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?

Why Celebrate?


My daughter Anna struggles with depression and anxiety because of her Non Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD). She was hospitalized eight times within a two year period. It was hard, real hard. Basically every three months she was in a hospital or C-BAT unit. But after that, because of her hard work and the prayers of many friends she started to make significant strides in learning to cope with her NVLD. When we came to the one year anniversary of her being free of self harm and hospitalization we had a celebration going to her favorite restaurant, the China Buffet. When she made it two years, we had a party with family and friends to celebrate her accomplishment.

But three months after the two year celebration, she hurt herself again and ended up back in a C-BAT unit.

The question has come up: what is the point of celebrating such milestones of recovery when there is no certainty that the recovery will continue without times when we fall? Does the fact that she fell again say that our celebration premature?

The reason for celebrating is not about what you are going to do tomorrow. It is acknowledging the work that was done in the past. She worked hard. She accomplished a lot. That was worth celebrating. We weren’t celebrating the expectation that she would never fall down again, we were celebrating the fact that she had gone so long without failing down again.

And you know what? She had a much easier time getting back on her feet this time. She is not the same person she was four and a half years ago. She is in not in the same place she was either. She is stronger, wiser, and more resilient. And so are we and the rest of her support system. Celebrating her milestones is about building her up, giving her hope, and acknowledging her work on her journey, not setting expectations for perfection in the future. She knows that.

I say, yes, it was worth celebrating. It was not a mistake. It was not premature. If I had the chance to do it over again, I would. And when we get to a year from her latest trip, we will all celebrate again. Love drives us to celebrate these milestones with her, no less than it drives us help her up when she falls.

For Mom


That rascally, reclusive, and reluctant varmint, Punxsutawney Phil, saw his shadow this morning. Cold snowy weather for the next six weeks if you can trust the groundhog. He’s not actually all that reliable. He’s been right 50% of the time since he and his forehogs started this tradition back in the 1886.

While I am not so hot on today being Ground Hog Day, February 2nd is also my mom’s birthday.

That makes today a great day.

My mom is one of my favorite people. She’s funny, happy, always interested in what you are doing, and loves to laugh. She has a real servant-heart attitude, and loves to help people–maybe by making some of her famous chicken soup, or just by stopping by and letting them know she’s thinking of them. She is very compassionate, kind, and gracious. I learned about those things from her. She’s not afraid to tell me what I need to hear when I need corrected, but she is always excited to tell me things she is proud of or thankful for related to me. And honestly, those calls are far more common.

She is a great example of what it means to be a spiritual mother. She conducts herself in the truth and responds in grace, and is sold out to her Lord Jesus Christ and lives for God through Him. I can honestly say, I would not know Jesus was well as I do today if not for my mother.

Happy birthday mom! Love you!

Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling

PS: She’s in the back in the middle, at the center of the fun.

 

 

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.

 

“As a son with his father,” part 2


Picking up where I left off yesterday morning…

The Great Commandment tells us what the godly life looks like; a life of love for God and a love for our neighbor. Everything Scripture teaches leads back to these twin commands: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

The Great Commission tells us the method God directs us to use to accomplish this: that method is through using a special relationship called discipleship.

Before we get into things let’s take a moment to define what a disciple is so we are all on the same page. The Greek word that we translate as disciple at its core means “learner,” “student,” or “pupil.” It occurs 269 times in the NT and every time is translated as “disciple.”

In our Western way of thinking, being a student means mastering knowledge, so that we know how to do things, and gain mastery over the subject we are learning about. This is very different from the Eastern and Jewish mindset in which Jesus and the NT authors understood being a student. To them being a student or pupil was about gaining wisdom, so that we learn how to live, thus gaining mastery over life.

In our Western way of thinking being a student does not require any personal relationship with the teacher. In the Jewish mindset a personal relationship was essential. In the West the focus is on efficient doing. In the Jewish mindset the focus was on effective living. We need to understand discipleship from the Jewish mindset of Jesus and the Apostles. That means that a disciple is a person who has submitted themselves to a teacher, or to use their word, a rabbi, in order to learn how to live their life for God.

Our Rabbi is Jesus. In the Great Commission, Jesus set up what we might call “surrogate rabbis,” His disciples, to act in His place after He ascended into heaven. The model of discipleship that Jesus used was not to stop after He was gone, but was to be continued until He comes back.

Discipleship is patterned after the relationship between a parent and their child. This is clearly seen in the parental language that Paul uses to describe his relationship with Timothy. You can also see it when you compare the Great Commission to its OT counterpart Deuteronomy 6:4-9 which addresses families.

  1. As fathers are to teach God’s commands to their children, disciples are to teach everything God has commanded to those they disciple.
  2. As fathers are to model this faith in front of their children when they are at home and when they are out on the road, Jesus calls His disciples to model their faith to their disciples, thus teaching them to obey what Jesus has commanded.
  3. As the goal of parenthood in Deuteronomy is passing the faith to their children, the goal of the disciple is to bring their disciples into the Church through baptism.

So parenthood and discipleship share the same goals: teach, model, and reproduce. Discipleship is a spiritual type of parenthood.

To follow the model of discipleship that Jesus modeled for us that we see reproduced in Paul and Timothy in our passage we need to be in two relationships.

The first relationship is submitting as a spiritual son or a daughter to a spiritual father or a mother. To be a disciple, is to be an apprentice. To be an apprentice requires being under the authority and tutelage of a teacher. I have a feeling for many of us that thought might be a bit disturbing, especially where I live (in New England) where we put so much pride in our independence. We have what seems to be an almost innate distain for submitting to authority. Our congregational heritage it would seem also cringes at the thought of submitting in any way to anyone other than Christ. After all we are all about autonomy, right?

Yet we are nonetheless called in Scripture to be in a relationship to a spiritual father or mother. The Christian life is learned by walking it with another. The Great Commission makes that clear. The disciples that Jesus was commissioning were to be taking in apprentices who would sit under them like a son with his father so that they could learn to teach, model, and pass the faith themselves.

We need to have spiritual mothers and fathers that we submit to as spiritual parents; godly men and women who we can look to in order to learn what living life to God through Christ looks like and who will encourage, correct, and hold us accountable as we learn from them. We are never going to learn how to love God and love others if we do not have a model from which to learn. Being a disciple means being in relationship with at least one person who is willing to parent us in the faith.

The second relationship we are required to be in as disciples of Jesus is being a spiritual father or mother to someone who is learning from us. Jesus spent three years with His disciples; teaching them, training them, and apprenticing them. He wanted to see His yoke, his interpretation and application of Scripture, duplicated in them. He wanted to see them live and model the life of love He had shown them. He wanted them to (through the Spirit) incarnate the same love He had given them. But He wanted one thing more: He wanted them to reproduce, to be fruitful and multiply, through discipling others as He had disciple them.

As disciples of Christ, there comes a time when we come to spiritual adulthood or maturity and need to take our place in the family business by being a parent to others. Timothy is a great example to us of this. He lived for a while under the spiritual care and guidance of his mother and grandmother. When he had matured under their care and spiritual parenting, he moved out to continue growing in the faith under the apprenticeship of Paul. In our passage we see that Paul was sending Timothy out for periods of time to work on his own, much like Jesus did when He sent out the Twelve in Matthew 10. But ultimately Timothy was going to be the rabbi, taking on disciples of his own.

“As a son with his father”


Motherhood and fatherhood are woven into our DNA as women and men. God’s first command to Adam and Eve was to be fruitful and multiply: i.e., be a father and a mother. It was also the first thing God told Noah and his family when they came out of the ark. Fatherhood is at the core of what is means to be a man. Motherhood is at the core of what it means to be a woman.

For a good number of God’s people, fatherhood and motherhood is experienced in family as we get married and have children. So we spent last month looking at the relationship between the church and the family. We did that for two reasons.

The first reason is that the church is to be a place where God’s people learn to live a life of love in submission to one another out of reverence for Christ. When the love of Christ is flowing through our relationships, husbands and wives will love and respect one another. Parents will encourage, train, and instruct their children in the ways of the Lord; and children will honor and obey their parents. One of the effects of our time together in worship, in small groups, classes, activities, and fellowship should have, is that families move more and more toward this ideal.

The second reason we looked at the relationship between the family and the church is that the church is patterned after the family. The church is the family of God. It is organized like a family. Structured like a family. It is run like a family. So the more we understand family and how it works, the more insight we have into the church and how God designed it to work. While it is true that not every one of us is in a family, or married, or a parent right now, all of us, who are God’s children are called to be spiritual mothers and fathers. This is experienced in discipleship.

Take a look at Philippians 2:19-24 (NIV).

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.

This passage gives us some key insights into what a healthy disciple relationship looks like. There are three that I would like to draw your attention to.

Paul saw himself as Timothy’s father. Paul of course was not Timothy’s natural father. In fact we don’t know who his natural father was. Timothy came to faith through the teaching of his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. We first hear about Paul and Timothy meeting in the opening verses of Acts 16. Impressed by the life and character of Timothy, Paul invites him to join with him on his journey. From this point on, Paul takes him under his wing as his disciple becoming a spiritual father to him. This is not the only passage where Paul uses parental language to describe his relationship to Timothy. Paul refers to Timothy as his son in 1 Corinthians 4:17, 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, and 2:1. As his spiritual father, Paul took it upon himself to teach him the Scriptures, to model God’s love to him and to guide him in his practice of it, and to reproduce his own faith in Timothy.

Timothy saw himself as Paul’s son. We don’t have any letters written by Timothy that state that he saw Paul as a spiritual father, but we should remember that Timothy was a co-author with Paul of this letter. He knew what was in it and I think it is fair to say that he agreed with how their relationship was described. Timothy acting as a spiritual son to Paul, submitted himself to Paul’s leadership, teaching, and way of life so that he could carry on Paul’s work to the next generation. Paul in fact commissions him to this in 2 Timothy 2:1-2 (NLT), Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.

“As a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” Discipleship here is pictured as an apprenticeship. In the Greek culture in which Timothy grew up, the faithful service of sons to their fathers in their work was highly valued. In that time, the business or trade of the father was usually passed to his sons. The son would apprentice with his father to learn his trade or business with the goal that one day he would take over. The goal of Paul’s discipleship of Timothy was to apprentice him in the “family business” of building the kingdom of God so that he could take over when Paul was gone.