For those who may be joining us for the first time this year, we’ve been in a series called, "Your Bucket List." Which I borrowed from a movie which came out about a year ago called The Bucket List. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a great movie about two very different men, one a wealthy business man, the other a mechanic, who meet in a hospital room where they discover they have cancer and only a year left to live. Together they come up with a bucket list of all things they want to do before they...kick the bucket (hence the name of the list). And since they only have a year left they put everything else on hold and head out across the world to complete their dream or wish list before they die.
I know at first it sounds kinda hokie but I’ve been encouraging us to come up with a bucket list of our own, of the things to do before we kick the bucket. It’s really not that hokie if our bucket list is made up of the things which will really matter at the end of our life. In the movie they began accomplishing their dreams of going skydiving, racing a dream car around a racetrack, seeing the pyramids in Egypt, and the Taj Mahal in India. And I’m sure many of us could come up with some cool things to do before we die. Personally, I would love to go to Africa some day and go on a real wild life safari (Elephants, giraffes, lions, the whole bit), but is it really going to matter at the end of my life? The great transition in the movie is when they begin to discover that while those things were a lot of fun, they weren’t the things that were the most important. While the bucket list was a good idea, they hadn’t prioritized the things that really matter in a person’s life. Things like faith, our relationship with God, family and friends. If you discovered you had only a year left to live what would you like to accomplish in the next year? Perhaps another way of looking at it is this; what regrets would you have if you didn’t do them before you die? Again this bucket list we are making isn’t just an exercise in listing all the fun or cool things you always wanted to do but never got around to. It is prioritizing the things which will really matter but we haven’t got around to doing yet.
Let me read a few of the items that some of you have shared from your bucket lists.
These are great priorities for us to have. Let me ask you, what is stopping you from fulfilling these right now?
Last week we talked about the priority of faith. Where does faith get placed on our bucket list? Our relationship with God directly impacts every other area of our life; from our eternal destination, to our character, to the quality of our relationships with other people. We started with faith because it needs to be at the top of the list if we are to if we are going to have success in our other areas. Because then we do it with God’s power and blessing.
God’s Priority of Relationships
This week we begin looking at the priority of family, beginning with marriage. Check out this clip from The Bucket List where Carter and Edward have been enjoying themselves but share an honest moment.
[Clip of Carter (played by Morgan Freeman) as he shares with Edward (played by Jack Nicholson) his relationship with his wife].
As I watched this clip for the first time several months ago, it really hit me how easy it would be for our marriage to come to this point over the years. Before Elizabeth it wouldn’t have sunk in at all, but now that we have a child, and the busyness that comes with raising kids. I can see where it could easily happen, and I imagine many other couples find themselves in the same situation. Couples get so involved in their kids’ lives, sports, gymnastics, dance, music lessons, band, or they become interested in their own different activities or hobbies that they don’t spend time with each other. They forget to nurture their relationship with each other. As the years go by they get farther and farther apart, until they can’t even remember what it feels like to be in love with each other, or to holds hands. Some choose divorce, while others choose to be like roommates who happen to live in the same house.
Is it possible to climb the ladder of life only to get to the top and realize our ladder was leaning on the wrong wall? I’m not saying the wrong wall is being a parent interested in your kids activities. The wrong wall is our ignoring our relationship with our spouse.
As it was for Carter, the most important relationship which we tend to overlook is marriage. In God’s eyes, for those who choose to be married, our marriage is intended to be our first and most foundational relationship, second only to our relationship with God. We are told in the Creation account in the first book of the Bible (which Jesus repeated) that when a man and woman are united together in marriage, the two become one flesh (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5-6). God unites them, he weaves or knits them together spiritually so that they are no longer two but one. That’s why divorce is so painful because you can’t pull apart something that has been merged together without causing damage; ripping, tearing,
This relationship is intended to be the most important relationship in our life, even dare I say, more important than our relationship with our parents or our children. That verse I mentioned begins by saying "for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." There is a leaving and a cleaving. Leaving parents to cleave or be united to one’s spouse. And that will be true for our children as well. They will leave, and, if they choose, they will unite with a spouse themselves.
That’s why so many parents struggle with empty nest syndrome. The kids move out of the house, and they get depressed because their lives revolved solely around their kids, they look at each other and wonder who are you, and now what are we going to do?
If you want to see an example of what it looks like when you get these priorities confused just watch a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond, and see how Ray constantly struggles with pleasing a mother whose world revolves around her son, and has a pretty poor relationship with her husband who live more like roommates than husband and wife.
God’s plan for marriage is for husbands to love their wives just as Jesus loved the church and gave up his life for her. In other words it is a life of selflessness, not selfishness. Putting her needs ahead of our own, just as Jesus put our needs ahead of his when he came to earth and then died on a cross for us. God wants husbands to die daily for their wives. I know a common thought process goes, I bring home the paycheck, I play with the kids, what more does she want? She wants your attention. Unfortunately, we men don’t always love sacrificially. And wives are to respect their husbands. Wives do you honor and respect your husband, appreciating him for who he is and what he does? Or do you belittle him, put him down, criticize?
In the first year of marriage when our spouse is sick, its: "Honey, I’m worried about that sniffle. So I’ve called the paramedics to rush you to the Hospital for a checkup and a week of rest. And I know you don’t like hospital food, so I’m having gourmet meals brought in for you." That’s the first year.
Second year of a marriage: "Sweetheart, I don’t like the sound of that cough. I’ve arranged for the Dr. to make a house call. Let me tuck you in bed."
Third year of a marriage: "You look like you’ve got a fever. Why don’t you drive yourself over to the Medi-Stop, get some medicine, I’ll watch the kids." You know, very noble.
Fourth year: "Look, be sensible. After you’ve fed and bathed the kids, washed the dishes, you really ought to go to bed."
Fifth year: "For Pete’s sake, do you have to cough so loud? I can’t hear the TV. Would you mind going in the other room while this show is on? You sound like a barking dog."
God places our relationship with our spouse as a top priority. And yet, we don’t often treat marriage with the same importance God gives it. How easy it is to slip away because we don’t prioritize it, and spend the time to nourish it and grow.
If you had to chart a path, which direction would you say your marriage is heading? Is it growing closer or slipping away? What could you place on your bucket lists to work on making your marriage a priority again? Are there ways to get back on track? Are there habits we may need to incorporate such as a date night biweekly date night with your spouse? We can’t afford a babysitter for our kids, try trading off with another couple, take turns. If we are to love our spouses as Christ loved the church what deposits are we making into our spouses account? You can only run on a negative balance for so long. You’ve heard me say before ’you don’t feel your way into love, you love your way into a feeling.’ In other words the action comes first and the feeling follows. How are you nurturing your marriage?
Reconciling Relationships within Your Family
We discover later in the movie, that Edward’s relationships with his family is even worse. Edward reveals that he has been married and divorced three times and that he has a daughter. But his daughter hates him and won’t have anything to do with him, in fact she says he is dead to her, because he arranged for his daughter’s abusive husband to be "taken care of", not killed mind you, but out of the picture, and so in her anger she cursed him and shut him out of her life. Edward was not willing make amends because he felt he didn’t do anything wrong, he did what "any father would do."
I believe this is a huge issue for so many families, even Christian families. Broken relationships. Father’s who won’t speak to their daughters. Daughter’s who shut out their mother. Brothers or sisters who won’t be in the same room together because of something that was said or done years earlier. I remember a member at our home church telling me, with much sadness, about a young man he had to fire because he stole from the company. The reason he did it was because he got his girlfriend or fiancée pregnant and his conservative Christian parents kicked him out, they disowned him, he was no longer their son. In desperation he wrongly resorted to stealing.
Are broken relationships acceptable to God? That depends. In my devotions this week, I came across a passage where Jesus said he came to divide families, father against son, mother against daughter, daughters against mothers (Luke 12:53). Which makes it seem like God expects this families to be divided, but the context of those divisions are over our relationship with Jesus. Do we follow Jesus first or our family? Jesus clearly says we are to follow him even if it means dividing the family. In that sense family divisions are acceptable.
However I want to refer us back to our passage this morning, looking at what we as Christians are supposed to be about. It says
2 Cor. 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
As Christians, those who are in Christ, who have been reconciled to God, we are now his ambassadors. An ambassador is someone who goes in the place of another person or nation, representing them on their behalf. For example the US has ambassadors to just about everywhere...let’s say to...Uzbekistan. That persons represents our country there. They are the go between. He is saying we are the God’s representative to the world. We represent Christ wherever we are in the world. One of our primary task as an ambassador is to help others be reconciled, first with God, then with each other.
In God’s kingdom people live in loving peaceful harmony with God and each other. I believe the Bible is clear that it is not okay for our relationships to be divided, particularly by the things we say or do. Rather the Bible teaches us that we need to reconcile relationships particularly if what we say or do is the cause of the division. Look at what Jesus said:
NRSV Matthew 5:21 "You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ’You shall not murder’; and ’whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ’You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
If we act on our anger by using our tongue to insult others, to put them down, or say "you fool", which was a term of abuse, like calling someone a really nasty name, tearing them down with our words, we place ourselves in the position of being liable to the fires of hell. In other words, our broken relationship with others damages our relationship with God. I’m sure when Jesus said that it got their attention. It gets mine. God is serious about our relationship with others and how we treat them.
What does this have to do with families? If we think about it, who are the people who usually receive our words spoken in anger? It’s not usually strangers. It is usually the people we are closest with, our family; spouse, siblings, parents, children that we tend to tear apart the most.
Jesus is encouraging us to resolve our anger without resorting to foul language, name calling, or abuse. And if we have done this, if we have hurt others, if a relationship is broken because of something we have said or done, we must take the initiative and make it right with them, and we must do it quickly. Leave your gift at the altar and first be reconciled to your brother or sister. Which could refer to a blood relative or to a spiritual brother or sister in Christ, our Christian family. We can’t just keep putting it off waiting for that day which will never come. Not only will it hurt us, detracting from our happiness, our joy. It will continue to wedge the divide between us and God. We need to swallow our pride, courage, it’s going to require God’s help, but the good news is, God is willing to help. But they did this or that to me, it doesn’t matter, if you are in Christ you are a new creation, you are above this and it is your responsibility to make it right.
As you continue working on your bucket list, is there a relationship God is placing on your heart that you need to reconcile with? Is there a brother or sister or parent that you have a rift with? Perhaps there is a broken relationship in your family which doesn’t involve you, such as a brother and sister who don’t get along. Is God calling you to be his ambassador of reconciliation?
Is there a family member who does not know Christ?
Don’t leave it on your list until you die.
Folks, life is too short for us to be at odds with our family. God has given us a gift in family, both in our blood family, and in our spiritual family. Don’t wait until the end, either there’s or yours, do it now.
Let me close with another clip from the Bucket List [Edward finally being reconciled to his daughter].
NIV Romans 12:18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.