you ever gone back to a familiar landmark of your youth, only to
discover that it is much smaller than you had remembered it?” (Hazelip).
In much the same way, we may have such a misunderstanding about
families of the past. “Our
nostalgic picture of the family is probably similar to what we have seen
enacted on 'The Waltons or in other stories that take us back to a
simpler time when the [whole] family lived together, worked side by
side, and shared holidays under one roof” (Hazelip).
But this picture in our memory may be “smaller than life” too.
For example, many farms were really not big enough to support an
extended family, complete with grandparents, uncles and aunts, and
cousins. Another false idea
is that families always lived together.
Some did, but many a young couples headed west, and they were
separated from their roots with little or very slow communication.
It seems that marriage and romance were not often seen as being
complimentary; men didn't say “I love you” too often, and women were
often evaluated on their work capacity rather than their romantic
charms. But if there's one
thing that we still admire about those past marriages, it was those
couples’ staying power.
Their motives may not have been the most noble, but a couple usually
meant “until death do us part” when they said their vows.
Divorce statistics began to be kept in about 1870, and at that
date the divorce rate was a little over 2.5 percent.
The rate kept climbing, and at 1950, it was 20% (http://www.christianparty.net/divorce-world.htm).
Our ancestors were serious when they said their vows, and somehow
they stuck it out. But
today, it seems that marital relationships are so fragile.
Our divorce rate is about 60%, and no decrease is in sight.
In this situation, preachers are often asked: “Why Aren't
Families Close Anymore?”
Certainly, the answer to that question entails many factors, too many
for this sermon. But let's
look this morning at five factors that have pulled us apart, and then
let's consider five factors which can help to foster togetherness.
The five factors that pull families apart are: mobility,
economy, personal fantasy, media fantasy, and judicial facility.
Two gospel preachers have written about four of these
factors. First of
all, our great mobility often pulls families apart. “One writer
has described the modern American family as 'democratic, lonely,
and mobile. One family in five moves its residence across county
lines each year. [Think of all the businesses associated with
moving; there are moving companies like Mayflower and Allied Van
Lines, and there are do-it-yourself companies like Ryder and
primary family [can easily become] isolated from grandparents
and other relatives” (Hazelip). “[Relatives] would come quickly
to help each other in times of trouble [when families were
closer together. ... [But] distant as [primary families] are
from their [relatives], they often face their domestic problems
alone, and their [relatives] may learn of their struggles [only
after it is too late]” (Mitchell).
Our great mobility often pulls families apart.
Another factor that plays a great role in pulling families apart
is our economy. “There was a time when home was the workplace
for the entire family, [but that situation today is very rare]”
(Hazelip). “Especially in [America] as work opportunities
shifted from [agricultural markets] to high tech [industries],
... young people [would] marry, and then for economic reasons,
many [would] move away from their places of birth, with some of
them even migrating to other countries” (Mitchell).
The economy also pulls upon us in another way.
“In many families today, both husband and wife [have to
work] and keep a [loaded] schedule outside the home. There never
seems to be adequate time to discuss important concerns of
marriage and [to listen carefully to children]” (Hazelip).
Families often catch themselves having to break conversations
because of other pressing matters on each one's agenda.
As our calendars [and planners] increasingly govern us,
we drift apart” (Hazelip).
“... when both parents work, they [both usually have to
struggle] harder at keeping the proper balance, and ... at
keeping their children at the top of their list” (Faulkner).
A great factor in pulling families apart is our economy.
Another factor that pulls families apart is personal fantasy.
“And they lived happily ever after.”
Because we get so little training and instruction on
marriage, we develop many unrealistic expectations about
marriage and place unrealistic demands upon it.
“When we expect perfection, [economic prosperity,
continual bliss with no potholes on the road], we are bound to
be disappointed. ... What we [often] expect in marriage is
complete “fulfillment” [with unbounded happiness and little
sacrifice on our part—this was probably] something our
grandparents never even thought about. [In reality], no
relationship can offer complete happiness all the time” (Hazelip).
Another factor that pulls families apart is media fantasy.
“Unfortunately, the entertainment media has spread abroad an
untrue understanding of the nature of love.
According to the Bible, love is the glue which holds
marriages together (Eph. 5:25).
The Bible defines love as a decision leading to a
commitment to invest oneself in what is best for the other
person. The media
depiction of love, however, is very different.
Whether it be movies, television, novels, or magazines,
love is depicted as a warm, sensual, [bewitching] feeling into
which suddenly one falls, and over which one has little or no
control [there's even the auditory violins in background to
underscore when it has happened].
The claim is made that the people in love are drawn
magically together, much as a magnet draws a piece of metal to
itself, [and after they are drawn together, entrancement,
passion, and hormones kick in]. These same sources, however,
teach that when the overpowering attraction is no longer there,
love has gone, and there is no reason to stay together [so it is
time to move on to the next fling].
Such love without commitment is more accurately called
infatuation. Infatuation, however, is fickle, and to build a
relationship on it is like building your house on a foundation
of sand. True love is a decision, a commitment, and an unselfish
loyalty that endures, whatever the circumstance life may bring
to the couple.
Media fantasy pulls families apart.
The last factor is judicial facility.
“Divorce is such a convenient escape hatch that it seems
to offer an easy answer—we may be ready to walk away when all
our needs are not met.
Consciously or unconsciously, we have transformed the
marriage vows from 'as long as we both shall live' to 'as long
as we both shall love'.
And this is further facilitated by our quick court system
and easy divorce laws. One website noted: “[The divorce] rates
saw a spike around the advent of 'no-fault divorce' laws.
Divorce ... prior to 1983 was only possible through a
long legal process in which one spouse had to prove the fault
(usually, adultery) of the other to a court of law. This long
process, combined with social and economic pressures ... kept
divorce rates low.
No-fault divorce made it easier for couples to split.
Spouses did not have to prove any wrong-doing, they
simply had to say that they wanted out, possibly wrangle over
possessions and child custody, and the state government would
consider the marriage over” (https://resourcesforhistory-teachers.wikispaces.com/page/code/USII.30).
According to the American Law and Economics Review of
2000, “women currently file slightly more than two-thirds of the
divorce cases in the U.S., and that figure jumps to 90% among
college-educated couples” (Brinig,
Margaret; Douglas W. Allen . "These Boots Are Made for
Walking: Why Most Divorce Filers are Women".
American Law and Economics Review
2 (1): 126–129).
Did you know that there's a website with this claim: “Do-it-yourself
Divorce Form: Your Divorce Documents Ready for
Filing in 1 Hour.
Your Completed Documents, Filing Instructions and Full Editing
Capabilities Without the Wait!
Make Unlimited Changes to Your Documents When You Need
Them. Total cost is
only $299 (Or 2 payments of $157).
This is a state-specific on-line divorce service which
includes 'Real Person' Customer Support by Phone and E-mail”
(Divorcemag.com). Isn't it amazing how judicial facility can so
easily pull us apart?
Having looked at negative, now let's turn our attention towards
the positive. What
are some factors that can help foster closeness? Let's look at
the family of John the Baptizer as a model where we find five
factors for closeness: priority, fidelity, unity, stability, and
identity. In Luke
1:13, we read: “But the angel said to Zacharias, for your
prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,
and you will call his name John.”
The first factor that can foster closeness is giving our
family the priority.
It looks like Zacharias and Elizabeth had been praying
for child for many years. They wanted to know the joys of having
offspring and raising them in service to God, and they had
basically lost all hope that this would ever happen.
God had other ideas, however, and decided to bless this
aged couple, just as He had blessed Abraham and Sarah.
A Christian psychologist and his wife once interviewed 30
successful families to try and discover the secrets of their
success. One of the
first secrets they discovered was how many of these families
gave their families the priority and were intentional on being
good parents. He
wrote: “One of the first things we heard from these families was
that they parented on purpose—they were intentional. Intentional
is the opposite of haphazard.
Intentionality means knowing what you want and aiming
precisely to get it with all diligence. ... Many of them told us
that BEFORE they were married, they had developed plans and
goals concerning what kind of family they wanted to have. ...
Before they had children, they had given thought to the goals
they had for those children's lives. ... These families had a
missions plan EARLY. ... Great things happen intentionally, and
not by accident or luck” (Faulkner).
When both parents had to work, they had to struggle even
harder to give their family the priority over their careers;
they had to come up with new approaches, develop creative
initiatives, and plan more carefully so that their children
could see that their love for them surpassed their concerns for
their jobs (Faulkner).
“Immediately after Paul wrote the Ephesians about
husbands and wives, he also gave a reminder about our
responsibility towards our children: 'And you, fathers, do
not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the
training and admonition of the Lord.'
When Paul wrote those words, he could picture the
churches, which often met in homes, with fathers bring their
children with them to worship. He could also imagine fathers at
home passing on the faith to their children and indicating what
was really important in life.
Fathers in biblical times did not turn over the religious
instruction of their children exclusively to the church;
education was a task for fathers. We can learn from Paul's words
today. Parents who
want to be sure their families remain close together can begin
by going to church with their children.
Our extended families—grandparents, uncles, aunts, and
cousins—may not be nearby to support us, but the church can be a
remarkable extended family, and we can find it wherever we move”
(Hazelip). Let's be
intentional and instructional by giving our families the
priority over other matters.
The next factor that can foster closeness is fidelity.
Now let's read Luke 1:24:25: “Now after those days,
his wife Elizabeth conceived; and she hid herself five months,
saying, 'Thus the Lord has dealt with me, to take away my
reproach among people.'” Although Elizabeth had been barren
many years, Zacharias remained faithful to her.
He continued to be loyal to his vows, and we see that God
“Scripture nowhere teaches that two people should come to
marriage like consumers, demanding that [all] their needs be
marriage is never held together by the fragile bonds of
[infatuation]. ... In Ephesians 5:21-33, Paul addressed both
husbands and wives about their obligations in marriage.
Wives are told to practice submission to their husbands,
just as ancient wives were submissive to their husbands (vv.
husbands were counseled: “Husbands, love your wives, just as
Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for her.”
Neither husband nor wife [should] come to marriage
assuming that the relationship exits only to serve his or her
needs. From the
story of Jesus Christ, we learn of a love that meets the needs
of another. ... If we look upon marriage as Jesus looked upon
His sacrifice for others, we can evaluate our personal ambitions
... for the sake of a marital partner and family.
The late hours at the office and the days of travel may
well be worth sacrificing in favor of [our family]
relationships. ... We may think we are giving love when we
provide our families with the things our advancement
buys—expensive vacations, nice homes, and other symbols of
affluence, [but] sociological studies continue to remind us that
love must be made concrete in deeds.
Your spouse and children need the gifts of your time,
[your deeds, and your presence]” (Hazelip).
Fidelity is another factor that can foster closeness.
The next factor that can foster closeness is unity.
Let's read verses 60-64: “His mother answered and
said, 'No; he shall be called John.' But they said to her,
'There is no one among your relatives who is called by this
name.' So they made signs to his father—what he would have him
called. And he
asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, 'His name is
John.' So they all
marveled. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue
loosed, and he spoke, praising God.”
Somehow, even while he was mute, Zacharias had
communicated to Elizabeth that the angel had said that their son
would be named John.
This little incident shows us that Zacharias and
Elizabeth kept the communication lines open, and they stood
united with each other.
One preacher made this good observation: “Without a
doubt, the greatest guidance about dating, and eventually
choosing a husband or wife, will be found in the quality of
marriage that is displayed by the parents.
Model parents show respect and concern for each other,
and make all of their decisions on the basis of the [unselfish]
love they have for each other.
They do all [that is] possible to serve each others'
needs, and they are loyal to all the promises they have made to
each other. They
enjoy open and satisfying communication, and above all, they
worship together and dedicate themselves to each others'
In all likelihood, children with parents like these will find a
mate with whom they can live in a similar way” (Mitchell).
You see, when dad and mom put Christ at the center of
their marriage, a wonderful triangle is formed, and the wise
Solomon reminds us that “a threefold cord is not quickly broken”
Parents also need to show unity in discipline.
One psychiatrist said it this way: “I cannot exaggerate
the importance of parental harmony.
The welfare of the child rests more on parental unity
than on any child-rearing expertise the parents may have”
(White). And a
Christian psychologist said it his way: “Mom and Dad must think
and act as one. ... Mom and Dad have to stick together and work
out disagreements [about discipline]—in advance and probably in
private, because children are professionals at splitting
Unity in communication, spiritual purpose, and matters of
discipline can foster closeness.
The next factor that can foster closeness is stability.
Let's read verses 68-69: “Blessed is the Lord God of
Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has
raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant
Zacharias was a firm believer in God, and having seen an angel,
having lost and regained his voice, and having held his own son
in his old age made his faith even stronger.
So we see him interpreting John's birth as a sign from
God. You can rest
assured that Zacharias' son would learn about Israel's God and
her traditions. So
the word “stability” is standing for family traditions—both
faith traditions and fun traditions that are unique to just your
family. Someone has
said, “... traditions give us something to hold on to.
We need to have some things passed down to us—things to
hold us as families and people together, things we don't have to
think about or figure out” (Faulkner).
Here are some traditions that I grew up with: church
attendance, weekly visitation in members' homes, prayers before
meals, and meals where the whole family was together, and
everybody shared their day, having guests over for Sunday
lunches, hearing Bible stories read by Mom at bedtime, driving
to relatives for Christmas, five day vacation Bible schools
where teachers spoiled us to death, summer church and music
camps, family reunions in July where singing hymns together was
just as important as eating watermelon, birthdays where each
family member got to request their favorite kind of cake,
drinking creamed coffee and eating crackers with cheese for
lunches when Dad took me on outings to fish.
What traditions does your family have?
Where there are devotionals in the home, the divorce rate
drops to 1 in 400.
Some parents have the tradition of giving their children a
They try to look into the future and challenge their teenager to
achieve a noble vision, and they do this in a special setting to
help their words become more meaningful. Traditions, both
spiritual and those exclusive to just your family alone, can
The last factor that can foster closeness is identity.
Let's read verses 76 and 80: “And you, child, will be
called prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face
of the Lord to prepare His way ... So the child grew and became
strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his
manifestation to Israel.”
What a great identity Zacharias announced for his son—he
was to be a prophet and Jesus' herald!
Don't you know as he was growing up, Zacharias and
Elizabeth were teaching him God's word, taking him to the
synagogue and temple, and showing him how to stand up for the
truth. Moms and
Dads, we need to be showing our children that divorce is not a
convenient escape hatch. Let's show our children that we are
going to work seriously to honor Jesus' words: “What God has
joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:6). These
words indicate that marriage requires our very best energies to
hold it together.
God gave us the family to take away our loneliness, but we must
work to preserve what God has given us” (Hazelip).
One Christian woman once had the desire for her son to
become a preacher.
At an early age, she worked with him to memorize scriptures.
The boy was not always the most cooperative of students,
but he did lear some passages, and one that he remembers the
most was the 23rd Psalm.
The boy grew up and became a missionary, then a teacher,
then a psychologist, then a preacher, and then a teacher once
again. Towards the
close of her days, his mother became ill and bedfast.
When the son would go to visit his mother, she often
asked him to recite the 23rd Psalm with her.
He made this statement during a sermon: “Little did I
realize when I was boy memorizing those passages how valuable
they would be to me later on in life.
The 23rd Psalm became even more meaningful to
me as I said them to minister to mom.
She had prepared me for life with the Scriptures, and now
she was preparing me for her death with them as well.”
There's an identity that a godly mother was shaping until
the very end of her days.
Identity, living up to our holiness in Jesus and calling
from God, can foster closeness in our families.
Our changing times in America have created much “pollution” with
regards to our families.
We should be deeply dissatisfied with the negative
factors that are pulling so many apart.
The Scriptures and Christ are still the answers that can
help us to see stronger families. Let's be models to those who
give the priority to our family, where dad and mom show fidelity
to each other and unity in raising their children, where we
enjoy family traditions for stability and try to inoculate a
Christian identity in our offspring in every way that we can.
May God bless each of you in all your efforts to foster
closeness within your families!
The Lord wants to see godly families.
Have you been the Christian husband and dad that you need
to be? Have you
been the Christian mother and wife that you want to be?
Has your family been growing apart or growing together?
If you would like prayers this morning to have a stronger and
closer family, won't you come ...