In February, we tend to focus on relationships. Sure, Valentine’s Day is February 14th, which probably helps but there always seems to be some good resources available that allow us to reflect on love, spouses, significant others, and family relationships. I am by no means an expert on families or marriage, but a ministry colleague provided me with some articles on those topics this week and in reading through them, I really liked the following article by Dr. Eric Scalise. I am passing it on to you to prompt thought as we imagine healthy and holy families, loved one who are freed from the guilt of sin and shame and alive in Christ. My desire is to pass on a legacy worth repeating, in the life of the church and in the life of my family. I know I need three things to accomplish this: 1) God’s grace through Jesus Christ to take away my shame and sin, 2) the Holy Spirit’s transformation in my life, 3) an openness to God’s will that allows my family to experience the newness of life I have instead of the scars of past hurts I carry. So, let’s run away from these rules, and instead of ruining our families, lets build them up and edify our loved ones.
By Dr. Eric Scalise:
Every marriage and every home offers the opportunity to create meaningful relationships, to lay the groundwork for a secure and healthy self-identity and to incorporate scriptural principles that lead to a vibrant and active celebration of one’s relationship with God. In 1 Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul tells us that “love edifies” or builds up. Love helps build a marriage. Love helps build well-balanced children and a legacy that moves from one generation to the next. Yet, what about the things that tear down? In my professional and ministry experience, almost nothing is potentially more destructive within our primary relationships then when a pervading sense of shame is present. In fact, research in this area indicates that for every critical, hurtful or abusive thing someone hears about him/herself or experiences on a personal level, the average individual needs 17 positives before he or she perceives balance again. If this is the case, imagine how consumed by negativity some people are before they ever leave the home environment.
Shame communicates to others they are somehow unworthy…that they are unlovable, unwanted and in one or more ways, flawed or defective. The result is often a debilitating fear of rejection. When compounded by the fear of failure, this two-edged sword can be a damaging force in any marriage or family system. To effectively integrate biblical truth that can counter these beliefs, it is important to have a good frame of reference in how the dynamic evolves in the first place.
Murray Bowen was a major theorist who helped develop a family systems model of behavior. He and others advocate the notion that individual patterns of behavior, as well as one’s interpersonal relationships, need to be understood contextually by looking across generations. Both functional and dysfunctional relationship principles are imparted within the home environment and Bowen’s work particularly emphasizes the transfer of the “emotional” elements that impact behavior. This includes the ability to set appropriate boundaries or the lack thereof. The same could be said regarding the development of intimacy, positive attachments and feeling connected to others in a meaningful way.
One of the most comprehensive studies ever undertaken to help evaluate the consistency of this intergenerational transmission of attitudes, beliefs and behaviors, was the Dunedin study. Over one thousand children were identified at birth during a one-year period (1972-1973) in Dunedin, New Zealand and then reevaluated at ages 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 18, and 21. This research is a unique resource for the investigation of behavioral and emotional development. Researchers used the Dunedin data to find support for the concept of generational legacy. Follow up reports showed as the children in the study aged, there was consistent evidence that parental role model behaviors were being emulated and the behaviors were becoming more established and entrenched with each successive period of evaluation from birth through early adulthood. The Dunedin project further supports the notion that family of origin dynamics, how spouses interact and parenting styles have a longitudinal effect on an individual and that this effect overlaps multiple adult environments.
The following are five dysfunctional family rules that many of us probably grew up with. This does not necessarily imply they were posted on the refrigerator with a magnet, but they may resonate with you on a deeper level. Perhaps the first word of each rule offers a clue as to why they can be problematic.
Rule #1 – Don’t Talk – Those who grew up with this rule were not allowed to talk about anything significant or personal, especially in a transparent way. Let’s take, for example, an alcoholic father. Everyone knows dad is drinking. Everyone knows that dad comes home drunk and sometimes gets physical with mom or the kids, but no one talks about the drinking. It’s like having the proverbial elephant in the living room. We all see it. We all smell it and we see what it’s doing to the carpet, but we are all supposed to tip-toe around as if it was not there. And a big “no-no” is…we never tell anyone outside of the family. That would be considered treasonous. What often develops is an unhealthy fear of transparency and the keeping of secrets, which can create enormous conflicts within a marriage.
Rule #2 – Don’t Feel – Those who grew up with this rule were not allowed to express their feelings in an authentic way. Whenever they tried, the process would be shut down. Feelings were ignored, minimized, criticized or disallowed. Sooner or later, we come to believe that no one really cares how we are really doing, so we hide behind the hurt or the perceived threat of rejection and indifference. Again, this is an extremely destructive pattern that negatively impacts the development of intimacy in marital or family relationships.
Rule #3 – Don’t Touch – I have spoken with some adults who will tell me that as children, they have no memory of being hugged or told they were loved by the significant role models in their lives. They may have assumed it at some level, but the questions still persisted. Another possibility is that the touch was unhealthy or abusive. National statistics indicate that as many as one out of every three girls and one out of every five boys will experience some form of abuse before they graduate from high school. When I grew up, there was a saying that went like this, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I disagree. Long after the words are spoken or the rejection has been experienced, the emotional bruises will linger, possibly creating an unhealthy perception of intimacy. During Jesus’ ministry, whenever He dealt with the demonic, more often than not, He spoke a word. However, when He healed people, He usually touched them. Appropriate physical, emotional, relational and spiritual touch are critical to healthy development.
Rule #4 – Don’t Resolve – Those who grew up with this rule came to believe that nothing was resolvable or even allowed to be brought to closure. Emotional wounds were “picked at” again and again much like a scab, until a long-lasting or permanent scar was the end result. This can also translate into how believers may approach forgiveness and letting go of past hurts. They may wrestle with either receiving or giving forgiveness. Some are convinced there is no reason in trying to address and solve problems because it cannot or will not change the outcome.
Rule #5 – Don’t Trust – This last rule is based, in part, on the first four. If there is no permission to talk openly, if there is no genuine expression of feelings, if there are no healthy forms of touch, and if there is no ability to bring something to successful resolution, then the hurtful conclusion is that no one can really be trusted either…even God! Being too afraid to trust leads to an independent spirit; being too hurt to love leads to pride; and being too angry to listen, leads to rebellion. Honesty and trust, especially within a Christlike environment, are like a glue that helps hold a relationship together.
Whether we are husbands or wives, fathers or mothers, or provide counsel and care to people, we must find ways to counteract the negative messages that are attached to these Rules. The good news of the Gospel is that we are loved, forgiven, offered the gift of grace and of such great value in the eyes of God that we were worth dying for. This does not mean we excuse sinful behavior and poor choices or never hold people accountable, but rather, to be proactive as we have the opportunity to affirm others in the eyes of God. So many people are buried in negativity, often by their own doing. Transformation can begin by telling them, “Shame off you!”
Over the next couple of months this blog will be hosting a series of posts by guest bloggers as I participate for my first year in an annual Summer Blog Tour. I hope you follow along, check out each author's personal blog, and find ways to unshackle your faith.
To introduce the theme for this summer's "Blog Tour," I will share Peter Horne's thoughts on our theme "Unshackled Faith." Peter moved to the United States from Australia in 1999 to pursue training for ministry. Having filled the roles of children’s minister, youth minister, and college minister in various locations around the US and Australia, he now gladly serves as the minister for the Lawson Rd Church of Christ in Rochester, NY. You can find more of his writing on his blog: www.aussiepete.wordpress.com. He also writes to equip multi-ethnic churches at www.culturalmosaic.org.
In 2017 my church has adopted the theme "Faith Unshackled". Intentionally ambiguous, this theme could be interpreted and applied in different ways. Inherent to the concept is the possibility that our faith may be shackled, restricted or limited.
Before I can decide if my faith languishes below God's intention for me, I must understand the possibilities.
The word faith simply means to trust someone else. When that someone else is God, then the things we trust him with can be big things. But sometimes the things God wants us to trust him with are bigger than we're ready to risk.
Jesus understood the dynamic nature of our faith in God. Our faith grows over time. As we establish a track record with God, our capacity to trust him with bigger areas and issues in our lives grows. Because faith does not grow along a straight line, the fragility of our faith means that some days we gladly trust God with everything, and then at other days we wonder if we can trust him with anything.
I know Jesus understands this phenomena because he witnessed it in his closest disciples.
In Matthew 17 a group of disciples attempted to cast out a demon... and failed. They approach Jesus seeking insight into why their efforts failed. Jesus responds with a well-known statement that I'm not sure encourages his disciples that they only need a little faith, or scolds them for not having even the smallest amount of faith.
"Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20
In the chapter prior, Jesus had given his disciples a big, enormous, radical faith challenge:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." Matthew 16:24-25
Both of these challenges from Jesus describe faith leading to radical outcomes. Yet so often we limit our faith to praying that Sister Jones' kidney stone will pass quickly. In this process we reduce faith that was intended to be bold, radical and world-changing, and we domesticate it. We reduce faith to something manageable. Rather than inspiring courage, innovation and adventures for God, we transform it into a safety net in case of emergencies and kidney stones. Of course God cares about kidney stones and the suffering of his children, but the possibilities of faith extend much further.
In the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus sends his disciples to the ends of the earth. He reminds them of his supreme power and promises his presence wherever they go. Then he watches to see their faith in action.
Today, I write about this moment that took place 2000 years ago on the shores of Galilee, from a time and country never imagined all those years ago. My existence and love for Christ demonstrate the power of those disciples' faith.
As my church explores what it means for us to live with Unshackled Faith, I have encouraged us not to leave our faith chained to the pew. We must demonstrate our faith in God to those around us.
This may mean involving oneself in church ministries such as our community garden, or apartment cookouts. Unshackled Faith could also mean hosting a cookout and inviting church members we've never eaten with before, just because we're committed to following Christ together. Or maybe we're finding ways to bring unchurched and churched friends together in non-threatening social settings. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is prompting us to launch a new ministry or add our energy to an existing one.
We all have our comfort zones. The thing is, comfort zones don't require faith.
You might recall Jesus quoting from the prophet Isaiah when confronted abut why his disciples don’t practice the ceremonial tradition of washing their hands before a meal. The quote comes from Isaiah 29:13 and is a charge that God has against his people, Israel:
And the Lord said:
“Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
There are a couple of things that strike me in this passage. First, the obvious is that these people have learned to say the right things, project holy things on the outside…but their hearts are far from God. Therefore, there is little to no relationship with the Lord, they just listen to the holy words and memorize them. They sing the songs they know and go through the rituals, but they do not KNOW God. Second, God charges that the fear they are to have, due to the closeness of the relationship has also been cheapened. This “fear of the Lord” is now something that is taught. Perhaps it is practiced and perfected, and then performed, but the fear of the Lord is not authentic; something that would grow out of real relationship with the Lord.
So, the very things and people God set up to draw his people closer and provide them with a healthy “fear of the Lord” has become a barrier to authentic faith. Now, when we see the “fear of the Lord” we must understand God’s holiness and God’s care to truly engage this phrase. Fear can mean respect, yes, but with the Lord it is that understanding that the holy God who has every right to destroy us and the evil of the world has invited into relationship to care for us. This is more than respect, but the awe and wonder of how this is possible mixed with the responsibility to live in thankfulness for this opportunity.
What Jesus doesn’t share with the Pharisees is the verse a few passages down. Listen to the words of Isiah 29:16 =
You turn things upside down!
Shall the potter be regarded as the clay,
that the thing made should say of its maker,
“He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
“He has no understanding”?
I sometimes wonder if in our construed way of making God our divine servant who exists to make us happy and content, if we have indeed turned things upside-down. You see, the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders made the mistake that God served them, and I think that Christians have bought into a popular version of American Christianity that does the same thing. How can the clay regard the potter as the clay?
I must admit that it is easier for me to say the Christian things and read the Christian book than it is for me to spend time with God, walk with God, and relate to God. It is also easier to think that God wants me to be happy than it is to live as if the purpose of my existence is to make God happy. God’s priorities are not my priorities, and God’s happiness is not even close to the things that make me happy. This is why we are asked to follow Jesus and learn to be disciples of Jesus; because it was his life, not ours or the Jews or anyone else, that truly glorified God…that is “made God happy.”
So, I want God to please remind me that I am clay and you are the Creating Potter. Help me walk with you and talk with you and never substitute what I’m taught about you with who you are in my life. Help me to bring something that is of worth as I worship you with my life that you may be honored by my life…up close…not from a distance.
In Hebrews 6, the letter’s writers show a deep concern for the recipients. Let’s start reading at verse 9b:
We are confident that you are meant for better things, things that come with salvation. 10 For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do. 11 Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. 12 Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance.
I can see myself having this conversation with several persons who I want to encourage and inspire to continue in their faith and in their growth. The idea expressed is one that we all try to live…keep on! We keep on in faith so that we will make certain that for which we hope. It is also a safe guard because the text says that when we keep on then we don’t become “dull and indifferent.” Instead of being like that we “follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises.” Ok, this sounds like what I want to be, and how I want to inspire others…but Hebrews also provides the negative side of this…the dull and indifferent side. Let’s read in Hebrews 6:4
4 For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come— 6 and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame.
Wait…impossible! I thought nothing was impossible for God? Imagine if you would for a moment that by chance there is someone who has been enlightened, who has experienced the good things of heaven, who has shared in the sweet fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and who has even tasted the goodness of God…that person should be growing and loving and hoping and GOING!
But then we get the kick to the stomach… “who then turns away from God.” So, despite all those things listed above, this person chooses to turn away! And then the Hebrew writer repeats it, “It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance…” How can this be, are we just to despair and morn our loss?
The Hebrew letter gives us an example, let’s read from chapter 6:7
7 When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. 8 But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it.
When that which comes from heaven is “soaked up” then it produces good crops, and when the things from heaven are not soaked up, then the crops don’t grow and all that is left is thorns and thistles…and so the farmer condemns and burns the field. OUCH!
Now, it is important to be reminded what the basis of this conversation is, which is the opening verses of Hebrews 6:
1 So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds[a] and placing our faith in God.
So, this is more a call to grow in maturity and less a guide on how to respond to those who turn away from God. However, there are two very clear lessons to be learned. First, we all want to be gardens that produce something good for our farmer God. To do that we need to soak in the gifts of heaven and grow into something God can USE! Second, there are those who grow in a different way in that they grow dull and indifferent and become USELESS to the farmer because their gardens are simply full of thorns and thistles. Thus, given the same opportunities to experience, taste, and grow…they reject God.
This text is clearly urging us to not grow dull and indifferent, but to grow mature and wise. No one wants to plant a useless garden…including God.
Have you ever considered the teaching of Jesus that goes something like this: God, please forgive me of the things I do wrong in the same way that I forgive those who do me wrong. When Jesus is talking on the mountain, he teaches us how to pray, and within that famous Lord’s Prayer we are challenged by these words:
6:12 and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.
As we have… (seems to indicate that God acts in reaction to our action doesn’t it!). But perhaps Jesus is actually saying the opposite here, right? That because of the great love that has been poured out by God, that foundation of forgiveness welcomes us to do the same to those who have hurt us, like God has done to those who have hurt Him. However, Matthew returns to this teaching in chapter 18, and it is right after the passage about taking reconciliation seriously…
Peter wants to know how many times it is appropriate to forgive someone who has hurt you, or sinned against you. Jesus responds with his famous, “Not seven times, by seventy times seven times.” Some interpretations will read 77 times, but let’s face it…it was a lot more than Peter had in mind (and way more than we typically think we need to practice). Jesus’ answer is one thing, but the story Jesus tells to explain his answer elaborates on this teaching:
Jesus starts off by saying that the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to this situation that is about to unfold. So, we need to keep this in mind. A king is calling his debtors and collecting the money borrowed from him. A man owes the king millions of dollars, which he couldn’t pay back. So, the king ordered that all he had be sold, including his family, to pay for his debt. But the man begged the king for more time to pay it…and the king released the man and FORGAVE the debt!
So the man left the presence of the king a debt free man and at once went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. The man grabbed his fellow man by the throat and demanded to be paid immediately. The fellow servant begged for patience and more time, but the man would not extend any grace to the fellow servant. The debtor was placed in prison.
Well, word reached the king and the king was not happy. The king called in the servant who had been forgiven and said to him, “You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?” The servant went to prison.
Jesus summarizes the story by saying this: 35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
How can we accept the forgiveness of God and not extent forgiveness to our own enemies? Why do we expect God to treat us better than we treat our fellow brothers and sisters? God’s grace and forgiveness make up the foundation of our grace and forgiveness. If we fail to offer it and practice it, then God will remove the foundation from its place, and we are left building our lives on something else…achievement, perfectionism, legalism, superiority…and needless to say that our efforts to build on these other,or foreign, foundations is not the building of the Kingdom of God.
Let us practice forgiveness and extend grace, so that God’s grace and forgiveness may be fully accepted and appreciated in our lives.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.