Peace in the Family?

I’ve been thinking a lot about child-parent relationships lately – mainly because I’m already trying to develop one with my own little girl. (A few months left before a face-to-face visit, but I’m already making sure to spend time with her nearly every night, talking to her, playing her music, and giving her some rubs. My wife’s not sure how to feel about the whole thing, but she’s being a good sport while I talk to her tummy.)

Not only has my own child’s impending birth got me thinking, but a passage in Romans got me thinking as well. See, Paul and I used to never get along. Growing up, my understanding of Paul was limited – I saw him as an angry grump who decided to switch to a Greek mindset once the Jewish community had ousted him enough times. I saw his trips to the synagogues in each town as more of a “let’s get this over with” deal. And because of that, the way I read his work was through a primarily Greek mindset – using philosophies built on Plato and Aristotle via the Middle Ages and Enlightenment. Recently, though, I have had a rather profound “duh” moment when I had an author (NT Wright) point out that Paul remained strikingly Jewish throughout his life and writings. Suddenly, I realized I need more insight into that line of thinking, and so I undertook a journey through the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and began listening to Rabbis to get a better grasp of how Jews view the Torah. And, fellow Christians, we’ve been missing so much!

Anyway, back to Paul, in chapter 5, he speaks about how we now have peace with God – a relationship… a parent-child relationship. In the previous chapter, he talked about how faith is the basis of Covenant membership now and how Abraham had been given covenant membership before his circumcision and the giving of the law. So now, the whole world is eligible for covenant membership based on faith – in trusting God who sent Jesus and raised him from the dead. And on that basis of being called “in the right” we have peace with God, a reconciled relationship.

The idea of reconciliation of family is a theme that runs deep in Jewish thought, and especially the Torah and Prophets. In Genesis, we see four sets of brothers, who become increasingly reconciled, but never reach the point of complete peace: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and Joseph and his brothers. Joseph and his brothers come the closest, but his brothers still remain on edge in case Joseph decides to revoke his kindness and pay them back. The Prophets continually use the metaphor of family reconciliation to talk about the time when God will forgive the idolatry of His people and heal the relationship between them. Both of these threads tie up nicely in the person of Jesus who made that peace possible through his own faithfulness in Israel’s place.

Sigmund Freud’s lesser known theories include one that the source of all conflict is sibling rivalry – that each child is vying for resources, particularly parental love and affection. Children may perceive parental love as a limited resource, rather than the unceasing fountain that it often is.

As I’ve wondered, I reach this point: how will I make sure my children understand that love will never run out? How do I give them each the affection they need to keep them convinced of their status of peace in the family?

How does your love model God’s to your kids? How do your priorities show your kids that love?

Table Triumphs

I recently finished a book called Eight Flavors by Sarah Lohman, which is a history of several flavors that have become uniquely American. It covers several of my favorites, including vanilla, garlic, and chili powder. (I highly recommend the book. It’s written in a conversational tone, gives lots of stories, and provides surprising information.) Learning about the history of food helps me to appreciate the long, or surprisingly short, histories of the flavors that make up my favorite dishes. It got me to thinking… what are the flavors of my own history?

Honestly, the book has me pegged as far as flavors go. Vanilla has always been used in my house. Now, some houses use vanillin, the artificial extract which, scientifically, does work better in cookies. Growing up, my mother had discovered Mexican vanilla during her trips to Texas and visits to Progresso, Mexico. There is something unique about vanilla produced in Mexico that provides a depth of flavor that makes any dessert truly special. In fact, this stuff is so precious to us that any member of the family that goes near Mexico is charged with bringing home several bottles. To this day, I have a bottle of Mexican vanilla that I bake with, and I am looking forward to sharing this flavor with my little girl once she gets here.

Butter. Scoff all you like, butter was and still is a flavor in my house, as it was growing up with my parents. During the “oil is better” craze in past decades, my parents still believed in butter. Butter added a richness to grilled cheeses, a presence to mashed potatoes, and provided a weight to scrambled eggs that is unmatched in my opinion. Butter was a topping on popcorn, a way to fry food, and a lubricant for pans and baking sheets that did more that create a non-stick layer – it added flavor. Today I live differently by using unsalted butter, but the butter is still ever-present. As I grow and cook more, I’m beginning to truly appreciate butter and how it behaves in the pan and in dishes. My family has never been able to make good friends with margarine, but butter has always been welcome.

Sage. Why sage? It seems like such an odd herb. To me, this herb has just the right about of bite, savoriness, and sharpness to create something magical – see breakfast sausage. Sage is one of the primary flavorings of our breakfast sausage (or at least the way I make it.) Sausage was something that we ate often growing up – Tennessee Country Pride, if I recall the brand correctly. We’d usually go for the mild, but every once in a while we’d accidentally grab one of the hot ones and have quite the surprise at the breakfast table. My dad prepared sausage – and was up earlier than the rest of us, so he made breakfast every morning for us. Sausage and egg days were the best. And then, on the weekend, that same sausage would be crumbled up and made into a cream gravy that would cover our biscuits in a goodness so rich, you’d have to take a mid-morning nap after eating it. Sage’s sharpness would shine through at each stage of that process, providing a lightness to the gravy that might not have been there otherwise.

Banana. And here’s where we take the turn into left field. There is one dessert that will cause me to go out of my way – banana pudding. Call me simple, that’s fine, but even an adequate banana pudding is ambrosia and joy to me. My mother would get a wild hare every once in a while and make these banana puddings, layering pudding with bananas and nilla wafers that I still remember. We’ve always talked about driving over to the Banana Pudding Festival (yes they have one, and it must be a beautiful sight!) near Memphis, but we usually have something else going on that weekend. If you ever go, eat a second helping in my stead. Or, really, whenever you eat banana pudding, go ahead and eat a second helping in my stead… Or better yet, bring me some?

Mint. I love mint. Put it in just about anything and I will be exceedingly happy. My dad and I share this flavor – and it all started for me when I ordered mint chocolate chip ice cream like my dad. My tongue fell in love, and has been adoringly enamored ever since. We both put mint jelly/sauce on our cuts of lamb, and enjoy it in candy bars. To gripe for a second, who at Hershey’s decided that getting rid of the mint chocolate cookie bar over a decade and a half ago was a good idea? No, seriously, and the nasty white chocolate cookie bar survived that purge? Did someone mistake one for the other, because I have been a touch bitter about that ever since – and yes, it was over 15 years ago at this point. I still remember spending the night at my friend Aaron’s house in high school and we would brew tea with fresh mint from his garden. Sure, maybe we were weird, but sweet tea with freshly crushed mint is a delicious treat on any day, especially those hot summer days.

These are just a few of the flavors I love, and that my parents passed on to me. These flavors make up a part of who I am, and are flavors I will hopefully pass on to my kids. See, to my family, food is something to be celebrated and shared… unless it’s unbearably good, and then you stash it and hope no one finds it. Seriously, though, we tend to tell long stories about the meals we’ve eaten, while eating a meal. We reminisce about trips we’ve taken, and the restaurants or snacks we found on the way. My grandfather always said, “All you get is what you wear and what you eat.” And we take the second part of that statement and run with it… right to the kitchen.

Consider that food is important, especially in the Bible, as a way to remember. Don’t forget that God commanded a yearly meal to remember the Jewish family’s story of being rescued by God from slavery in Egypt. Jesus instructed his followers to eat part of that same meal to remember his family’s story of being rescued by God from slavery to sin and death. Food tells a story. What story does your dinner tell your kids?

What flavors make up your history? What flavors have you shared with your kids? What are your food stories? What places can you take your family that you went to as a child?

Not Even Once

If you haven’t heard lately, the latest actually troubling news concerning a drug epidemic is taking place in lower income white families with the advent of increased use of opioids. The things about these drugs is that they are usually prescription, meaning that drugs typically used to control pain are being found and used or traded from inside the house. You know, that old horror movie chestnut: “It’s coming from inside the house!” I don’t write this to create more fear, only awareness that there is an issue. Also to point out that most families do not store these medications properly. Opioids are highly addicting and have caused many problems for those simply wanting to ease chronic pain who end up needing more and more of these substances to achieve the same effect.

I’m not particularly at risk for this issue because of my deathly allergy to codeine, which is an opiate. Having my respiratory system nearly fail again is not high on my list of things to do today… or any day for that matter. So, literally, between my asthma and opiate avoidance, my personal list of drugs I could use recreationally is short… meaning there’s nothing on the list.

That said, I had a thought the other day, about drugs and sin. No, probably not the thought that you just had about how drugs lead to sin or vice versa. More like how sin behaves like a drug. See, sin has this effect of deteriorating our humanity. Sure, it’s not very noticeable at first, but the effects become more pronounced over time. Small lapses of morality pick up steam usually. The picture I always seemed to have growing up was that sin was making holes in the lifeboat to heaven, and only Jesus could fix it. But what if sin had much more immediate, and destructive effects.

The first 11 chapters of Genesis show clearly the dehumanizing effects of sin, and how humanity sank further and further into its own self-glorification and away from God’s order. Romans 1-2 use the context of Genesis 1-11 to┬ádetail how God’s created order is disrupted by sin, how truth and morality become distorted and confused. As sin eats away at how God created us, we can see an analogy in how hard some drugs are on the human body. The body ages, cracks, scars, and decays as the drugs take their toll. Sin twists our perspective, damages relationships, and drives us away from God.

And we all have taken sin. We’ve all fallen short of reflecting God’s glory, we have all given over our loyalty and authority to objects or people instead of God, and we have all felt the sting and decay of sin that leads to destruction. And this is where the new life of Jesus changes everything. God restores us by granting us the life to come now in anticipation of the age to come when God will restore all of His creation. We become truly what we were made to be: the image of God reflecting praise to God and God’s glory and order into the world.

Have you had a conversation with your kids about making wise choices with medication and drugs? How do you model the life to come in the way you forgive, apologize, and show love to your family and others? What does it mean to you to be a restored, complete human made in God’s image for a purpose?

National Day of Prayer

I got to spend my morning focused on prayer. My day started a bit earlier than usual as I arrived here at work to prepare to partner with the school attached to our building. I did my personal prayer, following a devotional format that’s been around for several centuries now. Then, I ran audio/visual for the school as they used song, movement, words, and writing to direct their morning prayers. They then prayed over many different aspects of family and society at prayer stations led by people who filled those roles. After a short break I led a session on praying for the president of the United States. Finally, the groups prayed for the media. The rest of my morning dealt with organizing prayer response times for the next few months in our Sunday morning program in the elementary age group.

Prayer has been a big part of my day, and it still is as mysterious as it is effective. We compared it to the lift on an airplane today – invisible, but powerful enough to lift a heavy object into the air. I am still amazed at how God answers prayers – especially when it happens in a way I never expected. He is faithful and continues to show it.

I want to brag on my preteens. I set up prayer stations for our overnight retreat a week or so ago that covered the stories of Gideon and Mary. (Both had similar experiences of a messenger out of the blue, a big ask, and their own questioning, and final acceptance of their call.) Five stations covered their stories using silent prayer, prostrate (face-down) prayer, writing, and drawing. Would you believe nine 10-12-year-olds were quiet enough to hear a pin drop while they listened, prayed, and responded to God’s prompting?

Kids are capable of connecting with God easier than adults, I think. They haven’t set up as many mental blocks to that kind of direct communication with God. Adults often feel silly or wonder if their prayers are being heard. Ask a child to talk with God, and they’ll do it without hesitation – and without any kind of doubt whether or not God hears them. This, in part, is what I think Jesus was talking about when he says that we need to have faith like a child. Faith here being a trust that goes beyond simple belief.

So take some time today, be silent, be prayerful. Write a letter, a poem, or draw a picture while you talk to God. Just spend some time with Him. He is a Parent, so we know He enjoys time with His kids. Don’t come in as an adult with qualms and feeling like it’s silly – be like a child.

What does your prayer life at home look like? How do you model prayer at home? What do you most often pray about? Do you mark and celebrate answered prayers with your family?