17 June, 2012

Cultivating Honor in the Land

A long time ago, the classic Greek philosopher Plato said this-

“What is honored in the land will be cultivated there.”  

Our western culture has created this uncanny predicament.  It’s the situation where we reward people for thinking alike and as a result, consider those who take exception to the current consensus as a little weird.

You can call the phenomenon peer pressure... critical mass... whatever. The problem is that we, in our human-ness, forget things.  Things that we should remember.  And in just a few generations, we can end up forming consensus around the wrong things and forgetting the right things.  Just one degree of separation every year can change everything in a few decades....

I believe we’ve done that with the idea of honor.  

These days, it seems there are fewer and fewer things - noble things - that we honor.  Plato was probably right, maybe we’ve just lost sight of honor because somewhere along the way, we have just become neglectful of cultivating it.

What do we cultivate in our culture?  Academics?  Athletic Ability?  Beauty?  Wealth?

So, maybe a great place for us to begin today, Father’s Day - a day when we’re supposed to honor our dads -  is to unpack what honor means and learn how to cultivate it... God’s way!

One of the places in America where honor is cultivated.. the kind of honor we need to cultivate is Arlington Cemetery. There, amidst the graves lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This tomb is guarded by our military. A special breed of men who stand by a stellar creed:

The Sentinels Creed
My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted. 

In the responsibility bestowed on me never will I falter. 

And with dignity and perseverance my standard will remain perfection. 

Through the years of diligence and praise and the discomfort of the elements, 

I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability. 

It is he who commands the respect I protect. 

His bravery that made us so proud. 

Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day. 
alone in the thoughtful peace of night, 

this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.

Webster's defines the word honor as "to regard or treat as one with superior standing or respect. That is what we do at Arlington Cemetery. As Americans, we have made the commitment to honor those men who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.  Since 1921, we have honored these unidentified, fallen men who served in every major conflict our nation has experienced.  Since July 2, 1937, there has been a military guard posted at the site 24 hours a day.  In just two weeks, we can say that we have had non-stop guard at this tomb for the last 75 years.  Through hurricanes, storms, blizzards... they’ve been there for 75 years.

Did you ever think about WHY we do that?  President Warren G. Harding who laid the first soldier to rest there said it best, “ We know not whence he came, but only that his death marks him with the everlasting glory of an American dying for his country.”

But I think it goes even deeper than that.  My theory is that we do this also because the families of these special soldiers were never able to honor them personally.  

As we think about the three men who are buried in the tomb of the unknowns, we really don’t know anything about their character, their integrity or their skill.  We don’t really know if they were good soldiers or bad soldiers: good husbands or band husbands; good sons or bad sons.  What we honor is that fact they died for our country.   It’s the position they meritoriously hold. And for the last 75 years, our nation has placed an armed guard at their tomb because of their position.

If there was ever a place where we cultivate “honor”, it’s at Arlington National Cemetery.  

Long before Plato, God gave us an assignment that centered on the idea of honor.  He gave it to us in the initial instructions he gave Moses for His people - the 10 Commandments.

Spend a little time with the commandments in Exodus 20 and you’ll see a couple of patterns emerge.  Last month, when I wrote about Romans 7, we looked at “Big 10”!  Let’s do it again!

1) “You shall have no other God’s before Me.”
2) “You shall not make for yourself and idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven or on the earth beneath... You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God...”
3) You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain...”
4) Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy...  (remember to unplug & undo)
5) Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you...
6) You shall not murder...
7) You shall not commit adultery...
8) You shall not steal...
9) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor...
10) You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

First grouping of commandments (1 - 4) is about our relationship with God; the second grouping is about our relationship with others.

The central verse between the two groups is the fifth commandment. It’s unique in that it separates these two sections.  Theologians tell us that’s significant because it communicates priority. It’s also unique because out of all these commandments, this commandment is the only one that holds for us a promise.  There is a spiritual connection between the length of your days on earth and how you honor your parents.  

Let me say here that none of this is original to me.  Over the years, I have sat under great pastors and leaders who have helped me see these things I’m sharing with you in a new light.  Most of all, Dennis Rainey showed me the power of honoring our parents. So as I continue with this message, I will openly acknowledge that Dennis is the source for most of these things I’m sharing today.  Dennis Rainey says that honoring our parents is most often a “spiritual barometer” of our relationship with God.  In his book, “The Best Gift You Can Ever Give Your Parents”, Rainey reminds us that it's the position of parents that requires we honor them. It has nothing to do with their performance.

So just like the unknowns in Arlington, in the same way, we should honor the office given to our parents by God.

Before I talk about what it means specifically to honor our parents, Rainey reminds us about what honoring is not.  
  • Honoring is not endorsing your parents irresponsibility
  • Honoring is not denying what they’ve done wrong
  • Honoring is not approval of their wrong actions or choices
  • Honoring is not placing yourself back under their submission (physically or emotionally)
  • Honoring is not denying the emotional or physical pain they may have caused you or your family.

He adds that here’s what honoring your parents means:
  • Honoring your parents is choosing to place great value on your relationship with them.
  • Honoring your parents means you will take the initiative to improve or pursue the relationship.
  • Honoring your parents means you will submit to their authority until you’ve been emancipated.
  • Honoring is acknowledging what they have done right in your life and passed on to you as their legacy.
  • Honoring means seeing them through the eyes of Christ - with compassion and understanding - seeing them for what they could be and not what they are!
  • Honoring means you forgive them as Christ has forgiven you.

If our time in the book of Romans has taught us anything so far, it’s that if we live our lives in the flesh this, in some cases, would be impossible.  But if we live in the Spirit, God marshalls forces you can’t even imagine to come alongside us to accomplish these things. Remember... this is HIS WILL FOR US to honor our parents!

As we Honor our parents, Rainey reminds us there are at least three different “GIFTS” we can give them.  So, if you haven’t picked up that gift for dad yet, listen to what you could give him by beginning or continuing your journey of honor for him.

1) The Gift of Understanding:
Proverbs 24: 3-4 says, “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”
If you have a difficult time relating to your dad or maybe he has hurt you, what you may need is a different perspective.  Maybe you need just to look at them through new eyes.  Our natural bent toward the negative helps us to focus on their mistakes.  So instead of judging or condemning let’s seek first to understand him.  It was Mark Twain that said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned.”

2) The Gift of Compassion:
Colossians 3:12-13 says,Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Until you have raised kids of your own, you tend to forget how exhausting and difficult raising kids can be.  Realize that you don’t even know about 99% of the work your mom and dad went through to get you raised.  1 Peter 3:9 says, Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” Our natural reaction is retaliation!  But our supernatural reaction is Offer your dad the gift of compassion.  Pray for him.  Be available so that God can use you in his life!

3) The Gift of Forgiveness
Scripture is clear on this one.  If we fail to forgive and or seek forgiveness, the result is an angry heart, resentment and bitterness.  Left to fester, unforgiveness is like relationship cancer.  It destroys any chance for deep, satisfying, long-term relationships.

Sometimes though, it seems our mom and dad need to be punished.  And denying them a relationship can be an obvious response.  But it’s a sad loop.  When revenge is the only ace you have up your relational sleeve, you will lose the game.

Maybe you’re thinking:  “You have no idea what he did.  Or didn’t do.”    Remember this, the longer you carry a grudge, the heavier it gets. Don’t spend your energy on anger.  

If you want to break a cycle a bitterness and unresolved conflict with your dad today.  Forgive him.  Giving true honor demands that we forgive.  Claiming the name of Christ demands that we forgive.  When our Savior was brutally murdered, he looked at those men who were the very instruments of death for him and said, “Father, forgive them for they do know not what they are doing.”  - Luke 23:35

Here are four truths about forgiveness:
1) Forgiveness embraces the offenders.  Jesus offered forgiveness to the very people who hurt him the most.  And he offered it while they were still hurting him.

2) Forgiveness says you give up all your rights to punish.  Colossians 2:13-14 says, And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,14 by canceling the certificate of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Jesus canceled your debt with Him.  He didn’t have to, but He did!  When you forgive, you cancel the debt.

3) Forgiveness is based on reality.  When the thief cried out to Jesus while they both hung on the cross, Jesus said to him “Truly I say to you today, you shall be with Me in paradise.”  
Jesus forgave the criminal of his sin but he did not take him off that cross.  He paid the price for his earthly sins, didn't’ he?  Forgiveness means you cancel the debt to you but it doesn’t mean you absolve from other responsibilities.  Restoration can be a challenging road and can take a very long time but the issue in YOUR heart is forgiveness... God cares most about YOUR response to the offender, not their response to you.  Romans 12:18 says “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

4) Forgiveness initiates:  God desired your fellowship so much that He made forgiveness possible for you not waiting on you to turn to him.  While were still sinners, Christ died for us. When it comes to forgiveness, we too must initiate the transaction.

So, on this Father’s Day, let’s turn our thoughts to our Dads for a moment and consider how we would honor them this day.  The way I see it, there are five categories of dads;

1) The “IN YOUR LIFE: ON YOUR LIFE DAD” -  He’s the one that it’s really easy to honor.  You just can’t remember a time in your life when he wasn’t involved. Deeply.  He sacrificed to show you how much you were valued. But it wasn’t about providing... it was about time for him.  He was not only in your life... he was life-on-life with you.  Easy to honor that kind of dad!
2) The “IN YOUR LIFE: NOT ON YOUR LIFE DAD” - He’s the dad that was around but not involved.  Some would say he was an absent father.  He showed up when there was discipline to be administered.  He worked very hard at the provision side of things or used that to explain why he wasn’t around.  Or maybe he was more absorbed in hobbies or friends.  You just didn’t feel like you were one of the top priorities of his life.  He’s a little more difficult to honor but God will help you find things to be thankful for.

These next two types of fathers will require great faith in God to honor...

3) The “
NOT IN YOUR LIFE; NOT ON YOUR LIFE DAD”:  He’s the dad you never knew you had.  He was absent, uninvolved. Maybe he abandoned you.  Maybe the place to start today with him is to forgive him?

4) The “I WISH YOU WERE NEVER IN MY LIFE DAD”:  This is the dad that was abusive. The dad who was an addict or alcoholic. Or maybe he was just angry all the time and you never knew why. Good memories of him are non-existent.  You’ve done all you can to blot him from your memory. Sometimes, because the deficit or the offense is so atrocious, it can take years to reconcile these relationships. And, in reality, it may never add up.  It could leave a gap in your life that faith must bridge.  But you can honor him today but forgiving him.

5) The “I’M NO LONGER HERE DAD” -  This is the dad that has exited this earthly plain.  And he could have been one of any of the earlier types of dads I talked about... or not. Maybe he died through the natural course of life or maybe even at his own hand. You may wonder how you can reconcile things with him now that he’s gone.  Let me tell you that you can.  You can give him the gift of understanding, compassion and forgiveness. Remember, it’s what God does in YOUR heart that matters. And we must realize is that if we leave these things unfinished, even when it appears nothing can be done about it, it can have a powerful effect on your present day relationships.  Unless you are able to walk in the fullness of the Spirit 24/7/365, you have a propensity to act out these emotional wounds in your own behavior either directly or indirectly.  And hurt people tend to hurt people.

There’s actually another type of dad that I want to remind you about.  
  • He’s the perfect dad!  
  • He’s the One who chose you.
  • He is the One who craves time with you so much that anytime you want Him, He will be there. He is the One who says, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. I’ve thought of everything you need and even better, I have it for you.”  
  • He knows that life can get crazy and He knows just what to do to calm your soul.  
  • When the storms of life come, He is a refuge and a strong tower you can trust.  
  • He knows everything about you and has determined a customized purpose and plan for your life.  
  • He will never disappoint you.  
  • His promises will never be broken and there is nothing that’s too hard for Him.
  • He’s the One that says He will never leave you.
  • He will walk with you, support you and lead you through any situation where you need help.
  • And this father, has a divine purpose to be served you you lean into Him to Honor your earthly father no matter how good or how poorly he performed.
Happy Father’s Day!

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