Last week, a friend right after church noted that after asserting that Jesus did not say “spare the rod, spoil the child,” I failed to offer any specific parental advice. Well, hear the bad news, this week may not offer specific techniques! Last week, I did share how Christian discipleship begins with Jesus welcoming children as a precious gift of God and that God calls us all to be custodians, life coaches, moral principals, ethics professors, or simply put parents to our world’s children. Our children do not need another friend, they need moral leaders. God calls us to be parents not pals.
As to specific parenting tricks, I am a theologian not a parenting expert, but more than that our core theology of child rearing matters more than the tools we use to achieve it. This Friday, I decided around page nine to save some specific tools for next week! This week I want to explore ideas bigger than strategies. I hope we can explore down into the heart of any family illness moving below surface symptoms.
If we want healing and peace in our families we must deal with the core human problem- sin.
Genesis begins Creation story, Creation story and Sin story. The New Testament begins with the angel’s message to Joseph: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21). Jesus comes to save us from our sins. This is the Gospel.
The church does not use the word sin as much as it once did. When we do speak of sin we talk about other people’s sins not our own or we speak of sin being forgiven. The church currently abides in a season of cheap of grace intermixed with patches of heavy judgement. We avoid preaching about our sins- your sins- my sins! Perhaps even as we lament a broken culture, we have forgotten that our sins have consequences. You perhaps have seen the bumper sticker: “Christians aren’t perfect just forgiven!” That mantra forgets Jesus calls us “to be perfect (strive for it) as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Jesus may forgive our sins, but our sins cause hurt and harm for us and others.
If I get angry and throw an offering plate through our one of our historic stained glass window or kick in a kick drum, the Lord will forgive me. Maybe after a season you church folks might forgive me too. However, even with grace the stain glass widow and drum kit will still needs repair. If I say a cutting word to my brother, or boys or Connie or anyone, the Lord may forgive me. They may too. However, you can’t put the mean words back or easily erase the scars of evil-speaking.
What does Jesus comes to save us from? Jesus comes to save us from our sins-my sins- your sins. The overwhelming majority of problems in this world and in our families flow from human sinfulness. And when natural disaster or disease brings about suffering our sinfulness often hinders healing or solutions.
If we want healing and peace in our families we must deal with our sins- not someone else’s sins- but our sins- your sins- my sins.
I guess I could define sin, but Paul provides some great lists. Sand if you have ever … or better yet stay still and listen for your sins. “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, idolatry, witch craft, hostility, hate, quarreling, jealousy, angry outbursts, selfishness, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Galatians 5:19-21), “greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malice, gossip, back-stabbing , hating God, insolent, arrogance, boastful, evil speaking, disobeying parents, promise breaking, heartless, and without mercy.” (Romans 1:29-31)
If we want healing and peace in our families we must deal with our sins. We tend to focus on a few headlining sins but “hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts, selfishness, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, greed, hate, envy, quarreling, deception, malice, gossip, back-stabbing, arrogance, boastfulness, evil speaking, judging, promise breaking, heartless, and a failure to offer mercy”… those sins are our sins- your sins-my sins. Beyond the headliners our sins sew much deadly and underreported evil into the world.
Jesus comes to save us from our sins. Jesus is not a paper savior, simply checking a saved box in heaven. Now read the Gospel and Letters and see that Jesus came to save us from the reality of everyday sinning, not just a theoretical category. If we want healing and peace in our families we must deal with our sins. I must deal with my sins and you with your sins. Jesus comes to save us from our sins.
Listen to the tale of sin entering the world: “At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves. When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the LORD God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the LORD God among the trees. Then the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ He replied, ‘I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.’ ‘Who told you that you were naked?’ the LORD God asked. ‘Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?’ The man replied, ‘It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.’ Then the LORD God asked the woman, ‘What have you done?’ ‘The serpent deceived me,’ she replied. ‘That’s why I ate it.’ ” (Genesis 3:5-13)
Sin enters right into the family system. It does not come from a far off stranger or overseas threat. It comes with a man and wife standing together in a lovely garden. Sin brings to our paradise shame, embarrassment, and hiding. Sin separates us from God and each other. We know from somewhere in our souls we have failed to be our best selves. Those feelings might drive us back to God, but often we hide. I am not talking about being shamed or belittled or told you are a sinner by someone else. I am not talking by a guilt trip launched by some judging preacher. I am talking about our own inner moral compass, the Holy Spirit convicting us of sin. (John 16)
What do Adam and Eve do immediately after sinning? They hide. They hide from God and each other. They put on fig leaves. They start guarding their inner lives. Secrets, insecurities, fears, worries, complexes, disorders emerge. We begin to hide our true selves when sin grows in our lives. If we sew sin, then we will reap shame, hiding, alienation, fear and the like. Our sins pollute our garden.
If our family garden grows hostility, quarreling, angry outbursts, or evil speaking our family will hide. We shut down when people lash out, yell, belittle, or attack. We cover our ears and flee the explosion. We hide. As the thunder rumbles we look for shelter away from the threat. Our sins cause us to move away from each other.
If we tolerate the inner weeds of envy, jealousy, selfishness, greed, gossip, arrogance, or judging in our soul’s soil we will reach for the fig leaves. We will cover our inner weeds. We will live dishonest lives. We hide our inner life, instead of weeding our hearts of the thistles and thorns. If we long to abide in peace and love, we must allow God to weed our inner garden of sinful attitudes that pollute our garden. We must weed our soul’s garden.
If we allow the choking vine of dissension, division, hate, malice, gossip, back-stabbing, evil speaking, judging, promise breaking to thrive, those evil vines will slowly strangle love, grace, unity, peace, joy, uplifting speech, hope and community. We will grow apart. Love will wax cold. Our sins will bring death.
If we are heartless or fail to offer mercy our families will never have the boldness to share their deepest failures, hurts and scars with us. If we offer no mercy, then no one will offer us their inner lives. They will never be real. We hide from the heartless, wisely guarding our hearts! Consider that Paul lists “failure to offer mercy” as a sin. When we fail to offer mercy we sin!
After daddy died, I sold off my dad’s old pick-up truck. As the boy came to drive it off, I wept as I cleaned it out, for it was full of memories. I wept for fishing tackle, carefully placed tools for the truck, emergencies and fence repairs, a well-worn glovebox Bible, a first aid kit, extra meds, .22 shells, work gloves, and maps of local lakes. My tears turned to laugher at all the candy hidden here and there. Butterscotches in the glovebox, Baby Ruth in first aid kit and Raisinettes behind the seat. As a guy who looks almost exactly like my father I can’t give my diabetic dad any grief. Dad battled Crohn’s disease for over 25 years so if he wanted to eat a bear claw and hide the wrapper under the seat so be it. Mom bought heart healthy cook books and stopped fixing the world greatest fried chicken in an iron skillet with bacon grease while dad hid Maple Nut Buddies in the center console. I can see him with a senior discount cup of coffee reading his Bible, listening to Symphony Hall and eating a bear claw hiding that from mom. My father would testify “Your Mother is the best thing that ever happened to me.” Still, it’s kind of funny and poetic how after 40 plus years of marriage, he hid his candy.
To feel no shame, to experience the deepest joy, to heal our families, we must deal with our sins, big and small.
First, sin causes us to hide from ourselves, God and others.
Second, sin sows blame, discord, finger-pointing, and passing blame into the family. Listen to how Adam speaks blame towards the Creator who has planted Adam in the midst of a lush Paradise. Adam utters ugly ungrateful words to his creator and his wife. “The woman you gave me.” In the Garden of Eden Creation Story, the divine narrator tells us “it is not good for man to be alone.” And after parading all the animals before Adam, no suitable help-mate is found. And so God crafts Eve from the very stuff of Adam near his heart and Adam rejoices: “at last, this is the very bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Now a hiding, sinful Adam blames Eve and God for his sin. “The woman (bone of my bone) you (Almighty God) gave me”! Sin blames. Sin dishonors and skirts responsibility and connection. Eve will blame the talking snake. At least she does not blame Adam, who God first gave the garden rules to before she was created! Into paradise sin creates separation, division, quarrelling and the like.
Listen to the wisdom of James: “Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” (James 3:2-10 NLT)
Our culture is deeply struggling to simply talk with each other. We are burning with the fires of hell as we point the fingers of blame. We cannot even listen to the other side of anything. We shriek “I can’t even listen to (the other side)”. Jesus listened to all manner of our bad ideas. God hears all sorts of misdirected prayer and speech. Jesus was a friend of sinners (Luke 7:34). Friends, church folks, called to bear witness by our love and good works, can be the meanest and worst listeners. Blame, quarrels, dissensions, back-biting, gossip, finding- fault, evil-speaking, failing to offer mercy these are our sins! These sew much evil into the world.
Forty years ago, my brother John and I got into a grand fight. Our battlefield was dessert. Our skirmish arose from the question: who received the biggest piece of cake. As we eyed the cake waiting for everyone to be served we began to whine, slander, and back-bite in a divisive chorus of ingratitude. My mother jumped up from her seat, scooped up John and my dessert plates. I was sure she would return with “no cake for you two ruling.” Instead, with a twitching eyebrow she pulled out a ruler and then carefully measured my cake slice and then my brothers jotting down the dimensions. Mom then cut two new slices one 2 & 3/16 by 2 & 1/8 and another 2 & 1/8 by 1 & 11/12. With a wild look in her eye she carried each of the carbon copy slices and the dolloped them with Jumbo Treat and served us a double portion. Don’t ask me how a second slice of cake could make me cry but I felt so ashamed and realized how foolish to fight over cake, when Mom would serve seconds if you asked. It was a joyous and a strange lesson in plenty and selfishness. Why did I worry over cake? Sin!
- If I had enough cake why did I care if my brother had more cake than me?
- If mom gave me two crumbs and John just one crumb would my inner hunger be satisfied?
- If John enjoyed his cake why would I worry that he got less than me?
Friends, John and I were not fighting over cake. We were sinning and failing to love each other, to want the best for the other person. That is a sin problem. Why was I jealous when my parents bought John a very expensive bassoon? Did I want a bassoon? John was an all-state musician! If Mom and Dad had bought me a bassoon, I suppose I could have made it into a potato gun! Was John envious when Mom and Dad paid for my private school? He was not dyslexic and in need of a fresh school start! Oh friends, sin causes us to hide from each other. We put on fig leaves and seek to escape with wild living. We retreat into the aloneness that God names as “not good.” We scare each other off. We tell the others close to us, “come- no closer, I am exposed and afraid.” We hide from ourselves and God. And Sin launches us into a cycle of blame, finger pointing and evil-speaking that deeply damages the family.
If we want healing and peace in our families we must deal with our sins. Stop hiding, pretending, covering, faking goodness and confess, repent and be cleansed! Consider that old spiritual. It’s me. It’s me Oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer. It’s me, It’s me oh Lord standing in the need of prayer. Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me oh Lord standing in the need of prayer. It’s me, it’s me oh lord standing in the need of prayer. Not the elder or the deacon it’s me oh lord, not the stranger nor my neighbor… Not my Momma, not my Daddy… Not my spouse nor my baby… It’s me, it’s me oh Lord.
Let us listen to Jesus “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye…” (Matthew 7:1-6)
Oh if your eyes burn with hostility, hate, quarreling, jealousy, selfishness, dissension, division, envy, arrogance and the like you will never see the way yourself. Indeed, Jesus warns the spiritually blind cannot lead the blind. Clear your eye and then you can see clearly to assist another!
If your mouth oozes angry outbursts, drunkenness, hedonism, gossip, back-stabbing, God-hating, boasting, evil-speaking, promise-breaking, and sins like these you will not find the words of healing your family desperately needs.
If your heart beats with greed, malice, envy, deception, malice, hatred, insolent, disobedience, heartlessness, and without mercy, you will have no strength to help heal your family. Such weed-strewn hearts beat out of rhythm with the Spirit of Christ! Oh, let the Lord open ours heart and free us from the sin that so easily entangles us clogging our living and loving.
If we want long for peace, love, laugher, and joy in our families, friendships and community we must begin with our sins.
Let us stop hiding our sins from ourselves, from God and from others.
Let us stop blaming, finger pointing and speaking evil of other made in God’s very image.
Let us clear our eyes of our sins, and allow Jesus to save to truly us from our sins.
And then with clear and cleansed eyes that remember the pain of sin splintered corneas,
let us humbly offer our hand to others sinners struggling to see. Amen