May 20, 2001
One of the most documented acts of nature is that of the Pacific Northwest salmon returning upstream to its place of birth to reproduce before it dies. It swims from three to ten miles a day against the current for a total distance of hundreds perhaps thousands of miles to get back to its birthplace. The spectacular part of this return trip is when it encounters waterfalls that must be ascended. It has been observed swimming a sheer ten-foot waterfall in one leap. Higher falls can be conquered by a series of tall leaps from shelf to shelf for a total distance of maybe forty or fifty feet.
In addition to these natural obstacles, there are other dangers: hungry bears, hungry humans, pollution, and disease that cause many to die before they reach home.
This year, there is another obstacle, drought. This year the Pacific Northwest has faced drought conditions so terrible that some of those most important salmon routes like the Columbia River are well below normal water levels. The salmon may not make it to their spawning grounds.
The image of the struggling salmon, trying to move against the flow, facing all sorts of risks, reminds me of us. Of moms and dads, kids and grandparents, struggling to move forward against the currents that seek to compromise us or destroy us.
As we continue to look at temptations that families face, we come face to face with the one that all families face – the temptation to let life’s rush swallow us up. Once again I am indebted to Tom Eisenman’s book, “Temptations That Families Face: Breaking Patterns That Keep Us Apart” for the title of today’s sermon.
Our text is Galatians 6:9, “So don’t get tired of doing what is good. Don’t get discouraged and give up, for we will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time.”
It seems to me that I have been using the word ‘debate’ quite a bit lately. But, it is a word that describes our times. We debate, we discuss, anything and everything. Talk radio, opinion columns, news shows, tabloid journalism – all of these media – have so much debate as part of their formats, that it gets wearying after a while, doesn’t it?
One of those debates deals with the quality time vs. quantity time issue. On the one hand, we have those who say it does not matter how much time a family spends together; it is the quality that counts. The other side says the opposite. You need to spend lots of time with your kids, it doesn’t matter what you are doing, just that you are together. Who’s right? They both are!
It has been said that the family that prays together stays together. I would suggest this morning that we need to do more than just pray. We need to understand that the family that is together stays together because that is how God designed families to function.
As I said last week, the family is God’s first curriculum. But, we have to convene the class (be together, stay together) in order to teach the lessons. And like the salmon, we have obstacles that challenge us to be and stay together.
St Paul’s words in our text today provide us with some help in not letting life’s rush swallow us up.
Don’t get tired of doing what is good. Aaron Tippen recorded a song several years ago that said, “you’ve got to stand for somethin’ or you’ll fall for anything.” But, what is that we are to stand for? Once again our debating culture tells us there is lots to stand for. If we are to take the Bible seriously however, then it narrows the field considerably of what we are to stand for.
What is this ‘good’ that he is speaking about? Is it good words? Is it good thoughts? Is it whatever we determine ‘good’ to be? Which, by the way, is a common assumption in our times – what ever is ‘good’ is what we say it is.
But, scripture is not an option if we are to live out the Christian faith day in and day out. Scripture is our guide, our reference point that we cannot ignore, as much as we like to. It is the word of God given to us to live the right way.
So, ‘good’ as defined in this passage is about doing God’s good. God’s good is about forgiveness, reconciliation; it is about being transformed into the image of God. It is about love, joy, peace, and those issues. It is about compassion and mercy and justice. It is about balance and wholeness that come as we live with the right priorities in place. Things that help families stay afloat and not drown.
Doing good is an antidote to one of the biggest rocks that we crash against in trying to stay afloat – conflict. Conflict is a part of life and can be a doorway to growth or decline. It all depends on how we handle it.
The Bible is a book about conflict. In fact the central story of scripture is about the conflict between God and humanity brought about by humanity’s choices to do it’s own thing.
There is family conflict in the Bible. For example, in Genesis 4 we read of conflict between the first brother – Cain and Abel. Anger and jealousy, two are big obstacles to staying afloat and not letting life’s rush overwhelm us, led to the death of Abel
Not only are we to do good, writes Paul we are also to refrain from letting discouragement cause us to give up. Paul Eisenman identifies three temptations that will dunk us into the rush of life’s maddening pace by discouraging us and causing us to give up.
The first is something I mentioned last week but in less specific way. It is the popular idea that “having more money and possessions will somehow make us happy.”
Eisenman says, “We feel the pressure to acquire more things to appear successful and achieve happiness. . . . We become accustomed to living above our means, convincing ourselves that we can’t live without the things we have.”
When we are unable to do this, discouragement, of the wrong kind of course, sets in. We give up. We give up hope. We give up our faith. And we begin to go under. That is not God’s will for us and our families.
David’s son Solomon followed his father of King of Israel. Solomon asked God for wisdom. God granted his request and Solomon became known for his great ability to govern.
Solomon also became rich beyond belief. However, he also began to forget about who really made him king and the relationship with God that he needed to continuously develop. Soon he was swallowed up by his wealth and affluence. He became the husband of many wives, not just one, and is believed to have written the book Ecclesiastes in which he pens words of cynicism and despair that can be summed up in chapter 1 vs. 2 “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless!”
A second ideal that becomes an irresistible barrier to us, writes Eisenman, is the need, the drive to “become the perfect parent.” He tells the story of a committed Christian family whose lives, especially that of mom, comes crashing down when it is discovered that one of their children makes some choices that has shameful consequences.
As the family deals with the aftermath of the choices made, the one child says, “Mom, you always do things for me, but you never do anything with me.” Eisenman goes on to say “unless we learn to adjust our expectations, accept our limitations and still feel good about ourselves, we will find it impossible to balance our lifestyle.”
In this instance, the doing good for this family would have been to be with their kids instead of just being there for them. There is a world of difference.
One of the tragedies we face is when parents and families get discouraged as the result of trying times and wrong choices and simply give up. That is not God’s will, He wants to help us get back up and move forward. He is a God of second chances.
The third challenge notes Eisenman is the challenge of self-fulfillment. “We are led to believe that we will find ultimate happiness and fulfillment through a process of continual self-discovery and self-satisfaction. Some act as if it is a crime to harbor any unfulfilled need.”
Several times in the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John Jesus reminded people of the cost of following him. For example, in Luke 9:57-62 we read of his encounters with three different individuals who either want to become or are invited to become disciples.
In all three cases there is something that keeps them from doing so. Some that probably has to do with some aspect of self-fulfillment.
For one it is the expectation of an easy life to which Jesus responds with “Can you live without home base?”
In the second situation, a man is invited to become a disciple of Jesus. The man wants to return home and bury his father. But, Jesus says something that appears harsh and uncaring, “Let the spiritually dead care for their own. Your duty is to go and preach the coming of the Kingdom of God.” What did Jesus mean by that?
Leon Morris has written that in that time “the duty of burial took precedence” over everything else that was important to the Jewish people of that day. Morris goes on to point out that to Jesus, “the demands of the kingdom were more urgent” than anything else. In other words Jesus was saying that “your father is gone, let those who do not have a passion for God take care of his burial. You follow me.”
Finally, the third person says, “I’ll go with you Jesus! Let me tell my family good-bye.” Jesus knows that there is probably going to be hesitation in the person when he faces his family to say good-bye. So he says, “anyone who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
But, our main text this morning ends on a hope that is reachable. That can occur, if we are willing and able, through the power and help of the Holy Spirit, to keeping doing what is good and not give up.
We will reap a harvest of blessing at the appropriate time. I think that all of us here this morning can reflect on a time when our commitment and sacrifice paid off and we were rewarded with either some type of formal recognition or a sense of positive self-satisfaction. It was great wasn’t it?
But, as far as our families are concerned staying above water has more to do with running a marathon than a 100-meter dash. Families are made up of people and people are not machines and they require a different approach to help them function like they should.
Here are some practical ways to help us keep from getting swallowed up by life’s rush:
1. Learn to say “no.” There are many good things to be involved in, but pick a few and be content with those.
2. Practice a “sabbatical” in some area of your family life. In the OT a provision was made for debts to be forgiven and land to lie fallow every 7 years. Talk about burdens being lifted! How might a sabbatical be applied to your family life?
3. Remember that the goal of parenting is to partner with God in the development of responsible and maturing adults. Keeping this goal in mind can help us stay afloat during the rough and rapid times of family life.
May 4 marked the 10th anniversary of my father’s death. I had graduated the weekend before from Western Michigan University and I was looking for full-time employment and considering a return to the ministry so, employment was a major issue for me
I had my last conversation with my dad two days before he died. His last words to me, one that I will always remember, were, “Son, I am praying that God will lead you to the right job.”
But what made my father’s words so memorable was his tone of voice. There was a quiet soothing tone to his voice that I had never heard before. And I would never hear again.
I remember that voice and those words from time to time and they help me to remember that my father did not give up, he did not let discouragement keep him down, and he did and has received a harvest of blessing, but not just because he was my dad.
It was because many years ago he made a commitment as child that carried him through grade school, junior high and high school, the battlefields of Korea, the stress of a high pressure civilian job in our nation’s defense, the challenges of church leadership, the ups and downs of mid-life, and the responsibility of being a husband and father.
He stayed afloat and did not let the pressures of life swallow him, or us up. Although there were times when it seemed that way. No we stay afloat because both of my parents counted the cost and left everything to follow Jesus and that influence and legacy now has an impact at a home on _____ St and at a church on S ____ St. in Kendallville, Indiana.
God stands ready to help us stay afloat. He does not want us or our families to drown either in discouragement or in the drought of despair. Reach out to Him and He will help you and your family as you allow Him to. Amen.