“Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house were tensions and frustrations. What a rouse!
The hurts and offenses from long long ago seemed just under the surface. Things were ready to blow.”
Does this, in some measure, describe your family Christmas each year? Are you concerned about the gathering over the next few days? You are not alone. It isn't just your family. In fact even in the Bible we see family conflict from the first family (Cain murdered his brother Able) right on to the family of Jesus himself. If you study the families of historical heroes in the faith, missionaries and even pastors, you’ll find conflict to one degree or another. Why? We are all sinners. We irritate each other at the very best and “bite, devour and destroy one another” (Galatians 5:15) at worst.
So how do we handle tough family situations during the Holidays when it is supposed to be a time of love, joy and peace? A time to cherish the memories of each other’s company, yet it is filled with strife? Certainly there are an infinite number of situations. This post is not intended as a “cure-all” article nor do we want to minimize your family’s needs by trying to tackle them in a short blog post. However, we want to offer some basic Bible principles and a few practical ideas that may be of help.
1. Love your family. Jesus said that our love for family must be secondary to our love and devotion to him. He also said to love our enemies and those who spitefully hurt us. In order to love Jesus and honor him, we must love our families. What does this love look like though in practical terms? Does it mean we open ourselves or our children up to physical or spiritual harm? No! However, It does mean that we love biblically. Study 1 Corinthians 13 for a refresher on what this means. We suggest you seek wise biblical counsel from a pastor or godly friend for help in your particular situation especially if it is involves an abusive situation.
2. Pray. Pray for yourself. Pray that you will show grace, love, patience, mercy and reflect Christ and his actions toward those who hurt him. Pray also for the family members who cause problems. Seek God's help diligently about the whole situation through serious prayer.
3. Open neutral lines of communication. The Christmas visit probably isn't the best time to confront or rebuke. Instead, perhaps you could make an actual list of topics you can chat about which you know will be neutral. Try crafts or hunting and fishing. What about new apps you've found for your phone? Recipes, pets, new restaurants… the list could go on, but think ahead about it and write it down. Maybe write it in a note on your smartphone so you can discreetly refer to it when needed in the middle of the room or in the car.
4. Don’t preach. Again, this probably isn't the time to correct, advise or rebuke. If frustrating topics arise, do your best to suggest postponing the conversation. Have a plan of action for politely walking away. (I have to email a friend for Christmas, wrap a gift, check on the kids…) Do your part to avoid tense subjects especially if you’re prone to being a confronting type person.
5. Limit the time. Plan ahead to limit your time together. Don’t over-stay. Planning ahead allows you to politely let them know you’ll only be staying for a few hours or just for a meal. If family is coming to your house, plan something ahead that you’ll be involved in after the family visits. Invite others over at a certain time so the family members in question will need to leave etc. This is not being rude. It is planning to avoid conflict.
6. Plan activities. Perhaps you can visit a local landmark together. Go to dinner at a neutral place in public. You can plan crafts with the kids, outdoor or indoor games or watching a Christmas movie. Avoid down time where people are bored, restless or have opportunity for negative conversation and/or arguments. Keep the flow of activity moving with things that give options to keep minds and talk active with positive subjects.
7. Create Space. If possible, plan ahead for times of space for yourself and/or your family while still visiting. Maybe you’ll take the kids for some last minute shopping or to a McDonald’s Play Place. Plan a walk or run each day. Plan to call a friend for Christmas which takes you away into a private room for a short time. Bring a project to work on with the kids – a model or craft. Whatever it is. Plan ahead to create some space so tensions can ease. Space allows you and them time throughout the visit cool down.
We fully realize that these few suggestions could seem trite depending on how difficult things are for you. We hope not, but we do want you to know that we realize that the Christmas and New Year’s holidays are not always “the most wonderful time of year” and we care. If we can be of help to you or your family, please join us for services and talk with us. We care and we believe the Bible can bring hope to your situation.
Here are more articles and information you may find helpful.
Are you wise? What about a teen son or daughter you're concerned about? Perhaps you're wondering how to tell if a friend, child or loved one is wise. This evaluation will help. We think you'll quickly see which categories point toward wisdom and which point toward foolishness but if we can help answer any questions for you or help with a family struggle, please don't hesitate to email us by clicking here. Our pastor will respond to you very shortly. We'd love to have you come by the church for a visit too.
1. “I love you.” If you love someone, let them know it. Tell them and show them often. You may think they know it, and they might, but it is always nice to say it. I Corinthians 13 reminds us that we can be smart, sacrificial and sound wonderful in our speech, but if we don’t have love, we are nothing. Tell your wife, your son or daughter, call your mom and dad. Even in the struggles, an "I love you" sure can't hurt.
2. “I was wrong, forgive me.” One of my professors in college encouraged us to substitute this phrase for “I’m sorry.” In saying, “I was wrong” there is no doubt in the offended and hurt person’s mind that you know you hurt them and desire their forgiveness and restoration of the relationship. We can not be rightly related to God if we have broken and torn relationships with others. Perhaps you need to use this phrase with your teen today. Don't wait for them even if they were wrong too.
3. “Thank you.” In Luke 17 we read about those with leprosy who Jesus healed. He literally changed the rest of their lives. Things were different because of His intervention. Only one returned to say thank you. There certainly have been people who have made a difference in your life. People whose intervention changed things for the better. Do they know you are thankful? What about old friends, parents, your children, their teachers, a coach or former pastor. Make sure they know you are thankful. “Thank you” is never said too late or too much.
4. “I will .” We must say “I will” to God as he speaks to us about things he wants us to do or change, but we also need to say it to others. Jesus showed us in John 13 his willingness to wash his disciple’s feet. He then commanded us to do the same. Look for needs you can meet, and then when you see it, say, “I will.”
5. “I can.” Have you hit some brick wall in your Christian life? Do you feel defeated because of a sinful habit, or lack of prayer. Perhaps there is some difficult trial you and your teen are going through. In either instance, it is easy to say, “I can’t make it.” Paul reminds us that we CAN do all things THROUGH CHRIST who will strengthen us. A great lesson we must learn is that in myself I can’t, but in Him, “I can.”
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A group of SBC leaders consulted with a prominent independent pastor. They were seeking advice on ways to reduce the number of young people leaving church after high school graduation. Reportedly, they estimated they were losing around 93% of their students while perceiving that the independents were losing only 73% of their young people. Can you imagine consulting with someone who has a failure rate of about 75% for advice? Things must be really bad.
Scores of young people “jump ship” when they come of age. Seven in ten evangelical young people ages 18-30 stop attending church by age 23 according to one survey. Talking with many young people, pastors, and youth workers has unveiled some of the reasons for the massive fallout. Below are some of the prominent explanations for the current plight.
INSINCERITY On Sundays students hear things and observe behaviors that seem markedly different than what they see and observe Monday through Saturday. When duplicity and pretense are seldom challenged, it is seen as an endorsement of that which is artificial as opposed to that which is authentic.
LACK OF COMPASSION Many do not feel engaged or welcome. A warm embrace is just as important as a biblical worldview. How many churches actually target the 20 to 30 age bracket even in towns where there are colleges and universities? People will go where they find love, acceptance, and forgiveness. Activities may “attract,” but it takes love to “attach” people. Peripheral things must be treated as such, and not as the main thing. Someone commented, “Wherever you find strong convictions with shallow sympathies there is the possibility for much unconscious cruelty.” Proactive and unconditional love is a powerful incentive not to jump ship.
MORALISM Moralistic preaching majors on duty and external issues to the neglect of heart-felt devotion to Christ. Outward things are not unimportant, but they are not all important. When obligation (what) is divorced from affection (why), the faith becomes just a list of rules. And rules without relationship produce rebellion. Preaching principles without giving the context of how they relate to God’s Person is legal preaching and it kills. Fleshly obedience is not only wearisome—it is impossible! Church kids know about the gospel for sinners, but they need to experience the “gospel for the saint.” Preaching that empowers us to live a God-focused life is what we all need to hear from the pulpit. Gospel meditation will in turn drive biblical application.
INCONSISTENCY IN THE HOME Admittedly no homes are perfect, but lip-service without life application does not promote fidelity to the Lord or His church. Mixed signals register loudly on the hypocrisy meter. The church can never resurrect what the home puts to death.
LACK OF MISSION Ingrown churches become “institutionally focused” instead of missional (mission focused). Maintaining the preferences and prejudices of prior generations does nothing to engage an age group who grew up in a totally different context. Failure to provide “tracks to run on” (service) does not integrate the younger into the larger group. If they spend their adolescence exclusively in age-segregated settings, why should we expect them to change gears at age nineteen? Further, if the only purpose is to keep the museum open during business hours, why expect those who are full of energy and life to rally around an ingrown establishment? They must see the overarching PURPOSE. Some sensitivity to cultural relevance is not always compromise. It would do us all good to sit down with young people in a coffee shop and LISTEN.
PARENTAL DISCONNECT The main thing missing in parenting today are the parents! Fathers left the farm and the home during the Industrial Revolution. Soon the mothers left the home in pursuit of careers. Around 1950 parents handed their children over to the state to educate. Television became the nation’s baby sitter, and it has been downhill ever since. Someone will have the hearts of children—and it should be the parents! When the parents have the hearts of their sons and daughters, children will confide in and seek counsel from Dad and Mom. God commissioned the parents to “shepherd” the hearts of their children (Deut 6:6-7). Without the stabilizing influence of strong parental bonds, many children have difficulty in assimilating the faith of their fathers on a personal level.
UNCONVERTED “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 Jn. 2:19). Instead of condemning them, we must love as Jesus loved. Check out the “crowd” Christ took into His company. Tattoos, body piercings, and the like are not the problem. Being “in church” does not change people—being “in Christ” does.
LACK OF FIRE Orthodoxy without Holy Spirit power is the breeding ground for atheism. When the supernatural energy of God is missing, there is no transformation on a personal or corporate level. Ed Stetzer says, "People are looking for a faith that can change them and to be a part of changing the world." Doctrinal belief without zeal is dead. It is a sad fact that the fear of man has purged all excitement from many traditional churches. God’s chosen symbol for the Holy Spirit is fire. But we don’t need a symbol—we need FIRE! Ezekiel, through his vision, witnessed a revival in a bone yard. Their need was not to locate the corner pins (landmarks) of the graveyard—they needed resurrection! The preaching of the gospel under the anointing of the Spirit is God’s appointed means to bring LIFE into the assembly.
LACK OF VISION Sight is a function of the eyes, but vision is a function of the heart. The absence of visionary leadership has left a tremendous void. Leaders are those who call us to something larger than ourselves. Being part of a living community where lives are transformed has a captivating power. Standards and principles must be seen as an expression of devotion to Almighty God, not an end in themselves. No wonder scores are not “buying in” when conformity is emphasized apart from a divine relational purpose. We can do a much better job of answering honest questions instead of just hammering away on issues. Unless youth see the larger picture through the lens of a scriptural worldview, they will never grasp the reality of the good news of the gospel.
CULTURAL CURRENTS The pull of unbelief, moral relativism, peer pressure, and hedonism are stronger than we realize. Older people don’t understand the environment in which their children and grandchildren have grown up. The age of the “Oldsmobile” is over. Today American culture, as a whole, bears no resemblance to the consensus of the baby boomers. Unless, the young have a reasoned faith in the Scriptures and strong foundations in spiritual experience, they cannot stand up to the forces around them.
THE GREAT OMISSION Youth ministry should be more than a holding tank that resembles MTV. Equipping young people with answers to relevant issues is imperative. The supplemental teaching children receive from others, in addition to the parents, must emphasize discipleship and service. “Taking up the cross and following Jesus” is the heart of the New Testament. This is a costly call in any generation—especially this one. In brief, compassion, connectedness, conversion, and coaching are essential keys to reverse the trend.
- Harold Vaughan - Learn More about Harold at Christ Life Ministries. Used with Permission
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Pastor Bob Franseen, Pastor of Eagle Heights Baptist Church & Others