Summer is the time of vacations and traveling for a lot of families. But sometimes our plans for travel or plans for vacation do not live up to what we imagine. You have great plans, but things start to fall apart quickly. People can’t get along. Mechanical troubles. Places being closed. These calamities of the family vacation are perfectly captured in National Lampoons Vacation. Chevy Chance and Beverly D’Angelo lead their family on a cross country vacation to Wally World in the family’s new truckster. Things begin to fall apart literally and figuratively rather quickly. When they finally get to Wally World, they discover that it’s actually closed. Not to be deterred they high jack the place the cops end up showing up.
In the midst of family craziness and things going wrong, sometimes we just need to refocus and get back to the basics to see what we can do in our lives to strengthen our relationships. This is the goal of our new message series Family Vacation. Over the next five weeks, we are going to look at five Biblical strategies that can help us strength our families and strengthen our relationship with God. Each week we will look at a different aspect of family (and family is very broadly defined), and how God can help us strengthen the ties that hold us together.
When we think about families, I think it’s important to say that God things families are important. Now, I’m not just talking about the, so called, picture-perfect family that many imagine: a mom, a dad, and 2.5 kids with a white picket fence. There are some families that look like that, but we all know families comes in various shapes and sizes. We have single parents, grandparents raising children, families that are hurting because of the death of a member, families hurting due to mental health issues or addiction, families formed through foster care or adoption, empty nesters, divorced families, widows and widowers, married with no children; there are all kinds of families, and God loves your family no matter what it looks like.
Even though God loves your family, family also takes work and takes commitment. If you have been around enough, you know this to be true. You can love someone more than anything else in the world, but it still takes commitment and work to make it work. Because family takes work, it means that we have to constantly make choices to honor God and to honor each other.
There is a story that we find in the Bible that speaks directly to this choice; it comes from Joshua 24:14-15. If you have your Bible, I want to invite you to look at this with me. What has just happened is that the Lord has given his people, the Israelites, a new home. Joshua, their leader, now gathers the people together to speak to them.
As a leader, Joshua knows that this is a very important time. God has given them a new home. And while a new home is great, it also comes with new temptations and new challenges. Joshua knows that the people have a very important choice to make for themselves and for their families. He says:
14 “So now, revere the Lord. Serve him honestly and faithfully. Put aside the gods that your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates and in Egypt and serve the Lord. 15 But if it seems wrong in your opinion to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Choose the gods whom your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you live. But my family and I will serve the Lord.”
Joshua is telling the people that they have a choice to make. H say: Serve God, but if you don’t really plan to serve God don’t pretend to serve God. Don’t live your life any old way just pretending you love God. Go ahead and make your choice. Then he tells them that he has already made his choice; he says, “my family and I will serve the Lord.”As a family, this is the most important choice you can make.
As a family, there are a lot of things you have to do and a lot of choices you have to make, but the most important choice you can ever make is for you and your family to serve the Lord. Because if you are serving God, it makes the other things easier, it keeps you focused on what his holy and good, and it keeps you on the right direction. Serving the Lord will not give you the “so called” perfect family—frankly, I don’t think there is such thing as a perfect family. But serving the Lord will give your family meaning, purpose, and direction.
Now, it’s one thing to say, My family and I will serve the Lord, but it’s another thing to actually put these words into practice. And what I want to give you now are a things that you can do, to strengthen your family by serving the Lord. I usually don’t like lists, and I usually don’t like to give you lists. Today, though, I am breaking my rule about no lists, because sometimes, lists are helpful.
When we look at all of God’s teaching about family, though the Bible, I think that there are six basic things you can do to build a Christian home (a home that serves the Lord) and a stronger family. And these six things form an acrostic for the word family. Maybe that’s a little cheesy, but maybe it can also help you (and me) remember them. These are things that can bring you closer to God and will definitely grow the strength of your family.
The F in family stands for faith in Jesus.We often think that faith is just a personal thing; something between you and God. But if we look at scripture, and if we take seriously the witness of the church, faith is not just personal it is also communal. I think particularly about a time in Acts 16:31when two Jesus followers, Paul and Silas, were in jail. While they were in jail, they witnessed to the jailer and the jailer wanted to know what he needed to do to be saved. The jailer was asking for himself, but Paul responded Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your entire household.
The jailer was asking for himself. The jailer wanted to know what he, personally, needed to do to be saved, but God was not just interested in the jailer. God was interested in his whole household, his whole family. When we read on, we learned that Paul and Silas
spoke the Lord’s word to him and everyone else in his house. 33 Right then, in the middle of the night, the jailer welcomed them and washed their wounds. He and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. 34 He brought them into his home and gave them a meal. He was overjoyed because he and everyone in his household had come to believe in God. (Acts 16:32-34).
Faith in Jesus Christ became the foundation for the family of the jailer. Faith in Jesus Christ becomes the foundation on which you can build a strong family.
F stands for faith in Jesus, the A stands for Ask for and Offer Forgiveness.Remember what I said about there being no perfect families. Well it’s true. We all do things that can be hurtful for to the people we love. The key to the building a stronger family is living out this love in a spirit of forgiveness.
In teaching about true love, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
4 Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, 5 it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, 6 it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. 7 Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.
If love is patient and kind and doesn’t seek its own advantage and isn’t irritable and doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it means that to strengthen love in your family you are going to have to build in forgiveness. This means when you do something wrong, apologize. This means when your spouse, or parent, or child, or aunt, or whoever wrongs you and ask for forgiveness, it’s important to grant it. If you go around your family adding up all of the wrong that people did to you, you are never going to build a stronger family.
Before we go one, though, I do think it is important to offer a disclaimer to forgiveness. Often religious people have used Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness to cover up or justify abuse. The teachings of forgiveness in no way justify abuse; in fact, Paul also says that loves isn’t happy with injustice. If you or someone you know is are an abuser, they are committing injustice, and there are resources to help victims of this abuse escape. Abuse and covering up abuse will never make a family stronger.
M in family stands for Make and Keep Commitments.Commitments are important in strengthening a family. When two people get married, they take vows and make a commitment to one another. But commitments aren’t just a one and done thing; commitments aren’t just for a married couple. It means making commitments with your kids and grandkids. It means making commitments to be there for others when times are rough. It means making commitments with the ones you love to be there to enjoy the good times. And it also means keeping those commitments.
In Matthew 5:37, Jesus is teaching and he says:But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ When you make a commitment, let that commitment be enough. When you promise your spouse that you are going to do the dishes, get up and do the dishes. Follow through on your commitments and you will strengthen your family.
This next one goes with making and keeping commitments. The I in family stands for Invest in Each Other. This one is so important. It is easy to invest more in your job. It is so easy to invest more in watching TV or scrolling on your phone than actually investing in the people you love. But investing in the people around you is something that God has designed you to do. And one way to invest in those around you, is to invest the love of God in them. This is something that will strengthen your family.
When Moses was teaching the people about how God wanted them to live, he told them in Deuteronomy 6:5-7:
5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. 6 These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. 7 Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up.
He tells them to love God and then to invest in your children by teaching them the love of God. He says invest your time with those around you at home by talking about the love of God in and around your house. These are specific times that you can invest the love of God and share it with those around you, strengthening your bonds, strengthening your family.
The L in family stands for Listen to each other.It is so easy to walk through life not really listening to other people. It’s easy to snap at others and assume the worst of them. But in James 1:19, the bother of Jesus (someone who knew something about family)—said: Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. –I know that when I listen to those that I love, our relationships are strengthened, and our love grows.
And Finally, I want to share with you one of the last things that God gives us that can strengthen your family. That’s the Y--yield in love to each other. This goes along with listening to those you love, but it’s more than just listening. You can listen all day and still try to have your way or dominate a relationship. Instead, what we find is that God desires for us to yield in love to each other.
In Ephesians 5:21-25 we read some guidelines that Paul gives us about how to live in your household. Unfortunately, these guidelines have been often and historically misused to place women in a lesser position than men. Because of this, I even hesitate to point it out, but I think that in these words we do have something positive that can help teach us what it means to yield in love to those we love.
21 and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. 22 For example, wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. 23 A husband is the head of his wife like Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body. 24 So wives submit to their husbands in everything like the church submits to Christ. 25 As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.
See, I told you it was dangerous. A lot of men like to focus on the whole wives submitting to their husbands part, but if you do that you really aren’t reading the whole verse. How does it start? “submit to each other”—this does mean wives submit to your husbands, but wait, husbands are also included in the “each other” part—it also means husbands submit to your wives. Yield in love to each other—and by yielding and caring for the other it will strengthen your relationship.
This is not just something for a married couple either. This is also important in dealing with others in your family. You can yield in love to others and by doing so, it shows that you respect them and that you care for them and consequently that relationship will be strengthened.
Now, I told you that I really don’t like lists, but here is a list. While I don’t usually like lists, I think this list is helpful; I think it can help you strengthen the love and devotion in your family. Let’s look at it, briefly, one more time:
Faith in Jesus Christ Acts 16:31
Ask for and Offer Forgiveness 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Make and Keep Commitments James 5:12
Invest in Each Other Deuteronomy 6:5-7
Listen to Each Other James 1:19
Yield in Love to Each Other Ephesians 5:21-25
All of this really brings us back to the beginning, it brings us back to what Joshua instructed the people who were crossing into the promised land. He said “my family and I will serve the Lord.”If you live this way of family, if you follow these six things you can fully devote yourself and your family to following the Lord and your faith life and your family life will be strengthened.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.