Sunday, October 25, 2015

“MARRIED FOR GOOD”



A Sermon Based Upon Matthew 19: 1-9,  NRSV
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin.  
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Pentecost +21,   October 25th, 2015

Today, we come to the final message in this fall series on marriage.  In this series we have considered some important biblical resources that encourage and enhance healthy marital relationships.  Today we conclude with God’s original intent for marriage---that a marriage should last a lifetime.

Let me start out by saying; “I’ve never meet any couple who intended only to be married for a while.”  Every wedding ceremony I’ve performed and every couple I’ve interviewed for pre-marital counseling, all intended that their marriage would last, and that it would ‘last for a lifetime’.   Still, against such high hopes, current statistics suggest that over half of all marriages will still end up in divorce court.  And unfortunately it is not any better among Christians whose marriages may have even less of a chance due to higher expectations they put upon each other.  

In our text from Matthew’s gospel, we can see that divorce was also a major issue in Jesus’ day.  He too had to confront the divorce problem being asked: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?” (Matt. 19:3).   As the gospels tell us, this question came from religious leaders who wanted to put Jesus to the ‘test’ (Mk. 10:2; Matt. 19: 3).  They wanted Jesus to take the wrong side in a long standing debate about divorce, either declaring that divorce was always allowable ‘for any cause” (Matthew 19) or by making it allowable only in certain situations (Mark 10).  

Surprisingly, Jesus took neither side, but answered that divorce is not what God had in mind from the very beginning (Gen 2:18ff.).   When Moses allowed for divorce, Jesus says, Moses only did it as a concession, due to the ‘hardness of the human heart’ (Mk, 10:4; Matt. 19:8).   In other words, Jesus wanted his world to know that divorce is never God’s perfect will, but it is a contradiction that calls for forgiveness and redemption.  Flippant and unnecessary ‘bills of divorce’ need to be countered, if not ceased.  This is now made possible in the power of God’s redeeming love and grace.   

As we hear Jesus absolute stand against divorce, we must not hear that God is against people who have gone through marital failure.  No, God is not against people who have unintentionally failed or have had to deal with the unfaithfulness of another.   Jesus is against divorce because it hurts us.   But Jesus does stand against those who treat marriage lightly, unadvisedly or irreverently.  Furthermore, Jesus wants the world to know that God stands ready to fight “the good fight” for their marriage.  It is God’s desire that marriage should be for our good and ‘for good’.   Even when there are moral grounds for ‘divorce’, or when we are in a difficult marriage, God is for us and he will work with us, if we will work with him and if we work with each other to prevent the undesired and negative consequences of separation and a divorce.    
LEAVE: THE PROMISE OF ONENESS
How we work for the good of our marriage goes right back to God’s original plan for marriage.  Quoting Genesis, Jesus says that the goal and purpose of marriage is oneness:  “'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." (Matt. 19:5-6 NRS).  Not only does Jesus quote the original plan of “oneness” twice, but by quoting this he takes us symbolically to the image of woman being made from the very “flesh” of the first man.   It is out of one “flesh” they are created and into ‘one flesh’ they are to spiritually and emotionally return.   Thus the question for longevity and duration of a marriage is exactly this:  “How do two very distinct people, who are “opposites” in most every way, leave their very different homes and then promise and practice becoming “one”?

Perhaps you’ve seen this very promise being made between the couple as part of the wedding ceremony which is called the unity candle.  A couple will pick up their separate lighted candles and together light a larger center candle to symbolize their oneness.   Normally, after lighting the unity candle they blow out their individual candles. In one wedding, a pastor told how a couple had decided ahead of time to leave their individual candles burning too.  But as soon as the groom put his burning candle back in the holder and turned around to face the congregation, his blushing bride leaned over and blew his candle out.  Everyone chuckled.   At the reception, someone said: “During the ceremony the two may have become one—but I think during the marriage they’ll discover which one.”

Because we come together as two individuals with many differences, it is not easy to become of one mind, one spirit, or of one flesh.  Certainly, this does not happen in one day, one night, or even after many years, unless we understand what this “oneness” should mean.  And it can mean many different things because we are all different people in who we are and in how we give shape to healthy relationships with and for each other.  But whatever becoming one will mean in our own marriage, it will always begin and always end with making and keeping the promises we make to each other.  There is no “oneness” possible without the promise.  In every enduring, lasting, and healthy relationship, promises must be made and kept so that we not only make the promises, but the promises end up making and keeping us.

The late Christian ethicist Lewis Smedes retells the dialogue in Thornton Wilder’s play about marriage, entitled “By The Skin of Our Teeth”.  George and Maggie got married during wartime, but after the war was over, George comes to her announcing that he’s fallen for another woman.  “I’m leaving…,”  George says, “….but I’ll still provide for you and the children.  In a few years you’ll know this is for the best.”   In response Maggie asks for just a moment to answer:  George, I want you to know that I didn’t marry you because you were perfect.  I also didn’t marry you because I loved you either.  What I want you to realize is that I married you because gave me a promise. That promise you gave me made up for all your faults. My promise to you made up for all mine.  Two imperfect people got married, but it has been the promise that made the marriage.  And when our children were growing up it was the promise that protected them just like the promise has protected us….Think George, what else kept us alive all these years?  It was the promise! 

George began to realize Maggie was right.  If the promise had kept them alive in their struggles, not to continue living his promise by seeking his own comfort may destroy them both.  George decided to give Maggie back his promise.

When a couple give each other the promise of marriage, they move toward each other.  That is obvious.  But when that same couple continue to make, keep and negotiate their promises to each other, they will continue to move toward each other and toward an even greater quality of oneness.  Marriage experts agree that if a couple will work to find ways to continue moving toward each other through fondness, admiration, understanding and appreciation, marriage can and will work.  But both have to be willing to make and keep their promises.  Both have to make the promise work.

CLEAVE: THE PRACTICE OF ONENESS
This brings us to the second quality of “oneness”.  In the text it not only says that the man and woman leave their homes to become one, but it also says that they should “cling” or “cleave” to each other.  In other words, after making their promise they learn “stick together”.  This is how “oneness” becomes more than a verbal promise, but also becomes an active practice which we put into action in everyday life.

A good example of moving toward each other in the daily “practice” of marriage is made crystal clear in John Gottman’s many years of observing marriages that fail and marriages that succeed.   As I’ve already stated, Gottman makes the claim that in just a few moments, after observing a couple, he can tell you with 90 percent certainty whether or not that marriage will end in divorce.  Interestingly, he says it’s not conflict, nor arguments that make or break marriages, but it’s how couples treat each other during and after the conflict, which displays the durability of their relationship.  Gottman goes on to reveal, in very biblical terms, what he calls the Four Horsemen of a doomed relationship.  If a couple can’t move beyond being constantly critical of each other, if they keep building contempt against the other, if they always become defensive in their confrontations, or if most every argument ends with negative stonewalling, then, unless something drastic changes, the will move away from each other and oneness will be lost (“Why Marriages Succeed or Fail”.  John Gottman, Fireside Press, 1994, pp 13-102).

The alternative to moving away from each other is to keep moving toward each other, keeping our promises even in the midst of a conflict, so that we can resolve “to solve our solvable problems together”.  In order for this to happen, Gottman suggests that we allow our spouse and partner to influence us.   Could this not be exactly what Scripture means when it says that “ a man,”  or a woman too, should “cling” or “cleave” together?  Let me borrow one story Gottman gives us to show what “cleaving” or sticking together means as one spouse allows the other to influence them:   “Jack” was considering buying a used Honda.  The car seemed like a great deal since the seller, Phil, had only owned it a month.  The car was for sale because Phil’s company was suddenly transferring him to London.  Jack liked the car’s handling and power, not to mention the state-of-the-art sound system.  Jack was ready to make a deal, but first, he told Phil, he had wanted a mechanic to check the car.  “Why?” said Phil.  “It’s’ really a new car.  It has only three hundred miles, and you get the manufacturer’s warranty.”
       “True,” said Jack, “but I promised my wife I wouldn’t  buy a car without having it inspected first.”
       Phil gave Jack a withering look.  “you let you wife tell you what to do about cars? He asked.
     “Sure, said Jack.  “Don’t you?”
       “Well, no I don’t—didn’t.   I’m divorced,”  said Phil.
       “Well, Jack chuckled.  “Maybe that’s why.”

Gottman goes on to tell us that Jack had the car checked by his mechanic and it turned out the rear bumper needed to be replaced, so he never bought Phil’s car.  More importantly, Jack never bought Phil’s attitude towards women.  Jack made his wife a partner in his life and decision making.  He respects and honors his wife, her opinion, and feelings.  He understands that for his marriage to thrive, he has to let his wife influence him and share the driver’s seat.  He gets oneness with his wife because he practices oneness in making life’s decisions together (The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, John Gottman, Crown Publishing, pp 99-100).

WEAVE: THE PROCESS OF BECOMING ONE
When we leave home, and we cleave to each other, we invite God to weave our marriage into a bond that can’t be easily broken.  In fact, Jesus says we are joined together and then we are joined together with God’s help in the very same process.   Becoming one is a spiritual bonding process where we participate with God because our love for each other proves faithful and true.     

In the language of marriage experts, this spiritual, emotional and relational process of ‘bonding’ or weaving into oneness is called “shared meaning”.  This term is the technical way of speaking of how the more we share of our lives so fully, so often, and so long, we can’t bear even the thought life without the other.  As the one becomes the extension of the other, as one becomes the soul of the other, and as one becomes the life of the other,  the sharing of life so intimately, the two become “one” because our marriage is not just what we have joined together, but it is also what God has joined.

Creative Christian author Gary Thomas, has written a fabulous book called Sacred Marriage.  Early in his book he gives us a story about the great spiritual counselor and director of the seventeenth century, Francis de Sales.  In that day people would often correspond with De Sales about various spiritual concerns.  One woman wrote in great distress, torn because she very much wanted to marry, but a friend was encouraging her to remain single, insisting it would be “more holy” for her to care for her father, then to devote herself as celibate to God after her father died.  De Sales put the troubled woman at ease, telling her that, far from being a compromise, marriage might be the toughest ministry she could ever undertake.  The state of marriage is one that requires more virtue and constancy than any other,” he said.  “It is a perpetual state of mortification….(cross bearing).  From this thyme plant, in spite of the bitter nature of its juice, you may be able to draw and make the honey of a holy life.” 

Commenting on De Sales’ strange reference to marriage as sometimes having “a bitter juice” from which we make “the honey of a holy life”, Thomas asks about what makes marriage sacred. “What if to spiritually benefit from marriage, God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”   What if, to benefit from marriage, we have to be honest?  We have to look at disappointments, own up to our ugly attitudes, and confront our selfishness. We have to also rid ourselves of the notion that the difficulties of life will disappear only if we pray harder or follow a few simple steps… What if God didn’t design marriage to be easy…(like he didn’t design life to be easy)?  What if the goal God had in mind went beyond our happiness, our comfort, and our desire for the world to be a perfect place?  What if it is only “out of the bitter juice” that we are able “to make the honey of a holy life?”  (Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas,  Zondervan, 2000, pp 12-13).

You who have been married for a while may agree with me when I say that it not just the good times that bond us together in our marriages, but it is also when we have to drink the ’’bitter juice” of those difficult moments, and still remain true to our promises and to each other, in spite of all our struggles, that we find that the glue of our marriage sticks.  I can only reflect on my own marriage and the struggles of life that have come to us: infertility, adopting a sick child, enduring giving our grandchildren away, and all that else that has happened or is still to come.  But through it all, I know now, more than ever, that my marriage to Teresa has not only made it possible for us to endure the worst together, but our marriage has also made me into a better person than I could have ever dreamed of being without her.    

What can a lasting, healthy marriage do for us?  A marriage can teach us to love, to learn respect, to foster good prayer, and to discipline ourselves.  It can also build our character, teach us to forgive, give us a servant’s heart, give us a divine calling and purpose, and most of all, make us more aware of God’s presence (See Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas,  Zondervan, 2000, for more details).

A marriage is not for people who are ‘perfect’ for each other, but a lasting marriage is for the people who want to be made perfect by the love they give and receive until “death does us part”.   Marriage is the promise, the practice, and the process of becoming one in the kind of love that reflects the greatest gift God has ever given since that very first moment human life was created “in his image,”  Amen.
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Sunday, October 18, 2015

“BLESSED PARENTING”



A Sermon Based Upon Genesis 22:  1-14; Ephesian 6: 1-4,  NRSV
By Rev. Dr. Charles J. Tomlin, DMin.  
Flat Rock-Zion Baptist Partnership
Pentecost +20,   October 18th, 2015

If you haven’t noticed, there are not many Scripture passages directly addressing how to be a parent.   Perhaps there is good reason for this.  I once read about someone who was going to write a book on parenting.  He was first going to titled it “How to Raise a Child”.   Then after having his first child the titled changed to “Suggestions on Raising Your Children”.   Finally after having a couple more children he decided to entitle his book: “Help, I’m a Parent!”

It is not easy to be a parent—in our age or in any age.  The Bible is full of stories about children who had good parents, but in spite of that, those children struggled (David, Esau, Samson).  There are even stories of children who had difficult parents, but turned out well (Abraham, Moses, and Hezekiah).  So, what kind of help does the Bible give us when it comes to parenting? 

If you are looking for specific instructions, the Bible does not have very much to give.  But if you see the Bible as a sacred book that gives us values and beliefs that can shape behavior and decision-making, then the Bible is rich in resources.  It is rich because good parenthood depends mostly upon good personhood.   

So, how does our Christian faith help us become good parents who raise good persons?  What kind of spiritual resources can our faith give us?   Of course becoming a Christian is important, but becoming a Christian is a process which must also mean being a Christian in ways parents will model for us?  The main question that comes to parents today is how can we pass on, not just our family values, but also our faith values when the world around us both belittles and depreciates most of what we do?   Once upon a time, we could just let our children grow up in a Christian home, or be baptized and the world around them would shape them into people character, courage and faith.  It is no longer that simple, if it ever was.  Now, the world around us has become so hostile, so oppressive and so much more complex, that parenting our children and guiding them into our faith means that we must raise them even more intentionally as ‘in the world’ (Jn. 17:11) but not ‘of the world’ (Jn. 17:9)

Is there any realistic biblical model for Christian parenting when the pressure to ‘conform’ to  the downward pull in the world is getting stronger (Rom. 12:1)?   According to the popular evangelical understanding of the threat of eternal damnation, with the world’s negative current and sway being so strong,  the logic could suggest that it would be better if our children had not been born, or worse, that they not even live to the age of becoming accountable because they are less likely to find faith.  Even Jesus saw such a negative moments coming to the world when he said “Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore…(Luke 23:29).  In such difficult, even apocalyptic times,  it could be argued that since children are so easily overpowered or led astray by the evil of the world, and because of the lessening chance they have of redemption or salvation, it would be better that Christians didn’t have, or even worse, that they didn’t make it to the age of personal accountability (See this argument in Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins” as told at:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christian-piatt/what-does-the-bible-really-say-about-parenting_b_954718.html).   

As outrageous and shocking as this all sounds, the very idea of giving our children to God, even before they have any choice in the matter, is the very kind of outrageous event we read about in in Genesis 22, where Abraham, the father of our faith (of Judaism and Islam too), hears God telling him to sacrifice his own son Isaac.  The worst part of this story is that child sacrifice was common among many religions in Abraham’s day.  The good news of this story is that the God of Abraham didn’t require such offerings and prevented Abraham from going through with it.   In this strange ‘test’ of faith,  Abraham discovers that following God as man of faith, and as a parent, is to trust that God will provide whatever is necessary to keep us trusting in him.

CHILDREN AS A GIFT TO THEIR PARENTS AND TO THE WORLD
Let’s look at this very ‘strange’ story a bite closer for a moment.   At the core of that ancient story was not merely the story of God asking Abraham to do or not to do what other religions were doing, but the core of the story was about who ‘Isaac’ was and how much Abraham needed to keep trusting God for the future.   Now that this ‘son of promise’ was finally born to Abraham and Sarah as a unique gift from God, the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham was just beginning to come true (See Gen. 12).    As a child born after their child-rearing years, God gave them this gift only on God’s terms, because God wants to bless the world through this child.  Perhaps the most important lesson for us today, is that the gift and blessing of children are only gifts to us when we give them back to God as a gift for the future of the world.

But how do we receive our children as a gift from God, we must also give back to God?   Could there be any better self-understanding our children to have than they are gifts to us and they are gifts for the world?    I shudder to think any child might grow up in a Christian home without such wonderful knowledge.   How sad it would be for a child to think they were born as a burden, an accident, or a liability?  Recently, in Lincoln County, my brother-in-law told me about a Puerto Rican man who had been lived a life of drugs running around with street gangs.  Do you know why he choose this?  He said that when he entered a gang, it was the first time in his life that he felt that anyone loved him for who he was.   Can there be any more important self-knowledge than a child knowing they are a gift---from God and for God?

When a seminary professor was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, he and his wife were eating breakfast in a little restaurant, hoping to enjoy a quiet, family meal. While waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, "I hope he doesn't come over here." But sure enough, the man came over to their table.

"Where are you folks from?" he asked in a friendly voice."Oklahoma," they answered. "Great to have you here in Tennessee," the stranger said. "What do you do for a living?" "I teach at a seminary," he replied. "Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I've got a really good story for you."

And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down. The professor groaned and thought to himself, "Great. Just what I need -- another preacher story!"  The man started, "See that mountain over there?"  He pointed out the restaurant window. "Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up because every place he went, he was always asked the same question: 'Hey, boy, who's your daddy?'  Whether he was at school, in the grocery store or drug store, people would ask the same question: 'Who's your daddy?' He would hide at recess and lunch time from other students. He would avoid going into stores because that question hurt him so bad.

When the boy was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the question, 'Who's your daddy?' But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast, he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd.  Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, 'Son, who's your daddy?' The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church looking at him. Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question, 'Who's your daddy?'

The new preacher, though, sensed the situation around him and using discernment that only the Holy Spirit could give, said the following to the scared little boy: 'Wait a minute! I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God.' With that, he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, 'Boy, you've got a great inheritance -- go and claim it.  'With that, the boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again. Whenever anybody asked him, 'Who's your daddy?' he'd just tell them, 'I'm a child of God. 'The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, "Isn't that a great story?"  The professor responded that it really was a great story.  

As the man turned to leave, he said, "You know, if that new preacher hadn't told me that I was one of God's children, I probably would never have amounted to anything!"   And he walked away.  The seminary professor and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over and asked, "Do you know that man who was just sitting at our table?" The waitress grinned and said, "Of course. Everybody here knows him. That's Ben Hooper. He's the former governor of Tennessee!" (http://reformedanglican.blogspot.com/2007/05/whos-your-daddy-urban-legend-or.html).
  
PARENTS AS A GIFT TO THEIR CHILDREN
As great as it is, it is still not enough for your child to be raised in the knowledge that they are gifts from God and for God.   The greatest thing a parent can ever do for a child is to give them their own ‘blessing’ by simply being their parent.   Just because you have given birth to a child, does not make you a parent, and just because you take or send your child to church, does not make you a “Christian” parent nor give them a Christian blessing.  So, how do we define it?  What does it mean to not just ‘receive’ your child as a gift from God, but what does it also mean to ‘give’ your child back as to God to be a gift, so that they are a blessing and not a burden for the world?

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul gives household rules (German: Haustalfen, or literally ‘table rules’) to both children and parents, especially to Fathers, whom he has already referred to both culturally and spiritually, as ‘head of the wife (Eph 5:23) and is not understood to be ‘head’ in parenting (Eph 6:4).  Of course, this too runs counter to the thinking of many men, that parenting is mostly the job of the mother.  It appears that God has given mothers the most instinctive role of parenting, but in faith, God now calls upon fathers to join with their wives in fulfilling the parental responsibility.

After reminding children of their own responsibility to ‘obey’ their parents as they continue to Honor your father and mother” throughout their lives, Paul reminds the Ephesians that this ‘command’ to obey and honor parents is uniquely the ‘first commandment with a promise’ (6:2).  Here, Paul connects the promise of being obedient not only to one’s personal well-being (‘that they may live long’ Ex. 20:12a), but he also connects it to the great ‘promise’ given to Abraham and his children (Gen. 12: 1-3) who are givena land by the Lord’ (Ex. 12:12b) so they can be blessed to be a blessing.  It is out of this hope of being blessed to become a blessing that Paul reminds Fathers (and mothers too) of their own parenting role.   This is a ‘role’ that should be as much preventive, as it is proactive, so that especially these ‘heads’ of households will not ‘provoke children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (6:4).”  This simple, compacted insight still provides one of the greatest Christian and positive psychological models for what it means to be a Christian parent.   A Christian parent is not only one who receives the blessing and gift of a child in the world, but Christian parents are also responsible to bless the child who can, in turn, pass this blessing along to the world.

We don’t have time in a single sermon, to unpack the preventive or the proactive work of being a Christian parent, but it is within these are the two polarities, of preventive concerning the negatives we might fall into and about being proactive about putting good into their lives, that we all must take serious our call to be Christian parents.  We must make sure that we work against the negatives of anger, bitterness, and harshness (Eph. 4: 22-32) that may prevent the ‘blessing’ from being communicated to our children.  We must also be proactive in positive deeds (Eph 5: 15-21; Eph 6: 11-18) which will enhance the hope and promise that the blessing will continue, not just the lives of our children, but also in their life, for the sake of the life of the world.   But what is the most specific way we can ‘prevent the negative’ and become ‘proactive’ in the positive?   Can we name it?  Shouldn’t we at least take time to name the one thing that can make the difference, not only in people in general, but also specifically in the way we become Christian parents?

PARENTING OUT OF THE GIFT OF GRACE
The one thing that should make the difference between a home that is too often filled with the negatives of anger, dysfunction and provocation,  rather than a home that is filled with the proactive work of discipline, instruction that is ‘in the Lord’  (Eph. 6:4) can be summed up in one word.   But don’t take my word for it, take Paul’s, or take this word that has been uniquely revealed to us in all that is Christian given to us through Jesus Christ.   Paul gives us this most Christian “word” that should serve as the main guide for Christian parents right at the beginning of this great letter to the Ephesians where he says: “For by GRACE you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the GIFT of God-- not the result of works, so that no one may boast.   For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Eph. 2:8-10 NRS)

Can we ‘hear’ what Paul is saying in his word about ‘grace’ as it applies to parenting by ‘grace’?   This word is important because parenting can never be reduced to any of specific list of ‘dos and don’ts’ because there will never be that much difference between  being a good parent than being a good Christian.  Everything parents do to pass on the blessing of faith to their children will have as much to do with ‘who’ we are, as ‘how’ we actually choose to parent them.  The greatest gift we give to our children will always be more than the ‘things’ we give them, or even the ‘things’ we do for them, but it is must also include ‘how’ we live before them, and how we live with them, in the goodness and grace of God.

Ron Edmondson is a pastor in Kentucky who is also a parent of two sons.   On the website where he is pastor, he discusses parenting ‘by grace’.   It is most interesting that he starts by saying that grace as a parenting model was not complicated for him, but was very simple.   When he and his wife Cheryl were raising their boys, he says they did 6 things that most all good parents do, and then he speaks of what he did that made parenting most “Christian”.  Those six proactive acts were: They set clear boundaries or rules.  They recognize the individuality of each child.  They had a clear mission or goal that was constantly communicated.  They majored on the majors, not the minors.   They always considered matters of the heart and of character.  They made an effort to have fun with their children.  But most of all, in regards to grace, he says, they gave multiple chances and forgive easily.   While they held their sons to very high Christian standards, they also “extended to them lots of grace.”

Do you know why children needs ‘lots of grace’, ---grace to both work against the negatives in all our lives and to work alongside of the positive, proactive and intentional ‘good’ things we must do?   Let me answer this with a final story, that I think helps us know why the only pure Christian way of parenting is to parent by grace.  This story is about a preacher who was on a speaking engagement in Canada, before the really cold weather was supposed to begin.   But when and unexpected snow came early, his flight was canceled, and he find found himself going out to find something to eat, with only a light-windbreaker to help him fight the cold.

He had been told there was small diner close to where he was staying, where he could find some breakfast.  He stuffed his little cap with toilet paper to try to keep the wind off his balding head.   He went outside shivering and sliding on the snow, until he arrived at the little cafe near the bus station.   It appeared that every stranded traveler in Western Canada seemed to be there.  Strangers were pressing and pushing to get out of the cold in hopes to find a seat.   When this preacher finally found a place to sit, a man in a greasy apron came over and said, "Whaddle-ya-have?"
The preacher said,  "May I see the menu?"
"What do you want a menu for? We have soup."
"Well, what kind of soup do you have?"
The fellow with the greasy apron said, "Soup, do you want soup?
"The preacher answered, "That's what I was going to order. Give me some soup."

Well he brought the soup, and the preacher put the spoon into his mouth and said to himself, yuck -- it was the most awful -- kind of gray looking -- it was so bad that he couldn't eat it.  He decided to just sit there with with his hands cupped over it.  It was warm, and he sat there with his head down, his head wrapped in toilet paper – feeling unfortunate with this terrible soup.  But the soup was warm, so at least thought he could get some benefit out of the warmth that steamed from it.

Then the door opened and the whole room was filled with icy wind. "Close the door!", someone shouted.  In came this little woman clutching her little coat. She found a place not far from the preacher and sat down. The greasy apron man came. "What do you want?"
"A glass of water."
He brought a glass of water, took out his tablet, and said, "Now what do you want?"" Just the water," she responded.
"Lady, you have to order."
"Well, I just want a glass of water."
"Look Lady, I have customers that pay. What do you think this is, a church or something -- now what do you want?"
"Just a glass of water and some time to get warm."
"Look -- there are people that are paying here. Now if you are not going to order, you've got to leave."

The waiter was real loud and everybody in the cafe heard him. So the little woman got up to leave, but you'll never believe what happened.  Almost as rehearsed, everybody in that little diner stood up and started toward the door at one time. The preacher said he got up too and started to the door, thinking to himself, "Well if they’re voting, I’m voting.   I don't know exactly what it is -- but I’ll not be left out."

The man in the greasy apron said, "All right. All right. All right. All right. She can stay."
Everybody sat down and the man brought the woman a bowl of soup. Everybody was quiet -- a new spirit spread over the crowd.

Fred asked the person sitting nearby who she was. The fellow had never seen her before.  She was a just a stranger.  Maybe she was homeless.  As the place grew quiet, the preacher said, you could hear the sipping of that awful soup throughout the room.   The preacher said, "They are evening making this soup look good,  I'm going to try mine again."  So the preacher put the spoon to the soup, and this is what he said. "You know, it was not bad soup. Everybody was eating the soup. I started eating the soup. It was pretty good soup. I have no idea what kind of soup it was. I don't know what was in it. But I do recall when I was eating it, it tasted a little bit like bread and wine....just a little bit like bread and wine."   It must have been because they were all gathering around a table of grace  (As told about Fred Craddock, by Maxie Dunnam in his sermon entitled:  “Family, A Place for Persons”, 2006), 

Here is why the most important thing a parent can do is to be a parent who parents by grace.  Because grace is what everyone needs.   Grace is how God blesses the parent.  Grace is how the parent blesses the child.  Grace is how the parent and the child continue to be blessed and to be God’s blessing in the world.  Amen.