Autonomy is Misery


So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.  They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD.  And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.” – 1 Samuel 8:4-9 (NIV)

Begging for a king of your own imagination is a dangerous thing, especially if your imagination is tainted with the influence of sin.  The Israelites wanted a ruler that would support the life they wanted, not the life God’s law called them to.  What they really wanted was autonomy – their rules and their ruler – but
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

Children by inclination desire autonomy.  They want life their way, their rules.  Every day parents lay before their children the choice of obedience or disobedience, self-control or selfishness, the kingdom of God or the kingdom of “me.”  But there is a tension at work here because we want our children to be responsible individuals who also are vitally involved in community.  They need to learn the difference between autonomy and personal responsibility.

The difference lies primarily in orientation.  Autonomy is focused on the wants and desires of the individual where personal responsibility is focused on the needs of others.  Autonomy is rooted in pride where personal responsibility anchors itself in humility.  Autonomy is about the flesh where personal responsibility is about the spirit.

The tensions above are at work in every believer’s life and we need to be especially aware of these tensions in our children.  They are surrounded by a world that praises autonomy and rewards pride, so convincing them to choose personal responsibility and humility will sometimes be a challenge.    But we cannot leave them to the danger and misery of autonomy.

Lord, help me show my children the way of humility, self-control and a life of service.  May I reflect the peace and love of Your heart for others.  Let me guide and direct them to be Your servants and leave self-serving behind. Amen.

Knowledge + Obedience = Happy Father


“‘If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit.  Your threshing will continue until grape harvest and the grape harvest will continue until planting, and you will eat all the food you want and live in safety in your land.

“‘I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid. I will remove savage beasts from the land, and the sword will not pass through your country.  You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you.  Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.

“‘I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and increase your numbers, and I will keep my covenant with you.  You will still be eating last year’s harvest when you will have to move it out to make room for the new.  I will put my dwelling place among you, and I will not abhor you.  I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.  I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.” – Leviticus 26:3-13 (NIV)

Going to bed every night would be so much easier if my daughters just did what they were supposed to do.  It is a dream I have.  Jammies on, teeth brushed and prayers said without turmoil, trial or tears.  This is not my reality.  It isn’t that they don’t know the process.  They know exactly what they need to do, what order to do it in and how quickly they need to do it.  Knowledge has never been the problem; obedience has been the problem.

This was the same issue for Israel.  God had gone over the process for maintaining a good relationship with Him.  His rules and commands were open doors to His blessing, providence and protection.  His law was a set of boundaries to keep them from harm and close to His heart.  Just like my daughters have difficulty making it from the living room to the bedroom without conflict, so did Israel have trouble traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land without detours, delays and disappointments.

When we require our children to pay attention to the details and abide by the rules of our home, we are preparing them for a life of obedience.  It is not a very popular word today.  People don’t like to think of themselves as obedient, but it is obedience that confirms our belief.  I don’t expect to have as many rules and guidelines for my girls as God gave the Israelites.  I do expect to go over the ones my wife and I have set forth numerous times with them before they get it.

Lord, help me to follow Your commands.  Help me to teach my children obedience by living it out each day.  Give me the words and opportunity to speak the truth of Your commands into my children’s lives.  Amen.

With God There are No Giants


They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land.  They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit.  But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there.  The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.”

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”

But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.”  And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size.  We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” – Numbers 13:26-33 (NIV)

It is hard to be a true believer.  It is difficult to trust what you have been told when everyone else seems to be turning a deaf ear to the truth.  No one said following God would take us through friendly territory, just that He would take us through.  Joshua and Caleb were true believers.  Apparently, they were a very small minority.

Teaching our children to stick to their faith, to follow through with their commitment to God, is critical.  We live in a culture of shifting beliefs and smorgasbord spirituality.  When we don’t like something, we go to a philosophical grab bag and pick out the ideology en vogue at the time.  This nonsensical atmosphere can seem like a land of giants, but with God there are no giants.  There is nothing, no one bigger than our God.

I want my daughters to be like Joshua and Caleb.  I want them to walk into their friendships, schools, groups and gatherings unafraid of the giants they may meet there.  My hope for them is based on the command and promise that God gave to Joshua later in his life: “Be strong and courageous … for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)  I want my daughters to be brave.

Lord, make me into a giant killer.  Help me to be brave when giants are in the land.  Give me the strength and will to overcome and the faith to believe.  Let me show my children that You are above all things. Amen.

The Sabbath


Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them, “These are the things the LORD has commanded you to do: For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death.  Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.” – Exodus 35:1-3 (NIV)

We live in a world of busyness.  We occupy our time and fill our empty spaces.  We live without any margins on the pages of our story.  We are desperately in need of rest.  God is not unaware of this since He created us with work and rest in mind.  But the world, and those who live in it, are broken.  We don’t seek the kind of rest that heals and revives.  The rest we seek is play.  We find ways to escape from the busyness by doing fun things with fun people, returning from our vacation more exhausted than when we left.  Rest seems far from us.

The Sabbath rest is a discipline of letting go.  It is setting aside the day without any inclination toward accomplishment.  It is about being and not doing.  This is not easy for most of us.  We have been taught that doing nothing is lazy, but slothfulness is an aberration where rest is the desire of God for His people.  Israel began to learn this truth from the schedule He set with the manna and quail.  As hard as they looked and searched, there was never any quail or manna on the Sabbath.  Never. Yet, they always had enough to eat on that Sabbath day.

Teaching our children to rest may be a challenge, especially since we probably struggle with it ourselves, but it is invaluable to the life God desires for us.  He has designed us to work certain ways and to operate within certain limits.  When we exceed these limits we can burn out and enter into the growing army of perennially tired parents.  We need margins.  We need empty space…and so do our children.

Lord, help me to enter into Your rest and bring my children with me.  Grow in me the discipline and desire for resting.  Help me to show my children the beauty and power of unoccupied, unhurried time. Amen.

Rules Are Not Made to Be Broken, the Broken Need to Be Ruled


And God spoke all these words:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol 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 fathers 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.” – Exodus 20:1-6 (NIV)

Everyone has a ruler.  We all have something that defines our thoughts and actions.  There is a power or presence or person that holds sway over us in a way that nothing else does.  For the believer, our ruler is God.  This does not mean that we always act as if God rules us, but that we have chosen God as our ruler.  For others, it is their career.  For some, it is their relationships.  Still others are ruled by their passions.  Children have a ruler from the moment they are born: self-interest.

This may seem harsh, but it is reality.  Children are interested in their needs and their needs alone.  They have to learn to share.  They have to learn to consider others.   They need a ruler.  In the home, fathers and mothers are that ruler, setting the tone for their children to understand and accept God as their ruler later on in life.  The people of Israel needed a ruler, and rules, but they were ruled by self-interest.  God had sent them the Ten Commandments, but they wanted a God they could define and rules they could follow without any effort.

God’s rules create boundaries and give shape to things.  They help us make decisions that honor Him and bless those around us.  They bring focus and definition to the fuzziness of a confused and contradictory world.  Rules give us a language that explains the motivation and meaning of our actions.  God’s rules help shape us into the image of His Son.  God’s rules mold us into creatures fit for heaven.

Teaching our children rules helps prepare them for a ruler.  When we teach them how to share, not to lie, or clean up their own mess we are preparing them for God’s commands.  Rules are not to be broken.  Rules mend.  Rules make us whole.  Rules allow us to experience a freedom we can never experience in anarchy and rebellion.

Lord, help me teach your rules to my children in grace and love.  Give me the wisdom to define the boundaries of righteousness to my children as they grow and mature.  Let me set and example by living within your rules each day. Amen.

Manna and Quail


That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor.  When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat.  This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Each one is to gather as much as he needs. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.'”

The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little.  And when they measured it by the omer, he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little. Each one gathered as much as he needed.

Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.”

However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them.

Each morning everyone gathered as much as he needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away.  On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much–two omers for each person–and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses.  He said to them, “This is what the LORD commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.'”

So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it.

“Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a Sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today.  Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”  Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?  Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.”  So the people rested on the seventh day. – Exodus 16:13-30 (NIV)

Getting your children to trust you can be an epic chore sometimes.  They can be very sure of their perception of things and be very unsure of what mommy and daddy try to tell them.  The process of earning their trust is one we will go through numerous times, but it would be good for us to keep in mind that God goes through the same process with us.  The passage above is a clear indication of how stubborn humanity can be even in the face of God’s goodness and providence.

We are going to have manna and quail moments with our children.  We are going to be frustrated that they still behave as if we are not on their side, or don’t care about them or don’t want them to succeed.  They will say hurtful and uninformed things about us and our motivations.  They will act in ways that seem disconnected from the way we treat them day after day after day.  In the midst of all this, God is going through the same frustration with His children.

For God and us, this process of trust sits entirely with us.  There is nothing God needs to prove, there is nothing He needs to change and there is nothing He owes us.  However, as parents we need to empathize with our children and approach their growth and struggles with humility.  We aren’t perfect and therefore have no right to expect it from anyone else, especially our children.

Next time I am about to nitpick one of my children, I hope God brings the manna and quail to mind.  When the time comes and I am about to enter into a diatribe on respect and obedience, I pray that God will cause me to pause and re-evaluate the situation.  Lord, help me to be a voice of patience, grace and wisdom into my children’s lives. Amen.

Grumbling at God


The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt.  In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.  On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” – Exodus 16:1-8 (NIV)

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the LORD who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?”

Moses also said, “You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the LORD.”

“Nobody likes a whiner.”  It makes a good t-shirt or bumper sticker, but the reality is that we are all whiners at some point.  There is something that nags us or puts us in a sour mood when in reality, our life is just fine.  Times come our way when a sacrifice is required for a good cause and we can find ourselves basking in self-pity when no one thanks us for giving up so much.  We all have our weak moments, and this was a weak moment for the children of Israel.

Often it is the ones closest to us that feel the brunt of our grumbling, but we are really grumbling at God.  Just as the Israelites’ grumbling at Moses and Aaron was really grumbling at God.  There really is no telling what God was willing to provide His people if they had shown gratitude and humility.  They only got the minimum of what they asked for – meat and bread.  They were headed to the land of milk and honey, and God may have given them a foretaste on the journey, but instead they ate the same thing every day for 40 years.

This is a lesson that many children never learn.  There are way too many people out there believing they deserve a perfect life.  I have met too many people who seem to think that God owes them something.  Children need to learn the lies behind this way of thinking.  It will save them from a lot of pain, suffering, wasted time and embarrassment.  Complaining, whining, grumbling – these are not the characteristics of God’s faithful.  We need to teach our children how to be grateful and content and the best way to do it is by being grateful and contents ourselves.

I want my daughters to experience the amazing and unexpected of God’s providence.  I want them to live lives marked by gratitude and grace.  As a father, I must be disciplined in modeling this before my daughters.  Lord, help me to live the life of gratitude and contentment.  Help me to lead my children into a right relationship with their God.  Amen.