Tag Archives: Gospel of Mark

Learning to be a Better Parent… from my Kids?

I was the speaker for the Spring Banquet for one of the other Protestant churches in DuBois in 2006. Here are my notes:

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My kids have been teaching me how to be a parent. I thought I knew, but bit by bit and day by day I encounter situations that I just have to learn some new parenting skill… whereas before I had any kids I was pretty sure I knew how children ought to be raised… Now I just hope that we all live through it. And we look for the memorable moments along the way. And I’m not alone in this either, am I?

Chuck Swindoll tells a story of when his son Curtis was 6 and his daughter Charissa was 4 when he found himself in one of those memorable moments. He says that he suggested before supper that Curtis serve his little sister before he served himself. Chuck says:

Naturally, [Curtis]wondered why, since the platter of chicken sat directly in front of him… and he was hungry as a lion. I explained it is polite for fellas to serve girls before they serve themselves. The rule sounded weird, but he was willing… as long as she didn’t take too long.

… After prayer, he picked up the huge platter, held it for his sister, and asked which piece of chicken she wanted.

She relished all this attention. Being quite young, however, she had no idea which piece to take. So, very seriously, she replied, “I’d like the foot.”

He glanced in my direction, frowned as the hunger pains shot through his stomach, then looked at her and said, “Uh… Charissa, Mother doesn’t cook the foot!”

To which she replied, “Where is it?”

With increased anxiety he answered ( a bit louder), “I don’t know! The foot is somewhere else, not on this platter. Look, choose a piece. Hurry up!”

She studied the platter and said, “OK, just give me the hand.”

By now their mother and father were biting their lips to refrain from laughing out loud. We would have intervened, but decided to let them work it out alone. That’s part of the training process.

“A chicken doesn’t have a hand, it has a wing, Charissa.”

“I hate the wing, Curtis… Oh, go ahead and give me the head.”

By then I was headed toward the bathroom. I couldn’t hold my laughter any longer. Curtis was beside himself. His sister was totally frustrated, not being able to get the piece she wanted.

Realizing his irritation with her and the absence of a foot or a hand or head, she finally said in an exasperated tone, “Oh, all right! I’ll take the belly button!”

That did it. He reached in, grabbed a piece, and said, “That’s the best I can do!” He gave her the breast, which was about as close to the belly button as he could get.”

We laugh… and Chuck Swindoll laughed. But it illustrates a really important point. Kids will try their best to face new situations, but they’ll still only understand as much as they’ve been able to see and hear. Little Charissa didn’t know much about anatomy… of a chicken, at least. But she knew a little bit about her own anatomy. There were feet, hands, head, and belly button.

She started with what knowledge she already had…

That’s part of what I think Jesus had in mind when he was talking to the disciples in Mark chapter 10, verses 13-16

Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

The children that day started with the knowledge that Mommy or Daddy brought them to the nice preacher… and they learned that he was nice… Gently, and kindly, he held them and blessed them.

Can you imagine as the years went by and those parents talked to that child about that day?

When I’m in the middle of a frustrating parent/child lesson, sometimes it’s hard for me to hear Jesus’ words that I’m to learn from these kids… and if I want to even enter the kingdom of Heaven I have to do it like the little children. So what can my kids, and your kids, teach us about approaching God, approaching Christ, and entering into the kingdom of God?

I think they have two ways.

First, they listen and observe and watch and hear…

Our little children are always watching and listening aren’t they?

They are learning by watching and listening to us… their parents… their mentors… their Sunday School teachers…

A child cannot learn to do something new unless they have first heard what is expected… they need an example. They watch for what we do so that they can make sense out of what is being asked of them in the new situation.

My daughter Michele is in the process of getting ready for her learner’s permit for driving. But she had to start with watching her mother and I drive first… And a decision on her part that she, too, wanted to learn this new skill. She had to learn the basics and the rules from the driver’s manual before she even had the right to TRY to get the permission to learn to actually drive the car.

And that brings us to the second way that children learn. First they witness what ought to be, by watching, listening, reading, and questioning… and then they learn by doing.

I learned a whole lot more about driving the day my mother let me drive the family vehicle the one mile from our house to the high school… I had watched my grandparents and parents drive our standard shift cars for years… I knew one foot went on the pedal on the far left and one foot went on the pedal to the far right.

Except the truck I was driving that morning was an automatic… and there I was with one foot pushing on the brake and one foot pushing on the gas… Almost thirty years later and my mother still talks of the fear and panic I brought into her life that day. She never rode with me again until years and years later.

In the process of doing, I learned something new about driving…

I saw this again the other night at Gabbie’s birthday party over at Playtime Pizza. Gay was at IUP for classes and I was the parent on duty. Gabbie had invited Josh to the party so off the two of us went.

I watched him as he played… Alone at first, but trying everything. He played a little bit with some of the other smaller children in the toddler play section… but he saw the bigger kids playing on the jungle gym (or whatever that thing was called). He watched… he listened… he started to try and follow their example.  He tried to actually do what those other kids were doing… climbing the rope ramps and burrowing through the sea of little balls, crossing the webbed bridges and getting around the obstacles. He wasn’t as fast… but he was determined. He watched and listened and got a picture in his mind of what he ought to do… but then he did it!

But then he saw some of the bigger kids sliding down this huge tunnel. He followed them over to the top and looked… and ran away… then he climbed around some and went and looked again… and then ran away again. He finally got to the top alone and just looked. And at that point I got down on my hands and knees at the bottom so that he could see me and said Come on down, Buddy!

He smiled when he saw me, he laughed and down he came!

And he loved it! For 20 more minutes, he climbed and crossed, and crawled, so that he could slide down… to the point where I had to make him stop and get a drink because he was so hot and winded and sweat was rolling down his head.

Josh learned by watching… and then by doing…

That’s why we have toy refrigerators and toy stoves, toy building blocks and toy hammers and saws, toy cars and toy trucks, and even toy babies and toy children… So that our children can watch us and learn how to use those things and then, with their toy versions, they can learn by doing.

That’s how I think we’re to learn when it comes to the kingdom of God as well… we come like children, little children in fact, and we watch & listen, to the word that was written and the Word that was born and lived with us… and then, after seeing his example and hearing his call, we learn to be his disciples by doing… trying out the things we saw him do in the gospels and he told us in his word… Sometimes hesitatingly and sometimes not doing such a great job… but we learn to be his disciples as members of His kingdom just like little kids learn anything: we watch & listen… then we try to do on our own.

I think that’s part of what James is talking about when he says that we are to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”

Yes, we’re learning to follow Christ more completely, but it’s not enough to just read and study and listen and attend… there comes a point where we have to get around to the trying and doing… or else we are guilty of just being hearers only…

It would be like Josh at the top of that slide and watching how other kids do it and yet, him choosing not to ever try to slide down.

What an experience he would have missed… what fun he would have lost… and never even known what he was missing.

Folks, some of us in the church of Jesus Christ have watched our pastors and Sunday school leaders, our youth group directors and our small group mentors for years. We’ve read the Bible, we’ve heard the sermons and the lessons, and we’ve watched men and women of faith show us how to be a man or woman of integrity… being a follower of Jesus Christ.

And yet the church, especially in the United States, is still full of people who sit back and just watch and listen… but never try to put into practice what they’ve seen and heard. The American church is full of hearers… but not full of doers. Our churches are full of childish people… who cry when they don’t get their own way… but they’re not childlike… willing to be hearers and doers approaching God with an open, childlike, teachable spirit.

I don’t attend your church, I only know a few of the people who attend your church, I’ve only known your pastor for a couple of years and then only seen and talked to him a couple times a month…

But I know that God Almighty has tried to use the men and women of faith around you, including your pastor, to show you and teach you what God Himself wants in your lives…

I don’t know what He’s asking you for… I don’t know what He’s asking you to do… But I know that with so many rich examples and teaching and preaching, the Holy Spirit has been trying to get you to do something…

Now, will we just be hearers? Or like little children, will we be the hearer who then, with as mush gusto as they can muster, step into the trying and doing part of learning?

If we can trust that Jesus really knew what he was talking about, then our answer to that question determines our place in the kingdom of God.

What’s God trying to teach you? Have you seen His people give you the examples to follow? Are you listening to how His Word relates to Your own personal life situation? Or does Harold just preach to someone else?

And if you HAVE heard what God wants to teach you, are you stepping into it? Are you learning by doing?

How do you learn to worship? By starting to worship…

How do you learn to pray? By starting to pray…

For many of us, it’s how do we serve in the role of the mentor… giving our children and the new Christians in our life an example of what a Christian is like… Sometimes when I realize my kids are watching me, it scares me to death.

I’ve had the lessons and the teaching, the preaching and men and women of God showing me how to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ… Now, as I step out and try to do that which I’ve seen and heard, and do what I’ve been shown, now I learn even more…

How about you?

Little children learn by hearing and doing… and Jesus says we come into the kingdom of God that same way.

Are we doers? Or just hearers only?

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Seeing Things As God Sees Them

“Get away from me, Satan! … You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.” (Jesus to Peter when Peter tries to talk Jesus out of the cross, from Mark 8:33, NLT)

In August, I preached on this passage of Scripture where Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is. In Mark 8:29, Peter nails it with “You are the Messiah.” The next verse shows that Jesus immediately told them not to tell anyone else about it. Then, in what seems like a change of subject, we read that Jesus begins to teach them that the Son of Man has to actually suffer and face death. The disciples, who have heard him confirm that he IS the Messiah, are upset because they’ve been taught all about the Messiah all their lives: The Messiah is supposed to come and destroy Israel’s enemies. The Messiah reigns as conqueror! The Messiah can’t die at the hands of the Romans… It’s not supposed to work that way!

So when Peter tries to reprimand Jesus (Yes… it says “reprimand”), Jesus denounces him. He actually uses the word “Satan” to describe Peter because the word “Satan” is not just a name, it’s also means “accuser” or “opponent” in Greek. Peter has set himself against Jesus and is tempting Jesus to be the human idea of a Messiah… There’s no reason to suffer or face death on a cross. Peter is opposing Jesus and trying to get Jesus to do things the way everyone expects him to.

My point that day, which apparently threw some folks off, was that we, like Jesus, need to see things GOD’S way, not just the way our traditions have taught us. Far too often we in the church are like Peter and the disciples who have trouble seeing things the way God sees them.

To illustrate that, I tried to talk about how people have become concerned that Christianity’s numbers of worshipers and members have fallen since the 1950s. Simply put, there are less people in the pews. My contention that day was that those falling numbers don’t really tell us the spiritual story the way God sees it. You see, back in the ‘50s, it was a socially acceptable and expected thing that people who were worth anything, of course would go to church. Even non-Christians went to church because it was expected and people thought less of them if they didn’t attend. So Christianity’s numbers were much bigger.  Now-a-days however, if they don’t really want to go to church, there really isn’t a social expectation that they will go. You go because you want to. I tried to suggest that going to church because you want to, because you love Jesus Christ and want to worship him, is a much better reason to attend. And so the statistical numbers that say Christianity is fading aren’t real. Yes, we have fewer people in the pews, but hopefully they are people who are really Christians, not just people who were shamed into attending church. In fact, we’re better when we’re NOT shaming people into church worship services.

Seeing church attendance as something you HAVE TO do is seeing things the way the world sees (or at least saw) it back 60 some years ago. But there is a better way… seeing things from God’s perspective. God wants people in church because they love him and WANT TO worship him. That’s why there are texts like these, clear back in the Old Testament: “You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.”  (David to God, from Psalm 51:16-17, NLT).

Let’s make sure we look at things from God’s point-of-view, whether it’s about church attendance, responding to God when he wants us to do something different than the way we planned, or anything else that comes our way.

(This devotional article first appeared in the newsletter of the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church)

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A Man After God’s Own Heart

“I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.”  –God, in Acts 13:22b (NKJV)

When I sat down to read the Bible this morning, I stumbled onto a devotional in the Spirit Filled Life Bible titled “A Teachable Spirit.” It is the account of Paul, before the synagogue in Antioch, Pisidia, sharing how Jesus is a continuation, and fulfillment, of the Jewish people’s encounters with their God. After sharing about Egypt, the wilderness, the conquest of Canaan, and the judges, he recounts the way Saul became, and then was removed as, king.

Which brings us to David.

Let me quote from the “Kingdom Dynamics” devotional note found at Acts 13:22…

Only one man in the Bible enjoys the designation of being a man after God’s own heart–David. To outward appearance, David is more readily remembered as a gross sinner. He committed adultery, murdered, lied, betrayed his nation, made severe mistakes in judgment, was a poor manager, and finally was unable to manage his home. Yet God said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (v.22). Almost every time we read about David, he was doing something wrong, yet God commended the heart of his leadership. How do we explain it? The answer is in the fact that with every mistake, David repented; and of equal importance, he learned from his mistakes. Not only was he humble and teachable, but he listened to his critics and his enemies as well; and, foremost of all, he heeded the prophets of God. This teachable spirit is the trait that caused God to classify him as Israel’s finest leader. (Spirit Filled Life Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, page 1651)

Two parts of that JUMPED out at me. First, “Almost every time we read about David, he was doing something wrong.”

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am my own biggest critic. I end many (or perhaps even most) days mentally reviewing and replaying the mess-ups and mistakes I’ve made in that day… and the day before… and the week before…

There are many days when I feel like God’s never going to really be able to use me as much as He wanted to because I blow it so often. So this sentence about reading how David, “almost every time,” messed up is eye-opening. Because God still loved David, still used David, and still had a future filled with hope for David despite the mess-ups.

That means there is hope for me too! (And every one of us, by the way…)

So how did David journey from mess-ups and mistakes to being recommended by God as an example? That’s the second quote that caught me: “with every mistake, David repented” and then “learned from his mistakes.”

Part of our national sin sickness in our day and age is the fact that we don’t believe there are sins. We have a message from God (the Bible) that explicitly identifies the behaviors God considers to be “sin.” That is to say, those behaviors are against what God wants and disappoint God and in many cases, actually are detrimental to us as human beings. But we now-a-days try to rationalize away the sins listed or discount those passages of Scripture.

Recently, in a Bible study group on the Gospel of Mark, we came to Mark 3:20-30, where the Jewish leaders opposed to Jesus start to claim that Jesus is casting out demons by tapping into the power of Satan. Jesus’ response (in verses 28-30) is to start talking about an unpardonable sin. For years that made no sense to me. Why didn’t he just tell them how they were wrong? Or at least call down lightning or something?

But the passage is clear that the reason he talks about an unforgiveable sin is “because they said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.'”

Jesus was using the power of God’s Holy Spirit to heal, to cast out demons, and more. They were claiming Jesus was empowered by Satan or at least by a demonic (“unclean”) spirit. They were claiming that something good and godly (the Holy Spirit) was evil. The flipside then  would be to claim that something God says is evil (like sin) and then call it good and godly and blessed.

Even if the Bible calls a certain behavior sinful, there’s NO forgiveness available for us if you and I don’t really believe it’s a sin!

In my life, it’s usually the sin of gluttony that I’m struggling with. I LIKE food, and  I’ve had too much through the years. And while addicts can sometimes lick their addictions by going cold turkey, I can’t, I HAVE TO eat. (and the cold turkey is part of the problem!)

Does that mean there is no forgiveness for me? No. First John 1:9 explains that “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The problem is if we claim we’re not sinning, then there is no way to confess and repent… so no forgiveness either.

That’s where we return to David and this devotional. Even though he messed up A LOT, “with every mistake, David repented.”

If we are willing to admit our sin, repent (you know… turn away from doing that sin), then there IS hope for us as well… even though we mess up again later. And, like David, as we repent, we get the chance to learn from our mistakes.

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