Nobody’s Perfect (Yet)

This is the introduction to the book, The Home Team, available on Amazon ($8.99 Kindle edition).

Table tennis is a fun pastime for millions, but a dedicated few take the sport very seriously. When I play, I lean against the table and idly pat the ball back and forth while chitchatting with my fellow player. But professionals appear locked in mortal combat, brandishing their paddles like weapons of warfare and smashing the little ball with fervor. If you’ve ever watched such a spectacle, you’ve probably noticed that skilled players position themselves several steps away from the table: the more heated the bout becomes, the further apart the competitors move.

When I counsel married couples, I often refer to conflict between them as “table-tennis syndrome.” To me, the sport provides an apt metaphor for the tension that exists in most marital counseling sessions: two rivals facing a taut net of animosity, distanced by an issue they don’t really want to touch, deftly lobbing snide remarks at each other. The more they snap at each other, the further apart they drift.

My first office had an enormous three-seater sofa in it. When couples came in for marriage counseling, I began to notice a correlation between the severity of the tension between them and how they sat on the sofa. If the couple came in and sat together, possibly even holding hands, I knew that they viewed themselves as part of the same team, here to address a problem they both feared would get between them. But if the husband and wife sat on opposite sides of the sofa, leaving an obvious gap between them big enough to accommodate an invisible sumo wrestler, I guessed I was dealing with two opponents who viewed each other as the problem.

This simple table-tennis test proved remarkably accurate, and I learned that the first counsel I needed to give involved turning to Genesis 2 and reminding this couple of God’s most foundational principle in his design for marriage and family—namely, the one-flesh union of a husband and wife.

The Cure for Table-Tennis Syndrome

In my experience, too few married couples have heard and understood that God considers them one flesh, joined permanently through a covenant. Thus, few couples know that God wants spouses to play as a team, facing problems together and never letting challenges get between them. This team mentality, starting with spousal one-flesh unity, is the cure for table-tennis syndrome. When a family closes ranks and functions as a close-knit unit for God’s glory, it can withstand any challenge that comes. This may include issues with children, in-laws, finances, health, or any other trouble we face in a sin-cursed world. But if the husband and wife—the basic unit of the family—view each other as rivals, or label their kids as the problem, the family has little hope of making progress until they repair that misconception.

The biblical principles in this book are those that I’ve seen help my own family and families in my church. Simply put, we have found that God’s Word is sufficient and his grace abounds when we commit to following his design for the family. The Bible explains clearly what a family is and what it should do. It also defines the roles of husband, wife, and children while describing the relationship between family and church, in-laws, schools, and other community factors. God’s Word warns against challenges that will come as a result of the curse and indwelling sin. The only way to pursue the blessings and protection that God intends for families is by understanding and implementing God’s design for the family.

Team Talk

You don’t have to be an athlete or even a fan to find the metaphor of a sports team helpful for understanding the family dynamic. Families, just like sports teams, must understand their goals and their opponents. Every member of the family must know his or her position and the rules of the game. And the family needs to understand the consequences of poor play as well as the rewards of fair play. Thinking about the “home team” this way can help us see what turns a group of related people into a real family.

Of course, the family matters far more than any game we could play. God’s glory, the blessings that come from obedience, the negative consequences that result from disobedience—these significant spiritual realities are at stake in every family. So we must strive to know and obey God’s will. If we rely on his grace and guidance, we can enjoy the wonderful blessing that God intended family to be. Conversely, if we try to change the rules or invent our own way of doing family, we may end up hurting ourselves and others, possibly with eternal consequences.

In this book I have assumed that the Bible is God’s Word, and I have aimed my instruction at those who believe in Jesus as our only Lord and Savior. The title Lord implies that Jesus has the right to tell us how he wants us to live; he does this through the Bible. The title Savior implies that Jesus saves completely sinners who cannot help themselves with their own sin problem. If you do not acknowledge these realities, you will find that the principles in this book have no value to you.

Nobody’s Perfect…Yet

We usually think of perfection as an ideal for which athletes aim rather than a goal anyone seriously expects to achieve. After all, nobody’s perfect. But that all changed at the Montreal Summer Olympics when a young Romanian girl achieved the impossible.

On July 18, 1976, fourteen-year-old Nadia Comăneci represented Romania in the gymnastics team event. Spectators watched in riveted silence as she confidently completed a mesmerizingly ambitious and astonishingly flawless routine on the uneven bars . . . until the instant her feet planted an unfaltering dismount, which generated an avalanche of applause. But the jubilation dissipated suddenly when her result appeared on the digital display: Comaneci’s brilliant performance had scored only 1.0.

In gymnastics, a panel of judges rates each performance according to its difficulty, creativity, and the technical proficiency of its execution. The highest and lowest figures are discarded and the final score represents an average of the remaining numbers. The highest number a judge can give is a perfect 10, and every judge would need to give a 10 in order for the cumulative score to be 10. Because this is so unlikely, the electronic score board only allowed space for a single digit on the left side of the decimal point: the maximum number it could show was 9.9, which means it displayed Comaneci’s score as 1.0 instead of the perfect 10 the judges had awarded for the first time in Olympic history. An apologetic voice over the public address system explained the error and the crowd roared to ovation.

Little Nadia was—gymnastically speaking—the world’s first perfect woman.

Of course, gymnastic perfection is determined subjectively by other people. In the spiritual realm, however, the standard of perfection is not subject to human opinion. God alone sets the standard of righteousness and judges whether it as been attained. In Matthew 5:48, Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Yet the Bible acknowledges a great paradox. Although God demands perfect obedience, the reality is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

As soon as mankind fell in the Garden of Eden, human beings lost any means of recognizing perfection. The standard was simply unattainable.

But that all changed about 2,000 years ago.

When Jesus of Nazareth was born into this world, humanity encountered the first and only perfect person. That man lived a normal life on earth and in society. He submitted to government authorities, civil regulations, and the Mosaic Law—systems that existed to manage moral imperfection. And Jesus was able to keep God’s Law perfectly. He never sinned and thus never fell short of God’s perfect righteousness (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus then offered his spotless life on the cross as a substitute for the sin of all who would trust in him for salvation: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the good news of perfection attained as well as perfection imputed to the imperfect who trust in Jesus.

Those of us in Christ want to respond to his gift of salvation by glorifying him through worship and obedience. We will not achieve perfection on earth as our Savior did, but we can faithfully pursue the goal of glorifying God. The home is one arena where we can do that by God’s grace. Every family has the great privilege of pursuing that goal together . . . as a team.

Before you read another paragraph or turn another page, please consider Jesus. Do not read this book for another list of ways to do marriage and family better: it’s not intended as a rulebook or a checklist. If you read it like that, you will get frustrated and fail. You cannot accomplish any of the principles in this book apart from the Spirit of God applying grace to your failing heart. So seek Jesus and his grace. Then read on.

Abnormal Is the New Normal

There is no “normal” family, much less a “normal” godly family. Every family represents a unique collection of individuals, all with different relationships to the Lord. That said, I have written this book largely for families of professed believers since only believers will have the desire and ability, through the Holy Spirit, to implement what the Bible says we need to do. God’s standard is the same for everyone—believer and unbeliever alike. Rather than provide endless permutations of all the variables (one spouse is unsaved, a child professes belief but shows no fruit, etc.), I opted to write for the ideal model. You readers must then apply these chapters to your unique situations.

How will you do that? First, believers will have the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Ask him for discernment. Second, believers should have the help of the church. If you are not already committed, serving members of a local church, I encourage you to become so and to avail yourself of the wisdom of your own pastors and spiritual leaders. A book like this is merely intended to help you think through issues and spur you on to love and good deeds, but it is no substitute for a local church body or the wisdom of a shepherd to whom God has entrusted you.

All that said, I trust that this book will be a blessing to you and your family and that you will grow closer to one another and to the Lord for his glory and your good.

And . . . now that I have explained all the rules, let’s sing the anthem and play ball!

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