American Dream? Or Nightmare?

Seven Essential Family Values

Fast-Forward Family shines light on a variety of issues that face American families: the differing stress levels among parents; the problem of excessive clutter in the American home; the importance (and decline) of the family meal; the vanishing boundaries that once separated work and home life; and the challenges for parents as they try to reconcile ideals regarding what it means to be a good parent, a good worker, and a good spouse.

“Though there are also moments of connection, affection, and care, it’s evident that life for 21st century working parents is frenetic, with extended work hours, children’s activities, chores, meals to prepare, errands to run, and bills to pay.”

Dream or nightmare?

It’s the American dream: going into debt to get more than your income can pay for—and making the most of your time by committing you and your kids to doing more than anyone has time for.

Maybe Jesus had the American family nightmare in mind when he said, “The seed that fell among the thorns stands for those who hear [God’s Word], but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature” (Luke 8:14).

Today’s family lives in a perpetual state of frenzy and exhaustion. There’s no time for real family and even less for God. Just reading the book review above makes me hyperventilate.

Instead of fast forward, let’s rewind. Let’s go way back to the Bible and talk about simple values that make for a great family—values you can begin living out even if your family is profoundly dysfunctional.

Seven essential family values

1. Submit to God.

Stop. Don’t skip to the second or third values below because this sounds too simple. Or it’s something you think you already know. Look at Ephesians 5:

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil

How careful are you about how you live? Really. Or is your life out of control? Do the winds of life blow you around? Blow you away? Are you always running to catch up with yourself? If so, you’re probably not being careful how you live.

17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

Let me give you an in-your-face paraphrase of this: Don’t be stupid. Don’t do stupid things you’ll regret. It’s time for you to act, not react, and the only way to do that is to turn to God. Say ‘no’ to the craziness of your life and ask God what he wants for you in the moment, for your whole life.

18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,

Debauchery? I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds terrible. Actually, it’s the worst imaginable outcome to giving in to all the things the world throws at you to soothe your troubled soul. Do you really think two or three drinks, or using your credit card for an expensive dinner, or collapsing on your couch for hours of mind-numbing television will heal your pain?

Or maybe you should watch a lot of CNN or Fox News, and let them pile on the stress and anger.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you [peace] as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27, my italics).

Instead of getting lost in a good movie (hey, I love good movies), the Bible suggests …

19 … speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Using psalms and hymns to talk to each other? What?! In our hyper-amazing, faster-than-high-speed-internets, fast food, 3D world, this sounds kinda goofy. Cheesy. Yeah, I can’t remember a single time I’ve ever talked to my wife, my kids, or my grandkids with psalms and holy songs.

And that’s my point. Those of us schooled in the Scripture (two seminary degrees and decades of ministry for me) are as complicated and stressed as anybody designing missile guidance systems, selling real estate, teaching public school, or hunting down Osama Bin Laden. It’s like our lives are too complex and stressed out to take the simplicities of the Bible seriously.

Yet two thousand years ago, Jesus said to his friend, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things.”

When I reflect on these verses in Ephesians, I hear two really simple things: First, let God rule in my life, not the world, its sins, and all its demands.

Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us [first] throw off everything that hinders and [second] the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

It’s noteworthy to me that the writer of Hebrews puts “everything that hinders” first and “sin” second. Sure, I wrestle with sinful thoughts and actions every day. More than anything, though, I wrestle with sin-neutral distractions.

Second, keep it simple. Life is ridiculously complicated. Slow down. Chill. Put every little thing in God’s hands. I’m sure this is what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 11:28-29,

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

So, the first essential family value is submission to God. The second is …

2. Submission to one another.

Simply stated: Put pride aside! Pride means: It’s about you. You have to have it your way. You’re right and the other person is wrong. And if you don’t get your way, you will resort to anger. Or manipulation. Or gossip. Or violence.

But here’s the kicker. Specifically, why should we submit to one another? Because we fear the Lord, as Paul writes: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” “Reverence” here in the New Testament Greek text is phobos, from which we get the English word phobia, fear. Because we reverence Christ, we reverence one another. Only when we fear God, will we learn to respect one another.

In contrast, when you disrespect another person, no matter who they are, you disrespect the God who made them and who brought them into your life. Think about this: God loves the people you detest more than you love the people you love the most. And you love God as much as you love the least loved person in your life.

Jesus said famously, “Where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.” (Matthew 18:20). We’ve pretty much limited this promise to times we pray together, as if he’s not there if a husband and wife (two or three) are having an argument. Yet Philippians 4:5 says, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. [Why? Why not be angry, stay angry?] The Lord is near” (italics mine).

It’s so simple, but our pride runs so deep. But just try it a time or two: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The outcome will amaze you, as my friend Al Ells says, “The first one to the cross wins.”

So the first two essential life-values are submission to God and to one another. And the third?

3. Wives submit to your husbands.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Would you like me to talk about what it means to submit? Are you kidding?! I’m not gonna touch that with a ten foot pole! Hey, just do what the Bible says! Submit! What part of submit don’t you understand?!

Ahhh, ok, I probably should try to explain this. In the old wedding ceremony, women were asked to love, honor and obey their husbands. Wow! Obey! That’s what submission means: Obey!

Have you hit “delete” yet? Hey, I’m just trying to get your attention. No, some of these “old” ways of understanding submission may not be exactly what Paul had in mind in Ephesians 5.


Here’s how in practical terms I define “submit” for wives: Accept your husband and don’t try to fix him!

When we try to fix somebody, it’s not because we care about them. It’s because we care about ourselves. The way they are annoys us, makes life difficult for us. So we want them to change so our lives will be less stressful.

To make matters worse, did you know that if you are a “fixer,” you assume the role of the Holy Spirit in the other person’s life? Don’t do that! That other person will begin to dislike you and God!

A woman approached me in the lobby of our church to ask me for prayer for her husband. “He’s just not being the spiritual leader of our home,” she complained. Having known them for a number of years (her husband became a Christian through our ministry), I asked her, “So is he better now than he was five years ago?”

“Oh, yes!” she replied excitedly.

“It sounds to me, then,” I said, “that your problem is pretty simple: your expectations for your husband keep running about 60 to 90 days ahead of where he actually is in his relationship with God. Give him space. Stop trying to fix him.”

She laughed out loud in humble recognition that she was a big part of the problem, that the more pressure she put on him to be a certain way, the more difficult life would be for both of them.

To put it in simpler terms, wives, respect your husbands for the unique place God has given him in your life and home, and do it “out of reverence for Christ.” What was it about him that attracted you to him in the first place? Why did you fall in love with him? What need in you did he fill? Affirm that! Remind yourself that God brought you two together, and he used those differences, those natural attractions!

Look ahead at Ephesians 5:33: “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” Here is the same verse in the Amplified Bible:

However, let each man of you [without exception] love his wife as [being in a sense] his very own self; and let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband [that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates, and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly].

4. Husbands love your wives, that is, be sacrificial, sensitive and tender.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body.

My grandfather spoke from this passage when he did our wedding. I’ve forgotten everything he said, except this: “Gary, when I read about how wives should submit to their husbands and husbands should love their wives as Christ loves the church, I think what God expects from husbands is more difficult.”

To love like Jesus? Com’on! Humanly speaking, that’s impossible. Which means we have have to begin loving by totally leaning on him. Practically speaking, this passage is telling us that we husbands must make whatever sacrifices are necessary to provide for our wives and, of course, our children, to be fully devoted to them second only to our devotion to God. In fact, to put our family first is Christ-like. He gave everything for his bride, the Church.

Men make sacrifices for their careers, often swallowing their pride in order to be accepted in the workplace. Yet men are less inclined to make sacrifices for their wives and kids, less willing to swallow their pride in order to listen to and serve their families.

How to love like Jesus

Here are some helpful tips, a checklist if you will, on how to love like Christ:

  • No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love
  • Love [agape, the God-kind of love] never gives up.
  • Love cares more for others than for self.
  • Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
  • Love doesn’t strut,
  • Doesn’t have a swelled head,
  • Doesn’t force itself on others,
  • Isn’t always “me first,”
  • Doesn’t fly off the handle,
  • Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
  • Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
  • Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
  • Puts up with anything,
  • Trusts God always,
  • Always looks for the best,
  • Never looks back,
  • But keeps going to the end.
  • (1 Corinthians 13:3-6, The Message)

Love loud and put pride aside!

5. Acknowledge and accept personality and gender differences …

… that he is man, and he is a unique man. And she is a woman, and she is a unique woman. Furthermore, men and women are uniquely different. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.

Ok. Here I go again, leaping into the abyss of misunderstanding. What I am about to say is not true of every woman and every man—but it’s generally true.

God has told men to love—to be sensitive and tender. How many of you women would agree that this is one of the more significant challenges for men? Men are not motherly. Ever seen a mom and dad with their kids at a playground where they have unique climbing features?

Dad: Climb higher! You can do it!

Mom: Get down! Get down! You’re going to hurt yourself!

We men actually show our love by insulting one another. In Australia, their loving verbal abuse can bring a guy to tears. They more they like you, the more that lay it on.

You know one of the reasons it’s great to be a guy? When you get together with a friend, you don’t have to bring a little gift.

So the Bible tells me, a man, to love sacrificially, tenderly. On the other hand, Ephesians 5 tells women to submit. Could it be that this is one of the more significant challenges for women? For example, studies of women in tasks groups have found they have a much greater difficulty than men in identifying a leader and submitting to that person for the sake of the goal. I know I’ll get in trouble saying this, but it seems like women will submit to one another, but not really.

To illustrate this further, an article appeared on the front page of our Phoenix newspaper regarding a study of what makes for happy marriages. The most common element: husbands essentially did what ever their wife wanted. Yep, when mama’s not happy, nobody is happy.

I repeat: there are exceptions to every rule. There are some men who are remarkably gentle and kind, and there are some women for whom submission to others isn’t an issue. My dear wife Marilyn is a case in point.

6. De-emphasize stereotypes about gender roles. 

De-emphasize authority and control issues. Emphasize modeling Jesus, who is our role model.


  • Roles: men should always do this and women should always do that.

Yet traditional gender roles can be both limiting and confusing. God does not assign specific roles, except that women can bear and nurse children! Above and beyond gender roles, God invites us to role play in the right sense, that we follow Jesus and not ourselves. Taking up the cross, we should submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Rules and ruling: men are always leaders and women are always followers

Yet a Christian home is not about everyone settling into their predetermined place in the pecking order, maybe like the caste system in India. I wish it were that simple. I mean if you just know who’s in charge, you let them make all the decisions. No, instead, the Christian home is about everyone submitting to Jesus and serving each other just as if they were Jesus. It’s not about pride and control. It’s about submission and love.

So you ask, “How is that supposed to work in my home?” I’d love to give you a simple answer. It’s going to depend on who you are, what your personalities are like, and how much you spend time praying about it and talking about it: “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

This leads me to my last point:

7. Keep a kingdom focus.

A biblical family is one that seeks the kingdom of God first, knowing that God will take care of everything else, even if life doesn’t unfold the way we’d plan it. Check out the kingdom parallel in these scripture:

  • “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
  • “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth [including your home] as it is in heaven.”

Simply stated, the kingdom of God is God’s will being done on the earth, in your home, in your life.

Can you do this?  Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

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