I Don’t Want My Family Here
In 2001 John Grissom published a book called Skipping Christmas. The short story focuses on Luther and Nora Krank who decide to avoid the madness of the Christmas holiday when they find out that their daughter will miss Christmas because she will be spending a year in Peru working with the Peace Corps.
In an effort to help his wife who is struggling with the fact that the family won’t be together for the holidays Luther decides that they should skip all of the Christmas stress and spend the holiday on a ten day Caribbean Cruse. While Nora Krank is not sure at first, she eventually warms up to the idea, and they tell their friends and neighbors that this year there will be no Black Friday shopping, no tree, no decorations in the yard, and no Christmas Eve Party. Their decision is not met well with their neighbors or local charities and the Kranks find themselves as outcasts in their community.
The plot twists when their daughter calls on Christmas Eve to tell them she’s on her way home to surprise her parents for Christmas. In an instant the Kranks have to scramble to make preparations to celebrate Christmas so that they can spend time with their family.
I am fond of the story because I understand the stress in getting ready for the holidays. Everyone of us can tell our own story of our struggle with Christmas stress, which is a bit ironic since this is supposed to be a time of peace on earth and goodwill towards man. Maybe you have noticed that we show the least amount of tolerance during a time that is to be distinguished by peace.
I truly believe that the best part of Christmas is being together with members of our family. And I truly believe that the worst part of Christmas is being together with members of our family. We all know that Christmas is a time for family, but sometimes there is a lot of stress when it comes with being with family. In fact, because of past mistakes in our relationships, the relationships may be more known for anger, heartache and confusion rather than peace and good will.
It’s a lot like church. As we end this series on No Vacancy we are going to spend our time looking at one last group of folks we might not want to be a part of our church family. During this series I have tried to be very honest with the scriptures and our own humanity. I still believe that everyone here would shout from the very rooftops that they wanted the church to grow. But just like in the pages of scripture there are some folks we wish would place their membership somewhere else, like my relatives.
Now I wonder who you are thinking about? You see when we talk about family I tend to think about Trista and the boys, or my parents, or Trista’s parents. The folks I choose not to think about would be folks that are my 3rd cousin twice removed who has spent more time in prison than He has in the bathtub.
Normally when we think about our family we use the same thought pattern that we do about other folks. We tend to think only about people that we are fond of or who are like us. And those people that we only bump into at the family reunion are not really close enough to us to be kin, regardless of the blood line. But the truth is that Black Sheep in the family are not just relegated to 3rd cousins.
Every week we have gone to the scriptures to see that this is not a Park Central or a Texas or an American problem. We have found the truth of the scripture that this is a human problem, and we will be able to do the same today. Look with me at Luke 15 and we will start by reading verses 11-16. (Read Text)
The young man in the parable was like a girl Trista and I know. She told us one time "The only time I am homesick is when I am at home." She wanted to be anywhere but here. That’s exactly where the younger son was in the parable, and he was the Black Sheep of the family. He was impetuous and doing things the acceptable way was not acceptable for him. He wanted it now. He wanted out of the Father's house, and to get away from his family, his brother and his father. There was this big world out there that had all kinds of experiences that he longed to experience and he would worry about paying the bill later.
The truth is that the black sheep in the family is not always a distant relative; the family we don’t talk about in public, they are not always a cousin or an uncle; the fact is some times we don’t want to talk about our brother or son. And they are not a little off, or a little weird but they have spent time with prostitutes, and drunks. They have wasted their money on the immediate satisfaction of drugs, and alcohol, and wild parties, and now there is nothing left.
We all want to project this illusion that we are refined and respectable, but the truth is that if you knew my real family then that illusion would be shattered. That’s the reason when we are dating someone we are pretty particular about who we introduce them to until after the wedding. We feel like after the “I Do’s” are said it’s ok to pull out the family album and tell the whole truth.
Not only did this young man in our text waste everything, just when you think he had hit rock bottom, he found a shovel and started digging. Here we have a Jewish boy working with pigs, and then he digs a little deeper because not only did he defile himself by working with unclean animals he desired to eat what they were eating. He did not just disgrace the family but apparently there were members of the family who wished he would just disappear and never be seen again. Let’s pick the text up in verse 25 and read through verse 30. (Read Text)
The older son found out that the Black Sheep was home from doing who knows what with who knows who and he didn’t want to be associated with someone who would sink to those depths, and it didn’t matter of they shared DNA or not. Before you get to hard on the older brother, you need to ask yourself if you can understand where he is coming from, or at least relate just a little to his plight.
The older brother was livid that this degenerate was welcomed back with open arms.
He was arrogant in thinking that his brother was a worse sinner than he was.
He was resentful that his little brother went off and had a good time while he labored at the house. Everything was supposed to be his and now was he going to have to share?
You see the older brother was a little home sick as well, he didn't want to be with his family, his brother or his father.
It’s not as strange as you might think. As a matter of fact there have been several times during the years I have had folks tell me that they didn’t want their family coming to church with us. Well they may not have used those exact words, but they have been pretty clear about their intentions. Not every reason is because they are ashamed of their family, sometimes they are trying to protect their family, or they believe that they are doing the best thing. But they would still prefer to hang out the no vacancy sign when it comes to their own family.
For example Some people don’t want their family members approached because in the past people have been hurtful.
When we were working with a church on the other side of the river we had a wonderful lady in our congregation that was a joy to be around. There were several times that she asked me not to go and speak with her husband, about his soul and it all stemmed from an incident that happened at a funeral in our building.
Several years before we started working with this congregation, this family had lost their son who was killed in an accident. During his funeral they took a moment for folks from the audience to come forward and say some things that they remembered about this young man. Everything was going fine until a man stood up and said, this young man did not live a good life and he is now burning in hell, and if the rest of you don’t straighten up you will be there with him.
One remark made in ignorance caused this wonderful lady to put up a no vacancy sign for her husband. Now her husband was kind, and compassionate, and would do anything you asked him to do. But the hurt that his family received on that day drove a wedge between he and his wife. He wanted nothing to do with Christianity or God and they argued over the fact that she did. She truly believed that any discussion we could have had would just reopened old wounds, so it was better for her marriage if he just stayed away.
Then some people don’t want their family members approached because the spouse or relative has tried and if you could bring them to the Lord, it might reflect poorly on them.
In another congregation on the other side of the river, Trista and I had the pleasure to be friends with a wonderful couple. We had not been working with that congregation very long when the husband showed up to my office so that we could talk. During that conversation I was informed that he had been working with his wife for the last 20 years and he didn’t need me to come and add to the confusion. He said that it was his job as her husband to convert her and I needed to know my place.
He was a good man, they had a great marriage, and they were a blessing to us. But he had this belief that it was his job to handle the spiritual aspects of his house and if he was a real christian he had to be the one to convert his wife. If he had to have my help it was an admission that he could not fulfill his duty.
Sometimes we would rather hang a no vacancy sign for our family than take the risk that someone would think that we were not a good enough Christian to convert our own family. And the desire to look good overrides the desire to have our family in church with us.
Then there have been times that people don’t want their family members approached because they are the Godly one in the relationship.
This is something that we talk about in family systems. Marriages, families, and churches have the helper and the one being helped. Trista and I knew a couple where the husband liked to drink a lot and his wife stayed in the marriage to take care of him and help him because she loved him. She would often have conversations that would drift to a discussion about her husband’s addiction and usually ended with folks offering sympathy about the problem. Behind her back people would say things like, “She is such a Godly woman to stay with such a worthless man.” Or “She is a stronger Christian than I am, to love such an unlovable man.”
But then something happened. Her husband repented and changed his ways. That’s when their marriage problems began. Sadly, over half the time when this story plays out the marriage will end in divorce. You see when the spouse cleans up their life the saint is no longer the saint in a bad relationship and they no longer receive the same compassion and sympathy. They didn’t ask for the change, and they are not comfortable in their new role. And so sometimes for the sake of what is comfortable we will hang out a no vacancy sign for our family.
Finally, some people don’t want their family members because they know the dedication of their spouse to anything they believe in; if they were to be converted, the Christian spouse would have to change.
It’s easy for someone to come and sit on a pew and feel pretty good about their relationship with God. There is no fuss, no demands, just a safe little relationship with God. But what happens when your family member comes to God and they begin to love Christ as much as they love Texas Football? I kind of say that tongue and cheek but have you ever seen the amount of excitement in a church that you do at football game? If a member of my family get’s overly dedicated to Christ then my safe, non-assuming relationship with God is over. And now I am going to have to do the work of forging a deeper relationship with God as well, and so in the name of just being acquainted with Christ I am willing to tell my family no vacancy.
I fully understand that these are not good reasons to not want your family here, but we have a pretty good ability to do all kinds of ignorant things for no good reason. And even worse very often our desires stand in stark contrast to the attitude that we see in our Savior.
Remember God wants the church to be healthy, and healthy people, plants, and churches grow. But sometimes in our sickness we would rather put up a no vacancy sign instead of doing the difficult work of rooting our our dysfunction and finding real spiritual health.
Back in the 90’s the Landmark church in Montgomery Alabama went through a period of tremendous growth. I was a student at Faulkner at the time, and a member of the congregation. It was a very exciting time to be a part of that family and to witness what God was doing in that community. But what sticks out in my mind most about that time is the folks who would write articles for brotherhood publications and conversations that were had where folks would say, “They're growing so much. They’ve got to be doing something wrong." What a sad statement to think that we have become so abnormal that growth is seen as a bad thing. Wouldn’t it be more biblical to say if we are not growing, there must be something wrong.
Several times during this series I have asked you if you want to the church to grow. You have said yes and our elders have said yes. But we need to ask ourselves if we are willing to open our hearts and our fellowship to the same folks that Jesus wants. You remember who Jesus wants in this fellowship don’t you?
He wants all who are burdened with sin. "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" Matthew 11: 28-30
And we wants everyone who wants to be saved. And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely Revelation 22:17