One Big Happy Family

“If we reach the family, we reach the world.” – Bill Bright

Through the years, the structure and definition of “family” have changed in many households — including the ones on television. During the golden age of television, shows such as Donna Reed and Father Knows Best simulated the picture-perfect home life of the “typical American family.” These programs were like a Norman Rockwell painting- filled with cheery, lovable characters and well-behaved children who respected and loved their parents. It would be nice to be a member of a perfect family, but then reality sets in and you realize there are no perfect families in an imperfect world. 

In our imperfect world, we need and should pursue a Christ-centered home. Contrary to what some people believe, a Christ-centered home is not a home governed by dead, restrictive, “religious” rules. Instead, it’s a place where occupants sense that they belong, to God and each other – where people speak and act and relate to one another in the awareness that God Himself is an intimately concerned participant in everything they do.  So how do we go about making our family be all that God desires for it to be? Whether you’re young or old, regardless of your family’s present situation, consider the following: 

First, put some fun back in the family. Joy was a part of the early idyllic tv families and it is a characteristic of a truly Christian home today. Family fun is an important part of building a strong family identity. When families have fun together, it builds a bond that can last a lifetime. Traditions are often developed in times of fun. Those traditions help define and individualize each family. Every marriage and every family will experience trials and hardships of various kinds, but there is no circumstance that can rob us of our joy if we know that the key to our present welfare and future destiny lies in Christ alone.

In Father Knows Best, the family was always looking for ways to serve one another.  In the same vein, a Christian home is a place of service. Its atmosphere is tempered and flavored with acts of kindness, respect, humility, and love. This is where husbands and wives discover that serving each other in Christ is primary; that service to others in the outside world is built upon an attitude of selflessness at home; and that all of life, including the mundane duties of laundry, housekeeping, and lawn-mowing, can be sacred. It filters down to the kids as well. 

Everyone got along splendidly in Father Knows Best. It seems unrealistic to be sure. But a Christ-centered home is covered by grace. It’s a safe place to mess up. There’s enough hostility, judgment, sarcasm, and antagonism out in the world. Home is designed to be a refuge from all of that.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Belonging and relationships are what we’re here for. They take time and work and effort. They require you to put yourself out there and allow the world to see you… all of you. Agree or disagree and why? 
  2. What is inhibiting your ability to have a Christlike family?
  3. What steps can you take this week to overcome those obstacles?

Why Do I Do What I Don’t Want To Do?

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” – Romans 7:15-20 (NIV) 

Ever felt like that? If we are honest, we would have to admit that Paul pretty much nailed the dilemma we all face. We have ideals, but we must try to adhere to those ideals in the real world that has real challenges. It can be a challenging thing for us to come to grips with who we are and why we seem to do what we don’t want to do.  Even though we know Christ, we can still make very poor decisions, particularly if we’re treating the tempting influence of sin too casually.

What Paul is talking about permeates every area of life, including relationships. It’s why your family life isn’t quite what you pictured it to be when you were dating.  The same with your friendships, which are sometimes way too complicated for your liking. It could be part of the reason you struggle relationally with the people you work with and for. How often do we ask ourselves “Why on earth did I do that?”  Or, “why in the world would I snap at my wife or friend or co-worker?”  We seldom have an answer, let alone a good answer.

In other cases, we don’t do what we say we will do. You say you want to get together with your parents and siblings because it is the polite thing to do, but you know you won’t. You promised your spouse a date night, but it didn’t happen because, once again, other things in your life pop up and take precedence.

We are involved in a daily battle against sin’s influence in our lives. James 4:17 (NIV) says, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” So what is good? According to Micah 6:8 (NIV), “ He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

So why do we do what we don’t want to do? We do these things because we’ve been deceived and we don’t understand our own actions, but Christ has delivered us from the power of sin and in Him, we’re given the grace to overcome. 1 John 5:4-5 says, “For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who is the person or persons in your life that you are having a hard time accepting?
  2. What can you do this week to overlook their flaws and accept them as they are?  

Character And Relationships

“Dear friends, you are foreigners and strangers on this earth. So I beg you not to surrender to those desires that fight against you. Always let others see you behaving properly, even though they may still accuse you of doing wrong. Then on the day of judgment, they will honor God by telling the good things they saw you do.” – 1 Peter 2:11-12 (CEV). 

“It builds character,” is a phrase you have heard or even said on more than one occasion in your life. Typically we throw out that phrase when we face hard times or difficult challenges. 

In the dark ages, character development for medieval monks took place in castles of stone and dank cellars. Their daily life was dedicated to worship, reading and manual labor. They had to attend church daily, read from the Bible for several hours, do private prayer and meditation. Their daily work consumed most of the day. Yes, those things will probably build character, but is that how we should build character today? Building character today does not happen in isolation behind closed doors; character development happens in the daily grind of life. It is in everyday life where your relationship with God and your character will be challenged and tested. Your character is on display in the Publix parking lot, during meetings, in that marital squabble and it will certainly be tested when you come home from work, kick off your shoes and step on a lego on your way to the kitchen for a snack. 

We have to be careful not to confuse character with reputation. Reputation is what others think you are while character is the person you really are. Character is not built overnight; it is developed through a process involving experience, hard work, and learning from past mistakes as you seek to be more Christlike. Christlikeness calls for deliberate change. It won’t come naturally at the beginning, and the steps you take to get to that point require difficult decisions and actions that run contrary to instinct. Breaking bad habits and replacing them with good ones is no easy task, and neither is replacing sinful attitudes, conduct, and actions with godly ones. There are habits of mind, body, imagination, speech, and more that we’ll need to unlearn in order to make way for new habits that need to be learned.

For example, if we’ve been naturally selfish, breaking the habit of this character trait requires a change in the way we are. We have to fight against our natural selfish attitudes by making conscious decisions to be generous, to not demand that things go our way, to in fact go out of our way to let others have their way. Such a change requires deliberate, intentional action, but over time, our tendency to think only of ourselves and what we want will diminish, and we will become more sensitive to and aware of the needs of others. We will become more Christlike in this area.

As His child, you have received His nature and nurture. He has called you to Himself and has named you His child. Now live worthy of the calling you have received by reflecting His character to the world around you. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How much time each week do you spend cultivating your character? 
  2. How important is character in terms of relationships? 
  3. What can you do this week to improve your character? 

Winter Woes

“He directs the snow to fall on the earth and tells the rain to pour down. Then everyone stops working so they can watch his power. The wild animals take cover and stay inside their dens. The stormy wind comes from its chamber, and the driving winds bring the cold. God’s breath sends the ice, freezing wide expanses of water.”– Job 37:6-10.  

The Alaskan winter is dark, cold, long, relentless and takes no prisoners. Life Below Zero is a documentary television series that illustrates the daily and seasonal activities of people who are preparing for and then hunkering down during the brutal Alaskan winters. The temperature plummets to minus 60 below zero; add the constant battle for the most basic necessities, and you have the daily challenges of people navigating through winter near the Arctic Circle.  

The beauty in the way God designed the four seasons is that, though each one is distinct, they all work together to bring life and growth. Spring is a period of freshness and new life. Summer sees growth and productivity. Autumn is a time for harvesting the rewards of past labors. And then there is winter. Winter is the season that often brings hardships and challenges to married couples waiting for spring.

It is hard to complain about winter for those of us who live in Florida where we don’t experience the dark, cold days, piercing winds and chilled bones. But winter in marriage can and does happen anywhere and to anyone. Winter may last a month or it may last 30 years. It may begin three months after the wedding or hit in the mid-life years. Winter can be caused by any area of married life that can cause differences. Couples who fail to negotiate these differences can find the marriage getting cold. Over time the marriage can move into an ice age. That is the time to get serious and to get prepared.

Unlike sledding down a steep hill or a ski trip to Utah, working through a wintery season in your marriage may not be fun. But when you persevere and begin to take positive steps to improve your marriage, you’ll emerge stronger, more committed, and better able to work through your differences. By continuing to work and pray, you can discover deep healing and deeper intimacy. And when you choose to love again, the melting ice of winter will water the seeds of spring.

If God is unfailingly faithful to His promises, and the Spirit really is more powerful than our weaknesses, and we both truly want more of God, He can and will grow our marriage even in the toughest winter conditions. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you experienced “winter” in your marriage/relationships? 
  2. What are some things we can do to prepare for the winter in our marriage/relationships? 

Technology And Relationships

“Technology is a useful servant but a dangerous master.” – Christian Lous Lange.

Technology is an amazing tool that has improved the quality of life for people worldwide. We are always connected, anytime, anywhere; to work, to our friends, to those that we want to be like and want to be like us, to people that live down the block and people thousands of miles away. But the negative aspects of technology can creep up on you.  

It’s no surprise that technology can have a negative impact on relationships. Technology use interferes with face-to-face interactions with others. A survey done on the subject indicated that higher levels of technology use adds up to significantly less time spent together as a couple, or in other relationships. It goes without saying that almost anywhere you go, people’s eyes are locked on their devices. Couples in restaurants ignore each other while waiting for their salads and blankly, endlessly scroll down listening intently for the buzz, ring, and chirp rather than what the other person is saying. In so many ways, it’s a paradox. We’ve never been more connected as a culture, yet we’ve never felt more disconnected. I can sit down at my computer and be in touch with someone on the other side of the world in seconds. What I have to remember is that the person who is most important to me is in the next room.

Better relationships happen when you pour your life into people, real people with whom you can talk face-to-face, laugh with, and hear their tone of voice. Put down the phone and walk away from the computer and spend some quality time with your spouse. Find the time to be  “unplugged.” I’m not referring to what we call unplugging nowadays–turning off our cell phone for 15 minutes, or not binge-watching Netflix for a weekend. I’m talking about unplugging our devices and plugging into our relationships.

Having too much information on our phones and computers causes them to slow down, freeze, or shut down unexpectedly. It’s the same with our relationships. Too much information, too many things happening in our lives, too many distractions and our relationships can become drained, frustrated, angry and burned out. The solution is to unplug and then plug into our relationships.  

I encourage you to unplug and spend time with your spouse and family without your devices nearby. Ask friends to hang out in person — and then suggest that everyone put their phones away so you can avoid distractions. Visit your grandparents. Support your siblings. For some of us, this will not be an easy path. It will require dying to ourselves and our devices daily. But it will be worth it. God wants us to be so fixed on His glory and so in love with His beauty that we live with all our might for Him. With our eyes on Him (and up from our phones), we can have the kind of radical relationships we are looking for.   

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the ways that technology affects your life every day?
  2. When does technology distract you from your spouse?
  3. What is one step you can take today to show your spouse that they are more important to you than “technology?”  

Four Seasons Of Marriage

“Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” – Acts 14:17 (NIV).  

Marriage relationships are constantly changing. Attitudes shift, emotions fluctuate, and circumstances change. The natural seasons – spring, summer, fall, and winter are analogous for the changes that occur in a marriage. Marriages are perpetually in a state of transition, continually moving from summer to fall or perhaps from winter to spring – perhaps not annually, as in nature, but just as certainly and consistently. And typically, the cycle repeats itself many times throughout the life of a marriage. It is important to know which season your marriage is in and how to deal with the challenges and opportunities each season presents.  

The “Spring” of marriage is the time of productivity and being busy. Instead of letting the busyness of life take over, you have to find time to say “No” to other things and to say “Yes” to the marriage. The “Summer” of marriage is a time of rest and relaxation where you have time to work at the marriage because you have the space to do it. The “Fall” of marriage is the time of big change. Whether it’s a career change, having more kids or losing a loved one, change happens and it can cause a lot of stress on the marriage. The “Winter” of marriage is the time of struggle and sadness full of obstacles and stress. This is the season when you have to fight the hardest for your marriage. 

No matter what season we are in we need to remember that God is in control. The seasons change because of God’s design and control. He graciously provided four seasons on the Earth for a reason. Not every area of the country enjoys as major of a change as others, but the seasons still produce what God intends for them to produce. As Solomon said, “…there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” This time is fixed and follows God’s pattern and design. In the same way, God is in control in each season of your marriage. 

In addition, God intends for us to take advantage of this season. God’s intention in this season of your life is for you to not just accept it but embrace it. This is what God has given to you. So look at this season as God’s gift to you and your spouse. God desires for you to respect and trust Him in this season. God’s design in bringing various seasons in life with both their opportunities and challenges teaches us to trust Him – His plan, His purposes, and His character. He brings these things in His timing or season in order to also produce respect. We are not in charge. We do not determine the season. God does. Therefore, as the seasons come and go, we are to increasingly trust God with them and our marriage.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does the season change help you respect and trust God more? Do you embrace the opportunities and challenges ahead? Do you see this season as a gift? 
  2. What can we do to better trust God and rejoice in this season?

We All Have Our Flaws

“Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.” – Romans 15:7  

We long for acceptance in our relationships. Everyone wants to know that even with all of our faults, we are still appreciated, loved, and valued.  Yet only God is able to love us unconditionally all of the time. We are loved—warts and all—and we were loved while we were still sinful. God loved us so much that He gave His only Son for us (John 3:16). 

That’s how God sees us. God calls us to see others through His eyes. Accepting each other and loving each other in spite of our faults will benefit one another but, more importantly, it will reflect God in us.  Yet sometimes we feel as if we are somehow above the fray.  

From our high and lofty view, it’s easy to see all the ways other people are failing us or have wronged us. We can sit up on our perch and pick out the mistakes everyone else is making. We are able to do that because we have such a perfect understanding of how the world should run. “I would never make a mistake by doing that…”

The flaw in this logic is that we are all sinners with no innate holiness. Any success or achievements or character attributes we possess is because of Jesus’ work in us.  Any growth we experience is God bringing it about in me. When I criticize someone else for committing a sin I believe myself to be free from, I’m forgetting the obvious truth that Jesus is the one who has given me every victory I have ever experienced over sin. Paul warns the Corinthians about lifting themselves up on their supposed merits as if they were responsible for generating them: “For what gives you the right to make such a judgment? What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?” (I Corinthians 4:7)

Paul is telling us that when we think ourselves superior to others, we are not only forgetting what we have received, but we are boasting about our holiness as if we were personally responsible for it. That is an argument that we should never make. 

God calls us to see others through His eyes. He calls us to accept others the way He does—as dearly loved, broken children of God who are created in His own image. Accepting each other and loving each other in spite of our faults is seeing others the way God does. That means I should not view them through the lens of their flaws.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who is the person or persons in your life that you are having a hard time accepting?
  2. What can you do this week to overlook their flaws and accept them as they are?  

It’s Your Funeral

“In your mind’s eye, see yourself going to the funeral of a loved one. Picture yourself driving to the funeral parlor or chapel, parking the car, and getting out..As you walk down to the front of the room and look inside the casket, you suddenly come face to face with yourself….Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father, or mother would like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?” Steven Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.   

At the end of the day in this all-too-short life, what matters most is relationships. Spouse, parent, child, friend—whoever your closest loved ones are, they warrant more than a passing glance; they deserve an intentional and meaningful relationship with you.

Stephen Covey encouraged all of us to think about our funerals. I’d like to encourage you to do the same thing. The people attending your funeral will be your spouse, your kids, your remaining siblings and other family members, and other people that you have had a close relationship with other the years. Now imagine the conversations around your funeral gathering. It is safe to assume the attendees at your funeral won’t be talking about your resume, your stock portfolio or your net worth. Rather people will remember you in terms of your relationship with them; did you love well, forgive easily, if you cared enough to be there for them. They will remember if you served them or expect to be served by them. They will know whether you thought life revolved around you or whether you really tried to honor God and others. They will remember whether you were generous or miserly, arrogant or humble, compassionate or indifferent. They will know if your life reflected the grace of God.  

Most of us doing this exercise would probably come up with a mixed bag of the good, some bad and maybe even some ugly.  Fortunately, this is only an exercise. We still have time to make relationships better.  The people attending your funeral will also remember that turning point, and the progress you made. They will say, “I remember when he didn’t have time for me, but he has changed.” Or “I remember when she told me that my troubles are not her problem, but now she helps me all the time.”  A business colleague chimes in, “All she cared about was her reputation at work…but now, she cares about the impact she is having on me.” And even better “as he has gotten older, he reflects the love of grace of Jesus Christ.” 

If your marriage is broken, restoration is possible. If your friendship is frail, a fresh start is possible. Even if you’ve made mistakes in all your relationships, they can be redeemed. “Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.” (Matthew 19:26).

Get the picture? Imagining your funeral is a deep and yes potentially sobering exercise. It gets to your core values and how you are leading your life in many important ways. But when you imagine this scenario, don’t just try to determine if you were a good or bad person, lived a godly life or not, but what you are doing with your life in the area of relationships.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. If you had one month to live, what would you work on in the area of relationships?

Experiencing Intimacy With God

“To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances; To seek Him, the greatest adventure; To find Him, the greatest human achievement.”- Augustine.  

We are created for intimate relationships – with God and with one another. There is a hunger deep in our souls for an intimate relationship with God. There is also a hunger for intimate relationships with other human beings. While the concept of “relationships” is broad and varies from person to person, we all have personal, intimate relationships in our lives. There is a tangible difference in intimate relationships: an extreme closeness, the kind of closeness that only happens with proximity. The most important intimate relationship is the one we have with God.  

Have you ever found yourself starving for real intimacy with God? The idea of intimacy is difficult to get your arms around. How can I find intimacy with someone I can’t see, hear, or touch? God and I can’t text with each other or meet for lunch. Yet we know that God created us for an intimate relationship with Him. But what does that mean and more importantly what does it look like in real life? There is no standard formula for developing an intimate relationship with God. But consider the story of Simon the Pharisee found in  Luke 7. 

Simon served God religiously. He was in the same room as Jesus, yet he wasn’t in an intimate relationship with Him. He completely missed having an intimate relationship with Jesus because he was wrapped up in his piety and good works. Contrast this to Mary, the sinner who fell at His feet: no act of devotion was too big for her. She was overwhelmed with love and affection. She worshipped Him with all she had, her most precious perfume and her hair. Jesus accepted her devotion. We want that intimate connection that Mary had, but too often we are slipping toward Simon, spending all our energy trying to do great things for God but lacking that true intimate relationship with our Savior.   

There will be times in our lives when we have a real hunger and desperation for God. There will be times when we just can’t get enough of Him. There will be times when we feel His presence in tangible ways. At times like these God will feel close and there will be the intimacy we seek. But real intimacy means we do those things even during times of trial or when bad things just keep popping up and it is a labor of love to pray, to spend time in the word and to serve. The deepest growth in intimacy in our personal walk with God began when we want to seek to worship and serve God regardless of the circumstances. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What keeps you from having a more intimate relationship with God?
  2. How can we improve our relationship with God?

Building Trust With Others

“But Jesus did not yet entrust himself to them, because he knew how fickle human hearts can be. He didn’t need anyone to tell him about human nature, for he fully understood what man was capable of doing.” – John 2:24-25 (TPT).  

Trust is the cornerstone of every relationship. In fact, nothing brings out the best in people faster than having somebody believe in them and trust them. But as essential as trust is for healthy relationships, trust is also tricky. Trust will not just happen. The past is often seen as the best predictor of the future. We want to know how someone acted in the past when faced with a similar situation. Last time I confided in him, did the information show up in the grapevine? When she said she could complete the project by a certain date, did she do it? Last time I loaned my brother-in-law money did he pay it back? You get the idea.

Whether you are trying to win the trust of someone or someone is trying to win your trust, a trust is not won instantly; instead, it is earned by consistent actions repeated over time. You become trustworthy by proving that you can be trusted. Trust is making yourself dependent upon another person for some result or outcome. So the question is this: If you are in a relationship, to what degree is that person trustworthy? And yes, the next question is, are you a person of trust? 

There is nothing more relational than trust. If we trust our wife or our husband it means that we don’t have to check on them. If you trust your teammate, you know they’ll be there when you need them to be. If you trust your friend, you know they’ll keep their promise. Trust develops and even in the times when we don’t know for sure what they will do, we don’t sweat it, because we know their character well enough to trust them to do what is in our best interest.

Real trust that leads to radical relationships assumes that the one you trust demonstrates the characteristics of honesty, fairness, truthfulness, justice, morality, ethics, and consistency. When reading that list most people would be sighing and saying, “that leaves out everyone I know.”  But it does leave virtually everyone out, except for God. God’s character encompasses all those things and more. He is the ultimate example of one who is moral, ethical, and consistent. He is unfaltering. He is dependable. He has earned our trust. He is worthy of our trust. And by trusting Him, we can develop trust in horizontal relationships as well. 

Our hope, our trust, and our faith do not find their strength or confidence in the actions of a fellow sinner, but in the steadfast love of a sinless Savior. There, and there alone, will we find a well of trust that never runs dry and never betrays.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Can you respect someone you do not trust, and can you trust someone you do not respect?
  2. What can I do this week to trust God and trust others?