“So, mind me asking? Which is your favorite family in the world?”
“Mine, of course!” most reply.
“Is it perfect?”
“You kidding me? You should meet my brother, but I love him anyway.”
“Yep, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.”
We intuitively understand those phrases and sentiments and probably agree with them.
In the light of that, think with me about this, please.
When someone gets married they become a family member included in the embrace of the family of the one to whom they’re married. Her/his family becomes mine. Speeches include, “We welcome you into our family as a new son/daughter.”
Disciples of Jesus begin their journey by acknowledging sin, repenting, identifying with Jesus’ sacrificial death on the Cross and His miraculous resurrection. The disciple receives forgiveness and ‘new life’ and is filled and empowered with the Holy Spirit to become a new creation, on earth as in heaven. The Father of the prodigal embraced his wayward son. He placed a ring on his grubby finger, a cloak over his drooping shoulders, and sandals on his calloused feet. He welcomed him with grace and joy. Back into a home and family he’d rejected; into the festivities of ‘my house that’s now yours!’. What an exchange, what an inheritance!
It’s such a beautiful story and picture of new beginnings, restoration, extended families and rejoicing together. But what about the next day and the rest of the years? It’s the same revelation or surprise the liberated slaves of Egypt discovered when they entered the Promised Land, gifted to them by God. Instead of an exquisite resort they were invited to explore, to conquer, and to re-populate the land. It was going to demand more of them than they ever imagined – and this was freedom? Many half-turned and wanted to return to slavery where their meals of fish were free.
One of the most universal sources of strife and disillusion for disciples of Jesus is our struggle with the local church. Sins are forgiven, new life abounds with Jesus, power is released with His Holy Spirit, and that’s all great. Problem is learning to love, participate, and show up for the ‘family’. And Jesus is much more passionate about His family then we are. Some of them are weird, and we don’t like everyone…..
And then He interjects, “As I have loved you, love them/one another.”
Someone said to me recently, “We won’t be coming to Jericho Road anymore because it’s not meeting our needs.” That’s quite a common refrain. Other times it’s because of a personality clash, a theological disagreement, or an offense. It’s a hallmark of a consumer mentality rather than a disciple.
A consumer wants their perceived needs met on their terms and on their timeline (it’s the way the fallen world operates every day, it’s what we’re used to, expect, and even feel entitled to). A disciple identifies a need and communicates with others in the ‘family’ to see what we can do to respond together regarding that need; a totally different mindset.
The new family to which the disciples of Jesus belong was bought with His blood. And we use the phrase ‘Blood runs thicker than water’ to mean families stick together no matter what.
Listen to the real meaning of that phrase:
“Blood is thicker than water.” … The quote comes from: “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” This actually means that blood shed in battle bonds soldiers more strongly than simple genetics. Although we commonly use it to suggest the strength of family ties, it doesn’t refer to family at all.
Why’s this important? Because it’s on earth that we have the unique opportunity of living out the values and life of Jesus in a manner that is counter-intuitive to the rest of the world. We’re not surprised or disillusioned at the dysfunctions and incompleteness of people in the church, any more than we are within our genetic family.
We’re all a work in progress. In fact the greatest hallmark of God’s transforming presence and work in our lives is most powerfully revealed in how we love one another. We don’t get to choose members of God’s family any more than we get to select our brothers and sisters.
Everything in God’s Kingdom on earth is rooted in relationship, relationship, relationship.
It’s within that context God speaks, God refines, God matures, God humbles, and God invariably guides and equips. It’s where the real me meets the real me. The real me that’s still flesh and is tied to the culture of the earth and acts out in selfish and unattractive ways. And the real me that’s been made new in Christ, is a citizen of the Kingdom, is filled with the Spirit, and bears the heart and values of Jesus.
Until we embrace the tension of both those realities and truths we will get stuck. Either in despair over our struggle to be ‘a good Christian’, or in a supernatural bubble where we are like clanging cymbals (in Paul’s words) – sounding spiritual but behaving in a less than loving way to those around us. You cannot say that you love God and follow Jesus if you do not love those around you (Luke 10:27).
I’ve admitted the struggle before. I’ve given my life to serving Jesus in the context of the local church. It has been the most wonderful journey into community yielding friends, support of all kinds, grace of infinite depth, identity, growth, and provision in many forms. It has provided opportunity for study, ministry, healing, worship, and serving others around the world. It’s been a place of refuge, comfort, hope and family that was absent in my family of origin.
On the other hand, the Church has been the source of my greatest pain, huge betrayal, deeply personal attacks, and stabbings in the back. It has disappointed, broken promises, and often not been a place of safety or comfort. The most significant failures of my life have been a shared responsibility within the Christian community – as have the successes.
‘The local church is the hope for the world,’ writes Bill Hybels. The church in the New Testament is described as ‘the people of God’. The people of God gather in local churches all over the world as do families in their homes. Imagine if we appreciated, defended, and served the local church as jealously and sacrificially as Jesus does? Perhaps that’s a key to ‘breakthrough’. From such a community worship rises on eagles’ wings like incense…. with healing, and signs and wonders to follow.
Someone in leadership asked, “Where do we want to be as a church in five years time?” That may be a good place to aim for. The local church is like a greenhouse in which the seeds of the Kingdom are planted and grow strong in order to thrive – in this world but not of this world.
What grows in the greenhouse cannot be found anywhere outside of it’s shelter and eco-environment. And growing doesn’t happen sitting on the fences surrounding the greenhouse ?. Half committed, half present, half involved, half time, half baked, half enthused, half convinced, half brothers, half sisters. Half a disciple is a dead disciple.
The key to breakthrough – is me.
The greatest hindrance to breakthrough – is me.
The focus of breakthrough – is Him.
The environmental atmosphere for breakthrough – is us, the local church.