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: Growing Strong by Being Still

Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.  They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit. – Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NRSV)

My then 6 year old and I were on one of our walks to the pond when she said, “I wish I could be a tree. Then I could watch the birds and the beavers and things and they wouldn’t be scared and run away.”  I asked, “Wouldn’t you be sad that you couldn’t move around at all?”  She thought for a moment and replied, “The trees here don’t mind.”  I couldn’t argue the point.

The conversation stuck with me as we skipped rocks on the pond, watched the egrets fly in to perch among the gray pines and talked about our days with each other.  When it was time to head back in to get ready for dinner, I told her to go in without me and I watched her skip/run/dance her way back to the house.  It occurred to me that someone with that much energy would have a hard time being a tree.  I went back and settled in on the small beach we used to skip rocks from and thought about the life of a tree.

The Scriptures are well-forested with metaphors using trees, often referring to the spiritual life of the individual.  The parallels of the spiritual life and the life of a tree seem obvious at first thought: trees depend on water for life = we depend on God for life; trees produce fruit in season = we produce fruit in God’s timing; trees by a stream are more likely to have long life = we have eternal life through God; etc.  But on that day I felt like God wanted me to get something else.  This is the first of four observations from that evening at the pond.

Stillness is not a laudable characteristic in our current culture of fast-paced, instant gratification consumerism.  Even the gamers who have melded into their couches are in a constant state of motion internally and externally.  Yet the first characteristic I noticed about the trees was that they remained in place.  This is an important piece in understanding the use of trees in scripture.  Trees do not move.  Their branches sway and their leaves flutter, but they are anchored to a singular place.  This is too their benefit if the place is good and to their detriment if it is not good.  I believe that when God describes our life with Him as the life of a tree, He is asking us to get rooted and be still.  We can still wave our branches and flutter our leaves, but we must stay where life is certain.

It reminds me of the oft stated request from parents to their children, “Will you be still?”  On most occasions, it is not a lack of motion that we are really after, but an attitude of obedience and attentiveness.  It seems to me that our Heavenly Father is making the same request.  His desire is not for us to be sedentary, but to be constant and imperishable.  By thinking of our life with God as a tree by a stream, we can pursue growth, change and fruitfulness in a stable and reliable environment.  Unfortunately, we are not trees and we can move about like that disobedient child, losing sight of the one we love, but inadvertently disregard.

When my daughter and I first started our walks to the pond and along the stream, stillness was one of the most difficult disciplines to teach her.  She was not only in constant motion, but she was not taking the time to be aware of her surroundings, to soak in what was happening around.  Because of this she missed things.  It was humorous to hear her comment on how she thought her eyes must be getting better since she seemed to notice more things now.  In fact, her eyes were just as capable before, but she would not be still long enough for them to truly focus on what was right in front of her.

The stillness we can learn from the trees, and God’s desire for us to be like them, is invaluable to living a life that is content and pleasing to Him.  It is, however, one of the hardest disciplines that we can develop in our life with God.  The next time you pass by a tree, take some time to be still (inside and out) and see where God can take you in those moments.  I believe they will be moments you will treasure and grow from and will help your roots dig deeper.

A Child Among the Reeds

Now a man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. – Exodus 2:1-3 (NIV)

My wife and daughter recently had an opportunity to go on a mission’s trip to Mexico with our church.  It was an established ministry with a number of trips already behind them over the last several years.  There were several adults in the group and a number of safety measures were in place.  It was very difficult to let them go without any fear or anxiety, to trust that they would be safe, but it was clear that this was the direction God was moving our family.

Trusting our children to the river and the reeds, trusting them to the care of God, is not an easy discipline.  We sometimes get being responsible for our children mixed up with having control over their lives.  When Moses was placed among the reeds, he began a journey that changed the course of history.  It was only through his mother’s willingness to let him go that kept him alive and moved him closer to fulfilling God’s purposes.  I don’t know what his mother felt like.  I can’t put myself in her shoes.  But I remember what I felt like when my wife asked if our little girl could go with her to Mexico.

Those feelings of fear, anxiety and doubt revealed a weakness in me.  It uncovered a crack in the armor; I needed to learn more about trusting God.  Instead of responding with excitement at the opportunity for my daughter to experience ministry, I reacted with trepidation.  It took some time, prayer and the patience of my wife for me to finally work it out, and I hope I will be more prepared the next time I need to let one of my children go into a situation that causes me discomfort.

God gives us responsibility over our children, but our ability to trust them to God’s care is at the heart of that responsibility.  We need to be willing to let our children be the people God created them to be, and that may take them directions we aren’t comfortable with.  As a matter of preparation, we need to turn our children over to God each day.  We need to pray that our children will be sensitive to God’s call on their lives, even if that means going places that cause us stress.

Lord, help me to trust you with my children.  Give me the courage and humility to trust you with their future, no matter where that leads them.  Release me from my false sense of control.  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.



Believing in our Children

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:1-3 (NRSV)

One of the great blessings of fatherhood is watching your child realize and comprehend the love you have for them.  It comes at different times for different reasons, but it always changes the way they see you and relate to you.  When a child understands the love you have for her, she knows you believe in her and the potential she has in this life.

The amazing thing about God’s statement in this passage is the unquestionable belief God has in His child, Abram.  There are no “ifs” in his statements.  God has a vision for Abram, that will bring him from Ur to the Promised Land, from Abram to Abraham, from childless to being the father of nations.  What an incredible source of motivation and encouragement – to know that God believes in you.

It is a gift we can also give our children.  Critical moments will come into our children’s lives, and we need to be prepared with the voice of motivation and encouragement.  We need to give them a vision of who they can become and what we will do to help them get there.  Our voices need to call our children out of Ur into the Promised Land of living in God’s will.

Pray for eyes to see a clear vision for your children.  Ask God for insight, wisdom and knowledge to speak words of motivation and encouragement into your children’s lives.  Pray for the faith to believe great things for your children and the discipline to do what it takes to lead them there.  Amen.

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.



Walking Our Children through the Garden

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”  He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”  He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”  Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” – Genesis 3:8-13 (NRSV)

I remember that as a young boy, I tried to lie to my parents a few times (let’s not define “few” today).  It never ended well.  Trust was broken, regret set in and apologies seemed worthless.  Over time my love for my parents and for God, overcame my fear of coming clean and eventually helped me overcome many sinful habits that created the problem in the first place.  I am eternally grateful for a father who walked with me through those years with love, patience and wisdom.  His willingness to walk through the Garden with me, asking me questions about motivation and identity, set a mark for me to shoot for as a father.

Here is one of the challenges of fatherhood that can lead our children to a blessing: communication.  It is incredible how little communication goes on today with all of the technology available; so much noise, so many words and so little content.  We are slowly and surely loosing the art and beauty of conversation.  My father is not a man of many words, but the words he speaks have meaning and purpose, and he still asks me the right questions.  I want to ask my children the right questions too, and give them the right answers to the questions they bring my way.

Sometimes it is hard to ask a question you don’t really want to hear the answer to, but know you need to hear it.  It starts with simple questions like, “Did you write on daddy’s nice pants?” and progresses to, “Did you cheat on the test?” and may move to, “Did you drink at the party you were at instead of sleeping over at your friends?”  We will hear all sorts of excuses, very similar to Adam and Eve’s, but in the end the goal is not to find out what they did wrong, it is to get them pointed toward doing right.  That is the hard part for me – a short fuse.  My anger wells up too easily and it squashes communication without fail.

All the texting, Facebooking and emailing in the world cannot replace a word of comfort or compassion in a difficult moment.  Children need to know they can talk to us, so we need to be very careful how we talk to them.  God was certainly not pleased with Adam and Eve, and He lets them know in clear terms, but He doesn’t destroy them.  God provides them another chance.  He could have ended it right there with Adam and Eve, snuffed ‘em out and tried something else, but they were His children.  He kept the conversation going and it has continued ever since then, passed down generation to generation.

We have the challenge and blessing of entering that conversation with our children. Pray today for the opportunity to communicate with your children.  Pray for the wisdom to answer their questions in a godly way.  Seek opportunities to talk to your kids about things they love.  Let’s continue the conversation.



Original Sin is not A Myth

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'”  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. – Genesis 3:1-7 (NRSV)

I remember the day I first realized my oldest daughter was a sinful creature.  She had been fascinated with something on our coffee table and we told her a number of times not to touch it.  While she knew few words at this stage in her life, she was fluent in “no” and “mine.”  I was watching her stand by the table, staring at the object when she turned to look at me.  As she looked me in the eye, she extended her hand toward the object.  I very firmly said, “No” and her hand stopped, and then started up again, her eyes never looking away from mine.  I used her full name when I told her not to touch the object, but her hand continued to move, her gaze never wavering.  Finally, she touched the object and I let her know she was in trouble.

There was an immediate change from open disobedience to self-preservation as she realized the consequences of her actions.  There were many tears and whimpers, but in the end, she apologized in toddler fashion.  It was a scene repeated more than once in her younger years.   We watched her go through the struggle Paul describes in Romans 7 – “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (Romans 7:17-18)

This was the time for us to teach her how to ask God for help.  Simple prayers of holding her hands clenched like fists, holding onto the bad things in her heart, and then letting them go when she asked God for forgiveness; steady reminders to pray for God’s help whenever and wherever she needed to; and celebrations when she made good choices. They were the first steps down the right road.  Owning up to our sin is not easy and certainly does not feel good, but it leads to goodness we cannot otherwise have.

While we journey with our children, we need to be aware of our own fallen moments, to be humble enough to apologize when our transgressions cause them pain or hurt.  When we say something unkind to our spouse in front of our children, we need to have the integrity to apologize in front of our children.  If we fall short in our walk with God when our children are watching, we need to make them part of our process of repentance.  God desired one thing from Adam and Eve in the passage above and it was repentance born of a contrite heart.  Instead, He received excuses, denials and passed blame.  God deserves so much more than attempts to manipulate his grace.

Today, pray that God will give you the opportunity to teach your child about repentance.  Pray for the courage to repent in front of your children.  Pray for relationships with your heavenly Father and your children to be marked by honesty, grace and love.



Karma and the Problem of Sin

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. – Psalms 51:7-12 (NIV)

One of David’s most admirable traits was his ability to clearly state his need and God’s ability to meet that need.  Sometimes it took a hard road to get him there, but when he arrived at the place of understanding, he put it to words that connect and convict.  The passage above is a great example.

David lived under the Levitical law which demanded sacrifices and ritual cleanliness and adherence to moral codes.  Within this context David writes about a relationship with God where adherence to law is not mentioned.  The sinner does not reclaim his standing with God through sacrifice or service, but by being cleansed and purified by God.

A common pitfall in human behavior is the practice of karma in “paying” for dirty deeds.  If we do something wrong we better do something right to make up for it, and it doesn’t hurt to do something really nice to get the karma ledger on your side.  Despite the obvious flaws in this practice, we tend toward it if we are not paying attention.  This is easily seen in our children when they make the good behavior rush just before Christmas rolls around.

Getting children to understand that they are supposed to be good because it is the right thing, not because they can make up for bad or earn a free pass on their next transgression is difficult.  It is especially hard since we as parents can enforce the behavior when we manipulate good behavior by promising gifts from Santa.  God pays the price for sin and gives us the power to overcome sin and that is the only way it will ever work.

Lord, help me teach my children about grace and holiness, mercy and purity. Cleanse me and make me holy for Your name’s sake.   Amen.

Facing Sin

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.  Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. – Psalms 51:1-6 (NIV)

Sin has become a passé term.  Dysfunction, emotional baggage, flaws, psychological scars are all real, but they are symptoms of the root problem – sin.  Instead of treating the infection, we treat the symptoms and wonder why people stay sick. In fact, sin tries to convince us that we are not sick at all.  We portray vibrant and energized lives to the world, but we are wasting away on the inside, dead men with candy coated shells.

We need to face our sin.  This is more than admitting that we are sinners.  Most people get that they sin and understand that they can’t fix it themselves, but there are too many cures for the symptoms that just worsen the disease.  Instead of facing sin and seeking healing from the only one who can provide it to them, they turn their eyes to temporary balms and hopeless remedies.

I don’t want my children to head down that road.  If they are going to have a relationship with God that transforms and matures them, they will have to be honest about the sin in their life.  They will need to understand that sin at every level is against God first and then others.  Their hearts will need to be well lit by the process of confession and repentance.  I want them to have hope that the love of God can bring them from where they shouldn’t be to where they should be so they can be who they should be.  I want them to experience what it is to overcome sin through the power of God.

Lord, help me lead my children into a godly understanding of sin and the way out.  May my children grow to know how to handle the sin in their lives and experience victory through Jesus Christ.  Amen.  .