General principles for better families–selected Scriptures
Old time TV was black and white, and I remember watching a man on a variety show who’d come out with all these plates. He had a long table and some sticks. And he’d put a plate on a stick, and he would begin to spin that plate on a stick, where that plate would start spinning and he’d get that plate spinning continuously.
Then he’d take a second plate and a stick and he would get it spinning, and then a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, a seventh and eighth, and so on. By the time he got down to the eighth plate, his back was turned to the first plate. I can recall as a young lad yelling at him, because the first plate was wobbling badly.
I wanted to leap through the screen of my TV and grab the plate before it crashed into the concrete floor of that studio. I wanted to warn him. I remember it well. This is the quality of TV back then. And it seemed like that guy could hear me. Because at the last possible moment it seems, he’d turn around, run back over, grab ahold of the stick and the plate, and get it spinning fast and flat.
Then he’d start 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and on he would go. Then back and forth the act would go on, and he’d spin plates, and keep them spinning–the second plate, then the fifth, then the twelfth. As he ran back and forth, the music would speed up. We’d be screaming at home, pointing out all the plates that were about to fall.
Then at the last possible moment, when all the plates were about to fall, they were all wobbling–he’d start at one end of the table and then gather up all the plates, like he was going to the cupboard. Well, I think this plate illustration today really demonstrates what is taking place in the family.
We meet this young lady in college–she is really pretty, smart and of course godly. So we decide to get married. And so we take this plate called marriage and start to spin it. And I mean that marriage gets the best. That relationship gets the best of our attention and effort. And it is going several hundred miles an hour because our blood is pumping, we’re still young and life is still somewhat simple.
But then we move up in our career and our jobs. Life gets more complicated. We start adding some material success, we move to a new region, we have different friends, maybe a new church, some church responsibilities, and as a result some things start to get added to our plate. Cup, bowl—now there are a lot of plates spinning. And though we never intended for this to happen, the relationship called marriage sort of gets the leftovers–kind of a maintenance spin.
That all goes along fine until something occurs. Two small plates, some little saucers, come along. And some of us don’t know what causes saucers. We had two of these little rascals at our place. Now you can spin these saucers, but I will tell you what–they take an awful lot of energy to spin, and a lot of attention to keep them going. I know.
Now that plate over here (that marriage plate) gets even less of a spin. But then something begins to take place with this saucer. Maybe you will recognize it when I pull it out. Wait for it . . . a platter. Do you know what that platter is right there? That is a teenager. And some days they are perfectly round like a saucer, and other days they are real oblong. And some days they’re square and won’t spin at all.
Now I love teenagers–I have spent most of my years as a Christian with hundreds of them. They have lived with us and they are a delight–we have a great time with them. I like them. But I have to recall what that great philosopher of parenting, Mark Twain, said about adolescence. He said, “When a kid turns 13, you put him in a barrel, and you nail the lid on top. And you feed him through the knot hole. When he turns 16, you plug up the knot hole.”
Well, raising a few platters, plus spinning some saucers, takes a whole lot of energy, and many forget to keep that marriage plate spinning over here. There may even be some other plates in your house. Maybe another pair that sometimes we even forget to spin. We don’t give them any attention at all.
They are left in the cupboard, supposedly because of their great value. These plates are our parents–old plates. If you look carefully, you will see that these plates have the finger prints of time on them. They are chipped and worn, and scraped, and scratched and the finish is dull–but they’re irreplaceable. They don’t make these anymore. You can get a lot of these young plates. But you only have one, two, maybe three or four of these. But they all must be kept spinning. Otherwise they will start to hit the floor. Some can only hit once, others can hit more. But all will break if they hit enough.
I want to share with you today, that our churches are filled with broken plates, wobbling plates and frantic parents–couples and families that are losing the battle with keeping them all spinning. We need to know what to do. We need to know what is going wrong and how to fix it, and tonight I would like to be used of God to start the discussion in your home, so that your families can be more of what God wants them to be.
Today is for the family, no matter what its condition. And in spite of the faddishness of the family, more than 71% of the families in America say it’s impossible to live in a family and still be happy. It’s also a difficult issue to address. To overemphasize it can create such a strong focus that people stop looking to God, to Christ, His Church, and our responsibility to be involved in His work.
To underemphasize it can fail to create in the minds of Christians that their home is their first and most important ministry. Genuine Christians never say, “Family first.” True Christians say, “Christ first.” But family is our proving ground for ministry, joy, impact. Tonight I want to give you some basic, practical principles.
For some, like the Apostle Peter, let me stir you up by way of reminder. Not obey, honor, submit, father lead–but glue truths. For others, allow me to challenge you, not in what you know, but what are you doing with what you know? For others, let me encourage you to excel still more. And for the parent, grandparent, child and grandchild, allow me to give you some practical direction as to how to have a happy home.
You must know these. But the question remains, how can you have a family that loves and not ignores, lives and not tolerates, laughs and not broods, cares and does not complain? I would like to begin to give an answer by sharing with you five keys that will unlock the door to a fantastic family.
Not the big principles, but the other ones–the ones that also make family work. A family that can actually be fun to be a part of. Tonight is a start. And as we travel through these five keys, I want to ask you to rate yourself. Don’t just hear the truth–heed the truth. And the first step is to allow God to evaluate you in light of His Word.
All of the keys we talk about today will remarkably start with the letter “A”, so you can remember them and make them a part of your life. For point #1, I’d like you to heed some ancient wisdom that is just as true today as the first day it was penned. It is found in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 6. This book was written after the Israelites failed to obey God and had to wander in the wilderness for forty years. Now the new generation is about to enter into the land of Israel and God, through Moses, gives them some crucial instruction on how to have a great family.
In Deuteronomy 6:4 to 9 God says, “Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
What is Moses saying about the Bible in the home? God is affirming to us, He did not create the family then forget to leave us directions on how to have a great family. But He left us the Bible, the very instructions of God–not only for us to know how to be right with Him, but also how to live right with each other. In other words, the Bible is the family operation manual. Your car manual is clear. You’ve got to put the oil in the right spot, not pour it on the engine. You don’t throw the car into reverse at 60 mph. Listen, God created us, designed the family, and left us a manual. Therefore, to have a great family, you must have the Bible as the family’s authority.
KEY #1 The AUTHORITY is the Bible
This is the overall principle to which all other principles must submit. If families lived in their homes with the Word of God as the only authority, your home would be a taste of Heaven instead of Hell on Earth. It was Jesus Christ Himself that said in John 17:17 that, “Thy Word [the Bible] is truth“.
The family today needs a good dose of truth, of reality, of authentic living. And for that to happen, the Bible must rule. But some of you are saying, “Chris, what does the Bible have to do with family?” Or, “Chris, we love the Bible. We listen to it, read it, study it.” But if Jesus were to come to your home, would He see that the Bible really makes a dramatic difference in your home?
The issue is not whether you read it or have one, but that just like an operation manual, it is referred to in a crisis, it is studied, so that things keep running smooth, and you obey its instructions. Is the Bible and the God of the Bible your authority? Before you answer yes, answer the following questions, whether you’re a parent, spouse, child or a teen.
In a crisis, what happens first? Panic—“Oh no, how will we pay the bills?” Blame Game—“If you didn’t have such a bad attitude, I would not have burned the house down.” Jean and I had one of “those” talks–an argument. Really steamed. It was getting late. We were both thinking, “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger,” so I said it. And she said, “It’s already down—you’re too late!”
When there is a fight or disagreement, what happens first? Punishment–“restriction for five years!” Or, “That’s it, no more breathing for you.” Or, do you trust in the Bible, the Word of God, and the God of the Bible? Do you really live out Deuteronomy 6? Is the Word on your heart? Do you diligently teach the Word to your sons, and is the Bible referred to throughout the day, talked about often?
When you sit at the table together, when you go for a walk or drive to the store? When you lie down at night and when you rise up in the morning? That is when the Bible is an authority. Coming to FBC will not make it the authority. (It can help.) But how often does the Bible occur in discussions, decision-making, in trying to find answers to life’s daily questions?
Is the Bible read by each individual in your home? God has not left you in the dark, He has given a very clear Word as to what is best for the home. Is the Word of God the authority in your home? How often does this key to a great home get used? Spend a moment thinking through this key in your home. Then rate yourself and your whole family with you on the scale of 1 to 10–1 being very poor, 10 being the very best.
Can you imagine what would happen to your home if the Word of God was the final authority? It would bring harmony to the home. Most homes are like a room full of pianos that are tuned one to another–this one is tuned to the next, then that one is tuned to the next. But when you play them all, they’re never all in tune–they never seem to come into harmony, but dissonance.
But a home that has the Word of God as its authority is a home that is like a room full of pianos that are all tuned to one tuning fork. Because all are in tune with one fork, they’ll all play in perfect harmony. So a houseful of people who’re all hearing and heeding the Word of God will live in harmony. This book is the answer to all of life’s problems. (It doesn’t solve all problems, but it gives answers), and make living together an exciting experience, instead of a tense pressure cooker. Now rate yourself.
Open to Matthew 5. In the greatest sermon that was ever preached, Jesus got people’s attention when He shared these words in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:23 to 24 says, “If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”
It’s incredible to realize that the Bible says not to bother worshipping God, don’t go to church, don’t even pretend to be religious until you are right, or have done all you can do to be right with your brother or sister, mom or dad, husband or wife, son or daughter. To drive the point home, Jesus even made it more clear in the very same sermon, when He said in Matthew 6:14 to 15, “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
It is incredible how hostile things can get within the family. That’s why the Bible says in Romans 12, verse 14, “Bless those who persecute you, bless and curse not,” verse 17, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.” Verse 19, “Never take your own revenge,” and verse 21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” And close to the context of talking about the family, God tells us in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” That’s why the second principle is . . .
KEY #2 Always APOLOGIZE
When you make a mistake, when you betray a secret, hide the truth, tell half-truths or when you disobey a biblical command, or have a grumpy day and yell for no reason or walk around with a bad attitude. There are three typical ways to respond to the one you’ve wronged–these are bad.
1. Make excuses for yourself
“It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t a super bad sin or wrong–I mean, I didn’t kill anyone.”
“It couldn’t be helped. My brother’s arm just came right off–I didn’t pull that hard.”
“It was only a natural reaction–everybody screams that loud.”
2. Pretend nothing happened at all
You just go right on as if nothing happened. You say, “How are you today?”, when you destroyed them yesterday. (Like a burp in the restaurant–nothing happened.) Sometimes that’s the way we treat our family–then we pretend like nothing happened at all.
3. Try and make up for what you did wrong
My dad, after yelling, took me out to buy me an ice cream. When I was rotten to my parents, I’d buy them a 5-pound box of See’s Candies. But that did not solve the problem. There is only one problem with these first three responses–they are like putting a bandage on a broken bone.
When I was in the 4th grade, I fractured my wrist and they put it in a bandage. The doctor grabbed my arm and I screamed in pain. Why? I needed a cast to heal the fracture. After the cast was on, you could touch it–no problem. In fact, I was the toughest kid on the block–I carried around a weapon. The cast brought healing.
Ever notice with family or friends that there are certain things when brought up, talked about or referred to, they bring about the same response as touching a broken arm? A scream! You ask yourself, “What did I do?” But you need to ask, “What didn’t I do?” You may have put a bandage on a broken bone.
The cast that brings healing to relationships, especially in the family, are the words, “I’m sorry, will you forgive me? I was wrong. Forgive me.” Not, “Sor-ry!” or, “Soooorrrrry!” It needs to be said with sincerity and care. Then learn to also say, “I forgive you,” and mean it. That means you must erase your lists.
The more unforgiveness is allowed to continue in the family, the farther the distance will grow between family members. Rate yourself, not your spouse. Rate how forgiving you are, and then talk it over with your family later. Do you always apologize? A rating of 10 means always, and 1 means never.
Let me tell you about the next key, and then tell you what it is– see if you can guess. Listen to the greatest book of wisdom that was ever written, the book of Proverbs 27:5 and 6, “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”
According to these verses, what is the opposite of love? Most would say that the opposite of love is hate, but the real opposite of love is indifference. Hate is an emotion, biblical love is not. Biblical love is sacrificial action, so its opposite is cold indifference. Have you ever complained about nagging in the home, or fighting or arguments? Though these are not the best form of love, they still show that love is present.
Though they are a poor attempt at love, they are still a sign of love, since there is an attempt to do something about a wrong, problem, or frustration. You see, the family that’s in real trouble is the one that ignores each other. When you enter rooms and treat family members like they don’t exist, or you rarely acknowledge their presence–or when you do recognize them, it seems more like acknowledging a snail on a door handle than greeting a person. That is the family that lacks love and is in desperate need of the next key.
KEY #3 Active AFFIRMATION
Turn over to 1 Thessalonians 5. The words of a once popular song began something like this . . . “You gotta accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative.” That is more than just a song, that is an attitude that brings joy in the home and pleases God.
Listen to what God says in 1 Thessalonians 5:11,14, “Therefore encourage one another, and build up one another, just as you also are doing. . . . 14 And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.” We all need to make time and think through and be involved in sincere affirmation, positive compliments and heartfelt thank yous every day. There is no such thing as too much affirmation.
Now when the Bible says encouragement, it doesn’t mean flattery. Flattery is what Grandma does when she comes over. We called our Grandma, “Nana”–and when Nana would come over she would say, “You’re getting so big, you’re the strongest boy in the country,” (when I just got beat up at school).
“You’re so handsome, I bet all the girls in your school are in love with you”–(I’d never had a date, and I just broke out with terminal acne). “You’re so smart, you’re going to be a brain surgeon” (and I had just flunked lunch). No, active affirmation is not flattery, but encouragement based upon truth.
What are some of the unusual things you can affirm in a family member? Curiosity, dramatics, a way with people, physical strength, perseverance, fluency, ambition, listening, organization, wit—a quick thinker, courage, perceptual awareness, coordination, energy, calmness, music, art, sense of humor, crafts. Your family members will be what you affirm them to be. Why are the kids unthankful? Not enough affirming at home. How are you at active affirmation? Rate yourself right now, 10 being great, and 1 is poor.
KEY #4 Avoid Atomic ARGUMENTS
Do you know how to push another person’s button? In marriage, Jean is not thirsty, but drinks most of my soda. In the family, when a 3-year-old thinks that any glass is his to drink from, and then leaves floaties in it.
Turn over to the book of Ephesians, chapter 4–one of the 66 books in the Bible. It talks about how to have a strong family, and in chapter 4, verses 29 to 32 say, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”
That says, “Don’t ever push someone’s button. But how do you resist, avoid, flee from pushing your mom’s, dad’s, son’s or daughter’s, husband or wife’s button? Choose not to do the following list of communication disasters. There are some speech patterns to avoid in the family, and these are some of the habits that most lead to atomic arguments—so how do you avoid explosive arguments? The wisdom of Proverbs . . .
- Don’t use gunpowder words
Proverbs 15:1 says, “Harsh words stir up anger.” Avoid using the words “always” and “never” in all discussions–remove them from your language.
- Don’t punish with silence
Pouting and sulking never works.
- Avoid abusive talk
Like “stupid”, “jerk”, “geek”, “you’re not pretty, but looks aren’t everything.” Jesus Himself said in Matthew 5:22, “Whoever shall say to his brother, RACA [means empty head] shall be guilty before the court, and whoever shall say, ‘You fool’, shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery Hell.” Our words are serious things and can do great damage. The biggest lie you were told when you were a kid—“Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” That is a lie–bones heal, but names are never forgotten.
- Avoid angle words
Hinting at the truth without saying it. “Most kids do” . . . “Jimmies parents allow him to drink gasoline!” Again Jesus says in Matthew 5:37, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no, anything beyond that is evil.”
- Avoid the counter-complaint
“You think you’re tired, when I was your age . . . ” (“I had to walk through the snow 100 feet deep.”
- Avoid emotional talk
Using crying, yelling, and anger as an attempt to control or manipulate the situation.
- Avoid double level messages
Saying, “I guess not”, or “we’ll see” later–these can mean whatever one wants them to mean, and do not build trust or respect–two essential ingredients in every relationship/family. You can love someone you trust and respect—you can’t if they’re absent.
- Avoid not having eye contact
Language experts say that most of what you say is not what your family hears, What your family hears is 7% content, 38% tone, and 55% non-verbal. When your eyes wander around, it says a lot.
- Avoid over-talk or nagging
Proverbs 21 says in verse 9, “It is better to live in a corner of a roof, than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” Then in verse 19, “It is better to live in a desert land, than with a contentious and vexing woman.” One who tries to control through a badgering of words is a contentious person. Don’t over-talk and don’t nag.
- Avoid not thinking before speaking
Proverbs 29:20, “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Hasty words makes you worse than a fool.
- Avoid not listening
Proverbs 18:13, “He who gives an answer before he hears is a folly and shame.” In other words, not listening is really dumb. But listening says, “You are important.” How are you at avoiding atomic arguments? Think, “What is my best response, and what is my worst?” Rate yourself, 10 again being best, and 1 is worst.
There is so much to learn from the Bible. More than principles, there are people on display that we can all learn from. What is so refreshing about the biographies of those who lived trying to please God is that the descriptions are all so real–not phony. In fact, at times they describe failure at its worst. These descriptions are not to make them look bad, but they are for us to learn from.
Don’t turn to 2 Samuel 11 and 12, but let me refresh your memory of one who knew the blessing of intimacy with God, and the failure of disobedience to God. Let me tell you why his failure encourages me. King David, in a time of success and comfort, is tempted and falls hard to sin–he commits adultery with another man’s wife, he commits murder by killing her husband, and then he lies to hide it all from everyone but God for about a year.
Why does David encourage me? Because even though he did this, God calls him a man after His own heart–twice. First Samuel 13:14 (referring to David) says, “The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart.” It is not his sin that encourages me, but the responses of God. Though there were terrible consequences to David’s sin, there was an attitude that God demonstrates here that is crucial to have a fantastic family.
KEY #5 AMBIVALENT Accepting Attitudes
What is an ambivalent accepting attitude? It is the ability to see both the good and the bad—positive and negative, righteousness and sin in a person and not be repulsed, critical, negative, and pessimistic. But attracted, affirming, and optimistic, in spite of their faults.
Try this experiment. Take a white sheet of paper and a black pen–put a dot on it for every negative thing you can think of about the person in your family you struggle with. Then what do you have? A whole lot of white paper with some black dots, or a whole lot of black dots on some white paper. See the difference? It’s all in the way you choose to look at it, and it’s the same with your family.
If you choose to focus on a person’s strengths, you will much rather want to be around him or her than if you focus on their weaknesses. Again, it is God’s Word that has the answer. The crucial principle that must be put to work in a home is Philippians 4:8, which says, “Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise [about your family member] let your mind dwell on these things.”
How are you at an ambivalent attitude toward your family? Rate yourself, 1 being poor, and 10 is great. So what’s the first step? Go home and before next week, do two things.
- DISCUSS your ratings at a family pow-wow (special time) and talk about strengths and weaknesses.
- Make ONE CHANGE each that all will benefit from.
If you all do it, your family will improve immediately. The most important question of this morning is, what do you want your family to be like? When you look back, do you want your family to be like the father who wrote in his will, “Unto my two daughters, Frances Marie and Denise Victoria, by reason of their attitude toward a doting father–I leave the sum of $1 each and a father’s curse. May their respective lives be fraught with misery, unhappiness and poignant sorrow. May their deaths be soon and lingering, and of a torturous nature. May their souls rest in hell and suffer the torments of the damned for eternity.”
Or do you want your family to be like the family of a young man named David who was dying of cancer, whose last words were to his dad, saying, “Dad, I just want you to know that the greatest gift God ever gave me, outside of salvation itself, was the gift of a father and mother who love God and taught me to love Him too.”
I know which family I would like to have. But understand, families like that don’t just happen. It will take work, lots of prayer and a commitment to the authority of the Bible, always apologizing, active affirmation, avoiding atomic arguments, and developing ambivalent accepting attitudes. Let’s pray.