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Romans 12:9-13

            Betty sat at her college graduation seething with anger.  Her father had not come.  He had always seemed too busy to come to her important events.  The farm work always came first.  Betty had to put herself through college, and she desperately wanted her family to be proud of this achievement.  She had even sent her father two graduation invitations.  But he had told her that if graduation day was a good planting day, then he would have to stay home and work on the farm.  It turned out that it was a gorgeous planting day, and her father obviously stayed home.

          Betty felt lost among the sea of beaming graduates and their proud families.  All around her were students exclaiming over jewelry, cars, and other elaborate gifts from their families.  Betty was so alone.  Then, in the crush of people, someone called her name.  Betty turned to see her father sitting in a section far ahead of the parent’s section.  He had been there!  And he was crying.  He was also wearing a new suit.  Betty had only known him to buy a new suit for special occasions in his life.  The family just couldn’t afford otherwise.  Not only was he there, but he was in a new suit.

          He handed her a crumpled envelope.  Betty was afraid to open it because she felt nothing could compare to having him attend her graduation.  Finally, she opened it.  Inside was a letter from her father telling her how proud he was of her and how ashamed he had felt for not being able to help her with her college costs.  He apologized for not being there when she needed him.  Also, he wrote of the time in his childhood when his family lost their farm.  That event had shaped his life of relentless hard word to care for his own farm.  It had been paid in full, and now he was giving it to her.  That is what he had worked for all these years.   (from A SECOND HELPING OF CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL).

          All families have their struggles.  But it is those who resolve them that create a real family spirit.  In Romans 12:9-13, there are ten vital elements of family spirit for both the church family and the personal family.  I am applying this passage to our personal families by asking the following questions on this Father’s Day.

  1. IS SINCERE LOVE EXPRESSED TO EACH MEMBER OF THE FAMILY?  Love must be sincere.”  (v.9) 

There has been a lot said about birth order in the formation of personality.We know that the first born gets most of the attention and sometimes other children feel like their needs have not been met through the years.But one sure way to equalize this situation in a family is for each child to know that they are special and are loved by being told and by seeing the sincerity of their parents.A child knows how much he or she is valued.A teenager feels secure in the love of parents when he or she is highly valued and not seen as a problem.

          Sincere love has no hidden agenda, no falsity, and no hypocrisy.  Sincere love is not conditional.  A family member must be loved regardless of what they have done.  You do not have to bless them in what they have done or condone them in sinful actions, but you do have to love them unconditionally.  One of the hardest things for parents to deal with is alternative life styles.  A father called to ask me, “What shall I do?  Both my son and daughter have chosen alternative lifestyles.”  “Love them unconditionally,” I said.  “But always hold before them the biblical teaching.”  Family love must be sincere and unselfish.

  1. DOES ANY KIND OF EVIL HAVE AN INFLUENCE ON YOUR FAMILY?  “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (v.9)

          A family must never lose their sensitivity to what is right and wrong according to the teachings of Holy Scripture.  It is not enough to teach children to just avoid evil.  You must teach them to hate it.  This is a strong word, but it emphasizes that a family is not safe until the children can see the beauty of holiness and the ugliness of sin.  Children and youth must be taught to love the right and not just to fear the consequences of wrong.  Parents should passionately eradicate all forms of evil from their home.  If the children see the parents compromising with evil they will do it too.  So this burning passion for right according to biblical standards must be first in the father and mother before it will take hold in the children.  If the parents don’t set the pattern, then the secular society will capture the hearts and minds of the children.

  1. IS THERE A FEELING THAT EACH ONE IS DEVOTED TO THE OTHER?  “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” (v.10)

          Brothers and sisters have their spats growing up and usually work through them.  It is tragic when in adulthood brothers and sisters take advantage of each other in economic matters and allow a breach to be formed in the family.  The way to prevent this is to  instill in them as children that they must always be devoted to each other and look out for each other.  They must be taught to never allow themselves to grow distant from each other.  If the bonds are tight enough during the years they are at home they will most likely endure through their adult years.

  1. DOES EACH ONE HONOR OTHERS ABOVE THEMSELVES?  “Honor one another above yourselves.”  (v.10)

          Most of the tension in a family comes because someone feels that their rights and privileges have been violated, or someone has been neglected.  Have you felt a family member’s spirit close to you?  That is exactly what a child’s spirit will do when a parent is not wise in handling a matter.  A spouse will close his or her spirit to the other.  Some family members have had closed spirits to each other for years.  Sometimes they never open again.  This is particularly true of spouses.  The way to prevent a family member from closing his or her spirit to you is to let them know that you honor them above yourself.

  1. DOES YOUR FAMILY SERVE THE LORD WITH FERVOR? “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” (v.11)

          Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, “If I were called upon to identify the principal trait of the entire 20th Century, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy that this statement:  Men have forgotten God.”

          It is the responsibility of the father to be the priest in his own home.  God holds the father responsible for the spiritual well- being of each member of the family.  The father should see that there are family prayers and Bible Reading.  The father is responsible for seeing that his family serves the Lord in a way that will build up the kingdom.  What does your family do to serve the Lord in the church and community?

  1. IS THERE JOY IN YOUR HOME?  “Be joyful in hope…” (v.12)

          Joy is that quality that really creates family spirit.  If the family enjoys being together and faces the future with joy, their spirit soars.  There is joy if the family knows that they can count on each other.  Joy is not dependent on circumstances.  It is dependent on each other.

          Joy develops as we take time to bond with each other.  Dennis Rainey tells his story of being the first to cross the Atlantic in a hot air balloon.  Things went well until they got just off the coasts of Ireland.  There they went through a heavy cloud cover and ice formed on the balloon causing them to drop from 20,000 feet to 10,000 feet in a few minutes.  They knew that they would have to take drastic measures to save the balloon so they tossed overboard everything of weight including cameras, supplies, and even food.  At 4,000 feet they radioed their location and then through the radio overboard.  They continued to descend.  Finally, at 3,000 feet they were out of the clouds and could see the ocean below them.  The ice began to break away and they soared on and landed in France with great joy. 

          Families have to throw overboard things that are robbing them of their joy and are causing them to sink.  Is your family losing altitude.?  Do whatever is necessary to soar again in joy.

  1.  DOES YOUR FAMILY DEAL WITH HARDSHIPS IN PATIENCE?”  “…patient in affliction…”  (v.12)

          Every family goes through hardships.  Every child has his or her own special struggles.  We must learn to be patient with each other in the struggles.

          Dr. James Dobson illustrates what I mean.  He said, “When I was a very small child, maybe two years of age, my family lived in a one-bedroom apartment, and my little bed was located beside the bed of my parents.  My father said that it was common during that time for him to awaken at night to hear a little voice whispering, ‘Daddy, Daddy?’ He would answer quietly, ‘What Jimmy?’  And I would say, ‘Hold my hand.’  My dad would reach across the darkness and grope for my little hand finally engulfing it in his.  He said later that the instant he had my hand firmly in his grip my arm would become limp and my breathing deep and regular.  I would immediately fall back to sleep.  You see, I only want to know that he was there.  Then, so very quickly, I found myself in Dad’s place.  And I wanted to be there for my children—not just a name on a birth certificate, but a strong, warm, loving presence in their lives.  You see, a dad occupies a place in a child’s heart that no one else can satisfy.”  (From Dr. James Dobson’s Bulletin)

  1. IS YOUR FAMILY FAITHFUL IN PRAYER FOR EACH OTHER?  “…faithful in prayer…”  (v.12)

          Family togetherness is heightened when family members know that they are being prayed for.  Start this now if you are not already doing it.  Husbands, pray for your wives and children when you say the blessing at meals.  Wives, pray for and with your husbands.  Let your children know that as they say their prayers, you will pray for them.  Do it so they can hear what you say to God about them.

          How long has it been since you prayed for each member of your family?  Do you have knowledge that they are praying for you?

          It is still true – the family that prays together stays together.

  1. DOES YOUR FAMILY HELP OTHERS WHO ARE IN NEED?  (“Share with God’s people who are in need.”  (v.13)

          Every family must look beyond themselves.  We live in a world that is structured to “get.”  If children learn only to receive and not to give, their lives will be like the Dead Sea which is always taking in water and not giving any out.  It builds family esteem to do something together that will benefit someone in need.  This can be done through the church or some community agency or mission project.  I am not talking about giving money.  I am talking about giving of the family’s time and energy to give a “cup of cold water” in Jesus’ name.

  1. IS YOUR HOME A PLACE OF HOSPITALITY?  “Practice Hospitality.”  (v.13)

          A family will never have a good family spirit in a selfish home.  A good family spirit will be found where there are open hands, open hearts, and open doors.  The same is true of our church.

          In her book entitled Mudhouse Sabbath, Lauren Winner shares about her first encounter with Christian hospitality:

Few situations make me as uncomfortable as being a newcomer in a church where I know nothing and no one. Everyone else knows when to stand and sit and bow and smile, and everyone else has someone to talk to during coffee hour, and there I stand, awkward and ill at ease, my inner introvert yelling at me to go home and curl up with a novel … .

That was how it was my second Sunday in Charlottesville. I was at Christ Church, where I knew exactly two people. (One of them was my mother, and what single woman wants to get stuck at coffee hour eating donut holes with her mom?) After the service ended, I managed to silence my introvert long enough to introduce myself to a couple sitting in the pew behind me. "Hi," they said. "So pleased to meet you." I complimented the wife's shoes, the husband asked if I enjoyed the sermon, and then they said, "If you don't have plans for the Fourth of July, please come to our party."

Growing up Jewish, Winner had already experienced hospitality in Judaism, known by the Hebrew phrase hachnassat orchim, or "bringing in the guests." Now, as a new Christian, these simple expressions of hospitality became almost commonplace. As a result, she quickly learned what the church was supposed to look like: a community of people practicing hospitality towards guests, strangers, outsiders, and the poor and vulnerable.

          Let’s make sure that all of these matters we have discussed today are true of our homes and of our church.

          This is what makes a church – a family! 

Praise Be To His Name!

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