Remember This.

There is something about turning middle age that causes many of us to focus like a laser on our own mortality. And with that comes the almost irrepressible compulsion to share our maternal or paternal wisdom with our children. The blog “Shit My Dad Says” is devoted almost entirely to this phenomenon.  There’s just stuff we’ve learned along the way and it seems like such a waste not to share these things with our children. And so we do. Early and often. To our children’s dismay.

But I have often wondered, if I only had a few more days or weeks or months left with my children, what would I choose to tell them?  What are the really important things I want them to know?

Surely Jesus must have asked himself this question during the forty days between Easter and his ascension into heaven.  He had spent his entire ministry imparting wisdom to his friends and followers. But his ministry was coming to an end.  Of all the things he had tried to teach them, what were the most important things that he wanted them to remember?

As far as I can tell, it looks like we have about nine recorded accounts of Jesus talking to his disciples during that forty day period after Easter.  So what did he say?  Of all the many things that Jesus tried to teach his disciples, what were the essential things he wanted them to remember?

Well, it turns out that Jesus says about what we would probably say if we had just a limited amount of time left with our children.

He tells them not to be afraid.  That everything is going to work out okay.

He tells them to love each other and to take care of each other.

And he tells them that he loves them and that he will see them again some day.

I guess Jesus knew that his parenting days were over. There was no more time for speeches, lectures, or even parables. It was time to boil an entire ministry down to the very basics. And so he did: Don’t be afraid. Its going to be OK. Love each other. Take care of each other. I love you. I’ll see you again.

Words to remember.

Peace.

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Peace

There He is.  The Prince of Peace.  Watching our chaos:  A country at war for nearly a decade; a government so dysfunctional that its leaders have taken the economy hostage and are threatening to throw it over a cliff; a town completely heart broken, busy preparing twenty precious and bullet riddled children for burial while the rest of us look on in shock and horror; families in constant conflict, with husbands and wives arguing endlessly over meaningless things while brothers and sisters are at each other’s throat one minute and united in open defiance of their parents the next.  And then there’s me, and maybe you, with our chaotic and stressed out minds, wracked with doubts and regrets and indecision and constant worries — so conflicted that we can barely move, much less act with any real conviction.  And in the midst of all this madness stands the Prince of Peace, watching.

I desperately wish He would do something.  Fix something.  Fix me or others around me.  Instead, it seems like everywhere He goes, chaos follows.  But in my better moments, I know it’s the other way around — everywhere chaos goes, He follows.  I know He’s been there amidst the fog of war, the heat of those political battles, the stress of family conflicts and the utter despair of the grieving parents of Newtown.  And He’s been there with you and me as we wrestle our stressed out thoughts struggling to keep it all in the road.

I get it that the Prince of Peace is needed most at scene of chaos.  And I get it that we are supposed to follow along.  But honestly, I wish He traveled with a giant spotlight — one with enough amperage to allow us to see clearly for miles and miles.  If He did, I think I would still follow but, no doubt, I would occasionally run ahead — either in search of the next adventure or at least in search of the next exit so that my family and I could get the hell out of some of the chaos around us.  But this is a Prince that travels light — with just enough light that we can see little more than our feet in front of us and then only if we stay close.

I suspect the Prince of Peace is more comfortable with chaos than I am. He was both made for it and born into it. I guess in that way, He’s the perfect travel companion. And so we travel with Him. Lugging our chaos from place to place.  In the dark.  Barely able to see the ground in front of us.  Following a Prince who is in search of more chaos, another place that could use His peace.

I know He is in Newtown this week.  I hope and pray that the people there can feel His presence and that they stand close to His light.  They are surely experiencing a chaos I can only imagine.  But the Prince is comfortable there.  He’s there right now.  No doubt.

Update on Kyrie Irving…

Kyrie Irving was named NBA Rookie of the Year today. Based on the discussion in this blog post, is that any surprise? I’m confident that Mr. Irving saw this coming long ago and convinced Kyrie that it was just a matter of time.  More evidence of the incredible power of The Blessing.

The Story of Isaac, Jacob and Kyrie Irving’s Dad.

Genesis 27 (NIV)

18 He went to his father and said, “My father.”

“Yes, my son,” he answered. “Who is it?”

19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.”

20 Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?”

“The LORD your God gave me success,” he replied.

21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.”

22 Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he proceeded to bless him. 24 “Are you really my son Esau?” he asked.

“I am,” he replied.

25 Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.”

Jacob brought it to him and he ate; and he brought some wine and he drank. 26 Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.”

27 So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said,

“Ah, the smell of my son
is like the smell of a field
that the LORD has blessed.
28 May God give you heaven’s dew
and earth’s richness—
an abundance of grain and new wine.
29 May nations serve you
and peoples bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.
May those who curse you be cursed
and those who bless you be blessed.”

The story of Jacob and Esau is a complicated one and, for the most part, it is a story of complete dysfunction — a youngest born who leverages his older brother’s hunger to swindle him out of his portion of his father’s inheritance; a mother who plays favorites, betrays her husband and cheats her first born child; and a first born who is so profoundly short sighted (or just stupid) that he would throw away his inheritance for a bowl of lintel soup.  But while much of his story seems to be a manual for how NOT to raise children or run a family, we shouldn’t dismiss it entirely.  Maybe there is something in there for us, as Christians and, particularly as Christian parents, after all.  There is, of course, the little nugget at the heart of the story — recently reprinted (albeit in a more modern and updated form) in ESPN the magazine.   It is the story of The Blessing:

“In eighth grade,” Irving said, “my father told me I would wind up as the best guard in the state of New Jersey. In my senior year of high school, he told me I’d be the number one player in the country. Then, in college, he told me I’d be the number one pick in the draft.

“He laid out all the necessary steps for me. It was up to me what I did with them.”

(Former Duke basketball star and current NBA star Kyrie) Irving continues to cement his role as the young cornerstone of the Cleveland Cavaliers, leading all NBA rookies in scoring with 18.1 points a game. (He also dishes out 5.1 assists).

He will be a member of Team Chuck in Friday’s NBA Rising Stars game, the second player selected after Clippers sensation Blake Griffin.

“I thank my father,” Irving said. “He did things the old-school way. No shortcuts. Nothing guaranteed.”

The father swears it was the son who saw it all coming, who wrote down “GOAL: PLAY IN THE NBA” on a slip of paper when he was in the fourth grade and pulled it out whenever someone doubted that a spindly high school freshman barely 5-foot-8 could ever make it to the pros.

Drederick Irving was Kyrie’s measuring stick. Each summer he’d line up against the mark in their home, recording his father’s 6-foot-4 frame.

“I want to be bigger than you,” Kyrie told his dad.

“You will be,” his father promised.

When I read the story of Jacob and Esau, it’s easy for me to get side tracked by the dysfunction in the story and miss the really powerful part — the part about a son desperately seeking his father’s blessing and a father who bestows it (even if the result of trickery) on his son.  So what, exactly, is the blessing?  In his book, The Blessing, author and psychologist John Trent, Phd., describes the Jewish tradition of parents blessing their children in a special ceremony designed to convey genuine acceptance and high value.  Though the blessings were, by their very nature, intended to be uniquely personal to each child, the traditional Jewish blessings shared common elements.  First, was meaningful and appropriate touch — the very act of blessing a child with a warm hug, a tender kiss, maybe a firm handshake or simply a well meaning pat on the back — perhaps the touch that Jesus used as he welcomed children in to his arms in Luke, Chapter 18 — but some sort of meaningful touch or show of affection.  Next was a spoken message — the act of putting in to words the love, feelings, and hopes and aspirations of a parent for their child — an unambiguous statement of love and acceptance and appreciation.  Then the attachment of high value to the one being blessed — telling that person by words or actions that you value them highly, that they are important and necessary.  Next was the picturing of a special future for the one being blessed — telling the child that you believe in them, and know that they will be successful and that you have an idea what that success may look like — essentially painting a visual picture of a happy and prosperous future for a child — a child that is often unable to picture that sort of future for him or herself.  And lastly, making an active commitment to the one being blessed that you will be there for them, actively engaged in helping them realize this future that you have described for them.

Each of the elements of the blessing are, by themselves, very important and Dr. Trent does a great job explaining their significance in his book.  But when I read this article about Kyrie Irving, I couldn’t help but recall the fourth element — the one that has to do with picturing a special future for the one being blessed.  Mr. Irving does it so well and to such great affect.  Just listen to his son.  “In eighth grade, my father told me I would wind up as the best guard in the state of New Jersey.”  Kyrie’s dad described the future, Kyrie saw it with his own mind’s eye and believed it.  And it happened.  “In my senior year in high school, he told me I’d be the number one (high school) player in the country.”  Dad described it, Kyrie imagined it, and, again, it happened.  “Then, in college, he told me I’d be the number one pick in the draft.”  Which, predictably, led NBA Commissioner David Stern to say a few years later, “With the number one pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select Kyrie Irving from Duke University.”  Kyrie’s dad believed in Kyrie and Kyrie believed his dad.  So when his dad told him that he would do great things, that he could see Kyrie’s future and it was bright, Kyrie believed it and set about the hard work of making it happen.

 That’s powerful stuff.  What an incredible opportunity we have to bless a child!  Maybe our own, but maybe not.  The opportunity to tell a child that we believe in them.  That we think they can be somebody important and somebody who can and will do good and maybe even great things.  The opportunity to help a child see into the future — a future that is bright and optimistic where the child is not powerless but in control.  The opportunity to show a child a successful future and to help them get there, self confident and believing in themselves.  Perhaps one of our most Christ like qualities is the ability to speak things in to being.  It sure seems like that’s what Kyrie Irving’s dad did for him.  That’s quite a blessing.  Congratulations, Mr. Irving.  Well done.

NBA — His father laid out the plan, Kyrie Irving followed it – ESPN.

True Love

It’s Valentine’s Day.  Or is it?

I finally screw up the nerve to talk to a bunch of high school students about, of all things, love.  Now that’s putting yourself out there.  A middle aged man.  Who, at this stage of the game, spends much more time thinking about puppy breath, puppy peeing on carpet, and puppy chewing up expensive ties, than he does about puppy love.  Talking to a group of high strung high schoolers about …. love.  Now, that’s tough.  But, I had good reason and I had a plan.  I was going to talk about love because it was, after all, Valentine’s Day.  And so I did.  I dove right in.  It was all love all the time.  And it went ok.  Until the end.  Until that fatal closing moment when I wished everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day.  And my star student looked up at me and said “Ben, you do know Valentine’s Day is next week, don’t you?”  Yea, whatever.  So I forgot the date.  Big deal.  Anyway, here’s a recap:

First, some questions for you to consider:

  • What’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you?  What’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to someone else?
  • What is the best gift you’ve ever given someone?  What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
  • What is the nicest thing someone has ever done for you?  What’s the nicest thing you’ve ever done for someone else?
  • Think of a meaningful time that you have spent with someone you really cared about?  What did you do?  How long were you together?  How did it make you feel?

Alright, don’t forget your answers.  Now, let me ask you some other questions.

  • How many of you have ever taken a foreign language?
  • Are you better at reading it?
  • Speaking it?
  • Or writing it?
  • If you were in a foreign country and met someone who knew your language only as well as you knew theirs, would you rather communicate in their language, your language, or some combination of the two?
  • If you got in an argument with someone, or you had to explain some important but complicated process to someone, how successful do you think you would be communicating this information in a foreign language?

I’m not real good with foreign languages.  I took three years of Latin in middle school.  It’s a pity, really, as I’ve yet to have a conversations with a real Roman.  In high school, I switched to Spanish.  Three years worth of Spanish and at graduation I could say “No, Susanna es in su casa.”  But little else.  So when I went off to Auburn, I started over.  Spanish 101.  201.  Finally 301.  And guess what?  Now I can say, “Susanna no in su casa.  Susanna es in la cocina.”  But nothing else.  Nothing.  Nada.  Wait, nada.  I can also say “Nada”.  Foreign languages just don’t come easy to me.

They come a bit easier to my sister.  My sister took French in high school and college.  And then with two semesters to go at Clemson, she learned that she had gotten a job working for a company that made fuel injectors … in Spain.  She had exactly two semesters to learn enough Spanish to become the marketing director of a company in St. Cougat, a small village outside of Barcelona.  That’s right.  Marketing director.  As in, director of external communications.  Spanish communications.  So my sister entered a Spanish immersion program for two semesters.  She got what she could and then headed overseas to begin her job.

Once in Spain, she settled in the little village of St. Cougat.  Barcelona was a big urban center.  Industrial.  Sophisticated.  Wordly.  And somewhat English speaking.  St. Cougat?  Not so much.  No one spoke a lick of English.  And so the immersion continued.  My sister struggled, I’m sure.  But foreign languages came fairly easy to her and so she did just fine.  Then one day she called home.  She was excited.  Very excited.  “It happened!  It happened!  I went on a run yesterday and daydreamed in Spanish!     And then last night, I had a crazy, crazy dream.  In Spanish!”  That’s when you know you’ve made it.  That’s when you know you speak the language.  That’s an experience I suspect I’ll never have, at least not in Spanish.

Now, let’s talk about Love.  As in I love my dog.  Or, I’m in love with my wife.  Or I sure do love pretty sunsets and lasagna.  Or maybe tacos.  Unfortunately, we have just one four letter word to describe all that love.

Unlike the Greeks.  When it comes to love, the Greeks have got it going on.   They’ve got no less than four different words for love.

Agape love.  A giving, self sacrificial love.  Like the love a parent has for a child.  The love a husband has for his wife or a wife has for her husband.  The love Jesus had for his disciples and for us.  The love Jesus used when he told us to “love our neighbors as ourselves” or to “love one another as I have loved you.”

And then there’s Philia.  You know, as in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.  A disspassionate love.  A virtuous love.  A brotherly love.  This kind of love describes the love between friends, the love one might have for their college, or maybe the love for a hometown.

Oh.  What about Eros?  Like, uh, erotic?  You know, that kind of love.  A passionate, sensual kind of love.  It might be sexual, but it doesn’t have to be.  But it’s certainly more than a friendship kind of love.

And lastly, there is Storge.  It’s the natural love.  The love that comes pretty easy.  Like Agape, the love that parents have for their children.  The love that describes relationships within a family.

No doubt, the Greeks had it on us when it comes to expressing love.  At least with words.  But, it turns out, that words are only one of the ways we express love.

Gary Chapman, in his book Love Languages, identified five ways people commonly communicate love.

The first he called “Words of Affirmation”.  These kind of people say things like “I love you.”  “You are important to me.”  I appreciate you.”

If you are the type who says things like that to a husband, or a wife, or your children, or even a close friend, then “Words of Affirmation” is probably your love language.  If you find it impossible to say these things, or if hearing these things said to you makes you uncomfortable, then “Words of Affirmation” is definitely not your love language.  In fact, it’s Greek to you.  Or Latin.  Or, in my case, maybe Spanish.

But what if “Words of Affirmation” is your love language, but it wasn’t a language spoken by your father?  Or your mother?  What if this is the language spoken by your wife who desperately wants to speak this language with you but you don’t understand it?  Or what if this is your love language and you immediately start speaking it to a new boyfriend or girlfriend who’s not comfortable with this language?  You get the picture.

Then there are those who communicate their love by giving gifts.  They give nice presents.  Thoughtful presents.  Lots of surprises.  When it comes to gifts, they think bigger is better, more expensive is better than less expensive.  They buy their sixteen year old a nice car for her birthday.  They make sure their family goes on great vacations.  And they make lots of sacrifices to send their kids to private schools.  Because gift givers love their families, and this is how they show it.

And then there’s the love language of “Quality Time”.  This person wants to be with you all the time.  He’s willing to do things with you even when he really doesn’t like what you’re doing.  This is the boyfriend that goes shopping with his girlfriend.  The mom who watches her son’s baseball practices day after day after day.  The Dad who misses the big game to attend a three hour ballet recital only to see his child flit across the stage in 7 seconds flat.

But what if your Dad’s love language is “gift giving” and but your’s is “quality time”.  It’s hard to buy your sixteen year old a new car for her birthday, send the family on awesome vacations and pay for the kid’s private school unless most of your “quality time” is spent at work away from the very children who don’t even recognize “private school” as a word found in any love language, let alone theirs.

Or maybe your love language is “acts of service”.  This is the person that’s constantly doing things for other people.  My wife, for instance.  This is the person that does the laundry, cooks the meals, takes the kids to their activities.  This person helps you with your homework or maybe a difficult work project.  This person never says no.  If you need help, this person is always there.  But this person may be completely incapable of saying “I love you”.  And if your language is “words of affirmation”, that’s a problem.

And then, says Gary Chapman, there are those who communicate their love with physical touch, with affection.  These are the kissers.  The hand holders.  The huggers.  Or maybe just the pat on the backers.  But, chances are, they’re not going to help you with your homework.  Or buy you that fancy watch you’ve always wanted.  Or go see “Notting Hill” for the fourth time.  And they may not ever say “I love you”.  But they do.  And they will swear to themselves that they’ve told you so.  Over and over.

So, what’s your love language?  What about your parents?  Or your friends?  If you are a parent, shouldn’t you know whether your children speak Spanish or Greek or Latin or French?  Shouldn’t you know whether your husband understands you when you cook his meal but rarely buy him what he wants for Christmas?  Shouldn’t you know whether your wife understands you when you spend all day at the mall with her yet still complains that you never tell her that you love her?  Gary Chapman thinks you should and he’s probably right.

When it comes to true love, look no further than I Corinthians Chapter 13.  It is there that we learn that true love is humble — it is patient, kind, doesn’t boast and is not proud.  We learn that true love wants what’s best for others — it is not rude, it’s not self serving and it’s not easily angered.  That true love forgives — it keeps no record of wrongs and holds no grudges.  That the true love that is God focuses on what is good — it does not delight in evil and it rejoices in the truth.  And lastly, we learn that true love is tough.  Real tough.  It always protects.  Always trusts.  Always hopes.  Always perseveres.  And it never fails.

This is one language we all should learn.  And maybe someday we will find ourselves daydreaming in the beautiful language of love.

Your Turn:  What’s your love language?  How do you know?  Does your partner speak your love language?  Do you speak your partner’s love language?  Let us know.

Accepting The Kingdom Like A Child

A little child.  Somewhere between ages 7-10 maybe?  Certainly younger than 10.  Not an infant, but no middle schooler either.  Just a kid.

We’ve all had some experience with small children.  Maybe we are parents of a small child.  Or a grandparent of one.  Or maybe we have a kid brother or a kid sister.  Or maybe we’ve just babysat for a little one before.  We all know what a small child is like and if we were to make a list of their most common qualities, it might look something like this:

Honest

Trusting

Needy

Dirty

Loud

Dependent

Innocent

Appreciative

Curious

Wondrous

Enthusiastic

Loving

Persistent

Playful

Affectionate

Transparent

Forgiving

Powerless

Obedient

Disobedient

Humble

Eager to Please

Open Minded

Fearless

Fearful

Imitators

Self Centered

Irresponsible

Forgetful

Willing

Creative

There’s lots of stories of children in the bible.  In Matthew 15, Jesus heals a little girl who was demon possessed.  In Matthew 17, Jesus heals a little boy who is having seizures.  In Mark 5, Jesus raises Jairus’ 12 year old daughter from the dead.  In John chapter 6, Jesus uses a small child as His assistant in the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand.  In Matthew chapter 21, versus 14-17, we hear the voices of children as they sing songs of praise, “Hosana to the Son of David!”

But there is one story having to do with children that is repeated in 3 of the 4 gospels. Pretty impressive seeing as how even the Christmas story isn’t repeated in all four Gospels.  In Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus tells the story of people bringing their children to see Jesus and the disciples aggressively shooed them away.  And Jesus wasn’t happy about that.    He said: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  Then he took the children in his arms and blessed them.

If you don’t receive the kingdom of God like a little child, you will never enter it.  Wow.  That’s strong.  Makes me wonder if Jesus spent much time around children.  But we know he did.  Maybe he noticed some things about kids that we don’t always notice.  Or, maybe he noticed something about us that we’ve never noticed.  So let’s look at our list.  Of the common qualities of children that we came up with, which ones might actually help us receive the kingdom of God and the message of his son?  As it turns out, probably quite a few.

 Honest?  Yep.

Trusting?  Oh yea.

Needy?  You bet.

Dirty?  Hmmm.

Loud?  Maybe.

Dependent?  For sure.

Innocent?  Yep.

Appreciative?  Certainly.

Curious?  Without a doubt.

Wondrous?  Yes!

Enthusiastic?  Double yes!

Loving?  Yep.

Persistent?  Oh boy.

Playful?  Couldn’t hurt.

Affectionate?  I’d say so.

Transparent?  Definitely.

Forgiving?  Essential.

Powerless?  That would probably help.

Obedient?  Yep.

Disobedient?  I’m gonna say no.

Humble?  Yes.

Eager to Please?  Yes.

Open Minded?  This is a biggy.

Fearless?  Yes!

Fearful?  Hmm.  Actually, yes!!

Imitators?  Are you kidding?  Of course!

Self Centered?  Uh, no.

Irresponsible?  We’re on a losing streak.

Forgetful?  That’s better.

Willing?  Yep.

Creative?  Yes.

 Well, wouldn’t your know?  Turns out Jesus was probably right about this one.   The kingdom of God probably would be easier to receive if we approached the Creator of the  Universe with the same mindset as little kids approached Jesus.  And once upon a time, that wouldn’t have been so difficult.  After all, we were kids once.  Those qualities used to describe us, didn’t they?  Enthusiastic.  Filled with wonder.  Curious.  Forgiving.  Dependent.  Open minded.  Honest and trusting.

But then life happened.  We learned to do for ourselves.  Everyone pushed us to become independent and so we did.  We grew in knowledge and, as a consequence, grew in skepticism.  We experienced betrayal and stopped trusting so much.  Someone embarrassed us and we stopped being so darn transparent.  We saw 10 bald eagles in one day on a trip to Alaska, the mighty Colorado river on a trip out west, and skyscapers in New York and, somewhere along the way, lost our wonder.  We tried to be persistent, but felt like we were beating our heads against a wall.  We tried to remain curious, but frankly, it just made us feel confused, even overwhelmed.

I’m sure Jesus gets all that.  I’m sure he knows exactly what’s happened to us.  I’m sure he knows exactly how we lost our wonder and came to be so skeptical.  It may have even happened to him.  But I think his instruction still stands:  “Receive the kingdom of God like a small child.”

Your Turn:  So here we are.  We’ve worked our whole lives to put away childish things.  And now we need them back.  Can we get them back?  How do we do it?  Let me hear your thoughts.