The concept of family goes back to the origins of creation. When God created Adam and Eve, he told them, “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Genesis 1:28) As a result, the first family came into being, and even though it got off to a rough start, families have been the basic building block of humankind ever since.
Families are important. They give us a name and, with it, an identity: I’m a McLarty, as opposed to an O’Leary or a Delregno, Thibodaux, Morganstern, Ling, or Tutsi.
With the family name comes a connection, as illustrated by the family tree with deep roots going down to its origin and wide branches spreading out over generations of ancestors and relatives. Ideally, families play a large part in giving us self-confidence and self-esteem.
Confucius considered families the basic unit of the social order: Strong families form the basis of strong communities; strong communities, the basis of strong states; and strong states, the basis of a strong nation.
It’s no secret: Some families fair better than others, and that’s mystery: Why is it that out of one family comes a legacy of civic leaders, while, from another, generation after generation of those dependent on the charity of others? Is it a matter of good genes, smart choices, or luck of the draw?
This much we know: The sins of the fathers – and I would add, mothers – are inflicted upon the 3rd and 4th generations (Exodus 14:18). The good news is if we inherit the shortcomings of our parents, we inherit their strengths and virtues, as well.
We talked about this in our Men’s Prayer Breakfast last week, as it pertains to the relationship of fathers and sons. We asked questions like: What did you learn from your father? Was he there for you when you needed him? Did he tell you about the birds and the bees? Did he share his faith and, as importantly, his feelings?
We could have just as easily talked about families and the experience we share of growing up in relationship to our fathers and mothers and siblings. The impact families have on us is huge. Psychologists tell us that our personalities are formed by the time we’re five years old. Whatever your early childhood experience, it’s the basis of who you are and what makes you tick.
Personally, I have a “Leave It to Beaver” image of family. I grew up in a home with traditional values and conventional role models. My father was an automotive mechanic; my mother, a homemaker and later, a teacher. It was as if Ozzie and Harriett, David and Ricky lived just down the street.
That’s not the experience of a lot of people today. In today’s world you can find every possible combination of blended, extended and adoptive families. Some are healthy; some are not. Any more, “Father Knows Best” is the exception rather than the rule.
Yet, the truth remains: We need a place of belonging – a place to be nurtured and loved and given strength and encouragement to grow and become the person God created us to be. From the beginning of time, that basic place was, and is, the family.
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The problem with families – even the healthiest of families – is that family loyalty can easily trump the authority of God. The 5th Commandment is clear: “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). Yet, the 1st Commandment takes priority: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
This is tricky. As little kids, we look up to our parents as gods. From a small child’s point of view, parents are all-powerful, all-knowing, and always there for you when you need them.
One of the critical stages of growing up is to accept the fact that they’re not gods – never have been, never will be. They don’t have all the answers, they can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound, they’re not always going to be there to bail you out.
Bottom line: Give your parents the respect that’s due them, but pay your ultimate allegiance to God. The same holds true regarding children. Jesus said,
“He who loves father or mother more than me
is not worthy of me;
and he who loves son or daughter more than me
isn’t worthy of me.”
We live in a day of “helicopter” moms and dads – parents who hover over their children’s every breath. While this may be well-intended, it can lead to being overly protective and controlling, which can lead parents to taking up for the children, right or wrong: When little Mary flunks a test, it’s the teacher who’s to blame. When Johnny gets thrown out at home plate, it’s the umpire who made a bad call.
Left unchecked, this pattern of “my child can do no wrong,” carries on into adolescence. Now it’s the police who are being unfair: “My little darling smoking pot? No way!” “My son caught breaking and entering? Not on your life!”
Love and devotion within the family – whether children, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles or cousins – must always be tempered by a greater love and devotion to God. If not, the family will become insulated, ingrown and exclusive: “I’ll do this for you, but not for him – he’s not family … he’s not one of us.”
You know the old adage: “Blood is thicker than water.” That can be dangerous when taken to the extreme. Remember The Sopranos?
When it’s all about family, families become little fiefdoms of their own, and that leads to tribalism, and that can lead to feuding and fighting and endless animosity. History is full of examples:
• In Romeo and Juliet, there were the Capulets and the Montagues.
• In Appalachia, there were the Hatfields and the McCoys.
• In Scotland, there were the Campbells and the McDonalds.
Tribalism was never part of God’s great design for the family. God’s intent was – and is – for us to be united, not only within our families of origin, but with other families in a common spirit and purpose, working together for the common good, to the glory of God.
Unity of this scope is possible only as self-identity, family identity, racial, regional and tribal identity give way to common identity as children of God. And that’s possible only through common faith in Jesus Christ. Paul said it best,
“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ
have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither slave nor free man,
there is neither male nor female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
With God as our Father and Christ as our brother, we’re able to live in unity as the family of God and relate to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
How does that come about, exactly? How do you get to be a member of God’s great family? The Bible speaks of three ways.
1. The first is inheritance. There are children who come into the family of faith by virtue of being born into a Christian family, where parents share God’s love with them from the earliest stages of infancy. They read them Bible stories and teach them to pray; they help them learn to worship; they teach them right from wrong and how to use good judgment and make wise choices.
As these children grow up, they assume their place in the church. They embrace the faith of their fathers and mothers and make it their own. As Paul said of Timothy,
“(I am longing to see you) …
having been reminded of the sincere faith that is in you;
which lived first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice,
and, I am persuaded, in you also.”
(2 Timothy 1:5)
2. Some children inherit their place in the family. Others find their place by association. They learn the ropes from living in community with those around them.
Take, for example, the Exodus story: When the people of Israel fled Egypt, they took their children with them. Well, duh! What else would you expect? As a result, the children crossed the parted waters of the Red Sea and wandered in the wilderness with the whole people of God, even though they had no idea where they were going.
In the New Testament, Peter went to the home of a Roman Centurion named Cornelius. Cornelius accepted Jesus as the Christ and the Holy Spirit came upon him and his whole household. This would have included Cornelius and his wife and children, plus any number of servants and guests. (Acts 10:1-48)
He’s not the only one. Paul and Silas preached the gospel in Philippi and created such a stir that they were beaten and thrown into prison. That night there came an earthquake. Their shackles fell to the ground and the prison door broke open. The jailer rushed in expecting the prisoners to be long gone and, if so, to be put to death as punishment for letting them get away. Instead, they were all present and accounted for. Luke says he was so astonished that …
“He called for lights, sprang in,
fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.
(Then he) brought them out,
and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’
They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,
and you will be saved, you and your household.” …
He took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes,
and was immediately baptized, he and all his household.”
3. Some come into God’s great family by inheritance, some by association, and others, by adoption. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul writes,
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God,
these are children of God.
For you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage again to fear,
but you received the Spirit of adoption,
by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit
that we are children of God;
and if children, then heirs;
heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ …”
I love this image – that of all the people on earth, somehow God has chosen us to know him and love him and share the Good News of his grace and love with others.
God elects us, not for privilege, but service. It’s our job to bear witness to the living Christ – to tell everyone who’ll listen, “What he’s done for others, he’ll do for you.”
I know a couple who adopted both of their children as infants. They practiced what’s called, “Open Adoption,” telling the children up front how they were placed for adoption by their mothers, who did so out of love, who only wanted the very best for them.
Each year, they’d celebrate two special days – their birthday and their “Gotcha Day” – the day the parents picked up their newborn baby. They’d remind the children, “This is the day we got you!” They wanted them to know that, of all the children in the world, they had chosen them to be their very own.
That’s what God would have you know, that by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he called your name and opened your mind and heart to knowing that you belong to him.
Here’s the catch: Whether you come to faith by inheriting the faith of your fathers and mothers, or by picking up the faith from those around you, or by hearing God’s voice calling your name, it doesn’t mean a thing until you say yes and embrace Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of your life. Only then will you truly know your place in the family.
Here’s what I hope you’ll take home with you today: Second only to Christ himself, the gift of family is God’s greatest gift to us, for it’s within the family of faith that we experience the fullness of salvation; not alone, but in the company of all those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
This is the nature of God’s great family of faith – a family that knows no boundaries, except the all-encompassing love of God made known to us in Jesus Christ.
There’s an old gospel song that asks a question we all wonder about, from time to time: Will the circle be unbroken? Will the family in which we grew up ever come back together again? Will we be able to see our family, friends and loved ones in heaven and enjoy a glad and happy reunion with those who’ve gone before us?
The answer is Yes! … and then some. Not only will the family circle be unbroken, it’ll be inclusive and it’ll be forever. So, give thanks for the gift of family.
• Start with those who brought you into this world and gave you your first experiences of faith, hope and love;
• Then broaden the circle to include the extended family, your clan or tribe.
• But don’t stop there. Go on to give thanks for God’s great family of faith and the countless brothers and sisters you have in Christ, who forever sing,
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly hosts;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen”.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2014, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.