Focusing On the Family Doesn’t Help the Church…Nor the Family

Focusing on the family doesn’t help the church… nor the family

Far too often, our children grow up with a church focused around them. Children’s church so they don’t get bored. Youth ministry designed to keep them entertained. Campus ministry that isn’t designed for discipling, just a desperate effort to somehow keep our kids going to church once they leave home.

Family focus has led us to value youth sports over church attendance, family meals over pot lucks, school plays over midweek gatherings. If we find time in the midst of all of our family activities, we’ll go to church. If not, well… family is the most important, right?

Our families need to understand that they need the support of a strong church to grow as they should. If we want to build our families, let’s do so through building our churches.

Want strong families? Teach people to be like Jesus. Want good parent-child relationships? Let them bond through serving other people.

It’s a fine line between focusing on any demographic and pandering.

The Church and its Response to Domestic and Sexual Violence

The Church and its Response to Domestic and Sexual Violence Monica Taffinder, a Christian counselor who specializes in trauma recovery, depression, anxiety, and sexual abuse recovery, argues that many pastors tend to be somewhat naïve when it comes to the probability that both victims and perpetrators exist within their church. “I really think people don’t […]

Dropping Everything

I had to take the day off work to help take care of our daughter today because my wife is sick. When she asked this morning if I would stay home, I hesitated – not because I considered abandoning her, but because I was running through my head the various things I’d need to line up to miss a day at work. (When you’re going to have roghly a hundred kids come through your classroom in a day, you want to make sure everything is in order!) There was never a question. Of course I’d drop everything to take care of my family.

Numerous times, New Testament writers refer to their fellow Christians in familial terms. We are brothers. We are sisters. We are family every bit as much as those who live in the same house as us. And just like our inherited families, we can come in many shapes in sizes. We will have the same joys, the same, troubles, the same disfunctions. We all have those relatives with whom we would never be friends if they weren’t related, and we all have fellow Christians that just rub us the wrong way.

But we’re still family, and family looks out for each other.

Think of the early Christians in Acts 2, sacrificing their worldly possessions to see to each others’ needs. Think of Jesus going out of his way to heal Peter’s mother-in-law in Luke 4:38. Think of the tender affection Paul shows to numerous Christians at the end of his various epistles – often enumerating the many ways they’ve helped him or encouraged him. Those early Christians would drop everything for each other, sometimes even going beyond what they could comfortably hands, as did the Macedonians as recorded in II Corinthians 8.

When we know of a brother or sister who is hurting, who is in need, who needs encouragement or support, what should we do? Do we only help when it’s convenient, when it places no burden on ourselves? We should view each other as family and be as self-sacrificial for each other as we would for our closest relatives. Perhaps my employer would be less than willing to give me leave for your your needs, but there are other ways I can help. There are other ways you can help. Let’s be good brothers and sisters toward each other, and prioritize each other more highly in our lives.

Celebrating…What Exactly?

The last couple of years, I’ve found myself very pensive about what the holiday season means to me and what it should possibly mean for other members of the Lord’s body. I don’t have to give much evidence that – like many Christian traditions and practices – the Christmas holiday has devolved into a symbol of Western materialism and misplaced priorities. I don’t have to do much to demonstrate that it’s become more hype than substance, and I don’t have to look far to find all manners of ugly behaviors, misplaced priorities, and outright greed connected with a holiday supposedly celebrating one who came to teach a message denouncing materialism, emphasizing simplicity and spirituality, and who lived a life characterized by modesty and self-control.

That’s the world, though. It doesn’t have to define me, and it’s not really my place to look down my nose at others. Instead, I should be taking a good, hard look in the mirror and asking myself: what am I celebrating?

Self-Righteousness?

Growing up in the church of Christ, I’ve heard sermon after sermon condemning Christmas as a secular holiday unordained in the Scriptures. After all, the probability of Jesus being born in December is remarkably low. The only observance set forth in the New Testament is that of the Lord’s Supper, commemorating the death (not the birth) of Christ. I’ve heard the arguments that Christmas originated as a pagan holiday, leaving hollow the calls to restore, “The true meaning of Christmas.” I can recite ad nauseam every reason Christians should reject Christmas, and I even know a few Christians who do.

I once heard a brother say that we spend all year trying to get people to focus on Christ, and then we spend the one time of year that they are focusing on Him diverting attention from Him as much as possible. And it’s true. You’d have little problem finding preachers proclaiming the evils of Christmas from the pulpit during any given December. I’ve seen whole series on the topic. I wonder, though, who is actually benefitting from these lessons. I wonder whose minds are actually changed by these exercises in. Instead, I think these lessons merely serve to satisfy our own self-righteousness. “We’re not dumb enough to think Jesus was really born December 25.” I used to eat that stuff up, but now it just seems empty. I’m sure it has a place; I’m just not sure what that place is.

Unspoken Materialism?

We can quote the Sermon on the Mount and I John 2 as much as we like, but we have to admit that we Christians in the United States still tend to be pretty materialistic. We like our cars, our houses, our phones, our computers, our Internet access, our cable, our running water, etc. We take our stuff so for granted that I honestly think we fool ourselves into thinking we are being selfless when we drop off a couple cans of beans at the local food kitchen or when we donate some clothes we don’t want anymore to Goodwill. We feel we are going far when we drop a check in the collection plate equal to 1/100 of our annual income…because it’s from the heart.

I think we should enjoy our blessings – don’t get me wrong. But are we celebrating stuff during the holiday season? Do we get impatient or frustrated with incorrect or “missing” gifts? (Why did mom get me the black iPod touch when I clearly said I wanted the white one?) Do we get overly excited about the gifts we see and unwrap? Are we turning a season of thanksgiving into a season of thanksgetting? While we are busying ourselves with not celebrating Christ during a pagan Christmas, we should be careful that we are not merely observing a celebration of materialism in His place.

How About a Little Peace, Love, and Understanding?

Here’s where I am right now:

  • While I understand Jesus was likely not born on December 25 and that the date formerly belonged to a pagan Roman holiday, I don’t really care. No one celebrating Christmas these days understands the significance of or the imagery surrounding Sol Invictus. The once pagan icons and symbols have taken on other meanings. Observing Christmas does not, by default, turn someone into an idolator by association.
  • The stuff is not important. We should be taking this time to teach about self-sacrifice and giving of one’s self rather than participating in the culture of getting. We should be encouraging people to think on peace and kindness, mercy and forgiveness amid the themes prevalent during this season.
  • Jesus is the best example of these teachings. Let’s stop trying to tear people’s thoughts away from Christ because we want to win some religious-political argument. Let’s take advantage of the season to show people what Christ was really about. Let’s use this time for teachable moments – not opportunities to prove our own intellectual self-righteousness.

For me, Christmas has become a serious Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8 issue. Some of my fellow Christians set aside time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Some refuse to acknowledge Christmas at all. I won’t judge either way, for I’ve come to the conclusion that Christmas for me is a celebration of family – a celebration of the families into which I was born and later married as well as the family of believers into which I was baptized. And, if I’m celebrating my Christian family during this season, then I can’t help but be thankful that Christ came to this world, was born miraculously, lived a sinless life, and died so we can all become adopted sons and daughters of God.

Jesus us the reason I have a spiritual family to celebrate, so far be it from me to erase Him from that celebration. He is more than the reason for a given season. He is the reason we have hope. He is the reason we are a people, a chosen generation, a nation of priests. I’ll then take every opportunity I have to share Him with others, even if it means I need to put on a little Christmas spirit once a year.

Knock Knock

I saw this performance the other day:

As someone who teaches in a low income, urban setting, I can’t even begin to describe what this poem means to me. As someone who still thinks racism is alive and well, as someone who wants better for the next generation, as someone who sees the struggle Mr. Beaty describes unfold every day – words fail me. But I also started thinking about our own spiritual imprisonment and the freedom we have in Christ, so I thought I’d share those thoughts, at least.

One of the hardest things to overcome is the past. We sometimes joke about the Freudian tendency to blame everything on our childhood while we silently act on those lessons and influences of that childhood every day. We are who we were shaped to be, and it can be very difficult to break out of the mold in which we were cast as children. If we were raised in a house where terrible influences were prevalent, our homes will likely be similar. If we saw our parents in bad relationships, we will likely be in bad relationships. If we were in a house where yelling and abuse were prevalent, we may yell and abuse. It can be hard to leap out of those footprints left by our parents or whoever else raised us, and, no matter how hard we try to be individuals, we all have those realizations where we say to ourselves, “Oh my goodness, I am just like my dad (or mom).”

But, if our families were poor influences, we don’t have to suffer those same choices and consequences. We can choose to be better. We can choose to be different. Remember Ezekiel 18:5-18. (I’ve truncated the text below.)

If a man is righteous and does what is just and right…commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully — he is righteous; he shall surely live…

If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things (though he himself did none of these things), who even eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor’s wife, oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery…He shall not live. He has done all these abominations…

 Now suppose this man fathers a son who sees all the sins that his father has done; he sees, and does not do likewise…obeys my rules, and walks in my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live…

Yet, as hard as it is to leap free from the trenches dug by the footsteps of those before, harder still is it to escape from our own worn paths. We know, however, that we can. With Christ, it is possible, but it takes effort and dedication. When we convert to Him, we leave behind our former selves. “We may be our fathers’ sons and daughters,” Daniel Beaty proclaims, “but we are no their choices.” Likewise, we may have been one type of person in the past, but we are no longer defined by those values, those priorities, those choices. We are someone new. We have a fresh start. We have a chance to begin again.

Romans 12:1-2 says,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We see this transformation in effect with the church at Corinth in I Corinthians 6:9-11 (emphasis mine):

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

At some point, we have all been guilty of murdering Jesus on that cross with our sins. We have all been enclosed in the prison of our sins, isolated from our brothers and sisters, isolated from our God, alone and sad. Every day, Jesus comes into our prison, and he approaches that glass barrier separating Him from us. Knock knock, he says. Knock knock. Unlike the Daniel Beaty’s father, however, we can respond. We can allow Him to remove the barrier. We don’t have to live in isolation. We don’t have to remain a prisoner. We can seek pardon and forgiveness, but we have to make sure we haven’t built up security walls of pride and resentment that will indefinitely keep our Savior out.

Knock knock. Will you answer the call? Knock knock. Will you let Him into your heart and your life? Will you submit to His word? Our Savior is watching and waiting. He is always there, patiently knocking, patiently inviting, patiently waiting. But every one of us is on his or her own death row; we only have so long to respond, and we don’t know when the end will come. Won’t you respond to His invitation? Won’t you let Jesus take you out of prison? Won’t you free yourself from the worn paths of sin and worldliness. You have but to submit to His word and reach out to Him. He will tear down the walls of your prison. He will lift you from the beaten path. He will redeem. Knock knock.