|July 12 1998|
I WILL NEVER FORGET the night my father died. I was eight years of age. My father was a baker in his middle thirties, establishing his own business. The bakery and cakeshop was in the heart of Box Hill, Victoria. My father and mother had four children. I was the eldest. The youngest had just been born.
We lived in one half of a small duplex house. Sharing that half was my father's mother, a little Scots lady who was slowly becoming demented. My mother was having great difficulty coping with her four young children, nursing the baby, coping with a demented mother-in-law, helping in the business which was heavily mortgaged in the struggling economy just after World War 2, and with a husband who was very ill with infected ulcers on his legs and cirrhosis of the liver due to chronic alcoholism. His alcoholism and the condition of his legs had laid him up in bed for eight weeks, since before the birth of my sister. My mother remembers those weeks as the happiest weeks of her marriage.
One night, my mother went round the corner to a neighbour's house where their daughter was having a shower tea prior to her marriage. My mother would be gone for an hour. My little baby sister Nola, started to cry, and my father apparently got up from bed to go around the street to get my mother. With my mother out of the house, he had been drinking. He did not come back. My grand-mother waited and neither parent returned. The baby was still crying. Taking me by the hand she said "Let us go and find Daddy". My mother had often said that to me in the past year or so when we would go out into the dark streets.
We went to find my father who was too drunk to make it home. Sometimes he would be asleep in the bakehouse, near the warm ovens, sleeping off a hang-over until it was early morning and time to start work again. That night we went out into Miller Street. The moon was shining, and there, under the one street light we saw the body of my father lying in the gutter. He must have stumbled and fallen. He was dead from alcohol poisoning.
Later that night, the family doctor who had brought each of us kids into the world and who had treated my father, pronounced him dead. My mother was crying in the front room. Some neighbours had gathered and my auntie was on her way. Dr W.A.Kemp saw to my mother and then came down to the old wash-house behind the kitchen where I was crying. He took me by the shoulders and looking into my eyes said words I have not forgotten since he spoke them fifty years ago. "Gordon, you are now the man of the family. Your mother is going to need your help to bring up the other children. You cannot take over from your father, but you can take responsibility for yourself. I guess the first thing you should learn is how to clean your shoes properly." He had noticed on the lid of the copper, were my school shoes covered in mud. They had been drying there. The family doctor took a scrubbing brush and scrubbed off the mud. "Now you use only a little bit of water. You do not want to make them wetter." Then he showed me how to put the shoe polish on and put them aside to dry overnight. He showed me how to polish them in the morning. "Now I want you to always clean your shoes, and those of your brother and sisters also, and save your mother from that job."
I took responsibility for myself from that night and ever since have always polished my shoes. Some people tell boys to "grow up and be a man". They expect overnight maturity. But that night, the night my father died, I accepted responsibility for myself.
God calls us to take responsibility for ourselves! Some people, limited by barriers other people erect and placed into situations they have not chosen, still catch a vision of being themselves and becoming the best they can be. Do you want to know how you can take responsibility for yourself?
1. ACCEPT YOURSELF AS YOU ARE.
Many people are constantly ashamed of who they are, of their background, lack of education, personal limitations, appearance and circumstances. But if you are an honest person and live a moral life, there is no need to be ashamed of anything. God made you the way you are. You can accept yourself because God accepts you just the way you are.
Accept your background. Some of Australia's greatest people have come from impoverished homes, had little education, were deprived of comforts, limited in opportunity, of mixed racial background or from divided families. So what? Accept your background and stop limiting your future because of your past. Accept your limitations creatively. Some people are afflicted with crippling illnesses, speech impediments, poor physical appearance and handicaps of all kinds. If you cannot change them, accept them. and get on with being a contributor to society. What you are is God's gift to you. What you become is your gift to God.
When the Old Testament hero, David, was a boy he went to visit his older brothers who were in King Saul's army. He found the whole army afraid. The enemy had challenged Israel to put up one man to fight one of their men and which ever man won, that country would possess the land. After Israel had agreed, the Philistines nominated their man, a giant three metres tall, named Goliath. The Israelites were dead scared. Not one soldier wanted to fight the fierce giant Goliath.
David came with food for his brothers and heard how no Israelite was brave enough to go out and fight the giant Goliath. David heard that King Saul was offering a huge reward for anyone who would take on the giant. David said he had killed a mountain lion and a bear who had been attacking his father's sheep. His older brothers told him to go back home. But David said: 37 "The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." Saul said to David, "Go, and the LORD be with you." 38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armour on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. "I cannot go in these," he said to Saul, "because I am not used to them." So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd's bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine." David took responsibility for himself! He accepted himself, his size and methods. With the mighty King's armour on him, David could not move! Using another's weapons instead of your own can be fatal.
Instead David thought for himself, developed his own strategy, learnt from the encounters he had as a shepherd with mountain lions, used his own familiar weapons, and went out to defeat Goliath. The giant was now fighting David on David's territory, against David's weapons and David's strategy. Goliath's bulk and brazen armour were a disadvantage against the slim, quick, mobile young shepherd. That victory over the giant brought him into national prominence and later, he was wanted as the next king.
Do you think David's victory is a far-fetched myth? Not so. Five hundred dead Australians and 57,000 dead American soldiers tell that in Vietnam David beat Goliath. In their own country, using their own weapons and deep commitment, 250,000 Viet-Cong, including boy soldiers, beat one and a quarter million Allied soldiers equipped with the best war armour of the mightiest nation in history. America will never again fight a David and Goliath battle on David's territory! The story of Vietnam, is that boys with their weapons can defeat even soldiers.
No small boy can take his father's place. No one over-night becomes a man. But even a boy can take responsibility for himself, be himself, and do his own thing. Many adults lead ineffective lives because they have never learnt to take responsibility for themselves. Those adults look for others to make decisions for them, depend upon others to provide and care for them, want the methods of others rather than their own, moan that the government should do more for them, wait for someone else to do something for them, hope that "something will turn up." Take responsibility!
2. STAND ON YOUR OWN FEET.
God expects people to stand up and take responsibility for themselves. Prov 12:7 "The house of the righteous stands firm." Daniel had a vision of God that overwhelmed him: 10:7-11 "I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. 8 So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. 9 Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. 10 A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 He said, "Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you." And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling." Daniel had to stand on his own feet.
Jesus saw a man in a synagogue sitting in a corner with a withered hand. He had compassion on the man and decided to heal him so said to the man, Mark 3:3-5 "Stand up in front of everyone" Jesus said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored." Peter and John, on their way into the Temple met a cripple who begged for money. Peter said: Acts 3:6-8 "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began walking and jumping, and praising God." God expects us to stand on our own feet - to make some personal effort, to take responsibility for ourselves.
God wants us to control our own lives and destinies instead of being controlled by others. Self discipline is the best form of discipline. You are no longer managed by parents, teachers or the law. Take responsibility for yourself and stand on your own two feet.
During the week a gentleman approached me in Wesley restaurant after I had preached at the lunch-time Chapel service. He said, "My name is Damian, and I just want to tell you what a great job the Mission's rehabilitation program for alcoholics is. I am an alcoholic. I was damn hopeless when I went to Serenity House. Do you remember speaking to me when you came out to see us?" He certainly did not look like any man with whom I had spoken. But taking away the difference that being sober makes, the difference having a new start makes, the difference a suit makes, I tried to picture him as he was a few months ago. The difference was amazing! "I was blaming everybody under the sun for my alcoholism. The change started with I accepted responsibility for myself and stood on my own two feet."
It takes great faith to do that. Fear says you will fail. Faith says that with God's help you can make it! Commitment to Jesus Christ allows Him to lift your burdens from you. He forgives your sins of the past, and offers to strengthen you in the future. But you must make the effort to come to Him, to trust Him and to accept Him. Accept yourself as you are in all your weakness, frailty and sin. Then stand on your own feet and accept responsibility for yourself. Now He can make something of you! "Stand up in front of everyone" Jesus said to the man in Capernaum. Is he saying that to you now?
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