“What Moms Do Best” by John Burke

At Gateway Church in Austin, we celebrated Mother’s Day!

Moms have a unique role in our world that is not often given the importance or credit it deserves.  Every human being is designed to need and depend on mom – more than any other person. God did this on purpose as we are dependent creatures who need truth and love to become the person God created us to be.

Discussion Questions:

Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

What Moms Do Best – Next Steps

Gateway Online Inspire Service:

Message Notes from John Burke:

Happy Mother’s Day. You know, usually it seems on Mother’s Day I’ve had a mom speak, or a panel of moms, but I decided this Mother’s Day I wanted to speak, as your pastor, about the importance of moms in our lives.  Because I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of a mother—we all had one—we owe them our very existence. 

And God made one of the 10 Commandments about mothers “Honor your father and mother…” Exodus 20:12.

I want to speak to moms today.  About how honorable that role is. Many of you have had to leave your jobs during Covid—there’s been a women’s recession as 2 million moms have left the work force. Maybe you’re feeling worth less because of that, but today I want to remind you that you may have many other jobs in life (very important ones), but none that will change the course of humanity like being mom. Other People could and will replace you in your other roles, but no one can be mom like you.

Today, I also want to speak to all of us about honoring our moms. What does that mean?  And how do we honor mom? Even if she didn’t always acted honorable? 

Right up front, I want to speak to those for whom Mother’s Day is a difficult day, maybe because you’ve lost a child, or wanted to be a mom, but you don’t have kids, or lost your mom.  God sees your grief, and He cares—He is in it with you—and He will take that loss and grief and heal it. Wherever you are this Mother’s Day, whatever emotions are currently swirling,God cares for you even more than a mom can. In fact, God says:

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! Isaiah 49:15

God is with you and has compassion, and will take those desires of your heart—and use them for good as You seek Him in it.

Lessons from a Grandbaby

The reason I wanted to talk today is I’ve watched my daughter become a mother this year.  The one blessing of the crazy Covid 2020 was that my daughter, Ashley and her husband, Dom, had Sophia last February—we had a Covid baby who didn’t know other children existed until recently. I took her to the park and she squealed with delight to see other little people. But Covid allowed them to move from Dallas, so they’ve lived with us since August while building a home in Georgetown. I think my daughter tasted 6 months of sleepless nights, 24/7 no break at all motherhood, still trying to keep running her business she started, Dom working 7-7, no adult human interaction with Covid, and Ashley found out Dom’s company was going remote—so she weighed the options: “Stay in Dallas and smell like sour milk, strained carrots and applesauce until my weekend shower—or move to Austin and shower daily as my mom watches Sophie? Stay in Dallas and keep making friends with Telemarketers out of desperation for human interaction, or move to Austin and have adult face to face conversation daily?  And Dom was not thinking about all the money they could save living with us—He’s weighing:  Dallas and never alone with my wife…Austin—I get my wife back.”  So they moved, and we’ve loved it.

We got to watch Sophia learn to eat, walk, say her first words, and most importantly–dribble the soccer ball—yes! She loves her Papa, what she calls me, and loves her Gu-Gu (that’s what she calls Kathy—I call her Lady Gu-Gu. She loves that as you can imagine). She chants for Da-da every day—Dada makes her laugh and dance, but no one—and I mean no-one can replace Ba-ba (or Ma-ma).  The first year, there are really only 2 people that exist to Sophia, The Ma-ma, and “not-the-mama”—Dom, Lady Gugu, Papa–we’re all “Not the mama’s.”  Because There’s no one like Mama. God made it that way—it’s a unique role.

 It’s been such a blessing to watch motherhood in progress.  Seriously—I wasn’t there daily to observe and participate and appreciate how much work and thought and constant sacrificial attention and love it took Kathy with our kids in early childhood stuck inside in Chicago winters.  I’m in awe of Ashley—it’s just amazing to see your daughter become an awesome mother, and watching Kathy with Sophie, and remembering what an amazing mom she was that our kids are best friends with each other and us today, and both love God, despite pastor’s kids statistics.  And as I watch Ashley and Kathy—I’m truly in awe of motherhood.  And—Kathy’s not a perfect mom, Ashley either, that’s not what I want to share—but I’ve seen what Moms do Best—and what an influential but under-celebrated role motherhood is—and that’s what I want us to consider, to honor our moms, and to consider the legacy you can build into the next generation—even if you don’t have kids. The world only changes for better through children who grow up to better the world.

Nancy was the mother of 7 children, loved her children dearly, and was willing to go to great lengths to see them succeed. Her youngest son struggled in school, doubting his abilities, losing confidence, questioning his worth in the world. But Nancy refused to watch her son give up. When he was 7, one of his teachers told Nancy her son was “beyond the ability to teach.” He had dyslexia, before dyslexia was understood or services were available, so Nancy pulled him out and educated him herself. She saw his creative potential, equipped him to work through his struggles (due to childhood illness he was almost deaf as well). She instilled in him faith, hope, resiliency, and a never give up spirit. She fostered his creative mind. In his early 20’s he had an idea for an invention. In his day, Morse code could only communicate 40 words per minute, and you had to hear it, which he couldn’t. So he began working on a way to print words from morse code—but he failed to find a solution over and over. But what his mom taught him paid off—he kept persisting, believing, never giving up, and his deafness and struggles were used for good. Thomas Edison finally succeeded to invent the telegraph, which printed 1000 words a minute and changed communication forever. He failed 1000’s of times, but invented the lightbulb, the first record player, movie camera, and alkaline battery—basically everything your cell phone is today. He held over 1000 patents by the end of his life. What would our lives be like today without the lightbulb, electricity, videos or cell phones? So when you use your cell phone today—honor Nancy Edison—because the world celebrates the successes that better our lives on the outside, but who shapes the character that makes the difference on the inside. It is usually moms. 

Lincoln, King, and Washington

Abraham Lincoln had 2 mothers—his mom died when he was 9 (she taught him about Jesus), his stepmom “mama” raised him in a 1 room cabin, brought him books like Aesops Fables, Pilgrim’s Progress, and the Bible which he almost memorized–Mama was illiterate but the reason he read. Lincoln said:

“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life…All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother and mama.”

-Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln said his stepmother “had been his best friend in this world and that no son could love a mother more than he loves her.”  So it’s not just biological moms, but stepmoms, foster moms, “grandmoms” “auntie-moms”–all who provide the role of a mom are changing history in ways you don’t realize.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a huge influence in our country. But his sister Christine wrote the following:

“Every now and then, I have to chuckle as I realize there are people who actually believe ML just appeared. They think he simply happened, that he appeared fully formed, without context, ready to change the world…Take it from his big sister, that’s simply not the case.”

– Christine King Farris

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a product of his parents, and most obviously, his mothers’ teachings and experiences.

Booker T. Washington, pioneer of black education and business said the following:

“If I have done anything in life worth attention, I feel sure that I inherited the disposition from my mother.”

– Booker T. Washington

Moms, it’s not what the world sees your children accomplish that matters most—it’s what God sees and what He created them to be and do that matters most. God is working His plan in ways the world will never acknowledge—but one day we will all see.

What Moms Do Best – Grace and Truth

There are 2 things you as Moms do best that instill the character that God uses to change lives. It says of Jesus:

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1: 16,17 (NIV)

Grace and Truth is what Jesus brought humanity—which means those 2 things are what every human needs most.  And I believe God put mother’s into the life of every child to bring God’s Grace and Truth to children, just as Jesus modeled.


What does it mean to bring Grace into a child’s life? 

Grace means “unmerited favor”, unconditional love, blessing.  We are saved by Grace. God sees us as His Masterpiece, loved us unconditionally, and sent Jesus to sacrificially lay down his life so we could have life with God. Moms, that’s what you’re doing for your kids—showing them a taste of God’s Grace—what God is like.

When you make sacrifices for them, you’re showing God’s Sacrificial Love. God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8 

He sacrificed for us, we did nothing for him. Mom’s sacrifice for their little sinnlings—a lot.
Moms pull All nighters, change endless diapers, endure the terrible twos—I remember my mom up all night with me throwing up, trips to the hospital, guiding, teaching, encouraging. When you sacrifice mom, you’re helping them see God’s Sacrificial Love. God sees and honors your sacrifice—the world will not see, but God never forgets.

Grace is showing God’s Sacrificial Love, and God’s Comforting Love: This is what the Lord says… “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” Isaiah 66:12-13

When our moms comforted us, they were showing a small glimpse of a greater comfort. And Grace is showing God’s Comforting Love, and God’s Protective Love-.

Jesus likened himself to a mother hen as he looked over the people of Jerusalem and said:

“How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a [mother] hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Matthew 23:37

God is neither mother nor father, male nor female—but we are male and female in God’s image. So Moms at their best point us to a very important aspect of God. Moms, As you love unconditionally, sacrificially, comforting and protecting—that’s God’s Grace demonstrated. And God sees, He honors you and will not forget—because You are instilling in the next Generation the very character of God.

Kathy always saw our Kid’s Hearts as Spiritual Bank Accounts. When you find ways to bless, to encourage, to help them experience God’s sacrificial, comforting, protective love—you’re making deposits in their Spiritual Bank Account. As this builds, they can draw on those deposits when life tells them the opposite, or when life demands withdrawals, or people take from them, they’ll have a reserve to draw from. You become God’s channel to instill this deep reservoir in your children’s hearts. You’re doing what Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus:

I pray that from [God’s] glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. Ephesians 3:16-18

Moms are just the bank managers, God has the Unlimited resources to empower them. As you realize this is what God wants for you, and you daily draw from God’s unlimited resources to keep you filled up, you can make deposits in their accounts.

Grace means Loving our kids all the time, no matter what they do. Being patient and forgiving even when you don’t feel like it. Which often means we need to let God parents us, with compassion, kindness, forgiveness, understanding—even as we struggle to parent our kids. But moms, Grace is for you too—God is for you, in it with you, you’re not doing it alone—He has unconditional, sacrificial, comforting, protecting love for you—mom—so you don’t have to be perfect, just willing to seek and follow the Source of Grace and Truth. 


So moms at their best model God’s Grace, but at not without truth. Jesus came full of Grace and Truth. And if we neglect Truth, our kids will suffer.  So how do you live in both Grace and Truth?

It’s not easy—not one or the other, but keeping the two together is key. Truth is morality, standards, expectations, discipline, limits, honesty.  A kid who gets all grace and no truth often finds themselves out of control or adults who can’t hold down a job or keep a relationship together—so both, together, are critical. Moms at their best bring truth as they…

Truth: Establish Age-appropriate Rules and Boundaries.
The Fewer the better, but the key is to hold to them. Teach with consequences.  Age appropriate is key—a 15 month old doesn’t need the time-out chair, they need redirecting—like I watched Ashley do…Sophie let’s chew on teether this instead of the dog’s tail, it’s less dangerous. A kid 3-7 may break the rules and need to be put in a “time out” – we used to use a high chair reserved only for “time to think—the thinking chair.  As they get older, the consequences change—maybe it’s no TV or cell phone for a period of time.  If you’re a mom who’s good at Grace, It kills you to watch them cry or have to suffer from the consequences of their actions. But this is mom at her best—it’s loving by equipping them to understand that their choices do have consequences now, when the consequences are not severe, so they will not have to learn from painful consequences later–hopefully. And moms, you can also do everything right, and each human has a will of her own—some stronger than others.

Consequences can be positive too—discipline is not all negative. 

Truth: Catch them doing “right”
Kathy used to use a “star-chart” for correcting bad behavior—and she would catch our kids making the right choice instead of the wrong one (where the wrong choice got a negative consequence), she’d give them a star for a right choice. Positive reinforcement.  If they got enough stars, they got a special ice cream or some treat. 

The scriptures tell us God disciplines us because he loves us—and discipline is not punishment (though it involves painful consequences at times)—the word discipline in Greek is Paidia—child training—it’s positive and negative reinforcement.

While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off big-time, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.  Hebrews 12:10-11.

Integrating Grace and Truth

Now The challenge is to integrate Grace and Truth—never punishing by removing love or shaming their character (who they are), but reinforcing that they are loved and valued WHILE providing limits and structure.  Here’s how Henry Cloud explains it in our favorite parenting book, Raising Great Kids:

“Grace establishes and maintains the quality of the relationship, and truth adds direction for growth of a child’s behavior. Grace lets a child know she’s loved, truth guides her on what to do to become a healthy, responsible, loving human.” 

Henry Cloud in Raising Great Kids

One thing Ashley, my 28 year old daughter, now mom, told us about discipline: 
“You and dad gave us respect (even when we didn’t deserve it) and taught us through validating us and our opinions (not just saying “no and that’s final!”) But logically explaining your reasoning for your parenting decisions (for Truth) and helping us come to our own conclusion. We respected y’all since we were given so much respect, forgiveness and the ability to start over and reset when we did something wrong. Instead of making me feel bad about the bad decisions I made, you focused on the future and how I could reset and move forward positively and progress and grow from it. I feel the same way with God; as I seek His guidance in course correction, I know He sees my potential and growth and has my best interest in mind, fully believing in me.”

So Moms at their Best bring Grace and Truth together: “I know you want to play now. It’s hard to wait. But I want you to finish your homework first, then you can play.”  “I love you and nothing you do could change that. And I forgive you for what you did. But because I love you, you need to know if you do it again, I will have to take your cell phone for a week as a consequence. I want you to learn from your choices.”  “I’m on your side, even if you don’t feel it. But you are going to have to respect the rules, too.” This is Grace and Truth—and moms—it’s really tough to do both well. In the heat of the moment, when they’ve pushed you to the edge, and you’re wound tighter than tigger’s tail—it’s tough.  You’ll make mistakes. But Again, God is the Perfect Parent who is in it to to forgive you, patiently guide you, train and grow you even as you imperfectly train your child.

Before I end, It’s really important to me that I encourage those of you who feel like you have messed up too much already, or feel since you haven’t given enough Grace or Truth that your children are too old now and you are too late. That is not true! Your love for them and desire to move forward loving and blessing intentionally has great power! I love this verse in 1 Peter:

Above all, have fervent and unfailing love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8 (AMP)

One more thing moms—especially single moms—you’re not in it alone.  God gives us a new family in the church for a reason—we help each other with giving Grace and Truth to the next generation.

Kathy and I could not have done it without so many of you—Aman, Trent, John, Logan and Erica, Pat, Cassie and RC, who were singles or didn’t have kids, but they built into our kids with Grace and Truth—God used them in our kids lives especially in those season we felt we had lost influence.  Thank you, all you who build into all our kids—weekly investing in kids through our Gateway’s Kid’s ministry, loving and guiding Teens every week. As kids grow up, it takes a community of people to instill Grace and Truth—that’s what we can do together. If you don’t have kids—find some—get involved changing history through young lives here at Gateway Kids or Student ministry.

 “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you.” Deuteronomy 5:16

Our moms loved us, sacrificed for us, built into us, but even if very imperfectly…without her—you wouldn’t be here! If for no other reason than that—she deserves honor. God taught me a lot as I watched her my mom slowly fade away with Alzheimer’s. It’s a brutal disease, and a long, slow grief…but I realize now, there was also a gift. God taught me what it means

To Honor Your Mother…Love Her Unconditionally

We are called to love our moms as God does. He didn’t qualify His love with expectations or conditions to be met first. As our moms get older, I realized, we get to love them as they loved us—without conditions, even when they don’t act right, even when they cause us pain and inconvenience. This IS the circle of life that teaches God’s unconditional love.

My mom was a widow and a single parent, she prayed every night “get John through the perils of childhood safely” because I was a perilous child. Most all my Christian friends and our Pastors who were wayward (like 10 years on Meth wayward)–all had one thing in common—a mom’s persistent prayers. We all turned back to God. God hears your prayers mom—my mom prayed for me. When my dad died, mom tried to work, couldn’t make enough, so she lived for 30 years on what I invested for her, and multiple times I wondered if we would make it year to year. It was stressful, and what made it more stressful is was credit card debt. I tried to budget her, I kept finding debt mounting (next few weeks will help you if that’s your struggle)—one night when I thought we had been debt free for 2 years, I discovered $2500 balance on a card… I blew up. I just lost it. When I hung up the phone, I sat there in silence and in my spirit I heard: “You’ll be sorry–if you keep treating her this way. You’ll be sorry if this is where your relationship ends…you’ll be sorry.” I sat there stunned. I knew it was from God. And I just broke. I realized my financial fears and worries were controlling me more than my trust in God. I repented—I said, “Okay Lord, I’ll forgive her and I’ll trust You to provide—help me love her like You love her.”  And He did—the dynamic of our relationship did a 180, became loving, kind, lighthearted again—and two years later the Alzheimers hit. Honor your mom by loving her unconditionally.  And…

Forgive Your Mom.

Moms are not perfect people—neither are you. God forgives us all. You must forgive your mother for her faults and failures. It doesn’t mean have no boundaries—I still had to set boundaries with money, but to honor her is to forgive and love her as an imperfect person.

Care for Her and Bless Her.

Finally, to honor your mother is to Care for Her and Bless Her as she grows older. The older we get, the more the roles reverse. Where they once cared for you, now you care for them. Where she drove me and my sister everywhere, Alison and I, with Kathy’s great help, had to take her car and drive her, then we had to dress her like she dressed me, do her hair or nails, help her walk, change her diapers, feed her—just like she had done for me. Yet I realized a gift wrapped in the package of grief—it’s not wasted…it’s not senseless …God says every act of care and blessing toward her matters eternally. That’s what I realized—so much of what we judge as important God doesn’t.  But the way moms love their children, the way we honor and love our moms—that matters eternally in God’s economy. So Don’t wait until life is fading away Thank her, bless her, honor your mother today.

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