The Grandparents' Lament

Our six-year-old grandson wanted us to take him to see the Grinch movie on Friday, and he spent the night afterwards. The rain on Friday stacked my weekend workload, so I needed to rake leaves and wax a car on Saturday before winter sets in. However, I only got the leaves in the front yard because Sims wanted me to play soccer with him. An old man shouldn’t play soccer, but it was fun. The stiffness I felt the next day was a reminder that this was a better choice of Saturday projects.

Then I began to feel what might be called “the grandparents’ lament.” Grandparents take time to sit in the floor and play with toy cars, read books or play soccer in the back yard. When we’re parents we often don’t do this as much. Why? There’s always the pressure of work—climbing the corporate ladder—and feeling we must do more than anyone else at the company.

A friend once pointed out another anomaly; more years at the company bring more vacation days, but we need the vacation days when our children are at home, not when they’re grown!

A pastor I know was wiser than me. He arranged with his church that his work would entail morning and evening. He went home in the middle of the day, picked his daughters up from school and helped them with their homework since his wife’s work schedule was more rigid. Now in his 80s, his relationship with his daughters is exemplary, unlike some pastor families I’ve known.

Another man told me about a running argument with his wife when their children were small. She wanted a showplace yard, but there were bare spots with no grass where the children played.

“I can always grow grass,” he told her, “but I can’t always grow children.”

I suppose every parent looks back with some regret wishing we’d not become exorcised over things that in retrospect look trivial or stayed at the office longer than needed. We’d be better parents if we could go back and try again. But we can’t turn back the hands of the clock. What we can do is gently teach our children to learn from our mistakes. And we can spend time with our grandchildren, let them know they’re loved and guide them to faith in God.

A young person professed faith recently. She told me she’d been reading her Bible and began to think about becoming a Christian. And she said her Bible was a gift from her grandmother.

We boomers can’t do much about our past misjudgments, but we can ask God in our senior years to make us loving encouragers to others.

Mercy Drops

A pastor friend used an interesting phrase in conversation to me. He told about a revival effort in his church and said until the last service they’d only had “mercy drops.” I asked what he meant, and he reminded me of the old hymn: “Mercy drops ‘round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.” Fortunately, the last night they got the “showers” when many people made life-changing commitments to the Lord.

I think his imagery is appropriate for much of what we do in the church. We labor long and hard to invite, minister and encourage and sometimes it seems our work is ineffective. And then without human explanation the Spirit of God works overtime and we see great things happen.

I’m convinced both “mercy drops” and “showers” are in God’s hands, and we must be faithful as the Apostle Paul said, “in season and out of season.” That is, we must continue to do God’s work whether there’s visible results or not.

The scripture includes two encouraging promises. One is that God’s word will be effective. The ancient prophet Isaiah shared a message from the Lord: “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). We may not see the effect of God’s word immediately, or for a season, but we’re promised it will touch and change lives. The Bible calls itself “inspired” or “God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). The God who used his Spirit to give us his word promises to send the same Spirit to touch hearts.

The second promise speaks to the value of God’s work. Again, Paul wrote, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Ray Boltz wrote “Thank You for Giving to the Lord” in 1988. He told of a man dreaming of heaven. There he met a man who said, “I became a Christian in your Sunday School class when I was a child. Thank you for giving to the Lord.” And then he met a man from another country. He said, “You heard a missionary and you gave money to support him. That’s the reason I’m here. Thank you for giving to the Lord.”

Maybe surprises we’ll one day discover in heaven are the mercy drops that don’t grab our attention in the way the showers do. But our task is to remain faithful to God and his work. It has eternal value.

Thank A Vet

Veterans Day is a time to honor men and women who spent time in the armed forces and who remain with us, unlike Memorial Day which is a time to remember those who aren’t. Our veterans should be honored. They want to share their stories with us, and we should listen.

War is always a troubling time for people of faith. We know God desires peace, and our savior is known as the prince of peace. But we also know that conflict is a reality in our fallen world. Thomas Aquinas, Augustine and others taught the “just war” theory, and this teaching has shaped our understanding as the church. We believe we must find a greater good above the carnage of war, such as preventing totalitarianism and slavery.

Our American founding fathers believed that God himself is the author of liberty and they unabashedly asked for his blessings as they fought for independence from Britain.

And historians tell us very convincing stories about the intervention of God. Young George Washington served under British Gen. Edward Braddock in 1755 during the French and Indian War. In a battle on July 9 in what is now the state of Pennsylvania, Washington had two horses shot from beneath him and sustained four separate bullet holes in his jacket. He, however, was unharmed, and went on to be the victorious general of the American Revolution and our first president.

Nevertheless, what should our response to war be?

First, we should work and pray for peace. Jesus said the peacemakers are children of God.

Second, we pray for our family and friends in the military. Most of our churches developed a prayer list of active duty military during the Gulf and Afghanistan Wars and prayed for these regularly.

Third, we honor our veterans in every way possible, lifting them up as genuine heroes.

A friend recommended the Ken Burns’ series, “The Vietnam War,” that aired on PBS, so I invested the time to view it. The series reminded me of a pivotal event of my generation. Several U.S. presidents wrestled with how to conduct this war, and how to conclude it. The anti-war movement was strong, and our country was divided. The series highlighted also how we failed to honor these brave soldiers when they returned home. We should’ve done better.

Memorial Day is a time of sadness. We remember men like my mother’s three brothers who served in World War II who are with us no longer. Veteran’s Day is a time of affirmation. We say “thank you” to the men and women who remain, and who devoted their lives to protect the rest of us.

What Do You Think?

College students can be irresponsible; a student was a few semesters back. He missed a test and then decided a month later that he needed to take it to maintain his financial aid. I talked with an administrator and asked what she wanted me to do.

“It’s your class,” she said. “What do you think you should do

This was not my experience at other places where the matter would require numerous meetings and memos! I was surprised that the administrator trusted me to make the right decision.

Jesus the master teacher once turned a question back to an inquisitor, causing the man to think deeply about life choices. The story is told in Luke 10.

The man, a teacher of the law, asked Jesus how he might receive eternal life.

“What is written in the law?” Jesus responded. “What do you read there?”The man responded with the two great commands to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbor as we love our self. Jesus told him he was correct. The questioner should’ve stopped there, but he wished to test Jesus by asking, “Who is my neighbor?” In response we have one of Jesus’ greatest stories.

A lone traveler was beaten and robbed and left for dead. Two religious leaders traveled by and decided to leave him alone. Perhaps they were late to temple worship and couldn’t be bothered with a humanitarian cause. Or they may have believed the man was dead. If so, any contact with a corpse would make them ceremonially unclean for seven days. Thus, two men skilled in the law—the law that exhorted “love you neighbor as you love yourself”—decided that worship was more important than human need.

The story has two caveats. One is the hero of the story: “Good Samaritan,” an oxymoron in that day since the Jews didn’t believe there were any. And the second caveat was when Jesus asked his original questioner to think about the story and determine who was neighbor to the injured man. So once again Jesus asked the teacher of the law to think through an issue for himself.

It is liberating when employers, teachers and pastors ask us to think for ourselves and trust us to make wise decisions. The desired result is that we grow in cognitive skills and in confidence that we can make good decisions in the future.

I suppose most of the good people who listen to us pastors preach week by week know the right thing to do. They just need to hear us say more often than we do, “What do you think God wants you to do?” and, “Have you done it?”