Going Public

A common restaurant. A simple meal. A cryptic card. Some amazing news.

It’s been more than 16 years, but that evening is still vivid. It was centered on a dinner-out with my folks. After being seated, we exchanged pleasantries and ordered our meal. When a gap opened in our chit-chat, my wife handed my mother a card. On the front of the card was a cartoonish drawing of an oven with a loaf of bread baking. Written inside the card were six words: “There’s a bun in the oven.” My mom looked at the card, opened it, read it, and looked back at us. We grinned expectantly. She returned her gaze to the card.

With mom confuzzled (a term coined by my children), dad watched and read over her shoulder. A grin grew on his face that betrayed his understanding of what the card communicated. Mom sat quietly, scrutinizing the card. Perplexed. My wife and I were working hard to contain our giddiness. The card was a harbinger of wonderfulness – and we were ready to burst.

After several seconds of awkward silence, the newly crowned grandpa stepped-in to illuminate grandma – who had yet to realize her new moniker. “There’s a bun in the oven…they’re having a baby!” dad proclaimed. Mom’s countenance morphed from confusion to joy. Anxiety fled as relief and celebration washed over our little table. We laughed and hugged and began the requisite talk of the due date, it’s proximity to family birthdays, and painting the baby’s room.

This story of our announcement is a fitting way to close the mini-series on this blog about parenting. We’ve dug into Deuteronomy 6:7-9 and pulled-out some key words. So far, we’ve unpacked ‘teach’, ‘talk’ and ‘bind’. We’ll conclude with the verb ‘write’.

One more time, here’s the bit of Scripture we’ve been looking at:

“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
(Deuteronomy 6:7–9, ESV)

Without being overly prescriptive, these verses offer broad and deep instruction to parents. Teaching, talking, sitting, walking, rising, laying, binding and writing. These verses are loaded. Households saturated by the things of God foster words, thoughts, actions and attitudes flavored with grace, truth and love. Deuteronomy 6 is an invitation to experience the God of the Bible to the fullest. To know more of His decrees and desires. His love and grace. His timeless truth. His character. His redemption. His restoration. Our salvation.

The startling news of who God is and what He’s done demands expression. Life with Jesus is more wonderful than our best day at the office, a fantastic 10-days in the Caribbean, or even the news of pregnancy. God is life – eternal life. And in his gracious generosity He has stooped down to rescue us. That is the news of history.

That news demands families of God go public. Deuteronomy 6:9 says we are to write the Words of God, “on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” I’m not proposing that we write “God’s #1” or “Got God?” on our garage doors. But the spirit of this imperative does imply that our trust in God should be apparent. Our households are to be beacons of redemptive light to friends, neighbors, coworkers, sports teams, music and theater groups and the lady at the checkout. Our lives and homes should emanate with the sweet aroma of Jesus Christ.

I’m challenged by this command to ‘write’. It can be risky. We live in a world filled with good, and evil. Many aren’t friendly to the Bible’s message. But that mustn’t hinder our expression. We are here to make God famous. Life is about Him, not us. We are called to pray, act, and speak the truth about the life and message of Jesus. He gave us everything – the least we can do is tell everyone about it.

May the following quote inflame our collective desire to write God’s truth upon our households and be active in our proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ:

“If sinners be damned at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”
– C.H. Spurgeon

All Knotted-up

Memories of the small Baptist church where I was raised crowd my mind. One oversized recollection contains a carpeted floor with a multi-colored duct tape circle, a bean bag, a bowling pin and lots of sweating and screaming. Mix those elements with Scripture memorization and some kitschy uniforms and you’ve got AWANA.

In short, AWANA is a Bible club for kids. Growing up, it was a Wednesday night staple of my spiritual diet. Besides the biblical emphasis, AWANA was flavored with a hint of Scouting (i.e. Boy and Girl Scouts). In addition to committing God’s Word to memory, male clubbers were required to tie knots. The square, the bowline, the hitch, the figure-8 and the dreaded fisherman’s knot haunted me. My carefully planned gyrations with a strand of hemp often unraveled into a nameless mess. I found more success getting a knot in the laces of my red colored Keds while running around that sadistically tight-radiused AWANA circle.

The past few entries in this blog have extracted some parenting principles from Deuteronomy 6. So far, we’ve unpacked the words ‘teach’ and ‘talk’ from verse 7. This time around we’re going to tie ourselves to the word ‘bind.’

“You shall bind them [God’s commands] as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 6:8, ESV)

The word ‘bind’ conjures images of my knot tying struggles. But more important than my lack of dexterity with rope is this instruction from God to bind his Word to our bodies. It’s a curious metaphor. Or is it?

Some see this verse not as literary device, but as literal. For millennia, Jewish priests have crafted small leather boxes called phylacteries. They fill these boxes with bits of Scripture and tie (bind) them to their arm and forehead (I wonder what knot they use?). Even though it would make for great water cooler conversation, the strapping of small boxes to our person is a bit unusual. Still, the command to bind deserves serious attention.

Binding can be bad, like the shackles of slavery. It can be wonderful, like the covenant of marriage. It can be neutral, like the binding of a book.

Syntax aside, what’s fascinating is that God wants His truth stuck to us. It’s to be part of who we are and how we live. This suggests God’s Word is more than paper and ink. It’s has life outside small boxes. God’s Word is living, active, useful and profitable (see Hebrews 4:12 & 2 Timothy 3:16). And the places God tells us to bind it are wonderfully strategic.

Look at your hands. What are they doing right now? What were they doing this morning? Who or what have they touched in the last 24-hours? What gestures have you made? Have you held, hit, hugged or hoarded? Has the work of your hands been directed by God’s principles? If you saw a phylactery on your forearm, would it cause you pause? Remember the WWJD bracelet craze? Those bracelets were a 20-century phylactery. In the time I donned mine, it can attest to the power it had over my behavior – at least for a while.

Consider your eyes. Eyes are extraordinary receptors. They pipe an unending stream of information. What our eyes gather has the power to influence our words, thoughts, deeds and attitudes. What have you looked at today? If you had a Bible verse taped to your forehead, what would you focus on more? Less? Not at all? There is power in the phylactery. It’s an outward indicator of our faith commitment. It demands accountability. Like WWJD garb.

These thoughts of binding remind me of a song I often sang in my pre-AWANA years:

O be careful little eyes what you see

O be careful little eyes what you see
There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down with love
So, be careful little eyes what you see.
O be careful little ears what you hear…
O be careful little hands what you do…
O be careful little feet where you go…
O be careful little mouth what you say…

Yes, it’s a cute song. But it mustn’t over-sentimentalize my need as a follower of Jesus to act as such. Metaphor or not, I can’t go wrong as a person, partner, parent or professional when I’m bound to the truth and love of God’s written word. I want to be fastened to Scripture so its timeless truth might seep into my pores and season to a Christ-exalting savory-ness.

And I’m grateful no knots are required.

Mining Fields of Grief

Despite being an introvert, my fondness for conversation is growing.

With the recent passing of my father, these past two weeks have been filled with conversations. Some focused on memories and recollections. Others were teary-eyed offerings of sympathy. And many began with emotion-choked words that quickly slipped into a gentle, silent embrace that communicated more than words ever could.

The day of my dad’s funeral, in the quiet of the church foyer I conversed with a friend. As she held my hand and fixed her eyes on mine, she spoke to me. Her words were purposeful. Piercing. Spirit-filled. Wise. She drew me into a sacred moment—a moment that has stolen my thoughts often in recent days.

Through that simple conversation, I was given a profound perspective on death. With her verbal and non-verbal communicating, my friend led me to an understanding of how we lay the dead to rest. As the sun streamed through the foyer’s glass doors, her soft, careful, intimate words brought life to Ecclesiastes 7:2—“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” (NIV)

As my friend and I talked, music played gently in the auditorium. I watched my mother worry her overly used tissue. One of my children nestled close to my side seeking the comfort of my touch. My father’s body laid an arms-length away. I was in a house of mourning. And it was wonderful.

The words of God, the conversation with my friend and the atmosphere of a small church foyer coalesced for a few surreal moments. My soul was shaken as it kindled the hope that God reveals Himself not just in life, but also in death. For the first time I felt a desire to mine funeral grief for bits of redemptive treasure. Funerals need not be empty goodbyes. They are opportunities to rescue beauty and truth from the grasp of humanity’s most painful, broken inevitability. The death of my father was a slice of history from which I can take something and keep it alive through my own living.

My heart is full. And heavy. Before, during and after dad’s relocation to heaven, my family has been surrounded and sheltered with love. Countless expressions of grace have bolstered our faith through this trying time. All we can do is respond with deepest gratitude.

Through my father’s death, my longing for restoration has intensified. But in the waiting, I rest in our Great Hope, Jesus Christ. And, thanks to a friend, I will engage funerals with expectation. Yes, I will grieve. I will comfort. I will cry. I will love. But I will also beg God to show Himself in fresh ways as I sit in a house of mourning.