Wednesday, April 24, 2013

One Question That Can Change Your Family

In part one of Future Family we established that you cannot pick your family, you cannot change the past, and that there are no good examples of a healthy family in the Old Testament. We discovered how Jesus sets a very high bar or ideal what the perfect family looks like, then there is the reality of what our family is. Therefore there is always tension between the ideal and the real. We live in a culture that wants us to get rid of the tension by wanting to normalize everything so it changes the rules.
We live in a culture that wants to give everyone a participation trophy.  Kids get a trophy, reward, for basically doing nothing. First place and last place are treated equally, that's not sporting competition. We think we are helping our children and the reality is the children know they are meaningless. They know they got them for doing nothing, they know they didn’t win, and they just throw them away.
 Now that my little rant is over with, we also said each of us what the ideal for our children despite of the tension. Jesus makes this tension, rises the bar and says when you live in this tension between perfect and real, when thing called life hits, you’ll fall short and I will forgive you, love you, but I don’t ever want you to give up on the ideal or perfect.  Jesus says I never ever want you to give up on the pursuit of ideal when it comes to you family, your faith and your relationships.
 If we give up on trying for the perfect we will lose. You may be thinking sure but dude you don’t know my family. That’s true but I don’t want you to lose sight of the high standard God wants us to shot for. We said there are no good examples of family in the Old Testament and we said the New Testaments when it speaks of family basically says: wives submit to your husbands, men love your wives, children obey your parents, and parents don’t exasperate your children.
One of the most controversial, politically incorrect, most misused, misunderstood, bible verse when it comes to family is Ephesians 5:22 What we need to understand is that Jesus on his time on planet earth more than anything else talked, preached, and taught about the principles of love. He said it’s the greatest commandment. Jesus said love is the driving force behind everything. Peter and Paul mission was to figure out how to take the teachings and principles of love Jesus taught us and apply them to this new concept of family. It had never been done before. In a time when whoever holds the power makes the rules. Some could say it is like that today. But before Jesus, it was Rome, before that it was the Greeks, before that it was Egypt and Pharaoh. Before Jesus whoever had the power dictated what was right and what was wrong. Jesus comes along and turns it upside down. He says actually if you have power you are to use to it help the powerless and that you should lever your power for all the people. Brand new idea that Peter and Paul says how can we take this concept of love and power and apply it to the family. So Paul takes this idea or principle about love and breaks it down for the whole family. When we hear these verses we need to remember that this is a general vital principle directed towards everyone but Paul address women, then men, then children, then parents.

Ephesians 21& 22: 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 

       What I hear all the time is usually by men who say, “Look right there, the Bible says wives submit to your husbands.”  I usually respond with, first read verse 21 again. Then 22 it says wives. Paul is talking to the wives, he ain’t talking to men, and you need to pay attention later on. Verse 21: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Submit to one another, out of reverence for Christ.  Paul first is talking to everyone. The overall principle of love, for every follower of Jesus, every church goer, every family member, the overall principle that everyone should follow is to submit to one another.  Paul breaks it down to each family member but everyone is to submit. It is called mutual submission. It is mutual submission not out of reverence to one another, because let’s be honest, sometime our family members, sometimes we are not worth being revered or honored.
So what does submission mean? To submit means I am going to leverage my power, leverage my time, leverage my gifts, and leverage my money for your benefit. Whiter I am the father, mother, husband, wife, child, Aunt, Uncle, grand parent, great grandparent, cousin, I am going to look for ways to help you with your burden out of my reverence to Christ. Because that is what Jesus did for me. Jesus died for us; Jesus made us his number one priority. In the upper room that night, when Jesus realized he possessed all the power of God, he washed their feet. That was his example of the submission.
In my opinion this is the single most powerful dynamic principle there is. When a family, congregation, neighborhood, when someone says, I’m going to loan you my power, my influence, my time, my money, my experience, my education for your benefit. When everyone begins to do that, it is the most dynamic powerful principle that will do amazing things. It was modeled for us by Jesus. But we live in the real world where we have this humanistic desire to control things. The message and concept of mutual submission is I am here for you don’t matter where I am in the family but I am here to leverage all I have and all I am for your benefit. No one in this family is more important than anyone else.
So you want happiness, peace, joy, love and good times in your family? It’s all about mutual submission. It comes down to one simple question. You can change your whole family dynamics with six simple words. “What can I do to help?” 
 If everyone in your family asks this simple question to everyone else once a day, you would not imagine how things will change. It is saying I am offering all I am for all you need. I am loaning you me.
If you ask this question, it will always prevent the conversation from going negative. Life is busy, but to pause and say I am here for you how can I help means everything. When we ask most of the time, the person will say, nothing. That is ok because by asking this simple question you are saying loudly, I am aware of your burden. I am aware you are stressed. I am not trying to interfere but if there is anything I can do to lessen your load, your burden a bit, I’m here. It will transform your family.
So why don’t we ask this simple question?  One word: fear. Especially kids because you will be out raking leaves or washing the car. We fear that someone is going to take advantage of us. We fear they will say Yes and it will take us away from what we want to do. But remember the last part: out of reverence of Christ.” Jesus looked down at this planet earth full of pain, suffering, brokenness, shame and regret and said, “What can I do to help?” . The father said, “you don’t want to know.” Jesus replied, “No! What can I do to help?” God said, “It will cost you your life.” Jesus said, “I can do that.” God says, “you will have to go down there and put every single persons needs and wants before yours.” Jesus said, “I can do that.” So Paul says out of reverence, honor, love, appreciation of Jesus Christ open up your time, talents, money, education, experiences for someone else. Yes, they may take advantage of us, yes we may not get everything done we want to get done, but welcome to becoming followers of Jesus. Because Jesus did that for you and 99.9% of the time, when you do that for a family member, it will not cost you your life just a little time, little money, little energy, little sweat, and a little frustration. We fear this but the thing this question threatens is the key to having a great family. Do you know what makes great families? Do you know what makes happy families? Asking this question, even with fear, says I am trading a me for an us. You know what it would do to your heart and soul if everyone or someone in your family asked, “what can I do to help?” You know how it would make you feel and you have the same potential to make them feel that same way but you don’t because you are selfish. Selfish meaning you will never give all you are to the family because your definition of a happy family is if I can just get everyone to do exactly what I want them to do, I’ll be happy. No you won’t. You’ll be large and in change but you will not be happy. When you ask this question it forces you to lean into the family instead of pulling away. Because if it is only a one way street and people lean in, ask the question, you don’t reciprocate, you pull away, they will pull away. Everyone will pull away and you have something but it won’t be a family.
      The key word is mutual. If you want control and don’t reciprocate, they will pull away, become disconnected, resentful, and miserable and will leave either emotionally or physically because you don’t get happiness out of controlling the people around you. You get happy when you loan yourself out to people like Jesus did for you.  Happy is not control. Jesus said the more power you have, the more you should be asking the question, “what can I do to help?” because we want people leaning in not pulling away.
Wither we are talking about our biological family or our faith family ask this question at the          appropriate time. Don’t come out of the bathroom 30 minutes later after all the dishes are done and the kitchen is clean up and ask, “What can I do to help?”  It’s never going to be ideal but the         more we ask the better timing we will have. 
Here is some tension. If you want to witness my head exploding, wither it is with you my faith family or my biological family, I say this out of tension, are individuals who offer their criticism, who offer their critique, who freely offer their opinion and suggestion but do not offer their assistance. Do you know why this upsets me so because not only is it disrespectful and hurtful because you have acknowledged that you see me struggling but instead of offering help you critics my struggles.
There is nothing more dehumanizing in the world but more importantly there is nothing farther from the teachings of Jesus.
The last thing you must, must, allow someone who offers to help, to help.
Those of us who want to be in control, we don’t want help. When no one helps, we can then stomp off to our reservation for our own pity party.  But when someone leans in, over comes their fear, embrace it, except it, and understand you are allowing them the privilege of serving you in honor of Christ.Say it out loud: “What can I do to help?”
Say to those in your family, even if at first you don’t mean it. Because when you want to ask it the least, is when you need to ask it the most…

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Future Family:Ideally Speaking the Perfect Family?

Today we kick off a brand new and exciting sermon series Future Family. I’m excited because in case you didn't know before I was called into ministry I worked as a counselor for at risk kids in many different settings. In counseling, it is obvious that an individual’s family of origin is vital in the development of character, affects all our relationships, defines our character, and sets the trajectory for success and failure in our life. So I’m excited because I personally get to mix my past experience and education with my current calling to serve Christ.  This sermon series has many challenges. First is the word “family” is diverse and is not emotionally neutral. Every family is different. There are no two families alike. The second challenge is the fact remains the words “father” and “mother” is not emotional neutral words. You hear those words and immediately they spark emotion either good or not so good.  But we do have two commonalities. First everyone came from a family and that when it comes to our family of origin; we had no choice in the matter. You can pick your friends, you can pick your spouse, but you can’t pick you family. In middle school I can remember wanting to pick my friends family over mine. Mine wasn't bad just their family was just cooler and had a ski boat. Second thing we all have in common is there seems to always come a point in your life when you realize that no one you are biologically related too is as smart as you.  You realize that if everyone would just listen to you, everything could be worked out: stop drinking as much; you might stay out of jail. Take a bath; you might actually meet someone who will date you. Even with the challenges and commonalities we tackle this because regardless of the debate going on today about same sex marriages and families, if you look at all non politically funded research the same sex parent is the most influential force, most powered force, over a child, so what we do or don’t do today affects the future family.
So when we take a social aspect and look at it through the lens of scripture you will find that in the Old Testament there is not one example of a healthy, vibrant family we can set as the bar to emulate.  The first homicide was two brothers, Cain & Able. First recorded civil war in Israel was David against his own son. Jesus parents lost him for three days when he was young. As we start this series it is important we understand that when the Apostle Paul took the teachings of Jesus to the Greek world, the idea of family was so new and so strange because never up until that time had any society or culture adopted them yet. We hear it and say, duh, that sounds so old fashion. We will hear words that to us seem outdated because in our culture we have come to except them but to them it was progressive thinking, new, and foreign. We say that’s so out dated, but to them it was strange, brand new way of thinking and acting especially when it comes to women and children. We forget that this New Testament society was one where women held lesser value than livestock. They wouldn't name their children until they were in their teens because they were not sure if they would survive. Parents would leave their inheritances to other people’s children if they thought their children were not responsible enough.  So when Jesus would pause and say, “let the children come to me” we say oh how cute. But those there at the time would say, “are you kidding me” let a child of lesser value take the spot of an adult.  The Apostle Paul elevates the status of women and children. Here is what is true today. In a society that follows a Christian world view women and children have fared better. In a society that has not embraced a Christian biblical world view women and children have suffered and have less value or rights. I know that some religious nuts have used the biblical text for their own twisted view on women and children for their own personal gain but if we take a honest look at the New Testament it open the door to a new world view. What Paul was preaching was not only mind boggling it gave women and children hope. It gave them value. Jesus died on the cross for all men, women, and children and they became equal citizens in the Kingdom of God when women and children were not citizens of any country. When you hear you are not valued or a citizens here in Rome but you are in God’s kingdom that is a huge life giving hopeful statement. That breathes life into a culture.  So what seems old fashioned to us is new and mind boggling and most importantly brought hope to those in that 1st century.

Paul says in light of the gospel here is how a family should work.
Colossians 3:18-19   18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. (NIV)
Why would he say something like this? Women hear this and go submit, yeah right. Men hear this today and are like, “yeah I don’t really know what submit means but I could go for that.” Both genders only hear “wives - submit” and it doesn't move from there.  Paul addresses this because men in that culture were hash with their dogs, cattle, and they were harsh with their wives because she was not much more valuable. Paul says you are not to own, take advantage of, or process your wife, you are to love, value, respect your wife. We view this as an old fashion idea but their viewed it differently because it elevated the status of women. 
Colossians 3:20 & 21:
20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Parents here this and sort of elbow their children right now. Did you hear what he said? Paul God’s apostle says you got to OBEY in everything… If you want to be good with Jesus you have to obey me in everything…  But wait. The next verse says…
21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. Another word here for embitter is exasperate. For me this is the one I fail the most. It is when we say something to our children, we are trying to be helpful, trying to be comforting or hopeful and somehow in the process we place a weight on them that causes them to be discouraged. You every noticed that one parent can say something to a child, good bad or indifference and it can seem to weigh like 50 lbs and another parent can say the exact same thing to that child and it seems to weigh like 500 lbs. It’s not equal  Let’s just admit it, there are some situations and some children that one parents influence weighs more than the other. Does this mean the child loves or favors one parent over the other? No! When Paul addresses fathers here he is saying men you tend to treat children and women like animals so stop it. We must be careful of the way we speak to our children. I have so many bad examples where I've failed on this. I say something stupid, I desperate want to take it back, but I can’t. Even if what I have said was true, it has crushed the spirit of my child. A parent told me how tough it was to make it in the music business, how barely anyone makes it, how much talent you have to have, how much luck you needed. All of that is true but I believed him so I didn't give it my very best because my spirit was crushed.
Peter says to be considerate of your wives, take into consideration how your wife feelings. Today men are like you sound like Oprah, the men of that time were saying “you got to be kidding.” “Be considerate of the feelings of my wife. I wife I didn't even choose, the wife my parents bartered for so I got the marry the middle daughter of our neighbor because my parents made a good deal on some livestock, be considerate of the way she feels, no one was concerned about how I felt. You want me to treat them with respect.”
So if we look only at a Biblical view it looks like this: Husbands love your wife and be considerate, wives submit to your husbands, children obey your parents, and parents don’t embitter or exasperated your children.
This brings us to tension of what we will be covering over the next several weeks. No one has come from the ideal family or perfect family. Since no one has come from the perfect family it is therefore impossible for you to create the prefect family. The ideal family does not exist because there is always a gap between the ideal and the real. There is real, there is ideal and there is tension between the two. Jesus understood and lived in this tension. Jesus constantly pointed to the kingdom of God and what that meant. Jesus always held up a very high standard. For example Jesus was asked about adultery. Everyone knew adultery was when a man had sex with anyone was not his wife was adultery. Jesus said yes that is true but if you even look at a woman in lust, that too is adultery. He took a standard and raised the bar. So what do we do when we miss this higher standard? Jesus says as the standard gets higher my grace and forgiveness grows deeper and your acceptance becomes broader. Jesus refused to condemn those who feel short. Jesus never ever condemns.
The questions remains are we willing to face an ideal that will never become a reality when it comes to our family? Are we tempted to lose sight of the ideal to feel better about where we actually are? Are we willing to embrace an ideal or lower our expectations when it comes to our family?
Jesus was comfortable with tension.
Turn with me to Matthew 19:3-8 as we look at family and this tension.
Matthew 19:3-6: Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

We must understand that divorce during that century was nothing like divorce today. If a man wanted to divorce his wife, there was no attorney, he just publicly said, “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you” that was it. If you were a woman, so sad too bad, she could not under any circumstance get out of the marriage.  Jesus says, “let me take you back to the beginning, when things were perfect, when they were exactly the way God created it.” Tension. Jesus said I will take you back to the ideal and place it up to the real.  I am not sure what to do with the tension. Jesus says a marriage is when God puts tow people together they are made one. You are trying to un one what God has made one.
Verse: 7-9
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

They came to test Jesus, now they want information and ask then why Did Moses say divorce was ok? Jesus said in the beginning divorce was not in the plan. In the ideal divorce is not in the plan. But I fully understand in marriages there are deal breakers: addictions, abuse, manipulation, infidelity, abandonment.  But what Jesus is saying, what I am saying is divorce is not ideal. When I meet people they want the other person to change, get healthy, be responsible, love, caring compassionate they don’t go into a marriage with the ideal being it will end in divorce. So ok Jesus what are you and this faith community going to do with all these divorce people in our community? We are going to love them. What are we going to do? Jesus said I am going to give my life for them. So Jesus is it a law or not a law. Jesus said yes.
As we explore further in this sermon series we must be accustomed to this kind of tension. It is not to make anyone feel bad or condemn you or input guilt about your past. We hope in the weeks ahead to look at the reality in which we live and function today and the tension between that and the ideal, the perfect way God intended it to be.
So where are we? Are we willing to strive for the ideal or just redefine our reality so we feel better about ourselves?  I have worked with youth who were sexually, physically, and emotionally abused by a parent and thought that was normal and that all parents did those things to their children. They had no concept of the ideal so they had redefined their reality by redefining the role of a parent. When they did that you can see why they became abusers themselves.
When it comes to our family are we going to use God’s ideal to be our target we aim for. Will God’s ideal be the thing that guides or calibrates our compass or am I going to change the rules and expectations so I feel better about where I am?
Let’s be honest. If we as followers of Jesus don’t change the rules and consistently fail to reach the ideal, we will begin to feel bad about ourselves. We will begin to condemn our own actions. Jesus doesn't want us to feel that way. Every single one of us falls short, we all deal with the pain and regret that goes along with that tension. But God grace is bigger than that. God doesn't want us to feel that way. When we begin to change the rules we lose. We loose with our family, we lose in our relationships, and we lose in our faith.
If reality is not good why is Jesus’s ideal the best way forward? Here is what I have experienced. Wither they were a follower of Jesus or not, I have never ever met a father or met a mother that wanted divorce for their children.  They may wanted desperately for one of both parties to change, get healthy, plug into the relationships, be monogamous, to feel safe,  but not one desired a divorce for their children. In fact those who have faced the pain, loneliness, isolation, desperation and the hopelessness of divorce are the ones that want a healthy successful marriage for their children more than anything else in the world. No matter their view of scripture, no matter their world view, there is something inside of all of us that refuses to lose sight of the ideal when it comes to our kids and grandchildren. I have yet to meet a single mother who wishes, dreams, or wants their child to be a single parent. We all want something ideal for our children.
In reality when we hold up Jesus’ ideal, our society, our media, our culture, the messages in film and music will say that’s so old fashion we need to change the rules. But for us that follows Jesus we need to say, “That may worked for you but we are keeping the ideal.” We will live in this tension you are creating. We will mess up, we will fall short, but we will not change the rules so we can just feel better about our roles as husbands and wives. I’m willing to live in the tension between the reality and the ideal Jesus gave us.
So as we move forward in this series I will be giving some practical advice. If I offend you or your current situation it is not my intention so please let us move forward with grace and forgiveness because the odds are I will say something stupid. But my prayer is that we can embrace this tension to do and be better because the future of our families depend on it.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

“Me, Elvis & Jesus”

“Me, Elvis & Jesus”
I was born and raised in the Holy Land of Rockin Roll, Memphis Tennessee. Growing up we found our city identity as the hometown of Elvis Vernon Presley. While a new generation has no reference to exactly who Elvis was and what he meant to music, they identify with another hometown guy Justin Timberlake. I am the perfect age to have appreciated both. There was a phenomenon with both these men and maybe it was with all hometown celebrities but as you would travel around town you would hear of “Elvis sightings” or “Justin Timberlake sightings”.
You could walk into a restaurant and there would be a sort of electricity in the air and people would quickly tell you, Justin Timberlake was in here or Elvis ate here on time.
This week after the crescendo to Easter, we sort of go on with Spring never looking back. In a somber moment I honestly wish those of us who follow Jesus were more like Elvis fans. Unless you have witnessed it yourself, you cannot imagine that 35 years after his death hundreds of thousands of fans gather from all over the world to light a candle, listen to his music, and to share with one another how Elvis’s music touched their lives. It is literally breath taking to witness a sea of strangers of different ages, different ethnicities, and different social classes all coming together as one to share in the Elvis experience. While 99% of the people believe that Elvis is physically dead there are 1% that still believes Elvis faked his own death and is living in a retirement home in Michigan. But if you experience Elvis Death Week in Memphis you will clearly see that Elvis is not dead. Yes, he died on August 16, 1977 but his presence is very much still alive. There are hundreds of Elvis impersonators, people still listen to his music, tour his house, and share their Elvis experience with anyone who will listen. The fans of Elvis have a devotion, sincerity, compassion, commitment, commonality, and resolve that I wish we had for
Jesus. I am not saying Elvis was like Jesus, but what if after Easter we followers of Jesus emulated the fans of Elvis. What if we didn’t care about age, social class, denominations, and ethnicities and gathered to share our experiences with Jesus. I want to share with the next generation my Jesus experiences and sightings. Wonder what our community would look like if we told how Jesus affected our life with the same zeal. What if we worshipped with the same electricity to celebrate God’s love for us with the same intensity as if Jesus was in the building? What would our relationship with Christ be like if we loved others in the same fanaticism as Elvis fans? Elvis said early in his career, "Music and religion are similar--because both should make you wanna move." I believe EP was right. The gospel is a living, vibrant force that should make us wants to get out and move, move around in the world, move towards each other in love and compassion, move towards bringing others into the kingdom. I don’t want to be Thomas (please overlook the irony) who waited for proof. I want to join with others who have devotion, sincerity, compassion, commitment, and resolve to be a fan of Jesus. I want a religion that makes me wanna move. I don’t want to stop the momentum of Easter, ever. I want a savior that makes me wanna put on a sequin jump suit and sing. I want to believe in a Jesus that lives. I want to live like Jesus is alive and is in the building…


Future Family beginning April 14, 2013

It is true that we can choose our friends, we can choose our spouse, we can choose our vocation or career path but we cannot choose our family. Each of us no matter the connection or closeness has a family. A healthy, nurturing, wholesome and loving family is NOT the norm for most people. Our character, self-worth, actions, attitudes, our ability to handle life and the way we function in relationships are directly tied to our family of origin. When you search the entire Bible you will not find one example of a healthy functional family. All families in the Bible are very much dysfunctional in today’s standard. While there are not good examples of healthy families in scripture we can still learn a lot about who we are as individuals and how our family dynamics define who we are, shape who we are, and set for us a trajectory on life’s journey. During this sermon series, we as a faith family will look what is the ideal or perfect family, what is required of us, how we react when there is conflict in our family, everything there is to know about parenting, why we all long for a parents approval, and what legacy are we leaving for our family. This will be a defining moment for clarity, understanding, and hope as we uncover the affects our family has over us. Please make plans now not to miss one week of this sermon series. Invite someone, especially a family member, as we learn to live with our family and become aware of the influence it has on all aspects of our life.