Friday, May 15, 2009

#39 Leaving the Nest

Genesis 2:24 "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother,and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh."

One of the most fascinating workings in nature is that of baby birds. When baby birds are born they, like all other animals and even humans, are dependent upon mom and dad to take care of them. The parents are responsible for ensuring that food is provided. They must provide security for their little ones. It would be hard for any of us to not be touched by the scene of small beaks stretched skyward in anticipation of receiving food from the mouth of a parent. If you have ever had the blessing of witnessing this first-hand then you know how quickly the young birds gobble up their meal. Feeding is not the only service provided of course.

Every aspect of the young chicks' lives is dependent upon the parents. Their protection and warmth come from the parents as well as training them how to stretch the wings in preparation for their first flight. Eventually, the young chicks will grow into adulthood and they will then leave the nest. It is then up to them to be responsible for their own safety. It becomes their job to search for food, to make a nest, and search for a mate. The role of the parents is greatly diminished once they leave the nest. In some species the parents never even interact with their children after they leave.

So how does this relate to us? As I have had the opportunity to do quite a bit of counseling over the past few years I have run across a lot of scenarios that breed trouble within a marriage and our other relationships. One of the scenarios that causes a lot of frustration and contention is when a mother or father will not let go and let their son or daughter make their own decisions. Many times the parents attempt to control the lives of their children even after they move out and begin their own families. This causes major problems within the marriage. If the new wife is always having to compete with mom then it builds resentment and unnecessary anxiety. If dad is always there second guessing what his son does then that too causes tension. So how do we find the balance of supporting our children as they grow into adulthood and allowing them to make some mistakes by which to learn?

This is not always easy, but it must always happen. There is a very good reason that the Lord said that a man shall leave his parents and be joined to his wife. There has to be a separation that occurs so that the new couple can grow together and make their own way in life. Am I trying to say that parents should totally abandon their children? No, of course not,but I am saying that parents should respect the autonomy of their children who have left the nest and let them live their lives. I am saying that at some point we have to let our children grow up and function as adults without hovering over them. If we do not allow them to grow and make some mistakes then we are setting them up for a co-dependent lifestyle that inhibits them from learning to make good decisions when the parents are not around. Certainly if children are wise then they will turn to their parents for advice and counsel instead of always trying to reinvent the wheel, but the parents should be careful not to drown their children in an incessant stream of free advice and unwanted invasions of privacy.

As a parent with three somewhat-small children, I recognize the desire to want my children to succeed and to live a life committed to following Christ. However; we try to let them make choices along the way so that we are training them to be free thinkers capable of sorting out life matters on their own as they mature. We attempt to do this while letting them know that we are willing to help them at any time. God knew what He was talking about when He said that there has to be a separation that occurs. For us to violate that says to God that we know better than He does, and I think we would all agree that surely God knows best. It is my goal to encourage you all to think about how you interact with your children; both those that have left the nest and those that may still live in your home.

I encourage you to ask yourself whether or not you are training your children to be able to think for themselves or are you creating a bond of co-dependency that will cause your children to have trouble in every relationship they experience from now on.

Lastly, I want you to consider how you can be supportive without being intrusive. We all want to see our children succeed and we significantly reduce the possibility of that happening when we smother them and fail to train them to think on their own.

Dear Heavenly Father,

We thank You that both the Bible and nature teach us that we have to learn how to support our children without continuing to mother over them. We thank You that the Bible tells us about the need for a man and his wife to have a separate existence while still functioning within the family community. We pray that You will teach us how best to train and support our children. May each of us humbly submit our will for Yours is our prayer in Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, May 8, 2009

#38 Dog Puke?

Matthew 7:1-2 "Do not judge so that you will not be judged. 2 "For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”

One of the things that my family really enjoys doing is taking a trip to the ice cream parlor. Ice cream is one of those amazing foods that seems to put a smile on your face no matter how you feel. That is probably why it is the world’s number two comfort food. I am assuming that chocolate has first place. It seems like every woman I know loves chocolate, but I know ice cream has to be a very close second place for many of us. No matter where our family lives we always learn where the ice cream shops are. When we lived in Collegedale, TN we would go to Chattanooga to the Marble Slab Creamery. They have a frozen marble slab that they use to mix up your ice cream with various candies and such. This is of course very similar to the Cold Stone Creamery that we have here in Michigan which we love too.

Just the other day we decided to try out an ice cream shop near the Midland church. It is called the Great Lakes Ice Cream Company. The place is very quaint and has a lake theme inside. They have built half-boat-looking enclosures that are stood upright behind the tables where you sit to enjoy your frozen creation. Of course our children are always bouncing off the walls trying to see all the ice cream in the showcase and they always want to sample all of it. As we stood there trying to narrow our decisions we noticed an ice cream with the oddest name. The bucket was filled with some greenish looking ice cream that had chunks of unidentifiable stuff in it. Some of the chunks were red and others were white. Occasionally you could spot a chunk that had a blend of the red and white. It was the least appealing ice cream I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot of ice cream. My confusion turned to laughter and then near disgust when I read the label above the ice cream bucket. This mixture of green with odd-shaped chunks was called “Dog Puke”.

As if drawn by some unseen force, my youngest son’s eyes locked on the “Dog Puke” bucket and he just had to have it. I nearly lost my appetite for having anything. Just the thought of my ice cream being called—not to mention resembling—“Dog Puke” was enough to nearly turn my stomach. As Carson took possession of the freshly-dipped cone he wasted no time sampling the mixture. I waited to see which flavor he would want after we threw that one away, but he hardly took a breath as he joyously licked the small cone of ice cream. It turns out that “Dog Puke” ice cream is actually quite good. The green ice cream is actually pistachio flavored and the chunks are actually pieces of sugar cookie dough. While not winning the “Visually Appealing” award, the mixture is delicious. Much like the first time I rode a roller coaster, I guess you may have to close your eyes to endure your first cone of “Dog Puke” ice cream.

This strange looking, delicious ice cream reminds me of how we sometimes judge the people around us. We might see someone who has on off-brand clothing and think they are a fashion flop. Perhaps they do not have the clean, polished look that most of us do. Maybe they smell funny or talk strange. It could even be that their hair is longer or sharper than we think it should be. Yes, hair can be sharp if you use enough hair gel or pomade. What is your reaction when you see someone who does not fit the profile of normal that you think they should? Do you look on them with disdain in your heart and rejection on your lips? Do you make every effort to avoid them? Or do you accept them for who and what they are? Do you see them with the eyes of the world? Eyes that will turn away if they do not see the model of what we think is right. Or do you see them with the eyes of Jesus? How does Jesus see people?

I believe that when Jesus looks at us He does not focus on the outward appearance that is simply a reflection of how well adapted we are to the world around us. Jesus looks past the exterior that we might work hard to maintain. Jesus sees past all the external things that speak of our earthly status and accomplishments. When Jesus sees us He looks right into the heart of each believer. Jesus sees the allegiances that we hold. He sees the things that we cherish and the things that we despise. I can recall the story of when Samuel was sent to anoint the next king of Israel after Saul turned away from God. When Samuel went to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons he expected to find a replacement for Saul that would match Saul’s stately presence, but it turned out that God had chosen the youngest of Jesse’s sons. God reminded Samuel that He looks not on the outward appearance, but rather upon the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

I think we can learn a lot from this story as well as the “Dog Puke” ice cream. Although the ice cream appeared to be nasty and inedible, it turned out to have a very good taste and according to the owner it is one of the most popular flavors he has. Too often we judge people and even situations without taking to time to get the facts or to get to know the people involved. That places us where attempt to serve as judge and jury. We should take the words of Christ to heart and not judge others (Matthew 7:1, 2). We should take the time to get to know people. If we take that time and make the small investment in people then we can often take part in being a major blessing to those with whom we come in contact. I would encourage you all to be slow to judge others. It is much like the old adage that encourages us to not “judge a book by its cover”.

You may discover the most interesting people are those that see the world through a different perspective than you do. You may learn that they too have an awesome story to tell about what Christ has done for them. You may discover that they need you to tell them about Jesus, and by taking the time to care about them you might just get the opportunity to tell them the greatest story ever told. Be slow to judge friends, and be even slower to turn away from the people that Jesus longs to save. Step out in faith and taste the “Dog Puke”. You may discover that you love it.

Dear Father in Heaven,

We thank You that You do not judge us as we deserve, but rather You judge us based on our relationship with Jesus. Please forgive us for being too swift to judge others, and please help us to always look beyond the outward appearances. Help us to see the people around us like Jesus does. Help us to always make Jesus foremost in our lives. We long for His return and we long to ne with You in heaven. Bless us according to You will and mercy, Amen.

Friday, May 1, 2009

#37 Pushing Through the Pain

Psalm 119:76 "O may Your lovingkindness comfort me..."

As most of you know, I spent some time in the military. I joined the Army in March of 2005 and went to basic training that same summer. I can recall turning 31 during basic training that year. I have to admit that I was never the fastest runner. I was not the top athlete or the star of physical training, but I always kept plugging along until I finished.

After I was in training for about three weeks I began to feel some pain in my left knee. I just thought it to be sore at first and I figured that it would just work itself out. However, it just got worse. Marching for the most part did not cause too much pain, but running was a different story. And running is as common to Army life as sand is to a desert. We ran all over the place and when we got finished we would run some more. At first I tried to just deal with it and not say anything, but it got to the point that I could not hide the limp that was developing in my stride. My drill sergeants began to notice too and they asked me what was wrong. Trying to be tough, I told them I was fine and that my knee was just a little sore, but they were not so dense at to not know what was really happening.

After a couple of days they made me go to sick call. When I was examined they determined that the cartilage behind my left knee was worn down and the intense activity of basic was causing my nerves and muscles there to become swollen and irritated. They gave me some Ibuprofen and sent me back to training. I eventually convinced my drill sergeant to let my wife send me a knee brace. That made all the difference in the world. The brace was just enough to keep the knee from sliding from side to side when I ran and I made it then the rest of the way through my training.

There were so many times that I wanted to just sit, cry, and hold my knee, but that was not an option. I had to push through the pain and keep moving. I will never forget when we did our 12 mile road march near the end of our training. About half way through my knee began to hurt. I wanted to quit so badly, but I began to pray and ask the Lord the help me make it through. After just a little while the knee must have went numb or something because it stopped hurting and I was able to complete the march. God took me through the pain.

In this life there are many pains that we have to endure. Yes, there are physical ones that twist and contort our bodies, but many of us face pain from an emotional perspective too. We suffer loss or we may do something that generates an outcome that makes life more difficult unnecessarily. Just this week, I lost two people that I cared a great deal about.

On Sunday I learned that my mentor pastor's wife passed away after a four-year battle with lung cancer. She was a beautiful Christian woman and Ginger and I loved her very much. Then yesterday I received a call informing me that the head elder from our home church in North Carolina passed away. He was a man that I admired and respected deeply. I can remember when I was just getting ready to leave home and head to Collegedale, TN to study Theology at Southern Adventist University. Our head elder came to me quietly and told me that if I never left Jesus then He would never leave me. I believed him then and I know it is so true now.

It saddens me that these two saintly people have had to take their rest in Jesus, but I know that one day soon Christ will come with a shout and the blast of a trumpet, and when He does the graves of those who rest in Jesus will burst forth and give up the redeemed who will be changed in a moment and the twinkling of an eye. Until that day comes we each have to learn to cope with loss. We each have to find a way to deal with the pain. Sometimes pain is much like that nagging, never-ending pain that I felt in my knee. Other times it may only come when we have a particular thought of our departed loved ones.

Whenever and however pain comes we have to have a plan to deal with it. I am a firm believer that there are some things in this life that we will never get over. They are too traumatic or too deeply tied to aspects of our lives that we cannot escape it. I say that to say this, even if we never get over a particular hurt in our lives we have a mighty God who is able to see us through it. Jesus has promised us that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He said that He will be with us even until the end of the age.

I am convinced that with Jesus by our side we can push through whatever pain this life may throw at us. I hope that when you face trials that you will allow the Sovereign of the universe to provide you aid and comfort through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Dear Father God,

Tonight we pause to praise You and thank You for the blessings in our lives. We thank You for another Sabbath and we ask that Your blessing would be heavy upon those that have and are experiencing loss in their lives. We know Lord that it is not always easy to pick up the pieces and move forward after we have lost a loved one, but we also know that by Your grace that we can have the courage to face another day. Lord, we long for the day when the chains of this earthly existence are cast aside and we can live with You forevermore. Please come soon Lord Jesus that we may be with You forever. We pray these things in the mighty name of Jesus, Amen.