Over the past couple of weeks we've been highlighting the difference between having a "Christian" home as opposed to having a "Christ-centered" home. In todays culture, it's easy to let the word "Christian" trip off of our tongues when we describe ourselves or our family life.
But what we've come to understand is that the word "Christian" doesn't always have the most positive connotations for emerging generations of people in our culture. Far too many people equate being Christian with bigotry, intolerance, judgement and a holier-than-thou attitude.
We've been trying to reframe the conversation a bit by highlighting the differences between merely saying that you are a Christian or have a Christian home and actually being a follower of Jesus.
The first week of our series we learned that in a Christ-centered home, righteousness is always on the menu. We also learned that righteousness is a word that means, "right standing with God," but that it has a deeper meaning--a family that hungers after righteousness (who always has it on the menu in their home) is the kind of family that lifts up the things of God more than anything else. This is the kind of family that longs for the world to be as God wants it to be.
The second week of our study we learned that a Christ-centered home is a space for peacemakers. We explored the difference between what it means to be a peacekeeper who avoids conflict as opposed to a peacemaker who embraces it in order to resolve it.
This week we are going to demonstrate what it's like when a family strives to have a Christ-centered home, and meets resistance from the surrounding culture. Our key take-away--the main idea that is going to guide us today is simply this:
A Christ-centered home isn't like all the other homes.
More specifically, today we are going to be highlighting the differences between what's normal and what's weird when it comes to families.
Every family has weird traditions--things that they do for no apparent reason that make perfect sense to them, but no one else. But just when you thought that your family traditions were weird---get a load of these that I gathered from the interwebs:
The guys writes, "My dad pays my sister to not be a jerk on family holidays."
Here's a nominee for Dad of the Year: "My dad will only steal trees for Christmas--he never buys them. He says it's to honor the Grinch, but I think it's just because he's cheap."
How about this: "Whenever a member of our family has been dating someone for a significant amount of time, my 89 year-old grandmother will initiate them into the family by throwing a coconut cream pie into their face."
Or this: "We take pictures of our dead in their coffins. I didn't know it was strange until I showed a picture to a friend of mine and he said, "OMG she's dead!" I still think it's a good idea."
Another guy writes, "We go to the graveyard on Christmas Eve and pour the favorite drink of our dead relatives on their graves. I'm from Denmark."
I love that last line---as if being from Denmark explains everything.
So what is considered "normal" for families in our culture? And I don't mean what is considered normal based on ideals, images, or stereotypes. What I mean is what is actually considered normal?
I have some ideas.
Normal is broke in our culture.
And by broke I mean in debt, max'd credit cards, upside down mortgages, high interest rate car loans and a host of other fun stuff. That kind of broke--broke from conspicuous consumption. Conspicuous consumption means that you buy things that are easily recognizable as awesome by other people in your sphere of influence and even beyond.
There was a recent hit song by the rapper Macklemore that I rather liked called "Thrift Shop," with lyrics that praised the virtue of buying clothes from thrift stores rather than paying "$50 dollars for a t-shirt." It was a great sentiment, but in every photo I've seen of Macklemore out on the town he's decked out in expensive clothes and jewelry because he needs to demonstrate to all of the haters that he's "made it."
I'm pretty sure that half of my congregation got lost on that last illustration--but there you go.
Normal is divorced in our culture.
We talked about this a couple of weeks ago, but the number one issue facing Christian families today is divorce and broken homes. It's normal to get divorced in our culture when it gets too hard to stay together. The reason why we get so excited when people celebrate double digit anniversaries is because they are rare--they aren't normal.
Normal is churchless in our culture because other things got in the way, or because it just isn't a priority.
Many years ago when I was a youth director, I took my high school Sunday school class out to one of our local parks during our church service. I had them go around and ask various people in the park why they weren't in church that morning.
Some people got mad at them and told them it wasn't any of their business. But others responded, and shared how they weren't very religious, were too busy, felt like they didn't need to go to church to be close to God, a variety of things. I get it. Busy families sometimes go so hard during the week and even on Saturday that by Sunday morning everyone is exhausted. So it's normal not to go to church.
Normal is too busy to take time for the important things. Normal families in our culture are over-scheduled, to say the least. We wear busy-ness like badges of honor. I have sat on the sidelines of my kids soccer games and listened to dads and moms compare their schedules in a litany of one-ups-manship that defies the imagination. And, to be fair, I've been one of those parents on occasion, not to be outdone.
Listen, there is a fine line between shuttling your kids back and forth to a different activity every day and actually spending time with your kids.
Busy-ness can also dominate our work life, or social life to the extent that the important things--the things that really matter get shunted to the side in favor of work, social obligations, keeping up appearances, you name it.
Finally, Normal is self-indulgent because denial isn't just a river in Egypt. Denial is something that most people in our culture practice when they either lie to themselves about their self-centered behavior, or don't practice when it comes to getting what they want.
I saw an advertisement once that said, "Life is short, play hard." I agree to an extent. But normal families in our culture seem to do nothing but play hard--never denying themselves any desire, want or pleasure. Families are so over-extended when it comes to money and time, so self-indulgent that they have no room for self-care. Kids are being raised with a false sense of their importance in the world--believing that they are smart and special and that the world owes them a living. Addiction, Infidelity, Bankruptcy, Disillusionment... all of these things follow self-indulgence.
And not surprisingly, the opposite of what's normal in our culture doesn't seem to be all that popular.
Which brings us to our Scripture passage for today from Matthew chapter 5 verses 10-12:
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, (remember what that is?) for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven.
Listen, being persecuted for righteousness... being insulted or falsely accused or reviled for being not normal has been going on for a very long time.
The Genesis account of Cain and Abel highlights this very human, very pervasive problem throughout history. Cain and Abel were brothers who both prepared sacrifices to God, but God only found Abel's sacrifice to be worthy. The lesson is that the actual offering itself was secondary to the spirit within which it was offered. Because of this Cain grew jealous and killed Abel in a rage. Abel didn't preach at Cain. He didn't lord over Cain the fact that God was pleased with the way he was living his life. Abel's righteous life bothered Cain so much that he couldn't stand it.
When you're not like all the others---it can cause you problems.
But on the other hand, I would much rather have problems with people--than to have problems with God, can I get a witness?
Normal isn't working. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. So you can keep having a normal family, be like everyone else that is broke, divorced, churchless, too busy and self-indulgent---or you can try something different.
Maybe it's time to be "Weird" and risk some persecution.
You see "Weird" is being a good steward with your money. It's striving to get out of debt, to not buy things you don't need, to live like no one else (as Dave Ramsey is fond of saying) so that one day you can live like no one else. When my wife and took Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University Class for the first time, I was skeptical. I didn't like the discipline of having a budget, working hard to pay off debt and not buying whatever I dang well pleased. But we worked at it. And over the course of a couple of years we paid off over $150,000 worth of debt. We're not normal. Normal isn't working. Normal isn't working. We'd rather be weird.
Weird is working on your marriage because its worth it. Recently one of our church members passed away and at his memorial service his wife said that they had never had an argument in over 60 years of marriage. My wife and I have been married for nearly 23 years. I can't say that we have never had a fight in all of those 23 years, but I can say this: We've never had a fight that we didn't resolve through mutual submission, humility, hard work and prayer. Even when I do the dumbest stuff imaginable and make her madder than a hornet, I still want to reach out to my wife in the middle of the night to where she's sometimes laying as far on the other side of the bed as she can get--depending on how bad I was. She feels the same way. We're not normal. Normal isn't working. We'd rather be weird.
Weird means going to church as a family plan. I mentioned this in an earlier service, but it bears repeating. When we were young parents of a then three-year old little boy we made a deal with one another: We would always find a way to be involved in church. I will never forget the moment when I realized how much this meant. We had just started attending the small Presbyterian church where I would eventually join the staff---I knew none of those things at that point. My little boy was standing in the aisle when Pastor Breck came in to the sanctuary wearing his robe and stole. He walked up to him and asked, "Are you God?" Pastor Breck knelt down to where Jay was standing and said to him, "No, but I know him pretty well." We've been in church ever since. We're not normal. Normal isn't working. We'd rather be weird.
Weird means spending time together even if it costs us. When I take the time off that is allotted to me as a pastor, I will often get some criticism. People believe that pastors only work one day a week anyway, so I have heard. And I've been told more than once how some members are displeased when I am not around. When my wife goes on vacation or out of town on family trips, it costs us money because she owns her own business. But in both of these cases we have made the decision that spending time with our family is worth whatever it might cost us in criticisms, our careers or finances. We all face the same kind of choices--we can either cheat on our jobs or we can cheat on our families. We choose not to cheat on our family. We're not normal. Normal isn't working. We'd rather be weird.
Weird means not giving in to our desires for others' sake. Because we've worked so hard to follow Dave Ramsey's advice on finances, my wife and I have been able to afford a lot of things that we used to not be able to afford. But we also make choices not to give in to our desires so that we can continue to have a good quality of life for our kids, prepare for our future, and leave a legacy for our family that will last. Not all of our desires need to be fulfilled. I knew a couple once who both lived in complete selfishness. Whenever she would buy something, he would buy something. He bought a motorcycle. She bought a new car. He bought a new TV, she bought herself a spa weekend. Not surprisingly, they ended up in debt, angry at one another and eventually divorced with their kids splitting time between them. We always try to choose our family's greater good over our own desires. We're not normal. Normal isn't working. We'd rather be weird.
Listen, I'm not trying to set myself and my family up as some great bastion of goodness. We have plenty of issues. But we are trying to put these things into practice. And because we do, we often get push back from people who are living "normally." I imagine that you would experience the same.
In John 15:18-20 we have this warning from Jesus: "If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first... If you belonged to the world, it would love you as it's own..." Following Jesus isn't always a walk in the park.
But you could always be normal...
I'd rather be weird. I think it's time for a lot of us to try weirdness on for size. It might not make us popular with our circle of friends, or maybe even our extended family---but to the One who matters the most... yeah, it will make us plenty popular with Him. Hey, if God had a wallet, you're picture would be in it. That's how much he loves you and wants the best for you and yours.
There is an ancient Jewish custom before the Shabbat meal where a father will take his prayer shawl--called a talit--and will raise his arms around his family, embracing them with the shawl as he prays a prayer of blessing over them.
I love the beauty of that symbol. But I also know that families are complicated today. So here's what I want us to do during our worship. I want us to come to the Cross. We have one in each Sanctuary. I want us to be reminded of the outstretched arms of Jesus on the Cross, and how his sacrifice, his submission resulted in our redemption. Like a Jewish father embracing his family with a prayer shawl---let the grace of God flow down from that image of Jesus' outstretched arms on to you and your family.
We're going to be inviting our church members, families, couples, friends, relatives who are gathered together to come to the Cross today. I heard a story of a priest who was conducting a service in a small village church. The entire service he observed a woman kneeling at an adjacent altar and clinging to a cross on top of it. He asked her why she was holding on to the cross, and she replied, "My heart is breaking, my family is falling apart, I don't know what else to do but hold on the cross---and this is the only place I know that has one."
Come to the Cross today. It's time for renewal. It's time to stop being normal because normal isn't working.
It's time to embrace the fact that a Christ-centered home isn't like all the other homes.