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When I was in the U.S. Army, I remember we had to pull guard duty many times. The purpose of guard duty was to ensure that other soldiers, equipment, or areas were protected from the enemy. I can recall that in basic training, or boot camp, we had to memorize three General Orders and the first one was, "I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved."
When we were properly relieved, there was a password that was spoken between the person on guard duty and the one that was relieving them. If the improper password was given, you were not properly relieved. The safety of all that was being guarded depended upon you, the person on guard duty. If something went wrong or the enemy was able to get access into that which you were responsible for guarding, then you were held accountable and punishment was inevitable.
(From a sermon by Melvin Maughmer, Jr., Guard Duty, 5/25/2011)
I was fortunate to grow up in a home where my father was both a loving and disciplining presence. I guess I would have to say that if there is anything I really remember about my dad is this, he possessed a presence unlike any other person in my life. To me he was always larger than life. He towered over me and just had a way of peering down at me that, depending upon the situation, could either rivet me to the spot in guilt or immediately cause me to reach out in search of his love. My dad had a smell about him that was uniquely him. There was always the faint odor of aftershave no matter what the time of day. This, mixed with the ever-present tinge of Chesterfield aroma, was always a sure sign that he had passed this way. Dad also had a unique way of clicking his teeth and clearing his throat. I knew that he was around and that my world was protected and safe when I heard those distinctively “dad” noises I had become so accustomed to. This was what made up the physical aura of my father.
There were other things about my dad that fleshed out his presence. The way he mixed his peas with his potatoes. The way he always used pepper on his food as well as the inevitable sneeze that followed. My dad wore argyle socks and very seldom wore shorts. He liked to walk barefoot in the grass while he sprinkled his precious lawn in the summer. Over the course of the years, image after image was plied upon his presence as I came to know the man in whose footsteps I knew I would some day walk. To some people his habits might have been annoying, even irritating. To me they were simply images of a man I was trying to know and conform to. Just like most boys, I wanted to be like my father when I grew up. I wanted to smell like him and sing like him. I wanted to drive a car like him and go to work like him. I swing a hammer a certain way today because that’s the way he swung it. I shave in the manner he shaved, first a swipe on the right, then the left, then under the chin and done. In this sense, dad over the course of sixteen or so years was shaping the purpose of a young man who had all of life in front of him.
As I grew older and more perceptive, I became more able in my study of the man. I began to observe his life as well as his presence. I saw his times of joy as well as his times of pain. When he lost his job I was only a little boy but I remember his deep sorrow followed by a stern commitment to make everything better. I saw his anger as well as his gentleness. The way he hugged my mom and kissed her even when we kids were around is an image I have carried with me to this day. When I left home at eighteen I was confident that I was on the way to becoming my “own man.” I didn’t find out until later that I was simply flexing my wings in pre-course to a flight that would bear a great similarity to the way my father had soared above me for years.
In the many years since I launched into my own flight as a man and a father, I can now reflect back and see the greatest lesson my dad taught me; that a man’s presence is a mixture of joy and pain. This is what makes him a man. This is what gives him purpose and value. Happiness is not all joy. Rather, it is having a purpose in life that is founded on the growth a man achieves when he builds on his misfortunes as well as his successes. The pain was as good as the joy. In fact, we can’t really know joy without the pain. To many Americans today even the suggestion that we conform to our suffering in order to know true happiness would be just plain foolishness. In a culture bent on a “no pain” attitude molded by the misguided belief that the end of all living is comfort and happiness, there is no room for such introspection. When we are confronted by trouble the first thought is to escape from it, not learn from it. Our purpose has become a purpose bent on escape from pain. The idea of embracing pain seems almost un-American. Nashville pastor Byron Yawn writes,
“Because of this distorted perception, we rarely stop to search for the ‘hand of God’ in the midst of our trouble. Seeking to understand God’s purposes in our pain is all but foreign. As a result, embracing pain’s role in our sanctification is usually the farthest thing from our minds.” (Preaching Now Vol. 1, No. 20. Tue 9/3/2002)
God has called each of us to conform to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. Like our fathers, that is an image of joy mixed with pain. There is now escaping it; this was His life and it is ours as well. His purpose was to glorify the Father in His suffering. Our greatest purpose is no different. May each of us be “counted worthy of his calling.” Embrace the pain and learn from it. Make this the cornerstone of your purpose as a believe in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I once heard about a man who worked with children who lived in sewers - somewhere in South America I think. He used to go into the sewers himself to try and help the children who were living there. Imagine you had been one of those children - virtually blind through living in the darkness underground. Filthy through living in the waste from thousands of homes. Maybe this man offers you a chance to leave. You jump at the opportunity, but has he leads you out, as your eyes become accustomed to the light at the end of the tunnel, you start to see the state that you are in. You start to see the excrement on your clothes and in your hair. And no matter how hard you try to brush it off, the stains will not go away. And of course, the nearer you get to the light coming in from the entrance of the tunnel, the dirtier you appear. Naturally you would shy away from ever coming out of the sewer until you’re fit to be presented to the outside world. The problem of course, is that you cannot be made clean until you come out of the filth of the sewer, and by coming out it’s inevitable that you will be made aware of your own filth.
If we are to see God’s holiness, it is certain that we will recoil at our own sinfulness.
THE PERFECT MATCH- COMMUNION MEDITATION
From Daily Encounter comes this story by a Chaplain Robinson:
“In 1949, my father had just returned from the war. On every highway you could see soldiers in uniform hitchhiking home to their families. The thrill of the reunion with his family was soon overshadowed by my grandmother’s illness. There was a problem with her kidneys. The doctors told my father that she needed a blood transfusion immediately or she would not live through the night.
Grandmother’s blood type was AB negative, a very rare type. In those days there were no blood banks like there are today. No one in the family had that type blood and the hospital had not been able to find anyone with that rare type. The Doctor gave our family little hope. My Dad decided to head home for a little while to change clothes and then return for the inevitable good-byes.
As my father was driving home he passed a soldier in uniform hitchhiking. Deep in grief, my father was not going to stop. But something compelled him to pull over. The soldier climbed in but my father never spoke. He just continued driving down the road toward home. The soldier could tell my father was upset as a tear ran down his cheek.
The soldier asked about the tear. My father began telling the stranger that his mother was going to die because the hospital couldn’t find anyone who could donate AB negative blood. My father explained that he was just heading home to change clothes. That is when he noticed the soldier’s open hand holding dog tags that read AB negative. The soldier told my father to turn the car around and head back to the hospital.
My grandmother lived until 1996, 47 more years. To this day my family doesn’t know the name of that sol...
"I am responsible. Although I may not be able to prevent the worst from happening, I am responsible for my attitude toward the inevitable misfortunes that darken life. Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have -- life itself." --Walter Anderson
Make no mistake about it, the society in which we live does everything in its power to deny the fact of death. Every plucked gray hair, every chemical peel, every tofu diet, every bottle of Viagra, every tummy tuck is a putting off of the inevitable conclusion - gravity wins! Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.
“Work With It!” Romans 12: 1-8: Key verse(s): 6 “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”
“All things being equal!” Where that may be the rallying cry of today’s philosophical democratically-driven culture, it wasn’t the impetus for justice in the Brunner household as I was growing up. In the first place, nothing was really “equal” in the sense that everyone in the household shared the same potential or received the same rewards. There were six children in my family and two parents. I had three sisters and two brothers. That would make a household equally divided between the genders, four males and four females. That is where equality began and ended. First, there was the matter of parents. Although there were only two of them and six of us, they outnumbered us substantially in the areas of discipline, the giving of rewards, teaching and provisioning along with the numerous other inherited duties and tasks of Christian parents. No, very little if any equality on that level. And, for that matter, freedom either. My Dad could drive the car and go to work. He could use power tools and, occasionally, spit on the lawn. None of us could do those things. My Mom could drive the car and write out checks for groceries, pay the bills and go on a date (with my Dad) every now and then. Best I can recall, until we were much older, none of these things were available to us either.
On a sibling level, apart from the fact that we at least shared the role of brothers and sisters, equality beyond the point that I had the same right to have clean underware as my brothers, was pretty much limited. Although my brothers and I followed roughly in close sequential fashion, age was still a distinction. For example, being the oldest, I was the first one to drive and also the first of the brothers to own a car. That privilege came with age and driving skills. I handed down my first car to brother number two and he to three. For the most part we lived in a small, closed society that ran pretty well on the inequity dictated by position (child or parent), age and, yes, gender. Despite the fact that all of us children shared some duties like cleaning the house and doing the dishes, the roles within those duties were often specific to gender. Boys were often given the dirtier jobs like taking out the trash or sweeping the basement floors (because of our close association with the element) and girls the more detail-oriented and perfected tasks like dusting and polishing. And, when there was hidden dirt to root out, that was a job for a woman since God has given them radar when it comes to finding dust, grime, and all the invisible elements of the dirt world that are truly hidden from a man’s view. My mother was wise enough to know this. Yard duties gravitated to the boys and household chores gravitated toward the girls. None of us really wished to cross the line into the other’s territory and certainly didn’t feel put-upon by our singular assignments.
Over time, as age and wisdom brought us closer to our parents in freedoms and responsibilities, as soon as our new-found status came into contact with their “sphere of power” the inevitable friction resulted and, like opposing magnets, we were repelled. God led us out into our own little words to establish our own closed systems. Mom and Dad continued on without us as gradually each child pushed upon their level of authority. Although economic circumstances compelled me to return to home briefly after a couple of years, the old powers that held us separate but functioning when I was young were no longer there. It was only a matter of months before I found my own apartment again.
Was it wrong that there was so little equality within our home? Should my parents have shared more of their freedom and authority with us? Although neither of them recognized these inequalities as tangible assets, I am sure that Mom and Dad would have found it foolish to share such things. God had, in His grace, called them to be parents, not children. Their roles as children had been left behind. First when my Dad joined the army and then when marriage called my Mom from her home. The inherent inequalities of the Brunner household were comfortable and sound. The gifts that God gave us as children and those He blessed my parents with as adults were perfect for the work that needed to be done and the love that needed to be granted. There was no need to long for another’s role since the ones given each of us were just right for that time and place.
God calls each of us to do something in this life. And, even when that calling is similar to another’s, it is never exactly the same. God is not democratic nor is the family. And, for that matter, neither is the world into which He has placed each of us. He expects us to honor the role given us by doing our best and preserving the work that has been given us in that role. Unfair? Perhaps! But when you consider the fact that each of us has one foot in heaven what matters where the other is placed here on earth?
Duke University did a study on “peace of mind.” Factors found to contribute greatly to emotional and mental stability are:
1. The absence of suspicion and resentment. Nursing a grudge was a major factor in unhappiness.
2. Not living in the past. An unwholesome preoccupation with old mistakes and failures leads to depression.
3. Not wasting time and energy fighting conditions you cannot change. Cooperate with life, instead of trying to run away from it.
4. Force yourself to stay involved with the living world. Resist the temptation to withdraw and become reclusive during periods of emotional stress.
5. Refuse to indulge in self-pity when life hands you a raw deal. Accept the fact that nobody gets through life without some sorrow and misfortune.
6. Cultivate the old-fashioned virtues—love, humor, compassion and loyalty
7. Do not expect too much of yourself...
French novelist and playwright Alexandre Dumas once had a heated quarrel with a rising young politician. The argument became so intense that a duel was inevitable. Since both men were superb shots they decided to draw lots, the loser agreeing to shoot himself. Dumas lost. Pistol in hand, he withdrew in silent dignity to another room, closing the door behind him. The rest of the company waited in gloomy suspense for the shot that would end his career. It rang out at last. His friends ran to the door, opened it, and found Dumas, smoking revolver in hand.
“Gentlemen, a most regrettable thing has happened,” he announced. “I missed.”
Today in the Word, Moody Bible Institute, Jan., 1992, p. 33
"It is inevitable, that eventually the people will demand absolute security from the state... And absolute security is absolute slavery."