Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Respecting Parents


"Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old" Proverbs 23:22

It disturbs me to hear a child yell at his parents, call them names, tell them to "shut up," and even slap them. But I do see and hear these things on occasion.

Parents who tolerate this kind of disrespectful behavior from their children are not only hurting the children, they are unraveling the fabric of their family and all of society. Churches, schools, the work place and even society at large must practice respect for one another and for the leaders within these communities if they are going to function in a way that is healthy and beneficial for the members. Training for that kind of respect begins at home, and where it is taught by the parents and appropriated by the children. Children must be taught to honor mom and dad.

Why should children be respectful toward their parents? I can think of at least three reasons. One, the parents have earned it. The Sage says, "Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old" (Proverbs 23:22). This verse has a parallel structure where the second part builds on the first. Part one emphasizes listening to your father who gave you life, and part two emphasizes loving your mother when she is old. The second part builds upon the first, meaning that mom deserves respect because she, too, gave you life. You wouldn’t have a life if it wasn’t for the love of your mother and father who birthed you.

The phrase "do not despise your mother" has an interesting parallel to Genesis 25:34 where it says that "Esau despised his birthright." That doesn’t necessarily man that he hated it, but that he didn’t regard it with proper honor. Because he didn’t honor his birthright he traded it for a measly bowl of beans. What a tragic loss. The injunction to not despise our mother doesn’t mean we are showing her proper honor if we don’t hate her; it means we should not ignore her needs or treat lightly her position as the exalted matriarch of the family.

Mothers and fathers spend years investing their time, energy and love into the lives of their children. The Bible honors that great work and says the children should as well. The command to respect parents is one of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:12; Lev. 19:3).

Secondly, children need to honor their parents because it is right. Respect is like the concrete in a wall. Concrete is hard and firm so it can uphold the building. Remove the firmness from the concrete and the walls will collapse, crushing everyone inside the structure.
In the same way, remove respect from a child’s relationship with his parents and the walls of the family will collapse. Children will not listen to and obey their parents if they don’t respect them. If they don’t listen to their parents then their leading counsel becomes the immature reasoning of their own minds or that of their friends. It is only through giving their ears and hearts to their parents that children learn wisdom and proper behavior and can hope for a meaningful and prosperous life (Prov. 3:1-2).

Finally, children need to honor their parents because it is biblical. "Honor your father and your mother" (Ex. 20:12). God emphasizes the importance of respecting parents when he ties it to his own personality. After saying in Lev. 19:3 that "Each of you must respect his mother and father" he adds "I am the Lord your God." There shouldn’t be any doubt about how seriously God regards this command! In fact, in ancient Israel a son who showed flagrant disrespect for his parents could be stoned.

Parents, our children will not naturally or automatically show us respect. They will not show politeness in speech nor decorum in behavior unless we teach them to. Their natural inclination will be to do their own thing, disobey us, talk back, yell and scream, throw a temper tantrum, even slap us. Many parents laugh when their children do these things. Perhaps they are embarrassed when it is done in front of others. Or, the parents may even think it is cute when coming from a tiny child. "Do you see how mad he is?" and then they laugh. But I tell you, if we tolerate that behavior, we are teaching our own little kids that they do not need to respect us. We are teaching them that our ideas, our values and our rules as the parents do not matter, and they can do whatever they want to. That might mean jumping on the sofa and making a face at mom at age 4; and it might mean shoplifting, drinking, and robbing from the neighbors when they are 14. Remember the stern warning from Proverbs that "a child left to himself (that is, untrained and undisciplined) disgraces his mother" (Prov. 29:15).

Do your children an immense favor! Teach them to respect you. Respecting you means they listen to and obey you in everything. It also means they don’t talk back to you or speak in fresh tones. Further, practice corrective discipline when they disobey, even when they are very young. If they are old enough to break the rules, they are old enough to have obedience enforced.

Respect will continue to be an issue in families even as children grow up and leave home. But if we can at least build a healthy base when they are 18 months to 3 years old, it makes the teenage years a whole lot more enjoyable!

Warren Baldwin

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Foreword to Roaring Lions

Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks and Other Gems from Proverbs

Proverbs are short, pithy sayings that arrest our interest and demand our attention. They are catchy and memorable, making them easy to transport to new situations. Proverbs can spark lively conversation or intense debate.

Proverbs are all around us, even in the secular world. "If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again." "A dollar saved is a dollar earned." "The early bird gets the worm." Such witticisms take years of accumulated wisdom and experience and condense them into short, catchy sayings. These sayings can be memorized and applied to future settings that reflect similar elements. Such truisms become the truth and guiding lights of our lives. Thomas Long, author of Preaching and the Literary Forms of the Bible writes, "The question is not, will people live by proverbs, but what kind of proverbs will they cherish?" (p.55)

Like the secular sayings, the biblical proverbs reflect wisdom and experience, but they offer the added ingredient of divine influence and personality. One purpose of Proverbs is to promote a relationship with God. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." (3:5) The real aim of Proverbs is not to equip us with witty sayings to help us function more professionally in the world; it is to promote godly character so that we can enjoy virtuous relationships with God and people.

Proverbs function by stirring our imagination. "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses." (27:6) Is this saying true? Our minds rush to situations in life where a friend hurt our feelings by telling us an uncomfortable truth about ourselves. After the pain of the unwelcome comments faded, we were able to assess their truthfulness and possibly conclude, "My friend was right. I was out of line. I need to conduct myself with more discipline and dignity in the future." Then, our minds may rush to compliments and flattery an "enemy" showered upon us, only to realize later their emptiness. They were not intended to encourage us but to secure some selfish aim for the one offering the praise.

A proverb stirs our imagination by drawing our minds backwards to situations that reflect the meaning of the saying. Our own experience in life confirms its truthfulness. Secondly, a proverb pushes our thinking forward to future situations, arming us with insight into appropriate thinking and behavior. (Long, 57)

Here is an example of what I mean. Proverbs 15:17 says, "Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred." This proverb pushes my mind back to the Vermont farmhouse where I grew up. Our kitchen was small and square shaped and wouldn’t accommodate a typical dining room table. So, we used a square-shaped picnic table complete with wooden benches and the occasional splinter. No one minded, not even company. Our home was the gathering spot for family activities and dinner here was the central event of the day. Around the family picnic table my siblings and I learned about history, our family roots, sex and marriage, philosophy of life, and even how to treat a little sister. "Better a meal of vegetables where there is love ..."

This proverb also pushes my mind back to my college days. At a Friday night devotional I saw a young lady I had known casually for several years. I asked her if she’d like to grab something to eat. In Henderson, TN, there wasn’t much available at 10:30 p.m. except a truck stop. Not only were the dining options limited, but my money was as well. We shared an order of Ore Ida Tater Tots and soft drinks. It was simple, relaxing and fun. The young lady seemed happy and accepted what little I was able to provide. I thought, "She is a gem." We have been eating meals together for twenty-seven years now. "Better a meal of Ore Ida Tator Tots where there is love..."

When my family traveled to Cody, WY, to interview with a church, I wanted to eat elk meat. A gentleman and his wife prepared a wonderful meal for us, featuring Wyoming elk. We loved not only the delicious food but also the friendly reception we received and the warm conversation around the table. We moved to Cody and this kind couple prepared many more meals for us. "Better a meal of elk with Marion and Violet where love is ...."

Many more special meals from the past flood my mind. Bill and Shirley shared their table with me when I was interviewing in Ulysses, KS. A river bank was transformed into a kitchen when George, Ruby and their clan invited my family to frequent fish fries in Florida. My future in-laws, Jim and Thelma, treated me as an honored guest at their table when I called on their daughter and loaded me up with leftovers for my return to graduate school. My fellow members at the church in Ulysses make our Wednesday meals of pancakes and sausages or ham and beans a feast of friendship and fellowship. "Better a meal of hot dogs where there is love ..."

Sometimes these meals of the past were sumptuous feasts of fine food. Sometimes they were a simple array of common fare. But always they were celebrations of friendship with conversation that bound our hearts together in love. These meals of the past prepare me for future experiences of sharing the table with treasured family and friends. Proverbs 15:17 is right.

The proverbs stir our imagination. In the following pages I share with you how individual proverbs stirred my thinking, and I hope they do the same for you.

Warren Baldwin

Note: You can read information about ordering Roaring Lions here.

Saturday, September 19, 2009



He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.
—Proverbs 19:17

I had to read this verse a couple of times to catch it. God says, "If you are kind to the poor, I regard that as kindness to me. And I will reward you for the kindness you have shown."

Jesus said the poor are always with us. There will always be someone who needs help, someone who lost a job because of downsizing, outsourcing, a sagging economy, or illness. People in these circumstances need help. They especially need help around holiday time. Some stores put up a Christmas tree with the names and wish lists of local people who need gifts for their children. Prison ministries provide names to local churches to help supply Christmas for the children of inmates. Community food banks raise and distribute food for those who are financially stressed.

Proverbs says, "God regards any help you give these people as help you have given him." That should encourage a kind and generous heart!

But what about people who are poor because they choose to be? It is not because of downsizing, outsourcing, a sagging economy, corporate misdeeds, or illness that has them out of work. They just don’t want to work. They may have discovered that social agencies and local churches are a great source of blessing even for those who don’t want to work! What do we do with them?

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul said, "If a man will not work, he shall not eat" (2 Thess. 3:10). Sounds harsh, but Paul has a purpose in offering this charge. He is concerned that men are idle. Because they had too much time on their hands, they became busybodies and caused trouble. One of the remedies is for them to "settle down and earn the bread they eat" (2 Thess. 3:12). That is, they should work.

I agree with that. But what about the children? What about the children of those who refuse to work? They can’t help it that mom or dad is an idler, a busybody or a lazy person. Should they go without food too?

Verses like Proverbs 19:17 help me process this problem. "He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord." I can’t ever know all the circumstances behind a person’s poverty, whether it is circumstances beyond their control or laziness. This much I can know: God sees and rewards the efforts of those who are kind to the poor.

This message is not limited to Proverbs alone. The prophets especially renounce those who neglect or abuse the poor. The Law and the Psalms extol the generous heart that shares with the poor. "Maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy" (Ps. 82:3–4).

Even though I may not ever know the circumstances that create poverty for a family’s life, whether it is beyond their control or is the direct result of their own choices, I can know this: God is pleased with the person who is moved with compassion for the needy and steps in to help. "He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done."

If you happen upon someone today who needs help, let your actions be shaped by the one who is concerned with the needy and is waiting to bless you for the good you will do.

Warren Baldwin

From Roaring Lions, Cracking Rocks and Other Gems From Proverbs. I will have a drawing for several copies of this on Family Fountain in a couple of weeks.