an 1/2 acre lot. All I remember was a lot of yelling. "Shift!! SHIFT!" After we made a circle around the front yard I pulled back up by the garage, slammed it into park and got out. "Where you going?", I heard him exclaim from the passenger seat. I'd had enough. Learning how to drive stick wasn't that important.

Family. Sometimes you want to be with them. Sometimes you're OK being separated from them.

Family---> Faith/Religion - Ooooo. How does our subject matter today go back towards our subject matter from last time? Maybe we all share the same faith in our family circle. Maybe we don't.This area really can tie us in with the scripture we read today and the context around Joshua and the people of Israel. What do you do when not everybody in the family picture shares the same feelings about God and religion and faith? Maybe there are completely different religions in your circle of family. Maybe you're all Christian in your faith, but denominational and theological lines have been drawn in the sand. Whatever the matter, faith and family don't always work themselves out smoothly.

For Joshua, it comes down to drawing just such a line. Joshua can be considered the first of what will be called "The Judges". Joshua is also the patriarch who takes over for Moses. It's never easy being in this place in the family tree. When the major leader in the family dies, the person stepping up to lead next can be scrutinized heavily. This is a normal part of leadership. When a pastor has served faithfully in a church for a long time, the next leader is line has tremendous cross to bear. Especially if the predecessor was successful and well liked. It has been said, "you don't want to be the next guy in line". No way. Everybody will be expecting the next leader to be just like the last one, doing what he/she did in the previous leadership role. Too much comparison shopping being done.

If the leadership was bad, there might be a bitter taste left in the mouth of those still here. The person stepping up to lead will be judged by the sins of the last. Comparison shopping once again leads to false labels and untrue statements that have nothing to do with the current person. This is what happens in a family.I recall what life was like when my Grandpa Shank was here. Everybody came together around him. His presence and life was what held the family together. Even through divorce and break-ups in the lives of his daughters, people still came together and got together for holidays and what not simply because he was here. After he was gone, family get togethers went by the wayside. The last time we actually had everybody in the same room was one Christmas back when our now deceased Grandma Shank was 90. In this digital age of social media and messaging we aren't even all together on Facebook or Twitter.

In the case of Joshua, being the guy who follows Moses cannot be an easy cross to bear. The people didn't make things easy for Moses. They complained. They griped. They made false gods for themselves. There were some dire moments when Moses had to crack them whip on them to bring order. Yet, there became this familiarity with his leadership. The people came to get used to him. Moses was always there. When they needed water or meat or manna, they knew they could approach him and ask (or complain). Now, this entire world of leadership has been thrust on Joshua. How would he handle it? Well, for starters, Joshua has  different role to fill. Moses has been a judge too. The people wanted him to settle their affairs and fix their problems. Joshua is the one who actually lead this large "family" into the promise land. The book of Joshua doesn't record much in the way of dishing punishment on the people. We see Joshua leading the people in overthrow of lands and kings, most notably, the city of Jericho. A good chunk of the book is a record of who got what piece of land once they got into the land flowing with milk and honey. It is not until we get to chapter 24 that we see a major confrontation taking place. 

The moment is centered around bringing everyone together and reminding them of their history. You probably done it yourselves. In our family, especially on my mom's side, the moment was brought on with the old picture albums. Whenever I would stay the night at Mommaw and Poppaw's house I would find myself digging out those old books out of the endtables. Loads of black and whites could be found and some early color ones from some of the first cameras taking color pictures. I recall seeing and learning so much about my history. Where my family came from and why people did what they did. The Israelites moment of centering came around The Law being read. That was their picture book. In the course of reading the law, they would heard of their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob & Esau. They would hear about how God took Abraham from the land of his people bring him into Canaan. God walked Abraham all around the land. God made promises with Abraham. At this moment, with Joshua speaking to the people, these promises are being fulfilled. 

But, the people have strayed at times in their history. There has been worship of other "gods". There has been immorality and sin. There has been grumbling and complaining. Really and truthfully, the kinds of things you would see in any family. It's hard to get family all together sometimes, because, we all know each other too well. There are people you love to see and there are some you wish you didn't have to see at all. There are issues and situations going on in some of their lives we wish would just get swept under the rug and we could go on having our happy family meeting. It's all a fallacy. There are going to be issues. In Joshua's story, it seems like it has been on hold through all the overthrowing of kings and land dispersing until the moment comes to the end of the book. It's time to gather the family together and make sure before they go any further that everybody is on the same page. Does everybody remember why we got here and who was the reason that they have this blessing, this land of promise? It's time to pull out the Law. The same Law that Moses brought to them on stone tablets. The same Law expounded upon through the book of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. It's time to remind everyone what this journey was all about.

Family pictures are probably some of the most painful moments in the course of human history. All the grooming and matching of clothes and hours of primping and priming just to take a couple of pictures with these people we wish we weren't even in the same room with right now. Think about all the griping and complaining these people have done on the road to the Promised Land. The tribe of Dan had this or that to say about the Levites. The tribe of Benjamin doesn't want to have their tents that close to the tribe of Manasseh. The tribe of Judah thinks Zebulun's gang got more manna today than they did. Moses and Joshua have probably heard enough complaining and arguing going on in the backseat on the trip to the land of Canaan to give a headache from you know where. What does this say about the family? Are they really centered and focused on the Lord? What does the family picture say about what our family stands for and what we believe? Put all these people in the same room and snap the picture. Is everyone on the same page? Are we focused on the Lord or are we focused on what we want? Are there issues and obstacles to overcome in order to see everyone in this picture focusing on the Lord? Probably are. Anyone who thinks their family is just to good to have any of "those problems" is most assuredly lying to themselves.

Is there anything in your family circle that needs to be laid out in front of the Lord?
Any person or situation that needs to be given over to God? Any people who need healing or direction? Are there people in the family picture who you're pretty sure don't know Jesus as their Lord and Savior? Have you taken the time to talk to them about it? Have you taken the time to pray to Lord about them? God would love to spend some time with you working out the details.

The family picture begins with you. Put yourself in the center of the picture and give your heart and life to the Lord. Let the Lord take your life into his hands. Let the Lord be the central focus of all you say and do. Then let the Lord use you to a light to the rest of the family.

The statement is put in front of you today. Who will you serve?
There are lots of choices in the world we live. There are lots of things that claim to bring peace and comfort. God offers himself. Choose life. Choose God. Peace in the family begins with you.