The Changing Positions of a Parent

My oldest son just went back to college, and I have been thinking about how our relationship has changed through the years.

1. Body to Body – as an infant I held him in my arms and would snuggle to feel his love. Even as a little boy I would wrestle with him to express my love. Touch was big in those first few years.

2. Standing Over Him – as he grew I came to stand over him to offer guidance and direction. My word was law. He looked to me for answers without asking questions in return.

3. On the Sidelines – Eventually, I became a life coach for him. He was the one out there in the world, and I offered him instructions from the sideline. He could choose to listen or ask questions. He was experiencing life and learning, and all I could do was watch, instruct and pray for the best.

4. Face to Face – There came a time when I had to sit down and ask him questions man to man. What did he want to study? Where did he want to go to college? What direction was he going to steer his own life? Meals together with serious discussion while preparing him for the future.

5. Shoulder to Shoulder – This past year he has turned into a man. He is not just my son he is a man like I am. We now enjoy events together. He does not need my instruction or coaching every day. He can handle his own life. In fact, sometimes I have questions for him. We are now friends who will live life side by side.

I should admit, I have only made it 19 years into this journey, and I don’t know how my roles will change in the future. Maybe you can shed some light on it for me if you are further down this path of parenthood.

For me, this is how my relationship with my son has changed. I also see his brothers walking down the same roads. I think these are necessary steps for us to remember as parents. Most of us want to cling to the old familiar ways. We want our children to have the innocence and dependence on us that they had when they were younger.

Unfortunately, that is not the end goal for a parent. The goal of parenting is to develop children who will one day stand beside us and not really need us like they once did. We are slowly working ourselves out of a job. It is a tough but wonderful truth.

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Putting Your Own Accent on Faith

The English language is a global form of communication, and it exists in one primary form. It is one language, but it is used so differently by everyone. It sounds different everywhere you go.

The other night I was watching a show on TV with British actors, and I was drawn in by their beautiful accent. I was suddenly reminded of the summer I spent in England and how people there marveled at my accent. I told them I was from Indiana and lived in Missouri and they asked if it was in “the south.” I never realized how different all of us really sound.

Through my life, I have talked with literally thousands of people from all over the world. No two of them sounded alike. They each had their own accents and pronunciations. They had different phrases and expressions. They took that one language and put their own unique spin on it.

Christians speak the language of faith. People trust in the person of Jesus Christ for their salvation all over the globe. Faith comes in one primary form, and yet it is unique to each individual.

Every one of us puts our own unique spin on our faith. We are drawn to different pieces of scripture. We like different types of music. We have different gifts and abilities we can use. There is an extensive list of things that are peculiar to each one of us.

I think this is good news. You do not have to be exactly like me or anyone else. You do not have to fit into anyone’s mold of what they think faith should be like. You are designed to be unlike anyone else. You can take the language of faith and put your own accent on it. You have the ability to live a life for God in your own personal style.

This week I challenge you to live faith your own wonderfully interesting and unique way. Take the words and put your own accent on them. Feel the freedom to follow Jesus as only you can.

When You Don’t Know How to Pray

Lately, prayer has been hard for me. My problem is not that I do not want to pray. My problem is that I haven’t really known how to pray. I am not sure what I want to see God do in some of the situations of my life.

My dad was sick, and I didn’t want to lose him, but the pain was mounting. My pain at his loss has left me feeling empty and alone, and I don’t know how I am supposed to feel right now. My future is unclear, and I am struggling to get through each day. The worst part, I don’t know what I want God to do in my life, I just know I want him to do something. I hate feeling like this.

This is not the first time I have had this feeling. I had it when I lost my best friend in an accident. I had it when I failed miserably in a ministry. I had it when I was betrayed by my sin and felt overwhelming shame.

Maybe you have felt it too? Maybe your life took a right turn you didn’t expect, and suddenly everything changed. Maybe someone you love made a series of decisions that left you unclear on which way to turn. Maybe that trip to the doctor did not turn out like you had hoped and now you don’t know what to do. Maybe you experienced some personal “dark night of the soul, ” and you didn’t know what to ask God to do for you?

What do you do when you don’t know how to pray?

Romans 8:26 says (in the NIV), “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

One of the promises to the followers of Jesus is that God will allow his Spirit to intercede for us. He will search our deepest heart and examine the depths of our soul. He will see what is going on inside of us and do the best for us. He will make sense of our life even when nothing makes sense to us.

What do we do when we don’t know how to pay? We pray anyway.

We open our heart and soul and allow God into our lives. We bow and wait for him to direct us. We hit our knees and sit quietly before him. We stand in the darkness with our God and cry without knowing why.

The promise is that he can hear our words through our groans and our tears. And not only does he hear, but he will also respond in his loving kindness.

Today I claim this promise and pray to God even when I don’t know what to say.

What I Said at My Father’s Funeral

I know this is longer, but a couple of family members asked for it. Here is what I said about this time last week.

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My name is Matthew Harris, and for those who do not know me I am Fred’s youngest son, and I am also a preacher. Yes, that means there are three preachers talking today at this funeral. So this may take a while.

I do feel compelled to say a couple of things about my dad. In part I am motivated by a funeral, I attended some time back. Everyone who stood up to speak talked about the man as “Strong willed” and “determined.” What everyone in the room knew and no one wanted to say was that sometimes he could be a hard-headed jerk.

Well, for those of you who knew my dad and loved him, you also knew he was a hard-headed jerk sometimes. He was strong-willed, stubborn and sometimes mean. I know that everyone here cared about him, and you each have a good story about him, but I am also sure you have some difficult stories too.

What I want to tell you this morning is behind that hard exterior was a soft heart.

Many things he did in life were motivated by goodness.

For example, you might know my dad loved to hunt morel mushrooms. He would do anything at times to get out into the woods. What you might not know is that my dad could not eat them. They made him sick to his stomach. I know he loved to hunt them, but he also found great joy in giving them away. He would bring them home for mom or his kids to enjoy. In a good year, he would drop them off to everyone he knew. For him, the joy was found in the finding and the giving.

You might also know that he loved to fish. He especially loved to walleye fish. He planned his year around it, and nothing would stand in his way. What you might not know is that the first thing he would do is put a big package of walleye in the freezer for this seniors group here at Church. He wanted to make sure he had enough to cook for them at least once a year. He then tried to get a package together for his card club or Sunday school class. He loved to catch fish, but he also loved to cook them for other people. He gave away much of what he caught.

You might know that my dad loved to trap. He spent many winters out in the ice and snow. He loved to catch animals on his trap line. What you might not know is that most of the money he made from trapping went to buy Christmas gifts for his family. He would work hard for the joy it brought him, but also for the joy it brought to his family.

It might have seemed that my dad was always hard-headed about what he wanted to do, but most of it had a selfless side you might not know about.

The second thing I know about my dad was that he continually repeated himself.

He had certain phrases he loved to say over and over.

For example, for as long as I can remember I have asked my dad, “What do you know pop?” He would always respond by saying, “It takes a big dog to weigh a ton.” Then when I got tired of hearing it, I would say, “Don’t you know anything else?” He would then say, “It takes a tiny dog to weigh an ounce.” Always the same.

Another thing he said over and over was after he fried his fish. While eating, he would say something like, “I will just put these on a paper plate and set them out on the table. They are good to walk by and eat all day.” He said it over and over.

My brother and I must have heard him say a thousand times, “Be nice to your sister, she is not the sharpest tool in the shed.” (I’m joking.)

One of the other things I heard him say the most was, “You know what the good book says, ‘Life is by the twinkling of an eye.’” He always said with such confidence and backed it up with some statement that this phrase was in the Bible. It wasn’t until I went to Bible College that I discovered that the Bible does not say that at all. What it says in 1 Corinthians 15:52 is “… in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

It is a passage about the second coming of Jesus. I don’t know whether dad just interpreted this passage his way or whether he heard someone explain it one way and he just believed it. He took that one statement and understood it to mean that the twinkling of an eye in that passage was speaking of this life on earth. He took it to mean that this life was a flash, a twinkling of an eye to be lived preparing for Christ’s return. He believed we should live every moment preparing for eternity, because this life ends quickly.

He lived this out in a couple of ways that I saw. After his first stroke, I went to visit mom, and I sat down in his chair. There to the left of it was a Bible. I picked it up and page after page of notes written in the margins. There inside was a Sunday school lesson. He was preparing to teach on Sunday morning. He read and studied and taught the Bible until he was no longer able.

He life and teachings made an impression on not only me but also my family. You see, the last time I was in this Churches auditorium was when my dad baptized my son. (Right up there behind me)

My dad’s life was a testimony of faithfulness to God as we prepare for eternity.

I know he was not perfect. Sometimes he was mean and self-centered. We are all that way. But behind that tough exterior was a kind man who loved the Lord. He tried to do his best through this life to be ready for eternity. I think he did a good job.

My Three Questions of Scripture Application

While working on a sermon recently, I began thinking about the two sides of reading the scripture. Every time you read anything in the Bible you have the fundamental question of “What does the passage mean?” and then “How does that apply to my life?” My professor in college called it the “What” and the “So What.”

Each one of us goes through this process when we read the Bible. We need to clearly understand what the original writer of each section meant to say to the original reader. Every word has its own meaning within its own context. Once we have arrived at primary meaning, then we can begin to understand what that means to our life today.

This second part of Bible reading is where I see many people struggle. There are a lot of resources out there to help us understand what each passage is saying. While there are some controversial passages, most of what is written is plain for us to understand. The difficulty comes when we try to apply those Scriptures to daily living.

Through the years, I have come up with three primary questions I ask to help me apply what I am reading in the Bible. I primarily use these questions when I am writing the application part of my sermon each week. Maybe you will find these helpful as you read the Bible and try to follow the instructions of our Lord.

1. How does that work?
Recently I was talking about having peace in our lives. I asked myself some hard questions about this topic. How do we get peace when we have made a mess of our past? Do we just try to forget the past and move on? Does God do anything that will help me through this process? Is this passage about doing something specifically? How do I get it?
Does God just give us a principle or does the Scripture give us any insights into how his plan works?

2. What does that mean to me?
There is a very personal element to every piece of scripture application. For me, the question is, “What does this passage mean for a 45-year-old married man with children to have peace?” I think that it is easy to see Bible application for other people, but it is hard to see it clearly for myself. Quite often this requires me to take a long look in the mirror and be brutally honest with myself. I may tell everyone I have peace, but why do I lay awake some nights and replay the scenes of my childhood? Maybe I haven’t accepted what I calmly speak about? Where does scripture rub up against my life? I have found that most of us have the same struggles, but no one talks about it. That is where real application takes place.

3. What does that look like?
For example, how does a middle-aged man with Godly peace look different from a regular guy? Is it the look on his face, the clothes he wears, the books he reads or simply the time he spends at places of worship? What would it look like for a person to experience real peace with their past? We need to be careful of creating caricatures of what it means to be a follower of God that have no connection to reality. When Jesus was asked about loving our neighbor he told a story about a good Samaritan that pushed the application of a principle into the everyday experiences of life. We need to do the same thing.

I think it is easy to create simple applications that do not actually address Biblical transformation. The end result is that we produce Christians who have easy answers but look nothing like Christ. My hope is that we will read the Bible with a mind fixed toward understanding, but once we understand what it says, we will work to make it happen our lives.