Excessive Grace

What kind of God do you and I worship?  Who is the God who reveals himself in Scripture?  Who is the one who created and sustains the very fabric of the cosmos?  Near the beginning of John’s gospel, there is one amazing story through which God reveals himself in the person and work of Jesus, the Son.

But before we get to that story, let’s remember what happened first.  In the beginning chapter of John, we witness the Word of God (the pre-existent Jesus) being incarnated and “pitching his tent” among humanity. The Word of God who created all that is becomes part of his creation.  And, as John writes, “out of his fullness we have all received grace upon grace” (1:16).

This grace God communicates through the second person of the Trinity is a pervasive theme in the opening chapters of John’s gospel.  It is apparent in the way Jesus invites people to follow him and it is an excessive grace in the wedding day miracle.

The wedding was so full of joy.  Jesus, his mom, and his disciples had been invited and most certainly engaged in the celebration.  Bride and groom were laughing, smiling, dancing, and full of hopefulness for a blessed future.  A new family was being birthed. Wine was flowing, food was enjoyed, and life was pleasant.

I’m not sure if Mary discovered it on her own or if she heard the whispers of the servants.  But all the joy was about to come to a screeching halt!  The wine that had helped create the atmosphere of joy was gone.  The party was literally and metaphorically, over.

Wine was a sign of God’s blessing.  Plenty of wine meant God was blessing the marriage and its future abundance.  Not only was it embarrassing to run out of wine, it also meant God’s blessing had been removed.  Not the best way to start life together.  That’s why I’m glad Jesus was there.

Jesus shows up and permeates the whole experience with grace.  Water is turned to wine.  The new couple avoids social embarrassment.  The future looks positive.  God is good!  But there is so much more below the surface.  Much more which reveals the heart and character of the God we worship.  Through this miracle, God shows us something about the relationship he is creating with us.

Weddings are a big deal to God.  The image of a wedding describes Jesus’ relationship with his church.  The groom and bride are united into a new relationship.  Jesus and his Church become a family.  It’s no wonder that Jesus uses a wedding to show off his promises.

 

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.  Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”  They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.  (John 2:1-11)

 

Not only does Jesus bless the wedding at Cana, but he reveals the ways he will bless his wedding with the Church.  Jesus’ relationship with his people is always marked with grace.  Emptiness is filled with plenty.  Ordinary becomes extraordinary.  Faith is rewarded.  Blessing is common place. Trust is secured.

Our God can be trusted.  That’s one of the reasons we worship him.  God is always for you and me.  And he is always prepared to bless even in the midst of something hopeless.  Jesus reveals who he is through ordinary circumstances.  His grace is always excessive and it’s directed to you.  The grace of God is always enough.  It is never in short supply.

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Authentic Relationships

Spiritual maturity happens in the context of relationships.

During Lent we’ve been studying several of the foundational habits and practices of disciples.  Through our Sunday teaching and our Foundations book we’ve discovered that one of the most important practices we undertake in discipleship is relationship building.  Relationships are at the heart of following Jesus and, in fact, the disciple of Jesus has three relationships we tend to: our relationship with God, our relationship with the church family, and our relationship with those who don’t know Jesus, yet.  Each is vital and each must be given the appropriate attention.

I’ve spent this morning reading and reflecting on 1John.  I didn’t intend to read the whole book, but my devotions led me to one confusing verse and I needed to put it in context.  And as I read through the entire book I was reminded of the high value of relationship among church family.  In fact, John equates spiritual maturity – living as Jesus did – to the depth of our love for one another (2:9; 2:6).  The way we love one another in the church family provides the evidence that we are walking in the light.  Conversely, “anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister (God’s family) is still in the darkness” (2:9).

Since spiritual maturity happens in the context of relationships, I thought it would be helpful to list the ways John evidences as the fruit of church family love.

How do I live as Jesus did among my brothers and sisters in Christ?

  • Practice sincere love for one another. In 1John 2:10, the author uses a variation of the word “agape” to propose godly love for one another.  This is the kind of love God has shown the world in Jesus and the type of love he calls us to in the Great Commandment (Matthew 22).  The love we express to one another in the Body of Christ reflects the exact love that God expresses to each person and to the entire world.
  • Speak well of the church family. In chapter 3, John reminds us that the love of God has been lavished on us and we are God’s children.  There was a time when we did not belong to God.  In fact, we were under God’s wrath.  But through Jesus we have been adopted into God’s family.  In his grace, God has lavished us with his love.  So since we are each recipients of this love, let it be expressed in community.  As we treat one another well; show respect even in disagreement; recognize that Jesus died and rose for each of us – we express unity.  When you or I abuse one member of the family, we are abusing the whole.
  • Pay attention to the real enemy! We are not the enemy.  The enemy is personified three ways by John: the antichrists, the world, and human nature. The antichrists (2:18) are those who don’t really belong to the church family and tend to stir up trouble.  They lie, propagate unsound doctrine, and sow confusion.  Secondly, the enemy of the family of God is the world and the viewpoint of the world as it relates to God (4:5).  Thirdly, is the potential for our human nature to have sway over our relationships (2:15-17).  Our human nature left unchecked and unchanged by Jesus is ruled by our lust and pride and their selfish desires which separate.  Pay attention to the things that separate us from each other; pray for each other; and keep each other accountable (5:16).
  • Sacrifice for one another. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (3:16).  This verse, often associated with patriotism, has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with how the church family expresses love for each other. John is teaching the church how to be the church and be different from the world.  And, in this context, it’s about sacrificing for each other – “if anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister (church family) in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (3:17)

Loving one another like this is not natural.  We are accustomed to individualism.  Love like this is also risky.  It pushes us to invest deeply in each other.  John, aware of these challenges, writes, “Perfect love drives out fear” (4:18).  If I love you, I am not afraid of you.  If I’m not afraid of you, I can take risk in expressing my love to you.

Lent is a season of soul searching and reflection.  It is also a season of growth.  As you reflect on your relationship with your church family challenge yourself to ask, “Where am I growing?”  Are you loving one another greater than you did last year, or even yesterday?  Are you speaking well, even in disagreements?  Are you working hard at keeping the enemy at the gates?  Where have you noticed God inviting you to live sacrificially for the benefit of another disciple?

While it is indeed challenging to live in community, we have help.  We are each filled with the Holy Spirit and it is he who spreads the love of God in our hearts and connects us together as the church.  And everyone will know we are Christians by our love for each other.

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.