Arrows From Heaven
October 27, 2007
Ray: Here’s a scene from our house, circa 1989. It was 10 P.M. and Joshua and Mark had just returned from the swimming party at Concordia College. Joshua walked in, flopped on the couch and said, “I think Doug and I could be good friends.” At that moment Mark came charging in with a big announcement: “Guess what, Dad? I jumped off the high-dive.” Both boys then proceeded to tell me about their adventures in the pool.
Marlene: Eventually it was time to go to bed. Mark looked up at Ray and said, “I lost one of my socks.” Then he said, “I lost my underwear. It got wet and I dropped it on the parking lot at church and I think a car ran over it.” Joshua spoke up and said, “It’s lucky I had an extra pair in my pack.” Ray said, “You mean Mark is wearing your underwear?” “No, I had an extra pair of Mark’s underwear. I don’t know how it got there.” At which point, Mark looked at his big brother and said, “You saved my life.” And off to bed they went.
Ray: It was not a big moment. In the history of our family it rates no more than a footnote. Nothing important was at stake—unless, of course, you’re the one without the underwear. It is simply a snapshot from the family album of two brothers growing up together.
The Case of the Missing Candy Bar
Marlene: About that same time, we made up our family rules. There are only three of them:
1. Always Tell The Truth
2. Always Take Care Of Your Family
3. Always Do Your Best Every Single Day
Those rules aren’t original with us, and they aren’t inspired either. But they do cover most of the situations of life, including some unforeseen mishaps at the swimming pool.
Ray: Lest you think that life at our house is like Leave it to Beaver or My Three Sons, I hasten to say that we have our share of problems. Again, a snapshot from 15 years ago. We had a major crisis because someone was stealing Halloween candy. In particular, someone was stealing the Snickers bars out of Mark’s bag. He came into the kitchen with tears in his eyes.
Marlene: At that same moment Ray heard footsteps quickly going up the stairs. Guilty footsteps.
Ray: “JOSHUA!!!” The footsteps stopped and I heard them coming down the stairs, slower this time. “Did you take Mark’s Snickers bar?” No answer, but a very guilty grin on his face. I studied the young felon for a moment, pondering what fate he should suffer. Before I could pronounce the verdict, another voice spoke up,
Marlene: “Mark, I have to confess. I ate one of your Snickers, too.”
Ray: It was Marlene. She was grinning and I don’t think she felt very guilty about it either. Two thieves in my own house. I hardly knew what to do. I finally decided to let Mark spank Joshua on the theory that when you don’t know what to do, just don’t get involved. Justice was eventually served and tranquility restored.
A Different World
Marlene: But it still sounds like life is easy. It’s not. Sometimes you discover that your kids know a lot more than you think they do. Over supper one night the conversation skipped from subject to subject. Somehow the subject got around to boys and girls. One of the boys blurted out, “I know what sex is.”
Ray: He proceeded to tell us and we blushed when we heard it. It wasn’t right, but he described something that we had not heard about when we were 18.
Marlene: And that was before Bill Clinton, Sex in the City, and Rosie O’Donnell marrying another woman. They know so much more about life than we did when we were their age. They hear so much more than we ever heard. And they think nothing of it.
Ray: It’s not surprising, though. Our kids are growing up in a far different world. Kids in the thirties grew up during the Depression when times were hard and everybody had to work and a dollar was a lot of money.
Marlene: Kids in the forties grew up with World War II, Frank Sinatra, and Bogie and Bacall.
Ray: Kids in the fifties grew up with black and white television, “I Like Ike,” hula hoops, and a kid from Tupelo, Mississippi named Elvis Presley.
Marlene: Kids in the sixties grew up with the Beatles, LSD, Vietnam, and violence in the streets.
Ray: Kids in the seventies grew up with Charlie’s Angels, disco, Saturday Night Fever, and the Doobie Brothers.
Marlene: Kids in the eighties grew up with crack cocaine, AIDS, MTV, PeeWee Herman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nintendo, and Nightmare on Elm Street.
Ray: Kids in the 90s grew up with the Simpsons, Michael Jordan, Monica Lewinsky, and Nirvana.
Marlene: Kids in the 21st century are growing up with 9/11, the war on terror, iPods, Harry Potter, Britney Spears, American Idol, athletes on steroids, South Park, and gay marriage.
Ray: It’s a different world out there.
Marlene: This is the Word of the Lord:
Ray: Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Marlene: Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Ray: Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
Marlene: He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-5)
Ray: Instead of building empires, parents must first build a family. Children are a “heritage” from God, a way of preserving the family into the next generation.
Marlene: All of us want to be remembered after we are gone. Here is the primary way you will be remembered: by the children you leave behind.
Ray: Sons are “arrows,” which speaks of fiery zeal, weapons of warfare, a defense against the enemies.
Marlene: The city gate was the place where men of power and influence conducted their business. It was also the place where wise men ruled and made judgments. Men would meet their adversaries “in the gate.” A father with many sons has many defenders when he is falsely accused. They stand and testify to his good name.
Ray: Note that nothing is said about money or power or position. God’s blessing is not seen in worldly wealth or the accumulation of “things” but in a happy family that rallies to the call whenever trouble comes.
Marlene: None of this argues against having a career or working hard. But it is a plea for balanced priorities and for recapturing the highest value—the value of home and family.
Ray: Derek Kidner makes a useful point when he reminds us that raising children can be tiresome and difficult. It is not, he says, untypical of God’s gifts that first they are liabilities before they become assets. Children are both a burden and a blessing. The greater their promise, the more challenging will the task of raising God’s children. It is likely that our children will be handful before they become a quiverful.
Marlene: And..where are the really great families in the Bible? The families whose children followed God and were obedient to their parents.
There are no “perfect” families in the Bible.
Raising children is scary business. We already told you we didn’t have much premarital counseling Well, we didn’t have much preparation for children either.
Ray: What we knew we learned on the street and maybe a bit from Dr. Dobson and a bit from Homer SimpsonOne thing we did learn fairly quickly is that children are all wired differently and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.
Our Three Sons
Marlene: We want to share with you a few things we’ve learned along the way and encourage you.We’ve had our share of struggles with our sonsthey’re all in a good place at present.we know everything could change overnight.
We have three sons:
Josh, our oldest, married a beautiful woman, Leah, from Vermont a little over a year ago. He had spent a year in China a year that totally transformed him from the inside out and when he came home he informed us that he wanted to be married by the next summer. No problem, he was 25, but at that point he wasn’t dating anyone. He began leading a college age bible study and Leah started helping..One thing led to another and sure enough, he was married by the next summer. Josh and Leah are serving with ELIC in Nanchang, China leading a team of Christian English teachers responsible for their discipleship and encouragement – whose purpose is to share the gospel with their students and Chinese colleagues.
Ray: Mark, our middle child typically middle in every way married a wonderful young woman, Vanessa, in July. At Josh’s wedding last year he decided this marriage thing seemed like a pretty good idea. He went back to China thinking he wanted to pursue a relationship with Vanessa. They met the previous year while serving with ELIC in Taiyuan, China. They both served 2 years in China and are currently living and working in Tupelo figuring out married life and trying to decide where God wants them next year. They both have a heart for China. The big news for them is they have found a church in Tupelo they love one that has embraced and welcomed them. We love having them in Tupelo Marlene has someone to shop with..
Marlene: Nick, our youngest just graduated with a Political Science degree from Samford University in Birmingham and is working on an MBA and currently looking for a job. He’s unattached as far as we know. When we talked with him a few days ago he told us about winning an intramural football game. I laughed and said, “I didn’t know you were playing intramural football.” “That’s the reason I’m taking classes.” Nick has attended a really solid Presbyterian church in Birmingham because he loves the old hymns. He’s also in a bible study with several other guys his age going through Grudem’s Systematic Theology led by the pastor of a large southern Baptist church in Birmingham.
Ray: They’re all in great spots personally and spiritually. It hasn’t always been that way and we recognize it’s only by God’s grace. Our great parenting skills had little to do with it. We’re going to say it again Parenting is scary business and what we learned we learned on the street. Following a prescribed parenting plan if you could find one that really works was not for either of us. We’re not “follow the recipe” type of people.
Marlene: I like to cook. But I like to mess around with recipes not necessarily follow them to a tee. There are recipes for cookies and there are principles for making good cookies. Recipes dictate particulars. There are also principles for making good cookies you have to have some kind of shortening. You have to have some kind of filler. To make a really good cookie you have to add some extras like nuts and chocolate chips. Those are principles. You can choose to use pecans or walnuts, white chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, milk chocolate chips.
Two Very Important Things
Ray: Over the years we have learned two Very Important Things:
Marlene: 1. Children learn more through imitation than lectures. Hames Baldwin had it right when he said “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
Ray: Minnesota representative David Bly said it this way – “Your children will become what you are; so be what you want them to be.”
Marlene: We’ve talked a lot about our “core values” over the last few years. Core values are things that matter deeply to us. Some of our values are:
He’s God and We’re not.
The Bible is infallible
Doctrine is more important than feelings
Ole Miss Rebels
Eating Dinner Together
Home is the gathering place
Humor and Laughter are important
Ray: Some of these values were taught with words but many were taught totally by our actions. It’s interesting to us to see Josh, Mark and Nick as adults. We can see them living our core values.
Marlene: All three are interested in missions Josh and Leah are serving now. Mark and Vanessa have served and are thinking of returning to China. Nick spent a summer in China and would like to return.
Ray: All three are interested in theology and doctrine and are convinced the Bible is true. They’re not too interested in the new trends and started a blog to discuss them. Josh is the philosopher, Mark the prophet, Nick the humorist but all come down in the same place.
Marlene: When Nick was going through a health crisis 7 years ago someone asked him what he had done that God had sent the illness to him. His answer was I don’t know if I’ve done anything. God can do what he wants He’s God.
Ray: I inherited a love for the Ole Miss Rebels from my father so it’s an issue of family heritage to cheer for the Rebels—who by the way are having a tough year in football. From the time the boys were very young, we watched them on TV and we try to attend at least one game a year. When Nick and I talk on the phone, we discuss stats, the next game, and so on. It’s a big part of our family tradition.
Marlene: Ray and I have always enjoyed reading Periods where we read more than others. Encouraged the boys to read but there were many years where we weren’t sure they read anything including their text books. This summer we were able to spend time with all of them and they were all reading and exchanging books.
Ray: They love to travel. They’ve been to Mexico, Costa Rica, Ireland, England, the Czech Republic, Haiti, China and Thailand.
Marlene: I’m sure you’ve heard it said that home is where life makes up its mind. Sometimes parents forget how powerful our seemingly small actions can be. We ran across the poem called
Ray: “When You Thought I Wasn’t Looking.”
Marlene: When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you hang my first painting on the refrigerator, and I wanted to paint another one.
Ray: When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you feed a stray cat, and I thought it was good to be kind to animals.
Marlene: When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw you make my favorite cake for me, and I knew that little things are special things.
Ray: When you thought I wasn’t looking, I heard you say a prayer, and I believed there is a God that I could always talk to.
Marlene: When you thought I wasn’t looking, I felt you kiss me goodnight, and I felt loved.
Ray: When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw tears come from your eyes, and I learned that sometimes things hurt, but it’s all right to cry.
Marlene: When you thought I wasn’t looking, I saw that you cared and I wanted to be everything that I could be.
Ray: When you thought I wasn’t looking, I looked and wanted to say thanks for all the things I saw When you thought I wasn’t looking.
God is a Better Parent
Marlene: 2. God is a better parent than we are!
Ray: We’re all at different points with our children. Some of our children are doing well. Some have gone through tough times and are doing well. Some are just simply not following God and are not doing well. Some are doing well today and tomorrow may not be. Some are prodigals.
Marlene: Here’s an email we received: “I have a daughter that I don’t believe is saved. I pray for her but often times I can’t. I suppose that I’m angry she isn’t responding and feel incapable of helping her. What can I pray for on a daily basis so that she will come to Christ? At times I feel such sorrow, thinking she might go to hell.”
Ray: When you have a prodigal in your family, what should you do?
Marlene: In thinking about hard questions, it’s crucial that we start in the right place. Nowhere is this more important than when we pray for our prodigal sons and daughters. Because we have so much invested in them, we may be tempted to give up because the pain of praying when nothing seems to be happening finally becomes overwhelming.
Ray: Here are three verses that will help us as we think about praying for our prodigals: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23 NIV).
Marlene: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1 NKJV).
Ray: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened”(Ephesians 1:18 NASB).
Marlene: This is why we pray for our children and grandchildren and for our family members and for friends and loved ones who today are far from God. As our children grow older, we discover over and over again how little control we have over them.
Ray: We cannot compel their obedience because we cannot compel their hearts. But we can pray and cry out to God and say, “O Lord, open the eyes of their heart. Help them to see the light of truth.” If you have a prodigal daughter, pray like this: “Lord, open the eyes of her heart so that she can see Jesus.”
Marlene: That prayer is so simple and yet so profound. Apart from God’s grace, we all have the same problem. Our hearts are closed and we cannot see the truth. Only God can open the eyes of the heart. When God opens those eyes, she will see the truth and light from heaven will come flooding in. Do not focus on her going to hell. Focus your prayers on God and his power to change her heart. Ask our Father to do what only he can do—open the eyes of her heart so that she will come to know him.
Ray: As we pray for our prodigals, we must remember that the first change needs to happen in us. Until we are changed, and our anger is turned to love, we will become bitter and hardened ourselves.
Marlene: And that can happen even though we go to church every Sunday, pray the prayers, sing the songs, serve the Lord, and do all the outward things the church asks us to do.
Ray: At that point we ourselves have become prodigals just as surely as the loved one for whom we are praying.
Marlene: The change we seek in others must start in our heart first.
Ray: Do you have a child or a grandchild who is far from the Lord? Does it seem totally impossible that he or she will ever change? Do you get angry thinking about their foolish choices? Do your prayers seem useless to you? Pay no attention to your feelings. There is more going on in the heart of your loved one that you can know.
Marlene: Don’t give up.
Keep on praying.
You never know what God will do.
Ray: Never give up. Pray, pray and keep on praying. Your prayers accomplish more than you have ever dreamed.