Grace-filled Families

Whenever we talk about families, we have to remember that some of what we believe about families might not be true. The first thing we need to do, then, is to debunk a couple of myths about families.

The first myth I want to debunk is the myth of the normal family. There's no such thing. John Ortberg just came out with a book called Everybody's Normal Until You Get to Know Them. I love that. I haven't met a normal family yet. Who would have guessed that Ozzie Osbourne's family is so strange until they invited a camera crew in their house? I guess that's a bad example - no surprise there. But I'm pretty sure that if a camera crew came in any of our houses and were given freedom to tape and edit as they wished, we'd all come across a little less than normal. The challenge for a lot of us is to put the fun back in dysfunction, because all of us have quirks and secrets and strange little things about us.

The other myth that we need to debunk is the myth that our families can make us happy. Richard Lucas, PhD at Michigan State University, recently did a study on happiness levels before and after marriage. "What we found is that on average, there is a reported boost in happiness right around the time of marriage - the year before, the year of, and the year after getting married. But after two years of marriage, most people are pretty much where they started before marriage." Getting married won't make you happy. Man, a lot of us already know that. Having kids won't make you happy. Divorce also won't make you happy.

So if there's no such thing as a normal family, and families can't make us happy, what's the point? Could it be that the purpose of family is something altogether different? Could it be that the purpose of family is to shape our characters, to move us from our selfishness and isolation?

Inevitably, in our families, we experience challenges. People who have studied this say that we go through two stages. First is idealization. We look at our future husband or wife and see only good. It's interesting that our parents never seem to go through this stage with our future spouses. They don't have the same glowing impressions that we do. This applies to our kids as well. We hold our newborn kids and think that this will be the first perfect kid that ever lived, because no other child has been blessed with such beauty and character before.

The second stage is the stage of realization. Inevitably, we experience disappointment and challenge in our family relationships. It's there that we're most naked, most vulnerable. In the kitchen, in the bedroom, the bathroom, the living room, with our schedules and routines, and the reality of our brokenness, we inevitably come up against disappointment. It's not all bad - family life presents both the best and the worst of what we experience - but it's challenging. Some of us are experiencing some of those challenges now.

Human nature is to respond to others in the family as they've responded to us. The Bible, though, gives us a different model to follow. Today, I want to talk about becoming a grace-filled family. In the midst of these challenges, we have the opportunity of creating grace-filled families. Jesus has given us a new model to follow. Instead of treating others as they treat us, Jesus says that we're to treat others as he treats us. John 13:34 says, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." We've been given this new way of relating to others, even (especially) in our families. The way we act toward them is to be a reflection of the way that Christ acts toward us. It's based not on how much they deserve to be treated well. It's based, instead, on the strength of Christ's relationship with us.

This is tough to do in some of our families. It's easy to apply in families that are only a little bit dysfunctional. It's not something that will fix all the problems in your family life. Jesus loved this way, and it still cost him his life. It won't fix your problems, but it will incarnate Christ's love within your family.

Three words describe what it might mean to be a grace-filled family, in which relationships are modeled after Christ's love for us.


I've never yet met a person who isn't selfish. I know I am. We hide it well, some of us, but it's pretty hard to hide permanently within a family. You put a group of selfish people together within the same family and stuff will happen. In a grace-filled family, we're aware of our own selfishness, and we work to shift the priority from us to the others around us. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:28-33:

In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man is actually loving himself when he loves his wife. No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the church. And we are his body.

As the Scriptures say, "A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one." This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

This is probably in this passage that we see most clearly how Christ's love for us becomes the model for our relationship to our families. Paul's talking here about how husbands love their wives, but he can't help but get a little carried away talking about Christ's love for the church. Our family relationships are illustrations of how the Christ and the church are one.

When you read this passage, you get a sense of the priority that Christ puts on the church - one, by the way, that we sometimes find hard to understand. He cares for it. He gave up his life for it. He left the wonders of heaven to walk dirty roads unrecognized and unappreciated because of his love for it. Never has there been such an extravagant expression of love for so undeserving a recipient. Paul says, that's the model. Husbands ought to love their wives in the exact same way. That's the example of a good grace-filled family relationship.

Paul then brings it closer to where we live. He says we're supposed to love others within our family as much as we love ourselves and our bodies. We may think we don't like our bodies, but it doesn't take much pain to prove that theory wrong. We're called to put priority on others within our families, to put them first in the same way that Jesus Christ put us first.

Telling a bunch of selfish people (hey, we all are) to stop being selfish really won't accomplish much. The answer isn't as simple as receiving Christ's love, although it starts there. It's impossible, in fact, without doing so. It involves an ongoing commitment to redefine how we see ourselves. We're not the centers of our families or the universe. We're servants, especially at home. There's probably some practical way today that you could go home and communicate your servant status to the rest of your family. Then it involves regularly coming back to readjust our priority, to put others in our families and lives first. That's the first word: priority.


Human nature says, "Agree with me and I'll accept you." We have a hard time accepting those who are different from us, especially on important issues. I've got my own list of things that I find hard to accept - everything from habits to beliefs to beliefs.

Romans 15:7 says, "So accept each other just as Christ has accepted you; then God will be glorified." Paul's been talking about disputable matters - things over which there are honest differences of opinion about beliefs and behaviors. There comes a time when the relationship is more important than the fact that we disagree on a matter. This principle applies all the times in our families. Families disagree all the time over all sorts of issues. Some of them are important, some aren't. Accepti ng means that we value people over our opinions.

Once again, the reason we do this in our relationships is because Jesus Christ did this for us. He accepted us when we were at our most unacceptable. It's all about grace, not performance.

Within our families, it's easy to be rules-driven rather than to be relationally-driven. There's a certain point at which rules are necessary. This isn't for a minute to say that you should just accept whatever your kids do. But there should never be any doubt in the minds of your kids of how completely you accept them regardless of how well they keep the rules. Acceptance doesn't depend on adherence to rules. It depends on love and grace.

I don't have adult children, and don't want to pretend that I know all the issues of what it means to be a parent of adults. But acceptance plays in big here. You can't control the choices of your kids when they're grown. They make all kinds of decisions that you might not agree with. Some are important - choice of spouse, lifestyle. Some are minor. I've seen parents cut off relationships with their kids over these kinds of issues. But don't underestimate the value of acceptance - not of their behaviors and choices, but of them. We can preserve the relationship even if we don't agree with everything they're doing. Relationships are more important than rules.

One word about acceptance: acceptance doesn't mean that you tolerate any and all behavior. There's still room for boundaries, for not allowing abusive or inappropriate behavior. Acceptance doesn't mean turning a blind eye to everything, but it does mean that we value people even when we disagree.

A third word that came to mind:


Colossians 3:13 says, "You must make allowance for each other's faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others." When you're part of a family, you're going to need to forgive. Families give all kinds of opportunity to be hurt. "Forgiveness is a sort of divine absurdity," Walter Wangerin Jr. writes in an excellent book called As for Me and My House:

Forgiveness is a willing relinquishment of certain rights. The one sinned against chooses not to demand her rights of redress for the hurt she has suffered. She does not hold her spouse accountable for his sin, nor enforce a punishment from him...She does not make his life miserable in order to balance accounts for her own misery, even though she might feel perfectly justified in doing so, tit for tat: "He deserves to be hurt as he hurt me."

The pattern for forgiveness, again, is Jesus. He forgave us, and because of that, we're required to forgive others. This is hardest, sometimes, within our own families. Hurts accumulate, patterns are repeated. But we're required to forgive.

Do we have to wait until the person asks for forgiveness before we forgive them? Some people argue that that's the way God treats us. Actually, it isn't. Romans 5:8 says, "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." Before we ever thought of asking God for forgiveness, he was already taking action to forgive us.

In any case, when we don't forgive, sometimes when we're waiting for the other person to apologize or to ask forgiveness, we're doing damage to ourselves. Ann Lamott's said that "Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die." We think we're hurting the other person by not forgiving, when really it's killing our own souls. Lamott writes in Traveling Mercies:

They say we are not punished for the sin but by the sin, and I began to feel punished by my unwillingness to forgive. By the time I decided to become one of the ones who is heavily into forgiveness, it was like trying to become a marathon runner in middle age; everything inside me either recoiled, as from a hot flame, or laughed a little too hysterically...As C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, "If we really want to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start off with something easier than the Gestapo."

If you have something you need to forgive, Wangerin's book As for Me and My House has a really good section on how to do this. He gives some steps - not like a recipe or a formula that make things automatic, but some useful steps nonetheless:

1. Be realistic
2. Remember your own forgiveness
3. Sacrifice your rights in prayer
4. Tell your spouse [or whoever else in you need to forgive] the sin
5. Follow words with action

Priority...acceptance...forgiveness. These three words describe the type of relationship Jesus Christ has offered us. They also describe the type of grace-filled relationship we can build with our families as a result of our relationship with Christ.

One takeaway: I'm sure all of us can think of some area in our life in which we're not giving others priority, acceptance, or forgiveness. It could be scheduling, listening, unresolved issues. I'd challenge you to pick one area of your relationships and to make that the focus of your energies this week, to try to build priority, acceptance, and forgiveness in your life.

I'd even give you this challenge. If you're married, why not ask your spouse how they'd like you to respond to this message? If you've got kids who are old enough, you could ask them as well. A discussion, even on the way home today, might get you thinking about ways that we can live this out in our own families and lives.

I want to close by praying for you today. I want to pray for all of us in whatever stage we're in, that we could live grace-filled lives.

Married without kids
Married with young children
Married with school-age children
Single parents
Parents of grown children


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Father's Day (Titus 2:2)

I got an email last night from someone who's here, saying that his wife was wondering if I was going to give all the men a whooping today for Father's Day. In a manner of speaking, I suppose I am. I want to talk to the men today. I've been wanting to do so for years, but this is the first chance I've had.

I want to talk about the models that we've used of what it means to be good men and fathers. There are lots to choose from. For instance, one could choose Mel Gibson's character in Braveheart. Some of us would like to be like him. Some of us may even think we are like him.

Then there's Homer Simpson. I thought of him because I've been reading about this contest for Father's Day called, "Is your father like Homer Simpson?" I've been nervous that my family might have entered me in that contest. I came across this diagram outlining the evolution - I guess you could say devolution - of fathers over the past few years on TV. It went from Ward Cleaver to Archie Bunker to Homer Simpson to Ozzie Osbourne. You have to wonder who's next.

I want to clear something up right away. It comes from something Homer Simpson once said: "I won't lie to you, fatherhood isn't easy like motherhood." Obviously, Homer didn't have a clue what he was talking about. If you want to talk equality of the sexes, I hate to admit it, but the women have us beat in every area except for one. We lose in the categories of life expectancy, rates of incarceration and mental illness. We win in upper body strength. Michael Moore has a theory on why women are better than men:

Perhaps there's no logical explanation for this disparity. Maybe, as the nuns taught us, it's just all part of God's plan. But if that's the case, why did God make women so much better? The nuns must have had the inside dope on this, after all, they were all women themselves. They knew God's secret, and they certainly weren't going to share it with the likes of me.

It is my belief, and this is purely form my personal observation of the women I live with (wife and daughter), that when God was creating the world, he spent the better part of Day Six creating what women would look like. I mean, you can't help but notice the skillful craft of an artisan at the top of His field. The shapes, the curves, the symmetry, all constitute extraordinary art. Their skin is soft and smooth and perfect, their hair is rich and think and vibrant. I am not speaking form a prurient perspective here, these are simply the conclusions of the art critic in me. Woman, I think we all agree, are stunningly beautiful.

So what happened to God when it came to us? It's like He used up all His best tricks inventing women. By the time he got to us, he was obviously ready to get it over with and move on to something more important, like that seventh day of rest.

So men ended up like Chevys, rushed off the assembly line and guaranteed to break down after limited use. That's why we try to stay in our recliners as long as we can, the exertion required to pick up after ourselves can lead to an early coronary. Our bodies were built to lift, carry, haul and throw, but for a limited time only. (Stupid White Men)

So this is where we find ourselves: different from women, gloriously different. The gender differences between us are vast, but both reflect the image of God. We find ourselves without easy models for what it means to be men. And in the church, it sometimes doesn't get better. Maybe because a lot of pastors are bookish, we expect that being a follower of Christ means that we'll become just really nice people, like Mr. Rogers if not nicer. That's not a very attractive model for us either.

But I want to probe a bit deeper, because I'm not sure that nice is the goal for those of us who want to be Christian men. John Eldredge says in Wild at Heart that it's hard to see niceness as a byproduct of following God. Kindness, sure, but not niceness. You don't get crucified for being nice. You read of the men of the Bible - David, Daniel, Paul, Jesus - and you don't find guys like Mr. Rogers. You find guys who take on giants, stand up to kings. You find God in the flesh turning tables over in the Temple, and staring the religious leaders of the day in the face and telling them they're hypocrites. Jesus also cried and had close friendships. In him, we find the model for manhood, and it involves more than niceness.

Today, I want to zero in on the character of a man. The reality is that we don't get to control what happens within our lives, as this clip from City Slickers will show. The dad, Mitch, gives these reflections on life to his son's classroom:

Value this time in your life, kids. 'Cause this is the time in your life when you still have your choices. And it goes by so fast. When you're a teenager you think you can do anything, and you do. Your twenties are a blur. raise your family, you make a little money, and you think to yourself, "What happened to my twenties?" Forties? You grow a little grow another chin. The music starts to get too of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother. Fifties, you have a minor surgery. You'll call it a "procedure," but it's a surgery.'ll have a major surgery, the music is still loud but it doesn't matter because you can't hear it anyway. The seventies, you and your wife retire to Fort Lauderdale. You start eating dinner at two o'clock in the have lunch around ten...breakfast the night before. You spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate soft yogurt and muttering, "How come the kids don't call? How come the kids don't call?" The eighties, you'll have a major stroke. You end up babbling to some Jamaican nurse who your wife can't stand, but who you'll call "Mama." Any questions?

We don't really have a lot of choices about our life stages. There's a lot in our lives that we don't control. We can control one thing: what happens in our hearts; what type of people we become. We can control our passion and our character.

There's incredible freedom when one has courage and character, even in circumstances beyond our control. Last year, I was walking the streets of Oxford, England. As I walked the cobblestones of Broad Street, I came across this scene: a cross of twenty-four white stones in the middle of the road. Bicycles and cars whizzed by. That cross marks the spot where, in October 1555, two men were burned at the stake because they refused to recant their faith in Jesus Christ. As they were led from Bocardo Prison, one of the prisoners, Hugh Latimer, said to the other, Nicholas Ridley, "Be of good cheer, Ridley. Play the man. We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace in England as I trust shall never be put out."

Play the man. Even in the worst circumstances of life, play the man.

I'd like to look at Titus 2:2 today, because it describes six qualities that we should aim to develop in our lives. Paul gives us these positive qualities, but he also gives us the qualities that are our defaults, our natural leanings. Titus 1:12-13 says, "One of their own men, a prophet from Crete, has said about them, 'The people of Crete are all liars; they are cruel animals and lazy gluttons.' This is true." I always find this pretty humorous, maybe a little harsh, but not without truth. We all are capable of becoming dishonest, cruel, lazy, and gluttonous. You could even say this is where we'd all drift if we let ourselves.

In Titus 2:2, Paul gives six qualities that we men should set as our goals. Paul says, "Teach the older men to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely. They must have strong faith and be filled with love and patience." Verse 6 says, " In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely in all they do." Paul mentions six qualities. I'd like to present them to you as a diagnostic today. You can go along and evaluate, and then we'll finish off with some action steps at the end.

1. Temperance

I know what you're thinking: this one refers to no drinking. Well, not really. It definitely refers to alcohol, but it has a wider meaning. It's about avoiding the extremes, being clear-headed, and maintaining self-control in all circumstances.

This is going to be different for all of us. There's probably at least one area of our life where it's easy to get out of control. I know enough of you that I can name some of the areas. With some of us, it's toys. We've got money, and we love to buy toys - whatever it is, cars, stereos, technology, drums. I've heard all of them.

With some of us, it's anger. We fly off the handle and say things we later regret. We may even make excuses for it - it's our nationality, they had it coming, and so on. I've heard them all. But if we're completely honest, it's a character issue that we haven't been able to control.

There's also the stuff we eat and drink - too much or the wrong stuff. Then there's the sexual area. A lot of us struggle in this area, and have come to realize that there's no easy answers. Without being crude, I think it's significant that the sign of circumcision, of being separated to the Lord, was done in this area.

I'm not sure which of these areas is the area for you, but we all have at least one area. The goal, Paul says, is to develop self-control in this area. The way to do so isn't to focus harder on this area of your life, which is what we normally try. It's like driving beside those concrete barriers: the more you try not to hit them, the more you end up drifting toward them. The more you try not to eat a chocolate piece of cake, the more you're thinking about that cake. The key isn't to focus on the temptation. The key's to focus on something else, on our goal, on Christ.

I'll give you a couple of practical steps at the end.

2. Dignity

Dignity may be something different than you expect. It doesn't refer to someone who's got it all together, who carries himself a certain way. It refers to someone who is worthy of respect. If you think back to when you were a kid, there was somebody that you looked up to. I remember a guy a few years older to me. He was funny, and yet he took his walk with God seriously. He modeled a growing relationship with Christ, together with being just a fun guy. If you think of somebody that you respect in your life, that's probably a good picture of what it means to be worthy of respect.

We need others to look up to. Parents are an important part of that, but it's not enough. Kids need others they can talk to. Even as adults, we look to others who are just ahead of us and who can help to guide us.

3. Wisdom

This one's hard to translate. It's a little bit like temperance, in that it means self-mastery, but it refers more to judgment and thinking. It's about taking the right perspective, of developing wisdom.

The way we think determines everything else in our lives. If you've ever talked to somebody who's made really bad decisions in life, you find out that it all started with wrong patterns of thinking. When we think negatively or wrongly, nobody can tell at first, but our thoughts ultimately determine our direction in life. That's why Paul says in Romans 12:2, "Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think."

Do a check in this area. Ask how much you think cynically, how much you rationalize, how much you think negatively. You could ask yourself the opposite: how much you try to let your thoughts be shaped by Scripture, how often you try to catch negative thoughts and confront them. I find it easy to go down a cynical road myself. Evaluate yourself in this area.

4. Strong faith

This is what separates this list from a self-improvement list. This isn't a list of qualities that we can develop by ourselves. The root of all of this is a strong faith. Paul's not talking about the content of our faith (believing the right things) or how much faith we have. He's talking about having a sound, healthy relationship with Jesus Christ.

If you look at anybody in the Bible who's a model, they didn't start out by developing all these qualities that would make them into good people. God seldom even used religious people. The people who lived significantly did so because they encountered God in such a way that it changed them. This doesn't come from going to church or trying to improve yourself. It comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ.

5. Love

This isn't mushy love. It's more of an action than a feeling. It's about knowing how to build strong relationships, about avoiding relationship killers like bitterness and vindictiveness. It's about spending time with the people who are significant to us.

At a pastor's conference the other week, a pastor's wife spoke to us on the subject of "What your wives want you to know." They took a survey, and one of the pastor's wives came to give us the results. She started out saying that the number one thing that our wives wanted us to know was that they loved us. We were all trying to be men, sort of grunting in a very masculine way - "Did you hear that, they love us? Well they should." She went on to speak on three areas: on praying together, spending time together, and on asking our wives to share our dreams. Something as simple as booking two hours a week together just to talk. That would blow a lot of our wives away. These are some practical things we can do - not mushy, but practical - that would communicate love to our wives.

The same applies to our kids. You drive them to school, and 99 times out of 100, they'll give you one-word answers. "How was school?" "Fine." "What happened today?" "Nothing." But then, the hundredth time, they'll open up and talk. Loving your kids may mean driving them the hundred times so you're there when they're ready to open up and talk.

6. Patience

I don't think Paul's talking about the ability to handle long lineups and getting stuck in traffic. He's talking about endurance, persistence, over the long haul. It's about getting up after you've fallen, of taking the long view, of developing these characteristics over time so that you build a life that's worth emulating.

I read this week that most moral failures take place in the second half of life. I don't know if that's true or not, but it does emphasize the importance of finishing well. If you're not perfect, but you build a strong character over the course of a lifetime, you will be a person worth emulating.

You can't walk out of here today and put all six qualities into place immediately. You can begin to build a life that allows you to be the man God's created you to be, and that shows strength and courage and character in all the circumstances of life that you'll face. It all begins with the relationship with God, through Jesus Christ.

You can't do this all at once, so here's a bit of a takeaway for today.

First, pick one area in which you're weak. If you're weak in self-control, pick that one. If you're thought life is pretty negative and cynical, choose that. If you need to do some marriage work, then select that. Don't pick more than one; just pick one area so you're not overwhelmed.

Second, find another guy that can walk with you. It doesn't have to be a heavy thing. It's not like you have to get together and get all deep and intimate right away. But guys need other guys. There are some things that a woman will never understand about you. You need someone that you can talk with, and over time, someone with whom you can open up the details of your life. I phoned a guy a few years ago and invited him out to lunch. I asked if we could get together and just talk - sometimes talk, sometimes just laugh - to keep each other sharp. He was surprised I hadn't asked sooner. We need to find someone, maybe go golfing with them or something. We need other guys in our lives so we can say, "This is where I am in this part of my life."

Then, finally, we need to pick an area in which we're doing well. I don't want to leave you all discouraged, because out of this list of six areas, you're likely doing well in at least one of the areas, probably even more. Pick one of them and give yourself a pat on the back today.

Allow me to pray with you today, men. I pray that God would allow you to build a character that allows you to play the man in all the circumstances of your life.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.