Bless This Home - Week One: Hunger & Thirst After RighteousnessRom
This week we are beginning a brand new three-part sermon series entitled "Bless this Home: Lessons for Families from Jesus." And as part of our study, we're going to be focusing on a few key verses from the introduction to Jesus powerful Sermon on the Mount--what some people call "The Beatitudes."
This is the first full-blown sermon series that I've preached on the issues that are facing families in our culture in a very long time--perhaps the first time since I've been at First Church. Which might seem odd at first, but I gave some thought as to the possible reasons.
To begin with, it's a broad topic. Where do we even begin? How do we figure out what areas to focus on when it comes to family issues--because there are so many things that families in our culture seem to be struggling with right about now.
Secondly, family dynamics in our culture are changing more rapidly than in any other time in recent history. Our understanding of what constitutes a family has also changed. We've had to leave behind the images of family that were largely created and sustained by marketing throughout the 1950's and 60's, and are hard to shake in some parts of our country even now.
The fact of the matter is simply this: Families are more complicated than ever, and so are the problems they are facing.
I did a quick survey on the interwebs, particularly to websites that talk about the problems facing "Christian" families. And virtually every single survey result I saw had the same issues. So, care to guess what the top four problems facing Christian families today might be?
4. Finances - not surprising here. Money problems raise their ugly heads in all kinds of relationships, not just Christian ones.
3. Lack of a Father Figure - if you read the statistics, fatherlessness is perhaps the one consistent factor in the background of the vast majority of convicted felons in prisons all across America.
2. Busyness - this one lands on me like a ton of bricks. What is getting replaced by our devotion to work, zillions of activities for kids, constant scheduling...?
1. Broken homes/divorce--listen, I am not casting any stones here. But it just seems funny to me that this was the top item on a list for Christians.
Here were some honorable mentions: Materialism (otherwise known as keeping up with the Joneses), Work/Life balance (we always cheat on something is it our jobs or our families?), Communication (as in lack of) and Media Influence (referring to all of the negative images we see every day).
And to add insult to injury--the divide between generations which is essentially a cultural as well as a generational divide has taken on epic proportions. Consider how just in the past five years things in our culture have been transformed with the reliance on mobile communication devices, obsession over connectivity through social media and the ever-expanding universe within the world wide web.
Consider these nine movies that you cannot explain to kids today...
1. Psycho - a woman embezzles money from her employer and then checks into the Bates Motel, a creepy old place inhabited by a psychotic killer who dresses up like his dead mother.
Kids today would be like, "Why didn't she just look up the ratings and customer comments on Yelp, or Trip Advisor, man?"
2. The Breakfast Club - five teenagers are forced into weekend detention and overcome their differences to collectively raise their fist to the man who is always trying to keep the down.
Kids today would wonder why anyone would bother looking up from their smart phones long enough to even see each other in detention.
3. Grease - Good girl Sandy and bad boy Danny fall in love over the summer then fall out of love, and then suddenly discover that they are attending the same high school in the fall.
Kids today would be like, "They would have been facebooking one another or texting all summer long and would have totally known..."
4. An Affair to Remember - two lovers played by Deborah Kerr and Carey Grant agree to meet on Valentine's Day at the Empire State Building if they are still in love after six months, but she gets hit by a car on her way and is too ashamed afterward about her injuries to ever contact him.
Kids today would be like, "That dude would have totally been texting her and blowing up her phone--someone would have answered it or he would have seen something about the accident on the internet."
5. You've Got Mail - Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks play business rivals who fall in love through email without knowing they are in competition with one another.
Kids today would be like, "No way would that ever happen--I'd be stalking them all over facebook and twitter to find a photo of them or something."
6. Mrs. Doubtfire - A woman divorces her husband and denies him visitation with his kids so he dresses up like an old English nanny and gets hired as their housekeeper/nanny.
Kids today would be like, "Are you kidding? She didn't go to Angie's List? She didn't do background checks or at least Google the nanny's name to see if it was legit?"
7. Home Alone - A little kid's family boards a plane for France and leaves him home alone in their Chicago suburb during Christmas.
Kids today would be like, "There are a zillion ways they could get a hold of him, email him from the plane, call a neighbor to supervise, text him through his iPod..."
8. The Blair Witch Project - three film students go off in search of an urban legend supernatural witch serial killer kind of thing and end up terrorized and dead.
Kids today would be like, "If just one of them had a smart phone they could have Google mapp'd their way out of that mess."
9. Roman Holiday - Audrey Hepburn plays a princess fed up with being a princess and runs away to freedom and anonymity where she befriends and falls for a reporter.
Kids today would be like, "Are you serious? A princess couldn't do anything without everyone on the internet knowing it. Plus, her photo would be all over the place."
Those are just nine... there are many, many more.
So how do we bridge the divide--a divide that is growing and becoming more and more daunting by the year?
Well, we could start simply.
Here's a verse that will help guide us: Matthew 5:6 - Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.
Jesus meant this for his followers--for those who were going to forsake all others, and all the world had to offer and simply walk in his footsteps. But his words speak to all of those who would follow him even now, to stumble after him as best we can. And I think these words speak right into the heart of the issues Christian families are facing today.
And when I use the word "Christian" families, I use it loosely. I'll explain why in a moment, but first a question:
What kind of home are you making?
What are the things that you hunger for in your home...? what's on the "menu" so to speak...? And I don't mean what's on the menu--literally--for dinner. Could someone like me tell what your family hungered for by the way you spent your time, for example... or the things you talk about... or the things you spent your money on...?
I know that this might sound a bit cheesy, but when you read Matthew 5:6 with families in mind you kind of have to say the following: "Righteousness is always on the menu in a Christ-Centered home."
What do I mean by "righteousness?" Well, some people want to translate that into "holy-living" and focus on ideas surrounding behavior. I don't think that even comes close. In nearly every part of the New Testament that mentions the word refers to it as "being set to rights" with God.
And further, it has the connotation that this being "set to rights" is something that is not of our doing, and can't fully happen in our present state. In other words, it's God's doing, and when it happens we get a glimpse of what its like where God is. This is kingdom talk in other words. So when you hunger after righteousness, you are simply hungering, longing for a world, a state of being a space where the things of God are lifted up higher than the things of this world.
This can happen in your own home... In fact, that's the best place for it to happen... At least at first.
Now--if you are trying to change the focus of your family's hunger, here
s what won't work: being lukewarm in your faith.
When I say lukewarm, again, what I don't mean is someone who sins up a storm by not keeping all of the rules and regulations that the church-y people say your'e supposed to keep in order to be "on fire" for God. I simply mean when there's not enough relationship in your religion. If you have all the trappings of faith, but have no real desire to follow Christ, to love the world as he does... you might be lukewarm. And your'e family will completely get used to that lukewarm Christian-y water and won't long for anything else.
This also won't work: Being legalistic in your faith.
When I say legalistic, I do mean someone who is obsessed with the rules and regulations--someone who has too much religion in their relationship. If following Jesus for you means that you reduce the very essence of Christianity down to do's and don'ts you might be legalistic. And if you are, then your family will inevitably suffer when the questions get too difficult to answer, or the rules get too impossibly hard to keep.
I went to hear one of my favorite authors speak, and he told us about a buddy who came to him for advice. It seems the man's daughter was dating an absolute loser of a boyfriend--a kid who wasn't keen on Christianity, had no desire to really work for a living and was a sleeze-bag who had no respect for women. He told his friend that he was seriously considering taking the kid for a very long ride out into the country and making him disappear. But everyt ime he talked to his daughter about the boyfriend, and his lack of faith, or respect for her she would storm out, slam the door and refuse to talk to him. She refused to go to church, started sneaking out at night--all of the things she'd once held dear were getting thrown by the wayside. She told her father that she didn't even know if she believed in God any more and was tired of living by his rules.
The speaker told us that he made a suggestion to his friend. He said, "Your daughter has created this new storyline for her life that is incredibly dramatic and way more compelling than the one you are offering. In this story, you and God are big bullies trying to keep her from her misunderstood love. You need to give her a better story."
And so the man cancelled their family vacation plans and scheduled a trip to Mexico where they would engage in mission work for three weeks. The daughter cried, she threw tantrums, she wouldn't speak to him for days. But she went. And she served. And she had her heart broken. And she felt the presence of God in ways she'd never known.
And when she came home----she broke up with the boyfriend because she realized that God had given her a better story than his sorry butt ever would.
What this man discovered was that it wasn't about just being a Christian. It wasn't just about saying to other people, "We're a Christian family," or "Our family---yup, we're Christians." That's meaningless in our culture, to be honest. In fact, to a lot of emerging generations it's worse than meaningless it's detrimental to their faith.
When it comes to your family--it's not about being Christian, it's about being Christ-centered.
Here's Psalm 63:1 - O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
But what if we look at it in the Revised Family Version:
O God, you are my God, we seek you,
our family's souls thirsts for you;
our flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
What the man discovered through his efforts with his daughter was that she longed for a better story--she longed for something that was compelling, and true and meaningful... But since there didn't seem to be anything better than what she could find on her own--she began hungering and longing for the wrong things.
When he showed her a better story, a more beautiful purpose, even more compelling ideas and truth and meaning----she embraced it.
Now, not everyone embraces the goodness of God when they are confronted with it. But unless we are willing to be intentional about centering our family on Christ, how will they know otherwise?
There are three basic steps that any family can do right now to begin the process of changing what's on the menu in their home...
First, have daily conversations about God and what God is doing in the world. They don't have to be deep theological discussions--just conversations. Find God in the good moments. Thank God for your blessings. Praise God even when things are difficult and trust God when its hard to do so. These kinds of conversations can happen every day. And they accumulate over time. They become part of your family vocabulary.
Second, make church non-negotiable. When I was a kid we went to church three times a week if we needed or not--and we didn't always need it in the way it was provided, let me tell you. So I am not advocating for church becoming an idol that replaces the other idols in your family life. But it should be a non-negotiable, completely understood family plan. Just because your church experience sucked, doesn't mean that your kid's experience has to... Find a church service that your family can attend together---one that fits your schedule, your tastes, etc. And then put your flag in that hill---because you mean to die on it. I had years of my life where I had nothing to do with church, but I absolutely credit the fact that I didn't have even more of them because my parents were non-negotiable about us attending it together.
Third, demonstrate with your life, actions, attitude and beliefs that knowing and showing Jesus is fun. Serve together as a family, give as a family, help others as a family. Make sure that the story of your faith is the most exciting, incredible, crazy fulfilling story of your life. Tell that story to your kids, demonstrate it with your life together.
We had these friends once---and we went over to their house for dinner where they did something kind of weird and uncomfortable for us. They all held hands and then went around the table sharing things about their day. We held hands, too. The kid next to me was sweating profusely--or maybe it was me. I dunno. It freaked me out to sit there while they acted all strange.
Then this past Advent we became those people. We read prayers around the table before we ate, shared the things we were grateful for, and we sang Christmas songs each night--which at first was kind of awkward but then became really, really awesome.
But we didn't hold hands the hold time. Which made it less weird, I'm thinking.
It was a little thing. But maybe it wasn't such a little thing. Maybe one day when I am an old grandpa and my wife is a hot grandma our kids will tell us how much it meant for them that we talked about God that we made them go to church even sometimes when we didn't want to go either (which is kind of harsh since we're the pastor's family) and we actually did our best--even though we failed as often as we succeeded--to show them just how incredible it is when you have a Christ-centered home....
Where righteousness is always on the menu.