June 22, 2013

Blessed* a Reflection on My Stepfather's Funeral


We are currently in a series called Blessed*; looking at what it means to be Blessed* by God...we have seen how God’s blessing has less to do with money and everything to do with living a life of purpose and meaning and usefulness in God’s Kingdom. The more we give ourselves away, the more fulfilled we are. The more we spend ourselves in service of God’s Kingdom, the more blessing we receive.

I had one more message for this series that was supposed to end today, but things have changed a bit.

Some of you may know that this week my stepfather passed away. After years of struggling health he degenerated quickly, and finally passed away on Monday.

Being the pastor in the family, I was asked to do the funeral. Funerals are difficult enough when they are someone else’s family. They get a bit tougher when they carry all the baggage of being a family member...especially a family member who has strained relationships with every family member and person who knows him. Preparing for his funeral and thinking about his life, I came to the realization that I needed to add another message...if only just for myself...to address somethings I saw in his life in terms of blessing.

The heart of this started on Tuesday night. I sat around with the family, like I do with families for whom I’m doing a funeral. I ask a simple questions, “What are some good memories or funny stories about your loved one?” The goal is to help people think about the good times, get them remembering the good their loved one has left behind.

The problem with my stepfather...we could only come with about 5 stories we could tell. I called his younger brother, and he couldn’t think of any worth telling. My stepfather had lived his entire life with this anger and bitterness that even the good moments we could remember felt stained by his verbal and psychological abuse.

One of the thoughts that occurred to me was, “I hope people have a far easier time remembering the funny and the good memories about me when I die. I hope they quickly remember the love and friendship I showed, the acceptance, how much I appreciate them.” And through the week, I have thought about this in terms of our series on being Blessed*. I think the corrective to this is learning to be a blessing to others around me.

Paul Tournier, a Swiss psychiatrist and theologian, discovered a recurring problem in many of the people whom he saw in his practice. He called it “The Unblessed Child.” He found that many people did not feel blessed, accepted, or approved by their parents which spilled over in how they believed people around them felt. No matter how much they achieved, they never felt good enough.

As parents, a big part of our responsibility is helping our children feel blessed, accepted, approved by us. As followers of Christ, part of our responsibility in the world is helping those around us feel blessed, loved, and accepted by God! Everyone wants and needs a blessing. They want acceptance. They want to feel approval.

For years, because of my upbringing, no matter how much I do or accomplish I never feel like it is good enough. We live in a world of people who feel the exact same way...and then, as naturally happens, those feelings get transferred on to God.

My parents don’t accept me. I don’t feel good enough. No matter what I accomplish is not enough...and pretty soon we start saying, “I am always failing God! Why would he want someone like me!” and we find we can’t do enough to feel spiritually satisfied...like we have done enough.

In Genesis 27 there is a story about Esau and Jacob. They were twins, but they were nothing alike. Esau was big and hairy and outdoorsy. He was your man’s man. Fiery temper, independent...and his father Isaac loved him. Jacob was everything Esau was not. Mild mannered, thoughtful, conniving, a homebody...and his mother Rebecca loved him.

Near the end of his life, the Patriarch would call his children together and bless them. The oldest son received the best and biggest blessing of all. It was a cultural practice that many of us would chaff about, but it was their practice. Each of the others sons would get very little, and the daughters would get nothing.

When Isaac nearing death, he called Esau, and had him hunt and prepare some wild game stew, and then he would give Esau the blessing reserved for the first born. But upon hearing this, Rebecca and Jacob conspired to steal the blessing. They dressed Jacob up in hairy furs, they made the soup Isaac liked, and then Jacob pretended to be Esau. After some uncertain interaction, Isaac was convinced that it was Esau, and gave the blessing to Jacob.

Jacob had stolen the blessing from Esau.

Genesis 27:34-36 says, “When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!...Isn’t he rightly named Jacob [meaning deceiver]? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing! Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?”

We must use our imagination at this point to hear the pain...the rejection in Esau’s voice as he cries out, “Bless me—me too, my father!”

This is the cry of many in our generation, maybe even some of us...the cry for a blessing...to be loved and accepted. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can be the giver of the blessing that so many in our world need.

Let’s look at a couple of important aspect of blessing as seen here in the passage...

Blessings must be felt.
Genesis 27:21 says, “Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you...” The father would lay his hand on the head of the son being blessed.

Touch is very important. A team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign led by psychologist Michael Kraus studied the effects of physical contact between teammates during NBA games. You know the high-fives, chest bumps, smacks on the rear...stuff like that. They found that the more on-court touching there was early in the season, the more successful teams and individuals were by season's end. The article says, “The effect of touch was independent of salary or performance, eliminating the possibility that players touch more if they're more skilled or better compensated.” Kraus goes on to say, "touch strengthens relationships and is a marker of closeness," he says. "It increases cooperation but is also an indicator of how strong bonds are between people."

Jesus knew the importance of touch. He touched everyone; the sick, the lame, the lepers, the blind, the deaf, the prostitutes, the outcasts. People whom the rest of society rejected and turned away from; Jesus blessed them with touch.

In one powerful story, Jesus called for the children to come to him. “People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13-16).

Jesus knew the power of touch in a person’s life.

There is a world of untouchables out there who need the touch of God...and He does that through us. And here, we are talking about a very literal touch. I know we live in a society that is rather touch-phobic, and I’m not saying was should go all touch-feely. But the power of touch to heal, to comfort, to bless people cannot be understated.

As we look to bless those around us...remember the important role that touch plays.

The second thing...

Blessings must be spoken.
There is an old story about a husband who never said, “I love you” to his wife. One day, fed up with it, the wife said, “How come you never say I love you to me?” He said, “I told you 40 years ago that I loved you, and if I ever change my mind I will let you know!”

In Genesis 27, we see the power of the blessing was found in the words spoken over someone..."Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit" (Proverbs 18:21).

There is that old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," and we all know it is a lie! Words have the power to inflict incredible pain. “I hate you!” screamed in anger from a child or loved on, even if it is not really meant, still causes pain. Our words cannot be taken back once they leave our lips.

But just as words have the power to destroy...they also have the power to heal. They can build up and empower. They can be a source of forgiveness, healing, and life.

How many of us have longed to hear the words, “I love you! You are important to me! I know you can do it!”? The people around us need to hear those words on a regular basis from us.They rarely hear words of affirmation and empowerment in their lives.

As Jesus’ followers we can make the biggest difference, give the biggest blessings, by speaking encouragement and love into people’s lives. Don’t wait until the last minute. Do it while you have the chance. Be known as an encourager who regularly sees the good, the importance in others and calls it out of them.

Start with your children and your family, and then spread out from there. Look for ways to say good things to those around you. Try to catch them doing something good and praise them for it.

Finally...

Blessing must value the person.
Look at what Isaac says to Jacob, Genesis 27:27-29,
“Ah, the smell of my son
    is like the smell of a field
    that the Lord has blessed.
May God give you heaven’s dew
    and earth’s richness—
    an abundance of grain and new wine.
May nations serve you
    and peoples bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers,
    and may the sons of your mother bow down to you.
May those who curse you be cursed
    and those who bless you be blessed.”

Isaac is using his words to call out the value in Jacob’s life.

The most important aspect of giving a blessing is that it gives value to the person being blessed. For some, it is easy to see their goodness, their value, their accomplishment, and give them the praise they deserve.

For others, it can be more difficult. We might have to dig. But calling out the value in a person’s life can change their destiny.

The Bible demonstrates this in how many times it changes a person’s name. Simon, who is anything but a rock, has his name changed to Peter. Jacob, the deceiver, has his name changed to Israel. Saul became Paul. Abram and Sarai became Abraham and Sarah.

We can turn someone’s life around by finding their value and calling it out in their lives. Simply looking for what sets them apart, and saying something as simple as, “You have a talent for...” or “I appreciate the way you do that...”

Conclusion
Even in the midst of this dysfunctional biblical family, we can see the power of blessing in the lives of people. They got it wrong. Jacob stole the blessing meant for his brother. Isaac was only going to give a good blessing to his oldest. Rebecca plotted against her husband. Esau wanted to kill his brother and, later in this passage, bring emotional pain to his parents. But even in this dysfunction, God is able to show us the power of the blessing in someone’s life, and how hard they will fight to be blessed...how much we need to be blessed.

You have probably seen this commercial, but I found it absolutely amazing, and it speaks to what the work lays before us as we get the privilege of speaking blessing into someone’s life...



We get to help people get beyond the lack of blessing they have been given.

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