Pastor Andrew's Corner appears as a guest column that publishes twice a month in The Tidewater News.
Why Families Break (and what to do about it!)
This week I’ve been focusing on relationships. Our focus in worship this Sunday at Courtland United Methodist Church is on how God likes to work to Un-Break our relationships, so I have been delving into the Biblical stories of relationships that broke and looking at how God did the work of restoration in some of those broken relationships. I didn’t really intend to focus on one particular type of relationship as I began to explore. I had in mind friendships, marriages, work relationships, siblings, neighbors and more, but the more I looked at the stories in scripture of broken relationships, the more I realized we have one type of relationship that has a habit of breaking: families.
Starting with the first family, in the first book of the Bible (Genesis), we see how easily things get broken in our relationships with our families. If the first sin was eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, the second sin was blaming your spouse for your poor choices (see Genesis 3:12). The brokenness in the first family only grows from there as Cain and Abel develop the first sibling rivalry which leads to the first murder! There is something both disturbing and comforting in recognizing that the brokenness many of us have experienced in our families goes all the way back to the beginning.
The book of Genesis is the most family focused book in the Bible, because much of the story in Genesis is based on a single family. In Genesis 12, God calls Abraham (called “Abram” at that point), to pick up his family and follow God—and the rest of the book is all about Abraham and his family. There is a lot of brokenness even in God’s chosen family. Abraham’s grandson Jacob tricks his father Isaac into giving him the blessing reserved for his firstborn brother Esau and then flees when Esau tries to kill him. Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph is sold as a slave by his brothers who got tired of Joseph being their father’s favorite with dreams of grandeur. The brokenness in God’s chosen family is clear, even from a quick reading through the book of Genesis. In fact, the level of broken relationships in Genesis is greater than just about anything else we see in the rest of the Bible.
In my experience as a pastor, brokenness in families is not something that is only recorded in Genesis. I have sat down to talk with many people who need someone to listen to the stories of brokenness in their families. Often those stories begin years (if not decades) ago with someone making a choice that broke something. Those initial events are sometimes big deals and sometimes minor slights, but what they all have in common is that no one ever worked to resolve the break. Many times there is money involved in the squabble, and the love of money usually breaks things! Family brokenness has the unusual habit of growing worse over the years. Where friends who have a rift may discover over time that they can’t even remember what the fight was about, the wounds caused by family fights often fester and get worse if they are not tended to. The result is that it is not uncommon to discover family members who have been feuding (or ignoring each other) for many years because neither of them are willing to be the one to say, “I’m sorry” or even “what happened that day?”
I am not a professional counselor, so I’m not going to wade into the ways that we need to be working to heal the rifts in our family except to say this: it takes work. 1 Peter 3 offers some great advice about relationships:
8 Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. 9 Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. 10 For the Scriptures say,
“If you want to enjoy life
and see many happy days,
keep your tongue from speaking evil
and your lips from telling lies.
11 Turn away from evil and do good.
Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
Work at those relationships that matter, because your work will pay off. Swallow your pride and love your brothers and sisters as if they were your brothers and sisters. Offer blessing instead of repaying evil with evil. As you work for peace, you will, more often than not, find it. Set aside the idea that “I shouldn’t have to say that” or “they need to apologize first,” because, at the end of the day, the only person you can control in the relationship is you. If you want to invite God in to un-break your relationships, you have to be the one acting out that invitation in your love towards the people around you!
So go and get to work, you have some un-breaking to do!
Learning and studying to prepare a sermon or a new worship series is a joy for me. I love sitting down with scripture, a stack of other books about life and faith from many fields of study, and a blank page of my journal to wrestle with truth, faith, and how we can be shaped by God’s word and God’s Spirit in meaningful ways today. As I read, study, and pray, God usually speaks to me. Sometimes it is about small things in life, other times God helps me to see the big picture dynamics that have the power to control us. This last week was a big picture kind of week.
We are beginning a new worship series at Courtland United Methodist Church titled, “Un-Broken” which looks at how God heals our brokenness to create something more beautiful in us than we could have imagined. As I dived into my study, the first question on my mind was, “What are the areas of life where we experience brokenness?” As I looked for the most common areas of brokenness in life, I began to notice a trend: money was showing up over and over again. Most people live as though money is the thing that can help to solve our brokenness, but the reality is that money is more often the cause of brokenness than the solution!
Among the areas where we feel most broken are relationships, attitudes, dreams, passions, and faith. Often, in all of these areas, brokenness has come because another lover, dream, passion, or object of faith has replaced the one which was precious to us. That competing lover is almost always money. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10), and the more I have considered the causes of brokenness in our lives, the more convinced I am Paul was right. Not only was he right, but most people in American society today are, at a very deep level, lovers of money. This love has been deeply engrained in us out of the idea that money provides for our needs, money gives us security, power, and pleasure, and money is the ultimate failsafe to ensure that nothing bad can happen to us. The American psyche is obsessed with getting, spending, and saving money. Loving money is the water that we swim in, and just as fish can’t recognize that they are underwater (they have not experienced anything else!), so we too struggle to see how much of a hold money has on most of our lives.
When Paul uses the word “evil” in the verse I quoted above, we often think in spiritual terms and assume Paul’s warning is not practical for life. Most people think that “evil” is something that God will be upset about, but seldom do we stop to wonder why God calls “evil” evil. Evil is evil because the ways it impacts our lives and the lives of the people around us. Jesus said the author of evil is the one who comes to, “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10) and that is exactly what evil does in our lives. It steals, it kills, and it destroys. Evil leaves us truly broken because breaking you is the goal of evil. Evil ruins our lives. It breaks us, and while God is in the business of un-breaking us, none of us need extra levels of brokenness—we have enough already. Maybe a better way to read 1 Timothy 6:10 is this: “Thinking money can meet all of your needs and desires while giving you security for the future will RUIN YOUR LIFE.”
The more we love money, the more broken we are, because all the pieces of life that truly matter become casualties to our love of money. The more we hoard and save and cut costs the more our friends don’t think we value them (because we won’t pick up the tab at dinner or help them out when they have a need), our dreams wither on the vine (because they won’t make us money), and our faith shrivels (because we refuse the idea that we could give money to others). The love of money eventually lands us in Ebenezer Scrooge’s lonely, pitiful life (from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol) with our only hope being that God will send the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future to set us straight.
I am looking forward to the worship series on becoming Un-Broken, because brokenness is a reality in the life of every single human being. I am also hoping and praying that we might all be able to recognize just how entangled we are with our money so that we might be able to avoid some of the life-ruining brokenness that is headed our way if we continue as those who live out of a love of money.
Here is an exercise for you this week. Do something generous that is unexpected. Buy someone’s lunch. Send someone a present you know someone will like even though it is not their birthday. My personal favorite is to send people books I think they will enjoy. As you do this, pay attention to the part of you that protests against giving away money. Learn to recognize the growl because it is the growl of the love of money—and we need to kill it so we can truly become people who are Un-Broken.
We would love to have you join us this week at Courtland United Methodist Church as we begin our series on being Un-Broken. Family Worship is at 11:00. Whether you worship with us, elsewhere, or nowhere at all, my prayer is that you would recognize the growl of the love of money in your heart and learn to live in a way where your finances are a tool you use to value what is truly important rather than letting money control you!
Each day, we use the word “form” for many things. We use “form” to talk about a page we fill out to file our taxes or the “form” (mold) we use to create a Jell-O salad made in the “form” (or image) of a bunch of grapes. We use “form” to discuss the shape of most anything, from a “form-fitting outfit” to asking about the “form” of the new ramp connecting Courtland to Route 58. We also use the word “form” as a verb. We “form” clubs and teams, we also “form” clay into a clay bowl. We use the word “form” to discuss how we shape the word around us, but there is one type of forming we do not pay enough attention to: the form-ation of lives (our own and others).
We do not often talk about how we are forming our own lives or the lives of those around us, but each day, with each action and each decision, we are shaping ourselves and those close to us. Each time we make a decision, we are declaring to ourselves and our children, “this (whatever we have chosen) matters more than that (whatever we have rejected).” A single decision does not form us, but as single decisions lead to repeat decisions which develop to habits, we are forming in ourselves an understanding of what really matters. Those commitments will form us in ways that we may not expect or intend if we are not paying attention!
As a pastor, I am most aware of those decisions as they relate to the life of the church. As with any church, Courtland United Methodist Church has people with varying levels of involvement in the church and varying levels of commitment to following God. Over my decade plus in full-time ministry I have been amazed to watch how powerfully the habits of faith shape whether people (especially children) are growing more committed to following Jesus or moving towards the kind of faith that claims Jesus but does not follow him. I have seen families who were passionate followers of Jesus make a decision to place something (often sports) ahead of their involvement in the community of faith and watched as a single decision turned into a habit. Those habits resulted in a life where decisions based on following Jesus gradually took a smaller and smaller role until their lives looked no different than those of the people around them who did not profess to follow Jesus. Because I see the power, hope, and abundant life that come from truly living for Jesus, my heart breaks when I see those first decisions made because I know how they often end.
Jesus, as is often the case, put this truth simply and powerfully be saying “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be” (Matthew 6:21). Those things that we treasure (put first in life) by devoting our money, time, and priorities will gain our hearts. It is not enough to say we value something. We must live lives that prioritize those things we claim to value or we will soon discover that our hearts have changed to line up with those things are actually treasuring. Ebenezer Scrooge’s love of money in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a perfect example. Scrooge treasured money. He made decisions that led to habits which put money above all else in his life. Eventually, he discovered there was not room in his heart for anything else—even the woman he claimed to love—because his decisions and habits had rooted a love of money deeply in his soul.
James K. A. Smith, in his powerful book “You Are What You Love,” describes what happens. Every activity we take part in had some picture of the ideal “good life” in mind. If the activity is sports, the “good life” looks like your child becoming a professional or the thrill of your team winning it all. If the activity is making money, the “good life” is a life where you have the finances to purchase what you want when you want. If the activity is school, the “good life” is having the education you need to get the job you want (to make the money you want). Every activity we do has some goal even if it is as simple as the call to brush our teeth so we can live the “good life” of no cavities and healthy teeth!
Because each activity comes with a picture of the “good life,” each activity is also shaping us to love that idea of what is good. Chose an activity once and it probably won’t form you (or your family) too deeply. Choose an activity repeatedly and you will eventually discover that your picture of life’s goal—your idea of the “good life”—has been formed by those things you have chosen to treasure. Each time we make a decision, join an activity, or (especially) develop a habit, we are commit ourselves to different versions of “The Good Life.” Eventually that picture of life will claim our hearts whether we intend it or not.
The Good News for us is that Ebenezer Scrooge was redeemed. Despite his years of treasuring money and the version of the “Good Life” he had bought into, Scrooge was given a moment of grace (Christmas Eve in his case) where he could see the pitiful state of his heart and change his life and his habits. In the closing section of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge throws his money into caring for the people around him, creates time for family, and commits to new habits like paying Bob Cratchit a living wage. We too are afforded moments of grace where we can see what version of “The Good Life” we have bought into and reshape or lives. Maybe this is such a moment for you!
I hope you will take some time to look at the habits and decisions in your life. What version of “The Good Life” are you forming in your heart and the hearts of your family? What habits do you need to break or re-form so that “The Good Life” looks like the kind of life you want to spend your days pursuing?
Faith in a Microwave World
Recently, various social media outlets had a rash of posts about microwaving turkeys. The idea was to invite young adults to text their moms and ask “How long should I microwave a 25-pound turkey” and see what kind of responses they received. The responses from various moms were quite funny, but the fact that many moms thought their kids were trying to microwave a 25-pound turkey highlights just how much of a microwave world we live in.
We want everything to happen quickly, whether it be cooking in a microwave, expecting overnight shipping on any order we place, or looking for a major impact from diet, exercise, or any other life change in a few weeks. We are an impatient people who are encouraged to be ever more impatient by a world of marketing that tells us, constantly, that “you deserve it now” and “don’t wait to have the _____ of your dreams.”
The problem with our microwave mentality is things which really matter in life take time. True relationships take time. Living a balanced, healthy life takes time. Growing into the person you want to be takes time. Developing a life changing faith takes time. I have been married for over a decade and my relationship with my wife is much richer and deeper today than it was the day we got married. This is true not simply because the years have passed, but because we have intentionally developed our relationship as we have been together over the years. Relationships thrive in a slow-cooker. So does faith.
A common story in the church is to hear about people who have a powerful encounter with God during a time of worship and dive into a life of faith and service. For a time, faith is all sunshine and roses. However, when faith begins to get hard—such as in times of grief, hardship, or conflict—they throw in the towel and write the entire enterprise off as a mistake. These people expected faith to blossom quickly and always be easy and exciting, but you don’t have to look beyond the Jesus Christ, the Son of God himself, who was tortured and killed to see that faith is not always easy!
The challenge of developing long-term faith is not new to our microwave world. Jesus taught that there would be people who would struggle with slow cooking their faith. After talking about four different kinds of “seeds” that represent how different people respond to the Good News, Jesus said, “20 The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. 21 But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word” (Matthew 13:20-21). This is not a new problem, but the microwave expectations of our world make it especially hard to be people of faith today.
Faith is not a quick-fix to life. There is no equal to the power and strength of faith in helping us live life well, but having an encounter with God or “accepting” Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior are not one step methods for developing a deeply rooted faith that can support you during the challenges and hardships of life. Deep faith does not just happen. There are some people who have a gift of faith that wells up from a deep spring in their soul, but most us have to intentionally work to grow our faith—and we do it because we have seen something that we want in our lives.
Growing faith happens when we make practices of faith a priority. When we set aside time, energy, and resources to grow our faith, our faith grows. The season of Lent (the forty days leading up to Easter) is a time the church has set aside for growing in our practices of faith. Many people continue the practice of “giving something up” for Lent, but rarely do we take time to truly consider how our faith needs to grow before we give up chocolate!
This year, Lent begins on March 1, and I would like to invite you to take the rest of February to ask yourself a few questions. First, ask, “do I want my faith to grow enough that I will put time and energy into growing faith?” If the answer to that question is yes, ask this, “how can I grow my faith in a way that will truly feed my soul?” If you need some help answering this question, I will be walking the community at Courtland United Methodist Church through a new type of faith practice each week in February through Facebook Live and YouTube videos (follow me on Facebook or find the videos on our website at courtlandumcva.org). You can also sign up for updates by emailing the church office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grow your roots this year! Faith is worth the effort, but you will likely never discover life-sustaining faith if you are not willing to put in the time to slow cook your faith!