Be Like Mom


For Mother’s Day I thought I would share this message I gave a few years ago on Mother’s Day. I posted it back then in parts, here it is presented in full.

To all you mothers out there (especially mine) have a wonderful Mother’s Day!

Grace,

Dan

Paul the Mother

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 2:7b-12, NIV).

Introduction

Mothers…

You can’t come into this world without one (even Jesus couldn’t come into this world without a mother). They are necessary.

Mothers, whether they know it or not, are incredibly powerful, for the care they give or don’t give sets their child on a path of understanding what is true, who they are, and what value they have.

Mothering is not a day job. It is 24/7/365. There are no vacations. It is a fulltime commitment that makes any fulltime job seem trite.

Mothering is a long job. By that I mean it is not a short term project or commitment. It is not a sprint but a marathon that will not slow down for two decades or so.

Mothering takes patience…at times incredible unearthly patience because kids have none and seemingly live eternally in the “now.”

Mothering takes one way love. If you have been a mother for any length of time you know this is true. If you are hoping to be a mother you need to understand this is true! You need that one way love to endure the yelling, the screaming, the messes, the disrespect, and outright dumb and hateful things that you will hear. “I hate you!” “I wish you weren’t my mother!” “I am so done with you!” Many mothers have heard things like that. If your love is two-way love—a love that requires respect, friendship, and a quick return on investment in order for it to continue—then motherhood is going to be hard. One way love, grace, is necessary to be a good mother.

Mothering requires a lifestyle of giving. Giving time. Making time to give when there is no time. Giving care. Giving love. Giving help. Giving forgiveness. Giving provision and providing not only for physical needs, but social, mental, and spiritual needs. At times it requires giving in, at other times giving things up, and almost all the time it requires giving out this or that or the other thing. And sometimes it requires giving out when you don’t feel you are being given much back by anybody.

Yet mothers do all this without a second thought. They gladly do it, because they love their kids. It doesn’t seem to them a burden to be begrudged, but a privilege to be given such responsibility. This isn’t to say that mothers don’t ever feel overwhelmed, or confused, or taken advantage of or get angry or have days when they despair. They do. But the joy of motherhood outweighs the pain. And so they keep going.

Moms do this so well in fact that very often when their girls grow up they have a longing to be mothers themselves.

I know some women who just can’t wait for it.

I know others who would give all they had just to be one.

I know others who struggle with the pain of losing their child, and they feel that with that loss and the loss of motherhood part of them died too. They would give anything to get them back.

Exegesis

Our text this morning is an interesting one and a good one to think about on Mother’s Day. Paul was only in Thessalonica for a short time a two or three months at best. But notice how he describes who he and his fellow workers lived, worked, and related to them: Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you.

It is very interesting to me that Paul here uses the image of a nursing mother to describe his love and care for the Thessalonians. Paul often used the image of fatherhood to describe his leadership. In fact, just a few verses down in verse 11 he shifts his analogy to fatherhood. While Paul certainly knows he is not a woman and cannot be a mother, he was still led by the Spirit to use the analogy of motherhood in his description of how he related to the Thessalonians. The second half of verse 8 through verse 10 Paul explains what he means.

Verse 8b, Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. Like a mother loves her child even before they are born, Paul loved the people of Thessalonica before they had been spiritually born. Love came first. Love was the motivation for going to them, for sharing the Gospel with them, and for sharing their lives with them. Love was not something that came later, or was given after there was proof that the gospel had been accepted but before.

Verse 9, Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you. This is also very motherly isn’t it? Mothers work constantly day and night so that their children have all that they need and do not need to worry about caring for them. And as mothers work day and night to care for their children, Paul did the same for his spiritual children.

Verse 10, You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. A good mother shows by her example what is good and right by how she conducts herself in the truth and by how she responds in grace. In like fashion Paul and his companions did the same, not only teaching them the knowledge and idea of what it means to be holy, righteous, and blameless, but setting the example of it, showing them the practice of it, and mentoring them in the living of it.

Doctrine

The Church is called the family of God and the household of God. So it is no accident that the most often used picture to describe spiritual leadership, discipleship, and how we are supposed to relate to one another is that of family. What is the primary responsibility of mothers and fathers if not to nurture, mature, and equip their children so that they grow into adults who are able to do the same for their own children? So it should come as no surprise that motherhood and fatherhood were helpful analogies to understand how Christians are to nurture, mature, and equip one another.

We need to reach out to and share our faith with a mothers love. Mothers don’t wait to see their children grow up before they love them. Paul compared his initial coming to them as that of a nursing mother. Love comes first. It is not earned. It does not have to be asked for. It is just given. His nurturing of them started before there were believers and continued after. You cannot nurture a person without first loving them. We see this over and over in how Jesus related to people. He was very gentle with them. He was very compassionate. He healed them. Ate with them. Freed them from demons. He feed them. His doing so showed that He loved them and cared for them and drew them in to hear who He was and why He was here. He showed them He was the Messiah as He told them He was the Messiah. If we attempt to teach about Christ or witness to Christ without showing them Christ’s love and care we will have little fruit to show for our efforts. I have never witnessed anyone sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with a person who had any success who did not love them first. Especially with people we are witnessing to and to new Christians we need to be like nursing mothers caring for their children.

That motherly love that Paul had for the Thessalonians drove him to give himself completely to their needs. A mother’s day is not really organized around her needs so much as it is around the needs of her children. In the same way, Paul ministered in such a way that the new believers saw that they were his first priority. We see the same in Jesus’ relating to the crowds. For instance in Matthew 14:13-14 we are told that when Jesus was given the news that His cousin had been executed by Herod He took the disciples away so they could be by themselves and rest and grieve. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick (13b-14). This was the same crowd of 5000 that Jesus fed with a few loaves and fish. He wanted to get away. He wanted to have time alone with His disciples. But His instead He met their needs. The work of nurturing, maturing, and equipping one another works best when we do it with that same attitude.

That leads right to the third truth this passage illustrates for us: that believers, especially new believers need spiritual mothering no less than children do in the home. Love and grace are understood in experience before they are fully understood in thought. So like a mother Paul shared his life with the Thessalonians. You’ve heard the saying, “seeing is believing.” If the people we share our faith with don’t see and experience the love of Christ why should they believe what we are saying is true? The only way that is going to happen is if we share our life with them.

Application

You can learn a lot from a good mother. And it is not only helpful for being a mother or for understanding mothers, it is helpful for understanding the kind of work it takes to nurture, mature, and equip one another in the church. I want to try and show this by taking that description of mothers I began with and putting it in the context of discipleship.

Christians…

You can’t come into the kingdom of God without one sharing the Gospel with you. They are necessary. The agents through whom God brings people into the new life of His kingdom.

Christians, whether they know it or not, are incredibly powerful, for the care they give or don’t give sets their spiritual children on a path of understanding what is true, who they are, and what value they have.

Discipleship is not a day job. It is 24/7/365. There are no vacations. It is a fulltime commitment that can make any fulltime job seem trite.

Discipleship is a long job. By that I mean it is not a short term project or commitment. It is not a sprint but a marathon.

Discipleship takes patience…at times incredible unearthly patience because believers are tempted to understand heavenly realities through their present circumstances instead of the other way around, they often live in the “now.”

Discipleship takes one way love. If you have been a discipler for any length of time you know this is true. If you are hoping to be a discipler you need to understand this is true! You need that one way love to endure the yelling, the screaming, the messes, the disrespect, and outright dumb and hateful things that you will hear. “I hate God!” “I wish God would just stop!” “I am so done with God!” Many disciplers have heard things like that. If your love is two-way love—a love that requires respect, friendship, and a quick return on investment in order for it to continue—then discipleship is going to be hard. One way love, grace, is necessary to be a good discipler.

Discipleship requires a lifestyle of giving. Giving time. Making time to give when there is no time. Giving care. Giving love. Giving help. Giving forgiveness. Giving provision and providing not only for spiritual needs, but physical, social, and even mental needs. At times it requires giving in, at other times giving things up, and almost all the time it requires giving out this or that or the other thing. And sometimes it requires giving out when you don’t feel you are being given much back by anybody.

Yet in Christ, through Christ Christians do all this without a second thought. They gladly do it, because they love their spiritual sons and daughters and brothers and sisters. It doesn’t seem to them a burden to be begrudged, but a privilege to be given such responsibility. This isn’t to say that Christians don’t ever feel overwhelmed, or confused, or taken advantage of or get angry or have days when they despair. They do. But the joy of discipleship outweighs the pain. And so they keep discipling.

Do you see what I mean? Now I am not at all saying that this describes all Christians, or even most Christians. I’m not even saying that it describes me! But it should, shouldn’t it?

What if it did? What if we could all say,

In Christ, through Christ I do all this without a second thought. I gladly do it, because I love my spiritual sons and daughters and brothers and sisters. It doesn’t seem to me a burden to be begrudged, but a privilege to be given such responsibility. This isn’t to say that I don’t ever feel overwhelmed, or confused, or taken advantage of or get angry or have days when I despair. I do. But the joy of discipleship outweighs the pain. And so I keep discipling.

What effects would that have?

How would things change?

How would I see things differently? How would I see people differently? How would it effect how I see myself?

Might I see God differently?

What impact would that have on the kingdom of God?

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to find out. What do you say?

The More Things Change…


I have been struck—again—by the truth of the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” We have cars instead of horses, instant messaging instead of message curriers, we meet in blogs and chat rooms instead of gathering at the city gates, but the problems, temptations, and challenges remain the same. Let me just mention two.

We are tempted to put our faith and trust in the things of God instead of in God. In 1 Samuel 4:1-3, we read about Israel reacting to losing a battle to the Philistines.

Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”

Instead of asking the Lord why He did not give them victory over an enemy He had promised victory over, they go get the ark. They assumed that they left God behind because they left His ark behind. While Israel was galvanized and encouraged by the presence of the ark, God was not more with them then without it, and they were defeated again. Instead of looking to God, they looked to his ark, “Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”

How often we see the same thinking today! We do not have an ark, but we do the same thing with what we do have. Instead of asking God why the church’s numbers are dropping, finances are dwindling, and our influence is waning, we go looking for the latest program, book, strategy, conference, or retreat to fix the problem….as if we are just not working hard enough to figure it out. God does not need our best. When we give God our best, He isn’t getting much is He? We need to put our faith in Him, not in the things He has given us.

We are pre-occupied with how we look to others instead of being concerned with how we look to God. Israel asked for a king, not because they needed a leader when Samuel was gone (which they did), not because God had promised them a king (which He did in Deuteronomy 17:14-15), but because they wanted to look like everyone else. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5, NIV ). Instead of waiting for God to give them a king in His time, they forced the issue. The result was 42 years of Saul, which was a disaster because He was not a man after God’s own heart. Instead of acting out of faith in God and waiting for His timing, they acted out of anxiety and attempted to solve the problem themselves.

We are just as fixated on the need for a “leader” today. Like the Israelites we want a leader who will do the thinking and fighting for us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles (1 Samuel 8:19-20, NIV ). Today the “king” has been replaced with the “professional.” The prevailing attitude in the land seems to be, “If you can do it better, I would rather you do it.”

This thinking is very common in the church today. Families look to the church for teaching, discipleship, and passing the faith to their kids. Many people believe this is what the church is for. “After all they are the experts, they have the degrees. That’s what we’re paying them for,” they say.

This is also the thinking of many pastors and leaders in the church today. They expect families to support them in their programs, and see themselves and their ministry as the place to go for help, discipleship, and teaching. Families are generally very willing to give them what they want, and in many cases, expect that this is the case. Churches are often picked based on the perceived repute of the pastor and how well the programs being offered meet the needs and desires of the family that is doing the looking.

But this thinking is not biblical. Not only that, it doesn’t work does it? All you need to do is look around at the church today. The average layperson feels ill-equipped to do Bible study on their own let alone teach the bible to their kids, their spouse, or their friends. The latest study from Barna found that more than 60% of youth who grow up in the church leave the Christian faith by the time they get out of college.

Those who stay in the church have no great witness to the world either. God seems remarkably impotent to bring about the change the gospel claims to promise. We divorce as much, have affairs as much, become addicted to drugs and alcohol as much, even abuse our wives and kids as much as non-Christians. There is no statistical difference between evangelical Christians in these areas and everyone else.

Albert Einstein said, “The height of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.” I think we need to admit that the way the church has been doing things does not work. The way we have been thinking about Church does not work. Jesus said that the world would know that we are His disciples if we love one another as He loves us. The facts tell us that we are not succeeding at this.

The Act of Patience


fb_img_1487209281242

This is an important lesson I have been learning. Waiting, sitting, staying, being patient, and whatever other variant there may be of this, it is not doing nothing. It may feel like it is doing nothing. It may seem like you’re stuck. It may seem like you’re not going anywhere. But it is not doing nothing. I have been learning that sometimes patiently waiting is the most important and potent action we can take. When God says “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10), He is not asking us to not act. He is telling us what action we need to take so that we can see who He is,  and to allow Him to do the things we cannot.

Lessons from Snow


You know you live in New England when its a freakish snow and ice storm on Tuesday, close to 60 and sunny on Wednesday, and 23 and a Northeaster dropping a foot of snow today. That’s life in New England. It takes commitment to live here… or resignation. Commitment if you are going to be happy.

Life, I have been learning, is very much like New England weather: as in it is rather unpredictable. That doesn’t change when you become a Christian. Heck, in some ways life becomes even more unpredictable!

I have been learning that while God doesn’t change, He is unpredictable… or maybe it is more theologically pc to say He appears to be unpredictable. He wasn’t kidding when he said to Isaiah,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV).

He doesn’t seem to go about bringing about the blessings He promises the way we think. Growing our faith comes through adversity. Growing our love comes from experiences that tests its limits. Growing trust in God comes from being in seemingly impossible situations where you have no way out but God. Sure, sometimes it is very clear what God is doing and where He is taking you. Other times, it is just as impossible to see as it is for me to see the other side of the street right now because of the blowing snow. Sometimes His presence is as clear and warm as a summer day, other times He is quiet and things seem as cold and dark as a long winter’s night. And like New England weather, these times can come and go quickly, rapidly, and certainly unexpectedly.

If that is your experience, you’re not nuts, or crazy, or unique. You are living the normal Christian life.

20170209_140226

Walking in the Valley of the Shadow, Part 5


This is an old post. But I have been recently helping some people who reminded me of it. Dealing with people who are hurting is part of the Christian life because it is life. We need to do this well. Unfortunately, too often we don’t. I leave the post as I wrote it better than three years ago.

In conclusion to this series of posts on what I have been learning about how to (and how not to) walk with people who are deep in the valley of suffering, I want to focus on this thought: when someone shares with you that they are in a great darkness of soul, I have been learning that there are some things you should just not say, no matter how true they may be. In a way, I guess this might well be an expansion on the need for discretion.

Often times, when we meet with people who are dealing with serious pain (i.e., divorce, abuse, a friend who committed suicide, a son who died from drug addiction, rape, addiction to alcohol, drugs, porn, etc…), we (especially we pastors and particularly us Reformed pastors) are tempted to respond by delivering loads of truth instead of loads of grace.

“But isn’t the truth good? Don’t they need to hear it?” Yes it is. And yes they do. But what truth do they need at that moment? It may well not be the truth you are thinking of sharing! I don’t know about you, but when someone comes up to me and says, “I need to tell you something in Christian love,” what follows is usually neither Christian nor loving! The truth is, we can do a lot of damage in the name of “truth.” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV),

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Often we Christians run right to verse 6, Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth, and assume the loving thing to do is always to highlight and expose sin, bad theology, and bad habits that may have led to or be adding to the pain the person is experiencing.

I submit that in light of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, if the “truth” you intend to share does not exhibit God’s patience and kindness, it isn’t loving to share it. If the “truth” you want to share comes from pride in your own spirituality, it isn’t loving to share it. If it dishonors them instead of encouraging and respecting them as God’s son or daughter, or at least as a man or woman made in His image, it isn’t loving to share it. If it is born out of the response of a quick anger, it isn’t loving to share it. If it reaches back into the past and rehashes past mistakes, sins, or poor choices all over again, it isn’t loving to share it. If it intends to hurt them (i.e., delights in evil), it isn’t loving to share it. If it is not from a motivation to protect them, to build trust, and to increase their hope in God, it isn’t loving to share it. And if it isn’t loving, you should not say it, no matter how true it is (or you think it is). Oswald Chambers was right when he said,

The average Christian is the most piercingly critical individual known. Criticism is one of the ordinary activities of people, but in the spiritual realm nothing is accomplished by it. The effect of criticism is the dividing up of the strengths of the one being criticized. The Holy Spirit is the only one in the proper position to criticize, and He alone is able to show what is wrong without hurting and wounding.

If we correctly understand the truth of Scripture, we will be living it out ourselves; and if we would be people who are living out the truth, we will be full of grace, because that is what the truth teaches. 1 Peter 4:8 (NIV) says, Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. God does not jump on us every time we sin or do something stupid. We should give the same grace to others. Let God deal with the convicting of sin; that’s His job, not ours. Be willing to work with people where they are at, instead of insisting that they come up to where you are at (or think you are at!). Focus on being a gracious presence to them. You will be surprised how quickly the things you are concerned about get addressed when you focus on caring for them instead of fixing them.

A good drive


Anna is coming home today. She is doing much better it seems. It seems her depression has passed again. I am very excited about that. We were able to bring her home for a visit yesterday. She did very well. It was so good having her home for awhile. After dinner, I driver her back to the C-BAT she’s been at for the last week and a half. She told me how she wished she could just stay home.

“Well,” I said, “I wish you were too. But at least this means I get to have a half hour alone with you in the car. I really like that.”

She smiled real big and leaned over and hugged my arm. “I love that too. I love you daddy!”

That was a big silver lining in the dark cloud of needing to take her back for one more night. We both benefited from seeing it. We can’t always change our circumstances, but we can change what we focus on when we are in them. I believe that is a valid application of Philippians 4:8-10 (NIV),

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.