Discovering Life's Purpose

Part 2 of 4: "We Are Family"

Last week you'll remember we began this 4 -week series by discussing our first purpose in life is to bring pleasure to God. And the chief means in which we do this is through worship. Not just worship here on Sunday mornings, but worshiping God in all aspects of our lives by doing everything as if we are doing it for Jesus.

Well today we'll talk about our second purpose of life, which is we were created to be God's family.

God wants a family, and he created you and me to be a part of it. Our reading from First John tells us this in the very first verse, "How great is the love of the father that he has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God."

Don't we all feel this sense of wanting to be part of a family, regardless of its make-up? We want to be part of a group who cares for one another and looks out for one another. We want to know that there are people we can confide in, get support from, and in turn help when they have needs.

Unfortunately, some turn to gangs, cults and other such organizations because they are the only welcoming people they can find. But this is not God's intent of what family is.

If we feel this need for family if must come from God, since we were created from God's, and since God is a God of love and treasures relationships. So it stands to reason God wants a family also, and we, as followers of Christ, have the privilege to be part of God's family.

If you think about it the entire Bible is a story of God building a family, a family who will love him, honor him and cherish him forever. The Bible is one big family album or family history.

Do the words love, honor, cherish that I just mentioned sound familiar?

I just shared them yesterday in a wedding as part of the couples wedding vows. Perhaps those of you who are married remember using similar words as you made your vows one to the other, in the presence of God. When we marry we agree to love, honor, and cherish one another in sickness and in heath, in times of plenty and in times of need, until death we do part. Know that God has taken these vows also, with regards to his family, and holds up his end of the covenant with us, God as parent and we as God's children.

Because God is who God is, he didn't need a family. But God desired a family, so he created us, made us part of his family so he could share all he has with us. When we place our faith in Christ, God becomes our father, we become his children, other believers become our brothers and sisters, and the church becomes our spiritual family. And the family of God includes all believers past, present, and future. This is why All Saints Day is such a meaningful event. It's like a big family reunion as we remember those that have gone on to be with the Lord.

And in many ways our spiritual family is even more important than our physical family because it will last forever.

Now as we all know "family life" can have its ups and downs, can't it? We see this played out in the Bible as well. If the Bible is a story of God building a family, then there is certain to be some stories of disharmony within the family. And as we know the Bible is full of stories of less than ideal family conditions.

We certainly see disharmony played out in our physical families also, don't we? We are all created differently, and when you put a bunch of free thinking, different people together, things can get real interesting, real fast.

Now often times these experiences can be good, fulfilling, and growing times. But at other times family life can be lonely, abusive, destructive, nasty, unproductive, and down right no fun at all. And lets be quit honest this dynamic is true of our spiritual families, our church families, as well.

All our family lives are different, the dynamics, the make-up, our traditions, our beliefs, our relationships, and so on. So it's difficult to address all that in just a few minutes, so what I want to focus on is, what is God's idea of family. If we understand what God's desire is, then we can each go back to our own families and begin dealing with the issues we face.

Healthy families have a sense of pride about who they are. Members of a family aren't ashamed to be recognized as a part of the family. The way we're typically recognized as members of a family today is through our birth, we may look similar to our parents or siblings, we have similar characteristics, and we take the last name of the family to which we belong. All of these are ways we are identified as being part of a family. You've heard the saying, "the fruit doesn't fall far from the tree." In many respects this is true because over time we develop the characteristics of the family we belong to whether we are born in the family, adopted, or have become part of one, one way or another.

The way we're recognized and incorporated into God's family is through baptism. Through baptism we are saying publicly, " I'm not ashamed to be part of God's family." This is one reason baptism and confirmation are not be private affairs, but rather are events to take place in a public setting. Unless it's an emergency, I personally will not do a private baptism. The sacrament of baptism is meant to be a very public event, signifying our participation in the fellowship of God's eternal family.

Both baptism and confirmation declares your faith, shares Christ's burial and resurrection, symbolizes your death to an old life, and announces your new life in Christ. In a very real way baptism and confirmation are a celebration of our inclusion in God's family. You may have noticed that when I baptize an infant, or anybody for that matter, I anoint their forehead with oil by making the sign of the cross, using these words: I say the persons name then, "child of God you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever," symbolizing in a very real way that the person has been marked for God's family, much like the Jews circumcise their young boys. Circumcision is a mark of their faith, which can never be reversed.

Same is true of baptism. If you are baptized you are marked as a child of God whether you become faithful or not. The mark can never be removed.

But lets also be clear that the act of baptism itself unless followed by a profession of faith does not make you a member of God's eternal family; only faith in Christ does that. But baptism and confirmation does show others in a visible way that you are a part of God's family.

Like a wedding ring, baptism and confirmation are an outward sign of an inward and spiritual grace, meaning the act of baptism and confirmation are outward expressions of a commitment being made in our hearts, a commitment to God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, as he was pointing to his disciples, "these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my father in heaven is my brother and sister..." (Matt 12: 49-50) Being included in God's family is the highest honor and the greatest privilege we will ever receive.

In a family what matters most? Where we live, how we live, what schools are kids go to, whether we eat all our meals together? Certainly these are all important considerations, but what matters most in any family, physical or spiritual, is love. Because God is love, the most important lesson God wants us to learn is how to love. This is because in loving we become more like God, and this is summed up very well Galatians 5: 14, which says, "Love others as you love yourself." Not always an easy task is it? It's hard to love someone sometimes when they have upset you, made you mad, or annoyed you to no end. This is why we are given a life-time to learn just how to love.

If love is not the top priority of our life what's the point. Love is not simply the good part of our life; it's the most important part. The Bible says, "let love be your greatest aim," (John 13:35) not fame or fortune. To be quit blunt, life without love is worthless.

Often times we act as if relationships are something to be squeezed into our schedules. We talk about finding time to be with our children or grandchildren, or we talk about making time to be with our spouse or other people in our lives. And I confess I fall into this trap myself. The last two weeks I have been so busy, clearly family relationships have taken a backseat to everything else.

And yes this will happen, and perhaps needs to happen from time to time, but it should not be the norm. We need to be careful not to fall into the trap of believing relationships are just a part of our lives, along with everything else we want to do. God says relationships are what life is all about. And if we don't take this seriously our children and grandchildren will seek family elsewhere in gangs and cults to name two.

At every wedding I officiate I remind the couple standing before me, as well as all those in the congregation, that when we get married our priorities are God first, spouse and family second. Everything else falls behind these first two priorities. The first 4 Ten Commandments speak to our relationship with God, while the other 6 speak to our relationship with other people. To me this sends a clear message that God feels relationships, and more specifically, loving relationships are absolutely important. Relationships, not fame or fortune, is what matters in life, period.

Well if relationships are so important why do so many seem to get little attention and unfortunately many fail? And I'm speaking about all types of relationships, marriages, parent-child, friends, co-workers, and so on, all the many different relationships humans develop.

Today, the number one reason relationships stray or fall apart, I believe, is the busyness of the schedules we try to keep. When we get so busy we start taking away from the one thing God says we need to attend to, our relationships, and we apply more energy and time to other demanding things.

Rick Warren says, "Busyness is a great enemy of relationships. We become preoccupied with making a living, doing our work, paying bills, and accomplishing goals as if these tasks are the point of life. They're not. The point of life is learning to love, God and people. Life minus love equals zero."

Interesting last statement. And when you think about it, it's true. Life minus love does equal zero.

The one thing love has over everything else, is that love is eternal, nothing else is. Money, success, fame, all have finite lives, but love lives on forever.

One great thing about love is that it leaves a legacy. Think about a funeral you've attended recently. Often times what's spoken of in the eulogy is the love the person had, not the car, or the house. The impact that person had on others is usually the main topic of discussion, not only at the funeral, but at the fellowship time following the funeral, and during discussions among family and friends as they share memories of the deceased person.

That's not to say that the family never had problems or that some awlful things didn't happen, but in the end God leaves with us the memories of love, the many good things about the person we knew.

And I think this is true in all areas of life. I remember many years ago right before I got out of the Navy, someone telling me that over time all the bad things you experienced or the things that you didn't like about the Navy will disappear, and you'll remember all the good things.

As I look back on it now that person was right. When I think about my time in the Navy the memories that surface first are the good times and the relationships. Now if I think hard enough I can certainly remember the bad stuff as well, but that's not what God brings to mind first. Love is the secret of a lasting legacy.

Mother Teresa said, "It's not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters." How much love do we put into our relationships, into our families?

Because family is such an important part of our lives I want to now spend a few minutes addressing the issue of restoring our broken relationships. And I will just briefly touch on this today with the hope it will spur us all to further reflect on this issue. Because life is all about learning how to love, God wants us to value relationships and make the effort to maintain them instead of simply discarding them when things go wrong.

As a matter of fact as you read the New Testament, a significant portion of it teaches us how to get along. The Apostle Paul taught that our ability to relate to one another and to get along with others is a mark of our spiritual maturity. (Romans 15:5) The main reason Paul wrote his letters to the Corinthians was because people weren't getting along, particularly within the church.

If we want God's blessing on our lives and we want to be known as children of God, we must learn to be peacemakers. Jesus said, "God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called children of God." (Matthew 5:9)

Notice Jesus didn't say blessed are the peace lovers, lets face it just about every one loves peace. Jesus also didn't say blessed are those who live in peace. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who work for peace, " those who actively seek to resolve conflict, those who are willing to take responsibility for creating conflict, and those who are willing to say I was wrong and now I want to make peace with those I have hurt.

Make no mistake about it peacemaking is hard work, this is why people just prefer to ignore others or give the silent treatment when something has hurt them. Peacemaking is hard work! But because we are created to be part of God's family and the second purpose of our life is to learn how to love and relate to others, peacemaking is one of the most important skills we ought to develop.

Let's also be clear that peacemaking is not avoiding conflict. Simply running from a problem, pretending it doesn't exist, or being afraid to talk about it is cowardice, it's not peacemaking. Jesus, the Prince of peace, was never afraid of conflict. He was all the time confronting others. This does not mean we don't need some time to cool off or to just get our thoughts together, because often times we do. I know I do when I get upset or frustrated with something or someone. But we shouldn't avoid making peace.

Now having said this there are times we need to avoid conflict, there are also times when we need to create conflict, and there are other times when we need to resolve it. This is why prayer is so important and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit is so necessary. God will tell us what action we ought to take. But I caution you, don't simply seek God wanting him to confirm what action you want to take. Be open to the action God wants you to take.

Peacemaking is also not always giving in, being a doormat for someone to walk all over. Jesus stood his ground on many issues even in the face of much opposition. We too need to stand our ground when we have been the receiver of poor treatment. As believers, God has "called us to settle our relationships with each other." (2 Corinthians 5:18)

To help us settle our relationship issues there are seven biblical steps you can use.

  1. Talk to God before talking to the person. Discuss the problem with God before speaking to a friend or anyone else. Often times God will change the heart of you or the other person before a word is spoken. As King David did use prayer as a means to vent to God. Get it all off your chest, allow God to be the one who hears your frustrations and feel your emotions.
  2. Take the initiative. It doesn't matter who the offender is or who the offended person is, God expects his family members to take the first step, to take the initiative to restore a relationship. Jesus felt this was such a priority he commanded that we work to restore broken relationships above even worship. Jesus said, "If you enter your place of worship and, your about to make an offering, but you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God." (Matthew 5: 23-24) God wants us to worship with a clean heart and clean mind, not with one preoccupied with grudges.
  3. Sympathize with the other person feelings. Use your ears more than your mouth. Before a solution can be discussed the issue must be out on the table completely so that there is understanding of the issue. Look for feelings instead of facts when listening. Begin with sympathy not solutions. How many times have we spoken first, only to make matters worse.
  4. Confess your part of the conflict. If we truly want to restore a relationship we must be willing to admit our own mistakes and sin. None of us are perfect. Even thinking nasty thoughts about a person who has wronged us is a sin, and we need to acknowledge this.
  5. Attack the problem not the person. We can't fix a problem if we're consumed with pointing fingers. The Bible says, "A gentle response defuses anger; but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire." (Proverbs 15:1) Attacking the person rather than the problem tends to make matters worse and heightens conflict rather than lessening it.
  6. Cooperate as much as possible. Paul said, "Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody." (Romans 12:18) Peace comes at a cost. Sometimes it costs us our pride, our self-centeredness, and in extreme cases maybe our lives. Christ gave his life for peace.
  7. Emphasize reconciliation, not resolution. And there is an import distinction here. It's unrealistic to expect everyone to agree about everything. Sometimes reconciliation means agreeing to disagree. Reconciliation focuses on relationship, while resolution focuses on the problem. Often times when we focus on reconciliation, the problem loses significance and often becomes irrelevant. We can re-establish a relationship even if we are unable to resolve our differences. We all have legitimate, honest disagreements and differing opinions, but members of God's family are able to disagree without being disagreeable. This doesn't mean we give up on finding a solution to our differences, it means we do it in the spirit of harmony, in the spirit of family.

I call upon you take your responsibility as a member of God's family seriously, and to give thanks to God for the opportunity to be members of his eternal family, as well as all the other families we each are part of. I thank God that I am part of this family, here today, and pray that we as a family will serve as shining example of how God's family is suppose to live in love.


Read Part 3 of Discovering Life's Purpose: "We are Family"