IN EVEN THE BEST FAMILIES

mute swansBut Samuel’s sons did not live the same way he did. Joel and Abijah accepted bribes. They took money secretly and changed their decisions in court. They cheated people in court. [1 Samuel 8:3 (ERV)] 

Not all dads did as well with their boys as did my father-in-law. Eli and Samuel, for example, were both high priests and judges; while they were good at their jobs, neither is known for his parenting skills. Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abijah, were corrupt judges who took bribes. Eli’s boys, Hophni and Phinehas, were no better. They took advantage of their position to appropriate the best portion of every sacrifice for themselves and to have sexual relations with the sanctuary’s serving women. Even David had problems with his boys: Amnon was a rapist, Absalom a murderer and rebel, and Adonijah tried to seize his brother Solomon’s crown.

Clearly, being a godly parent doesn’t guarantee godly children. Were Eli and Samuel so busy with their temple duties that they failed to spend time with their boys? David had at least nineteen sons and probably several more with his concubines. Between the battlefield and his obligations as king, did he neglect being a father to his many children? In their busyness, did these men overlook their obligation to train their children in proper values? Were they as attentive as they should have been? I’m not pointing fingers because, at some time or another, we all have disregarded some of our parenting duties and short-changed our children with our time, attention, and affection.

Eli and Samuel knew their sons were corrupt and David knew of Amnon’s rape of his sister but the men did nothing about these offences. Perhaps, not wanting to face the unpleasant truth about their boys, they ignored their parental responsibility to discipline. At some time or another, in spite of evidence to the contrary, most of us have refused to believe our children are anything less than perfect, as well. Sometimes, we find it easier to ignore the elephant in the room than to address it.

These fathers were far from perfect but, then again, so are we. Nevertheless, we must remember that the failings of a child are not necessarily because of poor parenting. Even the best parent makes plenty of mistakes. We just do our best and pray (a whole lot). We’ll never know exactly what went wrong with those boys. After all, Solomon came from the same household as his malicious elder brothers and the same home that produced the honorable President Jimmy Carter, a Nobel peace prize winner, gave us his troubled and somewhat embarrassing brother, Billy.

Home may be a child’s first classroom but he continues to learn when he steps into society. As the church, we need to fill the voids in the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of our community’s children. Not all of us are parents, but we all share in the awesome responsibility of raising the next generation.

Lord, guide us in our homes, community, and churches so that all of your children become people of faith and good character.

My son, remember your father’s command, and don’t forget your mother’s teaching. Remember their words always. Tie them around your neck and keep them over your heart. Let this teaching lead you wherever you go. It will watch over you while you sleep. And when you wake up, it will give you good advice. [Proverbs 6:20-24 (ERV)]

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LEAVING THE NEST

anhinga chicksMy child, pay attention to what I say. … Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. … Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil. [Proverbs 4:20a,23, 25-27 (NLT)]

This past spring we watched an anhinga family who’d nested near the swamp boardwalk. At first, mom and dad provided around the clock nest service for their brood of blind and helpless chicks. When the chicks were about three weeks old, rather than returning to the nest with food, the parents would perch nearby. If the youngsters wanted dinner, they had climb out of the nest and hop along a branch to get it. As the babies grew, mom and dad perched further and further from the nest until, at about six weeks, their chicks had to fly for their supper. Within two months of hatching, the youngsters were flying across the pond and the nest was abandoned. Mom and dad, however, were never too far away; perched nearby, they watched their brood learn to fend for themselves around the swamp. I wonder if they worried about their youngsters becoming dinner for an alligator while they fished or sunned on a log. Nevertheless, mom and dad knew their young ones had outgrown the nest; it was time to let them lead their own lives.

Today, my eldest grand receives her high school diploma. An honor student, she’s a delightful young woman and I know her parents are immensely proud of her many accomplishments. That pride, however, is combined with a fair amount of apprehension on their part. Later this summer, this young woman will leave the nest and move 5,500 miles to London where she’ll spend her freshman year of college. Although her parents won’t be worried about alligators, there will be plenty of other concerns that might keep them awake at night.

Our children: we love them, teach them, correct them, encourage them, support them, lead them, and guide them in an effort to prepare them for adulthood. As a mama, I know how difficult it is to let our children go, but let them go we must. After all, parenthood is a job that is supposed to become obsolete; it’s when our children are confident enough to leave home that we know we’ve done our job well. Let us praise God when we see them spread their wings and fly. No matter how far away they go, however, we still have the job of acting as prayer warriors for our children and we’ll do that for the rest of our lives.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of children and the privilege of leading them into adulthood. Reassure those parents who are struggling with letting go; may their tears of sadness become ones of joy as they watch their children take their next steps. As we release our children to your tender care, we ask you to wrap your loving arms around them and protect them from the dangers of the world. May they always walk in your ways and grow in courage, strength and wisdom. Let your Holy Spirit fill them with faith, hope, and love. Teach them, guard them, lead them and lift them so that they soar!

A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings. And they can only be grown, these roots and these wings, in the home. We want our sons’ roots to go deep into the soil beneath them and into the past, not in arrogance but in confidence. [Hodding Carter]

My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. … Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. [Proverbs 3:1,5-7 (NLT)]

May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace. [Numbers 6:24-26]

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THE TITHE

One-tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain from the fields or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord and must be set apart to him as holy. [Leviticus 27:30 (NLT)]

HibiscusTithe means ten percent and the Jews were required to give ten percent of all they earned or grew as part of their worship. Because there were three required tithes, the actual percentage given was more like 23%. One tithe went to the Levites, another was for the use of the temple and religious festivals, and a third one, required every third year, was for the poor. Although no tithes were collected from the land on the seventh (Sabbath) and 50th (Jubilee) years or when there was drought or famine, tithing was mandatory at any other time and the Israelites got in trouble with God when they didn’t fulfill this obligation.

With His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus fulfilled all of the requirements of the old law. As Christians, we’re no longer obliged to visit Jerusalem for the festivals of Passover, Shavuot, or Sukkot nor do we observe Yom Kippur. We don’t keep the Jewish dietary and butchering regulations, light Shabbat candles, refrain from work on the Sabbath, or require circumcision. Like tithing, those are the laws of the Old Covenant and Jesus brought us a New Covenant. Nevertheless, there are some Christian pastors who think that one specific Old Testament law remains: tithing.

In effect, the Old Testament tithe was an involuntary tax and no one I know cheerfully pays his or her taxes. Searching for every loophole, they may even employ some “creative accounting” to lessen their payment. When we think “tithe,” we can easily start nit picking and hair splitting like the Pharisees. Are we talking before or after income taxes? Can we take off tuition for a Christian school, medical expenses, property taxes or business expenditures? What about mileage to and from church? Is the tithe for our parish or the church at large? What about faith-based causes like World Vision, the Gideons or Samaritan’s Purse—are they part of the tithe? Can good causes that aren’t faith based, like the local food pantry or homeless shelter, qualify? Perhaps the greatest problem with tithing is that we begin to think that only 10% of our money is God’s when, in fact, it all belongs to Him! Moreover, He also owns our time and talents and how do we measure ten percent of those? The tithe can become what Randy Alcorn calls the “finish line” instead of the “starting block” for our giving.

If we don’t tithe, how do we decide how much to give? A pastor friend gives the perfect answer: we pray! We simply ask God exactly how much He wants us to give and how and where He wants us to give it. In obedience to Him, we then commit our resources—our finances, time, and talent—as He directs. What we don’t do is base our giving on feelings, recognition we may be given, or the entertainment value of the pastor’s sermons. Offering our first fruits rather than our leftovers, we don’t give thoughtlessly, randomly, or grudgingly. We base our giving on God’s principles of stewardship and use His gifts wisely to expand His kingdom. Whatever He tells us to give, we give joyfully and with thanks—remember, it’s all His!

You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” [2 Corinthians 9:7 (NLT)]

Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. [Matthew 6:21 (NLT)]

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TABLE SCRAPS

Her little girl was possessed by an evil spirit, and she begged him to cast out the demon from her daughter. Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, Jesus told her, “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” [Mark 7:25b-27 (NLT)]

dogYears ago, I often baby sat my granddaughter and dog sat my son’s dog at the same time. The grand in her highchair would push her food around the tray while trying to feed herself. Since fine motor skills are lacking in toddlers, a fair amount of whatever she was eating would end up on the floor. What my grand didn’t get in her mouth became a feast for the dog who waited patiently beneath her for the bits and pieces that fell.

I think of my grand and the dog whenever I read about Jesus and the mother of the demon-possessed girl. When this Gentile woman begged Jesus to help her, He gave her an odd reply. At first look, Jesus seems to insult her by comparing her to a dog. A derogatory term often used by Jews for Gentiles, His response seems very un-Jesuslike. Although the word Jesus used can also translate as “little dog” or “puppy” rather than mangy mutt, a dog is a dog and His response seems harsh. He’d never withheld healing before this, why now? Where was His compassion and love?

As unfeeling as it seems, Jesus’s response was correct. Parents would never take food from their children’s mouths and then throw it to the dogs (regardless of whether they are pedigree puppies or wild strays). I never would have fed the dog first and given my grand whatever was left in the dog bowl. My priority was feeding my granddaughter and Jesus’s priority was giving his message to the Jews; Israel was to come before any Gentile nation. The woman, however, didn’t take offense. She humbly agreed with Him; in effect, she said, “You’re right! I may be a dog because I’m not a Jew, but I’m like the little dog that waits under the table for scraps.” Jesus came as a Jew to be the King of the Jews and yet His own people couldn’t recognize the promised Messiah. This Gentile woman, however, knew Him. She was just asking for a scrap from the man who’d fed a multitude with next to nothing and ended up with leftovers. She knew that even the smallest crumb of His grace would be enough to heal her daughter.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus says, “Good answer!” and the child is instantly healed. Is it because the determined mother’s logic convinced Jesus to change His mind? On the other hand, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “Your faith is great.” Is the healing because she passed a test of faith? Perhaps, it was both. After all, stumbling blocks are often put before us to test both our determination and faith in God. Could their exchange also have been a lesson for the disciples who would shortly be spreading the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles? This was prophesized centuries earlier when God told Abraham, “All the families will be blessed through you.” Their exchange shows that it is determined faith, not Jewishness, that brings the blessings of God.

As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Romans 10:11-13 (NLT)]

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)]

African irisAt times, we can find reading the Bible rather disturbing. For me, Peter calling Lot “righteous” is upsetting; this man offered up his virgin daughters to be raped by a mob! Abraham’s willingness to hand over Sarah to other men’s lust is equally disquieting. Those are, however, real stories about real people and, among other things, they reflect the low status of women in the ancient world. The Bible’s words may have been God-breathed and intended for people of all times and places but they were penned by men thousands of years ago for their contemporaries and their words reflect a very different culture.

When we read the Bible, we tend to read it from our 21st century point of view. Picturing the cruel plantation owner Simon Legree and remembering our nation’s intolerable exploitation of a race of people, we find the Biblical acceptance of slavery repugnant. It’s difficult for any of us to picture a society where slavery was tolerated and people would willingly sell themselves into bondage to pay their debts. Then again, in our greedy nation, it’s hard to understand a culture where, every seven years, those slaves were to be freed and all debts were to be cancelled. When we read Paul’s admonishment to dress modestly, we think he’s writing about racy clothing but plunging necklines, mini-skirts, thongs, and see-through tops weren’t a problem in his day. He actually was telling women not to flaunt their wealth with extravagant attire and jewelry. Having multiple wives, requiring an unmarried brother of a deceased man to marry his widowed sister-in-law, rules about laying siege to a city, and Paul’s concern about hair length and food, are difficult to understand or find relevant in today’s society.

To a great extent, we don’t understand the times and people responsible for bringing us the Bible. Its words were written between 3,400 and 1,900 years ago and we’re neither nomadic shepherds nor 1st century Hebrews, Romans or Greeks. If we’ve not experienced exile, been persecuted for our faith or lived in an occupied country, we have difficulty understanding or appreciating the words of those who have. With our culture so removed from the original one, when we ask, “What does this mean to me?” the quick and easy answer is often, “Nothing!” Before we ask that question, perhaps we should ask, “What did this mean to the people of that day?” Once we understand how it applied to them, we will probably find the Bible far more relevant to our lives today.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. [Romans 15:4 (ESV)]

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. [James 1:5 (ESV)]

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THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS

muscovy ducklings - floridaNow they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” [Luke 18:15-16 (ESV)]

In the comic strip Baby Blues, done by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, Daryll and Wanda’s daughter Zoe has been reading Charlotte’s Web. “Think she’ll be traumatized by the ending?” Daryll asks his wife. (Spoiler alert—Charlotte dies.) In comes Zoe who loudly announces, “Today at school we had a shelter-in-place drill, an active shooter drill, and a hazardous materials evacuation drill. It was fun!” When Wanda replies, “I think she’ll be fine,” the stunned Daryll announces, “I’m not!” Not long after seeing that comic, Moderately Confused, drawn by Jeff Stahler, continued the theme. As a mother looks at her son’s schoolwork, he proudly declares, “At least I passed my active shooter lockdown drill.” When shotguns, rifles, pistols, and pipe bombs regularly find their way into our schools and threaten our children, I find no humor in these comics; they are only a sad commentary on the nation in which our children live.

When I sent my children off to school, I thought they were going to a safe place; at that time, they were. They may have returned home with the sniffles, chicken pox, hurt feelings, a skinned knee or even a black eye from a playground scuffle, but they returned home. When a student at the Santa Fe High School in Texas was asked if she was surprised by the violence, her reply was chilling: “I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here.” Violence in schools should be the exception rather than the expectation! We’re barely 22 weeks into the year and yet, according to CNN, there have been 23 school (K through university) shootings where someone has been hurt or killed. (That doesn’t include incidents that were resolved without injury.) No wonder our children aren’t surprised by the violence around them.

During last week’s Indiana shooting, a 7th grader texted to his mother: “Mom, there’s an intruder, I just wanted to tell you I love you.” No child should have to be hiding in a classroom behind a door barricaded with chairs and, fearing he has only a few minutes left to live, texting what he thinks are his final words. He should be writing essays not last words and worried about a pop quiz in biology rather than a schoolmate wielding a gun. Middle schoolers should be busy with math drill worksheets rather than active-shooter drills, a diploma should not be accompanied by post-traumatic stress disorder, and, when a child leaves school, it shouldn’t be in an ambulance or a body bag. We are called to care for, nurture and protect the children God has given us—not just those in our homes but also in our communities, nation and throughout the world. Sadly, we’re not doing a very good job of it.

Following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, a cynical meme circulated on the Internet that showed an empty van with the caption: “Excellent news. The first truckload of your thoughts and prayers arrived.” We often say our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of these tragedies but thoughts and prayers are not enough; we must take action. Whether it is gun control legislation, better mental health services, metal detectors, mentoring programs, security cameras, RFD badges, locked doors, armed security guards, or armed teachers—I won’t pretend to know the solution. Nevertheless, I must seek to find it and work to implement it. Let us all prayerfully consider what each one of us can do to give our children a safe and secure future.

Father in heaven, forgive us for our failure to protect the ones you have entrusted to our care. Guide us in our actions so that we protect them not just from illness and injury but also from abuse, neglect, bullying, and violence. Show us what we can do so that they thrive and blossom rather than wither and die.

Prayer that doesn’t lead to concrete action toward our brothers is a fruitless and incomplete prayer. … Prayer and action must always be profoundly united. [Pope Francis]

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. [Psalm 82:3-4 (ESV)]

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