WHEN FAITH MEETS THE FAMILY CIRCUS
WHO’S THE RINGMASTER IN YOUR HOME?
May 7, 2017
In doing family counseling, you hear some brutally honest stuff….such as the response from bratty 8-year-old Lori when asked to describe the state of her parents’ relationship: “The only thing my mom and dad can agree on is they don’t want any more children!”
And then there was the graphic statement blurted out by downtrodden husband and father Jim when speaking of his family: “We are an absolute out-of-control three-ring circus and I’m the one left shoveling up the poop behind the elephants!”
Well, that’s a bit extreme! But I ask you— does life around your house resemble a family circus most days? Are there constant, clashing issues? If so, I hope you will listen closely over these upcoming Sundays as we explore the tremendous and positive impact that faith can have upon our families.
Let’s begin this morning by considering the question, “Who’s the Ringmaster in my Home?”
THE CHALLENGE OF ME VS WE
Now, it is certainly obvious that the nature of families has changed dramatically over the past few decades. We left Leave It To Beaver land a long time ago!
In 1960, 73% of American children lived in a household with two married parents in their first marriage. Today that figure is 46%. Family life today gets pretty complicated, with blended families often filled with multiple generations under one roof.
Every morning around 5:30 am I pass my retired neighbor George. His wife died last year. He’s out in his driveway, acting as an air traffic controller. He has two grown children and one grown grandson living under his roof along with their live-in companions, with various children from current and previous relationships, and each of them is heading off to work or to drop preschool kids at daycare. George is directing the flow of cars out of the driveway. Then, an hour later, you will find George across the street making sure all the elementary school-aged children get on the bus. They often have shirts on backwards and mixed shoes, but George does the best he can. He’s a good, decent man looking out for his huge household.
And George’s family life is pretty typical today. Families come in all shapes and sizes. Things are pretty complicated compared with that of the Cleavers’ lifestyle 50 years ago.
You will hear preachers bemoaning and condemning what passes for family life today. But it’s reality. My neighbor George would not have chosen his current living arrangement. But George is not going to let little children go without food and shelter either.
Rather than looking down our noses with pious judgmentalism, a far more Christian stance would be to look at how our faith might help such diverse family situations function better for all persons involved. And it all begins by asking the question, “Who’s the Ringmaster?” Who is calling the shots, coordinating the production, directing the circus?
Let’s hear the ancient voice of Joshua:
“Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
What’s going on here? We are talking about allegiances.
Joshua one of the greatest leaders in the history of Israel. A man whose heart is wholly obedient to God, Joshua led tribes of Israel into the Promised Land where they conquered the might Canaanite armies and took control of much territory.
Years have passed by. Joshua is now an old man, soon to die. The people of Israel have grown complacent about their faith. They are finding themselves being slowly assimilated into the decadent Canaanite culture, and they are beginning to commit the blasphemy of worshiping pagan Canaanite gods.
Joshua calls for a meeting of the tribes at Shechem under an old oak tree. It is a day of reckoning, a day of decision. a day when they will have to choose where their allegiance lies. Is it with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or with the lesser gods of Canaan—Baals– those nature gods whose worship was a rampage of gluttony, drunkenness, and ritual prostitution.
We all face a similar decision in the life of our families. Where does our allegiance lie? Who is ultimately our ringmaster—whom do we center our priorities around—who is the god we worship? The answer to that question directly determines the depth of love, meaning and joy we find in our family life. To simply assimilate into our surrounding culture is to invite anarchy in our homes. And by anarchy, I mean a household where everyone is out for number one—where it’s all about me, not we.
Whenever I do family counseling, I always keep track of the number of times I hear two words and their antecedents mentioned in the session—“me” and “we.” Invariably, the pronoun “me” is stated over and over and over—“My needs are not being met;” “My parents aren’t doing enough for me;” “What about me?”
I guess it’s inevitable, given the narcissistic culture in which we live, to simply believe that everyone else in our family exists to serve our own wishes and wants.
And so we demand our own way, we refuse to compromise, we will not meet in the middle, never putting the needs our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters before our own.
I see families everyday who are ripped asunder by such self-centered attitudes. There is no room for love, meaning or joy found in such homes where everyone is worshiping the ringmaster of self.
As Dwight L. Moody once put it, “God sends no one away empty except those who are full of themselves.”
A lot of homes are filled with empty people, devoid of love, meaning and joy.
Our Lord desires a better way, a family life filled with mutual, sacrificial love. Where it’s all about we, not me. We pull together, we all row the boat, we all have skin in the game, giving instead of taking from one another.
How does this happen? It’s all about….
DEVELOPING A GOD CONSCIOUSNESS
It’s about intentionally inviting the Almighty into the life of our family in everyday, practical ways. It is to take the adamant, unequivocal affirmation of Joshua and make it our goal- As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!
Joshua knows Psalm 127 to be true, that “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” So should we!
How does such a thing happen? How do we go about making an environment in our home where our Lord is the Ringmaster? Let me offer some practical steps we glean from Joshua….
Create a Covenant – Joshua calls the people of Israel to make a covenant with God, a promise to obey him. They all agree to devote their lives to worshiping him and him only.
In the context of family, a good starting point to making the Almighty the Ringmaster is to establish an agreed-upon covenant or promise to share a family devotions time each day, perhaps at the beginning of the morning, or around dinner time, or just before bed. And all the family members agree upon the format of the devotions—they should include reading and discussion of scriptures, prayer, perhaps music and singing, even art, sculpture, etc. Some families have their own private Facebook page, where each member contributes uplifting comments, insights, etc.
Set a Stone – Joshua sets a large stone in place there at Shechem. It will serve as an altar to remind the people of their promise, and will be a sacred place where they can return to again and again to worship the Lord.
We need to “set a stone” in our homes—to have a sacred place where we can gather for devotions, where there is something to remind us of our spiritual roots and the promises we have made to one another.
Some families carve a crude cross or create a stained-glass sun catcher. The whole idea is to create a sense of sacred space where you can come together as a family to be reminded of God’s presence.
See the Sacred – Perceive the Godincidences around you. Just as God led Joshua, God wants to speak to you and your family each day of your life, not just here on Sunday mornings. And he does it through a myriad of ways.
For example, did you ever consider that movies can open tremendous windows to discuss faith issues.
I’ll never forget an evening when Tyler and Allison were teens. We were watching a rerun of Forrest Gump. Lt. Dan is railing and raging against God, extremely embittered over having lost his legs. He’s furious over Forrest Gump saving his life in firefight in Vietnam. He had a death wish, but now he has to face life as a paraplegic. And he’s nothing more than a nasty, sad human being.
But there comes a moment in that movie when Lt. Dan comes to terms with his circumstances. He jumps over the railing of the shrimp boat and relaxes, swimming in the baptizing Gulf waters as the sun sets in the west. He will later thank Forrest for saving his life.
And Forrest Gump makes the narration that although Lt. Dan never came out and said so, he had made his peace with God—to which my son commented, “I guess that’s where Lt. Dan got redeemed.”
Whether or not the producers intended it, many movies do have such God moments in them, moments that offer us the opportunity to share faith insights with our families.
Indeed, all of life is a church—get out and enjoy sunrises and sunsets, concerts, sporting events, camping trips, hikes—experiences where you see God’s handiwork on display, and take the time to talk about it together.
Adopt a Mission - The family that assists together, persists together. The nation of Israel had a definite purpose, and that was to be the light of God’s saving love to all the world. And that is precisely the purpose of the family, to be that same light of God’s love to others.
Load up the minivan and go serve a meal at the soup kitchen, or visit someone in a nursing home, or go drive nails at the Habitat for Humanity project. It’ll be the best day of your week, and your family’s week, as well.
Yes, who is the Ringmaster of your home? Is it the Lord?
In the midst of the epic, tragic flooding hitting Missouri and Arkansa last week there was a tremendous testimony of faith.
A mother and her two small children were evacuated to an emergency shelter. As they stood among the sea of folding cots, the TV reporter asked her, “M’am, I heard you lost everything, including your home.” To which this mother replied very defiantly as she pulled her two kids close to her, “We still have a home—we just don’t have a house to put it in, but we still have a home! And the good Lord is going to see us through!”
Now here’s a question to ponder: “If I lost everything I had, including my house, would I still have a home?”
Joshua compels us to search our hearts with these words, “Choose this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!”