A Family Challenge: Prayer & 40 Bucks

We have had a five-year-old living with us for the past five months. He’s a cousin who needed a place to live; and for now, he is a part of our family. I’m learning what I once knew when my kids were younger: five-year-olds change things.

Before he came, everyone in our family was pretty self-sufficient. Our family — two adults and three teenagers — was a place where everyone was able to take care of themselves (most of the time). Then we added a preschooler.

One of my favorite things about having our cousin is knowing that at the end of the day (no matter how long it’s been; despite whatever challenges we have faced), bedtime is almost always a joyful experience. He loves reading from a kids Bible story book. He loves to sing a song. He loves to snuggle. The other night, my teenage girls helped put him to bed — and the four of us had a fun time just being together, and enjoying each other as another day came to an end.

This is family. No matter what the day has brought — no matter the challenges or stresses that life has brought — we can end the day with joy, knowing that we share the love of family.

In a way, every night I get to experience what I think God has in store for us — for all of us. To be family, no matter what we face. And to open our family life to others who need it.

In fact, I think this is a huge part of what Church is about. We are a family, no matter what we face. And having experienced the love of God, we open ourselves to share that love with others. If there is a door into God’s family, then I believe that on it hangs a sign that reads: “Always open.”

This past Sunday, I challenged our church to put family into practice in two ways. Between now and Easter (a traditional 40-day journey the Church has called Lent), let me encourage you to do these two things to help us be family — and extend family:

  1. Pray for someone in our church family who is different from you. If you are 50-plus, you might choose to pray for a child, or a student, or a young adult. If you are in college, you might pray for someone who is retired. If you are single, you might pray for someone who is married — and vice versa. If your primary language is English, you might pray for someone who speaks Spanish — and vice versa. Whoever it is, would you commit to praying, every day, for someone in the church who is different from you? If you do, I believe God will use your prayers, and you, to extend the unity he longs for us to have as a family.
  2. On Sunday, I gave $40 to four different kids in our church, and challenged them to take that money — and with their families — bless someone. Let me extend that challenge to everyone in our church family: set aside $40 to bless someone else. What would it look like if our whole church did that? What if every family in our church family set aside $40, beyond your normal giving, and as a family, put it to work for someone else? If you can’t do $40, do less. If $40 is too small, do more. But do something; bless someone else this Easter season. The only limit to how you do this is the creativity of your family. The key isn’t what you do, but that you do it. And do it together, with your family, or whoever you share life with.

Family takes work. Anybody who has ever lived in family knows that. Church is no different. Are you doing the hard work of building up our church? Are you looking for ways to extend church family to those who need it? This Easter, let’s do that. Together.

Family: Becoming What We Are

Imagine learning you have a sister you didn’t know you had. Imagine the realization that your family is bigger than you imagined.

How would you react if you found out you had a sibling you had never met? Most of us, I assume, would want to meet her. Get to know her. See what you have in common. Learn her story. And find all the ways her story has led her path to finally intersect with yours.

If just yesterday, she had cut you off in traffic, you would have been angry at this unknown person. If she had approached you at the store, and randomly asked for help — you would likely have either just given her a few bucks, or politely declined.

But that was yesterday, when she was just another face in the crowd. Today, you have learned, she is family.

The writer Mark Galli had just this kind of experience. Fifteen years ago, he got a phone call out of the blue from a private detective, telling him: I work for a woman who says she is your sister. This began a journey where Mark and his wife got to know Betty, the sister he never knew he had. They began to share time, and experiences, and memories together — and to make new memories along the way. And as all of that happened, Galli uses this wonderful line that describes their relationship: “We’ve become what we discovered we were: family.”

How different things become when we learn we are family. When you are my sister, or my brother, you are not just another person. You are not someone I can avoid or overlook or disregard. If we disagree, we are still family. If I make choices you don’t like, we are still family. Through the good and the bad, this one truth remains above all other: We Are Family. And we learn to become what we really are.

Can the Church be that kind of place? Can we do the hard work of becoming what we really are? We won’t agree on everything. No family does. We will get frustrated, and sometimes wish we could start over with a new family. There will be times we simply don’t like each other very much. All of those feelings are normal; every family feels them.

But family is also a place where we stand together, even when times are tough. Especially when times are tough. In short, we learn to become what we are: Family.

Mark Galli tells the story of his newly-discovered sister in the context of an article about the racial divisions we see in many churches. And his point is simply this: we are family. Though black, white, or brown, in Jesus, we are family. And it’s time for us to do the hard work of becoming what we really are.

This Sunday, at Fern Creek Christian, we will focus on our calling as family — in our homes, but even more, in our church. That we are family together — family formed by our common identity in Christ. That we belong to him. Are grounded in him. And guided by His Spirit. And because of that, whatever differences or disagreements we might have are secondary to who we are. And whose we are.

This Sunday, let’s celebrate that we are family. And let’s do the hard work, daily, of becoming what we are.

The Sabbath Principle

I heard the story once of a guy in Sweden who got charged and convicted of adult bullying. He had dumped a sack of killer slugs into his neighbor’s garden, apparently to destroy it. Unfortunately, that wasn’t his first attempt to ruin her yard; his neighbor had previously filed a restraining order against him for throwing fire crackers into her yard.

This is an extreme example of what happens when we live life for ourselves. But it can go the opposite way, too; I can approach life with me at the center, and end up quietly sitting in my house, ignoring my neighbor. I’m not breaking any laws, but I’m also not caring about anybody, either. I can even start with me, and say: You know, I’d like to get to know my neighbor, and invite him over for dessert (and even leave the slugs out).

Starting with me can play out all sorts of ways; but the one thing they all have in common is that I am calling the shots. I am in charge of my life, my plans, my schedule.

The beauty of the Ten Commandments is that they point us beyond ourselves. Specifically, the first three commandments focus on this truth: there are plenty of gods in this world; finding (or being found) by the True One is the key to knowing who we are. In fact, the only way to truly know who we are, I believe, is to know who God is.

Which is what the fourth commmandment is all about: keeping the sabbath. It seems kind of outdated. Who, outside of observant Jews, keeps the sabbath? And why?

I like the way writer Mark Buchanan puts it in his book, The Rest of God. He says that Sabbath is not just a day, but an orientation. It’s a way of seeing and knowing. It’s both a day and an attitude, both time on the calendar and a disposition of the heart.

What does this mean? For Christians, I believe this means that we still need time for rest, for renewal — times of sabbath where we truly remember who God is, and who we are.

With that in mind, let me share three ways where I think we need to make room for sabbath in our lives:

  1. Worship on Sunday. This idea isn’t original with me, but one that I find helpful: in Genesis, the Sabbath was the culmination of God’s creation. In the New Testament, Sunday is the culmination of God’s re-creation, as Jesus comes back from the grave, bringing us life. And so, worship is about remembering that everything has changed because of Jesus; and once a week, we stop, and we remember; and we celebrate. Worship is vital to our identity. It reminds us who is God; and who is not (me, for starters).
  2. Find ways to pull away from your everyday life to do things that are life-giving. In their book on the Ten Commandments, Stan Hauerwas & Will Willimon talk about a family who used this guideline for Sundays: Do no work unless it is a joy. So, if working in the garden is a chore, they leave it until Monday. But if weeding is life-giving, and renewing, then they get out there and get their hands dirty

    I love this concept. It is NOT about legalism, but life. What gives you joy. What helps you celebrate the life God has given you? What renews and restores you? For some, this looks like time with family over a big meal. For others, it means opening your home to a life group, or having the neighbors over for games or conversation. Or maybe it means going to the park with the kids. Or even, for us introverted types, guilt-free time with a good book. But either way, what if we were intentional about sabbath, and we unplugged (TV, computer, phone), and simply received the day?

  3. Last thought: Take sabbath moments. Take time/s each day to stop and remember Who has you — and Who’s you are. Do this in the morning, when you get up. Do it in the evening, when your head hits the pillow. Tell God: Thanks for being God; I go to sleep, now, giving you the stuff from the day that was, and look forward to seeing where you will be in the day ahead.And other times through the day, stop and remember God’s presence. When you are frustrated, or anxious, or stressed. How about at a traffic light, or in a traffic jam? Instead of getting frustrated, or anxious, or stressed, how about treating a red light as a sabbath moment?

In the end, sabbath is about more than a day; it’s a way of life. A way of life that says: I belong to God, and He is here in this moment, in this space, in this time.

So, where do you need some sabbath?

Love My Enemies?

With the news out of the Middle East, and the horrific killing of the Jordanian soldier, a number of responses come to mind: some may advocate for more aggressive measures; others might feel powerless in the face of such brutality.

Perhaps some of the hardest teachings of the Bible have to do with our enemies. In Romans 12, Paul challenges us not to return evil for evil, but instead overcome evil with good. He points to Proverbs 25.21, and says that we should feed our hungry enemy; we should give our thirsty opponent something to drink.

But it’s not just Paul that challenges us to do the impossible; Jesus does, too. In Luke 6, Jesus urges us to love our enemies, to bless them, to turn the other cheek. Jesus asks: Do you love your friends? Big deal. Everyone knows how to do that. But it is the children of God who love those who only scatter hate in response.

There are plenty of other verses in the Bible that I like better: ones about peace and joy and contentment. But the challenge Jesus and Paul give us is to live differently than the world — a world where hate is met with hate, evil with evil, death with death. We are people who show love to those who least seem to deserve it.

Impossible? Sure feels like it. In fact, the way through to love for our enemies is not through our feelings, our desires, our instincts. Love for enemies comes when we recognize that we have been loved by God — deeply loved by Him. In fact, God doesn’t tell us to do something He hasn’t first done — He is kind to the ungrateful and selfish.

And I am glad He is — for both of those words describe me.

And when I know the love of God — when it takes up residence in my selfish heart, it overflows to others — my friends, sure. But also my enemies.

But how? Can I suggest two very different ways you can do that?

One: think about the person in your life who you have the most difficult time dealing with. Maybe it’s an ex, or a guy at work, or a former “friend” who stabbed you in the back. What would it look like if, instead of nursing all the ways that person brought hurt, you instead saw it as an opportunity to let God’s love flow through you, toward them? What would it look like if you owned the hurt that person has caused you — and chose to love them anyway? Well, it wouldn’t necessarily be based on how you feel, or what you want — but what you choose. For that is what love does — it doesn’t act first on feelings, but beliefs.

Or how about this one I found in a book I just finished reading by Philip Yancey: What Good is God? Very good book — as is everything Yancey writes. Near the beginning of the book, Yancey describes the variety of people that he meets on his book tours. And one time, he describes meeting a soldier who takes Jesus’ admonition to “love your enemies” so seriously that he has set up a website where Christians can sign up to pray for a terrorist. Really. What a concept.

At the end of the day, only one thing will change the world. Not hate. Or violence. Or eye-for-an-eye. But love. The love of God, transforming His people, who then show that love to those who seem least to deserve it.

Thank God He started by showing that love to me.