Sundays are odd.
There are Sundays that seem routine. That shouldn’t be. I know that. You know that. But it is truth. There are some Sundays when we show up to church, and it is good–good to see each other, good to study together, good to worship together, good to listen to scripture as it is preached from the pulpit, good to pray together, good to be together, as a corporate body, before we start another work week.
Every Sunday is “good”, for the most part, in that sense. It is always, always good, to worship. corporately, as a family. Even on the hard days.
But sometimes–sometimes it “feels” routine. Or, sometimes, it “feels” as though God is, well, not exactly absent, per se. Maybe more that He is present, but we can’t sense His presence so much. Or, something like that.
I can’t find the right words, obviously. But what I do know is this: this morning was not one of those mornings.
I went to bed last night, nursing a crazy sore throat and unsure if I’d be able to croak out either the worship set, or the duet I was slated to sing with a friend this morning. But it felt well enough to do both, and I am so, so very glad.
And, here’s why.
When we started to practice the duet early this morning–His Eye is on the Sparrow–the pianist who was on the schedule to play a song during the offertory later in the service approached us. Of all the songs in her songbooks, she, too, had picked His Eye is on the Sparrow to play this morning.
That can’t be made up.
She told us why she had chosen it–she and a couple of senior adult ladies had had lunch together this week, and they were remembering a friend of theirs, who also meant much to me, as well, who had passed away a few years ago. Her name was Ann, and she loved this song. I had no idea. I loved Ann. So much.
That can’t be made up. She didn’t change the song, and we sang and played it, twice.
And I am so, so, so very grateful, to have had that opportunity. It was real. It was worship. I am so grateful
(And yes, if you happened to be there, your eyes were correct, I sang the duet in my neon striped socks, with my plaid purple/black skirt, because halfway through the worship set I realized there was no way I could sing that duet in boots with heels. My apologies, sincerely. However, it wouldn’t have been pretty, had I tried. Thus, socks.)
But, even more so, was the sermon we heard this morning, from our pastor, Michael Howard.
Best words I have ever heard, on parenting. I am still overwhelmed by them, this afternoon. (You can listen by clicking here.)
The core verses are found in Ephesians 6:1-4:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” 4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Our pastor had solid things to say to the children in the audience, about the importance of obedience. And I’m so glad, not so much because I think children need to hear that they need to obey–of course they need to hear that. But one step further than that, it was the way he addressed them–in such a way that was respectful of them, and helped make us all realize that what is preached from the pulpit, regardless of the subject, is for everyone. Children are not second-hand members. They need God’s word planted deeply in their souls every bit as much as we do as adults. Scripture is relative, regardless of age, position, economic status, culture. Scripture is relative.
But here is the part, that dug deep into my soul: Do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Whew. And here is why. For me, at least.
When the kids were little; and, truly, even as short as 7-8 years ago, I was a harsh parent. Maybe one step past harsh. Maybe 10 steps past harsh.
And, I have much sorrow over that, now. I wish I could erase so much.
But, here’s the thing:
My God has changed me. I am different. I am evidence that grace, and mercy, and forgiveness are real.
There was a time that I wasn’t even sure how, or if, I loved my kids. And that tormented me.
But, whew, my God changed me. I love my crew to a level that I never knew was possible.
However. However–listen closely to this–I am not capable of this, on my own. I am not. And, neither are you.
I still mess up, often. Always will. Always will. I have a master’s degree, in failing.
But here is the thing. God has replaced the core harshness, and, frankly, at times cruel fabric of who I was, with a kinder, more gentle awareness that can only be explained like this: it comes, from Him, and Him alone.
We are taught that Jesus was meek. That’s always been a hard word for me, because it conjures up an image in my brain of weakness. And, we are told in scripture, to put on “meekness”, in Colossians 3:12 and elsewhere. And, honestly, I’ve always scoffed at that. I’m tough. Not only am I tough, I like being tough. I get much (prideful, ugh) strength from being tough. My friend, Ann, was tough. It’s one of the reasons I admired her so.
But a pastor brother/friend once challenged and pushed me hard on this, and I am not really sure that I fully grasped what he was getting at, until this morning. Jesus’ meekness was not a weakness. There was nothing weak about Jesus. There is no evidence, in scripture, that Jesus was not tough.
But, there was a sense in which his meekness–His gentleness, His tenderness, His compassion for those He came in contact with, was more powerful–infinitely more powerful–than had He launched a military campaign to destroy His enemies and come into full reign while He was here.
Because His compassion–and His gentleness, and His tenderness toward the people, and toward you, and toward me–coupled with His obedience to His father, is what led to the cross.
And we need the cross infinitely more than we need a worldly leader. We need the cross infinitely more. Because our souls, and our minds, need forgiveness. And salvation. And justification. We Need His Meekness. And so do our children.
And one way to show the compassion of Christ to our children, is this: through our own obedience to this scripture here in Ephesians 6: Do not provoke your children to anger.
Our children need our gentleness. Our compassion. Our love. Our meekness. That doesn’t mean we are weak in our parenting. They still need discipline, very much so. Very much so. There are times when the severity of the situation warrants a raised voice, or disciplinary action. But guess what? We also need that from compassionate, gentle, meek Jesus. Because we need His love:
We need the overwhelming power and strength that emanates from the gentle combination of compassion and discipline we receive from God. Our children, also, need that from God.
And, they need it from us, as their parents. And the only source we have for obedience to Ephesians 6, is through God providing us the means for that obedience.
As I looked over the congregation from the stage as we sang the last song, I was nearly overwhelmed. The altar was full of parents praying together–pleading with God for their children. I saw my pastor as he stood in tears, after praying at the altar for his two very young sons. I saw parents in their seats, weeping for their children. And, I saw my crew up in the balcony, and I was nearly wrecked, in a good way, for what God has done for us. For me, in not only pursuing me, and making me to know that He is real and He is truth, but also in changing me, to love my kids to a level I never thought would be possible.
I love my kids.
And that, my friends, is God’s grace.
The sound/video quality of this is not very good, but here is a bit of what my girl captured on her phone this morning. It was such a tremendous gift to get to sing this song today. Huge. It was not nothing, and I am so, so very thankful.