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.

Family is God’s Gift

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!

What’s the old saying? “You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family.” There was a point in the creation story when the family unit was living in harmony; communicating, loving unconditionally and unaware of each others shortcomings. But then they ate the apple and in flew all the dysfunction. You know as well as I do that each of our families have some level of dysfunction; some level of crazy. There are some Biblical families that had a certain amount of issues; a certain amount of dysfunction – just like yours and mine. And in these stories we’re going to look for God’s grace. We’re going to listen for the good news God can speak into our dysfunction. We’ll discover that our family problems are not all that different from anyone else’s problems. And we’ll discover that God loves our families and can give grace even in the craziness.

Dysfunctional is a word we hear a lot in the context of family. Dysfunctional is an adjective that means “not operating normally or properly.” It means “deviating from the norm in a way that’s regarded as bad.” Dysfunctional is a term that’s so often attached to family. We talk about the dysfunctional family. You don’t hear much about the functional family, but you hear a lot about the dysfunctional family. The definition of a dysfunctional family is this:  “A dysfunctional family is one in which conflict, misbehavior, and often abuse on the part of individual members occur continually and regularly, leading other parts of individual or other members of the family to accommodate such actions.”

That’s a good definition. There’s something wrong in one part of the family and it causes the other part of the family to act in a different, weird, crazy way in order to accommodate the bad actions.

God didn’t create family to be a dysfunctional thing. He didn’t create home to be a place where it’s just World War III. You know, we understand, as little kids, what home is supposed to be. When I was a kid growing up, my home had a lot of fighting and yelling and it was all brought on by a lot of variables; poor communication, unresolved conflict, money, fear, uncertainty.  I remember tense times.  Times when I wanted to leave/escape.  That’s not God’s intention for the family. That’s not God’s best.

You know, when you played tag as a kid the first thing you do is you set up home base? And once you set up home base that was the safe place. You know, when you’re playing tag and you’re on home, nobody can tag you out. You’d be like, “You can’t get me; I’m home.” And I used to play, and my friends would play, and my brother would always do this. He’d take his hand off home like this, just that close and you’d come to get him and he’d be like, “I’m home. Can’t get me! I’m home.” Home’s a safe place. It’s a refuge. But for so many people home’s not a safe place. It’s not a safe zone. It becomes a war zone. God has a better plan.

So what we’re going to do for the next several weeks is talk about family.  I believe that family matters.  But there are attacks taking place against the family. So while I want us to have fun with this; I want us to be real about this topic; maybe you’ll face some moments when you realize that God has something better for you and your family.  But all us, we have some craziness in our families.  We have some dysfunction.  It might be with our spouse, in-laws, parents, adult children, aging parents, kids.  We’ve all got a little bit of crazy. Own it.  Admit it.  I’m broken; you are broken. Ask my kids, they’ll tell you we’ve got crazy in our house, too.  None of us are immune and a lot of us have the same stories we could tell.  But when we come together in family, all those broken pieces can fit together and make something good.

So I want the next few weeks to be helpful for all of us.  Let’s own our craziness and at the same time discover God’s best for families; God’s purpose for families; and how we can receive God’s grace in our crazy, messy, chaotic families.

The place we’re starting today will be in setting the foundation.  We’re going to go back to the beginning, to the earliest story of family and discover God’s intention and purpose for family.  What is the measuring stick for family?  I know what my family is like but how does it measure up to God’s hopes and dreams and expectations for family?

Family starts with God!  God created the family.  In the beginning there is time, space, matter, humanity; the beginning of culture, customs, languages and nations.  At the center of all of human history is the family.  The formation of the family may be the most important event in the entire story of Genesis.  God created the family as the basic building block of society.  Your family, regardless of what it looks like, is a gift to you.  Even in the craziness, your family is a gift to you.  You may not believe me!  Let me tell you why – let’s build some theology around our family.

Let’s go to Genesis 1&2 and remember God’s intention for family and how this can be really practical right now, especially if your family is in a tough spot.

The place to start if you’re taking notes:  My family is God’s gift because they are made in the image of God.  That’s right.  You and your family are made in God’s image.  READ GENESIS 1:26-27. Have you ever stopped to think about what it really means?  “Made in the image of God” is an audacious claim—and one that probably carries some responsibility with it.  So, what does it mean to be created in God’s image? The Hebrew root of the Latin phrase for image of God—imago Dei—means image, shadow or likeness of God.  When this piece of Scripture was being written kings, Pharaohs, Caesars would put their image on a lot of things, especially coins.  So you knew what belonged to that king.  So this is radical what is written here in Genesis. God creates humanity to make himself visible.  God puts his stamp; his image on you.  That gives us value. You know who is represented through you.  And both sexes have godly value – God created male and female.

Now here’s the tough part – when your family is struggling and messed up and there’s pain or chaos; it can be hard to remember that you are created in God’s image and that person in your family who making it hard for you is created in God’s image.  When there is chaos, and pain and craziness usually a first reaction is to ostracize and demonize the person bringing the pain.  That just brings more pain.  What if we saw each other as the image bearers of God; even if it means digging through the crazy?

How you and I live in relationships is a reflection of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity says that the three Persons of the Godhead are all one, yet in some sense distinct from each other. The significance of this is that God is an intrinsically relational being in and of Himself, living in eternal loving relations between Father, Son and Spirit. So humanity made in His image is relational.

Your aging parents are made in the image of God.  Your addicted child is made in the image of God.  Your physically challenged brother is made in the image of God.  The husband who cheated on you is made in the image of God.  Your wife who divorced you is made in the image of God.  Your parents who didn’t have the best skill in raising you are made in the image of God.

Regardless of the level and pain of the craziness, messiness and chaos; how you relate to your family speaks volumes about what you believe.  If I believe you are made in God’s image then that’s how I will treat you as a person; and it’s a reflection of what you believe about yourself.  This doesn’t mean you endorse their craziness but it does mean that in some intrinsic way they are valuable to God and they hold value for you.  Even in the current reality of sin and brokenness we hold within us as created people the image of God.

What we see next in Scripture – READ Genesis 1:31.  God wraps up the action of creating and calls everything good.   Everything that God has made is good.  And he places these first people in Eden.  Eden means joy or delight.  God places us in a position of joy and delight.  So God created us for relationships and he places us in a place of joy and delight.  When we focus solely on the craziness and messiness and chaos we lose the joy and delight that is intended for relationships.

God says I’ve made this good.  When we lose sight of the good of our family; the potential of our family – the good starts to slip away.   But God calls this good and we have the capacity to reflect the work of the master artist who created us.

A lot of us are guilty of being critical about other family members.  We spend more time putting them down than lifting them up.  What if we lived out some goodness in our families like:  thinking before we talk!  Serving each other.  Giving compliments.

Everything God makes is good.  God makes nothing evil.  You know where evil comes from?  Genesis 3:1 it’s all good.  All of this good stuff and you can’t have it.  Eve knows Genesis 3:2.  You’re not going to die.  You’ll be like God.  Verse 6 – she took some ate it and gave some to her husband.  They think they’re going to find life but ultimately there is isolation (v8).  The goodness God intends is broken.

How are you letting God reverse the craziness and brokenness that leads to more and more isolation – and allow God through you bring his intended goodness into your family?  As redeemed people of God, God can use you to bring back his intended purpose.

Let’s get back to chapter two.  Here’s the next thing we see happening in this first family built on God’s intention.  We need each other.  READ Genesis 2.  God created us in His image. We were made for relationship.  The first relationship which profoundly affects all other relationships begins with God. It is on this meaningful relationship all others are to be built. We love God first and love our neighbors with the same legitimate concern we have for our own well-being. When we remove God from first place, we will rapidly begin to fail one another.  Meaningful life is found in meaningful relationships.

Each of us has value by virtue of being human, but as God said of Adam, it is not good for man to be alone. Our family is God’s gift because we need each other.  No one is an island.

The first thing God does in creation is that he brings Adam and Eve together – the first marriage – but more so to show creations that family is central to creation.  This first family is in a position of helping and serving each other. 

 From experience we could probably admit that the first thought we have when my family is crazy, messy or broken is to escape that family.  They are so screwed up I can do better on my own.  That’s a legitimate response.  At some point, each of us will become discouraged and disappointed with a relationship.

The health and maturity of a relationship are not measured by an absence of problems, but by the way the problems are handled.  How do you deal with relational disappointments? Do you blame, deny, run away, avoid, threaten, and manipulate? Or do you speak the truth, exhibit patience, approach people gently, ask for and grant forgiveness, overlook minor offenses, encourage and honor others?

Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t just make your relationships better overnight? We often think that if God really cared for us, he would make our relationships easier. In reality, a difficult relationship is a mark of his love and care. We would prefer that God would just change the relationship, but he won’t be content until the relationship changes us too. This is how God created relationships to function.

What happens in the messiness of relationships is that our hearts are revealed, our weaknesses are exposed, and we start coming to the end of ourselves. Only when this happens do we reach out for the help God alone can provide. While we would like to avoid the mess and enjoy deep and intimate community, God says that it is in the very process of working through the mess that intimacy is found.

Here’s the last point for today.  The gift of family is that there is a safe place.  God’s original intent is for a safe place.  READ Genesis 2:25.  The family can be a place of transparency; where there is no shame; no embarrassment; no ridicule.

This particular context is marriage so let me say this to those of you who are married and struggling with transparency and intimacy.  After God brought together the first man and woman, we find an expression of pure intimacy: “They were both naked and they felt no shame.” In other words, they had nothing to hide physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. They were “not embarrassed or ashamed in each other’s presence” In the Biblical model the Hebrew words used in the creation account reveals much about the unique gifts Adam and Eve brought to intimacy.

His gift. “The Lord God formed [yatsar] man …” (Genesis 2:7). The word yatsar means forming by plan or design, like a potter. Just as a pot usually has a singular purpose, God gifted man with a purity of focus that helps him initiate, protect and provide.

Her gift. “Then the Lord God made [banah] a woman from the rib …” (Genesis 2:22). Banah was sometimes used to describe constructing a palace. God fashioned woman with an emotional, physical and relational complexity that allows her to nurture deep connections. The good news for us is that intimacy thrives on differences! By refusing to hide from each other and God, and through honoring our differences, we bring each other exceptional gifts.  And it creates a place of safety.

Now we can broaden this to all of our other family relationships and ask “how am I intentionally creating a safe place where people in my family can be transparent with each other with no fear?”

All of us have a certain amount of dysfunction in our family; craziness, messiness, chaos.  Call it what you will.  Sometimes we get used to it and start to think it’s normal. In Genesis, God describes normal.  God made the family and God has a great picture of what a healthy family can be.  God has a plan for the family.  It is still the basic building block of society.  So, as Jesus followers, how do we let God take our brokenness and craziness and turn it around to bless people and show our culture how God still uses the family.

ONE Culture (Part 3)

I think many of us have had one of those moments in life when we asked the question, “now what?” You lost a business or a job and the question on your mind is “now what?” How do I provide? Or you lost a spouse and you’re wondering now what? How do I move forward? You get a diagnosis that will change your life and your future – now what? But the other side of the question is just a challenging. I just met the man or woman of my dreams – now what? I just got the best promotion I could ever hope for – now what?

oneFor a lot of us we asked now what when your kids were born. Right? I remember this like yesterday even though it was almost seventeen years ago. Our son was about to be born. Melissa says “it’s time.” We rush to the hospital. The hospital takes such good care of you; they make you so comfortable; it’s so easy – especially for the guys! Caleb was born and they take great care of him. He’s bathed, fed, kept in the room with mom. There’s great instruction about caring for him. The staff is there to teach us. Finally the day comes to go home. I pull the car around to the hospital entrance. The nurse brings Melissa and Caleb down to the entrance. Melissa gets in the car and the nurse hands me Caleb. And I look at her; like what do you expect me to do with him? You’ve taken care of him. Can you help me put him in the car? Why are you handing him to me I don’t know what I’m doing? And she says this is as far as I go; it’s up to you now. And I’m left with this sense of now what?

Have you been there? What do we do next? Now what? I think this is also a very fair question to ask when it comes to following Jesus. Now what? What do I do now? I’ve said yes to following Jesus; I’m going to church – but now what? What comes next? Is it just about showing up and sitting in a row or putting some money in the offering plate? Is it just about religion and ritual? What’s next? What should I do? Important questions.

When we start to read the NT we very quickly see that God has an answer the question, what now? The NT’s answer is a word called “maturity.” Read Ephesians 4:11-13.

Maturity is about growing in an intimate and passionate relationship with Jesus. Growth is a part of life. Things that are healthy will always grow. I don’t need to make my kids grow in size – I have no control over that – if they are healthy they will grow. And we watch kids grow through stages right? Newborn – sit up or crawl or eat solid foods – potty trained – walking – riding the bike – puberty – boyfriends and girlfriends – driving – leaving for college, marriage. We watch growth happen in front of our eyes every day. Healthy things will grow.

Just after Thanksgiving I joined the gym and hired a trainer. I was growing but in all the wrong places! I’ve joined gyms before – but always quit. I’ve never hired a trainer – and she won’t let me quit. She pushes me to grow. So I tell you what, most days of the week I hurt; I’m sore. But what’s happening? My muscles are growing; my endurance is growing – I’m becoming healthier and growing.

Growth (maturity) is a natural part of life. Even in our relationship with Jesus. But here’s something we don’t often think about –to become mature requires engaging in an intentional process of discipleship. A mature, healthy relationship will not happen by accident. Growth in relationship will happen when we’re intentional about it. My marriage will be stronger when Melissa and I are intentional about doing the things that make it stronger. The same is true is our relationship with Jesus.

Let me give you a definition of what maturity looks like. Hold onto this definition – it’s what we will use to see if growth is happening or not. A disciple is a follower of Jesus whose life is centering on loving God and loving others.

A spiritually mature person is someone who lives as if God is who he says he is and will do all he has promised to do.

What now? The answer to what now as least as far as our relationship with God is – maturity – intentional discipleship- a life that centering on loving God and loving others.

We will be intentional about creating a culture of discipleship; a environment where maturity is expected and can happen in positive ways.

So what does this mean? What will maturity look like? How will we know we’re growing in our relationship with Jesus? Paul has a vision of this. His vision was to birth, cultivate and mobilize disciples. So let’s see what Scripture says about maturity and growth.

So here’s the first fill in the blank when we talk about maturity and being a disciple of Jesus – Bring. That seems strange. What does “bring” have to do with maturity and being a disciple? Well, let’s see what Paul means – Read 4:12.

There’s a couple of things really important about this verse. “To equip his people for the work of ministry…” Maturity is about being equipped for something – this work of ministry. Well what is the “work of ministry?” In what we call the Great Commission Jesus said – here is what the people of God do and nothing else – make disciples. So the work of ministry is to invite people who don’t know Jesus to follow him and become his disciples, too, just like you are. What’s the rest of that sentence? “So that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Building up pictures a building under construction, but Paul uses it here with the body of Christ, where the analogy would be physical growth. This includes both adding new members to the body and seeing all of the members growing spiritually as they come to know God and His Word in deeper ways. We read in the early chapters of READ Acts how “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (2:47).

So when we talk about maturity and about being a disciple – a significant part of being a mature disciple means brining or inviting those who don’t know Jesus yet into an environment where they can begin to follow Jesus, too. It’s about invitation to come and see. Come and see who Jesus is and how Jesus transforms our living.

I wish all of you could have been at the church family meeting last Sunday. I’m very proud and appreciate the leadership of your church council. Your leaders have a pretty clear picture of where we’re going as a church in this community. One of the things that we talked about was our position in the portion of Millcreek Township. Did you know that there are 91,000 people within 5 miles around this building who are disconnected from God? So because we understand that a part of being a mature disciple of Jesus is bringing/inviting people into a relationship with Jesus, where asking ourselves the question, “how is God calling us to reconnect with this community in a new way that helps a portion of 91,000 get to know Jesus and follow him?” How can we bring/invite someone else to follow Jesus?

I love the heart of God. I was 16 years old when someone took the time to invite me to follow Jesus. That moment changed my life. And Jesus welcomed me into a relationship with himself. A 16 year old kid who did not have it figured out; who felt every far from God; who was looking for purpose and life. And Jesus stepped into my life and invited me to follow him. What would have happened if I was never invited to come and see and determine for myself is I should follow Jesus?

Who invited you to follow Jesus? Who invited you to come and see? That person changed your life. When we talk about being a mature disciple – we must include a very real conversation about what it means to be a church that intentionally, systematically and cheerfully creates an atmosphere to bring/invite.

Here’s the second word – Grow. This is word that’s easier for many of you to understand, because you are all about personal growth. And growth is critical for being a mature disciple. When we talk about growing we talk about it in language that connects head and heart. Paul says it this way – read 4:13. Unity of the faith is about doctrine and truth- it has to do with head. Disciples will understand basic Christian doctrine and a Biblical worldview. We’ll be unified on the basics of Christian theology. But then Paul goes deeper – knowledge of Son of God. When the Bible uses this word “knowing” or “knowledge” it’s not head knowledge – it’s heart knowledge – it’s intimacy. Not knowing about Jesus but knowing him personally and intimately.

So growing as a disciple and moving to maturity is certainly about head knowledge – we should be learning deeply and be able to communicate who God is. But growth never ends at head knowledge. Head knowledge must change a disciple’s heart. Read Colossians. The more deeply we know God, the more deeply we are transformed. Our lives line up with God. We become just like Jesus.

So when we talk about discipleship and maturity we’re beginning to see that it includes bringing/inviting people to come and see Jesus and to intellectually engage with Jesus and the Bible in a safe place and allow Jesus to get to our hearts. I believe that the local church has the potential to a seminary – a training place for disciples of Jesus. I believe this so much that we’ve created a school of discipleship for us to participate in and take those next right steps of discipleship/maturity which includes discovering our mission. Spiritual maturity, our ministry and our mission. We’ve added a thorough class called Invitation which equips us to see what God is doing through the Bible.

Here’s the final fill in: Send. Read 4:13. Maturity is not an end to itself. Discipleship/maturity occurs so that a disciple is empowered for mission and ministry in Millcreek township; Erie county; PA and the world. A disciple is empowered/trained to “go and tell.” To change the world for Jesus.

Paul talks about this using the language “the fullness of Christ.” To be growing to allow Jesus to fully live in our lives. The church in the world is Jesus in the world; because the church is the fullness of his incarnate body.

So as disciples we are sent as missionaries of Jesus into our jobs, our neighborhood, our family, our favorite restaurant or circle of influence. Maturing, growing disciples are missionaries. In any place we find ourselves we reflect Jesus and invite someone else to get to know Jesus, too.

So now what? When we talk about having ONE Culture – we have choices. We can have a culture where we come and sit in rows and engage in ritual/religion and feel good together. Or we can have a culture in which as the family of God we’re inviting our community to come and get to know Jesus, grow in a knowledge and intimacy of Jesus and be sent into our community to invite more people to follow Jesus.

So here’s our take away this week. I want you to know that you don’t need to be a Bible scholar, the best person in the world, the best parent in the world; but I can invite someone. I can say, come and see. Something special happens when people who are far from God, get together with people who are following Jesus, something special happens. Some of you get this because you’re here because someone invited you.

Let’s practice this; “You should come to my church this Sunday.” Just invite. You’re over hearing a conversation. – You should come to my church this Sunday.

We have no idea how important an invitation could be for someone. You have no idea what hangs in the balance. You have the power to change the trajectory of someone’s life. Simply by inviting.

One Vision (Part 2)

Have you ever had someone in your life and you really, really wanted a deeper relationship with them? You wanted to take that relationship a level deeper and they just wouldn’t go there with you? Maybe back in high school or college and there was this person and you were really falling for them and they were not falling for you. You keep trying to get the relationship to go to a deeper place and they just won’t cooperate. They’re polite and kind about it but they’re distant.one

Or maybe you have adult children and you made some mistakes with them in the past and now you’re trying to reconnect with them. And you don’t just want to have Christmas and Easter with them or just send cards occasionally – you want to have this deeper connection where you’re friends and transparent and you’ve got a deep relationship. And no matter how hard you try, they’re just not going to let you in. They’re not going to let the relationship go to where you want it to go. Or perhaps it’s the other way around and you’re trying to connect with your parents. Maybe your parents were divorced and you grew up with mom or dad and now you’re trying to have a deeper relationship with your other parent and they want nothing to do with it. Everybody is kind and everybody is polite but everybody is a little distant.

You want so badly for the relationship to go somewhere else but there’s just nothing you can do to get it there. Maybe it’s your marriage. That’s the toughest one. Things used to be great. Things used to be intimate – you were like best friends hanging out. And over time something happened and you want that kind of relationship with your husband or wife but it’s kind of like they just checked out. They’re polite. They’re kind. But distant. And you get so frustrated and you try everything you know how to do to bring them into that intimacy that you want. But they just won’t go there.

Have you ever been in any kind of relationship where you wanted to go deeper than it actually ever goes? Isn’t it frustrating because there’s nothing you can do to force somebody to go with you to that level of relationship where it is so comfortable and you are so transparent and you relax and you enjoy being with them?

Now this might be hard for you to believe; it might take a long time for this to get to your heart; and as I’ve lived in some of these sorts of relationships; and as I prepared for today, the prayer I have for myself is God, help this get from here to here.

Believe it not, throughout the whole Bible we are presented with God as one who desires with all of his heart to have an intimate relationship with his creation but time and time again creation stiff arms him and is polite and generally and casually respectful but refuses to go the level of relationship that God desires and has paved the way for us to have. God is pictured in the Bible as a father who wants to have relationship with his son and his son says “I’m going to go do my own thing” and it’s the story of the Prodigal Son and the father waits and waits and waits because he loves his son so much and the son says “no I’m going to do my own thing” and the father never gives up.

He’s presented as a shepherd who loves the sheep but the sheep decide they’re just going to go do their own thing and it breaks the shepherd’s heart.

We see him in the Garden of Eden, the creator God whose creation has turned their back on him. And we see a God who wonders around the garden calling out for his creation – the relationships been broken and he longs for it to be the way it used to be.

From cover to cover the Bible shows us that your heavenly father desires a relationship with you that is not casual and is not distant and isn’t just respectful and isn’t based around a holiday or an environment where you just show up and sit in a row. Throughout Scripture your heavenly Father desires a relationship that is characterized with intimacy. And yet, for reasons we’ll talk about in a few minutes, we treat him respectfully but casually not intimately.

If you have your Bibles, or use your message notes; I want to read a few verse with you. They’re found in Revelation. The book of Revelation was written by John. John was one of Jesus’ first disciples – they hung out together. In the beginning of the book of Revelation, John communicates by writing seven short little letters to some churches. And these letters are essentially God’s word to each of these churches as God wants to say some specific things. So these words were written to a specific church/area called Laodicea. They were written to Christian people in a Christian church yet they reflect the fact that you can be very religious and you can be a believer in God yet have developed a perspective that keeps God at arm’s length. You’re going to be respectful, because after all, it’s God. But you’re not going to let him go with you to a level of relationship that he wants. Read Revelation 3:15. Things aren’t as well as you think they are. Read Revelation 3:20. You’ve got some stuff going on – but here I am. I know you’re busy and you’ve got programs and committees and Bible studies but here I am. But I stand outside the door and knock.

But you’d think like he’d huff and puff and blow the house down if you’re God – what are you doing knocking? Just go in and have your way with them. Jesus says, no I’m just going to knock.

All of sudden we’re introduced to a concept – this thing that sets Christianity apart from every other religion, that our God who invites us to call him Father says this: “with all my power and with all my ability, there is one thing that I cannot do. And it is the one thing I desire the most. I can make you obey me. I can make you fear me. But I cannot make you love me.”

I can threaten you. I can take your children. I can take your finances. I can take your health. I can take things from you. I can give things to you. But I cannot make you love me. Throughout Scripture we see God searching for the very thing he paid such a high price for. He’s searching for the relationship that he had at the beginning. It’s a relationship characterized by the word “intimacy.” But because he can’t force you to love him, he’s standing on the outside saying, “I want in.” I don’t want in like talk about me, believe in me. I want in like a relationship that only you can allow me to have with you. Because I can’t force you to love me. So sometimes as Christians, we have opted for something second. Instead of relationship characterized by intimacy we’ve opted for religion.

Religion is a response to God that allows us to treat God respectfully but not intimately. As some of us have learned, religion is a very empty thing but it’s a substitute for what God ultimately wants. And when you’re committed to religion as opposed to the real thing, God becomes a formula. And you all know the formula – go to church (check), read your Bible (check), say your prayers (check), pray at the meal (check) and if you sin you pray “dear lord please forgive me of my sins in Jesus name, amen.” And then God gets out his eraser and erases all the sin and then zaps his memory so that he can’t remember them anymore. And then I go out and sin a whole bunch more and repeat the formula and the angels whisper ssh, God’s forgotten that. Kind of like an old guy who can’t remember anything.

So in the formula we can be respectful of God but there’s no intimacy. It’s a relationship of ritual and you know what happens eventually to religious people, God becomes someone who just does stuff for me and I become very self-centered; religious people are very self-centered; it’s not about God it’s really about me. It’s about finding the right combination of how I can get God to do for me what I want God to do for me. How do I throw God a bone every once in a while so I can get God to do my bidding? And I would never say that because that would be disrespectful and I don’t want to be disrespectful but I don’t want this whole thing to get too close.

That’s religion. It’s a formula. It’s a way to get God in on my deal and eventually you become judgmental. You become judgmental because you decide that God likes certain things and doesn’t like certain things and when you see people doing things you’ve decided God doesn’t like, then you don’t like them because they’re ungodly.

Sometimes you want to do the things they’re doing so you just hate them. If you weren’t religious you get to do some of that stuff too. So if I’m religious that just doesn’t work – I’m empty and if I’m not religious then I just have guilt and no place to go with my guilt. What am I to do?

Religion is not about love, religion is about harnessing the power of God for me. It’s trying to get God to do something for me. Here’s what Jesus said about some religious people. Read John 16. Jesus says this is where religion goes. This is why it is so dangerous. They will do such things because they have not known the father or me. Not believed but have not known.

There’s no relationship. There’s all kinds of general belief. All kinds of respect. But you don’t know the father. That means the father is a stranger to you. And over time you become a stranger to his ways. And then when things don’t do the way you think they ought to go if there was a God then you get all upset with God who you never knew anyway. Because if there were really a God the way I think there were a God then everything would’ve gone my way.

And when things fall apart you wonder why wasn’t God there and God’s like – you didn’t know me because if you knew me you wouldn’t have done that – you would have never asked her; if you’d have known me you never would have gone; if you had known me you never would have signed; don’t blame me, you don’t even know me. You’re respectful but you don’t know me.

If you don’t know God you’re a stranger to his ways. And if you stranger to God guess what else you’re a stranger too – you become a stranger to God’s love. And when you’re a stranger to God’s love here’s how you view God – God wants me to perform my way into his good graces. And God’s really excited when I sit in a row and put up with a 40 minute sermon. He’s so excited about that. You become a stranger to God’s love and you think the whole thing is about performing your way into his good graces and perhaps performing your way into heaven and you hope you’re a good person. You know why you think that? You are a stranger to God’s love.

Years ago the priority of Christ church was established that said we want intimacy with God – not religion but intimacy. A passionate connection with God. That’s what we stand for – that’s what we would die for – that’s what we want so desperately to have not just for ourselves but for everyone.

We don’t want to become a religious institution. We want to be men and women not on a religious pursuit but one a passionate pursuit to connect with God at the level he’s invited us to connect with him on – intimacy. You know what that means? Intimacy with God is lot like intimacy with a person.

There are several things that happen: it takes time. Unrushed, unstructured, I’m just hanging out sitting with you, time. Some of you here that was your story – when I got alone with God, when I opened God’s word, when I would pray, it was like a breath of fresh air. God was no stranger. There was intimacy. Then things got busy and now I just go to church. And instead of intimacy, I just serve. And instead of this being personal, it’s gotten kind of corporate. And there’s no intimacy. Because I quit giving God time. You can’t have an intimate relationship with anybody where there is no time.

It will also take transparency. This might be new for you. You see if you and I are going to have a real deep relationship we’ve got to be connected. We can’t talk to each other in formulas. It means we’ll have to stop being so polite with God. Honesty. God already knows. Where’s there’s transparency, there’s intimacy. You get the good, the bad and the ugly. And if you accept that from the other person you’ve got a relationship that enviable. Prayer some R-rated prayers, pour out your heart. Listen, he sent his son to die for you so that you could have intimacy with him. How dishonoring is it to keep him at arm’s length and be respectful but no intimate. That leads to third thing for intimacy to happen and this is why we run away from it and towards religion.

There’s got to be submission. This may be the take away for you. Submission is the most powerful relationship dynamic in the world. Mutual submission. I’m going to harness all of my abilities and talents for your best interest. And you’re going to harness all of your abilities and talents for my best interest. And you put two people together or a person and God and you have intimacy. When both parties are committed to mutual submission you go deep. But the idea of submitting to God scares us to death is because we do not know the Father. And we run to religion to keep him at arm’s length.

Mutual submission makes all the difference. And here’s the thing, God has already made the first step. When Jesus died on the cross for you; before you were born; before you said your first prayer; before you did anything – your savior died for you. And in doing so here’s what God said, “I’m going first and submit myself to you. I’m going to put you ahead of me. I’m going to be more concerned about your sin than my glory. I’m going to be more concerned about your sin, your life and your eternity, than I am about my comfort. I’m going to submit to you as an invitation for you to submit to me.”

When we submit ourselves to that kind of relationship something will happen that will take you far outside of ritual and religion.

What are we so afraid of? I’m with you. I’m learning. If I surrender to God, he’s going to huff and puff…no, no, no. Listen God (knocks) I want you to love me. I don’t want you to just be respectful and polite. I want you to love me. I just don’t want you to show up and sit in a row; or perform your way to me; I want intimacy. We don’t need to fear that because God has already surrendered to us. That’s way different than religion but it is what God desires and he cannot and will not force that. He’ll stand at the door and knock.

You know what I want from my children? I don’t want them to use me. I don’t want to be the bank. I can tell when my kids are playing me. I can tell when they want something. But you what really lights me up? When they say, “dad can I talk to you about something?” or “dad can I have a hug?”

If I can tell when my kids are playing me, do you not think that your heavenly father knows when you are playing him? But he wants you to love him and he cannot force that but he has done everything in the world to pave the way for that kind of relationship.

Listen to how John finishes this little letter to these folks in Laodicea. Read Revelation 3:20. (beat the living daylights out of you for making me stand out here so long!) That’s what we fear. It’s not because he can’t get in. It’s because he wants something more than to be in. He wants you to invite him in.

So Jesus says, “Here I am.” Your move! Here I am. Not religion. Your move. I want intimacy with you. It’ll change your life.

ONE Church (Part 1)

I thought we’d start off this new year on a good foundation – the foundation of what it means to be the church. To be part of a covenant community. When we talk about church, invariably what happens is that everyone has opinions about church. Those opinions are usually based on what a church does or doesn’t do. I like this/I don’t like that. Or, can you believe what that preacher did! I want to suggest to you that those are not appropriate conversations about church. Those conversations start from “me” instead of from Jesus. So what we’re going to do is build a strong ecclesiology. Ecclesiology is the study of the church. Who is the church and why does the church exist? We’re going to start deep this year. We’re not playing the shallow end. We’re jumping off the diving board into the deep end.

Contextone

In Ephesians 1-3 the Apostle Paul has described what God has done in bringing believing Jews and Gentile into one body in Jesus Christ, he says in 2:14 – that Jesus has made two groups of people one; and that in chapters 4-6 he’s now going to tell us how we ought to live in that one body – that oneness; so that the first three chapters of Ephesians are about what God has done and who we in fact are in Jesus Christ and the second three chapters, chapters 4-6, are about what we ought to do because we are God’s people in Jesus Christ.

Now, in Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul gets radical and says that we are to preserve the unity that the Spirit has given us, so that the Apostle is calling on us in the life of the church to preserve and to cultivate a unity, a communion with one another, that the Spirit has already given us.  And it’s an amazing statement. He says you have a unity that has been given you by the Spirit. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you have been given a spiritual unity with every other follower of Jesus, and that spiritual unity is especially expressed in the local body of believers, in the local church.  Do you know what God’s favorite word is? God’s favorite word is: ONE. Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear O, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  This is foundational to what we believe. There is one God and only one God. Almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing, holy and ever present. There is none like Him. God is set apart.

Before Jesus ascended back into heaven he gave his disciples a statement commonly called the Great Commission: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God does not live in isolation. Because God exists as three in one. He lives in perfect unity. As something that is commonly called “The Trinity.”

Now Paul has all of this going on in his head when he writes 4:1. Live worthy of my calling.

Specifically, to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit. We live unworthily when we disregard unity. God is one and the calling of God’s people is to be one – in purpose, in fellowship, in thought.

Alexander the Great, one of the greatest military generals who ever lived, conquered almost the entire known world with his vast army. One night during a campaign, he couldn’t sleep and left his tent to walk around the campgrounds.

As he was walking he came across a soldier asleep on guard duty – serious offense. The penalty for falling asleep on guard duty was, in some cases, instant death; the commanding officer sometimes poured kerosene on the sleeping soldier and lit it.

The soldier began to wake up as Alexander the Great approached him. Recognizing who was standing in front of him, the young man fear for his life. “Do you know what the penalty is for falling asleep on guard duty?” Alexander the Great asked the soldier.

“Yes, sir,” the soldier responded in a quivering voice.

“Soldier, what’s your name?” demanded the general.

“Alexander, sir.”

Alexander the Great repeated the question: “What is your name?”

“My name is Alexander, sir” the soldier repeated.

A third time and more loudly Alexander the Great asked, “What is your name?”

A third time the soldier meekly said, “My name is Alexander, sir.”

Alexander the Great then looked the young soldier straight in the eye. “Soldier,” he said with intensity, “either change your name or change your conduct.”

The phrase “live a life worthy” has the idea of living a life in such a way that it measures up to something. Think about a set of scales. If I have ten pounds on one side of the scale, I need ten pounds to put on the other side so it will balance. If I put 10.5 on the other side, it would be out of balance. If I put 11, it would be out of balance. I need ten on one side and I need ten on the other.

The word “worthy” takes us even a second step. The word for “worthy” is the word axios. It refers to the intrinsic value of something. So there is value in oneness. Being one defines the church. We are called to be one because God is one. When we are aligned with God we are aligned with each other; and when we are aligned with each other, we are aligned with God.

Tradition claims that Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built over the cave where Christ was buried. Several years back in 2002, the church became the scene of ugly fighting between the monks who run it. It turns out that Ethiopian and Coptic monks have been arguing over the rooftop of the church for centuries. In 1752 the Ottoman Sultan issued an edict declaring which parts of the church belong to each of six different Christian groups.

The rooftop had been controlled by the Ethiopians, but they lost control to the Coptic monks when they were hit by a disease epidemic in the 1800’s. Then in the 1970’s the Ethiopians regained control when the Coptic monks were absent for a short period. The Ethiopians have been squatting there ever since with at least one monk always remaining on the roof to assert their rights. But in response to this, a Coptic monk has also been living on the roof to maintain the Coptic claim to the church’s roof.

In July 2002, when the Coptic monk on the roof moved his chair into the shade where the Ethiopian monk was sitting, harsh words led to pushing and shoving and then to an all-out brawl. Eleven monks were injured, including one who was taken to the hospital unconscious. Amazingly, all this took place in a church that is supposedly built on the same location of Jesus’ tomb.

When the church is divided it produces some very tragic results. On the other hand, when the church is one it unleashes a power that can hardly be stopped. ONE – being in the same mind, purpose, desire.

For my church to be one, I will make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. (Read 4:2-3).  In verse 2 he communicates the character traits that will preserve the unity: humility, gentleness, patience, and love. If you are humble you will be gentle, if you are patient you will be enduring, if you’re gentle and patient you will be a peacemaker.

There is strength in humility that says, “I am not the center, Jesus is the center and I will submit to him and go where he leads. I am not the king, God is the king. Our unity is based on the objective unity outside of ourselves. There is one body and one Spirit.

Notice Paul’s words: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” By our peace with one another, expressed in our relationships in this local congregation, we are preserving a unity that has been given to us by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit brought us together, different as we are, into one family, into one body. But the unity that we experience doesn’t just happen. It takes work, just like a good marriage takes work. A good marriage doesn’t just happen. There are things that have to be done for a good marriage to flourish, and those have to be cultivated for that marriage to be what God intends it to be.

God has given us a unity in the body of Christ, but we must make every effort to preserve that unity which God has given us and to see it expressed in peace.

Let’s go a little further – let’s make this practical. Read 4:4-6.

Now what does all of this have to do with our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? The reason we are one is so that together we can move in one, same direction. For my church to be one, I will be a team player.

Since there is only one God, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism and only one body – there is one purpose. Since there is only one God – this one God has created a way for the whole earth to be reconciled to him (Acts 4:12)

The issue in the church at Ephesus was whether the Gentiles could belong to the body of Christ in the same way the Jews did. The answer was that Jesus reconciled both in one body to God in the cross. Both have access to the Father. Those who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ and made one. So the issue of unity/oneness for Paul is created by the mission of the church to those who were far off – the gentiles, the nations.

In other words, Jesus is the foundation for our mission. If there were many gods and many saviors and many valid faiths and many baptismal entrances – there would be no need for our mission to make disciples of Jesus. But there is only one God and one Lord and one faith and one baptism. And so this truth must be revealed. (Romans 10)

So the truth that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism is the foundation for our existence. This requires a diligence to maintain a oneness of purpose under the lordship of Jesus. We are one in mission, all headed in the same direction together. This is expressed in our vision – that dream of the future.

Football, around here is a pretty big deal. One of the greatest football coaches in history was Bear Bryant – Alabama. Bear Bryant used to say this about his football team: “I’m just a plow hand from Arkansas, but I have learned how to hold a team together. How to lift some men up, how to calm others down, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat, together, a team.” One heartbeat! That’s what Paul is communicating here. A team – a single unit composed of individual components for the purpose of accomplishing a common goal. One body, one Spirit, one Lord, one baptism. We are many, yet we are one. Our team is defined by our relationship to Jesus. We are perfect together! We are healthy together! When we play as a team, we fulfill the God-given vision for his church.

One is critical to being the church. That doesn’t mean that we become mindless robots (or worse, zombies) without identity, personal creativity or beautiful uniqueness. Being one means that we take all of our diversity and giftedness and personality and education and funnel it all in the same direction to glorify God and to invite people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus to begin following him.

Why is Love So Hard?

Relationships are hard! Can we agree on that? Whether it’s marriage, kids, co-workers, aging parents, an ex, or church – relationships are hard. Sometime we manage relationships really well and they thrive. Other times, regardless of what we do – relationships just blow up and create a chain reaction. It is impossible to do life by ourselves, so we need relationships – but sometimes we have to admit that life would be pretty good if it weren’t for other people.

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Relationships are hard! Can we agree on that? Whether it’s marriage, kids, co-workers, aging parents, an ex, or church – relationships are hard. Sometime we manage relationships really well and they thrive. Other times, regardless of what we do – relationships just blow up and create a chain reaction. It is impossible to do life by ourselves, so we need relationships – but sometimes we have to admit that life would be pretty good if it weren’t for other people.

But unless we go off the grid and hole up in some cabin in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from another soul, we’re going to need to interact with people.

So here in the middle of summer, I thought we’d take some time to get really practical with Scripture and see what God says about relationships and how to live together. Today, I want to take a big picture look at relationships. In the coming weeks we’ll get really specific about things like communication and conflict; about betrayal and commitment. But today, let’s just get a big picture view of relationships from Scripture and begin to understand why they are so hard in the first place. Now this series isn’t about marriage, although we’ll talk about marriage – because marriage is one of the hardest things we do. This series is about all our relationships and how to move to a place of thriving and healing. So whether you’re single or married, a parent or child whatever season and position of life you are in, God’s word will give us wisdom.

Now as someone who has been married for twenty years, with two teenage boys and work as a church professional – I know a thing or two about relationships. In a marriage of twenty years, I’ll confess that Melissa and I have had one or two conflicts! Does that surprise you? Can anyone else understand that? Someone once asked Melissa if in the really hard times when I really screwed up if she ever thought about divorce. She said, “divorce, no. Murder, yes.” So I’ve been on thin ice. Relationships are hard. They are complicated and messy. Have you lived there before? Why does love need to be so hard? It seems like it should be easy. You love freely and completely and that love is returned to you freely and completely. But that’s not how it always works.

Let’s go back to the first pages of the Bible and begin to build a Biblical worldview on relationships and discover why they work like they do and why love is so hard. Because there are two competing worldviews in our minds right now. One is the Biblical worldview on relationships and the other is the secular/cultural worldview. This worldview says, basically, that the whole goal of life is to be happy. But there’s something interesting about the pursuit of happiness. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this but there’s something called the Hedonism Paradox. Here’s what it says: We fail to attain pleasures/happiness if we deliberately seek them. Isn’t that miserable? We seek happiness but we’ll never attain it.

There was a guy named Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist, a holocaust survivor. He wrote a book called man’s search for meaning. In that book he talks about happiness and he says, “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than one’s self or as the byproduct of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

Life must be lived that you give yourself, your energies to something or someone other than yourself. That’s where happiness is found. Here’s the amazing thing – that’s the Biblical worldview. So if you somehow get sucked into the idea that happiness is the goal and relationship exist to make me happy you will be consistently miserable. Continuing to search for someone who can finally make you happy and if you’re not happy the problem is them. Relationships are hard.

Genesis 3 – the very first relationship recorded in the Bible.
How do we see this relationship work and what kind of things are still true today?

v.1 right away the serpent is bringing doubt into what God has said. Now this is not what God says. God says that they have a lush garden with plenty of food to enjoy. But that cannot eat from the tree in the middle of the garden – knowledge of good and evil. Serpent says – did God really says you couldn’t eat from any tree in the garden? Here comes that wave of deception. God is holding out on us. Your obedience to God is costing you. There are things that are good and great for you out there if you’ll just throw off the shackles of your religion. There’s so many great things and God is holding you back. Here’s the thing, God really doesn’t love you. If he did he wouldn’t be holding out on you.

v.2 -3 read – so far so good. She’s confident she’s clear. She’s accurate. You must not eat or even touch it you will die. Did God say anything about touching it (Gen 2:16)? Feely eat from every tree…

Do you see the subtlety? She was so clear but then she’s drawn into confusion. Start to believe that God is holding out on us and then we start to look outside of the commands. Things start to look good and great. And God is so restrictive and so binding.

v. 4 You won’t die! Now the lie has gotten even more subtle. In some ways there’s truth to this. They won’t die immediately.

v.5 God knows that your eyes will opened and you will be like God. At first it was lies about God’s character but now it’s lies about how God feels about you. It’s not only that God is holding out on you but now he’s doesn’t really love you.

v. 6 Now she is convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and she took the fruit. Then she took some and gave it to her husband. Who was strangely passive and silent to this point. And he ate it too and at that moment their eyes were opened and they suddenly felt the shame of their nakedness.

v. 8 heard the sound of God walking in the garden. The same thing they heard countless times before now disturbs them. So they hid. And God starts to call out for them, “where are you?” He already knows the answer. But he asks the question to draw them in. From the very first pages of Scripture God becomes the pursuer of us. He seeks to draw us out. God steps into time and space history and pursues he children to tell them that he loves. But we are constantly rebelling, believing lies, and hiding.

v. 10 – 11. More questions to which God knows answer. But now the man replies in typical manly fashion. It was the woman you gave me! Before Adam was happy. He remembered that whole rib thing and she was great. But now, it was the woman! You gave her to me, remember. It’s not just her fault. God, it’s your fault. You gave her to me. She gave me the fruit, because she prepares the meals, I just consume them.

v.13 God asks the woman And in like fashion she responds, the serpent deceived me. And who made that serpent, God? That’s why I ate it. It had nothing to do with me. It’s really not my fault.

Do you see the temptation come in? The deceiver brings lies. It’s consistent with his character. The Deception comes in – you won’t die, your rebellion won’t cost you anything. And God is holding out on you, he doesn’t really love you.

The biblical worldview says that humanity in its very nature is broken. From this moment on, every relationship is broken. And I can tell you that my relationship looks just like that! And so do yours. It’s so unpopular to talk about mankind having a sickness in their souls; it’s almost illegal. But the Biblical worldview says that humanity is broken. Left to ourselves we are sinful. And because of this brokenness inside us, every relationship we enter into has a sense of brokenness. And we don’t like it! We’d rather blame someone else. There’s a deep problem in all of us and that problem is that we are selfish to the core.

We can see as we watch this story unfold that we can see the effects of sin on this relationship. The first thing we see is that there is fear rooted in shame. They become afraid. First to be able to show themselves to one another and then to show themselves to God. They are suddenly aware and insecure about what is showing. I don’t think we can imagine a relationship where we can stand before our spouse and God and not even realize we’re naked. If I were to come out here without a shirt on I be so freaked out and so would you and we wouldn’t get a thing done. We’re completely wrapped up in our physical appearance and they become suddenly afraid and they cover and hide.

And just so you know every relationship is like that. All of us are covering stuff we don’t want seen. And hiding stuff we don’t want to come out. And it’s marked with this very destruction emotion called shame. And while Jesus forgives our sin and completely removes sin, we still marked with the residual effects of sin that pops up in shame. And so we’ll hide in our insecurities. We’ll make sure that you don’t get to see the kinds of things that we’re capable of. Man if you knew all of the things that are true about me you call the bishop immediately. Or you’d at least go to a different church. I’m not going to show you all that! No way. And you’re not going to show me. Thank you! I don’t want to see that. I’ve got my own stuff! Relationships are complicated because we never know when the real us is going to show up.

And when we get brave or whenever we slip up or whenever we stay in a relationship long enough where we can’t hide it anymore; we hide our stuff based upon insecurities but then we forget the lies we’ve already told. So we slip up and show the real us. And whenever that happens we get the third effect: blame rooted in denial. It’s not my fault. It’s just something that happened. Fear. Hiding. And blame.

Now what do we do with this? What do we do knowing that every single relationship is broken? It’s broken because we’re broken.

Identify the lies in your life that you’ve begun to embrace. The story of the gospel has a bad news component and a good news component. The bad news is God is holy and we’re not; sin costs. There’s a penalty to sin. The good news is that Jesus paid that penalty. And by faith through grace you can be absolutely forgiven.

Now Satan attacks both of those. He says on the one hand, sin’s not that bad. It won’t cost you. You deserve it. God won’t mind.

On the other hand, he’ll say God hasn’t forgiven you. He’s holding out, he’s still ticked at you. God’s up there angry.
Identify which lie you’re embracing.

Admit your failures. If you embrace a biblical worldview admitting your failures should be the easiest thing you could do. You already know at the outset your broken so when you make a mistake its not a surprise. It doesn’t mean your not sorry about it but it shouldn’t be a surprise.

We live by grace but yet we find it so hard to admit our failures. Relationships get even harder when there are mistakes that happen and no one wants to admit it. Relationships cannot move forward when you’re not willing to admit when you’re wrong. Reconciliation is impossible when your not willing to admit failure. Relationships are hard. We think if they know I messed up, or failed or made mistakes; they’ll think I’m weak, or that I goofed up, or that I can’t control myself. They already think that! They’ll think I’ve got a problem – because we all do. That’s why Jesus came.

Embrace the truth. What is the truth about the people who are God’s people? What is the essence of your identity? You are the beloved! God looks on you with such favor and such love.

Henri Nouwen said this, “self rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the beloved.” You thought is was something else. But how you identify yourself at your core in your heart of hearts defines all of the relationships that you have.
You are God’s beloved.

In this story Satan comes to us and he brings accusations about God that are not true. And we believe him. God’s holding out on you. Yeah I think he is. God’s too strict. Yeah he is pretty strict.
Satan also goes to God and makes accusations about you that are partially true. And God rejects them every time.

When we hear accusations about God we are so quick to embrace them. But God will never do that with you. When Satan comes and makes accusations against us, God says no that person is covered by the blood of Jesus.

If you’ve never embraced the love of God in Christ, today is the day to embrace it because all of us are broken inside. And the only hope we have of getting fixed because we can’t fix ourselves; if you’re holding out for more education, more training or resources to fix your relationships, take a look around. If training, resources or education would make relationships work then the US would certainly have the most healthy relationships anywhere. How are we doing?

If you’ve never embraced the reality of Jesus surrender your heart to him. And if you have embraced Jesus and your relationships are difficult it should make sense that they are. But step back from it and remember “I am Christ’s beloved.” I can extend graciousness and I can be brave and admit failure because I am completely forgiven. God knows you completely and loves you unconditionally.

Romans 8:31-39.

Relationships are hard. Your relationships are broken and so are mine. But there is hope in Jesus.