Giving And Receiving The Blessing

Our Scripture reading this morning is taken from 1 Peter 3:812.

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. {9} Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. {10} For, ‘Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. {11} He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. {12} For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’”

I would love to preach verse by verse through this passage this morning, as is my normal pattern, but today I believe that we can receive greater profit by focusing our attention on just two phrases in verse 9. You might even want to underline them in your Bible: “With blessing” and “inherit a blessing.” Actually I like the New American Standard Bible rendering better; it reads, “not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.”

Whichever translation is used, the concept is clear that God desires for each of us to give a blessing to those around us, especially our family members, and His goal for each of His children is to inherit a blessing from others, particularly our parents, but also from our spouses and siblings, as well as from our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.

A profound book came off the religious press ten years ago, entitled The Blessing, by two Christian psychologists, Gary Smalley and John Trent. I want to borrow some of the insights of that book this morning as we conclude our series on the Christian family by focusing on “the blessing” as a crucial entity in the believing home.

By the way, I know we have not dealt with all the important issues related to the family in this two-month series. Even if we had, it is hardly possible to “fix” marriages from the pulpit, though I hope we have given you some tools to begin the process. Our hope and prayer is that awareness of our responsibility to family has been heightened, that these messages have stimulated some to talk about issues in their families that were too hurtful to address before, and that some have been motivated to seek godly counsel. I know that my own counseling load has quadrupled during this series.

Feeling somewhat overwhelmed by it all, I suggested to Paul that we begin a new series on Leviticus–that ought to cut down on the counseling. But seriously, I’m glad that so many have come forward for help, and if you have been thinking about it and haven’t gotten up the courage, you come and we’ll do our best to help you or find some help for you. By the way, it will not be ten years before we do another family series. Paul and I are seriously considering setting aside a month each Spring to deal particularly with the Christian home.

As we begin this morning, I want you to consider with me the familiar account (in Genesis 27) about how Jacob received the blessing from his father, Isaac, instead of his brother Esau. in Old Testament times the receiving of a father’s blessing was a momentous event, eagerly anticipated by the children, especially the eldest son. It gave them a tremendous sense of being highly valued by their parents and even pictured a special future for them.

The time had come for Esau, Isaac’s eldest son, to receive the blessing from his father, and Isaac had told him to go and bring in fresh game for a savory meal, and when he returned the long-awaited blessing would be given to him. However, while he was out hunting his conniving, scheming brother Jacob stole the blessing by coming to his nearly blind father, Isaac, and pretending to be Esau. In Gen. 27:3134 we read about what happened when Esau returned from the hunt:

“‘My father, sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.’ {32} His father Isaac asked him, ‘Who are you?’ ‘I am your son,’ he answered, ‘your firstborn, Esau.’ {33} Isaac trembled violently and said, ‘Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him and indeed he will be blessed!’ {34} When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, ‘Bless me too, my father!’”

For a father in biblical times, once a blessing was spoken, it was irretrievable. In response to his pitiful cries, Esau did receive a blessing of sorts from his father, but it was not the blessing of the first-born he had longed to hear. His cry rings out, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!”, the same cry that can be heard, though often silently, from thousands upon thousands of people today who have never received the blessing from their parents.

Now there are certainly aspects of this O.T. blessing that are not applicable today, but many aspects are profoundly relevant. The issue at the heart of the blessing is genuine acceptance. Those who have never received it often become emotionally chained to their parents’ home, unable to cleave to another person in a lasting relationship.

Perhaps the most important place to begin is to talk about the elements of “the blessing” that are the common thread from O.T. times, through the N.T., right through to today?

The Blessing that Believers Need to Both Give and Receive Consists of Five Key Elements.

Meaningful touch

Spoken words of affirmation

Attaching “high value” to the one being blessed

Picturing a special future

An active commitment to fulfill the blessing

Meaningful touch. This was an essential element in bestowing the blessing in O.T. homes. When Isaac blessed his son he said, “Come near now and kiss me, my son.” And every time a blessing is given in the Scriptures there is hugging or kissing or a laying on of hands. The act of touching is a key to communicating warmth, personal acceptance, and affirmation.

Most of you have heard the story of the little 4yearold girl who became frightened late one night during a thunderstorm, but it bears repeating. After one particularly loud clap of thunder, she jumped up from her bed, ran down the hall, and burst into her parents’ room. Jumping right in the middle of the bed, she sought out her parents’ arms for comfort and assurance. “Don’t worry, Honey,” her father said, trying to calm her fears. “The Lord will protect you.” The little girl snuggled closer to her father and said, “I know that, Daddy, but right now I need someone with skin on!” God knows that we need the comfort and security that comes from meaningful touch. That is why when we accept Christ, we gain not only a secure relationship with our heavenly Father, but we join an entire family of brothers and sisters in Christ–men and women “with skin on” who can hug us and hold us and communicate God’s love and blessing to us.

Several months ago I preached a message from Romans 16 on the phrase, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” I shared at that time how often the Scriptures speak of touching as a meaningful way to communicate love and affirmation to a brother or sister in Christ. I’m not suggesting that there are no dangers here for anyone, but I have discovered that when one’s heart is pure before God one can hug another Christian in purity. And if touch is important in the church, how much more in the home? It’s not always easy to hug a kid. Sometimes they resist it. At other times the circumstances make it unusually difficult; my son Eddie was 6′ 5″ when he was 13, and it’s really awkward to hug a kid when your arms only reach to his waist. But even teenage boys need to be hugged. Perhaps I should say, especially teenage boys need to be hugged.

Friends, thousands of Christian people are touch starved, kids, wives, husbands, elderly parents. Psychologists and medical doctors are telling us that there is a very definite physiological benefit to both the toucher and the one being touched. Would you like to lower your husband’s or wife’s blood pressure? Protect your grade school child from being involved in an immoral relationship later in life? Even add up to two years to your own life? These are all potential results of the incredible power found in meaningful touching.

Studies have shown that most promiscuous women were severely deprived of appropriate touching and holding by their fathers. In a similar study with homosexual men, a common characteristic they shared was the absence of meaningful touching by their fathers early in life. Dr. Ross Campbell writes, “In all my reading and experience, I have never known of one sexually disoriented person who had a warm, loving, and affectionate father.” I have known a few, but not many. And Moms, your hugs are important too, but Dads, yours are absolutely critical.

Have you ever noticed how often Jesus touched people from little children to grown men. Consider the words of Mark 10:1316:

“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. {14} 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. {15} I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ {16} And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”

And Jesus met even a grown man’s need for meaningful touch when he came upon a leper who was barred by law from ever touching anyone again. Mark 1:4042 reads,

“A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ {41} Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ {42} Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.”

Spoken words of affirmation. There’s an old saying that everyone of us used numerous times when we were growing up: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It’s a lie if there ever was one. The very fact that we spoke those words was an indication that we were hurt. Words have an incredible power to build us up or tear us down emotionally, and this is particularly true when it comes to giving or gaining family approval. Many of us can clearly remember words of praise our parents spoke years ago. And others can clearly remember longing for such words and never hearing them, or even worse, hearing negative words of disapproval.

I want to read a letter I received about six weeks ago from a woman in this church. It was ten pages long, single spaced, so I can only read a few selected paragraphs. In some ways it’s a tragic letter, as she shares about her own promiscuous past. By the way, she gave me permission to read these portions.

Dear Pastor Mike,

This is not an easy letter to write, but the Lord has put it on my heart to do so. Your sermon on Security and Significance moved me greatly and brought me to tears, just as Paul’s had the week before. Here I had thought that I was doing so well and life was “comfortable” and God decides it’s time to finish healing! God is so awesome and I praise Him for what he has allowed me to endure so that I might use it to glorify Him. But, it is painful and awful, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

My Dad is an Episcopalian priest and the son of an alcoholic mother. He blames everyone but himself for any problem in life he has had (and there have been many). He is incredibly bright, but he was always making someone angry and thus getting fired, so as a result I attended 6 elementary schools in 3 different states. He has an explosive temper and I remember clearly several physical fights between my parents. When I was 10 my mom just could not take the physical and emotional abuse anymore and moved us to California where she had grown up.

My dad remarried almost immediately and had two more kids within 18 months. I guess what bothered me so much was that my dad could not afford to pay $100/month in child support, yet here he goes and has two more kids. All I wanted was to feel loved, cherished and accepted by him (as well as approval). When I would visit (he was living in California by then, too) and we would go out, I would ask him if I looked OK, and he would say things lie, “well, if you like it then I guess it’s alright.” All I wanted was to be told that he loved me, that I was OK, that he was proud of me, that even though he’d had two more kids, I was still important and a priority to him. It never happened. It still hasn’t happened.

I tried to hide my pain behind a very self-destructive facade of alcohol, drugs and promiscuity. I was so desperate to feel loved and valued that I looked anywhere I could to find that.

My dad never accepts responsibility for his actions and never says he’s sorry. He has never apologized to me for all of the crummy things he has said. That’s part of what hurts me so much. I have tried to forgive him, and feel like for the most part I have. Occasionally though, like when I heard your sermon, I realize that there is still a lot of pain.

Friends, this is not a terribly rare situation. There’s good reason for the exhortation in our text to the effect we should not return evil for evil or insult but to give a blessing instead. Insults are common practice in many homes. Even where such is not common, words of love and acceptance may be lacking. A tragic misconception parents in these homes share is that simply being there communicates the blessing. The fact is that for a child in search of acceptance and affirmation, silence communicates confusion. No amount of presents, gifts, money or privileges can take the place of spoken words of blessing and affirmation.

There are, of course, many natural enemies of the spoken blessing. There is the busyness of many of our lives; there is the lack of sensitivity to the need for speaking words of affirmation; there is the tragic misconception that such words will inflate a child’s ego; and there is the most common enemy the fact that many parents never received such words from their parents, so they don’t know how to give it. We’ll talk in a few moments about what people should do if they find themselves in that category.

Attaching high value to the one being blessed. The word “to bless” literally means to bow the knee to, to show reverence to an important person. When Isaac blessed Jacob he said, “The smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed.” Now we wouldn’t perhaps use the same imagery, but in an agrarian society that was a compliment to Jacob to communicate to him how highly valued he was to Isaac.

The key here is to recognize that when words of value are only linked to a child’s performance, they lose much of their impact. Children who have to perform to get a blessing retain a nagging uncertainty about whether they have ever really received it. If their performance ever drops even a small amount, they can ask and reason, “Am I loved for ‘who I am’ or only for ‘what I can do’?” The result is that such children often become driven perfectionists, workaholics, or notoriously picky house cleaners. They go after the blessing the old fashioned way: they try to “earnnnnnn it.” But they soon find that the blessing cannot be earned or bought. It must be given on the basis of character, relationship, and intrinsic value.

I made good grades in school and my parents were good to give me strokes for that, but the words that I remember more than all others are the words of praise my mother gave me for befriending Bob Tweedie and for being nice to the little old ladies at Old Orchard Church, where my father was pastor. Bob Tweedie was a deaf boy at Lockwood Elementary over in Webster, now called College School. He moved there in the fourth grade and was put in my class. We had never had a hearing impaired child in our school, and the other kids made fun of Bob because he talked funny and called him Tweedie Pie, but for some reason I can’t even remember why I reached out to him and became his friend.

Mother not only told me that she appreciated that, but she wrote to my grandmother, she told missionary guests in our home, she told the neighbors. When other women were bragging about their children’s sports activities or grades or looks, my mom bragged about how I treated a little deaf boy or about how I was friendly to the old people.

By the way, I used this illustration about Bob Tweedie nine years ago in a sermon, and Phyllis Easterbrook came up to be after the message and said, “I think Bob Tweedie still lives here in St. Louis.” Phyllis was taking signing classes for the hearing impaired and had come across the name. The next week I did some searching, and sure enough found him living in Kirkwood. He remembered me immediately and we had a joyful reunion.

Picturing of a special future. A young Jewish mother was proudly walking down the street pushing a stroller with her infant twins. As she rounded the corner, she ran into a neighbor, who said, “My, what beautiful children, what are their names?” Pointing to each child, she replied, “This is Bennie, the doctor, and Reuben, the lawyer.” The woman believed her children had a special future and great potential before them and communicated that to them from their earliest years. No doubt it had an enormous impact on them in their formative years. The point is not that parents should choose their children’s careers or pile up unattainable expectations for them, but they should believe in them and let them know that they believe in them.

My parents affirmed a special future for me as a teacher from the time I was in the second grade. They constantly told me I could do anything I set my mind to.

Too often children hear only words that predict relationship problems or personal inadequacies. When that is the case it often turns out that they travel down the hurtful path that has been pictured for them. This can happen if they hear statements like: “You’d better hope you can find someone who can take care of you when you’re older. You’re so irresponsible you’ll never be able to do anything for yourself,” or “Why bother to study so much? You’ll probably just get married instead of going to college anyway?” What parents who say such things don’t realize is that such words are planted in a child’s psyche and can become self-fulfilling predictions.

An active commitment to fulfill the blessing. The point here is that it is not enough to just give verbal affirmation and blessing to our children; words need to be backed up with a commitment to do everything possible to help the one blessed be successful. We can tell a child, “You have the talent to be a very good pianist.” But if we neglect to provide a piano for that child, or refuse to let them play it while we’re reading the paper, our lack of commitment has undermined our message. This principle is what the Apostle James wants us to understand in chapter 2 of his letter, verses 15 &16: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. {16} If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” Nothing, of course. Such words are as useless as a politician’s promises the day after election.

There are several important aspects to the active commitment that is needed to back up our words. First, we need to commit the person being blessed to the Lord. The patriarchs, in blessing their children, always called upon God to bless them because they were sure of His commitment to them. Periodically we dedicate the young children of our families and call upon God to bless them, because we believe He is intensely concerned about the lives of those children. Secondly, we need to commit our time, energy and resources to the unique needs of the one we are seeking to bless. If you are the parent of more than one child no one needs to tell you that no two children are alike. My two are so different they could have come from different planets. Jacob had the same experience with his 12, and when he blessed them in Gen. 48 & 49 he focused on the uniqueness of each one. In fact, Gen 49:28 reads, “This is what their father said to them; when he blessed them. He blessed them, every one, with the blessing appropriate to him.”

There is one more subject I think we need to deal with this morning. What should you do if you have not received the blessing? For some here today the acceptance and affirmation you long for from your parents or spouse is out of reach because they are gone or you are divorced. For others you may feel it is out of reach because the one from whom you desire it seems to be incapable of providing it. What do you do?

Those Who Have Been Deprived of the Blessing Still Have Hope.

Begin by being honest with yourself. Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” The truth is always freeing, though often painful. Many of us need to turn on truth’s searchlight and shine it on our troubled past. Only then can we be free to walk confidently into the future. Quit trying to cope through denial, and if you have never received the blessing, acknowledge the fact.

Seek to understand your parents’ or spouse’s background. Those who do not give the blessing generally never received it themselves. To understand is to pity rather than to hate. I believe it is possible for one who has never received the blessing to find healing and eventually become one who blesses others, but it’s not easy, and such people need a lot of help and encouragement.

Understand that even a curse can be changed into a blessing. In Deut. 23:5 Moses speaks to the children of Israel and says regarding the curse of Balaam, “the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you because the Lord your God loves you.” For some the blessing must be found in the spiritual family of God. No one knows the value of a believing church like the person who found within its numbers the affirming family they never had at home.

Let me return to the letter I was reading once more:

Eventually God put three wonderful godly men into my life. My brother Sean was the first. Our relationship began to grow into a loving and close friendship and I became aware of who God really was and what He was capable of. Here was my brother, who came out of the exact same set of circumstances and chose the other road, the right road, to live on. And even as horrible as I had been, Sean still loved me, just as God did. The Christ-like love he showed me made me realize that God is a loving, kind, consistent and caring God. Not the one I had perceived Him so wrongly to be. (She then went on to talk about two others who contributed very significantly to her recovery).

(Here is how she concludes): I’d jump off of a bridge if I knew Dad would tell me how proud he is of me! Learning to seek approval from Jesus has been a hard thing to learn and often I forget. I’ll probably always be hungry to have my “Daddy” but at least now I’m no longer destroying my life “searching” for him.

Friends, there’s a great lesson here. It is possible to get the blessing from others, even if we didn’t get it from the ones who should have given it to us.

I have focused largely upon children today, but the fact is that the elements of the blessing we have looked at apply equally to every healthy relationship husband-wife, brother-sister, aging parent-adult child, you name it. It also applies to relationships within the body of Christ. In fact, I would like to ask you to consider what a church would be like if everyone in it were bent on giving the blessing to those who are part of their forever family. It’s a sad day when people find more elements of the blessing in a local tavern or bowling alley than they do in church.

I thank God that’s not true here. There are so many here today who really believe and live the words of our Lord in John 13: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another . . .All people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Ken Medema has written a powerful song about the church entitled, “If This Is Not a Place”:

If this is not a place, where tears are understood,

then where shall I go to cry?

And if this is not a place, where my spirit can take wings,

then where shall I go to fly?

I don’t need another place, for trying to impress you,

with just how good and virtuous I am.

No, no, no, I don’t need another place, for always being on top of things. Everybody knows that it’s a sham, it’s a sham.

I don’t need another place for always wearing smiles,

even when it’s not the way I feel.

I don’t need another place, to mouth the same old platitudes;

everybody knows that it’s not real.

So if this is not a place, where my questions can be asked,

then where shall I go to seek?

And if this is not a place where my heart cry can be heard,

where, tell me where, shall I go to speak?

So if this is not a place, where tears are understood,

where shall I go, where shall I go to fly?

We started today with a reading from I Peter 3. Let me read again verses 8 & 9 of that text: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

CONCLUSION

In conclusion this morning I would like to refer to the conclusion of Smalley’s and Trent’s book which has a list of “One Hundred Homes that Gave the Blessing to Children.” I’d like to read just a few of these testimonies:

1. My parents would take the time to really listen to me when I talked to them by looking directly into my eyes.

2. We were often spontaneously hugged even apart from completing a task or chore.

3. They would always let me explain my side of the story.

4. They would take each of us out individually for a special breakfast with Mom and Dad.

5. I got to spend one day at Dad’s office, seeing where he worked and meeting the people he worked with.

6. My parents would make a special Christmas ornament for each child that represented a character trait we had worked on that year.

7. They were willing to admit then they were wrong and say, “I’m sorry.”

8. My folks wrote up a special “story of my birth” that they read to me every year.

9. They attended all my open houses at school.

10. Dad would always ask us children our opinions on important family decisions.

11. When I wrecked my parents’ car, my father’s first reaction was to hug me and let me cry instead of yelling at me.

12. My parents would tell me over and over that I was a good friend to my friends.

13. If it was really cold, my mom would get up early and drive me on my paper route.

14. Sometimes when I would get home from school, my mother would leave a plate of cookies on the counter with a special note saying she loved me.

15. My dad gave up smoking because he knew how much it bothered mom and us kids.

16. My parents would always make sure I knew why I was being disciplined.

17. When I was down about my boyfriend breaking up with me, my father took extra time just to listen to me and cry with me.

18. My father went with me when I had to take back an ugly dress a saleswoman had talked me into buying.

19. My father worked with me for hours on my soapbox derby racer.

20. My parents always went to my piano recitals and acted interested.

21. My father would let me practice pitching to him for a long time when he got home from work.

22. Every Saturday morning my father would get up before anybody else and cook us all pancakes and bacon.

23. My father would ask to talk to each of us kids personally when he called in from a trip.

24. We would all hold hands together when we said grace; then when we finished, we would squeeze the person’s hand next to us three times, which stood for the three words, “I love you.”

I am one who received the blessing from my parents and am very grateful for it. I have tried to pass it on to my own family, though I often feel like a failure. I am so glad there’s forgiveness for failure.

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