A Course in Family Studies from 101 to 911 to 777

A Course In Christ-like Family Studies (FMS): From FMS 101 Spiritual Awareness, up to FMS 911 Flee, and finally graduate level studies in FMS 777 Forgive.

Friends, I did not preach this sermon. I wrote it and even placed in the racks for people to take home, but decided to lay it aside after hearing news of the tragic events in Oregon and to preach that Sunday on our response to such news.

Get the log out (FMS 101)   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 7:1-5 NIV)

This was last week’s sermon. If we want to help our families we must “Get the Log out!” Confession, repentance and following Jesus align our living with God. Let us cleanse our eyes of greed, quarrelling, deception, grudges, gossip, back-stab, boasting, speak evil, dishonor, breaking promises, heartlessness and failing to offer mercy. When we acknowledge and remove our sins that splinter our vision we can see clearly to help others. Let us stop hiding our sins and blaming others and become spiritually responsible people. We can’t offer living water if our soul’s well is polluted. We will never be perfect, but we must strive to live like Christ. We must cleanse our sins from our lives to become a spiritual force for good.

Model Christ (FMS 102) “You are the light of the world… let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14, 16 NIV)”

Be the model. Lead by example. Set the relationship culture!   Teach your kids. Show your spouse. Demonstrate Jesus to your parents. Prototype Jesus to your neighbors.   Pattern Christ to your co-worker. Live It.

Once upon a time, before holograms and imbedded chips, a mother found her daughter’s fake ID. The mother confronted her college freshman daughter about underage drinking. The daughter immediately shot back “mom you have been lying about your age for years, in fact you taught us to lie about our ages just to save a few a few bucks with a under 12 ticket at the movie Theater”. Now another’s hypocrisy is not our license to sin, but often social science tells us the apple falls near the tree.

Purge any hypocrisy. If you text and drive it is hard to preach good driving. “Don’t do like I do” is saying “I don’t take my own advice” If you fight with your spouse, your kids will learn to fight from you. If you belittle others, and are negative or gossip, do not be surprised if your friends do this. If you forgive easily, your spouse can learn to forgive from you.   Generous parents usually sew the same pattern into their children. You can set or surrendered the moral high ground. You have a huge influence, use it for good. If you want peace-be a peacemaker. If you hope to be heard- listen. If you seek love- love. If you long to share a laugh-be joyful,

Lift up What Is Good (FMS 104). Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29 NIV) (1 Thessalonians 5:11-13) (Romans 15:1-3 NIV)

Build others up. Praise Others. Find the good- name it. This is not about giving a participation ribbon for nothing more than being in the family. Praise is about seeing what is really good in another person and acknowledging that.   Authoritarian models only work with unequal power, remove the power differential and people flee. We respond to genuine positive reinforcement and thoughtful praise. One of the great techniques of good life coaching is to find the good amid the problems and build on what is working. Our boy’s had Mrs. Nancy in Kindergarten who passed out “Caught Doing Good” stickers. She not only called out bad behavior, but pointed out the good. What if we did that with each other? Thanks for doing the dishes. Thanks for holding that door. The lawn looks great. Thanks for paying those bills. Your shoes look nice. Thanks for bailing me out. Nice job on that homework. I am proud of you. Way to go. Baby, you’re the greatest.

About 18 years ago, I was youth pastor at Winchester FUMC. Lewis was six weeks old. We had a big group going to Warmth in Winter and a ton of chaperones. I decided to stay home, and the SPRC and Youth Parent Leadership all agreed. One Sunday night, I was standing in the gym going over the details of the trip. An eavesdropping freshman boy interrupted “P, you are not going to Warmth in Winter?” I explained who all was going and not to worry because a lot of folks were going. David whined “P, You have to go, have to go. P, It won’t be the same without you!” After the teen left a parent re-assured me, “teenagers are so selfish, they will be fine without you!” I said “No, David is right I have to go” You see his selfish plea contained hard to resist praise “P it won’t be the same without you”. He affirmed the worth of my presence not the job I had to do but my influence. We all went. Six week old Lewis in one of those strap-on, front-facing, baby carriers!   Reinforce what is good.

Identify and discuss (FMS 201) “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” (Matthew 18:15 NIV)

It is a fact that conflicts will arise. We will want, need, and like different things. A marriage counsellor once shared “if two people always agree, one of them is unnecessary”.   If we all jump in the car, and want to eat at the Thai place, that requires no love. If Lewis wants Chik-fila, Connie the Thai place, Mom Mexican and Caleb Zaxbys then we have a chance to love each other! .   We will disagree. At times we will sin against each other.

So what do we do when we disagree? Well, we can’t read each other’s minds. Unexpressed conflicts are like relational land-mines or hidden snares. Love wanes when we must always dodge emotional landmines or can’t speak about certain things. Or we may wait until we are really mad or deeply frustrated and then blow up. We say nothing and then throw in every problem along with the kitchen sink. Parents might let kids skirt the rules of the house and until they are feed up and then lash out.   As tough as solving conflicts can be, we must first address a problem in order to solve them. Time does not heal all wounds, in fact neglect can allow a wound to get infected and fester!

Years ago, my cousin won a trip to the Greenbrier resort. Now part of the package included a free massage.   I grew up Baptist and poor enough to halfway-believe that putting on a bathrobe and allowing some stranger to rub your back was a sin. I declined my free massage, taking a nice hike while Tom, Ruth and Connie went to the spa. They sauntering back from the spa as relaxed as fresh noodles. Our diner conversation revolved around the wonders of the Scoth Spray, steam rooms, heated stones, endless tubs and the virtues of Swedish over Japanese massage. My GI Bill dad brought us home to a trailer, these spa cousins were not my people. The next day, when they all decided to pay for a second massage, they shamed me into my free massage. So we stood at the marble spa check-in counter, bathrobes and brochures lay ready. While, Tom and the girls chatted about the various options, I was as nervous as cat at the laundry mat.   I stood fidgeting and fumbling over the brochure when my cousin Tom slide his hand over my hand and gently. He lightly pressed my twitching hand onto the marble counter. The nice polite and totally professional clerk smiled at me, turned to Tom and said “thank you”. Only then did I realize that I had a death grip on my room key and was nervously drumming the key on the marble counter like an over-caffeinated one note drummer.   Even a decade later Tom may drum a credit card until Ruth and Connie burst into laughter. I finally laughed a few years ago! The truth was I was far too nervous to know I was driving the clerk to distraction, but I did give us something else to laugh about at diner.

If we do not name the problem there is no opportunity to address it.   If we plan to have a future with people we must address the issues that concern us.

Listen (FMS 202) My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20 NIV)

Love listens. If you don’t listen, then don’t claim to love. .

Lewis was a never a whiny child. However, one year as we drove to the beach, Lewis just kept on complaining. We tried to amuse him, distract, him, correct him, and punished him. Connie and I debated the problem, do we give into whining? Finally we gave in and pulled the mini-van over. Lewis sniffed a tear and whined about his leg hurting. I unbuckled the child seat and for some reason studied it. It turns out you can not only adjust the length of the straps but the height of the straps as well. We were compressing Lewis down at least 3 notches. I raised the straps maybe 3 inches. After a stretch break Lewis returned to his seat, rolled his shoulders and wiggled happily. He then rode hours without complaint. In the category of “dumb parental moves” we made the July finals for “Worst Mid-Tennessee Parents 2001”.

You must hear in order to respond. If you are not listening you cannot diagnose a problem. You must listen. Even an angry sullen teenager may help you see more clearly. Our society is so busy shouting or ignoring each other we cannot hear. If we cannot hear then no solutions will common arise. When has shouting down another sewn peace or built community? A confident and a Christ-like person is not afraid to listen.   If we love someone then we listen to them. Create a safe spiritual space for people to share! Judge not, listen well, and remember the splinters that cloud your own vision.

I will never forget this couple that I married. She was Methodist. He was Church of Christ, both very devout. After the wedding they planned to move to his hometown and church. This was an issue.   I suggested “Amie, can you tell Johnny why you do not want to go to his church” Amie responded the “the music” to his eye rolls. But she pressed on talking about growing up with children’s pageants, dressing up like angels or shepherds and singing in Children’s choirs. She wept and spoke of longing to play the piano in Christmas pageants for her children one day. Transfixed by her passion I never looked at Johnny, who suddenly slide into picture. Leaving his chair he was now on one knee, as if to propose again. He cupped her hands in his hands and with a very few manly tears said “baby, we will go wherever you want to go to church”.   I said maybe aloud, “Amen! Amie, marry that man.”

If You Are The Parent, Then Be The Parent (FMS 301) “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. … Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:1-4 NIV)

Your Children do not need a pal but a parent. They do not need you to be their friend but to be the custodian of their souls.   They need to hear the Words and Commandments that lead to life; “Don’t hit, be nice, forgive, give, tithe, eat your veggies, remember who you are, share your toys, clean your room, be nice, be thankful, brush your teeth, if you drink you loss the car, what is the magic word, let’s pray, what did the preacher say, what did you learn today, tell me about your new friend, get ready for church, go to bed, and I Love you!” You must be their coach, teacher, principal, pastor, and personal trainer.

If there is no resolution after dialogue- Then Re-evaluate (FMS 351) “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? …. Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18 NIV)

Now we should be loyal and stick by our friends in hard seasons. However, after a season of honestly naming issues and listening, God may be telling us to move along.   Pray and ask God and your soul is this a person one who belongs in my inner circle?   Do they help me live a Christ-like life? Do they harm my soul?   Do they help me become better? Do I harm their souls? Do I help them become better?   Is it time to move on or make some changes?

I always told teens dating should be fun.   If you are not having fun, that may be God telling you to move on. That is true for friendships. Don’t be friends to find status, or acceptance or to become popular. That is using people. Have friends in order to have fun. If your friends do not make you laugh a little then it may be time to re-evaluate! Additionally, Friends should help us grow closer to God. If our friends do not help us grow in Christ, maybe God is telling us to find new friends!

Get Help (FMS 401) James 5:16 teaches, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed”

We need a community to help us. The first place to get help is with loving Christians. Godly friends are a great reason to be in a class, study, or prayer group. The church offers a godly intergenerational connection with others. Some more seasoned travelers often can help us find the way.

Connie and I had been married a few years, and we were having some issues here and there. I was working with my dad on some project in his work shop and I began to vent about Connie, dad snarled a little (not creating a safe place, but pretty good for an old master sergeant) and said “You are ‘Dang’ lucky to be married to that girl” I said, “what?”   Dad said, “You heard me”. I whined. “You are supposed to be on my side.”   He said, I am on your side and you are dang lucky to be married to that girl”   Well I was mad at dad. Turns out he was right..

Sometimes we need even more. As a child I had a terrible childhood trauma, which I will choose to keep private. For 32 years it never crossed my mind, never. Then one day seven years ago, I woke up in a cold chill, there was that trauma. It would not go away. I tried to talk to Connie and it that just seemed to make it worse. I told my Rhuematoloist, she said “as a pastor, you know that you need to see someone” . I was as nervous as my first trip to the spa or a dog at the vet, but I called and I went! After four sessions, I was confident I was no more crazy than anyone else. She said “you are having a normal response to a significant trauma and remembering now that your kids are at the same age” If the car is not running, we see a mechanic, if we have a persistent cough we see the doctor, sometimes we need to see a counsellor.

Sometimes We Must Flee (FMS 911) Matthew 2:13 An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Matthew 10: 23 “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next”

When you are physically abused it is time to flee. Jesus’ teaching “to turn the other check” is about absorbing an insult. It is not a call to enduring persistent emotional, physical or other sorts of abuse. Jesus tells us when persecuted to move on. Hear a short word on dating and simple friendships. Dating and friendship should be fun. If you are dating someone and it feels like a lot of work that may be God telling you to move on. Surely we do not abandon people, but we are not called to be forever linked with people who often hurt us or drag us down.

Forgive (FMS 777): “ ‘And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us, And do not bring us into trying time but rescue us from evil.’   For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:12)

You can flee and forgive. You can move on and forgive. You can seek justice and forgive. You can draw a firm line and forgive. You can file a restraining order and forgive. You can do the tougher parts of any relationship with forgiveness, mercy, love and grace.

The communion liturgy says “free us for joyful obedience” To forgive is to entrust the offending party and oneself into the hands of God. Forgiveness is not saying: “what you did does not matter.” That would be a lie. Forgiveness is not saying “I approve of your past behavior” That would be crazy.   Forgiveness says, I release you to the Divine Justice and maybe the justice system of this world. Forgiveness remembers that we all sin, that we all get logs in our eyes, that “but for the grace of God so go I”. This can be saint level work, so start teaching it to the youngest so they have a whole life to master it. We need the help of other Christians. Forgiveness is not weak or cowardly or retreating.   Forgiveness can look an offender in the eye with deepest clarity and say simultaneously “I believe you did wrong and I offer you the chance for redemption, restitution and grace”. It is rarely a quick easy prayer kind of deal but calls for an abiding commitment to God. With deeper wounds it may take practice and time.

Forgiveness frees us to live. When you linger in a state of un-forgiveness, you are bound to the offender. When you refuse to forgive you are emotionally linked to the one who has sinned against you.   Un-forgiveness handcuffs our soul to the past. Un-forgiveness victimizes our souls by linking us to a past offense.

Perhaps forgiveness is the height of Christian thinking. Forgiveness marks the true child of God. Until we release our un-forgiveness we can’t know the depths of God’s forgiveness.   I invite you to enter into Christian graduate school, may we live as forgiven and forgiving people. Amen!

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