One example will suffice. While many Christian parents are wondering whether the music their teens listen to is suitable listening, and sometimes arguing about volume and forbidding this or that tape, few modern parents ever consider that today's music industry, including the Christian music industry, has virtually destroyed certain Christian values. Silence. The sheer noise (even nice-sounding noise) in many homes today would have driven many of our great-grandparents out to the pastures for a quiet walk. Worship. Where, in all the hullaboo of Christian music today and the idolizing of favorite groups and the scrambling for each new tape and bickering over how loud to play it, is the reverent sense of God? And how many thousand-dollar music systems (which are not worth a nickel in heaven) have silenced the voices of families singing simple but heartfelt praise to God?
The point is simple. There are many homes which can never be wholesome until some radical changes take place in the home structure. It would be foolish to try to build a house in a swamp on straw bales. And it is just as foolish to think we can build godly homes on the values commonly accepted in Western culture. If in Christian homes we find straw bales in the foundation, we cannot correct the problem by hiring some interior decorator to counsel us on paint. The foundation needs help first.
This chapter is about foundational things. From the Scriptures we want to see just what God intended the family to be. We want to look at concepts which are basic to the family as a social unit. And later we want to look at some of the straw bales which our culture is pressuring us to use in our homes, and which we must reject if we are to have wholesome families.
"And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up" (Deuteronomy 6:6,7).From these and similar Scriptures, we can easily see that God intended the family to be the most basic social unit of society. It is the place where such activities as visiting, eating, instruction, work, and play have their center. God intended that we interact with family members more than with anyone else. And having ordained the home to be the primary place of social interaction, God laid down guidelines for proper interaction.
"A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother. He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame" (Proverbs 10:1,5).
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother . . . . And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:1,2a,4).
As a social unit, however, the family in Western culture is seriously deficient. Those who want to work go to the corporation. Those who want to learn go to school. Those who want to play go to the park or the recreation center. Those who want to eat go to McDonalds. Visiting takes place only in snatches. Many Christian families find it strange to have the whole family home for an evening. Monday night is practice. Tuesday night is a ball game. Wednesday night is prayer meeting (for some). Thursday night is office cleaning (second job). Friday night is a social planned....Run, run, run! Such social chaos was virtually unheard of for the family 100 years ago. And so, fathers must be told to do things with their children. Parents need to plan a "family night" or "quality time" because as a social unit, the family is falling apart.
Some of the pressures of over-activity will be discussed more later, but for now, let's note that every child and every adult needs wholesome family interaction.
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The Family Should Work Together
Obviously the job scene is changing in our modernized society. The family farm is no longer the norm. Many Amish and Mennonite men have gone to self-employment in construction. In some ways, this is good--it still provides opportunities for fathers to work with sons. But it has its dangers as well--if the father operates his own business at the pace of many American or European contractors, he easily becomes so engulfed in his work that he interacts little with his family. The answer, in other words, is not simply in starting a family business, but in valuing family interaction.
Where the father can work with his family, he should. Where he cannot work with his family in his occupation, he should keep that occupation from swallowing all or his working energy and plan work at home with his family in his off time. Gardening is an excellent off-time work project. Where this impossible, other projects can be chosen. It is good for children to see their parents work. It is good for families to figure out work-related problems, divide up responsibilities, and share the rewards of hard work.
The Family Should Eat and Talk Together
Schedule clashing and hurriedness seem to have converged on the family table in an all-out effort today to stamp out family meals. It is true that some schedule conflicts cannot be avoided especially as older teens begin to interact more in the adult world. It is also true, however, that much of the meal disruption today is simply the result of overinvolvement. Many of the activities that call for family members at mealtime are good activities. And it is not wrong to be busy, but something basic is wrong when the unhurried family meal is the rare exception. And something basic must be done about it.
In evaluating activities which keep the family apart at mealtime, it is well to consider the difference between service activities and self-serving activities.
Service activities are love's responses to the needs of others. People who are serious in their commitment to Jesus Christ will often find themselves busy in service activities. Jesus found mealtime with His disciples being cut out by such activities, and He took steps for relief. "And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat" (Mark 6:31).
Self-serving activities, on the other hand, are things we do primarily for our own enjoyment, pleasure, or interests. This kind of activity is not altogether wrong, particularly as a means of refreshment or enrichment, but any life filled with such activities is certain to be shallow, empty, and unfulfilled, no matter how exciting it may appear on the surface. Western culture is glutted with self-serving activities (and thus with unfulfilled people). And, unfortunately, many of the families being torn apart at mealtime are running off to these kinds of activities.
Consider the following list of typical activities which crowd out the family meal. Which are service activities? Which are self-serving activities? Which, depending on the circumstances, might be either?
|ball game||committee meeting|
|singing||driving/riding with friends|
|socializing||listening to a singing group|
|working||attending a meeting|
|visiting||working on a project|
Families who find mealtime togetherness regularly crowded out should monitor their activities for a week or two, honestly assessing the nature of their activities. Where there is service busyness, times of refreshment should be planned. Where there is self-serving busyness, a reevaluation of priorities is imperative. The years of family time are simply too short to sacrifice on the altars of indulgence.
Cutting back on self-service activities invariably meets with resistance. Nobody wants to stop going. Change comes best by discussing the problem together as a family, clarifying family priorities, setting reasonable guidelines, and then following them for a specified period of time, after which reevaluation takes place. The guidelines should not only include restrictions on certain activities, but replacement with more wholesome activities which meet the family's social needs. (For a more thorough discussion of family activities, see Chapter 6.)
The Family Should Worship Together
While it must be recognized that collective worship finds its center in the church, worship is a vital part of the family's social structure as well. Families should pray together, sing together, read God's Word together, and offer thanksgiving together. It is impossible to verbalize all the ways in which healthy family worship time provides security, stability, wisdom, and maturation for family members.
The same forces which rob families of mealtime together rob the same families of worship time together. The hurried life, especially the indulged hurried life, grows impatient with the quietness necessary for reading and prayer. There are far more exciting things to do. But as we noted before, the exciting things are seldom the fulfilling things in the long run. The family which is too fragmented for worship together is living by a value system which cannot build strong Christians. Rather, such a value system actually prepares children to yield further to the pressures of sin and worldly society.
The Family Should Play Together
Much as recreation and fun have been overplayed in our society, play has a very proper and wholesome place in the family. It is good for the family to laugh together. It is good for children to see their parents in the informal and sometimes blundering and comical situations of playtime. Dad on all fours does something good to the hearts of his children which he can never do otherwise. Games can reinforce such principles as fairness, honesty, group effort, and courtesy. Unstructured play, such as building cities in the sandbox or tenting on the living room floor, can encourage creativity and cooperation. Reading or telling stories can be both enjoyable and informative. The point here is that all of these forms of recreation, in proper balance with the rest of family interaction, are socially healthy.
The Family Should Interact Socially in the Instruction/Learning Process
God calls parents to be good teachers and children to be good learners so that they in turn can become good teachers of their children. This interaction between parents and children begins even before verbal communication is possible. It continues in one form or another throughout life. The responsibility of parents teaching their children is one which for certain learning situations can be delegated, but it can never be unshouldered. Children need the experience of learning from their parents; parents need the experience of learning from their children.
As we will see later in this chapter, our culture is placing tremendous pressure on families with regard to education. The center of learning for children in our society is moving away from the home, and the source for learning is moving away from parents toward the "expert." Unfortunately, the expertise of man generally moves away from the fear of the Lord, and thus often at the "best" of educational opportunities, there is least of that wisdom which matters most. This is not only robbing families of valuable interaction but is also robbing education of its enduring value and purpose.
To summarize this section, we would repeat that God ordained the family to be the basic social unit of society. It is the center around which its members interact in such common activities as work, play, worship, eating, learning, and talking. And we have raised flags of warning over that society which pressures the family to give up this social interaction.
We live in the present. We face present situations. But the present time and the present situations can be traced back through time and countless other situations which have led up to the present. In the family, we refer to this background as "heritage." Any given family is in many ways a product of its heritage. It was produced by people and events from the past. The decisions and character of father, grandfather, and great-grandfather have flowed into making any family what it is. Anything from physical features to little habits to outstanding traits to guiding beliefs and values can be part of one's heritage.
Fortunately, heritage is not the only factor in shaping families. The present is always adding its part to the family heritage. Our heritage is not only what our grandparents and parents were, but what we are. The choices we are making and the lives we are living are contributing our part. We will always have the influence of the past, but we are never fully controlled by it. And we must, both for our own good and for the good of future generations, be making those choices which leave a heritage of godliness.
Heritage can be either a blessing or a curse. David wrote, "The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage" (Psalm 16:6). By this, David was not saying that everything in his past had been godly. David had suffered and was suffering many troubles and injustices. But David had walked with the Lord, and in his walk with God he has found a rich heritage.
In verse 5, David introduces the most significant factor in heritage. "The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance." The presence of God in one's life more than anything else determines the impact and worth of his parental heritage. He who walks with God can look back, even upon a heritage of sin and failure, and see the goodness of the Lord drawing him to Himself. And he gives thanks. In the other hand, he who walks in rebellion against God cannot find, even in a heritage of godliness, much good in his past. He does little more than complain.
From the human standpoint, we might even say that the presence of the Lord works retroactively in respect to our heritage. No matter what our past, if we turn in repentance and humility to the Lord, He is able to turn past troubles and injustices into unexpected present blessings in our lives. And in contrast, no matter how godly the parentage, when turns to stubbornness and disobedience from it, he finds the very benefits of his past turning against him and even pleasant memories souring and becoming indistinguishable from his mass of troubles.
Thus we cone to see that no one can confine the effects of his life to himself. He who lives righteously passes on an influence of righteousness. He who loves in sin passes on a heritage of sin. And in both kinds of heritage God is at work, on the one hand declaring, "The generation of the upright shall be blessed" (Psalm 112:2), and on the other hand, "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation" (Exodus 34:7).
All of this verifies both the importance of upright, godly families and the impossibility of having such families without the Lord. There is simply no way to enjoy the blessings of a godly heritage or to pass on a godly heritage without devotion to God.
God's expectations for the family are based solidly upon Scriptural principles. We have already observed some of those principles in relation to heritage, but there is another basic principle which has suffered such neglect and abuse in Western society that we must pick it up here and consider it carefully. That is the principle of honoring parents.
Among the commands God gave to His people was one specifically related to families. "Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee" (Exodus 20:12). Paul, writing to the Ephesians, notes that this is the only command of the ten to which a promise is attached. The promise has to do with well-being and long life. Inasmuch as life is a social existence, and inasmuch as the family is the basic social unit, it follows that our obedience or disobedience to a basic family principle will directly affect our lives.
What does it mean to honor our parents? Do Westerners generally honor their parents? Do Western Christians honor their parents? These are questions we must honestly face.
The Hebrew word for honor literally has the idea of heaviness. In verb form it means to give weight to, or to hold as significant or worthy in contrast to something light or frivolous. The practical outworking of such a high regard for parents is invariably associated with such things as obedience, helpfulness, and deference. Children do what their parents instruct them to do, help their parents with work and responsibility, and where there are differences of opinion about plans or desires, they yield to their parents.
Of course, the other side of the coin is that parents are to be honorable. That is, they are to be venerable, loving, and wise. The truth, however, is that all parents have faults and fall short of the ideal, and that some parents are actually unloving, foolish, and contemptible. Does a parent need to be honorable to be honored?
The direction God gives for children to honor their parents makes no exception for parents who are not honorable. In another authority relationship where God calls for honor, He says specifically, "not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward [unreasonable]" (1 Peter 2:18). Young children do not grapple with whether they should obey or not. They tend to respond as their nature dictates. Older children and youths, however, begin to analyze their parents' performance as well as their own reasons for or against obeying. Those with Christian teaching struggle with this command of God in view of their imperfect parents. Three things must be kept in focus for those whose parents may not be honorable:
Learning to Forgive Parents
Because nobody's parents are perfect, everyone is able to see particular features of his heritage which have not been right. Wrongs in the past often show up as scars in the present. Some of these scars are slight, some are major, and some are still festering. The wrongs which caused these scars are many times real, but other times they are imagined. As one writer put it,
Just as our parents are human and subject to error, so are we. As children we interpret what our parents said and did. Well-intentioned behavior may have been cast in the worst possible light, thus making our parents' good efforts seem wrong. A critical remark made by a parent many years ago may be replayed and blown out of proportion and significance by a child who now blames his or her parents for personal problems.There are many reasons why we should forgive our parents. These do not necessarily made forgiveness easy, but they do show the importance of forgiveness. Obviously, the most important reason we should forgive has to do with our personal relationship with the Lord. "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14, 15). There are other reasons as well, but here we will consider especially those which relate to the family.
Learning to forgive our parents for their failures is an important determiner as to whether we can honor them or not. Resentment and bitterness destroy our ability to honor. Forgiveness, on the other hand, gives us a freedom to honor our parents.
Forgiving our parents is necessary in order to keep us from perpetuating the errors. One of the strangest phenomena of heritage is that often those things in parents which are most detested are most commonly acquired by the next generation. Indeed, one of the surest ways to pick up your parents' faults is to resent them--the stronger you resent them, the more likely you are to pick them up. Somehow by focusing negatively on someone else's problem, we shape our own view of life. The alternative, of course, is to forgive. Forgiveness frees us to see our parents in a more objective light, and makes available to us the transforming grace of God.
We must forgive our parents for their wrongs and failures if our children are to have the security of a healthy relationship with their grandparents. Resentment and bitterness cut off relationships. Forgiveness, on the other hand, opens us to the possibility of building (or at time rebuilding) relationships. Grandparents need the laughter and play of their grandchildren. Grandchildren need exposure to the wisdom and dignity of old age. There are peculiar ties between grandparents and grandchildren which can be formed properly only when parents have right attitudes toward their past.
Knowing the reasons for forgiveness is not always enough to cause us to exercise forgiveness. Scar tissue can go very deep. The following pointers show more clearly just what forgiveness is and how it works.
The society of the unconverted has always had the earmarks of rebellion. But we would be naive to say that attitudes toward authority in our society are the same today as a hundred years ago. The Roaring Twenties with its speakeasies and shorter skirts certainly flaunted authority, especially the laws of prohibition. But any historian speaks mildly of that era as compared to the rebellion of the '60s. No established order of conduct escaped attack in the '60s. Art splattered, music pounded, hair flopped, and clothing dwindled until decency blushed. Even unconverted society gasped at the brazen looseness and coarseness of the hip counterculture.
But somehow after shock wears off, acceptance sets in. The older folks grew tired of gasping, and the younger folks grew tired of shouting. Society slowly swallowed much of the counterculture, and hippies eventually emerged as yuppies, accepting many or the very values they had challenged, albeit with less restraints.
Even "Christianity" attempted to swallow some of the concepts of the counterculture. "Christian" rock groups of that era began pounding out songs of love and freedom with connotations altogether different from historic Christian understanding. It never occurred to dulled Laodicean minds that the new "freedom" was only a mask for age-old rebellion.
In this whole process, society has come not only to accept but to value the "let me do as I please" mentality. Words such as authority, rules, and obedience arouse negative connotations of harsh men and abused women and children. Equality, liberation, rights, and freedom of expression carry the day. It is ironic, however, that the society which scoffs at its rigid grandparents is actually producing more abusive family settings than ever before. This is not to say that the more authority shown, the better, but that the supposed freedom is many times nothing less than chaos. The family in Western society has suffered irreparable damage form the attacks on authority, the redefining of freedom, and the resultant looseness.
Parents who spank their disobedient children face the pressure of appearing brutish. Parents who set guidelines for their children's clothes, hair, and activities face the pressure of appearing legalistic. Great-grandparents who shake their heads at all the coming and going and warn against newfangled entertainments and activities face condescending smiles and the assurance that their ideas were fine in a bygone age. The changing authority concepts are placing tremendous pressures on those who would order their homes according to the Word of God.
Separation of Age Levels
Earlier in this chapter, we noted the importance of family interaction. Families, we said, should work together, play together, worship together, etc. One of the ways in which families face pressure to surrender this togetherness is in the streamlining of activities today. When the consolidated schools took over the one-room schools, separation into age levels became a practical necessity. Everyone in the room was in the same grade. Today the separation has spread. It must be recognized that efficiency has not been the only factor in making this separation attractive. Working mothers, emphasis on knowledge and the experts, and the overall rush of schedule push family members into classes, special centers, clubs, and activities where everyone can be "with kids their age."
Yesterday's mother wiped tears the first day a child went to school at the age of six or seven. Today's mother breathes a sigh of relief to see her two-year-old trundled off to the Tot Center.
Certainly many Christian parents will view the last example as an extreme which doesn't fit them. And yet the separation into age levels has affected many Christian families by its emphasis in the church community. We seem to have lost sight of the principle that there is health in the interaction of various age levels. This is not to say that all separation into age levels is wrong and anti-family. But we must recognize the danger in too much of this organization according to age level. As an example, many Christian families today are feeling the pressure of highly organized youth activities, so much so that parents sometimes despair of having the family together at home even one evening a week.
Put a group of young men together repeatedly to play ball, and you will likely develop excellent playing--a "good game." Pull together several families and play a game of ball where Grandpa pitches, a ten-year-old plays first base, and Dad is at bat, and the quality of play will seem less than excellent. But in the long run, the latter is far more likely to have enduring good. Or take another example: Send a group of young people regularly to give a program at a nursing home, and you may well have enthusiastic singing and leave a good witness. But go as a family or as a group of families where Grandpa reads a Scripture, Dad leads some singing, and children pass out cookies, and you not only leave a good witness, but you demonstrate that everyone has a part in the church's outreach.
Again, this is not to say that youths (or any other age level) doing things together is all wrong, but to emphasize that there is health in the mingling of age levels. Separation may seem to specialize interests and make things go better, but in reality it may cut out valuable interaction.
Many of the changes in root family concepts have come about through the rapid change in our technological society. New inventions, and thus new ways of doing things, hit the market continually. The latest break-through is scarcely broken in until it becomes outdated with a new discovery. Parents, particularly those who did not continue their education beyond high school, often find it difficult to comprehend what is going on. Their fifth-grade child comes home from school and asks for help with homework, and the parents end up saying, "I have no idea how to do that. We never had that in school." This all sounds incidental until we consider the magnitude of the situation. As day after day the concept of the "new and improved" is pressed upon society, people develop the view that old means outdated. The expert in every field in the one who is abreast with the latest discovery.
All this would not be so serious if it were confined to technology. But it is not. The effect is felt in the home and even in the church. The parent or minister who does not know the difference between a ruptured disc and a floppy disk, between mosquito bites and megabytes, is considered out of touch with reality and hardly to be trusted with giving advice to modern teens.
This modern knowledge has in many cases intimidated ancient wisdom. Parents are made to feel incompetent to guide their children and are encouraged to seek the advice of "experts" when in reality the children desperately need the wisdom of their parents.
Expanding technology has produced truckloads of goods for the family to buy. Toys, appliances, work machines, play machines, in every conceivable form call for the buyer's attention. These things, of course, take money. It surely goes without saying that the lives of most Westerners are consumed with making money and accumulating these things.
Christians know that Jesus said, "Take heed, and beware of covetousness [the desire for things]: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth" (Luke 12:15). But such advice is easily forgotten when day after day we are encouraged to buy, indulge, lay up, and acquire; when we are told that the good life is filled with entertainment and activity and fun and amusement, all of course at a modest fee; when sales are on and prices are right and money is an hand and credit is available. The pressure is tremendous!
This pressure pounds at the family, making Junior beg for a new bike, causing Sis to moan for a "real, talking doll," making Mom consider longingly the latest kitchen appliance, causing Dad to figure whether the family can afford another vehicle. Easily, how easily, the family gets sucked into valuing things above people, getting above giving, luxury above sacrifice. And soon, very soon, there is little to distinguish the values of the Christian family from the values of the non-Christian, neighbor family.
This is not to say that every modern convenience is a sin, nor that there is righteousness in poverty. But it is to say that riches are dangerous. And it is to warn us that materialistic values are robbing Christians of their vision for the kingdom of God, and robbing Christian families of the peace of contentment and the joy of sacrifice.
"Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (I Timothy 6:6-10).
The following pointers may be helpful for families who wish to counteract the pressures of materialism:
A later chapter will be devoted to describing the Biblical directions for husbands and wives. But a discussion of cultural pressures on the family would not be complete without recognizing the distortions which are taking place in this area of the family. The controversy seems to center around the mother's role. Every conceivable argument has been raised to show that mothering is a drab life of changing dirty diapers and washing dirty dishes and scrubbing dirty floors while the father gets to roam the green earth pursuing whatever suits his fancy. This is nothing but the reasoning of selfishness. The fulfilled life is not the life that can do as it pleases, but the life that serves. The father does not find fulfillment in pursuing selfish interests, but in serving his family. Neither will the mother find fulfillment in pursuing selfish interests. Mothering is one of the highest and noblest occupations a woman can have--it is a work that requires character, creativity, talent, intelligence, and commitment. The removal of Father as head and provider, and the emergence of Mother as a career woman has done irreparable damage to the family.
Under the pressures of society, many a Christian mother finds herself casting a curious or even a longing look at opportunities outside the home and letting her shoulders droop when asked by other women what her work is. Christian families should cherish the high calling of motherhood.
The Diminishing Family
Changes in the average size of the Western family have been caused by various factors. Awareness that the world population is growing and the shift from rural living where more children mean more workers, to city living where more children mean more mouths to feed are two reasons commonly given for the diminishing family. But the factors basic to the hearts of Westerners seem more selfish than humanitarian.
They generally sustain a standard of living which is simply too expansive and a schedule of living which is simply too exhausting to include many children. The diminishing family better fits the materialistic values and the career mindedness of the men and women of today. Children are viewed as threats to personal interests and material prosperity.
While Christian families claim not to have the values of their non-Christian counterparts, the pressures are certainly there. To have one or two children is acceptable. To have three is borderline, four raises the eyebrows. Five and over means you are careless and irresponsible. likely raising parasites of society. The family of ten or twelve is a phenomenon of the Dark Ages. So goes the reasoning.
The Bible days, "Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate" (Psalm 127:3- 5). God considers children a divine blessing to the home, and we must certainly acknowledge that the decrease in children today has not made for a happier, healthier family unit. Christian parents, who walk in step with God, will love children, will see them as a blessing, and will not succumb to the self-centered pressures of society.
My special thanks to my two typing students for typing virtually all of this material. For part of their typing assignments, Rachel Strubhar and Peter Turner typed this chapter from this book (1995-1996 school year). If you enjoyed reading this, please send them a thank you note.
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