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A Bit of Nobility

February 15, 2014 — Leave a comment

When I went through Army basic training my eyes were opened to how much of an idealist I am.   My view of people in general is that we all want the best and do our best and have the best intentions for ourselves and for others.  Throughout my life I have started with that assumption until given a reason to think otherwise about an individual.  I still think that, as a rule, it’s a good way to approach things.

But in the military, especially in a basic training environment, people are under a lot of stress and one’s true character becomes apparent very quickly.   I learned fast that many of my comrades were self-centered, uncooperative, and swift to run towards evil.  And I know that much of the world is in the same place.

Isaiah says, “The fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity, to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the Lord, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink.  As for the scoundrel – his devices are evil; he plans wicked schemes to ruin the poor with lying words, even when the plea of the needy is right.”  (Isaiah 32:6-7, ESV)

There have always been such people – only interested in themselves and willing to hurt and even destroy anyone else as long as they get what they want.

But Isaiah also says there is another kind of person:  “But he who is noble plans noble things, and on noble things he stands.”  (Isaiah 32:8, ESV)

Those who consider themselves sophisticated are often filled with cynicism.  They believe that virtually everyone is like the fool and the scoundrel and that a truly noble person is rare almost beyond imagining.  Is there really anyone whose heart is pure?  One who plans good things, noble things?  And who builds his life only on that which is good?

The Bible shows us several, I think.   King David in II Samuel 7 had a noble plan.  He wanted to build a house for the Lord to be worshipped in.  He thought it was unfitting that a mere human being should dwell in a mansion, “a house of cedar”, while the house of God was a mere tent.   And even though God assigned the task of building the temple to David’s son,  David spent years of his life planning for, designing, and setting aside the resources to build the temple.  The house Solomon built was very much the result of David’s noble plan.

I think, too, of Joseph in Genesis 39.  Although he was a young man with the normal passions and desires of a young man, we see him able to steadfastly resist the advances of Potiphar’s wife, even when refusing her cost him dearly.  How was he able to do that?  So many, young and old, today claim that sexual urges are so powerful and uncontrollable that they just can’t help but give in to temptation when the moment comes.  Again, how did Joseph do it?  Well, he had a noble plan and was standing on nobler things than momentary physical pleasure.   I wish more of us were like Joseph – I wish that more of us thought more of ourselves and of our purpose in this world than to yield ourselves up to immorality.

Paul says, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…  … that I may know Him and the power of His resurrections, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection of the dead.”  (Philippians 3:7-11)   What a noble plan!  What a noble deed!   Can we say that, honestly, to ourselves and one another?  Can we say that we will pay any price, lose any physical benefit, and throw away the pleasures and profits of this world, if only we can really know Jesus and be like Him?   Can we say to ourselves that there is nothing worth more than that to us?  Is it true that we will do anything it takes to attain eternal life, the resurrection of the dead?   And how much different would your life be if that were true?

He who is noble plans noble things.  And on noble things he stands.

Brad

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Joseph’s Brothers

February 15, 2014 — Leave a comment

I’ve been reading again the story of Joseph and his family in the book of Genesis.  Here are a few quick notes:

The Brothers of Joseph:

Had a brother who robbed them of their father’s devotion – Genesis 37:3

Were humiliated by their brother’s dreams – Genesis 37:5-11

Were moved by envy to murderous anger – Genesis 37:11, 18-2

…and betrayed their brother and father

Yet received grace. – Genesis 45:1-11

Raised in a self-centered, undirected family.

Jacob was busy getting over on Laban – Genesis 30:25-43, 31:7-20

Rachel and Leah were busy getting over on each other – Genesis 29:31-30:24

-the children, and the servants of each, were pawns for getting at the heart of Jacob

Aside from that, Laban, the children’s grandfather, is trying to cheat their father Jacob, Jacob has already cheated his brother Esau, and Jacob is getting ready for a wrestling match with the angel of God! (Genesis 32:22-30)

Jacob is a striver with God and man – Genesis 32:28

Is it any wonder that by the time the family gets to Canaan the sons of Jacob are conniving, deceitful, and small hearted?  Genesis 34:13     – even when they’re in the right they lie!

But, for all that, God is with Jacob and in the midst of all this He reiterates the promise made previously to Abraham and Isaac – Genesis 35:1-15.  God’s promise stands, not because of righteousness of man, but because of God promised it.   And Jacob lived by faith – Hebrews 11:21.  But that doesn’t mean no mistakes were made.  And those mistakes are at the heart of the problem we see in Genesis 37 and 39

Genesis 37:18-36

Genesis 39:1-6

God can take all the bad and make it good, but look at all the misery, uncertainty, fear, and threat that filled these years.  Wouldn’t God have found a way to preserve them even if they hadn’t acted corruptly?

It is the same with us.  We all stumble often, James says, and God can make all things work together for good anyway.  If we endure the chastening, it will afterward yield peaceable fruit – Hebrews 12:11

But let us not sin that good may come!  Romans 3:8:.  There is a better way.

A few applications:

What becomes of our children when moms and dads are so focused on their own schemes that they neglect the welfare of their children?

Or when the parents act corruptly to get their way, what do the children learn?

When adults are self-centered, and the kids are left to themselves, are they inclined to good things, or mischievous things?  Proverbs 22:5

At church, when the parents are focused merely on their own edification, do we pay attention to whether our kids are paying attention?  Or when we let the kids sit with their friends – it makes church more fun for them and it makes it easier for us to focus on the service, right?  But are the kids worshiping then?  Or are they passing notes, joking around, and spacing out?  Can we be guilty of neglecting them right here in this good place?

And then, after worship – as the adults enjoy good fellowship and conversation and the kids are turned loose, is it just clean honest fun the kids are having?  I know I sometimes come home to angry kids with bad attitudes after 45 minutes left to themselves after church with their friends.

Proverbs 29:15

It’s worth acknowledging that no matter how good your child is, and mine, the influence they have on one another is not always good.  They are children and we are parents for a reason.   We need to be wise and be aware of what’s going on.  Or better yet, include our children with us.  Let them be where we are after church or, let us go where they are.

The story of Joseph and his brothers is the story of a family run amuck.  I have no doubt that Jacob was a faithful man – a well-intentioned man.  But his weaknesses carried consequences for his family.  As do ours.  May we strive to recognize them and overcome them.

Quiet Aspirations

December 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

I Timothy 2:1-2 – “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

I Thessalonians 4:9-12 – “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing… But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

II Thessalonians 3:11-12 – “We hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.  Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”

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Nike advises us in their commercials to Find Your Greatness.   Television shows like The Voice and American Idol have become the aspiration of multitudes of bedroom musicians hoping to find their big break and attain stardom.  And Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and countless other social media allow us all to market ourselves and help us feel like we are bigger fish than we actually are.

When I talk to young people, and even to those who are older, most have a strong inner drive to “do something that matters.”  We like to think that we are engaged in something important; something that is going to help shape the world.

But the thing that matters is not reaching the top of the heap.  It’s not being in a position where you can control outcomes and have a great deal of influence in the lives of others.  It isn’t being “great,” or notorious, or a star.  The really important thing is living a life of personal integrity.

In the Bible, we are encouraged to “aspire to live quietly and to mind (our) own affairs.”  To seek to mind our own business, and to let others mind theirs.  It’s interesting that those words are found in the middle of a discussion on loving one another – and doing so more and more.

We tend to think of love in terms of what we do for others.  But love also consists in letting others alone – allowing them to make their own decisions, manage their own affairs, and to enjoy the fruits and consequences of so doing.

Further, our ability to do really big things is only enhanced when we focus first on finding peace, stability, and order at home.  Jesus said, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is a log in your own?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5).

We grow weary of corrupt politicians who tell us how to live our lives while their own are scandal ridden.  And we rightly scoff at pastors and religious leaders who preach one thing and do another.  But the same principle applies to you and me.  First let us learn to manage ourselves and our own responsibilities.  Then we may, perhaps, have clear insight to help others.

Brad

It has been said that the travels of Abraham can be traced by the altars he built.  In Genesis 12, we read of the Lord calling him to leave his home and go to Canaan.  It says that he went to Shechem and built an altar where the Lord appeared to him in v. 6-7.  Then he moved to Bethel and “pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. v 8” In chapter 13, after he separated from Lot, he went to Hebron and again built an altar – 13:18.  Under the patriarchal system, the altar was the place of worship to God.  Every place that Abraham went, then, he prepared for himself a place and a way to worship his God.

There are a couple places where he lived but didn’t build altars:  Egypt (Genesis 12:11-20) and Gerar (Genesis 20:1-9).  It is more than interesting to note that those places are the places where he sinned.

Scripture teaches that we are merely sojourners and travelers on the earth – Hebrews 11:13-14.  As we travel through life we need, like Abraham, to be erecting “altars” everywhere we go – signs and reminders that, no matter where we find ourselves, we took time to remember God.

In our Families.  Raising godly children is not something that just happens.  However, having children does.  Many enter into fatherhood and motherhood without purpose and without a goal.  As a result, their training and discipline of their children, if it happens at all, is done haphazardly and without purpose.  Even Christians are sometimes no more specific in their plans for their children than, “I hope they grow up to be faithful.”  For the most part, if you’re just hoping, they probably won’t.

The Bible gives us several principles for raising children:

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” Proverbs 22:6.

“…do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” Ephesians 6:4.

How can you bring your children up in the training and admonition of the Lord if you are not living yourself in the training and admonition of the Lord?  We need to be building altars to God in our families.  That is, we need to make home a place where God is remembered and respected and given a central place.  If we don’t, how can we hope for our children to grow up to serve God?  On one of the altars Abraham built, he offered up his only son, Isaac, at the command of God.  How do you think the unflinching obedience of his father affected the young boy? When Joshua exhorted Israel, he said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord –  Josh. 24:15.”  He had built an altar – making it known that God was not an optional addition to his family.

Some altars we can build:

Does your family have a time they study the Bible together?

2 Tim 1:3-5

3          I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day,

4          greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy,

5          when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.”

2 Tim 3:14-17

14         But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,

15         and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

16         All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,

17         that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Do you have a time besides mealtime when you pray together?

1Thes 5:16-18

16         Rejoice always,

17         pray without ceasing,

18         in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Phil 4:6-7

6          Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;

7          and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

What place does gathering with other Christians have in your family?

Heb 10:23-25

23         Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

24         And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works,

25         not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

What part does God play in your normal, everyday conversations?

Deut 6:5-9

5          “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.

6          “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.

7          “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.

8          “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

9          “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

If the Lord has a constant place of honor and involvement in the fabric of our family life, then we won’t have to merely hope that our children will grow up to be faithful.  We will instead have the assurance that we are, indeed, bringing them up in the training and admonition of the Lord, and that, even when the children have left the home, He will be a permanent fixture in their lives and our own.

Brad

Kid Chronicles

November 13, 2013 — Leave a comment

So it’s Fall here in Missouri.  It’s cloudy and the temperature is a crisp 50 degrees or so.   My youngest son and I were in my truck on the way back from dropping my older son off at work, and he asked if we could roll down the windows.  I declined, saying, “it’s a little too cold.”  He gave me a look and replied, “It’s not cold!”  So I opened all the windows.

After about 5 minutes, he looked at me and said, “Dad, you were right.” And we rolled the windows up again.

I am fairly confident that there is nothing profound or life-changing about this little exchange.  We won’t remember it a week from now, and there are sure to be far bigger moments in the shaping of the character of this 6 year old boy.

Still, I couldn’t help feeling a little proud of him.  One of his siblings might have rode the rest of the way home shivering rather than utter those humiliating words – “you were right!”   And I couldn’t help but think of the times I have suffered in silence myself, even (especially) as an adult, simply because I preferred that to admitting I was wrong.

And then I thought some more.  It’s very tempting for me to just make the decision and insist that the kids go along.  After all, I’m the parent, I’m older, and I know best, right?  But, as Burke said, “Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.”  As much as I want to keep my children from painful experiences, they are human beings and, like the rest of us, they learn best from the test and not so much from being told.  Maybe it’s a good idea for me to say, “Ok, let’s do it your way,” once in awhile.

It struck me, too, how calm the whole thing was.  He disagreed, I complied, he changed his mind, and we continued down the road.  No argument, no fractured friendship, no hurt feelings – and no irritation on his part about being proven wrong.

Again, I know this is just a small, insignificant moment in a day, but those moments add up.  Here’s to more like that one.