Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Are You an Owner or Ambassador?

Cindy and I had the chance to get away for a few days of R&R last week, and we loved every minute of it. Besides running together a few times, eating breakfast out twice, soaking up some sun and walking on the beach, we also read. A lot. One of the books I read is entitled, “Parenting,” by Paul Tripp. I have heard Paul speak at conferences before, and he is hilarious. And wise. I still laugh at the story he told about taking two bowls of ice cream up the steps for himself and his wife to enjoy. They had a bowl every night, and every night as he walked up the steps with the ice cream, Tripp said he weighed them in his hands to see which one had the most in it. He would give his wife the other one. He said, “I am taking a bowl of ice cream to the woman who has given birth to our children, who has loved me and put up with me our whole marriage, and I am making sure she gets the bowl with less ice cream in it?!”

Tripp writes and speaks a lot about grace, and how critical it is for marriage and for raising children.

Very early in his book on parenting, Tripp asks the question, “Do you see yourself as an owner or an ambassador?” We know an ambassador has only the authority that has been given to him by another, and that his job is to represent the desires of the one who does have authority. The Bible speaks of Christians as “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”

Whether we parents see ourselves as owners or ambassadors is reflected in our identity. Owners find their identity in their children, and live vicariously through their children’s success. Ambassadors find their identity in God. How we see ourselves is also reflected in the work we do as parents. Owners see their job as turning their children into something. Raising children is hard work, and it does require the parents to take a hands-on approach that will include love and instruction and discipline. But when we see ourselves as ambassadors, we can rest in the fact that we represent someone much wiser and greater. He is the one who does the important work of changing the hearts of our children.

This is also reflected in how we define success as parents. Owners define it as athletic success, academic performance, musical proficiency, or even social likeability. They put pressure on their children to be the best, because their identity, their ‘success’ as parents is integrally tied to their children’s performance. Does this mean we don’t want our children to succeed, and to be the best they can be? Of course not, and every parent who sees himself as an ambassador for Christ wants his children to exceed him or her. But we want that for the child’s sake, and for God’s glory, not for our own.

Finally, this is reflected in how we see our reputation as parents. Owners turn their children into trophies. You can’t have a five-minute conversation with an ‘owner parent’ without hearing about little Johnny’s MVP trophy and Susie’s full-ride to Princeton. Ambassador parents understand the humbling messiness of what they are called to do. They understand that children are God’s trophies.

Tripp writes, “Effective parenting is only possible by God’s grace. His grace is what changes us and changes how we parent. It is what will change our children.”

You know, I often have the thought, though all my children are grown, “I can’t do this! I cannot be a good father for my children!” And I am reminded that no one can, and that each of us is called by God to do the impossible. Tripp writes, “When you’re willing to confess that you’re the biggest problem in your parenting, you are on the road to very good things in you and in your work with your kids.”
That’s me, Lord. Problem-parent number one. Thank you for your grace.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

No Frontier is Tamed Without Discipline

Cindy and I were blessed to watch our youngest son, Judah, walk across the stage at Liberty University last Saturday and receive his diploma. His discipline and hard work paid off, and it reminded me of something I wrote about Judah years ago...

When our son Judah was 3, he liked to pretend he was Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone. He would dress up in his buckskins, don his coonskin cap, take ’Ol Betsy and his powder horn, and head off into the backyard to trap and shoot wild animals. Since we lived in downtown Graham at the time and our backyard consisted of a little bit of grass, a small garden, a swing-set and a few trees, Judah had to use his imagination. The wildest animal we ever encountered in our yard was a family of possums who decided to take up residence under our back deck. So, Judah mainly shot at invisible mountain lions and imaginary bears.

That was hard work, though, and after a while, a frontiersman out in the wild works up a powerful appetite, so Judah Crockett would come in for supper. The problem was, the grub was not always what a pioneer like Judah was expecting.

“Broccoli? Davy Crockett doesn’t eat broccoli!” Judah said when he spied the unholy vegetable on his plate.

“He does if he wants to hunt mountain lions,” his mother replied. “Broccoli gives pioneers energy and strength, and besides, you have to eat it. If you don’t, you will have it for breakfast in the morning. And I don’t think Davy Crockett ever ate broccoli for breakfast. Yuck!”

Judah Crockett was caught on the horns of a dilemma. “Do I eat the broccoli now, so I can hunt lions and bears in the morning after a good breakfast of eggs or cereal?” He pondered that option. “Or do I refuse to eat it and hope that Mom will forget about it by tomorrow?”

Judah refused the broccoli, and was told that it would be saved for him until breakfast. He slept fitfully that night, dreaming that he was Davy Crockett and he was being attacked by a giant broccoli tree that kept trying to eat him up. But when he woke up, the sun was shining, the lions and bears were out there, waiting to be trapped or shot, and Judah hit the floor with a smile, excited about life on the frontier. When he got to the chow hall, drawn by the smell of bacon, he saw the rest of the family sitting down to a scrumptious breakfast, and then the dream he had all night became a nightmare. His plate was there, and all that was on it was last night’s broccoli.

“Where’s my breakfast?” Judah asked, knowing the answer but hoping maybe that this was all a cruel joke.

“Right there,” his mother replied. I added, “Judah, you were told last night what the deal was. If you want to be able to go outside and play this morning, you are going to have to eat your broccoli.”

Judah slumped in his seat, his chin on his chest, his hands hanging at his sides, defeated on the outside but stubborn as the wildcats he hunted on the inside. “I won’t do it,” he thought. “I will not eat my broccoli. Yuck!”

The lions and the bears had the run of our backyard that day because Judah Crockett’s will remained strong — or, was it weak? He finally gave in, and he was reminded of two valuable lessons. First, he was the child, we were the parents, and he would have to obey. Period. Second, he was beginning to learn that “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” We are proud of Judah and the fruit of righteousness we see in him, and thankful to God who loves our son more than we can imagine.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Often the Unplanned is the Most Memorable

I remember, not too many years ago, a weekend camping trip I shared with my five sons that was meticulously planned. Well, let me qualify that. It was about as planned as it could be by my standards. My motto is, “If I get there and I don’t have it, well, that’s what Wal-Mart is for.” My wife’s motto is, “If I am leaving the house and I have forgotten something, then the four checklists, 6 spreadsheets and 4 days of planning that would rival the preparation for D-Day were not enough.” I am kidding about Cindy, but some of you men will recognize this statement as you are backing out of the garage to go on vacation or even just to church: “I just feel like I have forgotten something.” She often looks at me as she says it, and I will say, “Of course you feel that way, darling. But you never do forget anything. And if you did, well, that’s what Wal-Mart is for.”

This weekend trip was just me and my sons, and we were headed for the mountains to camp, cook over the open fire, laugh a lot, and talk about our lives. The campsite was a little over 2 hours away from home, and about 15 miles from our destination the transmission started to give up the ghost. That’s what I forgot to bring, I thought. A spare transmission! All the rental car places were closed, so we limped back toward Burlington, thinking that if the tranny was going to die completely, the closer to home we were, the better.
Four hours later, we arrived at a lake lot owned by a family in the church, just 20 miles from home, and tried to pick the lock to the Dutch barn on their property, with their permission, of course. That’s another thing our spreadsheet failed to include: a lock-pick. We gave up after an hour and decided to pitch our tent in the dark. I wasn’t worried about sleeping; my friend Mark had loaned us their tent and a queen size air mattress. I realized as we were setting up camp that I forgot a pump. The prospect of two hours of blowing up the mattress left me feeling breathless, and there wasn’t a Wal-Mart in sight, so I slept on the queen-size sheets.

We built a fire, ate s’mores, and talked about college, relationships, jobs, and future plans. The next day we had planned to drive north a few miles to play disc golf. That plan was changed when we realized the transmission had not been healed as we slept, so we started toward home. A 20-mile trip took an hour and included some scenes worthy of a sit-com episode as Micah drove while the rest of us jumped out and pushed the van up hills, then made a mad dash to jump back into the moving vehicle. Don’t try this at home or even in Caswell County.

We traded the van in for two worthier vehicles back at the house and still got in three hours of disc golf. Judah said later, “That was the best day of my life.”

This camping trip will go down in the Foxian chronicles and be told for generations. It was not at all what we planned but it was everything we needed, and a powerful reminder that “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” We can trust Him for a camping trip, for a college career, for a marriage decision, and for every other step we take.

It’s often the unplanned that makes the best memories. Still, next time we’re taking Micah’s car.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Are You Seeing Wondrous Things?

David wrote, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Wondrous things? In the Bible? Let’s be honest. Most of the world and a great number in the church do not believe the Bible is anything special. That’s why it sits on their shelves. They have no idea of the riches that are found in here, the wondrous things to behold. You never hear a Super Bowl MVP after the big game say, “Now I want to see the wondrous things in God’s Word!” No, he says, “I’m going to Disney World.”

I have been to Disney World a few times. I honestly don’t remember much about it except for long lines, irritable people (like me), and unbearable heat. It was fun, don’t get me wrong, and don’t think I have anything against the place. I don’t. But not one thing happened at Disney World that was life-changing. However, on many occasions I have heard a word preached or seen a passage in the Bible that changed my life.

As a senior at Carolina I woke up one day thinking, “I’ve got to find a wife!” Seriously, that’s about as deep as the thought process went. I asked someone to marry me not long after that, bought her a ring, she bought a wedding dress, and in five months we would be married. While home one weekend, I went to church with my family. The teacher of the college and career class said, “You need to know who your master is, what your mission is, and who your mate is, in that order.” That’s what I remember, but I am sure he anchored it in the Word, maybe something like, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Then the teacher said, “If you don’t know for sure who your master is, you can’t possibly know what your mission is. And if you don’t know your master and your mission, the biggest mistake of your life is to try to choose a mate. You are courting disaster.”

You know what God did that day? He opened my eyes to see wondrous things in his Word. I had a moment with God in that church classroom that was just as important to me at that time in my life as the Mount of Transfiguration was to Peter, James and John. They saw Jesus, glorified. So did I. They went down the mountain different men because of what they had seen and heard. So did I. I made that drive from Winston-Salem to Chapel Hill that afternoon scared to death of what I had to go and do. But I also went back rejoicing because I had seen the Word and met with Jesus, and he changed my direction and my life!

Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law. That last phrase is crucial. The wondrous things are found in the Bible. Notice that David did not ask for new revelation. Or for a miracle or a visitation. He asked to see what God had already written. That means two things. First, we cannot see God’s Word with understanding unless he opens our eyes. Second, we have to look at God’s Word to see it. Asking God to teach you his Word and never reading and studying his Word is like asking someone to hold you accountable for an area in your life and then refusing to answer the phone whenever that person calls. A simple point, but one often ignored, even in the church.

Are you seeing wondrous things in God’s Word?