Monday, January 28, 2013

Like a Tree // Family Life

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 01/27/2012

video available at  (this one in particular is worth watching or listening to the podcast – lots of examples didn’t make it to the notes)


Like a Tree series. Psalm 1: Happy is the man who…like a tree planted by streams of living water…


Last week we talked about nurturing and tending to our interior lives. Spiritual growth starts with us. Our inner selves. Our hearts, our souls. Our interior lives. Everything we do flows from there.

However, spiritual growth isn’t just an internal thing. In fact, it can’t be. It must extend to the whole of our selves, including our relationships with others outside of ourselves, or it won’t last.


Consider 1 John 4:12:

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

Loving one another is all tangled up with our relationship with God. Spiritual growth is never an exclusively internal thing. That would be like eating without ever moving. Sure, you’ll grow for a little while. But you won’t have any life, and eventually you’ll die.

Just as with any living thing, growth happens throughout the organism. Spiritual growth is the same way. We grow first in our interior relationship with God. And then growth extends into other areas of our lives. Our family life. Our work or active life. Our missional life.

Today we are going to talk about nurturing and tending to our family life. The way we tend to the activities we do and the time we spend with those whom we love and are in closest relationship has a significant impact on our spiritual growth. Because our families – properly understood – are where we first start practicing loving one another. God uses those people to speak to us, to bless us, to challenge us, to test us, to encourage us, to shape us, to give life to us.

If our desire is to be like a tree planted by streams of living water, we must give focused engagement to tending to those relationships. To loving and serving our families. To inviting Christ to be present at the center of them. To looking for the activity of God in the midst of them and cooperating with it.

Let’s acknowledge that the word family means different things to different ones of us. For some of us, it might mean siblings and cousins and parents. For others, spouses and children. For still others, it’s the family you’ve made for yourself in the absence of flesh and blood family [Friends, How I Met Your Mother, Avengers]. And for some, it’s a painful topic, period, because you don’t have anyone you’d call family – so for you, your first step might be adopting a family to love.

To begin though, we need to talk a little theology first.


All Christian theology starts with the trinity. One God, three persons. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. We might even say God is himself a loving family. As the scriptures describe him, God is love. And you can’t have love all by yourself, can you?

The Bible describes God’s love as something that is always expanding, multiplying, growing, ever welcoming more and more into itself. So he makes a universe, and people within it. People whom he makes his children and welcomes into his family. The people of Israel are described as God’s firstborn son. The Gospel of John says that those who believe in Jesus are given the right to be called “children of God.” Those on whom God pours out his Holy Spirit are described as being “born again” or “born of the Spirit.” The church, the followers of Jesus are described as Jesus’ bride, whom he will one day wed.

And the people whom God makes have this same love impulse in them as well, this impulse to deeply connect in love with those who might at one time be other, but through love become family. Husbands and wives are described as two becoming one flesh. We have powerful drives to procreate and bond with children who share our DNA. We have strong attachments to extended family and even to tribes whom we think of as family.

Love is at the root of all this, of course. Love that comes from the God who is love. But even it can get twisted and turned in on itself in this broken, sinful world. We sometimes begin to “love” exclusively those whom we think of as “us”, and ignore or disdain or even hate those who fall outside of that family circle.

[“us” continuum]


And so the work of the good news, the gospel, is always to unleash the true love of God who desires to make everyone his family by his grace, making us all brothers and sisters, even those who might at one time call themselves enemies.

[“us” continuum collapsed]


This is the point of the second half of the great commandment. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself. And this is why Jesus then proceeds to define neighbor as one whom his listeners would have counted as an enemy.


So when we talk about nurturing our family life for spiritual growth, we must understand that the definition of family – no matter how limited it might be for you at the moment – is always meant to eventually include the whole family of God, including those whom you might now count even as enemies. And, as a result, part of nurturing our family life means looking beyond flesh and blood family to those God is wanting you to welcome into your family circle. In fact, for some of you, depending on your personal circumstances and where you are at in your own spiritual journey, “family” for you includes people not related to you. Perhaps close friends, people from your small group, others with whom God has brought you into deep loving relationship.

Maybe ask yourself this question: whom have you made holy commitments to love for the long haul? (by holy I mean set apart to God.) Let’s start there. Let’s call that your family. How do we to tend and nurture our love for them, so that God abides in us and his love is made perfect in us? So that we become like a tree planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in season, our leaves not withering.

The answer is surprisingly simple. Take the posture of a servant, learn to discern how God is calling you to cooperate with him in loving them, and dive in, taking care to be yourself in the process.


Here’s the temptation we’ll all likely face: to try be the perfect __________ father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, son, daughter. To see how someone else does it, and try to measure up or do it the same way they do it.

Don’t fall for it! It’s worse than a waste of time; it will give you no life, it will give no life to your family, and may in fact destroy you. At the very least it will stress you out to no end. Why? There is no “perfect” __________, for starters. There is only the you that God is making you to be. And he is making you to be you for his good purposes.

Now, sure, you may be broken and riddled with sin, etc. And God may be shaping and changing you, setting you free from all sorts of things, growing you in strength and grace and love, etc. But his ultimate purpose is for you to be the you that you and he are creatively growing together. Not for you to be some Platonic ideal of a _____________.

And sure, you may be inspired or convicted or encouraged by the way so and so loves his wife or children or friends or siblings, etc. But only because that inspiration or conviction or encouragement points you towards something God is doing in you, some growth he is bringing about in you. And you’ll know that because it will be free of guilt and shame and performance anxiety. You’ll know it because there will be holy grace and energy for growth, a sense of “rightness” and enthusiasm within you. You’ll know it because you become more fully your true self as you cooperate with him.

So on to step one. Take the posture of a servant. We cannot love from any other posture. Are you standing in judgment toward a family member? Step down. Reorient yourself as a servant, placed there by God to help them take their next step toward life. Let go of critique. Let go of agenda. Let go of expectations and things you want from them for yourself.

This isn’t easy. It may require a daily discipline of repentance prayer. “Jesus, forgive me of my judgment / agenda / critique / expectations / selfish desires towards _________. Allow me to see __________ as a brother or sister that you’ve called me to serve in love.”

Steps two & three. Now that you are properly oriented towards them in love, look to see what God wants you to do to cooperate with his love at work in their life, and dive in based on what you think you see. This is the trial & error, adventure, creative, mysterious, keep you occupied your whole life trying to get it right part of loving. There are no shortcuts to it. It involves learning to hear how Jesus speaks to you. It involves the courage to obey. It involves taking risks. It involves getting feedback, making adjustments, persistence, patience, endurance.

Finally, step Always. Take care to be yourself. Yes, you want to be the best yourself you can be by God’s grace, but never try to be somebody else. There will be a way to love your family as you. [discuss Susanna Wesley example from booklet…] There will be grace from Christ to become more fully yourself in love, but there will not be grace to become somebody else.


Are you repeatedly frustrated or disappointed in yourself in your attempts to love your family better? It might be because you’re trying to wear some clothes that fit somebody else better. [David & Saul example…] Ditch ‘em. Try another outfit, or go naked if you have to. Confess: I want to love you better, but I don’t know how? What would you like from me? And then try what they suggest.

Are you making small steps in the right direction and it feels good, even if it’s not as fast as you’d like? Then you’re probably on the right track. That’s how spiritual growth feels.

Practical Tips:


[morning & evening prayers + Examen]


1. Pray for your family 6 this week – one family member a day. Make a list, put it somewhere you’ll see it every day.

2. Pray for your other 6 this week – one a day. Make a list, put it somewhere you’ll see it every day. The other 6 are 6 people you have regular interaction with that may – as far as you know - have no one else praying for them and loving them with God’s love in their lives. Neighbor, co-worker, teammate, classmate, teacher, barber, cashier, probation officer, dentist, doctor, etc. You can do this together with another family member, or solo.

3. Pop the question. Ask at least 1 family member how you can love them better this week. Try doing what they tell you.

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