For a very short amount of time, I was an only child. Sort of.
The youngest of seven, I was always at the tail end of things, left out of the loop, the butt of the joke, tagging along.
The summer I turned seventeen, my parents moved and my dad took his last pastoring job at at small, and if I’m honest, dying, church in San Jose, California. I moved with them. It was the only time I’d ever lived alone with just my mom and dad.
It was weird.
I knew no one in that sprawling city and I didn’t have my California driver’s license. Small churches were decidedly uncool and since ours was tiny, there was no hip youth pastor and no youth. Just me. My parents made popcorn every.single.night. To say the adjustment was difficult is an understatement. It didn’t get much easier when school started.
During that time I saw my mom differently. Since mom only had one almost-grown child at home and was now far from the grand babies, her focus could be on sharing the work of ministry with dad. Also she made friends. My whole life I never saw my mom have friends or go shopping or have lunch with the ladies. And now, these older gals from church were mom’s friends. My mom watched sports. I never knew my mom even liked baseball and now she was attending Giants games and A’s games and new the players and their stats. She even watched football!
I saw dad differently, too. I’d hear him practicing his Sunday sermon in his room. I’d stand in the doorway and see him at his desk, his back to me, writing notes, searching his bible, seeking God’s leading. Dad had two separate talks to prepare: Sunday morning sermon and Sunday evening study. He also had to plan something for Wednesday night prayer meeting. Most of the time, the Sunday night talks were like a Bible class. He would lead the core group of faithful attenders through the winding prophecies of Ezekiel and Daniel and Revelation or along the missionary journey’s of Paul in the book of Acts. They were less Sunday-morning-preachy and more teachy. He worked diligently every week and we never failed to arrive at the church at least thirty minutes early to unlock the doors, prepare the rooms, turn on the lights.
It felt weird spending this much time with my parents. Seeing them be real people. Anyway it just wasn’t natural to spend that much time with them (I thought).Being seventeen, I decided to brave all those packed lanes of California traffic and get my license regardless of how intimidated this Spokane-one-freeway girl felt.
Since I was a typical teenager and a fairly typical PK (pastor’s kid, for those not in the know) I did my share of really stupid stuff. Regardless of what I did Friday and Saturday nights, I faithfully attended church both Sunday services. PKs hone their church skills early. I knew how to be a church kid. Trust me, the duplicity wasn’t worth it, but I had to learn the hard way.
I clearly remember one Sunday evening church service with my mom and dad. Sunday night service started at six. No one came. By 6:30 it was obvious to the three of us that it would be only us. Would they close up shop for the evening? Would they shake their heads in disappointment, turn off the lights and go home?
“Turn in your hymnbook to hymn number 323,” my dad said from the small stage, one hand at the podium. He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and began to sing. He taught from the book of Daniel that evening and there were two people in the audience, his wife and daughter. He finished his talk, closed in prayer and we went home.
That’s when I knew what a prophet was.
It’s a lonely, terrible job and few are up to the task.
Scripture: Luke 1:5-17
“In that time of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest name Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah, his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of the incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take fermented drink and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the widow of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Inspiration: God’s Truth for Us
And so it begins.
God decidedly ended the four-hundred long silence when he sent a messenger of heaven to meet Zechariah in the temple.
The last prophetic word recorded was in the book of Malachi, named after the final prophet to Israel. Malachi was a prophet in Jerusalem. In his day, Jerusalem had been restored somewhat and the temple had been rebuilt under Nehemiah’s leadership . Within a hundred years from this momentous community-wide effort of rebuilding the temple (read Nehemiah for more) enthusiasm for worship was waning, apathy dampening the Israelite’s commitment to God. As usual, this was a top-down problem. Malachi’s book opens with God addressing and rebuking the sin in the priests and leaders of the Hebrew church.
How stubborn is human nature.
The final words of the old testament, Malachi 4:5-6 say, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah, before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.”
Wow. As usual, God can pack a lot of hard, strange and wonderful things in two short sentences.
And then, he’s silent for four centuries while the Israelites tenuously hold on to the threads of the promise –and potential curse– in those final words. Then, bam!, one day these words are part of an angelic message to an old priest. And everything is about to get real.
Any expectant parent has heart-dreams for his or her yet unborn child. Here, God helps Zechariah out by giving him a clear picture of John’s purpose in life. He would be a joy and a delight and influence many for good; he would be a servant of God, literally save all of Israel and pave the way for the coming of the Lord! John was the Hebrew equivalent of a super-hero baby. There would be no curse on Israel because John would succeed “in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord”.
Remembering that biblical prophecy is fulfilled in stages, we know that John was to be the prophet to prepare the Jews for Jesus’ arrival. One day in the future there will be another “Elijah” preparing the way for the return of Jesus (Revelation 11). This first one, John, was to prepare a nation to receive her king, Jesus. He would do that. Many people repented and turned toward the truth again. Thanks to the gospel writers, we know the whole story of John’s life, however, and it ends sadly. His head, severed and served on a platter at the request of a wicked woman — all because he spoke God’s truth.
Being a prophet of God is not for the faint of heart. Speaking God’s truth draws lines, creates absolutes, demands a response. We can accept or reject God’s truth, but we have to do it fully — it’s impossible to really look into the word of God and compromise. That’s why many don’t look into the word of God. It demands too much. It demanded all of John, to his very last breath. It demanded all of Mary and Joseph and Jesus, too.
When I read today’s scripture, I remembered my dad, studying, preaching, teaching, fathering.
He didn’t do it all perfectly. That little church in San Jose died, despite my dad’s commitment. There was just too much for a simple church to compete with in the 1980’s. Mega-churches with sound systems and catchy choruses and big, colorful children’s programs appealed to the mindset of the decade. Hymn number 323 with Martha playing the organ as accompaniment wasn’t drawing the crowds. But the truth that changes lives was taught there, by my dad. And that one time it was just me and mom in the church? His heart was turned toward me and I knew deep in my knower, I was seeing the real deal. It changed me.
Every time I read this passage in Luke 1, it baffles me: “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children”. What does it mean, and why does it matter that God included that bit about fathers and children in this huge, world-altering prophecy about the coming day of the Lord?
Because God is a father. And his heart is forever turned toward his children. He never fails to kneel to our level and love us where we are, to give us the truth when we need it. He never fails to consider the individual.
Have you ever watched a daddy waiting with open arms for his baby to toddle on wobbly legs and take those first steps?
Nothing in the world, no work-demands, no sports team, no fishing trip or news event or ANYTHING is more important than being present in the moment of those first baby steps into his arms. The joy in that daddy’s eyes is complete, his face is bursting with pleasure and all he can say is encouraging and loving words, “Come on! You can do it! Oh, you’re daddy’s big boy! Look at you! I’m right here!” Daddy wouldn’t trade that moment for anything.
That is turning your hearts towards your children, moms and dads.
That is putting the smart phone down, shutting off the TV, parking the car, closing your email…laying it all down to see your child step into right relationship with you and with God.
How long has it been since you have done that? How hard is it to be truly present in the spiritual lives of our children? Why do we scramble to meet all their physical needs, to get them to dance practice, get them into college, but forget to turn our spiritual hearts towards theirs and say, “Hey, this is the truth and I’m going to walk in it. Come with me”?
It gets harder as they get older. They want the comfort and ease of the world. They want a boyfriend. They want their way. We all do. But moms and dads, when it comes down to it, what is most important?
And kids, do you know that your parents love you that much? Do you know that God loves you so much he’s cheering you on toward coming straight into his arms? It’s not hard to obey when you realize that God, our perfect father, always has his heart turned toward us.
And when the world watches us living and loving like that, well, they’ll find it irresistible.
They will see the truth of God lived in our lives and will either accept and join in, or reject it. We have to get used to the idea that rejection is part of following God. By obeying God, we are swimming against the current, fighting the tide of selfishness that pervades society.
Can we ask that God make us a little like John: that we might be a delight and a joy to all who know us and because we are ALIVE that many will rejoice and turn toward God again?
Because we have the Holy Spirit, we are all touched with the gift of being a prophet — in our home, our community, our school. It’s not an easy job, but won’t it be worth it?
Play: Have Fun
I need to play more. Play more games, laugh more. Do you? I want to use this day to play with my kids, be silly, dance.
That’s it. Just do something fun. Decorate cookies. Squirt whipping cream in your mouth. Find something delightful.
These cute cookie cutter ornaments to craft are easy enough for any non-crafter to make!
Our world is a messy place. We read the news and our sense of wonder is instantly sapped. I need to remember the “joy of the lord is my strength”. I do this best in community. Community is messy, too, and sometimes demands more of us than is comfortable. Having authentic relationships requires vulnerability, an investment of time, grace. Who can you be truly present for this week? Who can you listen to, focus on, teach, pray for? Do it! Take the risk, go all in. Sure it might sting, it might even backfire. But God will be with you, and like the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “nothing is impossible with God”.
Yes, And Amen
What an amazing thing to consider that you cannot turn your back on us. You never walk away, you never give up. Your grace abounds, your love is always reaching, calling, inviting us home into your arms. You always believe the best, you don’t keep score. Your love always hopes, always perseveres. We praise you for the hard truth of your word. We need the boundaries of your truth because they frame the way in which we should go, they protect us. You hem us in with your love. Thank you that you always face us, that you turn your heart to us always. Help us to repent of our comfort-seeking, our self-motivated apathy, our fear. Help us to love those in front of us fiercely and with courage and spirit. Empower us and fill us with your love and truth.