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TEXT: I Timothy 5:3-8
SUBJECT: Gospel Changes Everything #34: Aging Parents
In 1987, social scientist, Ben Wattenberg, published a book in which he documented what everyone knows: while Africans and Middle-Easterners are producing children at a record rate, we Americans are not even replacing ourselves. We have what he called a 'birth dearth'.
Whether this is good, bad, or indifferent is a matter of debate. What's not up for debate, however, is the fact that America is older than ever, and this means more middle-aged and younger people are taking care of aging parents, and the need for this care will increase in the foreseeable future. If you're young and looking for a good career in this country, don't think day care or school teaching; the future belongs to medicine, nursing, convalescent homes, and mortuaries!
This is the big picture, and I only bring it up to provide a context for today's subject. People are living longer than ever, and this is the gift of God. How thankful I am that my father lived past ninety years old, and-until the last six months of his life-he was amazingly healthy and strong and independent for a man of his age.
But the last six months were hard. He suffered from constant back pain, and while the doctors were sure it was a pulled muscle or a cracked vertebra, it was, in fact, pancreatic cancer. Because it wasn't diagnosed till the end of his life, he was not treated, and he got weaker and sicker with time, until the strongest man I ever knew was helpless.
How I thank God that we could spend time with him in his last days, and I wouldn't trade one of them for all the money in the world! My wife, kids, and I were honored to care for him; it was a privilege the Lord gave us, and some of you too.
But for all that, it was still hard. We had to feed him-and beg him to eat. Bathe him, take him to the bathroom, drive him to the doctor, sit with him at the hospital. And most of all, worry about him, and wonder if we're doing enough, getting him the right care, and so on. Did I fail him? Should I have been more aggressive with the doctors? Should I have taken him in earlier and more often? Was I impatient with him? Did I think more of myself and my silly wishes than of him and his real needs? Did I repay his good with evil, his care with indifference? In a word, did I honor my father, as I should have by command, and because of the kind of man he was, and, especially, the kind of man he was-to me?
Believe me, I've spent a lot of time thinking about these things, and have to leave the answers to God as I throw myself on His mercy and beg His pardon.
I wish I were the only person to have had an aging parent, a father I had to take care of through sickness and weakness, unconsciousness, and then death. But, of course, I'm not. Many of you have had the same experience I had-and things much worse than any I faced with Dad.
Getting old is hard; being sick is hard; losing your independence is hard-especially for people of that generation, men and women brought up to take care of themselves and to fear becoming a burden on their children.
But getting old, and all that goes with it, are real problems and they will not be solved by anything short of the Resurrection. If you're not already, it won't be long until you're an aging parent. And this provides a rich vein for preaching, but not today.
Today, I want to say something to their children or maybe the grandchildren, people who are now facing-or soon will face the care of aging parents.
Some of this care is critical and short-lived. It overwhelms you for a week or two, or maybe a few months, but then it's over. The loss is terrible, but at least it is in the past.
Long-term care is not overwhelming, but it may be harder: because it is relentless, drawn out, and, no matter how much you try, your parents always get worse. When they die, you're not only heartbroken; you're exhausted. Without the boost of adrenaline, you realize how little sleep you've gotten, and how much you've had to do. Even if it is mostly sitting and waiting and listening for them at night and fetching them a glass of water. These things don't seem that hard, but do them for a month-or five years-and you'll know they are.
Will the Lord help us with our aging parents? Yes He will. In today's text He commands us to care for them-not to make excuses for why we can't-but to do it whether we have the time or the money or the mental toughness to do it or not! The Nike ad applies here-
Just do it.
This is what the Lord requires of us and He says if we neglect our duty we have-
Denied the faith and become worse than infidels.
Generally speaking, unbelievers take care of their families-even if it demands real sacrifice on their part. If we're too busy or too scared to do it we're worse than the pagans and have made a mockery of Christianity.
Is the Lord's command enough to secure our obedience? Not it isn't. We need more than the Law and it's sanctions. To become the dutiful children God calls us to be, what we need is.the Gospel.
The Gospel changes everything. Including how we take care of our aging parents.
Does the Gospel really change everything? A few weeks ago, a man asked me if it changed the speed of light! He was joking, of course, but the more I thought about his whimsical question, the firmer my answer became. The Gospel changes everything that needs to be changed, and if the speed of light is slower or faster than it ought to be, then, yes, the Gospel changes the speed of light! But not now. That change-I believe-awaits the Second Coming of Christ when the Gospel will exercise it's full transforming power. In the meantime, we have to settle for light traveling 186,000 miles per second!
The same thing is true about the ravages of old age and death. In the Resurrection, nobody will be old or feeble or senile or crippled or bent over; there will be no tumors on the pancreas or fluid in the lungs; or hardening of the arteries. I don't know what's going to be offered at the Supper of the Lamb, but I'm sure it won't be served though a feeding tube!
This means we won't have to worry about our aging parents in the Resurrection because then they-and we-will be as healthy and vigorous as Jesus Christ was when He rose from the dead!
So, as a matter of fact, the Gospel does change the evils of aging and death, and more than change them, it eliminates them!
But not now. For now, aging parents have to suffer these things and their children have to do all we can to relieve their suffering and to care for them as long as they need us.
Does the Gospel change how we do it? Does it really enable us be the dutiful, patient, cheerful, and loving children we ought to be? It does. But only as long as we believe it, as long as we live in the light of it. How does the Gospel do this? I thought of five ways.
In the first place, the Gospel changes our priorities. What matters most to most people? They all say, 'family', but judging by the way most people live, it is something else. Money, career, popularity, looks, or freedom, the liberty to do what they want to when they want to do it. All these things compete with family, and often successfully.
But the Gospel puts things in perspective. Taking care of your aging mother matters more than getting ahead at work! Listening to your father's old stories is more important than watching Monday Night Football.
Your aging parents are persons made in the likeness and image of God. They are souls-and you're a soul too. Jesus wondered why men would spend all their time and energy and focus on acquiring the world while, at the same time, losing their souls. The question is a haunting one-
What would a man give in exchange for his soul?
This is what we're doing when we neglect our needy parents. We are exchanging their souls and ours for another hour at work or another gadget that will soon be obsolete.
The Law can tell you your choices are wrong and sinful and petty, but only the Gospel enables you to make better choices. And not by shaming you, but by showing you what matters most and giving you the heart to chose it instead of the things that matter less.
Caring for your parents-Paul says-is a matter of piety; it's a religious thing. For most people, 'the things of God' are secondary to 'real life'. The church is there to baptize babies, to bury grandparents, and to help them celebrate Christmas and Easter. To others, 'religion' is more than this. But the Gospel makes 'the things of God' also the things that matter most. Thus, in enables you to get your priorities right, and 'taking care of your aging parents' is right near the top of them.
In the second place, the Gospel removes our guilt. Many adult children are not close to their parents. They may have fallen out with them when they were young, and have never made things right. Or maybe there was no 'falling out', but they just drifted apart over the years, and now, when their parents need them most, they're not there for them, at least not 'all there'. What's keeping them apart?
There may be many things doing that, but guilt is probably the main one. You've mistreated your parents, or ignored, and now you feel guilty. You'd apologize to them, but, at this point in their life, you would seem so phony. Spending time with them reminds you of what a poor son or daughter you've been. And nobody wants to feel that way. So, you hand them off to a brother or a sister or have them committed to a nursing home. The brother or sister or professionals may take wonderful care of them. But they can't take your place. You've got a part to play as well.
The Gospel allows you to play it. And not by pretending you haven't been the poor son or daughter you have been, but by saying you're worse than you thought you were-and that you're also forgiven!
By taking away the guilt of our disobedience, the Gospel gives us the freedom to obey God and to love our parents when they need us the most.
If you parents won't forgive you for ignoring them all these years, that's on them not you. God had forgiven you, and this means you can serve your parents in love whether they love you in return or not.
In the third place, the Gospel frees us from the resentment we may feel for our parents. I'll fight anyone who says his parents were better than mine! No one is perfect, and looking back on things as an adult, I think they could have done a few things better than they did, but I feel no resentment toward them at all. None. Zero.
Not everyone is as blessed as I am. Some parents were bad parents; others were worse than bad. The bad ones had no time for their kids or screamed at cussed at them or demeaned them with sarcastic comments at home and ridiculing them in public. Then there are 'nice' parents who treated their kids well enough, but set awful examples for them. These are bad parents.
There are parents worse than bad. I know a man who went blind as a boy because of a high fever. An aspirin would have saved his vision if his mom had not been passed out drunk on the couch! I know a woman whose dad started having sexual intercourse with her when she was six! I know a man who beat him son with a hammer! Then there is spiritual abuse, parents invoking the name of Christ to break their children's spirit!
It is hard to honor this kind of parent or to care for them when they need your help. But as disciples of Christ, we have to care for them, and the Gospel empowers us to do it.
First, by taking our abuse seriously. Christian counselors sometime tell victims of abuse to 'get over it', but this is bad counsel! What they should do is point to Christ who, on the cross, was abused as no one ever has been or could be. There was even a sexual element in His death because He crucified naked, in front of His mother and other women who loved Him, and in the eyes of His enemies who made the most of His embarrassment. When you dad did that to you, he also did it to Jesus! Knowing you're not alone in your suffering-that God fully shares in it-starts to drain the bitterness.
Add to this, the Gospel promises to heal us from all the effects of abusive parents. Not all wounds are healed in this life, but Malachi promises the Sun of Righteousness will some day rise with healing in its rays.
By taking our resentment seriously and by healing its effects partly now, and in promise, fully, the Gospel enables us to forgive bad parents and to care for them in spite of what they deserve!
Speaking of 'what they deserve', the Gospel is not about 'deserving'. No one deserves God's grace; it's simply given as a free gift. What we have received freely, we freely give. This is what ht Gospel does for it.
CO-WORKERS WITH CHRIST
In the fourth place, the Gospel enables us to care for aging and needy parents by showing us what the work is. It is a sharing in the Gospel itself; when we care for our sick and dying parents, we are doing the work of Christ.
What's the aim of salvation? Looked at from one angle, it is holiness. But move on a bit and you'll see it is also 'wholeness'. Jesus came to save us not only from our sin, but also from the effects of our sin! Like sickness and weakness and discouragement.
We cannot heal our parents the way He healed people in the day. But we can relieve some of their symptoms and we can bring words of good cheer. In doing this, we are advancing the cause of the Gospel in the world. And furthering their salvation.
Finally, the Gospel changes the way we care for aging parents by.letting them die when it's their time to die.
We can let our saved loved ones go because the Gospel has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light! Would the feeding tube have given my dad another day or two? Maybe. But he didn't want it, and, when I could have overruled his wishes, I chose to respect them instead. Because on January 3rd, he was dying and I was living. A few hours later, it was he who was living I dying. Although we loved him more than anyone in the world, we could let go of him because Jesus is-
The resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.
How I wish I had another day or two with my Dad! But I could let him go without regret because the Gospel says our parting is temporary, and our reunion is permanent!
But, of course, this only goes for a Christian man. Can we let go of our mothers and fathers who are not saved? And can we do it with a peace that is consistent with the truth of the Gospel? Yes we can.
Because the Gospel proves God's love for us no matter how unloving His ways seem to us at the time. While our loved ones live, we pray for them and witness to them and help them and love them. But when they die, we leave them to God and rejoice in His love. Theology won't do this for you, speculation won't, certainly lying to yourself won't. But the Gospel will.
Because it is and always will be-
The power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes is.
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