We are kicking off a brand new series today called Family Vacation.
All you have to do is take a glance at Facebook to know that we’re in the height of family vacation season. All summer long, my Facebook feed will be filled with pictures of family vacations. I have already seen hundreds of pictures of cute kids on the beach. I have seen families hiking in the mountains. I’ve seen pictures of families dining out together, getting ice cream together, and just loving being together while on vacation.
But here’s the thing about all those pictures. It’s false advertising! Those pictures only give you one side of the family vacation. But there’s another side to it, isn’t there?
There are some family vacation moments that you’ll never see on Facebook. You’ll never see the drama. The whining. The arguing. And you can’t forget about that weird smell coming from the backseat.
Facebook doesn’t give you that side of the story, but that’s the REAL story, isn’t it?
Family vacations are messy adventures, because the family itself is a messy adventure! And that’s what this series is all about.
And today, we’re going to kick off this series by talking about the mess. Today, we’re going to be the “fun” in dysfunction, because we’re talking about the dysfunctional family.
You know who has a dysfunctional family? You do.
You know who else has a dysfunctional family? I do.
All of us need to own this truth: my family is not perfect. Say that out loud with me. My family is not perfect. Say it again. My family is not perfect.
Your family is dysfunctional. It is not perfect. And you want to know why your family isn’t perfect? Because you’re part of it!
It’s kind of like those people who are always on the hunt for the perfect church. They hop around from church to church. They find one they like, but the minute that they see a minor flaw, they hop on over to the next church. You know what I tell these people? If you ever do find a perfect church, don’t join it because you’ll mess it up.
There is no perfect church. There is no perfect family. And it’s all because of this truth: there is no perfect person.
In 1 John, the Apostle John writes, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8, NIV)
There has only been one perfect, sinless person. His name was Jesus. Other than that, there is no such thing as a perfect person. That means that there is no such thing as a perfect family because a family is an amalgamation of imperfect people, all living together. When you take one person’s mess and add it another person’s mess, and then you take into account the mess from all the kids…you end up with one big, whomping mess!
And for some of you, that should give you hope. You constantly feel guilty that your family falls short of the mark. You feel like your family just doesn’t meet the standard of what a Christian family should be. Isn’t there great hope when you realize that no one’s family hits the standard perfectly?
But for others of you, instead of giving you hope, you need to let this truth cut you open. Because you’ve spent your life parading around, acting like your family has it all together. You pretend like your Facebook pictures are how things always are in your family. You look down on people who don’t have their act together like you do. And you think, “I’m glad we’re not like them.”
Jesus had something to say about that in Luke 18. He told a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector. Starting in verse 9, Luke writes, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else [Just stop right there for a second. Have you ever met this person, because I have? We have met the people that Jesus is talking to here. Self-righteous, arrogant people who look down on anybody who doesn’t follow the religious rules as well as they do. That’s who Jesus is talking to here.], Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
[Understand the difference here. The Pharisees were the religious elite of the day. They were among the most admired and respected leaders in this culture. On the other hand, tax collectors were notorious con men. They would charge people extra for their taxes and then pocket the difference, and the Roman government never did anything about it. Everyone knew they were cheats. Everyone knew they were swindlers. Everyone knew that they were bad guys. This is set up to be a classic good guy, bad guy comparison. Everyone who was listening to Jesus thought they knew who the good guy and the bad guy was, until Jesus turns it completely inside out.]
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ [Translation: I’m a good guy.]
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ [I’m a bad guy.]
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14, NIV)
Jesus has no time for spiritual snobbery. He has no patience with religious people who puff themselves up with self-righteousness, and then look down on everybody else.
Mr. & Mrs. Pharisee…you are not perfect. And your family is not perfect. It is far, far from it. Your marriage isn’t perfect. Your parenting isn’t perfect. Your kids aren’t perfect. You are a messed up, screwed up, broken sinner who is saved only by the grace of God. And your self-righteousness doesn’t win God’s approval. In fact, it could invite His wrath.
In Ecclesiastes 7, the Bible says, “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20, NIV)
That includes you. That includes your family. If you really want to grow into a person and a family that is more Christlike, it starts by admitting that you’ve got a long way to go. And it also means that you stop looking down on other people who have a long way to go, too.
It starts with being honest. It starts with being authentic. It starts with getting real.
But way too often, the church is terrible at this. Think about what happens on a typical Sunday. You’re trying to get your family out the door so you can do what you never do, and that’s make it to church on time. Guys, your wife is still in the bathroom because her hair “won’t do anything today.” Ladies, your husband is still watching SportsCenter, trying to catch the highlights of the game that he ALREADY WATCHED last night.
And then, when you’re ready to walk out the door, your youngest child has a nuclear meltdown because your oldest child was mean to them. And then your middle child has to go to the bathroom as soon as you get into the car.
Then you finally get on the road, and some idiot cuts you off and you have to slam on your brakes. [Dad might have said a cuss word when this happened.] The kids get into an argument in the backseat, and mom can’t quite reach them with that backseat slapping motion. Meanwhile, dad is so fed up that he’s about to pull the steering wheel right off of the car.
Everyone is tense, and emotional, and angry. The kids are convinced that “you’re the worst parents in the whole world.” The parents are rethinking that whole idea of military school. And what do they do when they walk into church?
“Oh, good morning brother! Bless you sister! I extend to you the right hand of Christian fellowship.”
“How are you today?”
“Oh, we are so blessed. Today is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Praise the Lord!”
You want to know why we don’t talk that way at Connect. Because it feels so dang fake. But even if you don’t talk that way, it still doesn’t mean that you don’t paint on a smile when you walk into church every week. It still doesn’t mean that you are hiding the fact that your family barely made it to church in one piece this morning, and there’s still a decent chance that your kids aren’t going to make it back home.
I forget who said this, but I’ll never forget what they said. Far too often, the church is the last place in the world where you can be real.
And that’s why one of our goals at Connect is to nurture a culture of authenticity. You want to know what is probably the #1 comment I receive from people? People don’t say, “You’re such a great preacher.” Or, “I learned so much from that message.” They don’t even say, “You’re so funny,” or, “You’re so handsome.”
You know what people tell me over and over and over again? “Thanks for being real.”
When I was in Bible College, I remember one of my professors saying, “Remember that people don’t really want to know their pastor. They want to know the image of their pastor. But be careful about being transparent. People don’t want transparency from their pastor.”
With all due respect to my professor…and he is a good guy…I believe he’s dead wrong. There’s something seriously wrong here. I’ve got no time for poser preachers. I’ve got no time for plastic pastors. I’ve got not time for pastors who only preach from their strengths, but never preach from their struggles. I’ve got no time for them, and I’m certainly not going to be one myself.
And I know that not everyone likes that. In fact, there have been some people who have left our church because of this. But being honest and transparent and real is the only way I know to be! It’s just too much work to be impressive. It’s just too much work to keep up an image. I don’t have enough energy or enough time to impress you.
And I can’t stand on this stage and lie to you. I can’t stand up here and be fake. That dishonors God and that deceives you. And I don’t think that dishonor and deceit are very good traits for a pastor to have…because they’re not very good traits for a Christian to have.
That’s why here at Connect, we value authenticity. Not because we want to brag about our sin, but because we want to be set free from it. Not because we are proud of our failures, but because we don’t want to be imprisoned by it.
In the New Testament book of James, James wrote, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16a, NIV)
Confess your sins, not only to God, but also to each other. And pray for each other. That’s hard to do that when everybody’s faking it. That’s hard to do that when everybody acts like they’ve got it all together. That’s hard to do that when everybody’s wearing masks and refusing to be real.
And when that happens, you know what DOESN’T happen? Healing. Healing doesn’t happen. According to what James told us, healing follows authenticity. It follows honesty. Healing comes when we admit our shortcomings and struggles and sins, and then when people rally around us. Not to judge us. Not to condemn us. But to pray for us.
And that’s the kind of community that we desperately want to nurture here in our church. That’s why here at Connect, it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to admit that you’re struggling. That things aren’t perfect. That you sin. Because that opens the door for healing.
That’s the kind of church that we want to be. But it is tragic how many churches have designed it so this can NEVER happen in their community.
A few weeks ago, I heard another preacher tell a story about a conversation he had with a guy in his church. This guy had gone to another church for a Christmas service. And at that Christmas service, the guy said that they lined up 5 people on stage to share their Christmas memories.
The first dude said, “I remember sitting around the fire at Christmas, roasting chestnuts with my family.”
And the second person said pretty much the same thing. And persons 3, 4, and 5 all said virtually the same thing. Everybody talked about sitting around a fire, drinking hot cider, singing Christmas carols, and roasting chestnuts.
And the guy who was at this service looked at his friend and said, “Who does that? Who roasts chestnuts? I know Nat King Cole sang about it, but who actually does it?”
All the stories were perfect. They were these perfect slices of Americana. It’s like the lyrics from the song Sleigh Ride. “It’ll nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives.”
These stories were so polished and shiny and perfect that nobody could relate to them, because they had lost all their reality.
You know what they should have done, if they wanted to minister to people instead of trying to impress people? They should have had some dude get up and tell about how Uncle Bobby came to Christmas drunk with a new girlfriend, just like every year. He came in and started throwing casseroles, until the neighbors had to call the cops. That’s a story that somebody could have related to. That’s a story that’s real. That’s a story that’s honest. That’s a story that might give somebody hope, because it’s real. That’s a story that tells the real story. That’s the story that reminds us that there is no such thing as a perfect family.
Think about some of the families that you see in Scripture. If you know the Bible well, just think about this question. Can you think of one marriage in the Bible that you would want to use as a model? Can you think of one Biblical family that you would say, “Yeah, I want our family to be like that?”
Adam and Eve? Eve was deceitful. Adam was foolish. And to top it off, their oldest son killed his little brother. That’s a solid family right there.
How about Solomon? I will admit that he wrote the best marriage book that has ever been written when he wrote The Song of Solomon. If you’ve never read that book in the Old Testament, it is beautiful and passionate and erotic and awesome. But as he grew older, Solomon wasn’t content with his bride. Instead, he amassed 700 wives and 300 concubines. Anybody think that’s a healthy family situation?
How about Abraham and Sarah? Abraham was a liar. And he slept with other women. Sarah mocked and laughed at God’s promises to her family. Great models.
Then there’s Jacob. Jacob’s family may be the most dysfunctional in the entire Bible. Jacob deceived both his father and his brother. His Uncle Laban tricked him into marrying BOTH of his daughters. His wives, and their concubines, fought for his affections (and bed!) for years. And don’t even get me started on his children. This was one jacked up family!
Honestly, there is probably not a single family in the entire Bible that I want to use as a role model for my own family. Now, I know that sounds like a negative, but let me tell you why this gives me hope.
It shows me that this book that we call the Bible is real. This book isn’t fantasy or fiction. If it was, it would be filled with shining examples of perfection. Instead, it’s filled with gritty, dirty reality. It’s not like those fake Christmas stories that were told at that church, just to impress people. When you read the Bible, you see that even the heroes of Scripture had HUGE flaws in their character.
But what we see is that God used them in spite of them. For example, Jacob had what is possibly the most jacked up family in the entire Bible. And yet, he was one of the patriarchs. God changed his name to Israel, which would be the name of God’s chosen people. He is the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Joanne Sher wrote, “Obviously, God didn’t bless Jacob and his dysfunctional family because of their works. They were blessed because of grace. [They were blessed] despite their weaknesses – their sins – their dysfunction. Aren’t you glad God worked through the likes of Jacob? It means he could even work through someone like you or me.”
Something beautiful came out of this mess of a family. And that gives me hope. This hope is available for every one of us and our dysfunctional families. God blesses us in spite of our failures. He works in us and through us in spite of our sins and imperfections. Our families are messy, but something God can bring something beautiful out of that mess.
I want to show you a pretty crazy verse in the Old Testament book of Proverbs. At first, you might think this has nothing to do with anything we’re talking about, but hang with me.
Proverbs 14:4 – “Without oxen a stable stays clean, but you need a strong ox for a large harvest.” (Proverbs 14:4, NLT)
No oxen means no mess. Everything stays clean. Shiny. Spic-n-span. Perfect. There is no mess.
But there is also no harvest. There is no food. There is nothing to sustain life.
I grew up in the country. I worked for farmers when I was a teenager. I’m well acquainted with this truth: animals like oxen make a mess. A big mess. A big, nasty, smelly mess. That’s why if you go to the Yankee Candle store, you won’t find a scented candle called “Barnyard.”
But without the mess, there is no harvest. No produce. No life.
The harvest comes through the mess. Life comes out of the mess.
And this is an incredibly liberating truth for you and your family. Some of you are hiding behind Facebook perfection. You post a hundred pictures of your kids and your families every week. You post cropped and filtered pictures that make your family look like absolute perfection. And that gives you a safe place to hide the reality. Things in your family are messy.
Others of you are discouraged by what you see on Facebook. You’ve actually bought into the lie that Facebook propagates. You believe that the pictures of other families that you see are actually pictures of their reality. And you feel guilty, because you know the truth about your family. You know that things are messy.
Here’s a truth that has set me free, and I hope it does the same thing for you. You’ve got to stop comparing your behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.
That’s what Facebook is. That’s what Pinterest is. That’s what Instagram is. It’s a highlight reel. It’s cropped. It’s filtered. It’s a highlight reel.
And the quickest route to insecurity and discouragement and desperation is to compare your behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.
The truth is, every family you know is dysfunctional on some level. They are not perfect. Things are messy. And there’s great freedom when you realize that your crazy, messy, dysfunctional family is not alone.
And there’s even greater freedom when you realize that God doesn’t need you to be perfect. He doesn’t need you to have a perfect marriage. He doesn’t need you to raise perfect kids.
God doesn’t look at your highlight reel. He knows your behind-the-scenes…and He loves you anyway. He wants to work in you and through you anyway.
Listen to what Asaph wrote in Psalm 73. I absolutely love this. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26, NIV)
Look at the two parts of this verse. First of all, “my flesh and my heart may fail.”
You are going to fail physically. When the Bible speaks of your flesh, it refers to your physical self. And it usually refers to the sinful choices we make. You will make bad decisions. You are going to screw things up. You have sinned. You do sin. You will sin. Your flesh will fail.
And so will your heart. You will get discouraged and disillusioned. You will get angry and frustrated. You will want to give up at times. You will go through seasons when you think there is no hope. Your heart will fail.
But look at the second half of this verse. “But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
God is strong when you are weak. God is steadfast when you feel like things are crumbling. God never changes when you feel like nothing is sure.
Your flesh will fail. Your heart will fail. But your God will not fail. And here’s what that means: it’s not on you.
Your family is messy. Things don’t go according to plan. It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. There are times when you have no idea what to do. You feel like you should just throw in the towel and give up.
But it’s not on you. And that’s where I find the greatest hope when it comes to my family. Believe it or not, I’m not the greatest husband in the world. And I’m not the greatest dad in the world. I am keenly aware of my failures. My wife would tell you that I’m TOO keenly aware of my failures. I tend to carry it to an unhealthy extreme. To the point where I don’t even like things like Father’s Day. I don’t want a day set aside to honor me, because I don’t feel like I’m worthy of that honor. There is something broken inside of me. I am VERY aware of my flaws and shortcomings and failures within my family.
But I’m getting better. And the reason I’m getting better is because I’m slowly learning the truth that it’s not on me. It’s not about me. My marriage is not about me. My family is not about me. That’s freeing, because if it’s not on me, then that means that it doesn’t rise or fall on my successes or failures.
My family is based on something far greater than me. It’s based on the never-ending, inexhaustible grace of God.
I am a screw up. I fail. I fall. I get it wrong more than I get it right. I sin.
But this is my hope. This is my family’s hope. And this is the hope for you and your family, too.
In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul wrote, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)
Who is the One who had no sin? Jesus. And when Jesus died on the cross, here’s what happened. God changed Him into our sin. Even though Jesus was sinless, He became our sin when He was on the cross. He suffered and bled and died for our sin. And in exchange, we receive His righteousness. His sinlessness. His perfection.
Nick Lannon wrote, “God never looks at a Christian and says, “Good enough.” There’s no such thing. Instead of waiting for us to become something we can never be, God gives that which he requires: perfection. In exchange, he takes our imperfection onto himself.
He speaks a loving word over his righteous son, and that word is applied to us. He calls us perfect, he calls us holy, and he calls us beloved. And since God’s words call into being the thing which he speaks, we become what are naturally not: perfect, holy, and beloved.
It is this exchange that forms the center of Christianity and allows Christians to be honest, with themselves and with others. Into the darkness of those admissions comes the fire of new truth: though I am not good enough, Christ was good enough for me.”
It’s not on me. And it’s not on you. It’s not about being the perfect husband or the perfect wife. It’s not about being the perfect mom or the perfect dad. It’s not about hiding behind filtered Facebook or Instagram pictures.
It’s about honestly admitting that I am not good enough. I will never be good enough. But even though I am not good enough, Jesus was, and is, good enough for me.
And that sets me free. The fact that I don’t have to be a perfect husband actually sets me free to become a better husband. The fact that I don’t have to be a perfect dad actually sets me free to become a better dad. The reason is sets me free is because the pressure is off. I will fail, but my failures aren’t final. I will fall, but my falls aren’t fatal.
That’s the good news for those of us who are in Christ. Jesus did what we couldn’t do. We could never be good enough, so He was good enough for us. We could never pay for our sin, so He paid the price for us. And it’s that unbelievable love, that amazing grace, that sets us free.
You are not the husband or the wife or the mother or the father that you should be. You just aren’t. But your failures don’t define you. Your shortcomings don’t define you. Your sins don’t define you. Jesus defines you. He did it all for you, which means that pressure is off you. You are free. You are free to love and lead your messy family. You are free to try and to fail. You are free to aim for the target and miss the mark. Because as long as your family is centered around the inexhaustible grace of Jesus, it’s not on you. You don’t have to be supermom or superdad. You don’t have to be your family’s salvation. You don’t have to be their savior. Because Jesus has already filled that role. And that truth should absolutely set you free.
Every week, we have a reminder of the exchange that Jesus made for us. When we take communion, we remember His death on the cross for us. We eat the bread, which reminds us how His body was broken for us. And we drink from the cup, reminding us that Jesus’ blood was shed for us.
And we remember the exchange that took place. Our sin for His righteousness. It’s the hope for us. It’s the hope for our families. It’s the hope for our church. It’s the hope for our world. We could never, ever, ever be good enough, but Jesus was good enough for us.
We’re going to leave this Scripture on the screen today as we take communion. As the trays are passed down your row, we invite you to eat the bread and drink the cup as it’s passed. Then pass it on to the next person. And then sit and reflect on this exchange. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NIV)
Every week here at Connect, we also have a chance to worship by giving an offering. Because of this exchange, we are set free to give back to God because of all He’s given to us. We can never repay Him, but that’s not the point. That’s not why we take up an offering every week at Connect. It’s not to somehow repay God. It’s an opportunity to worship God out of gratitude for everything He’s given us.
We invite you to give as the trays are passed down your row, or you can always give online on our website, connect.cc.
We are set free to give sacrificially to a God who sacrificed everything for us. Let’s pray, and then we will give.
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain for us.”
We are not worthy, but Jesus is. We are not good enough, but Jesus is. And that’s why it’s all about Jesus. Jesus is our only hope.
And every week here at Connect, we give you a chance to respond to Him. If you have questions or doubts, we’d love to listen to you. If you need someone to pray over you, we have a team of people ready to do just that. And if you’re ready to surrender to Jesus, if you’re ready to be baptized into Him, then we’re ready for you.
We invite you to come to the back as we sing this last song today. Let’s stand. Let’s worship our God who is fighting for us. Who is good enough. Who is strong enough. Who never, ever leaves us. Let’s worship Him now.