Partnership

Membership says “what’s in it for me?” Partnership says, “how can I be a part of this?”

Advertisements

Being a Partner is all about being connected. There is a big difference between membership and partnership. Let me explain it like this. It is possible to be a member of a gym, but only go there once a year, correct? But when you are a Partner you are connected, there is a connecting and a joining that takes place. You have a vested interest in everything that happens.  It is so much more than just being a member.

The same thing is true when it comes to be a partner in a church.  It’s not the fact that you visit that place, it’s all about that ministry – being a part of who you are and you are a part of what that ministry is. There is a connection, a joining and a communion that takes place in that. The purpose of this ministry is to bring you to the place where you fulfil the call of God on your life.

Think about it this way:  membership says “what’s in it for me?”  Partnership says, “how can I be a part of this?”

This letter of Paul’s to the Philippians is often referred to as the letter of joy. We can certainly understand why it would be called that hearing some of the phrases that Paul uses:

“I thank my God…”

“I’m thankful for all of you”

“it’s always a prayer full of joy”

“I’m glad…”

“I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.”

“I’m glad…and I’ll continue to be glad.”

 

He sounds pretty joyful for someone writing a letter from jail. But it’s not necessarily that he’s joyful because of his circumstances. But more than that – I think he’s so joyful because of the way in which the Philippians, the people of the church, have partnered with him, have taken care of him, and have been working in the ministry of the gospel with him

And so, as I was reading this passage, I kept being drawn to these two verses about partnership: Verse 5: I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now.  And verse 7: I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel.

Now, when we think about partners…we probably have different responses. Perhaps some of you have partners who you work with professionally, and those may be good relationships, but it’s possible that some of them are strained.

And I don’t know about you, but when I was in school I would cringe a bit whenever a professor informed us that we’d be working in groups for a certain project. I didn’t necessarily always want partners – sometimes it would have been a whole lot easier if I could have just taken care of something on my own and did it myself.

Perhaps it’s because of the very individualistic society that we live in, but I’m sure that many of us would admit, if pressed, that we often prefer to be lone rangers…taking care of things by ourselves, rather than having the help of others.

But the thing is…we can’t do it alone. Sure maybe I could have knocked out a project quicker by myself…but when we are talking about the stuff of life, when we are talking about the work that God has called us to participate in, in the world…that’s not something that is easily done as lone rangers.

And we’ve known this from the very beginning. As we look back to the creation story in Genesis…after God had created Adam, God said, “It’s not good that the man is alone. I will make a helper that is perfect for him.” We were not meant to be alone…and we were not meant to do this work alone…

We need partners. Here in Philippians, Paul is profusely thanking the Philippians for being partners in the ministry of the gospel. They supported Paul during his ministry with them, and continued to support him while he was in prison…most likely that was made manifest by the Philippians providing Paul with food and other necessities that he wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

For us, this morning, one of the questions we need to ask ourselves is how are we being partners in ministry with God and to each other? How are we supporting what God is doing in this church and in our world? This work of the ministry of the gospel is not something that I do…it’s not something that only the church council does…this is work that we all participate in.

We all need to partner together to accomplish the values and dreams that we have set before ourselves. We will become just like Jesus:

  1. We will create an atmosphere which welcomes and connects people to the Body of Christ.
  2. We were made to worship. So we will create an atmosphere where worship is the centerpiece of our lives.  We will create an atmosphere where people can experience the presence of God.
  3. We will create disciples who are increasing in their love of God and neighbor.
  4. We will create a culture of the call; an atmosphere where every partner takes the step into serving and ministry and transforms the world.
  5. We will create an atmosphere and expectation of extravagant generosity. We will live our whole lives for God and God’s purposes.

This isn’t going to be something that we do alone. But it’s not just that we’re partnering with each other and with this church…we’re actually partnering with God, our creator, redeemer and sustainer.

God invites you and me to partner with him so that we can all be actively pursuing, and participating in, ushering in God’s kingdom…the ushering in of God’s hopes and dreams for our lives and for this world.  So that we can become just like Jesus.

I want to share with you a story called “Does God Have a Big Toe: Stories about Stories in the Bible.” It’s written by Marc Gellman. This story is called “Partners.”

 Before there was anything, there was God, a few angels, and a huge swirling glob of rocks and water with no place to go. The angels asked God, “Why don’t you clean up this mess?”  So God collected rocks from the huge swirling glob and put them together in clumps and said, “Some of these clumps of rocks will be planets, and some will be stars, and some of these rocks will be…just rocks.”

Then God collected water from the huge swirling glob and put it together in pools of water and said, “Some of these pools of water will be oceans, and some will become clouds, and some of this water will be…just water.”

Then the angels said, “Well God, it’s neater now, but is it finished?” And God answered…“NOPE!”

On some of the rocks God placed growing things, and creeping things, and things that only God knows what they are, and when God had done all this, the angels asked God, “Is the world finished now?” and God answered…“NOPE!”

God made a man and a woman from some of the water and dust and said to them, “I am tired now. Please finish up the world for me…really it’s almost done.” But the man and woman said, “We can’t finish the world alone! You have the plans and we are too little.”

“You are big enough,” God answered them. “But I agree to this. If you keep trying to finish the world, I will be your partner.”

The man and the woman asked, “What’s a partner?” and God answered, “A partner is someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means that you can never give up, because your partner is depending on you. On the days you think I am not doing enough and on the days I think you are not doing enough, even on THOSE days we are still partners and we must not stop trying to finish the world. That’s the deal.” And they all agreed to that deal.

Then the angels asked God, “Is the world finished yet?” and God answered, “I don’t know. Go ask my partners.”

So we not only partner with one another to participate in this ministry of the gospel, but we partner with God.  We are working with God, so that God’s kingdom may come. We can read the news, glance at our Facebook News Feed, or even just look all around us, and see the ways in which this world is clearly unfinished…and not as God would have it.

Children all around the world die every day from lack of clean water, food and shelter. Single moms work long hours at multiple jobs, and can barely earn enough money to put food on the table for their kids. We hear about mass shootings, and are shocked and saddened for a few days, and then move on with our lives, not taking the necessary steps to prevent future tragedies.

We live in a world where cyber-bullying continues to be a huge problem for young people, so much so that many have decided it was not worth living anymore and have taken their lives.  Is the world finished yet?  “NOPE.”

Teresa of Avila, the 16th century mystic, wrote the following:

Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours; yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.”  Is the world finished yet?  “NOPE.”

Since we all have different gifts and talents …partnering with God is going to look a little different for each person here.

There’s no end to the possible ways that we can partner with God.

But perhaps the most significant thing that we all can do is to simply reframe how we view ourselves in relation to God.

If we think that God is the one who just… does it all, that’s going to form and shape how we live in the world, how we engage with others throughout our day, how we treat other people.

But if we think of ourselves as God’s partners…if we realize that God works through you…that changes everything. That changes the way we view ourselves, the way we view God, and the way we view our place in the world.

When we realize that we are God’s partners, we know that we can’t just sit around and wait, expecting God to be the one to bring about change in the world.

As followers in the way of Jesus, we have been called to partner with God to embody and bring about the Kingdom of God in the here-and-now; the Kingdom of God on earth, as it is in Heaven.

Worship Because God is Worthy!

A number of years ago, a woman in Kansas City walked into a Haagen-Dazs ice cream shop at her local shopping center.  While waiting, she turned to find actor Paul Newman standing behind her.  He was in town filming a movie and was now standing behind his biggest fan.

He smiled at her and said ‘hello.’  She took one look into his eyes and her knees almost buckled.  Her heart was in her throat.  She tried to speak, but not a sound came out.  Mortified, she turned around, paid for her ice cream, then quickly walked out of the store.  Outside, she sat down on a bench and caught her breath.  As she calmed down, she realized she didn’t have her ice cream cone.  She was debating walking back in to get it when Paul Newman walked out.  “You looking for your ice cream cone?” he asked.  Speechless again, she nodded.  “You put it in your purse with your change.”

If you or I would come face to face with a celebrity we admired, I imagine we would behave in a similar way.  I wonder we, who get excited about celebrity – why it is that we can enter into the presence of God with a yawn and a shrug?

Worshiping God is the single most important thing that you and I can do.  In fact we, we were created to worship God (Isaiah 43:21).  Worship brings pleasure to God.  In worship we practice the greatest commandment that Jesus taught – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Worship bends our lives toward God.

When Scripture talks about worship it always reminds us that the purpose of our worship is glorify, honor, praise, exalt, and please God.  Worship is the number one priority.

Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher in the 19th century, once clarified the most common misconception about worship using the analogy of a drama. “When we come to worship God, we generally feel as though the preacher and other ministers are the performers and God is the subject of the performance and we as the congregation are merely the audience…but this is a terrible misunderstanding of worship.”

Kierkegaard is describing a consumer-oriented approach, focused more on what we receive than what we give. Kierkegaard goes on to say, “Authentic Christian worship is just the opposite. We, the congregation, are the performers. The preachers and other ministers are the directors and God is the audience.”

It is revolutionary to worship something other than ourselves.  Every time we worship, we set our own egos, desires, ambitions aside so that God is the audience.  When we worship we should make much of God!

That’s why real worship can only happen when we enter into the presence of the Living God.  Worship is a deliberate encounter with God in Jesus Christ.  We can’t worship to squeeze God in; to feel better for the week; or to get a blessing.  With eagerness and expectancy we encounter God and are drawn into his presence where our focus is on giving to him. Worship is an encounter with the Holy God!

While there are many moments in Scripture were we see people encountering God, one act of worship stands out.  One story that should be the rule instead of the exception.  It is the story of the moment Isaiah encountered the Living God.  It is a story of worship and what naturally happens when we rightly worship God.

READ Isaiah 6:1-4

Let me provide some context for these verses.  The first five chapters set the stage of Isaiah’s vision of God.  In Isaiah 1-5 we are given a description of God’s people – Israel.  It is a picture of a people who have completely and deliberately turned their back on God.  They have exalted themselves in the place of God.  They worship the creation instead of the Creator.  The bow down to idols that they have made.  They care only about accumulating wealth and military power.  They confuse evil with good and good with evil.  And God does everything he could for his people, but they won’t respond to God’s goodness.  But even in this context of his vision, Isaiah holds out the possibility of radical transformation – an unholy people can become a holy people.

These people for whom Isaiah cared so much about were experiencing turmoil under King Uzziah.  When the king died, Isaiah has this vision of God.  Who was Uzziah?  In 2Chronicles 26 we are given a detailed account of his reign.  Uzziah was 16 years old when he was crowned king of Judah, and he reigned a long time – 52 years.  For years his reign as king was grand and significant.  Uzziah trusted God and took Judah to a period of prosperity and glory.

But unfortunately Uzziah’s reign which had begun in faithfulness and obedience to God, ended in shame and humility.  He grew proud and arrogant.  One day he entered the temple and went to the holy place where only the priest could go.  But when he came out he was no longer the proud and glorious king.  Instead he staggered out a leper; broken and humiliated.  Uzziah lived as an outcast for the rest of his reign.

And when that once powerful king died, Isaiah has this vision of God.  Isaiah and the whole nation felt devastated and abandoned.  The one they placed their hope in was gone.  What next?  But this emptying was absolutely essential.  It was necessary if Isaiah was going to see God.  His own throne had to be emptied before he could see God sitting on his throne.  His false Gods had to be brought down before he could see God high and lifted up.  Generally we don’t really seek after God and find him until we have tried almost everything else; every other possible way and found it empty.  When we reach the end of our own resources, we turn to God and worship him.

And that is why this event from Isaiah teaches us so much about worship.  God is all that we can turn to.  God is all that we can trust in the darkest moments of life.  And when we move from ourselves into the presence of the living God – we find life.  That’s worship!  The place where we glorify, honor, praise, exalt and please God.

So who is this God who calls us into worship?  And why is God worthy of worship?  He is the same God that Isaiah sees.

This God who we worship; this God who calls us to himself; who invites us into a life with him – this God is holy!  This vision has a profound effect on Isaiah.  What does he see?  What does he comprehend for the first time?  It can be summed up in one word – a word that the angels repeated three times:  “Holy, holy, holy!”  Isaiah got a glimpse of the holiness of God.  It became clear to him as never before that God is holy.  There was this great sense of awe.

Holiness is not just one attribute of God.  Holiness is all that God is.  At the very beginning of this vision, Isaiah sees God sitting on a throne, high and exalted.  At that very moment Isaiah emphasizes God’s separateness; his transcendence over all of creation and all that is.  God alone is exalted!  Isaiah sees nothing higher than God.  To say that God is holy is to say that he is utterly different than you and I and all the rest of creation.  And as Isaiah encountered this God, the temple shook!

When was the last time you stood in awe of this holy God?  When was the last time you were engulfed by an encounter with this God who is high and exalted?  Most of us are guilty of what is called the “sin of reductionism.”  We reduce God to a manageable size.  We put God in a box – we don’t want too much of God; we want to control the outcomes; we want to limit what we know about God.  Isaiah would have been so in awe of God’s holiness that he couldn’t help but approach God with reverence and honor.  We need to guard against casual, indifferent attitudes when we enter the presence of God.  God is more powerful and more holy than our ability to describe him.

Yet, here is the amazing characteristic of this holy God whom we worship with reverence and awe.  This holy God can be known!  When we commit the sin of reductionism, we not only reduce God to what is manageable to us, but we also reduce Christianity to a set of moral and ethical imperatives devoid of relationship to God.  Christianity and Christian worship is primarily about having a deeply connected relationship with the God of creation.

What is amazing about God, as we see it unfolding in this worship experience of Isaiah, is that God chooses to make himself known.  He allows Isaiah to see him high and lifted up.  And when God makes himself known, you and I can enjoy his presence.  The God who is holy and high and exalted, comes to you and makes himself known to you.  And in worship we can enjoy the presence of God.

Even though we have access to him, we never take it for granted.  We never treat it lightly.  We are going to his throne, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  He is at the same time our heavenly Father and yet he is the reigning, ruling righteous supreme king of the universe and we live in that tension.  He is the God of all, the supreme judge, yet we have a relationship with him.  And so we can come in with that intimacy yet with reverence at the same time.  He’s our father, he’s our friend.  He’s a shepherd.  He’s redeemer.  He’s righteous king.  He’s the judge and ruler of all.  And he makes himself known.  He wants the whole earth to be filled with his glory. He is looking for people who will be receptive of him.  God is looking for people who will present to him.

Of course, God is present everywhere at all times, but not everyone is aware of his presence.  I’m not sure we always come to worship expecting a life-changing encounter with God.  Many people go to church.  Not all worship!  But God is present whether we are aware or not, but his presence is made manifest only when we are aware of it!  God makes himself known, but God’s presence must be sought.  We must be receptive to God’s presence.  God is always present to us, but in order for his presence to have its full impact upon our lives, we must learn to be present to God.  And in corporate worship we can be present with God when we pray, when we read and hear the Scripture, and when we break bread through the sacrament of communion.

God is holy.  He is utterly and completely separate from you and I and creation, itself.  God is high and exalted.  But God chooses to make himself known.  And ultimately, God makes himself known to creation in Jesus Christ.  We know God through Jesus. Jesus is the self-revelation of God.  God in the flesh.  When you are intentional about knowing and following Jesus, you are intentional about knowing this God who makes himself known.

One last thing I want you to see (and we will spend much more time on this over the next two weeks) – it is that while God is holy and God makes himself known, God calls you and I to holiness.   When Isaiah has this vision of God during worship, he sees and maybe even feels the temple shake and the whole place fills with smoke.

Smoke means a couple of things in the Bible.  Sometimes it symbolizes the presence of God.  Other times, like right here, smoke also conveys God’s judgement.  Remember the context here – God’s people had turned away from God.  They were worshipping creation instead of the Creator; they bowed down to idols.  They care only about accumulating wealth and military power.  They confuse evil with good and good with evil.

One of the things that should happen when we encounter God in worship, is that we change.  We become more of who God wants us to be – just like Jesus.  In an encounter with the Living God you and I are called to be holy as God is holy.  In worship we should be convicted of the ways our lives are not lining up with God’s will.  In this encounter between Isaiah and God, and running throughout Scripture is the call to separate ourselves form the values and life-style of the culture around us.  To be holy, is to be separate.  Separate from the culture-driven values and lifestyles and free to be attached to God!

Read Romans 12.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could experience God, face to face, like Isaiah did?  Scripture tells us that we can.  A little girl was drawing intensely one morning in Sunday school.  Her teacher asked her, “what are you drawing?”  “God,” answered the little girl.  The teacher laughed and said, “Honey, no one knows what God looks like.”  She never even looked up from her drawing – “well, they will when I get done.”

We’ll never see God with our physical eyes, on this side of heaven.  But we can encounter God with our spirits through the act of worship.  In worship, we become aware of the presence of God.

Resources:  Dr. Steve Seamands Holiness of Heart and Life

 

My Next Right Step

  1. Remember and journal a moment of deep worship – one in which you were very aware of the presence of God.
  2. Apart from Sunday worship, when are you practicing disciplines of worship like prayer, Bible reading, meditation, etc.?
  3. If worship is a lifestyle, how are you reflecting that lifestyle? Where do you need growth?
  4. God is holy and calls me to holiness. If I stay close to God (worship) I can reflect more of God in my life.  By God’s grace, how am I becoming more like Jesus and less like culture?

 

 

 

A Strong Family – Part 4

 

strong-familyChildren matter to Jesus.  So much so that when his own disciples tried to keep children away from him, Jesus chided these adults by reminding them “let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

But right here in Erie, in our city, we’ve got a problem because more and more children are not finding their way to Jesus.  Recently we have been participating in the Take Me to Worship Campaign across Erie county.  You’ve seen the signs and billboards and commercials. I remind you what has been discovered in deep, sociological research.

  • Of those surveyed, 63% of students currently participate less than once a week or not at all. 20% say they have never attended at any time.

Your leadership team right here at Christ Church has done their own homework and discovered that in only 3 miles around this building there are 5000 children between birth and 12th grade who do not go to church anywhere.  We are taking intentional and positive steps to correct that problem right in our own neighborhood.

Those who research faith development remind us that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%), and that two out of three born again Christians (64%) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday. One out of eight born again people (13%) made their profession of faith while 18 to 21 years old. Less than one out of every four born again Christians (23%) embraced Christ after their twenty-first birthday.  (Barna Research Group 2004)

The investment we make in our own children and the children in our community when it comes to introducing them to Jesus in positive ways has eternal ramifications.  Children matter to Jesus.

The reality that children matter to Jesus has often been a radial thought.  Especially in the context of the Scripture we’ve been studying for a few weeks.

In Ephesians 5&6, Paul has been writing to Jesus followers in the city of Ephesus in Asia (Turkey).  He’s teaching these disciples what it means to live in unity as God’s people and significance of a home/household/family who follows Jesus.  Christians, directed by the Holy Spirit, are called to practice mutual submission.  This finds an outlet in how disciples relate together in the community, church and even the family.  Wives and husbands practice mutual submission in the context of the family as they model the relationship between Jesus and the church.

How families operated in the first century had everything to do with household codes.  These Christians in Ephesus who read these words from Paul would recognize these household codes.  They were part of the cultural fabric.  But now, in Ephesians, Paul is offering a remix of the codes they were accustomed to.  The prevailing philosophy of the first century was the idea that the man ruled over the household as a sovereign.  Wives, children, slaves, were all subordinate.  Preserving this household structure was critical to preserving society as a whole.

Four hundred years before Paul, Aristotle had begun this conversation about household codes and wrote that household management had three parts: the rule of master over slave, father over children and husband over wife.  In the first century the man was justified in ruling over his household because his wives, slaves, and children were by nature, his inferiors – his property!

This is the context into which Paul was writing a radical revision of the home and family.  Ephesians 5&6 are profoundly subversive.  Paul turns the table and because of Jesus begins to place a high value on wives, slaves and children and they way they hold the husband/father accountable to Jesus.

Earlier in this teaching we were reminded that with Jesus at the core/center every dimension of life changes: marriage, family, job, finances, even the city.  Jesus changes the social order.  Paul is subversively calling for a new family system with Jesus at the center.  One in which mutual submission is practiced and led by the Holy Spirit a family honors Jesus.  Paul places Jesus at the center.  So we’ve already been learning what happens to household codes when Jesus starts to readjust the family – those who were called inferior are now compared to the church and to Jesus, himself.

There are three movements in household codes:  how the man relates to the wife; how the man relates to children; and how the man relates to slaves.  Because Jesus values children we’re going to study this second movement and begin to see this new radical idea that Paul introduces when it comes to children in a family and how strong families can create the opportunity for strong children to become faithful adults who follow Jesus.  READ EPHESIANS 6:1-4. 

Children were property!  They had little to no intrinsic value.  Children were seen as naïve and uncontrolled, like an untrained animal.  The philosopher, Plato, wrote, “Of all the wild beasts, the child is the most intractable…and the child must be strapped up as it were with many bridles.”  The children were owned as property by the father, and if the father did not approve of the infant’s development they would be left by the side of the road to die of exposure.  Since the child was seen as property of the father, paying respect was a one way transaction.  Children respected and obeyed fathers and nothing more.  Obedience was paramount because the family represented the state.

But what does the cultural context of the first century have to do with our 21st century thinking and living.  It certainly does not take much effort to believe that in some cases and in some circles, children are still treated as nothing more than property; whether it is the unwanted aborted fetus; the newborn abandoned in a gas station garbage can or the child sold into sex slavery, even in the 21st century the case could be made in some places that children are at best property or at worst, a nuisance.

And the other side of the spectrum to families that have no control over their child and live as hostages to the whim of tantrums, backtalk and outbursts.  The child runs the home with no respect given to the parent; and the parent isn’t sure they can enforce discipline upon the child.

Just as God spoke through Paul into the 1st century world of children and family, so God through Paul, can speak into our own context.  As we read Paul in Ephesians we have to keep several things in mind which rise above time and place and apply to every season of our experience with God.  The Biblical text wants us to keep in mind the value of children – at one time we were all children; we all have residing within us the imago dei, the image of God.  Children are the image bearers of God.  The text invites us to know that God expects certain behavior from children.  And finally God places a high calling on parents when it comes to raising their children as disciples of Jesus.

At the beginning of chapter 6, Paul speaks first of the relationship of a child to the parent.  This is subversive because Paul is empowering a portion of society that had no power.  And in doing so, he is giving children an choice and a reason to relate to their parents in a godly way.  Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  Obedience to parents is connected to obedience and submission to Jesus.  Verse 21 – submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Now this wouldn’t have been a shocking statement in and of itself.  Children were required to obey.  But Paul is putting obedience in a different context.  You relate to your parents the way you relate to Jesus and visa a versa.

I think this is one of the most profound ways a child can witness to their faith in Jesus and to the reality of the gospel in our current culture.  By merely showing respect  to parents sends a loud message of submission to Jesus.  Respect for authority is at a premium in our culture.

Obedience toward parents/adults teaches children about a lifestyle of worship.  I don’t mean that parents are worshiped but acts of obedience can teach a child about the proper placement of any person to God.  Obedience is worship.  Children were made by God to glorify God.  One of the ways kids can glorify God is through obedience to parents/adults.

Paul helps us understand this theologically as he ties it to the OT.  Paul reflects back on the 10 Commandments (Ex 20)  – “honor your father and mother – so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”  There is blessing when children (of any age) honor their parents.  When we read about “honor” in the Bible we understand it as “esteeming, valuing, or respecting” someone.  The idea of honoring someone, like parents, comes from the fact that they represent God’s authority.

If a child is taught and expected to be obedient to and honor parental authority, it will naturally put them in a position to honor and be obedient to God’s authority.

From children, Paul moves to the role of parents in the new family God is creating.  Fathers (parents) do not exasperate your children, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. 

This is a very significant sentence here because of the word “exasperate.”  That’s an odd word.  It’s not one that I use often.  We translate the Greek word to “exasperate.”  But what did Paul mean to his readers in Ephesus?  Do you know anyone who is very blunt in their language?  They say what they mean without regard to a person’s feelings.  Exasperate (Greek) suggests someone who is blunt, opinionated, practices freedom of speech, is frank – without concern for the other.  In the first century Ephesian experience this was the way it was.  Parent, the master of the house, would do or say whatever they wanted and obedience was expected.  Feelings, consequences were irrelevant.

There is also another idea being conveyed.  It is one of sharing opinion.  Opinion – here’s what I think; here’s my truth.

So Paul is again subverting common place ideas with kingdom of God values.  This new family with Jesus at the center interacts with children differently than their culture does.  So parents don’t frustrate your children.  Practice gentleness and kindness and grace.

And this is even more powerful – don’t just give them your opinion of things – but train them to follow Jesus!  In a culture that does not have Jesus at the center, let your home be a place that practices the centrality of Jesus and trains your children how to follow Jesus.

Paul’s purpose here is to show Christians that their home can be ordered to show culture what the gospel is all about.  A Christian parent cannot say – I’m not interested in raising my kids to worship and follow Jesus.  I’ll let them choose their religion when they’re older.

Parents have the primary responsibility of discipling their children – teaching them to follow Jesus.  Parental involvement in the spiritual formation of their children is characteristic of the people of God.  Read Deuteronomy 6.

Now kids don’t inherit your faith (nor are they saved by your faith) but your faith can be impressed upon them and taught to them so that they can decide to follow Jesus for themselves.

It was important for Paul to remind these Ephesian Christians about training their kids to follow Jesus.  In that culture that was not centered on Jesus – nor even really cared about Jesus – a Christian parent was the only one who could train their child to follow Jesus.  And it had to more than personal opinion.  It had to be grounded in and centered on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and God’s revealed truth though him.

I’d suggest to you that we find ourselves in a similar situation.  For the most part when we release our kids into the world they are not going to be taught about God, about a lifestyle of worship or obedience to God.  Kingdom of God people must allow their home to be a place where children are discipled to follow Jesus.

This is also so relevant for us as a church in an increasingly pagan culture.  As a church we can be committed to providing an atmosphere to support parents in raising godly kids and we can be proactive in creating an atmosphere and strategy for introducing the 5000 unchurched kids in our neighborhood to Jesus in a positive way.  We are taking that mission very seriously – spending money there and thinking and acting intentionally as leadership to create the space for kids to know and follow Jesus.

These last few weeks and these two sections of Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus have highlighted the essential priorities of families with Jesus at the center.  But this is more than just how to become better families, parents and children.  This is about the gospel.  And the gospel changes our identity, our lifestyles, and our homes.  God turns us into new people – new husbands, new wives, new fathers and mothers and new children.

My Next Right Step

  1. What does obedience teach children about a lifestyle of worship? What does Paul mean when he writes that obedience will ensure the goodness of life? (Ephesians 6:1)
  2. Scripture reminds us that Jesus made space for children. In fact, by virtue of their baptism, children are considered disciples of Jesus.  What is your plan for discipling your children so that they not only experience the salvation of Jesus but also sanctification?
  3. Your children will reflect your own spiritual maturity. How are you growing with Jesus?  What is your next right step when it comes to spiritual maturity?  Are your reading your Bible, praying, worshiping, serving, giving and experiencing the fruit of the Spirit?

 

 

 

Strong Family – Part 3

strong-familyI think we all want a strong family and household.  Regardless of our marital status, the strength of our home and family makes a significant difference.  If we’re older we want our kids and grandkids to have a strong healthy family. If we’re married, we know the reality of stress and tension which can easily harm our closest relationships with our spouse and kids.  And we know that if our homes and families are strong; the city, culture and country are strong.

 

So we have been spending time in the book of Ephesians and we have discovered that Paul is writing to a group of Jesus followers who care just as much about family as we do.  Today, we find Paul speaking even more deeply into the context of marriage.  For Paul, and as a significant piece of Christian theology – marriage between a man and a woman represents the union – the relationship Jesus has with the Church – with us.

 

Currently, there are many conversations about marriage – its relevance, its meaning, its necessity.  So out of our commitment to the authority of Scripture, let’s spend time rebuilding our theology of marriage with the understanding that those who have chosen to marry see that value of that relationship to the strength of our culture.  If Jesus is at the core of a marriage – that marriage becomes a ministry and witness.

 

One of the realities that we must come to grips with is the reality that marriage is in trouble.  Over the last 40 years marriage has been in decline.  The divorce rate is nearly twice that of 1960.  In 1970, 89% of all births were to married parents, but today only 60% are.  In 1960, 72% of adults were married; in 2008 only 50% of adults were married.  Today, nearly half of all people live together before marriage.

 A recent study by the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project concluded that less than 1/3 of high school senior girls and only a little more of 1/3 of high school boys seem to believe that marriage is beneficial to people.

New York Times columnist Tara Parker-Pope wrote an article called The Happy Marriage is the ‘Me” Marriage:  The notion that the best marriages are those that bring satisfaction to the individual may seem counterintuitive.  After all, isn’t marriage supposed to be about putting the relationship first?  Not anymore.  For centuries, marriage was viewed as an economic and social institution, and the emotional and intellectual needs of the spouses were secondary to the survival of the marriage itself.  But in modern relationships, people are looking for a partnership, and they want partners who make their lives more interesting…who help each of them attain valued goals.

Marriage used to be a public institution for the common good, and now it is a private arrangement for the satisfaction of the individuals.  Marriage used to be about us, but now it is about me. (italics from Tim Keller -The Meaning of Marriage)

 

In Paul’s first century context, marriage had its challenges just as we do in our own 21st century culture.  So Paul offers a new reality of marriage based upon the centrality of Jesus.  And he begins with the radical idea that the context of marriage is covenant.  On one level a covenant is a binding agreement or promise between two or more people.  But the concept of covenant appears multiple times in the Bible – and in the Biblical covenant the promise is not just between people but also between God and people.  A Biblical covenant is initiated by God and lived out in relationship between people and God.  So the covenant of marriage is more than an agreement between a man and woman; and one in which it is binding only so long as both agree.  But the covenant of marriage included a relationship to the holy God who calls us into relationship with each other and himself.  The covenant of marriage bound in a relationship with God reveals the relationship between Jesus and his church. This is, by far, is the most important reason.  God ULTIMATELY made human marriage for the purpose of demonstrating Jesus’ love for His Church.

 

In the infinite wisdom of God, He saw that exclusive male-female monogamy would be the best “dramatization” of the ultimate reality that is, Christ and His Church.  Christians have a heavy mantle of responsibility to bear.  Through  marriage, we demonstrate to an unbelieving world the power of the relational dynamic that exists between Jesus and His people.

 

When Jesus talked about his relationship with the Church he often used wedding language.  In Matthew 9:14-15 Jesus is asked about fasting and he replies:  Then the disciples of John came to Him, asking, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.

 

The union between Jesus and his church is deeply intimate; a supernatural mingling of two into one.

 

This is so real for Paul that he remembers the creation story and connects the marriage of Adam and Eve not just to human marriages but to Jesus and the Church.  READ Genesis 2:24.  Jesus leaves his Father to unite with his bride (church) and become one.

 

Another aspect of union with Christ is that of “Christ in us”. Paul uses such language in Galatians, where he writes “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20) To the Colossians, Paul writes that “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27)

 

So let’s see what Paul says – context of mutual submission led by the Holy Spirit.  Read Ephesians 5:31-33.  How does the theological truth become practical and expressive in marriage?

 

Leave.  For this reason… what’s the reason – because Jesus relationship to the churcha man shall leave his father and mother.  In the first century family was important.  And in that family context, the male role was primary.  A man couldn’t be fully male until he removed himself from his alpha father and went to create his own household.  He would build his own household and rise to community influence.  When he left, his loyalty changed.  No longer was he required to be loyal to his parents.  He was creating a new loyalty.

 

Leaving one leads to loyalty to another.  And loyalty is significant for the health of a marriage.  If your focus is still back home; or if your focus is on something else: job, friendships, hobbies –  you will never be able to give full loyalty and commitment to your spouse.  You’ll be divided.  Your spouse will want your loyalty and attention while you are still connected to your family of origin.  Break the emotional connection.  Leaving is a strong term of intention.  It is the intention to break all other bonds of authority for the sake of your spouse.

 

In Matthew 19 Jesus is responding to questions about marriage and divorce.  And in response to that which breaks marriages Jesus says, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”  No one, no other relationship – even that with our family of origin, is meant to separate the covenant between husband and wife.  Leaving does not mean ignoring other relationships or not spending any time with them. Leaving means recognizing that your marriage created a new family and that this new family must be a higher priority than any other relationship you have.

The next portion of this phrase that Paul quotes from Genesis is in leaving there is now a uniting between a husband and wife.  The word means “to cling to, to stick (or glue) to, to hold fast to someone in a permanent bond.”  – Certainly the idea of uniting is a whole-hearted commitment to another in an inseparable union … A man who unites to his wife … will “glue” himself to her in a permanent bond. When two people are married, God provides the glue and seals them in a union.

 

Another aspect of this unity means “yoked together;” like a  yoke of oxen. The picture is of marriage as the creation of a team of persons who are closely related to each other. Like oxen yoked together to do a task, each partner in the marriage has been yoked with the other so that they may most precisely function as a team, can do the work that God has set before them.  They are no longer two independent individuals but are a unit. What therefore God has made a team, let no man separate.

 

If you have ever experienced divorce, you can understand the pain of something coming apart that was “glued” together and what that potentially does to all involved.

The reason is that the two have become one flesh.  Becoming one flesh symbolizes the identification of two people with one community of interests and pursuits..no longer isolated.  Although they remain two persons, the married couple becomes one in a mystical, spiritual unity … The concept of “one flesh” is beautifully illustrated in the children God may give a married couple. In their offspring, husband and wife are united into one person.

 

Remember that in this passage Paul is using the analogy of marriage to describe the relationship between Jesus and the church. The Ephesians passage speaks to the believer’s relation to God. Paul is identifying the nature of the Christ-Church union. It is a living union – a union that is permanent—nothing will ever separate the believer from the Lord.

 

What, does it mean to become “one flesh?” The words themselves speak of organic union. It is the relationship of one’s hand to one’s head. But although the head and hand may “team up,” their relation is far greater than that of two oxen simply bound together by a wooden yoke – the way an arm is to a shoulder – the two are a team, the members of which cannot function as independent individuals.

Emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, financially, and in every other way, the couple is to become one. Even as one part of the body cares for the other body parts (the stomach digests food for the body, the brain directs the body for the good of the whole, the hands work for the sake of the body, etc.), so each partner in the marriage is to care for the other.

Every single one of us, for every marriage that is represented in this room, our marriages are intended to be a parable of the gospel. Every single marriage in this room is meant to point to the truth of a crucified and risen Savior who has died for His church and is redeeming her. Every marriage is meant to be, by the grace of God, the best echo—the most faithful reflection—of that relationship that can possibly be.

 

John Piper says it this way: “Marriage is not mainly about being or staying in love.  Marriage is mainly about telling the truth”—namely, the truth of Jesus and the church—“it’s mainly about telling the truth with our lives. Marriage is a pointer toward the glory of Christ and the church. It’s about portraying something true about Jesus Christ and the way that He relates to His people. It’s about showing in real life the gospel.”

 

What would change with our kids or grandkids; with our city; with our country if this were true in our lives?

My Next Right Step

  1. In Ephesians 5:21-33, Paul writes about the covenant of marriage as symbolic of the relationship between Jesus and the church. Talk about or journal your thoughts on this theological reality.
  2. How am I and my spouse working to ensure that our marriage takes precedence over every other relationship we have?
  3. Pastor Ron used the image of tearing glued items to demonstrate Paul’s message of being joined with or united to your spouse. Talk about or journal the pain caused when two people who are joined together experience being torn apart.
  4. Becoming “one flesh” suggests the mingling of our soul with our spouse’s soul. In what ways are you and your spouse daily becoming and staying “one flesh”?

Building a Strong Family

Our focus for this month is centered on families and homes.

strong-family

How the home and families become strong is the whole purpose of this teaching series.

Do you remember this illustration? People are created to have a relationship with God.  In that relationship life works and makes sense.  And Paul wants us to know that every person who has ever lived has made choices (sin) that separates each person from God.  But the great news of the Bible is that is that God in the person and work of Jesus has made a way for us and everyone to be reconnected to God.

Paul takes this reality of what God has done in Jesus: that God wants to reconnect people to himself.  As people are reconnected to God: when Jesus becomes the center of our lives there is purpose and meaning.

Let’s read the Scripture today Ephesians 5:21-30

There was once a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and a big party was thrown for the couple. The husband was so moved by the occasion and he wanted to tell his wife just how much he loved her. She was very hard of hearing and often misunderstood what he said. And so as loudly and as clearly as he could, he stood up among all his friends and relatives at the party and toasted his wife, “My dear wife, after fifty years, I’ve found you tried and true.” Everyone smiled with approval, but his wife frowned at him and said, “What?” Again, he repeated more loudly, “After 50 years, I’ve found you tried and true” and his wife frowned at him even more and said, “Well, after 50 years, I’m tired of you too!”

Communication in a marriage is very important. For a husband and wife to be able to understand each other, to speak and to listen to each other – very important. But to speak what? To understand what? Ephesians 5 gives us direction. It describes the companionship between a husband and wife as 2 givers, trying to out-give each other.

Let’s see how marriage is described in these verses…And it begins with verse 21.  In verse 22 God say something that goes against the culture of taking: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Now what does that mean, to submit?

Our English word for submit has some negative connotations. There is the picture of the barefoot, subservient, inferior slave-woman, being bossed around by the tyrannical husband.  This was the context into what Paul was writing to the church in Ephesus.  Women were often nothing more than property.  Women submitted and men gave orders. Is that really what “submit” means in the Bible?  .

The original Greek word for “submit” means to yield your rights to someone else. To humbly follow the loving leadership of someone else. Wives, submit to, in other words, yield, or follow, the loving leadership of, your husbands.

Some people say, “Well, that would make the woman appear to be inferior or unintelligent or less respectable.” Not true. Our context in the 21st century is so different than Paul’s.  In the first century women/wives were not much more than property living at the mercy of the husband.  But our 21st century context is often about individualism; out-doing each other and finding ways to live in self-empowerment over the other sex.

But Paul speaks God’s heart into both contexts: 1st and 21st century.  And into our world – maybe for the sake of the home and family we need to hear about submitting to each other.  Because Jesus himself did this. He submitted to his Heavenly Father. Remember, Jesus and the Father were equal – one was not better than the other. But in that Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said to his equal, to his Father, “Not my will, but yours be done.” During Jesus’ whole life on earth, he followed the loving leadership of his Heavenly Father. He submitted.

In marriage, wives can be like Jesus. Husband and wife are equally loved in the eyes of God. From creation we know that male and female are equally created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). One is not better than the other. But, in life, wives, be like the church – “as the church submits to Christ – as the church follows the loving leadership of Jesus Christ, so wives, do the same for your husbands. This is one way a wife can give, rather than take, from the husband, in a marriage. This is one way a married woman can worship Jesus Christ, by giving that respect to her husband.

Now what about husbands? The weight of this Scripture is to the responsibility of the husband.  This is what makes this so radical.  In a culture where everything submits to the male, Paul writes that the husband now models submission to his wife just like Jesus submitted.  This is revolutionary!  This turned the first century ideas upside down just like mutual submission out of reverence for Christ can turn our culture upside down.

Marriage is when two givers try to out-give each other. How does the husband give? By sacrificing. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy.” Remember how much Jesus loved the Church? He gave the church what it needed. The church needed sins to be taken away, and so Jesus sacrificed to make that happen. He sacrificed his dignity, even his own body and blood – he had nothing left by the time he was done – he sacrificed it all – because that’s what the Church needed to be made holy in the eyes of God.

Husbands be like Jesus in the home/family. Ask yourself, what does my wife need – and whatever it is, do not hesitate to sacrifice to make it happen. That’s the loving leadership that Jesus carried out for the church, and that’s what God tells husbands to do for their wives. Loving Christian leadership by the husband means that you sacrifice your comfort, your money, your time, your effort, your everything, as you seek what is best for your wife. This is one way a married man can worship Jesus Christ, by giving that kind of sacrificial love, to his wife.

The real issue is in the leadership of men/husbands.  The role of the man/husband as a person of God significantly influences the health of the family, home, city, or culture!

Paul is stating reality (what is) but he is radically transforming the conversation to what should be; what is most needed.  And that is the influence of the male follower of Jesus.  That influence/leadership must be the exact same way that Jesus leads the church.  This is an amazing thing!

Here’s an illustration – husbands, imagine if your wife never heard the Gospel, never read the Bible, nothing. All she knew was you. Every day, she saw your loving leadership in the home, your humility, your sacrifices, your giving, your generosity. And one day, she learns about Jesus Christ and says, “Oh that sounds just like my husband.” That’s the goal.

What would the home, family, culture look like today, if this is what husbands and wives did? If husbands loved their wives and sacrificed, like Christ did for the church? If wives submitted to their husbands? What would your marriage look like, if there were 2 givers, trying to out-give each other?

A mighty tree stood high up on a mountain. It survived the hail, the snow, the wind, the heat, the cold, for many years. Finally, the giant tree became sick and died when a little beetle started to eat away at it. The little beetle that can ruin a marriage/home/family/culture is selfishness. Instead of two givers trying to out-give each other, one of them becomes a taker, and then the other. The husband focuses on himself. The wife focuses on herself. And it all starts to fall apart.

What would be different if we learned how to submit one another because we love Jesus?

My Next Right Step

  1. How am I loving my spouse like I love Jesus?
  2. What does it mean for you to submit/sacrifice in light of Ephesians 5:21?
  3. Read Genesis 1:26-27. How does this passage relate to what Paul is saying in Ephesians?

Father’s Day

Fathers-day-text-photos-2aFather’s Day is that one time of the year when I get complete obedience from every member of my family. I tell them not to spend a lot of money on me—and they don’t.

Personally, I remember how scared I was both times Melissa uttered those words, “I’m pregnant!”  People told me that becoming a parent changes everything.  I brushed them off, but they were certainly right.  Being a father, a parent is hard work.  It may be the toughest and most certainly the most important job we ever do.  However, I heard about this guy who didn’t quite grasp the importance of fatherhood.

After bringing their first baby home from the hospital, the wife suggested to her husband that he try his hand at changing diapers. “I’m busy,” he said. “I’ll do the next one.”

The next time the baby was wet, she asked if he was ready to learn how to change diapers. He gave her a puzzled look, then said finally, “I didn’t mean the next diaper; I meant the next baby!”

I’m glad that we have a special day set aside to remember, thank and honor dads.  That’s a good thing.  And I hope this is a good day for all you dads, especially the new dads.  But we’re also all aware that Father’s Day can be a hard day, too.  You might be a person who did not have a good experience with your father: he wasn’t physically, emotionally or spiritually available to you.  His absence has left an absence in your maturity.  If you’re a man who didn’t have a good male role model, you might be struggling to figure out what being a man means.

Some of you are sad this Father’s Day because you’ve lost your dad.  You miss him. I hope your memories are pleasant and you can still celebrate his life and take all the good he taught and apply it now.

Some of you are far away from dad today.  Make those phone calls.

I thought it would be helpful for all of us to express our thoughts for Father’s Day.   So on your message notes I’ve offered three ways to give some words to your Father’s Day thoughts.  Take a moment and jot down a sentence or two.

Responses

In Christianity we believe in one God who reveals himself in three unique ways.  We believe that God revealed himself to us in Jesus – God became flesh.  We believe that God reveals himself to us in the Holy Spirit – God with God’s people every day.  But we also believe that God reveals himself as Creator or Father.  When Jesus prayed, he called God Abba – daddy, father.  God is the one who gave life to everything but he is also a personal, caring dad.  That’s why when we pray, we use language of God as a father.

God is the absolute best father/dad.  Sometimes we want to think about God by using the example of our earthly father.  That might be good if your earthly dad blessed you but if your relationship with your earthly dad is less than you wish it were we can discover what a good father is in the character and nature of God our heavenly Father.  So let’s take a look today at God’s character as a Father.

Deuteronomy 32/message notes.

Chapter 32 is a very long poem written by Moses.  Moses is dying, his life and ministry are coming to a close.  He’s passing the baton of leadership to Joshua.  Chapter 32 are some of his final words to Israel.  In this poem, which he reads in front of everyone, Moses reminds God’s family about the nature and character of God.  He wants to leave them with hope in who God is, what God has done on their behalf and how they can be faithful to God in all things.  What does Moses say about God, the Father?

READ 32:1-4.  A faithful God who does no wrong…  Our father is faithful.  Moses could say a whole lot about God, the Father but the first thing – the most important characteristic about God is that God is faithful.  God, the Father doesn’t leave.  God, the Father stays!  God, the Father is constant.  God, the Father is loyal.  God, the Father keeps his word.

This is really tremendous that this is the first thing Moses says about God, the Father.  Moses is speaking out of his experience.  Moses is at the end of his life, but he’s thinking back to all the ways God was loyal, constant, keeping his word, always there.  He’s remembering how God saved him from being slaughtered with all the other babies and how God rescued him out of the Nile River.  Moses is thinking about the God who showed up in a burning bush and invited Moses to join God’s revolution and rescue God’s people from Pharaoh.  Moses is thinking about coming out on the other side of the Red Sea.  He’s remembering the God who got them through the desert.  He’s remembering the faithful God who has now positioned his people on the edge of the Promised Land.  And all Moses can say is he is a faithful God – who keep his word and his promises.

This is our God.  Our Father who looked at you and said, “I don’t like where he’s heading.  I don’t like where her life is going.”  And this God steps out of eternity and in Jesus comes and rescues you and me from sin and death and Hell.  The God who loves you beyond what you can imagine, who left everything to suffer and die for you to have life.  That’s our faithful God.

This is the same faithful Father who has walked down some tough roads with you, whether you knew it or not.  This the Father who has been constant and loyal.

And Moses says, I want to whole earth to sit up and take notice of this God!  This God is great!  This God is a Rock!  This God is perfect.  This God is a faithful father.  This God is the father who made me and formed me.  This is the faithful Father I want to praise!

Some of you might be saying I can’t believe that.  My dad walked away.  My dad was a loser.  My dad was never there.  God’s not like your dad!  Men, if you need to find out what it means to be man, here is where it starts.  Be faithful!  Your dad was not and you want to be – be faithful.  Be there.  The strength of your presence is life-changing.  You may not have the track record you want as a dad yet, but start now.  Be faithful, be present, be loyal.  The Holy Spirit will form the character of God in you, if you ask.  God make me a better man, a better dad, after your own heart.

Our Father is faithful and our Father loves his family. 32:9  In Christ, you belong to God.  You’re in God’s family.  God has loved you, rescued you from sin and death, and put his name on you.  You belong to God and he loves you.  You are his.  He’s not letting you go. In fact, everything God has done has been for you.

A little boy was eagerly looking forward to the birthday party of a friend who lived only a few blocks away. When the day finally arrived, a blizzard made the sidewalks and roads nearly impassable. The boy’s father, sensing the danger, hesitated to let his son go. The youngster reacted tearfully. “But Dad,” he pleaded, “all the other kids will be there. Their parents are letting them go.” The father thought for a moment, then replied softly, “All right, you may go.”

Surprised but overjoyed, the boy bundled up and plunged into the raging storm. The driving snow made visibility almost impossible, and it took him more than half an hour to trudge the short distance to the party. As he rang the doorbell, he turned briefly to look out into the storm. His eye caught the shadow of a retreating figure. It was his father. He had followed his son’s every step to make sure he arrived safely.

Too often there are more stories like this: There’s a Spanish story of a father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read: Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father. On Saturday 800 Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers.

“Portion” describes inheritance.  Can you think of anything God wouldn’t do for you?  The Father loves his children and does everything for your good.  It may not seem like it sometimes.  We think we know what is best for us.  But God has the bigger picture in mind.  And he is always working toward that end.

That’s what God not only loves his family but our Father gives the best.  32:10 describes the way God found Israel and what he did next for them.  Read 10-14.  These are the words that describe all the good things the Father gives to his people.  Reminds me of what Jesus said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!’ (Matthew 7:11)

What’s the best gift your dad, or your parent, ever gave to you?  You asked for it and you got it.  A bike?  A car?  Clothes?  This is going to seem ridiculous but when I was 9 there was one thing I must have bugged my parents about for months –a six million dollar man action figure.  Steve Austin had the bionic arm, the cool running suit, you could look through his bionic eye.  Man was that cool.  I kept asking for it; after every commercial I would make sure to remind my parents that this is what I wanted – the perfect thing.  I still remember that Christmas when I opened one of the boxes under the tree and there was my very own Six Million Dollar Man.  Good day.  I have no idea where it is now, but that was a good day.

We have a God, who is a Father, who gives great gifts to you.  He gives you the best.  You matter to him.  God doesn’t give you what’s left over.  What are the best gifts that you can be aware of today and celebrate – they are the best from God.

Let me take you to one last place that describes God’s character as Father.  This is a tough one.  But it is Scripture and it describes God.  Read 32:43.  Moses is concluding his poem about the nature of God.  It ends with God rising up and protecting his kids.  We see the wrath and vengeance of God.  There’s that side of God, too. Our Father protects.

Crazy memory.  A few times I went hunting with my dad when I was young.  We were walking through a field and two things seemed to happen almost simultaneously.  I saw a big snake and heard a couple of gunshots.  One of those times I remember my dad protecting me from danger and harm.

If God is our Father we cannot dismiss his nature and character that not only loves and cares for you as his child but that part of God’s nature that will rise up with an avenging force to protect his people.  The God and Father Moses knew was a God who was relentless in protecting his children.  That is still our God.  That is still our Father’s nature.

In fact Scripture ends on that note of promise – at the end of all things, God destroys those things which intend evil and harm for God’s people; things like pain, evil, death, hell.  God will destroy those things so all that is left is joy, peace, abundance, life.

I hope your dad got it right.  But if he didn’t I hope that you can live into a place of forgiveness.  He was/is human.  I’m sure he’s doing/did the best he could.  As a dad today you can start making better choices.  But wherever you are in that relationship with dad, with yourself, fatherhood begins in the character and nature of God.  Our heavenly Father will show you how you can be the best kind of dad.

Communicating through the craziness

Our families are the center of our universe. Family is there when no one else is around. Family supports us, helps us, loves us. Family DRIVES US CRAZY!

In “Building Family Strengths: Communications,” Brenda Thames and Deborah Thomason define family communication as “more than just the exchange of words between family members.” It is not just the words we speak but also “components like facial expressions, body language, tone of speech and posture.” Family communication, then, is sharing information with verbal and nonverbal cues. Thames and Thomason maintain that listening is as important as communication because listening allows you to understand the family member’s point of view.  Rick Peterson and Stephen Green, maintains that family communication can be divided into two areas, Instrumental and Affective. Instrumental communication is the “exchange of factual information that enables individuals to fulfill common family functions,” such as telling your children what time dinner is served. Affective communication “refers to how family members share their emotions” such as anger or happiness with one another. Some family members might successfully communicate in one area but not the other.

But poor communication is a hallmark of a dysfunctional family. Communication may be strained, ineffective, or nonexistent. Family members may have difficulty communicating their wants and needs to other members, which can result in misunderstandings and little self-expression.

What could poor communication look like?  We communicate poorly when we dismiss, ignore, or talk over the other person.  This style of communication says that the other person is not important.  Triangulation – we don’t talk directly to the family member and instead use someone as an intermediary.  You are not really permitted to share your thoughts but expected to keep your opinions to yourself.  There’s rarely any hope of resolving problems; things are swept under the rug.

Remember you and your family are made in the image of God.  The first family – Adam and Eve – were “naked and not ashamed.”  They were transparent with each other and with God.  Communication pattern would have been good; open, honest.  The moment humanity chose to do things their own way – immediately communication broke down.  They hid from each other and God.  Relationships were challenged.  But as disciples of Jesus – especially in our families; we have the opportunity to live like God intended in relationships and a big piece of living this way is practicing communication habits that honor God and reveal our new life in Jesus.  The way you communicate with your family will be a significant way that God can bring his grace.

Last week I told you I wanted us to have fun with these very serious topics, so what do you think of this?  There was a man who lived up in upstate New York and he was getting tired of the cold weather, so he decided to go to Florida. His wife was on a business trip at the time so he called her to let her know what he was doing and to tell her not to go back to New York but to meet him in Florida.

When he arrived he sent her an e-mail to let her know he was there, but he got a few letters wrong in the address and instead of going to his wife the e-mail went to a little old lady in Iowa, who was a pastor’s wife. And whose husband had died the day before.

The little old lady turned on her computer – read the e-mail, screamed and fainted right on the spot. Her family and friends who were there came in saw her on the floor – and when they read the screen they understood why she fainted..

Ø Dearest darling just wanted you to know I arrived safely
Ø Looking forward to you being with me, tomorrow
Ø Signed, your husband – PS, it sure is hot down here…

Communication is what we say and what we hear – so it’s got to be clear.

How about the man who was struggling to get his washing machine through the front door of his home as his neighbor was walking past.  The neighbor stopped and asked if he could help.  The man breathed a sigh of relief and said, “That would be great.  I’ll get it from the inside and you get it from the outside.  We should be able to handle this quickly.”

But after five minutes of continual struggle, they were both exhausted.  Wiping the sweat from his brow, the neighbor said, “This thing is bigger than it looks.  I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to get it into your house.”  “Into my house?  I’m trying to get it out of my house!”

Rather than fighting against each other let’s see what the Bible says about helpful communication.  The family we’re  going to study today is found in the OT book of Esther.  I don’t know how familiar you are with this story so let me give you some background.  The book begins with a six month celebration that King Xerxes holds to show off all the good things he has.  As a finale to the celebration the king summons Queen Vashti to appear in all of her regale to display her beauty and show off the king’s glory.  Vashti snubs the king’s request.  Because he’s already a little unstable, the king’s masculinity is challenged.  So he basically fires her from the position of queen.

Once Xerxes gets over his tantrum, he decides to look for a new queen. Eventually he manages to choose Esther.  She’s beautiful; he was attracted to her; she had the character and strength of a queen.  And so Xerxes made Esther queen of Persia.

But here’s Esther’s back story that Xerxes doesn’t know yet.  She’s Jewish.  She isn’t Persian.  Esther was an orphan raised by her cousin Mordecai.  When she hears the king is looking for a new queen, she jumps in line.  She is well liked by the people and eventually with the king himself and becomes queen.

While all this is happening, Mordecai uncovers a plot to kill the king.  He alerts Esther and she warns the king in time.

But there’s more craziness.  There is treachery.  When Mordecai refuses to bow down to the evil counselor, Haman; Haman engineers a plot to murder all the Jews in the Persian empire.  The plot basically involves Haman going to the king and saying, “I think we should kill all the Jews in the Persian empire.”  And the king says, “Alright!”

Haman walks away glad the king has agreed to his plans for genocide.  The king doesn’t know that his new wife is Jewish.  Esther has been keeping it secret.  But the threat of their imminent demise kicks Esther and Mordecai into action.  Esther fasts for three days before visiting the king and alerting him to what is about to happen.

Esther is worried herself that the king will execute her for visiting unannounced – but he’s pleased to see her.  He offers her whatever she wants. She asks to have a banquet for her and Haman the next day.  Meanwhile, Haman is excited about the massacre that’s about to happen and he builds a huge pole on which to impale Mordecai.

But his hopes are dashed the following morning, when the king, remembering how Mordecai saved his life – orders Haman to honor Mordecai and throw him a parade through the town (which Haman reluctantly does).  At the second banquet, Esther asks the king to punish Haman for trying to kill her and her people – and the king does.  Haman is killed on the same pole he built for Mordecai.  Ironic.  The Jews of Persia massacre all of Haman’s supporters, Mordecai is made the kings new counselor and Purim becomes an official Jewish holiday to celebrate.  Good times, gang!  There’s craziness in every family system.

I tell you that story of Esther so that we can understand some Biblical concepts of healthy communication that can be beneficial in every family system.  What we see is healthy communication habits occur between Esther and Xerxes.  Watch for the healthy that happens in the crazy.

Before we get to communication, I want to set this up by looking at Esther 4:14.  “If you remain silent, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish.  And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”  For such a time as this – very quoted portion of Esther.  The point was that Esther needed to communicate – to speak up – to save her family.  So much is at stake in how we communicate.  Your family may be at stake.  For some of you – if you don’t start communicating better now, you may not have a family left.  If you keep doing what you’ve been doing you will get what you always get.  What needs to be better about communication in your family?  It may be time for you to relearn communication strategy that is life-giving.

When it comes to communicating through the craziness, Position yourself.   Read 5:1.  Positioning yourself means getting ready for communication.  Sometimes it’s going to mean believing you are valuable and have something to say.  This is very important if you are in a family system in which you are not valued as a person; always put down; never taken seriously.  A first step in helpful communication is believing that you are valuable and that what you say matters.

But more so, are you thinking and praying about what you need to communicate?  Esther herself, was in a difficult place.  She had to be sure that she was intentional and concise.  She had a game plan.  She owned what she wanted to say.  She is not caught off guard.  If you want to change the way your family communicates it may come down to you and your plan for change.  This is an important place to lead.  Position yourself.

Second, Be Clear.  Ask for what you want.  Be assertive.  When I do marriage counseling, this is always the step that is most uncomfortable.  Many of us aren’t accustomed to have permission to ask for what we really want.  I usually have families write a wish list of the things they want from their spouse or family.  It’s hard to be assertive. Often we want to apologize for the things we really want in a relationship.  Being assertive means that I will have the ability to express feelings and ask for what I want in this relationship.

You might think it’s selfish.  But how many of you live day to day feeling like your family relationships could be better if only…And you never ask for that one thing that could make it better.  I need you to put your phone down and look me in the eyes when we’re talking; I need you to call when you are running late; I need you to speak encouraging words to me; I need you to touch me…If you don’t clearly ask for that which would be helpful to you in your relationship, you probably won’t get it.  Your family cannot read your mind!

Esther has positioned herself with Xerxes and when the opportunity comes she is intentional, assertive and concise.  Not just once but multiple times throughout the story.  “If it pleases the king, let the king together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.”  Specific.

Now remember.  Just because you ask doesn’t always mean your family can give you what you need.  But the significance is in taking the courage to ask and in being heard.

In fact this is the last fill in today.  Listen Attentively.  Communication is a two-way event.  You talk and you listen.  Ideally the asking and listening happens in an environment where you and your family member are sitting down, facing each other and fully engaged.

Notice Xerxes action and response:  “What is it?  What is your request?”  He is attentive.  He is interested.  He’s looking at her. He isn’t interrupting.  Studies show that a person will interrupt someone else, on average, after 17 seconds.  When we listen attentively, we are not interrupting.  We’re letting our family member say everything they need.  We pay attention not only to what they are saying but also to non-verbal communication.  And then we respond.  And when we respond we should be able to tell them exactly what we heard them say.  This takes work.  We’re usually not used to this level of communication.

The way to improve your listening skills is to practice “active listening.” This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent.  In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully.  You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments that you’ll make when the other person stops speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying. All of these contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.

Communication within the family is extremely important because it enables members to express their needs, wants, and concerns to each other. Open and honest communication creates an atmosphere that allows family members to express their differences as well as love and admiration for one another. It is through communication that family members are able to resolve the unavoidable problems that arise in all families.