Breaking Free

If you were to take a poll of your friends and relatives, what phrase would they most associate with the word “Christian”?  Would it be keeping the rules…religious…being a good person…hypocrite…or something else?  Getting it down to one phrase, I think something about “keeping the rules” is one of the world’s most common associations with Christianity.

But if you read the New Testament, the basis for our Christian faith, I think a better word association is “FREEDOM”.  Christianity is all about freedom.  The powerful connection between Christianity and freedom – so clearly explained in Scripture – is often missed by a world under the enemy’s control and a church stuck in our rule-making ways.  Why is this so?

From the world’s viewpoint, they have no interest in accurately portraying one of the greatest positives of our Christian belief.  The Bible teaches that the world system lies in the grip of the evil one and as such it is in the world’s interest to paint Christianity in the most negative light possible.  The world will always present Christianity as burdensome, narrow-minded, foolish, misguided, angry, and worse.  This is to be expected from an entity that literally hates us.  “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (Jn 15:18-19).

So it is easy to see the world’s motivation for ignoring the freedom message of Christianity.  But what about the church?  Why do we not highlight the compelling message of freedom found in the New Testament;  freedom in Christ, freedom from the power of sin, freedom from the penalty of sin, freedom from besetting sins and habits, freedom from the Law, freedom to love, freedom from status needs, freedom from condemnation, freedom from our own selfishness?  Is the freedom promised in the New Covenant a staple of the preaching in your church environment?

I think many times we present a distorted message that actually undermines the freedom promised in the New Testament.  We try to squeeze Christianity into an Old Testament framework and come out with a burdensome form of legalism.  We struggle to accept that believers – ourselves included – are truly good people, being infused with God’s righteous nature.  We think freedom unchecked will lead to increased sin and moral license.  We need rules to keep our fellow believers in line.  We need rules to give immature leaders a feeling of power and control.  And finally, maybe we actually enjoy a “ministry of condemnation”, Paul’s description of the old covenant.

But in Christ, we have been set free;  free from condemnation (“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” Rom 8:1),  free from rule-keeping (“But now we have been set free from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we may serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” Rom 7:6),  free from sin’s power (“Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with , so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin” Rom 6:6,7).

When the New Testament speaks for itself, one of the most powerful promises of Scripture is a life set free in Christ.  This freedom is so compelling, and this freedom is so needed in our churches that we will spend the next several posts exploring its depths.

But let me close this time with a riddle to get you thinking.  If you have attended church for any length of time or have listened to Christian radio, you have probably heard this phrase from John chapter 8 quoted more than once, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32).  But have you ever wondered what “free” means in this context?  Have you ever asked, “Free from what?”

Ironically, Jesus answers this exact question in the verses immediately following this common quote.  But I don’t think I have ever heard them referred to in a sermon.  Isn’t that curious?  What is the answer?  We will discuss it next time.

Finding a Balance…Wrap-up

Well, here we are at the end of our Work-Family-Ministry Balance series.  Thank you for your interest and comments.  By God’s gift, this was and is our own family identity.  These are not theories that belong in a book or ideas that we never actually got around to.  No, this was and is the fabric of our family life.

So let me close with a few reminders from our last few weeks together.

children-drawing

Reviewing our chart above, remember…

  • The time commitments on the left side are going to be “squeezed” when children join our family.
  • We can’t let these “squeezed” areas go to zero.
  • If our time as a couple goes to zero in these busy children years, there will be no spark, no flame, no fire, no romance when we emerge on the other side and the kids have left the house.
  • Margin is not a spiritual concept, but availability to serve and go the second mile is.
  • The upper right side of our chart is not babysitting or child care; it is investing.
  • It is investing in your child’s future and your legacy.
  • Kids spell love T-I-M-E.
  • Building the relationship is more important than rules of control.
  • Your quitting time at work is your starting time at home.
  • You may feel indispensable at work; you are indispensable at home.
  • Show your wife, by your actions, that you are in this together.

Can you do this?  Yes, you can!  How do I know that?  Because if you are a Christ follower, you have been gifted with all that became new at your new birth to be a godly husband and father.  You have your degree.  You have your papers.  You are qualified to do this.

So take the next step in your journey of leading your family, and I will see you around the water cooler, the church foyer, or the baseball field.

Perfection Is Not The Goal…Consistency Is

For the past few weeks, I have been sharing material from a presentation I give on finding a Work-Family-Ministry balance.  One of the habits I stressed in the spiritual training of our children section was reading the Bible and praying as a family.  In fact, it was so important to Rhonda and I that our goal was to do this every day.  When I make this presentation to a group, I always close with this question to make my concluding point, “You have only known me for about 45 minutes.  But based on what I have shared and hearing this talk, if our goal was to read the Bible every day as a family and this is considered 100%, what percentage do you think we actually accomplished?  If every day equals 100%, take a guess on how we did on a percentage basis.”

As you can imagine, the guesses are quite varied.  But they usually land between 75 and 95%.  I say, “You are being generous.”  When Rhonda and I look back on 30+ years of having kids in the house, we estimate that we probably read the Bible together as a family about 30-40% of the days we intended to.  Now at first glance, this may look like a failure.  It may appear that we have a pretty poor track record at reaching our goal.  But we see it as just the opposite.

Using the higher end of our range at 40%, this means that we read together 150 DAYS A YEAR MORE THAN ZERO for over 30 years.  That is a lot of Bible reading.  The point I am trying to drive home is this: PERFECTION IS NOT THE GOAL; CONSISTENCY IS.

If perfection is your goal, you will drive your kids, your wife, and yourself crazy.  It is unattainable.  No, perfection is not the goal.  The goal is consistency.  This is about real life.  This is about chronic illness, recalcitrant children, financial setbacks, nagging sins, work stresses, personality challenges, fickle friendships, and academic hardships.  Consistency is getting back on the horse when we have been knocked down by these life issues.  Consistency is about not giving up no matter how long it has been since we tasted success.

Using the example we have been talking about, sometimes we would not read together for a month or more.  In these times, I would always think the same thing.  The kids are not even asking about our Bible reading.  No one even seems to miss it.  Maybe it is not having the influence or consequence that I think it is for our children.  Let’s just quit and let the Bible reading habit go.  But fortunately, I am married to a consistent wife who was not interested in letting any good thing go.  Rhonda encouraged me over and over that we can do this.  We just need to pick up the Bible and start again.

It was not just the Bible reading.  Every valuable discipline that we ever had in our home was on again, off again.  And Satan sought to use the “off again” as a temptation to quit.  Did you hear that?  Satan seeks to use the “off again” as a temptation to quit.  But God would always give us the quiet reminder and the strength to pick up the ball and get back in the game of investing in our family.  And soon, we were back to “on again”.  Let me emphasize again, perfection is not the goal; consistency is.

May I encourage you that no matter where you are along the time line with your family, it is never too late to start or begin again to read the Bible together as a family, to develop a relationship with your children, to affirm your children, to make your quitting time at work as important as your starting time, to value your time as a couple, to preserve some margin in your family life for service, and to let love rule.  As my friend Dave Gibson says, “It is never too late to start and always too soon to quit.”

We Are In This Together

Last post, I closed with the thought that we husbands need to show our wives by our actions that we are in this child investment effort together.  As dads, we can be big talkers about how important our family is to us.  But our wives know the real deal.  They know if we are serious about our claims.  And they know by our actions, not just our words, whether we truly are in this thing together.

Let me give a small example of what this “showing by our actions” looks like.  Several years ago, I became the Exploration Manager for the Houston office of a small oil company headquartered in New Orleans.  My management position involved not only many video conferences with the main office, but several trips to New Orleans for prospect presentations, board meetings, etc.

Several times these meetings started at 8 am in the New Orleans office.  For a variety of reasons my boss at the time did not want me to fly over the morning of (potential weather delays, unpredictable rush hour traffic from the airport to the office) and strongly suggested that I fly over the night before and they would put me up in a hotel.  Say for a Wednesday morning meeting, the suggestion was to fly over after work on Tuesday, hang out with the New Orleans management for happy hour and dinner, spend the night in the Hampton Inn, and be set for the meeting the next morning.

I could see early on that this was going to be too many evenings with Rhonda holding down the fort on her own.  It was not that she was incapable; it was just not how we operated as a couple.  So I came up with a plan (approved by my supervisor, of course).  I left work a little early on Tuesday and made it home in plenty of time for dinner.  I reviewed any necessary homework, played a game or shot some baskets with the kids, and talked over the day with Rhonda.  Then when the house was beginning to quiet down around 9 PM, I left for Houston’s Intercontinental airport.  I caught the last flight to New Orleans, usually taking off around 10:30 pm, and arrived at my hotel around midnight.  And I was ready to go at 8 am the next morning.

It may seem a small thing, but it spoke volumes to Rhonda that I would put her needs and time with our family as more important than making possible career-enhancing  connections in the company.  I found a balance where I was able to accomplish both the family and corporate jobs with a little creative thinking.  Let me encourage you to put some thought into a creative balance in your responsibilities rather than just accept the status quo.  Especially, if the status quo has you letting your family down.  Remember, we show our wives (and our children) by our actions that we are in this together.

Starting, Quitting, and Pitching In

Kevin Leman, in his book Home Court Advantage, has an excellent chapter on work.  He writes, “Your quitting time at work is your starting time at home.”  Have you ever made this connection?  Your quitting time at work is literally your starting time for what is arguably your more important job; leading and serving your family.  Therefore, when it comes to work, we need to be just as punctual about our quitting time as we are about our starting time.  Think with me about what this looks like in practice.

How many of us would show up an hour late to work and say to our boss, “You know, my wife and I just had SO MUCH to talk about this morning.  We needed to hammer down some plans for today and the time must have just gotten away from us.  There is a lot to talk about with five kids and their schedules and a car in the shop so to get all that covered I just needed to get down here a little late.”

Or how about, “I am going fishing this weekend and saw that Carter’s Country is having a 24 hour sale.  So I stopped by on the way into work and, of course, it took a little while to look over all the deals and make my purchases.  I guess it just added up to an hour late to work.”

Or who would say to their supervisor, upon arriving at the office mid-morning, “I ran into some old college friends yesterday and we decided to get together at the Black Walnut Café for a happy hour breakfast this morning.  It was great to catch up.”

We would not say or do any of these things if we wanted to keep our jobs.  But we say these things, or something similar, to our wives all the time.  Are you with me?  We often treat our quitting time at work with either a casual attitude or a “too-much-to-do-at-work” attitude that gets us home later than necessary.  And the message it sends to our wife and children is that the job at home is really not that high of a priority to Dad.  Your quitting time at work is just as important as your starting time.

A corollary to this is to pitch in when you are tired.  Sometimes we arrive home in the evening weary and feeling spent.  One of the best ways we can serve our family is to set those feelings aside and look for where we can contribute.  When I ask Rhonda, “What do you need from me right now?” I am telling her that I am ready to pitch in now.  Not later.  Not after I have had a chance to wind down.  Not in some unknown future.  But right now.  Pitch in when you are tired.

Doing these things regarding our starting and quitting time and pitching in shows our wives that we are in this family thing together.  So many wives, based on our actions as husbands and dads, feel like they are working alone investing in their children.  By my actions, I often implied to Rhonda that she was alone in the family effort.  And alone is not a good thing.  Show your wife, by your actions, that you are in this together.