Christianity 201

January 25, 2018

Redefining Family

by Clarke Dixon

Who feels more like “family” to you, the family you were adopted or born into, or a group of friends? There was an article some time ago which lamented the breakdown of the family. Though I don’t remember much about the article, the author looked at how tv shows were helping to redefine family with “Friends” leading the way.  Many shows portray one’s family members as the last people you would go to for empathy or understanding. However, one’s friends are portrayed as always being there for love and support. With family being redefined in our day how are we supposed to define family? Jesus tells us in Mark 3, and you may be surprised:

31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33 And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:31-35

Considering the importance placed on family in Old Testament law, Jesus’ redefinition of family was shocking to the people of that day. It may be just as shocking today. We may find ourselves asking if Jesus should have been a better Christian and taken the opportunity to affirm the importance of family. Instead he redefines his family as those who do the will of God. What are we to make of this?

First, Jesus redefinition of family as those who do God’s will is good news for those with no family, or whose family has abdicated their role. You might lose out on the ideal family, but you never need lose out on a family. This, of course, speaks to the nature of the Church. If one’s experience of church is to just show up, sing a few songs, hear a sermon and go home, then we are missing out on part of what God’s will for the church is. Reading the New Testament, you never get the sense that people just went to church. You get the sense that they are the church, in relationship with God and with each other. While some churches practically demand a quiet sanctuary prior to worship as a sign of reverence, I pastor a very noisy church. I prefer to look at the positive side of this and celebrate the fact that people are relating to each other. Many churches, including ours, are known as being friendly. However, churches need to go beyond just being friendly, to being family.

Second, Jesus’ redefinition of family is good news for world peace. We have family everywhere, and that family transcends political, racial and language boundaries. Moving from Ottawa I do not miss city life. I do, however, miss the diversity we enjoyed at Fourth Avenue Baptist. Each Sunday I could look around and see people from Jamaica, Russia, Iran, England, Northern Ireland, Haiti, Benin, and often other nations besides. My favourite Sundays were the combined services with a primarily Congolese church. We would worship in up to four different languages with our love for decorum before God Almighty mixing wonderfully with their excitement about Jesus. One is reminded of what’s ahead:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb . . .  Revelation 7:9

Third, Jesus’ redefinition of family is not a rejection of our genetic family, but a call to enter into it with passion. When someone does the will of God as the brother or sister of Jesus, it is good news for one’s family. What is the will of God within family life? We can think of specific instructions for a wife to “respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:3), and for husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Such sacrificial love and mutual respect is good for family life. We can think of instructions for children to “obey your parents” (Ephesians 6:1), and for parents to not “provoke your children to anger” (Ephesians 6:4). Many other passages pointing to God’s will for us are beneficial for family life also. Like, “love one another” (John 13:34), and “do to others you would have them do unto you” (Luke 6:31). Those things work well in family. Also “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18), and “Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4). Sobriety and faithfulness are always good for family. And one more on God’s will:

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Many a dysfunctional family could use more justice, kindness and members who walk humbly with God. Far from a call to renounce family, God’s will is that we do family well.

Finally, Jesus’ redefinition of family points forward to the wonderful possibility of being God’s child. You may say, “But Pastor, I try to do God’s will and find it impossible to always do it. I always mess up at some point”. Keep reading the Gospel of Mark until you get to that place where Jesus prayed “remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36). God’s will was that in Jesus’ death and resurrection death should be defeated and we would be reconciled to God. Jesus did the will of the Father and now we have the wonderful opportunity of being adopted into His family, not because of our perfection in keeping His will, but because of His.

Should we be surprised that Jesus redefines family? We should not be surprised for it is an act of love and grace. God calls us into a new kind of family, then calls us and enables us to do His will within our family of origin.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV.

Listen to the audio of Redefining Family at this link.

August 24, 2017

How Inclusive Should We Be?

by Clarke Dixon

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household”  Ephesians 2:19 NIV

This is a wonderful verse that fills us with joy at the thought we are considered part of God’s family, members of His household.  Yet this verse also may create sour feelings within us as we consider just how large, or perhaps small, this household is.  We may look at loved ones in our family or to good friends and wonder, perhaps worry is the better word, if they too are part of this family of God. Of course it is our desire that they be such and the thought they may not be fills us with dread.  We want to feel inclusive.

In my personal Bible reading I am again introduced to the many tribes of Bible times; Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites among others. In our day within Christianity has sprung up two new tribes, which are really quite old: the inclusivites and exclusivites.

Inclusivites don’t handle well the thought of anyone not being found in God’s family and so they will make it as big as they possibly can.  There are two ways to do this.  One is to declare that all roads lead to God.  The second is to declare that the only road to God is through Jesus, but that God will ultimately put those on another road on a detour that will get them on the right road.  Hence, your fears over the journeys of your loved ones are put to ease.  And you get a pat on the back by society for being inclusive.

Then there are the exclusivites.  They tend to think that God’s family is very small indeed, in fact it is made up of only people who think and act just like them.  Like the old joke that God will separate the Baptists from everyone else in heaven because He just can’t bring Himself to break it to them that they are not the only ones there.*  Mind you, I have not met very many exclusivites in my travels, even among Baptists.  It is far more common in our day to meet an inclusivite.

How do we deal with our anguish over God’s family and the thought it is not big enough to include our loved ones?  Should we join a tribe?  Perhaps the inclusivites so that can think our loved ones are okay and that our fears are much ado about nothing?  Or the exclusivites who sometimes end up redefining loved ones as those in the ‘club’?

Ephesians 2 suggests a way forward.  Here is the short route:

  1. Be solid on Biblical theology:  Which in this case means being solid on who the “you” refers to in our verse above.  See verses 1,2, and 11.
  2. Recognize our default position, yes, even ours: See verses 1,3, and 12.
  3. Recognize the amazing grace of God in our passage: See verses 4-8.  And then recognize that this grace is not just a theological term that pastors like to use, but a reference to the amazing generosity of God.
  4. Recognize how fences and walls between peoples are destroyed in the Kingdom and family of God.  See verses 14-18 and Galatians 3:28.  It is like John Lennon’s “Imagine” only it is not left to the imagination as a pipe dream, but to the will of God as a sure thing.
  5. Recognize that God’s family is not primarily about destiny, but about identity.  See verses 15,19-22.  We tend to only look to the future, fretting about who God will “let into heaven” and then we get annoyed with Him when we think our loved ones, or anyone else for that matter, will not be there (and we may even insinuate that we are more generous than God). We should look instead to who is recognizing the Father and demonstrating a ‘family likeness’ to God’s family right here and now and consider who’s will is at work in that.  And while we are at it, let us consider our own family resemblance.

Finally, we do well to follow the example of Jesus who was inclusive in His invitation to the Kingdom and inclusive in His service to others.  But Jesus did not throw open the gates of heaven by denying the truth of sin and the damage done to our relationship with God, rather He became that gate. That feeling of tension that we may feel over the household of God is a good thing.  It inspires us to the noble task of evangelism, being inclusive in our invitation and service, and always ready to point to the gate.


Read more at www.clarkedixon.wordpress.com

*Clarke is a Baptist so he’s allowed to say that!

April 5, 2015

His Resurrection Is Their Resurrection Is Our Resurrection

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Effrem Smith wrote this with Easter in view, but also in terms of a theme very important to him, social justice and reconciliation. Readers here know the primary implications of Christ’s resurrection, but the impact of his rising from the dead is like a river that spreads out its tributaries in so many different ways; like a branch which spreads out leaves in so many different directions.

There are simply so many transformative things that are taking place in our world today because Christ is risen from the dead. The lens through which he views this in this article in no way minimizes Christ’s triumph over sin and death.

Let’s take a step beyond atonement: What are the implications of the resurrection in your community? In your life? How does the risen Christ make a difference in neighborhoods, families, schools and workplaces?

 

When The Poor Rise With Christ

“Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that he raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.”

1 Corinthians 15:12-17 (NASB)

For too many of the poor, marginalized, outcast, and demonized, every day is like Good Friday. They live surrounded by death, judgement, and prejudice. When Christ hung on the cross and freely gave His life He was surrounded by death, judgement, and prejudice as well. As He hung on the cross, he looked with a forgiving spirit upon those who mocked Him and cheered His suffering. He hung on the cross as all of the sins of humanity hung on his shoulders. The good news is that this is not how this part of the story concluded. Christ endured Good Friday and came out of the grave on Resurrection Day. He rose indeed.

What about the poor, marginalized, outcast, and demonized? Is there a Resurrection Day for them? Now, I realize that through the new covenant established in Christ, that all who accept Him as Lord and Savior rise with Him into Kingdom citizenship and eternity. But, I focus more deeply on the least of these in order to lift up a significant part of the mission of Christ when He walked the earth. Many times when Jesus was declaring and demonstrating the Kingdom of God, He did so among the least of those around Him. There were times when he broke social and religious customs in order to bring mobility, sight, life, dignity, and liberation to Samaritans, Canaanites, women, children, and the poor. Even as He hung on the cross, he engaged a thief and empowered him to rise into new eternal possibilities.

I am grieved as I go into this weekend focused on death and resurrection because I have witnessed so many examples of the poor, marginalized, and rejected being so shamed and demonized in our world. There are even examples of Christians who, judge, patronize, shame, and mock the least of these in our society. Instead of seeing the lowly as just as much made in the image of God as the privileged, we as Christians sometimes join in with Satan’s plan and labeling by seeing only the thug, gangsta, hoe, criminal, enemy, and demon in a person. Christ was able to look at a woman caught in adultery, a scandalous Samaritan, a man plagued by a legion of demons, a girl left for dead, and a thief and see something else.

I also have great hope that when the Church sees the least of these thru the eyes of Christ a new movement will rise up. It is then that we will experience a whole new understanding of the dead rising with the risen Savior.

December 11, 2012

Journey or Battle?

ESV – Matthew 11:12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.

CEB – Proverbs 21:31 A horse is made ready for the day of battle,
    but victory belongs to the Lord.

KJV – Ephesians 6:112 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

Our focus today is this familiar passage from Ezekiel; seen here in a different translation:

Message – Ezekiel 37: 1-2 God grabbed me. God’s Spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. He led me around and among them—a lot of bones! There were bones all over the plain—dry bones, bleached by the sun.

He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry BonesI said, “Master God, only you know that.”

He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!’”

5-6 God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!”

7-8 I prophesied just as I’d been commanded. As I prophesied, there was a sound and, oh, rustling! The bones moved and came together, bone to bone. I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them. But they had no breath in them.

He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Tell the breath, ‘God, the Master, says, Come from the four winds. Come, breath. Breathe on these slain bodies. Breathe life!’”

10 So I prophesied, just as he commanded me. The breath entered them and they came alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army.

Our thoughts today are from Mike Breen where this appeared under the title: Is the Christian life best understood as a Journey or a battle?

’Ive been spending a good deal of time in the last few months working on our newest book that is coming out in the spring of 2013…Leading Kingdom Movements. Been tinkering around with it quite a bit.

Wanted to put out a quick thought I’ve been working on in the content for this book that I think you might find interesting…

Ezekiel gives us a brilliant picture of the people of God coming together as dry bones assembling in a valley, and suddenly it is a mighty collection of soldiers. Not one, but a whole army.

It is true that in the Kingdom we are called to be soldiers. But we must remember we are also a covenantal community, which means we are a family. The picture Ezekiel gives us is of a family of soldiers. There needs to be as much emphasis on the family as there is on the soldiers.

What I’ve noticed is that faith traditions tend to veer either towards the Covenant side (family) or the Kingdom side (soldiers). For those who lean on Covenant, life is about the JOURNEY that the covenant community is making together. They live rich, full lives together, but often win very little ground for the Kingdom. On the other side, for those who lean more toward Kingdom, life is about the BATTLE that is being fought for the Kingdom. Often they gain ground for the Kingdom, but they can quickly lose that ground because there are so many casualties along the way. That happens because they don’t attend to the family as well.

It has to be both covenant and kingdom. It’s a family of soldiers. It’s about a journey through life together as we fight Kingdom battles along the way.

Again, people are often uncomfortable with the one (Journey vs. Battle) that they have seen poorly lived out and throw the baby out with the bath water. But the true task is living out both in a way that does justice to the way the scripture understands the Christian life.

 


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December 26, 2011

Christian versus Church-attender

This seems like a rather basic subject, but it’s one that every Christian who is working at ‘the next level’ should be prepared to answer.  We tend to think of apologetics as something involving those who are outside the church, but sometimes we need an apologetic to deal with challenges that arise from within.

Because church attendance is no longer culturally mainstream, there are a lot of ‘lone ranger’ Christ-followers out on the fringes deriving their teaching from podcasts and sermon downloads, and getting their worship from CDs and mp3s.  But this fails to provide corporate worship, it fails to provide interactive opportunities, and it fails to provide a prayer covering should one be dealing with things ranging from illness to temptation to broken relationships. 

However, it must also be stated that with many people, church affiliation is over-rated; they tend to speak at great lengths as to the greatness of their church, but rarely, if ever, talk about what it means to be in relationship with Jesus Christ, to know they are loved by the God who created the universe.  Such people occupy the opposite extreme end of the church continuum, and are as guilty of ‘missing the point’ as those who believe they can follow Christ in isolation from the rest of the Body of Christ.

Layfayette, Indiana pastor Jeff Mikels dealt with this issue after someone in his church asked a question at the end of a recent sermon:

This past Sunday, I ended our service by taking some live questions from the congregation…

Does this mean that you cannot be a Christian unless you go to church?

The simple answer is that you can be a Christian without going to church if you define “Christian” to mean “I have been saved.” (Salvation does not depend on going to church or anything else you do. It is a gift from God. See Ephesians 2:8-10). You can also be a Christian without going to church if you define “church” as “an event where I show up, sit, soak, and leave 60 minutes later.”

However, if you define Christian to mean “follower of Jesus” and if you understand “church” to mean “the universal family of God, specifically expressed in local fellowships” then you can’t be a Christian and intentionally avoid the church. Reading the rest of Ephesians will make it clear that God did not save us to be isolated individuals destined for heaven. To the contrary, Jesus died for us to cleanse us of sin and thereby bring us into God’s family! Reading 1 John will remind you that you can’t love God and hate his family.

Even more strongly, John speaks of people who were once part of his church and then decided to leave the church:

They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. — 1 John 2:19

To state it strongly, every true follower of Jesus will pursue frequent fellowship with other believers that involves locality, leadership, mutual submission, expression of gifts, discipleship, evangelism, ministry, and worship. Any fellowship expressing all of that is rightly called a church.

~Jeff Mikels

May 23, 2010

Gathered In My Name

After attending a service last week just outside of Toronto at The Meeting House, nine campus locations that are part of Canada’s largest church movement; this Sunday we attended a small alternative service at The Third Space, two hours east in Peterborough in which, including all participants, we were part of a group of twenty.

Qualitatively, both weeks hold equal weight.   While there were differences, I am not sure there was a difference.   I see both as equal expressions of the reality of the Body of Christ, that “holy catholic church” spoken of in The Apostles Creed meeting in different places around the world.

Hebrews 10 : 24-25 (Message)Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.

Matthew 18 : 20 (Message) “And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”