A Promise Sized Box

“My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites.  But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”

“You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry.  After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin. From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite. – Judges 11:36-40

God makes promises.  God keeps His promises.  We benefit from His promises if we live in His will.  We are not God.  Jephthah took a bad detour on a successful campaign when he bartered with God.  His promise was contingent on God granting him victory.  He was putting God in a human sized box.

This is why we must be careful about the promises we make to our children.  We are not God.  There are things that are bigger than us, that can prevent us from following through on our word.  It is this limitation that should give us pause when tendering a promise.  We should be honest with our children, even about our limitations. 

Jephthah paid a dear price for making a promise that didn’t need to be made.  God had given the Israelites victory battle after battle, but at some point Jephtah lost sight of God’s promise and latched onto his own.  We need to point our children toward the promises of God, not the promises of men.  Every time we make a promise and break it we break hearts and they can be long in mending. 

Lord, help me to be man of my word and let me be wise in giving my word.  Help me turn my children’s eyes and ears to Your promises.  Let me live each day in the light of your promises. Amen.

Things Devoted to Destruction

The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?  Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions.  That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.” – Joshua 7:10-12 (NIV)

Rooting out the things that cause us to sin is a process.  Israel had taken a long time to become the faithful followers God desired them to be, but when the geography changed, they lost faith.  In taking the devoted things they were essentially saying, “God is not enough for us.  God is not providing what we need.”  They decided to take their lives into their own hands.  This is the tension we all deal with as we grow in our relationship with God; what I want and what God wants.  As we are transformed more and more into the image of Christ, those two things start to look similar, but we need to remember that what God wants is the reference point.

As our children grow and mature, they will reach new ground – their geography will change – and their level of commitment to God’s wants is tested.  They will need us to be a Joshua for them in those new countries.  It is a short walk from faithful obedience to doubtful wandering.  When our children grow older and make friends and venture further into the world, they will be tempted with things devoted to destruction.  These things are destined to pass from existence.  They have no permanence or eternal value.  They have no power but what we imbue them with through our wants and desires.

It is left to us to teach our children to say “No” to devoted things; to reject the pull that things doomed to destruction have on us.  This does not mean that our children cannot have certain clothes or technology or money, but we need to do our best to make sure they do not have our children.  The people of Israel gave themselves over to devoted things – things devoted to destruction – and they lost the blessing of God.  If we are not there to call our children to truth, to holiness, to faithfulness, we leave them vulnerable to the pull of the world.

Whenever our children are treading into new territory, we need to be watchful for those things that might pull our children off track.  Not so much to protect them from those things, but to help our children see those things for what they are and help them make the right choices about those things.  God could have made a fire consume all of Jericho when the wall fell, but He didn’t.  He left it to the Israelites to destroy and put to death those things devoted to destruction.  We need to equip our children to face these temptations in order to help them overcome and be victorious.

Lord, help me remove the things devoted to destruction from having any influence on my life.  Teach me to be solely dependent on you.  Give me a heart that hungers for you and not the things of this world.  And help me speak these same truths into the ear and minds and hearts of my children when they face new territory.   Amen.

Getting to What God Has Already Done

Then the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.  March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.” – Joshua 6:2-5 (NIV)

God makes statements throughout Scripture where He refers to future events as already done.  Israel was 7 days out from the walls of Jericho crumbling before their marching band, but God tells them He has already delivered Jericho into their hands.  This is a fundamental reality of God; He is without beginning or end, being fully present in each moment of time.  This makes everything in history true for God, whether it has happened for us or not.  Israel had spent 40 years in the wilderness fully dependent on this same ever-present God.  This made whatever God said, however unlikely or seemingly impossible, a fact.

Parents are not ever-present or perfect, but they are called to integrity and servanthood.  We have the opportunity with our children to model this character of God by being people who follow through.  There are not many things that erode trust faster than broken promises.  If we want our children to believe in a God who has already followed through on His promises, we need to be the kind of parents whose yes means yes and no means no.  There is a caution that comes with this because we are not like God; we have limitations and boundaries.  First, we must be careful about the promises we make.

As awesome and powerful as God is, His promises are limited and specific.  This is not due to Him being limited, but because He meets us in the real world.  His promises come to us through suffering and work and discipline and sacrifice.  His promises are not magic potions that fix things; they are exhibitions of His grace and power in a broken, fallen world amongst broken, fallen people.  His promises are His kingdom come.  His promises have been true, are true and will be true, We need to help our children live in and hope for the promises of God because He is already there

We need to lead our children to where God already is.  They need to develop vision that is defined by faith hope and love.  We need to build in them and expectation that they can tear down walls.

Lord, thank you for being everywhere, all the time and all at once.   Help us to live in an attitude of expectation for your works and will to be revealed.   Bless my children with love and grace to keep them in the promises of God. Amen.

Working for the Promise

“Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.  Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:6-9 (NIV)

Be careful to obey; that is an interesting statement.  In one form or another, I have said the same thing to my children.  “If you would just do what you’re told, you would get to watch TV.”  “You wouldn’t be on a time out if you had listened to Mommy and Daddy.”  God has given the Israelites clear warning with those four words: Be careful to obey.

Unfortunately we don’t live in a world where obedience is as valued as it should be. The rebel is glorified in movies and books.  The charming bad guy with moral ambiguity tinting every word and action is a “romantic” figure.  We have placed the radical dissenter on a cultural pedestal and suffered terribly for it.  Because of this, our children are learning that rules cripple the free spirit and hamper the soul.  Here begins the difficult lesson we must teach our children – if they want to reach the promises of God, they will have to work.

God took the children of Israel to the Promised land, but they had to work for it and under very specific rules.  There were no shortcuts and they could not reach their goal without adhering to God’s commands.  We do a disservice to our children if we don’t bring them through the same process.  Helping them reach the promise God has for their lives is going to take work under some very specific rules.  These rules don’t cripple freedom, they set us free from being ruled by our passions and desires.  These rules don’t hamper the soul, they help clean out the home for the soul to grow strong and true.

Teaching our children to be rule followers, to be obedient, is a tough job.  We have plenty working against us, but we have God on our side.

Lord, help me to be a rule follower.  Continue to teach me the value of obedience.  Give me the patience, perseverance and discipline to teach my children to work for the promise.  Amen.

Love and Obedience

Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. – Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NRSV)

At the center of God’s law is love.  It is the great motivator for those who desire holiness before God and wholeness before the mirror.  When we commit ourselves to loving God wholeheartedly, our obedience is fruit on the vine.  The Shemah (the passage above) is a critical turning point in the lives of the Israelites.  They are being reoriented from duty and obligation to love and gratitude.  God is leading them into a different relationship than they had been accustomed to.  Years of slavery had taught them to obey out of fear – fear of punishment, fear of death.  The only fear love provides is the fear of disappointing the object of our love.

It is easy to teach our children to obey out of fear.  We can change the fortunes of their life effectively by cutting off resources or diminishing the size of their world.  At some point we need to move them from this fretful compliance to an obedience rooted in love.  Over time our children should be more afraid of disappointing us than any punishment we might levy against a transgression.  This calls parents to an authority over their children that is rooted in love.

That is the catch.  Our obedience to God is rooted in love because He first loved us.  We cannot lead our children into loving obedience if we do not love first in our authority over them.  Anger, frustration and selfishness can undermine that authority very quickly and our children will either obey us out of fear or rebel out of their own anger, frustration and selfishness.  Handling the authority God has given to us over our children with love is not a magic pill, however.  God’s people still disobeyed after God had blessed them with His love, but God remained unchanged.

A belief in the constancy of God’s love needs to begin with the growing presence of that love in us for our children.  An obedient heart submitted to the will of God is nurtured in the presence of love and discipline.  May we as parents move our children toward wholehearted love and genuine obedience.

Lord, help me to live a life of love and obedience in the presence of my children.  Grow in me the humility and maturity to love my children as you love me.  Lead me constantly forward into Your amazing, relentless love. 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.

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.