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: 3 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?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 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]? 6 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.
7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 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.