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.

Skipping Rocks: Reading the Ripples


I will be taking some time off for vacation next week and would like time to prepare the posts for the time I am gone.  In that vein, I am reposting some blog entries from my other blog for this week.  I hope that they are a blessing.

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:10-11 NIV

It had been a not so great day. For the past couple of months I had been looking for work without any nibbles. I had reached that tired point where continuing on was an obligation without much dedication. The mail had arrived with another, “While we appreciate all of your skill and experience…” letter and frustration had me in its despairing grip. It was time for skipping rocks.

I walked to the creek, kicked a few weeds with satisfaction and sat on the beach once again. Any goodness or rightness associated with that place was lost on me that day. With robotic movements I began to pick up rocks and attempt to skip them on the small pond. The key word her is “attempt.” Frustration came over me again. The wind had picked up that afternoon and the steady ripples made an uneven surface, unfriendly to skipping stones. But I had met God in this place before, so I waited and listened and watched.

In time the wind would subside for a few moments, allowing the water to calm enough for skipping. Timing became critical due to the small window of opportunity allowed by the temporary stillness. Listening for the rustle of leaves upwind; watching the reeds upstream for movement; noticing the upper pond become still a brief moment before the lower one. These all became indicators of the coming opportunity for a treasured event. I let loose each stone with much more care and concentration, not wanting to waste the carefully anticipated moment.

The rewards were immediate and satisfying as I watched stone after stone make the series of arcs from point of contact to the next across liquid glass. God had met me again and humbled me with each stone’s tap against the water. I had been so obsessed with finding work that I had lost sight of His will. Instead of becoming more and more in tune with His movements and motions, I was intent on skipping rocks in my own time and way. I needed to sit quietly at His feet and wait for His window of opportunity.

It was no more than a week later that I received a call from a church needing an interim preacher. They were looking for someone willing to make the trek into the mountains to speak on Sundays until they could find a full-time pastor. This allowed me to continue seeking work on God’s timetable and still be used by Him in the body. It is such a blessing to be in on what God is doing in my life rather than cluelessly barging ahead, trying desperately to fulfill my responsibilities as a provider.

I hope that I will not have to learn this lesson again. I hope that I will listen for the breath of God rustling through the events of life. I hope that I will watch for the movement of the Holy Spirit in the world around me and participate with His ministry. I hope I will see what is coming with wisdom and knowledge.  In His time, in His way, in His will.

Overcoming Doubt


Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you’?”

Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?”

“A staff,” he replied.

The LORD said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the LORD said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand.  “This,” said the LORD, “is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has appeared to you.” – Exodus 4:1-5 (NIV)

There are several moments I can recall from my childhood when a word of encouragement or wisdom or truth overcame my doubts.  Whether it was trying a new thing or overcoming a challenge in school, my mother or father would help me move beyond myself to what I could be.  I was able to experience so many things and learn more about myself, the world and the God who created us both.  They were doubt dispellers and truth tellers and I am eternally grateful.

Moses needed the great doubt dispeller and truth teller.  His experience in leaving Egypt had left him with several doubts: Would the Egyptians remember him with wrath or mercy?  Would the Israelites accept anyone from the royal family as their leader?  Would anyone listen to his message?  These doubts were so pervasive that they overcame the awe he had been filled with when he first encountered the burning bush.  In the face of God’s obvious presence, Moses needed a background check and a performance guarantee.

Our children are going to experience these moments of doubt and they will need a staff in their hands to help them overcome it.  Whether it is a memory verse, a meaningful saying, a picture, a physical object that represents something to them or just your presence, they will need something to remind themselves and others that they can be exactly who God created them to be.

But the enemy loves doubt.  He relishes the opportunity to plant weeds in our children’s hearts to crush dreams and choke their potential.  It is good to remember that the Aaron’s staff turned into a snake and consumed the snakes of the Egyptian priests.  In our children’s lives, we need to teach them that through Christ they are over-comers.

Lord, help me to be a doubt dispeller and a truth teller for my children.  Give me the words and tools I need to put a staff of confidence and boldness in their hands that is rooted in Your word and filled with Your presence.  Help me be an over-comer in my own life so that my children can see your victory at work.  Amen.

Nature vs. Nurture


Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.  So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.” – Exodus 3:1-3 (NIV)

It has been an ongoing argument in the study of man; which is more important – nature (what is inside of us) or nurture (what is outside of us).  The nature argument leans on genetics, physiology and some psychology.  The nurture argument comes from the philosophy, religion, sociology and some psychology.  There are some valid points from both perspectives and many experts say that both have varying influences throughout our lives.  Moses benefited from both.

Moses had lived a life of privilege and advantage, and showed a natural inclination toward justice and leadership, but God changed his location in order to change his heart and mind.  Nature and nurture can be the levers to move the other.  When God needed to grow something in Moses, He used a change in nurture to change his nature.  When God met Moses in the burning bush, He appeals to Moses’ nature to change his nurture.

This is an amazing characteristic of God, but it is also incredibly important for parenting.  We need to be experts at helping our children navigate the nature and the nurture in their lives.  Sometimes we may need to alter that nurture to help them see their nature.  Sometimes we will need to change their nurture to open their minds to their nature.  Have you ever seen your child’s demeanor completely transform just be being in a different location?   Have you ever helped your child overcome a fear so they could go places they never went to before?

When we push them to go into different circumstances, it helps them understand who they are in ways they never would if they stayed in the same location.  When we help them figure out a little more about who God created them to be, the world becomes a bigger place.  Sometimes they need to go into the wilderness to see who they are.  Sometimes seeing who they are will help them go into the wilderness.  As parents we need to ask for God’s help in knowing when we need to help with one or the other.

Lord, help us to lead our children to the right places at the right time.  Help us to see who you are creating them to be so we can help them get closer to your design every day.  Give us the wisdom and insight to know our children and help them make their journey closer to you. Amen.

Wrestling with God


That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.  So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.  When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man.  Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” – Genesis 32:22-28

Disagreements, arguments and even fights can be a part of fatherhood. Our children are different from us, growing up in a different world than we did.  These encounters range from the common battles over eating vegetables to the more prolonged wars over who they hang out with and how they are doing in school.  It is easy, especially when these tussles are more frequent, to mistake contention for wrestling.

Children need to work things out about themselves, the world, their understanding of God and how it all fits together in their head and heart.  This is no easy task.  Jacob found himself in a struggle with God and pushed through to achieve something – a new self.  Jacob became Israel.  It wasn’t something he earned, but something he was rewarded with. Jacob probably discovered more about himself and his God in that encounter that much of what he had experienced to that point in his life. That is the blessing of the struggle.

We need to recognize the moments when our children are struggling.  We need eyes to see the difference between contention and grappling with life’s hard questions.   When our children are disrespectful, disobedient or hurtful, we need to answer with discipline, mercy and wisdom in appropriate measure, but when they are wrestling we need to wrestle with them.  In those moments we can lead our children into a new sense of self.  When they wrestle with us, it prepares them for wrestling with God.  When they wrestle with us they learn about themselves, building mental and emotional strength and self-control.

Lord, help us to see our children’s struggles clearly through your eyes.  Give us wisdom and insight into their needs so we can meet them in those moments prepared and equipped.  Let us struggle with them for their sake and Your glory. Amen.

Moving Our Children Toward Love


When the LORD saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the LORD has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.” – Genesis 29:31-32

There is nothing quite so heartbreaking as watching your child’s heart break.  It doesn’t really matter how it happens, it is just so hard to watch.  The brokenness of this world breaks our sons and daughters and we can’t really do anything to stop it from happening.  But we can be the ones to point them back to love.

God is a mender of hearts, a healer of souls.  He watches His children with compassion and mercy and is moved to bring wholeness and health to their lives.  He desires the best for them and puts opportunity and hope within their reach.  He does not force His help on them or so sedate and anesthetize them that they cannot feel the hurt incurred in this life.  He opens doors and invites His children to come into His peace and blessing.  He is the perfect Father.

God does not expect us to be Him, but He does call us to be like Him.  We cannot make choices for our children and we certainly cannot protect them from the world, but we can be the ones that meet them with compassion and mercy in their wounded moments.  We can pray for healing and wholeness in their lives.  We can speak honestly with them about the hurt and pain of life in a broken world, always seasoned with words of hope and love.  We can offer them the safe place of a father’s love and hold them tightly against the storms life brings.

God presented an opportunity to Leah to receive His love, but she still saw it as an opportunity to compete for the love of Jacob and the shame of Rachel.  Instead of offering songs of praise, she determines to pull Jacob away from her marital competition.  She missed the open door.  She remained in her brokenness.  This is the hard reality of fatherhood – we can do everything right, but our children can still make bad choices.  However, if we are to be fathers like our heavenly Father, we must persist in loving our children.

Lord, help us to be a safe place for our children.  Help us to find ways that lead them to You in times of trouble.  Make us more and more like you every day and give us all we need to minister to our children. Amen.

Let There Be No Favorites


After Isaac finished blessing him, and Jacob had scarcely left his father’s presence, his brother Esau came in from hunting. He too prepared some tasty food and brought it to his father. Then he said to him, “My father, please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”

His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?”

“I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau.”

Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!”

When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!”

But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.” – Genesis 27:30-35

There are some days that we would like to do over.  There are decisions and words we would like to erase.  We make mistakes.  It is a gift from God that we have scripture to learn from other’s mistakes.  Isaac had watched his sons grow through the years as their disdain for each other also grew.  Instead of making peace between his two sons, he helped it along by setting Esau above Jacob.  It is true that the firstborn son has a position of privilege, but that shouldn’t become a point of division.

Loving our children without favoritism will require discipline.  It is usually easy to love someone if they are like us, but different can be difficult.  To love the child we contend with, who has a personality that we have a hard time understanding, may require more vigilance.  My two daughters are wonderfully and beautifully different from one another.  I am learning every day how to love each of them the way that is best for their unique personalities.  It is not easy, but no one ever said parenting would be.

I have seen too many fathers and children torn apart by this treacherous weed.  Favoritism and family together make for bad blood, hurt feelings and burned bridges.  This becomes even more compounded with blended families, and believe me, there is plenty to learn from scripture on that topic.  God has called fathers to bless their children, to love them with wisdom and grace.  He calls us to love our children as He has created them, not to try and make them fit the way we want to love.

Pray today for wisdom and insight into how you can love your children.  Ask God to give you clear vision to see your children’s unique personalities and needs.  Lord help us to love our children as you love them, to cherish them as you cherish them and let there be no favorites. Amen.

Blessings,

Chris

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?


Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” – Genesis 4:8-9 (NRSV)

Sibling rivalry is one of the oldest plots in the story of man.  Cain and Abel, Abraham and Lot, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers and the list goes on.  Very often it hinges on one being favored over the other in some way.  Whether the favor comes from an earthly father or heavenly Father doesn’t seem to matter, jealousy rears its prideful head and problems ensue.  The real tragedy is that the jealous son rarely gets the message in these relationships:  “If I would keep my concerns on honoring God, maybe I wouldn’t be worried about my brother being better than me.”

Fortunately, we can redeem this kind of situation by orienting everyone in the situation to the same thing – the example of Christ.  There is nothing quite as humiliating as being told, “Why can’t you be more like (insert sibling’s name here)?”  It devalues our individuality and demeans the unique, creative power of God at work in our lives.  Instead of comparing siblings to one another or favoring one that may be more like you than the other, we can point them to Christ.

If our eyes are on Christ, then they aren’t on each other, at least not in a critical way.  When we see ourselves in light of who He is, what He did and how He did it, we can see the way forward.  If we say or do things that have our children looking at each other as competition or obstacles to our affection, they will never move forward because the forbidden fruit of supremacy will always distract them.  If Cain had kept his eyes on his heavenly Father instead of his brother, things might have gone differently.

Let’s pray today that we can be peacemakers in our families.  Lord, grant us the wisdom and words to point our children to Christ, who can set them free from the enmity and jealousy the world can bring.  May we raise our children to love and respect one another for your glory and honor.  Amen.

Blessings,

Chris