I remember before my wife and I became parents we would often talk about how we would never tell our kids, “because I said so”. We both had always felt like this was a parental cop-out and were therefore determined to be able to help our children understand the reasoning and the logic behind every request that we placed upon them. As of today however, the running tally of how many times we have said, “because I said so” is roughly about 4,607,322…not that anyone is keeping track. Because sometimes you look at your amazingly beautiful, precious child and the amount of frustration boils up as your patience continues to wear thin and you just want them to understand your request but you really have nothing left and “because I said so” becomes that very necessary trump card.
Strangely enough though, I see a bit of Divine resonance in the phrase, “because I said so”. But I think it is all about where the emphasis is placed (did you see my hint?). There is a Psalm that kind of helped me to understand this a little more recently and it is probably familiar to many of you. Psalm 19 begins this way, “The heavens declare the glory of God…” It then goes through an incredible description of God’s glory and majesty and all that He has created and then it interjects with the following phrase, “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” Psalm 19:7 It goes from all the splendor and glory of creation to a description of the law…huh? But what I see the Psalmist presenting before us is a case for God being able to say, “because I said so” So often we see the law of God and we simply see it as a list of what not to do and what to avoid and how we will get punished if we step out of line. But for the Psalmist the law was born out of the love that God, the God who made everything, had for us.
Now think about that love for a minute. God gave us stars and planets and nebulas and quasars and all of these amazing things to display His glory. God gave us cells and synapses and electrons and mitochondria and DNA to amaze and grab our attention. And God gave us His law, His instruction because He is the same God who created all those things and He may know a little about how life works best. So His law is not a limitation of life…it is an amplification of how life works best. Often times this is how I feel when I am trying to convey to my children why I want them to do something. I’ve been around longer, I’ve seen more life than you and I know how this all plays out. I don’t want you to do something because I am mean or conniving, but rather the opposite. “Because I said so” is a reflection of my love for you, because it’s me…and I know how I feel about You. May we come to feel the same way about the law of the Lord so that we can reflect alongside the Psalmist in the concluding verse of Psalm 19, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
One of the most common phrases heard around our house these days is, “that’s mine”. And it really is a rather recent development with our two youngest. Foster kids can really change your perspective…for a bit. Because for a while it seemed like they were super human because they really didn’t claim ownership to much of anything and so “those disputes” didn’t seem to happen. Boy was I naive. Now that #3 & 4 have been in our house for over a year the claiming of property seems to resemble the gold rush of 1849 more than the charitable sharing that typified their initial behavior. “That’s mine”, “I had it first”, “No” and “Give me” have become the calling card of all their interactions as of late. And I can’t help but wonder how much of this I have taught them.
Most of us learn the art of possession from an early age. We learn that things cost money and we have to work for that money and so through our toil these things take on a value that we assign. The problem occurs when we assign these things a greater value than we assign to other people. We don’t want certain people coming into our house because they might mess it up. We horde up or collect nice things because we we worked for it (Even the word horde brings to mind images of Smaug from the Hobbit). Yet at the end of the day, if we don’t even own the very breath in our lungs, do we “own” any of these things? Or do they own us? Jesus had this to say about the things on earth we lay claim to or possess, “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” – Mark 10:29-30 The crazy thing about that is the inference to the expansion of family and resources in the present age. A lot of folks might try to tell you that this is about God “blessing” you with bigger and better things, but it really is about something much richer.
I’ve begun to see it happen recently due to impending/ongoing threats to people’s homes and security in the United States. In the wake of Harvey and under the threat of DACA or Irma I have begun to see Christians open up their homes, lives and possessions to those who face the unknown. And this is what Jesus really is referring to in the passage above…a shared kingdom life. It’s a life that literally says, “mi casa es su casa (my house is your house)”, because the things that I have come to “own” are actually things that I am a steward of and so they are best used when they are shared. In fact, this is the “hundred times as much” that Jesus refers to in the passage above. It is not about me amassing wealth and being greedy, but about me belonging to something much bigger than myself by realizing I don’t own any of it. There was a wonderful quote from Mahatma Gandhi that describes our world and the need for this type of behavior, “The world has enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.” I hope today you find yourself letting go of the “that’s mine” mentality so that you can open yourself up to see how Christ could use you for those who need you in the worst way.
I am a morning person…there, confession is good for the soul I hear. I am one of those few folks who actually likes the early morning hours around 5 AM or so and I honestly haven’t used an alarm clock to wake up in probably 5 years. That being said, I am not a night person. Around about 9 or 10 in the evening I start to putter out and I rarely see 11 PM. But last night I saw a number on the clock I hadn’t seen in quite some time…1 AM. You see, yesterday evening we received a call from our foster boy’s biological brother’s step-mom (I promise you can keep up). She and her family (including our foster boy’s older brother) needed a place to crash as her husband had to be in town for some job training and their place to stay for the night had fallen through. So my wife and I got home from church, put our kids to bed and began to inflate air mattresses and make up the couch. Then came the waiting as they were having to travel a bit rather late. My wife puttered out around midnight, but I guess you could say I was burning the midnight oil, literally. So our guests rolled in around 1 AM and yours truly actually stayed up to greet them and play host…although this morning I wasn’t up at my usual time.
But in the midst of all the preparations, my wife and I were just smiling and laughing together. Evidently we love practicing hospitality. Even if it is to the step-family of your foster boy’s half brother who lives in a different state. And this morning I was reminded of why. A few hours ago, as our foster boys began to wake and discover the surprise waiting on them, our home began to ring with laughter. And I’m not talking about little stifled giggling, but full raucous belly laughing as they began to play and reconnect and celebrate with their family. I remember my 10-yr-old even asking last night, “So how are we related to them? Are we their brothers or cousins or something?” Nope…not even a little bit. But they are family to our boys, so yeah…it’s something.
As I listened to the house fill with laughter and the playing ensue I was reminded of a verse from the last chapter of the book of Hebrews, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:2 To our boys, the guests we gave shelter to last night were angels. They became messengers of light reminding them that their story is being redeemed. That their lives are not defined by the brokenness of what was, but by the promise of what could be. A little back story might be necessary here. You see, as a fifteen-year-old teen he was having to care for his infant and toddler brother and he knew something wasn’t right. His love for them has led to their story being made whole. And now to see him being able to celebrate their healing and restoration, and to see them get to play and laugh together truly is to see the laughter and presence of angels in our lives.
So maybe it is worth staying up till 1 AM sometimes…if it means you get to be in the presence of something angelic.
This past Monday evening my wife and I entered into a phenomenon which we had yet to experience, but which I have heard occurs rather frequently. Our oldest had been registered to begin soccer and then our 6-yr-old decided to give gymnastics a try and lo and behold, they were both on the same evening. And so all of a sudden we were scrambling, heading in different directions with the kids split up and even all grabbing dinner at different times/locations…and I thought it was terrible. For a day my family simply felt like we were all roommates under the same roof and it just felt so disjointed. You see our usual routine of the day culminates around one table where we share a meal and our days with one another. We get to see what each other experienced throughout the day and offer up encouragement and affirmation to each other as we conclude the day. And yet, I am led to believe that what we experienced on Monday has simply become more of the norm for a majority of households in America today. And it kind of makes my heart sad.
An often quoted Proverb in and around the church goes something like this, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” – Proverbs 22:6. And we often use this as justification for getting our kids to church or praying with them or occasionally reading scripture with them. And this is good, but this isn’t the whole picture. What kind of precedents are we setting for them? Are we allowing space for them to still be children? Are the expectations that we place on our kids and spouses realistic? Where is our space to just exist for a moment as a family? In our pursuit of what we often think is best for our children we have begun chasing after things that are ultimately unrealistic/unattainable and leave us and them drained. In commenting on our pursuit of empty things, Jesus had this to say in the Sermon on the Mount, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” – Matthew 6:32-33 Now before you say that this doesn’t relate, let me extrapolate a bit.
There is a phrase in our society we hear sometimes about, ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ (I kind of feel for anyone with that last name). But it’s an expression about attaining to the status that our neighbors have achieved. So if their kid is in three sports, then my kid needs to be in three sports. If there kid is on the honor roll and a master of violin, then my kid needs to be. If they are holding down two jobs to hang onto the mortgage for the house and the car payments that they can’t afford, then by golly I need to as well. And if there family is falling apart and their marriage is a sham because they rarely have time for each other, then I guess it’s okay if mine is too. What example are we setting for our kids? Where is the space left for our families and our marriages to succeed? Maybe today we need to realize just how precious little the time we have is and find space for our families and for God to make the most of who He has called us to be.
I can’t recall if I ever went through this phase or not. But I know with certainty that this was definitely a phase my now 9-yr-old went through. Some form of disciplinary action would take place in our home and all of a sudden it was too much for him to handle and he would declare to all within earshot that he was running away. Now he never really made it past the backyard. And there was never really any long-term planning involved other than grabbing one or two favorite toys, but the spirit of the action was understood. At some point though either my wife or I one would beckon him back in the house and all would be restored again.
It reminds me of the parable I was able to share this last week a couple of times. A son runs away from home after wishing for the inheritance he would receive upon his father’s death i.e. wishing his father dead (sounds like a dramatic running away story to me). He waste the inheritance on wild living and then ends up in a very desperate situation and finally comes to his senses and heads home. Here’s where the writer picks it up, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” – Luke 15:20. And we love reading about this reconciliation but I’ve always thought that perhaps there could have been more. I can’t help but think about the older brother watching the father while the son was still in the distant country. Everyday as he would head into the fields he more than likely would see his father on the front porch staring into the distance. He knew his father’s heart was breaking and yet he just kept busy…doing what he thought his father wanted him to do. When in all truthfulness the father just wanted the younger son home. Had the older brother truly understood his role in reflecting his father’s heart he would have gone to the distant country, found his younger brother and told him, “It’s okay to come home.”
I look at the church today and I wonder which older brother we are reflecting. Are we busy about what we think is the father’s business? Or are we actively pursuing the younger brother or sister and telling them “It’s okay to come home”? Are our churches truly a place where the lost know, “It’s okay to come home?” Are we creating environments and programs to suit our own needs or do we truly reflect the heart of the father reaching out to the runaway son/daughter and telling them, “It’s okay to come home?”
My son was probably never in the backyard for more than an hour in his attempts at running away. But I like to think he knows that at the end of the day regardless of how long he stays out, how far he strays away, or how much he thinks he has failed us that it’s okay to come home. May the same be said for us when we think about those who aren’t home yet with our heavenly Father.
Go Vols! Ok, I think I got that out of my system. Eh not really. For those of you who may not know, I am a Tennessee Volunteers fan. I know that doesn’t necessarily strike a chord with a lot of you, but it may with a few. I bring this up not to tell you that I am not really a fan of all Tennessee sports, but I consider myself to bleed orange and white specifically when it comes to UT football. I count myself among the myriad of rednecks who wear orange on Saturdays in the fall for football and on other days as a tacky fashion choice. You have to understand, there are a lot of weird traditions that encircle Tennessee football. Some make sense, and some…well. But my favorite of these occurs on home game days at Robert Neyland stadium (you can put your hat back on your head now). As the Tennessee players exit the locker room to take the field they tap a sign above the door frame that happens to be likened unto the shape of the great state of Tennessee and that sign reads, “I will give my all for Tennessee today.”
Now there are times in the past when I have wondered whether or not the players on the field took that seriously. But I love the expression behind it. In the immediate moments prior to their physical engagement with their opponent, a UT athlete is reminded of the reason he competes and who he is representing. It kind of reminds me of this verse found in Deuteronomy 6:5-6, “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” In this passage, God is reminding Israel that the commands he gives them are to always be before them; on their heads, their hands, and even on their door frames. This practice of putting the law on the doorframes of the houses came to be known as the Mezuzah (the Hebrew word for door frame) and in many Jewish homes today you will even see a little box on the side of the doorframe as you exit the house. This little box contains some of the law from Deuteronomy and it serves as a reminder. What does it remind us of? That question is answered later in the chapter, “In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: ‘We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt…'” – Deuteronomy 6:20-21. The mezuzah, the law itself was a reminder of who God was, who we had been and ultimately what God had done for us.
Now think about this with me for a moment. Every time a faithful Israelite exited his/her home they were reminded of their identity. Every time a Tennessee player exits the locker room they are reminded of their identity. What mezuzah do we have established in our homes. Do we just exit our house without a thought as to who we are and who we represent? Are we in such a rush that we forget to remember what God has done for us and how it should effect our entire state of being? I myself have found that taking a moment before I leave my home to remind myself of my identity has reshaped my life in amazing ways. May we find the time to establish a mezuzah for ourselves and for our children before we forget who we are.
This Christmas season my family and I spent the holidays with our extended families in Northwest GA and Southeast TN. This is always an amazing time filled with laughter and food…lots of food. Even Christmas morning began with a large breakfast that my dad and sister prepared at her house. On the way in though, my mom pointed out to me a print my sister had recently bought that she thought I would like. It was a picture of a pastor preaching in a pulpit. The beautiful thing about the picture were the ghostlike silhouettes of the men surrounding the pastor while he spoke. You could clearly see Jesus, Moses, Peter and David among others who had their hands upon the pastor as he shared God’s word. The funny thing is that my mom had even contacted the artist to see about how much it would be to paint me into the print as a gift; needless to say, it was a bit too much.
But I do love the verse that was an inspiration for this painting. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us , fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith.” – Hebrews 12:1-2 I love the imagery played out in the the text. I don’t know if you quite get what it means to be surrounded by a cloud, but I had a recent experience with this. While we were in Chattanooga for Christmas we also visited one of my wife’s lifelong friends who lives on Signal Mountain on Christmas Eve Eve. I think the clouds must have come down and swallowed the mountain because our visibility was roughly about -20 feet. Because of her propensity towards car sickness my wife had driven up the mountain, but as soon as we got to the top she pulled over because you really could only see about 10 feet in front of you. And so I drove roughly the speed of a sloth the rest of the way to her friend’s house. The fog/cloud/whatever you would like to label it was so overwhelming it effected everything we did from that point forward.
This Sunday I will be delivering my first sermon as a lead pastor for a body of believers. This has been a roller coaster of an adventure and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I wasn’t terrified and excited all at the same time. But I do know one thing. When I step onto the stage on Sunday it is only through the power of God and the presence of the overwhelming cloud of witnesses that go with me that I am able to do so. This cloud has gone with me from Rossville, GA to Nashville, TN, by way of Yulee, FL while building up strength in Flint, MI in order to make the trip to Odessa, TX. This cloud is filled with families and loved ones who have cared for my family, invested in my ministry, prayed for me daily and loved me beyond words. Even as I type this your faces flash before me as my eyes fill with tears and I thank God for him bringing us together. It is only by the grace of God and your presence in my life that I can even call myself pastor. And I am both humbled and challenged by your cloud-like presence in my life. So I will continue to run with perseverance the race marked out for me. And I will boldly proclaim the love of Christ to a world that so desperately needs it. All the while knowing that I am surrounded by a cloud that is a testament to the love and faithfulness of the God we all serve.