Volume 8, Issue 4: Thema
Jim and Bessie
Honor is not an invisible thing. When the Bible tells us to honor the emperor, or to respect all men, or to honor our fathers and mothers, this is not referring to an invisible attitude tucked away somewhere in our hearts. Honor must be expressed and shown, and not some cliched and trite greeting card affection either, but rather respect and honor displayed. But in order for this honor to be biblically shown, it must be public. Of course the more the recipient is worthy of this kind of honor, the less comfortable he is with it when it is rendered. The Pharisees used to angle for the Piety Awards, one eye always on the grandstands, and no godly person wants to be mistaken for one of them. But while the Bible prohibits a certain kind of honor-seeking, it simultaneously requires that honor be given. Moreover, it requires this at the center of our lives. The Lord's Ten Words require that we honor our parents.
My parents are great in the kingdom of heaven. I am forty-two years old, and I have never heard my parents raise their voices to each other. For many years, I have seen them trust and believe God in countless waysfor financial provision, for traveling mercies, for wisdom in making decisions, and for the strength to make choices that virtually no one else in the evangelical world was making.
I remember my mother teaching a Bible study for us as young elementary school students after school, and it was not some "dumbed-down" little kid operation either. She had an unmarked white relief map of the Mediterranean, and markers to teach us the various missionary journeys of the apostle Paul. I also remember her teaching us Bible memory verses in real time, with the point of application usually being pretty obvious"be sure your sin will find you out" (Num. 32:23), and "be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another. . . ." (Eph. 4:32). She used to tell us stories, too, some of them with hair-curling morals. "Do not forsake the law of your mother" (Prov. 1:8).
Parents are not in charge of which particular impressions they will make on their children, or which particular memories their children will treasure for the rest of their lives. The parents may work, prepare, save money, and plan for that "special vacation" somewhere, which none of the children remember, and yet leave an indelible mark "that time we stopped for popsicles in Potlatch on the way back from the baptism." Consequently, the only way to ensure the security of a child's memory is through constancy of life. I will always be grateful for my parents straightforward and simple consistency, as far back as I can remember.
When we were disciplined, we were spanked in the basement, as all descendants of Adam ought to be, but not summarily. An opportunity for the defense was offered to us, but in retrospect, that defense was usually pretty thin. When we were spanked, my father would pray with us afterward, and invite us to rejoin the family when we were prepared to do so with a pleasant disposition. I remember sitting in the basement once, listening to the happy clink of silverware upstairs (it was dinner time), and learning that restoration of fellowship was my responsibility.
There must have been many times when my parents watched us blinking up at them stupidly, Pooh-like expressions on our faces, causing them to wonder if they were getting through at all. But they were. I learned from my father that delayed obedience is disobedience, and when, in cleaning the basement, I wanted to be done because I had done my share (I thought), I learned that everybody works until everybody's done. I remember my mother showing me a scrawled obscenity on the pole of a street sign, along with firm instructions for my future use of English. Once I bought a comic bookone of the idiotic kind where Sgt. Rock, or somebody like him, blazes his way through the Pacific theatreand when my father saw me reading it, he made me return it to the store. He was a veteran of the Korean War, and no pacifist, but he told me in no uncertain terms that the Jap caricatures in the comic book were, in real life, husbands, fathers, and brothers.
When I was in junior-high school, my father had a Bible study for a bunch of us after school. He labored at length to teach us to look at the text. One time I recall he asked a question, and when we all sat there looking at him, open Bibles on our laps, he said, "The answer's not on my forehead." Look at the text. He is a man who lives in the joy of the Lord. If ever jostled during the day, hymns spill out. My father had several opportunities to be a big gun in the evangelical world, and for the sake of conscience he walked away from them. I couldn't respect anyone more.
I have never met anyone who expects God to work in wonderful ways, on a daily basis, as my father does. In preparation for a plane trip to some place like Cleveland, I would not be surprised to find him loading up on evangelistic tracts in Urdu and Arabic, with the full expectation that he will meet appropriate people to give them to. And he does too. I recall one time, when my son was little, we all gathered to hear my father relate the remarkable ways God had worked on a trip he had taken around the world. As we were leaving, my son said, "When I grow up I'm going to be like grandpa and tell people about my trip." I hope he does.
When I was in the Navy, I was in a lot of religious conversations with a lot of sailors a lot of the time. Oddly, there was little fruit until my father told me over the phone, "Avoid foolish and unlearned arguments for they do gender strife, and the servant of the Lord must not strive." The Scripture is always applicable, but God calls parents to make the applications obvious to their children.
Another significant phone conversation occurred when my mother told me that she did not mind what kind of a girl I brought home, as long as it was a girl like Nancy Greensides. In ways beyond remembering or reckoning, my father and mother together have blessed me, and my wife, and my children, and my future grandchildren. "But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children, to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them" (Ps. 103:17-18).
Neither one of my parents was brought up in believing homes. My father was converted at the Naval Academy, in part because he had started accidentally receiving the mail of another Jim Wilson who was a Christian. And my mother was saved when she was sixteen at a revival meeting in Alberta. An invitation was given, and an elderly woman urged my mother's friend Dorothy to go forward. She was not about to go down there by herself, so she grabbed my mother to accompany her. When my mother got home that evening, she told her sister that she had been saved. "What does that mean?," she asked. "I shook the preacher's hand," my mother said. The knowledge was not deep, but the work of grace was. The next morning she got up and, because she was a Christian now, she began to read her mother's Bible. (My grandmother had died when my mother was five.) She began reading in 1935. What Charles Spurgeon said of John Bunyan is true of both my father and mother; their blood runs bibline.
My father thinks in terms of principles, and while he employs methods, he refuses to get tangled up in them. In the 1960's he wrote a small book called Principles of War. It has proven itself to be something of an underground classic since that time. In it, he takes the principles of warobjective, mobility, surprise, communication, etc.and applies them to that aspect of spiritual war which we know as evangelism. He taught me to be eternally suspicious of paint-by-numbers Christianity. Too many Christians learn to "witness" or "pray" the way a monkey could be taught to answer the phone. But we are created in the image of God, and He wants us to understand our obedience. "What is the principle?"
"That's all right for you to talk," some readers might be thinking. "If I had parents like that, I'd respect them too. Must be nice." But one of the advantages in being brought up by godly parents is that you are taught things you cannot learn any other way. One time I was disputing with my father about the biblical requirement that we respect and honor all men. "What would you say to a drunk in the gutter?" I asked. He answered that he would bend over and ask, "Can I help you, sir?" He understood, and passed on to me, that we render respect and honor because God requires it, and not because any of us have earned it in any absolute sense. It would be difficult for anyone to be more grateful for their parents than I am, but I am really boasting in the grace of God. Children who believe that their parents' sins and shortcomings provide a legitimate basis to set aside the requirement of the Fifth Commandment are revealing that they do not understand the true nature of respect.
Parents must require that their children learn to honor and respect, not because the parents are grasping after something, but because God is the authority in the home, and He requires it. Those parents who insist upon honor with sheer obedience as the foundation are, interestingly enough, worthy of what they receive. But the more worthy they are, as my parents well know, the more they understand that this is all of grace. No parent is absolutely worthy of a child's respect. But then again, no child is worthy of rendering it.
But in our psychobabbling age, consumed with self-righteousness, we are taught that respect and honor must be earnedand not surprisingly, no one ever measures up. As a result, America steadily fills up with victims and whiners. My father has taught countless young people who assumed, or were taught, that because their parents didn't measure up to the current standards of sensitivity, the requirements of God's law somehow were waived in their particular case. My father has shown them that respect is required by God, and not by parental failures. Moreover, God requires it in all cases, and not just with those parents who have made the grade.
The commandment has a promise connected to it. When first given, the promise applied to the Jews and their life "in the land." Paul picks up that promise and shows that it applies to the new Israel wherever they may go in the earth"that your life may be long in the earth." Our culture is falling apart around us because our children do not honor us, and they do not honor us because we do not honor our parents. The sewage that fills our streets today began to flow in our living and dining rooms.
But in the midst of familial chaos, God has reserved for himself many parents who have not bowed the knee to our modern baals of sensitivity and abdication. My house has been blessed tremendously through the fact that my parents were among that obedient number.
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