Monday, September 9, 2013

Growing Up - Taking God into Our Living Rooms

I want for us this morning to return to the doorframe in our houses. Remember last week? I said many families measure the growth of their children on the door frames of their houses. But how do we measure our spiritual growth? One way we measure our spiritual growth here in the Glenwood family is by Seeking God in a Quiet Place. As we find more time alone with God, in the quiet, we will grow more and more into God’s image.

This morning, I want us to get our pencils out again and return to our doorframes so we can measure something else. We grow not only when we seek God in a quiet place, we also grow when we are

Taking God into Our Living Rooms

Just as I encourage your to measure the time you spend with God alone in your life, this week, I want to encourage you to measure the degree to which you are taking God into your homes. You’ve heard me say it before, the primary place for spiritual formation is not the worship center, but the living room. So, church, what’s happening in your living room?

Now, I feel the need to stop here for a moment and defend Glenwood’s emphasis upon families. A friend of mine recently wrote a blog asking Christians to “avoid the family cult in church.” He said many churches have made “family” an idol. I guess there is some truth to that statement. Our Bible bookstores are now filled with “family” material aimed at husbands, wives, and parents. There are more family encampments in the church today than there are people to fill them. Christian radio is filled with discussions about family. More and more Christian preachers come from family counseling backgrounds. For many, “traditional family values” has become synonymous with “the gospel.” In reaction to this over-emphasis upon the family, some Christian leaders have urged a retreat away from this issue altogether. I even heard it said recently, “The Bible says very little about the family.” Have you ever heard the statement: “Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater?” Perhaps the church has overemphasized the family in recent years. But that does not mean the Bible has nothing to say on the subject. Let’s just be upfront, taking God in your living rooms is not the ultimate goal of Christianity and neither is seeking God in a quiet place. But, by being more intentional about both of these things, we become more like God. The family is not God! But, contrary to the opinion of some, God does have a quite a bit to say about family. And more specifically, God seems very concerned with what takes place in our living rooms.

Listen to this story from I Samuel...

Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels; they had no regard for the LORD or for the duties of the priests to the people. When anyone offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, and he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came here. Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the one who was sacrificing, “Give meat for the priest to roast; for he will not accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.” And if the man said to him, “Let them burn the fat first, and then take whatever you wish,” he would say, “No, you must give it now; if not, I will take it by force.”  Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD; for they treated the offerings of the LORD with contempt.  I Samuel 2:12-17, (NRSV)

It is important for you to know that Eli was the High Priest. He was the ranking member of the church in those days. He went daily to the Temple on behalf of the entire nation of Israel. But, as this story makes clear, he did not do the same in his own living room on behalf of his own family. As this story proceeds, we learn that Eli and his family suffer serious consequences for his failure to shepherd his family. The priesthood is stripped from Eli’s family—it had been in his family since the days of Aaron! His sons are killed, Israel is defeated in battle, and the Ark of the Covenant is stolen by the Philistines. Upon hearing this news, Eli, an old man now, falls back on his chair, breaks his neck, and dies. Eli’s daughter-in-law dies in childbirth on the same day, but just before she dies, she names her child “Ichabod,” which means “the glory has departed from Israel.”

Indeed, the glory had departed Israel. And the reason it departed Israel: because Eli, the High Priest, did not take care of his family. There is another text, this one in the New Testament, that also shows the importance God places upon taking care of our families. Look over at I Timothy 3. This is a text we read not long ago when we were adding new shepherds to this body. Here in I Timothy, we have a list of character traits God desires for shepherds of His church.

The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?   I Timothy 3:1-5 (NRSV)

Notice a couple of things about this text. First, God is so serious about what takes place in our living rooms that He makes this statement. If you're not taking care of your family in your own living room, you cannot take care of God’s family in the church! Your family is your first responsibility!

Second, I want you to notice that this is the only item in this list about which Paul gives more information. He must be temperate, sensible, and hospitable; a list in quick succession. But when Paul gets to this business about the family, he slows down. He doesn’t want this to get lost in a list. In fact, though he just lists the other items, he writes 2 full sentences about the family. Church, this quick survey of these texts is meant to help us understand something very important. God does care about what takes place in our living rooms. This discussion does belong in the church! So, the emphasis we are placing upon the family in Glenwood comes directly from our desire to be the people God has called us to be!  So, getting back to our measure: How can we make sure we are taking God into our Living Rooms?

First, I want to make sure everyone understands that we ALL have a role in this process. I know that sometimes when we talk about families, our conversations tend to default to young families with mom and dad and small children. “Parents, make sure you teach your kids about God when they are young…” However, we need to understand that there are many ways God calls us to taking Him into our Living Rooms. Husbands and wives, you need to cultivate your relationship with each other and with God. Children, you need to learn obedience to your parents and to God. Parents, yes, you need to pass on the faith to your children, and grandparents, your job is not finished! You need to continue mentoring your children as they raise their own children and you need to play a special faith formation role in the lives of your grandchildren. Singles, you have a role in this spiritual family—jump into a ministry here and help with the children of this spiritual family. God has called us ALL to taking Him into our Living Rooms.  Wherever those living rooms might be and whoever is sitting there. Whatever station in life you may be in God is calling you take Him into that living room.

On previous mornings when I’ve discussed our Stand@Home ministry, I’ve focused on different parts of our family. I’ve talked about parents and grandparents and marriages. This morning, I want to say a special word to the men in our families. Some may wonder why I am focusing on one person in the family unit. Here is why…Men in this country are increasingly leaving the job of family faith formation to their wives. Men, God has given us the responsibility to lead our families to God and many of us are not accepting that responsibility. You may have heard these statistics before, but they are worth repeating. If only the mother attends church regularly in a family, the children have only a 2% chance of attending church regularly throughout their lives. If only the father attends church regularly in a family, the children have a 44% chance of attending church regularly throughout their lives. Yes, children need their mothers. But the Bible and our experience bears witness. If the father does not lead his family to God in the living room there is an excellent chance his family will not find God at all.

There is another reason I can tell you why it is so important for fathers to lead their families to God. I had a wonderful father. My father was the economic leader of our family. My father was the recreational leader of our family; he never missed a game in which we played. My father, however, was not the spiritual leader of our family. There were times in my life when I really needed him to be the spiritual leader, as I wrestled with my faith. I had to figure out answers to many of those questions on my own and I was fortunate to have other men in my life to step in and guide me in a good direction. But I really wish my dad had played that role in my life.

Dads, you have a responsibility here. I know: many of you did not have a good model yourselves. Many of your fathers were like mine. Some of us do not know how to lead their families in the faith. I'll be honest: I struggle with that sometimes myself. There are many days I find myself still searching for a model to follow. Let me encourage you to start simple. Pray with your family. Read the Bible with your family. Ask your family on a regular basis: “Where have you seen God lately?” Let your family ask you questions about God and if you don't have the answers, go to the Bible together and search for God’s response.

God has given you one of the most precious gifts anyone could ever be given. He’s given you a family to take care of. Please do not waste that gift!

I would like to say a final word to a special group of people. You may be getting more and more depressed with every word I speak. Because your family broke apart, because you were not a spiritual leader in your home, because you feel like you blew it! Yes, God designed our families to be loving communities of faith formation; dad, mom, kids…children loving through obedience. Dads and moms passing on the faith, husbands and wives complementing each other. Yes, that is the way God designed it and we should do everything in our power to be the people and the families God has called us to be. But, I want you to know that if that is not your experience with “family,” God can work through you too.

At this point, it might be a good idea to take a look at the all of the dysfunctional families in the Bible! The first siblings: Cain killed his brother Abel. Mighty King David broke up the marriage of Uriah and Bathsheba. David’s own child, Absalom, rejected his father and tried to take his kingdom. Solomon had 1000 wives! The Bible does present a picture of what God desires for our families. But it also presents a picture of the people of God doing amazing things in spite of the many ways in which their families fall short of that image.

I don’t know where your family is right now, but take heart, God can, and has, worked through brokenness and wherever your family is, I want you to grow in this area. On an annual basis, I want you to ask yourself, how is my family doing? How am I doing in my role in my family? Am I doing a better job of taking God into my living room now than I was doing this time last year? You will probably never have the perfect family, but you can grow each year—becoming more and more like the image of God all the time.

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