Monday, February 17, 2014

I Love My Family




Family Day


The family of God really exists because of the absolute dedication of the Triune God to its flourishing.
 

             No one doubts the significance of family. Many of the most successful television shows have been about the perils and triumphs of family units. We readily identify.
 
            In Canada, today, February 17th 2014,  is Family Day. It is a national holiday celebrating the gift of family. I am deeply thankful for my family. I love my wife and daughters and son-in-law very much. I don't have words for the joy that they have brought me. I have my birth family who are very special to me. Mom, Dad, Ruth and Wayne and their families are forever etched on my heart. I have many fond memories of family gatherings with both the Pulleys and the Dibbleys, my parents' families.

            Then, I have been gifted with a loving supportive extended family through the Wilkins/Schmidt families and the Moberg/Van Eerden families. I can't imagine negotiating the pleasures and the pains of this life with all its losses and gains without these people. It is impossible for me to think of my life and identity apart from them. Truly, they are part of me in a measure that is beyond articulation.

            When it comes to words failing, I come to the family of people called the church. For many people, the church represents an institution that seems antiquated. It only hits the news when there is some sort of scandal or aberrant group protesting something somewhere. It seems odd and cultish to many who view it from a distance. For some, like their family experiences growing up, it may bring memories of pain, disappointment and even betrayal. It certainly isn't perfect... yet.

            However, the church for me is not a distant thing. They are my family. This is a group of people brought out of the painful scars and wounds and entanglements of a broken world who are now beginning to learn how to love God's way. It is a people presently being parented by a Father whose love and power will never diminish. These people are precious to me. They have faces and names and lives. They come from every culture. They have been drawn out of every imaginable circumstance. I can picture many of them with their smiles and tears on faces of every skin colour known to man.

            It may seem like the most simplistic way to write but let me describe in part why being part of this family is a gift beyond measure by using an acrostic for the word "family".

F - Father.  This may seem offensively patriarchal to some today but the truth of the matter is that in the design and purpose of God, this infinite, holy, and eternal being has extended to us an understanding of how we can relate to Him which is not merely slavish. God could simply grant to us a creature-Creator relationship and He would not be unjust. However, John 1:12 reads that through the gift of His Son, he offers to us the rights of sonship. John writes in the gospel of John 1:12 "But to all who received him (Jesus) and believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God."

        The language of "adoption" is purposefully used in the Scriptures to describe how God has acted voluntarily and lovingly to grant us all the full rights of inheritance, access, unending love and protection that many in this world can't imagine because of how off track we have wandered in the human race. This is fatherly love. God invites the prodigal home and grants him the full privileges of a son.

 

A - Access. I fear that many of us take this for granted. To have God as your Father opens up free access to God at any time. You can come to Him twenty-four-seven.

             In a world in which most who are religious or spiritual assume that access to God is a universal right, it may surprise many that access to God is possible only because of God granting it through the person of Jesus on account of His death for our sins. The beauty of this, of course, is that anyone can truly come to God as Father with his or her real struggles and burdens regardless of whether or not you are Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. Prostitutes and tax collectors were able to dine with Jesus. Lepers touched him. Any may come.

            What bars access to God is refusal to come by faith alone in His Son. In the gospels, those who would not accept Jesus, of course, were the religious elite who chose to access God based on their own racial identity and moral superiority. Religion has long proved to be a huge barrier to God. It was the most self-righteous of them all, the apostle Paul, who discovered that he was a deeply frustrated man because he, like the rest of us, failed to meet the very standards he was forcing upon others. Outwardly, he was outstanding. Inwardly, he was corrupt . Comparing himself to others, he was better. Comparing himself to God, he was filthy: So much for confidence before God!

            Yet, Paul writes to his friends at Ephesus about his discovery of God's great plan to grant peoples from every nationality access to Himself. He writes: "This was according to His great purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him" (Ephesians 3:11-12). My children can contact me whenever they want. They don't hesitate. We are offered this same pleasure. Its not based on religion or nationality, or goodness. It is extended through the perfection of Jesus and His obedience in our place. God loves us and invites us to believe that He welcomes us in Christ. His will is that we come to Him.

 

M - Mediation. "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ." (1 Timothy 2:5)

             A family is meant to be a force for reconciliation. When there is a disturbance in the "force", everyone feels it. When siblings or parents or family members are alienated from one another, the members of the family move to ensure that whatever needs to be done to restore harmony and love takes place. No one likes brokenness especially between those who do indeed love each other.

            Now, I could write about the church's role in encouraging reconciliation. That is no little task. However, the central figure in our family unity is Jesus, Himself. There was a huge betrayal in the human family. Yet, Jesus alone was able to do what could only reconcile us to God. In fact, God has appointed Jesus as our Mediator. God was holy and we had sinned. Jesus, on our behalf, stepped in our place and paid in full for the offense of our rebellion. God was pleased and propitiated.

            Mediation seeks to determine what is fair and just between two alienated parties. Jesus is our mediator. The crucifixion was the settlement. God has appointed and accepted Him in that role completely and exclusively.

            Whenever we worry about whether or not God can love us or forgive us or be willing to accept us, we need to keep in mind that our elder brother,  Christ Jesus, is our Mediator. Trust Him. God will not reject you if you come in His name. This was God's will. A favourite passage for me was written by Jesus close friend and apostle, John. In 1 John 2, he wrote "My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."

 

I - Intercession. When my kids were little, my youngest daughter, Lauren, was incredibly chatty. The challenge was that she spoke a language completely of her own design. After a while, we would look at Lauren with bemused and befuddled faces. Then, we would look to her three year old sister Kathy to translate for us. Thankfully, Kathy could.

            In our lives, the problem isn't that God can't figure us out. The truth is that often we don't know what to say or what to ask. Especially, in times of great grief or sorrow, in times of deep decision clouded by perplexity, it is a gift to know that we have someone who knows both our hearts and God's will. The Bible teaches that God has given the Holy Spirit as a compassionate Helper to lead us through the mountains and valleys of life. After describing our groaning as the children of God in this earthly life, Paul writes in Romans 8:26, "Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words." I hope you are beginning to figure out from this that the family of God really exists because of the absolute dedication of the Triune God to its flourishing.

 

L - Love. This might seem like an obvious principle. Isn't every family characterized by love? Well, of course, not. However, the love that characterizes God's family is sharply different. I can point you to a myriad of Bible texts which show the kind of love and the quality of love that God has poured into the hearts of His people. Yet, for brevity sake, let me simply point you to one principle of love that was taught and perfectly modelled by Jesus: Love your enemies.

            I encourage you to read a biography called the Son of Hamas. The story recounts the transformation of a man whose father was a central spiritual leader in the Hamas organization. At the heart of the Middle East conflict between the Jews and the Palestinians, Mosah Hassan Yousef was raised in an atmosphere of deep rooted hostility. His father was a decent respectable man. However, there was never any doubt who the enemy was. It wasn't until adulthood that Mosah was confronted and confounded by the teaching of Jesus "Love your enemies." The concept was so foreign to him that it arrested his attention and eventually transformed his life.

            It may seem strange to say this but the church expands and the family grows not because we are some sort of monolithic culture. The true church is the miraculous bonding of love between people who otherwise would be enemies. The explanation is the redemptive and reconciling power of the One who gave up His life to extend His inheritance and privileges to those who crucified Him. Jesus said "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust."

 

Y - You. It is appropriate to place the word "you" at the end of family. This is one of the gifts of being part of God's people. You are never more free than when you can forget about yourself, put others first, and find your joy in the happiness, freedom, restoration and glory of others. This is the gift of belonging to God's family. God makes it clear that you are loved, valued, accepted, gifted, and secure in His hands, so that you are free to live and to love God and others freely. This is freedom.

            I do want to make this important point. When you become part of God's family, what you discover is that you finally have the freedom to be "you". Everyone is trying to find themselves. In a Facebook world, we are all trying to mark out our unique identity. What we don't understand is that God does two things when He brings us into His family. First, He imparts to us over time the likeness of the family image. We are being conformed into those attributes of God which are most conducive to a loving community filled with joy and goodness and other-centeredness. Yet, secondly, we discover along the way that God has designed and shaped each one of us to be a valuable part of His family, unique and necessary. You don't lose your personality when you become a Christian. By God's grace, you simply find that you are being untangled from all the insecurity, pride, false passions and beliefs that are the least true parts of your personhood. God makes you new. God makes you truly who He created and redeemed you to be. That is what a family does. It helps you become the treasure that God has intended you to be in His family. It frees you from insecurity and self-concern and self-preoccupation. It empowers you to see that you are called of God as a valued contributor to a glorious kingdom that is being built to be inhabited by the sincere praises of a people who love being free through Christ. As the apostle Peter wrote "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people for God's own possession that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvellous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people. Once you had not received mercy. But now you have received mercy."

 
I love my family.

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