One of the ideas we’ve often lived by is the idea that church is family. Church isn’t supposed to just be *like* a family. It actually is a family of people, from different biological, sociological, and societal backgrounds, but because Jesus has come and changed us, we all become brothers and sisters, born of the same Father.
Jesus was clear about this: “Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters.And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your Father,” (Matthew 23:8-9). Our position before God is not one of roles, but one of love. He loves us as a father and we are to love each other as brothers and sisters.
The apostles continued this teaching in their days. Paul says it this way to the Thessalonians: “As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you, but instead we were like children among you. Or we were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too,” (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). This was the way that Paul lived among those on his ministry team and those he ministered to. He was like a child and, to the extent that he was further along than the new converts, he was like a nursing mother. There were plenty of metaphors Paul could have used, but the ones he chose were deeply family-oriented.
Paul would later write to Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:15 about how people should conduct themselves “in the household of God.” The Greek word for household is oikos and literally is the Greek word describing a family that lives within a house. The Apostle John would also write about how the church was made up of children, young men, and fathers, (1 John 2:12-14) and would write a whole epistle to a woman who was likely the leader of a house church and her dear children who were likely other participants in this gathering (2 John, for more on this statement, reference Chapter 6 of “Stick Your Neck Out“). The more you investigate this topic, the more you begin to see the early church understood themselves as God’s family and operated as such.
Often, we treat the church as a hybrid between a business and a school. There is a message that needs to be communicated and a product that needs to be offered. However, when church is a family, love and care become what drives what happens when we gather. This is why Paul, in the midst of correcting the Corinthians about the excesses in their meetings, spends an entire chapter on the importance of love (1 Corinthians 13). The point wasn’t that everything would be done mechanically, but that everything would be done in love.
I grew up in a family. It wasn’t perfect, but we did love each other. I also grew up in an extended family. My father’s family had five children and each of those children married and had 2 or three kids of their own, so when we gathered together there was always a huge crowd at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. I often relate my experience of church as family back to these times growing up. There was always room for even the youngest of kids to be around. Not every gathering was super structured, but we made allowance for kids to be kids, while still allowing them to participate in the functions of the family gathering.
And I believe the church can be like that if it begins to believe that church is family. Remember, we do teach when we gather, but teaching/preaching isn’t the point. Love is. Remember, Paul said, “while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church,” (1 Corinthians 8:1).
I have a friend who was briefly a part of the underground church in China. He would often tell stories about what it was like to be a part of their meetings. One of the things that stuck out to me was that there was no child care. The believers would often meet on Sunday mornings for a meeting where everyone would be a part, including the children. Then they would break for a communal meal together. Then, after the meal, the mothers and the small children would take naps together while the men dealt with sensitive affairs of the church. Those of you with small children will understand how important this is.
I believe the church can incorporate children, but it will require the church to become like family again.
For those of you who don’t know, six months ago my wife and I welcomed our fifth biological kiddo into our lives. Korah Grace was born to us happy and healthy. Needless to say, I’ve been pulling a lot of extra hours being dad lately.
A few days ago I was holding Korah with my big Bible sitting on the arm of the chair next to me. She, with her six-month-old eyes and perception of reality reached out towards the Bible expecting to easily stuff the Bible in her mouth, only to find out that it was much bigger and heavier than she had originally thought. It wouldn’t just move under the weight of her little arms.
As I sat and watched her explore the world with her six-month-old senses, I realized that you and I aren’t so different from my daughter. We believe that we are much bigger than we really are. We think big truths (like the Bible) are able to be manipulated easily. It’s not until we try to manipulate them that we realize there is much more substance to them than our senses and perception of reality allow us to understand.
Wisdom comes when we realize we see in this age dimly. We don’t see the substance in spiritual truth like we need to. We believe we can manipulate it easily, when really if we had eyes to see, there’s so much more weight and gravity to God’s truth. It’s real and won’t move under our strength.
This is what my daughter has been teaching me lately.
It’s that time of the year when everyone reveals their yearly reading list and what they consider their top reads of the year. Not to be left out, I’ve compiled my own list to help those who are looking for good reads for next year’s list. So, with no further ado, here’s the best of the best:
Joan: The Mysterious Life of The Heretic Who Became a Saint
This is the story about a young girl who begins to have visions of angels and hear voices. The voices tell her to unite the French to oppose the occupying English forces and anoint a man King of France. She does all of this as a young maiden in 15th Century France and is later tried and killed by the very country she saved. What I love about this book is the author treats her visions and voices as something that she actually heard and saw, rather than trying to explain them away. This book will be a great encouragement to you in your own journey of hearing the Lord’s voice and obeying it, despite the cost.
The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ
This is an obscure little book written by Catholic priest Saint Alphonsus Ligouri. The whole book is a journey through 1st Corinthians 13. It takes every virtue of love (“Love is patient, love is kind, etc.) and applies them to how a believer should faithfully love Jesus Christ. While it was written by a Catholic and you have to ignore some of his admonitions to pray to Mary and accept sickness as God’s will, there is a lot of wisdom in this book that you won’t find in the traditional Christian book being rolled out these days. This book will stir your heart to love Jesus more.
The Christian Book of Mystical Verse
This is a short book by A.W. Tozer that is filled with poetry written by some of the great Christian mystics throughout history. While that may scare some people, the fact that A.W. Tozer edited this compilation should put your heart at ease. Each of these poems are biblicaly solid while at the same time full of the kind thirsting after God that you’ve come to expect from a guy like A.W. Tozer. I found myself keeping a list of the poems I loved from this book, but I didn’t expect the list to include every third poem. Please read this book, take time to soak in the poetry within, and even spend some time turning some of these great works into prayer to aid your devotional life.
This was the second or third book about evangelism I read this year and it was easily the best. Jean is a prophetic minister who regularly hears from Jesus and shares His heart with lost people around her. Not only did I learn about hearing from Jesus and sharing what I’m hearing with the lost by reading this book, but I encountered the love of Jesus as I read the author’s testimony. I highly recommend picking up the audio book. There is an incredibly personal story towards the end of the book that the author narrates herself and it’s incredibly worthwhile to hear it in her own voice. If hearing from God is new to you or you’re old-hat at it, you will meet Jesus in a more personal way by reading this book.
This was the most disturbing, difficult read of 2019 for me. I’ve never read this book before it showed up on my Man Book Club reading list. This is a story about a dystopian future where three governments rule the world and keep those three nations in perpetual war. The story follows Winston Smith as he tries to navigate life living in this world where every activity is constantly monitored and history is constantly changed to reflect the governments’ narratives. I won’t ruin the ending, but it’s dark and unexpected. Truthfully, the book is a prophetic glimpse into a world that we are now living in and if you don’t leave this book rethinking where society has gone, you probably weren’t paying attention.
This book takes place 100 or more years in the future, where books are banned and society has adapted the role of firefighter as a force to find and burn them. Guy Montag, a fire fighter, secretly becomes a reader and must hide it from those he works with in order to not be killed. The real point of the book is to force us to look at our inability to handle concrete arguments and emotions that books present us and where it could drive our society. This book is slightly more hopeful than 1984 and there are important lessons in it that will help us today. Maybe give yourself some space between reading this and 1984, though.
The Cost of Discipleship
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Nazi-resisting theologian, wrote this work believing that the time had come for believers to band together and practice living out the Sermon on the Mount together. This was a revolutionary statement in a time when many considered the Sermon on the Mount the code of conduct for the Millennial Kingdom, not something that applied to them now. The book begins with a look at cheap grace–a kind of grace where we can sin because we know we are forgiven–and how it prevents Christianity from being expressed the way Jesus wants it to be expressed. Bonhoeffer then walks us through each chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, detailing how it applies to every day believers. I recommend this book to everyone (it’s a classic!) but I especially recommend it to those who haven’t thought seriously about the Sermon on the Mount.
The Storm-Tossed Family
The family is under attack today by satanic forces. That sounds dramatic, but a quick look at the state of families around you will prove that statement true. Russel Moore writes, then, about cultivating healthy family as an act of spiritual warfare. To win the war, one he finds in the early stages of marriage all the way up to aging and dying with grace, it requires us to find the Gospel for every stage of family life. I loved that at every stage, he calls believers in Jesus to find the Gospel as the answer for common and extreme problems that plague the family. Also, though this is a book about the family, there is plenty in this book for singles to learn from and grow in practice. Some of the best explanations about the church as family that I’ve seen in a while were found in this book. I highly recommend it.
The Master Plan of Evangelism and Discipleship
This book is a classic. You can’t go anywhere in American Evangelicalism without encountering someone whose thoughts have been impacted by this book. What I found interesting is that so much of the house church movement’s thinking finds its origin and support in the discipleship principles laid out here. The key to effective evangelism is found in sharing the Gospel and training up converts in a way of life that leads them to do the same. Without this plan in place, both our evangelism and our churches will suffer. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it.
A Tale of Two Cities
This is one of those classic books that everyone talks about but I feel like very few people read. It contrasts two cities, London and Paris, as the country of France is going through a revolution. It centers around a girl named Lucy who’s father was imprisoned when she was very young. When she is grown, she finds out her father is still alive and is charged with caring for him. During this season she falls in love with a French man who has connections to a former ruling family in France. Like many of Dickens’ works, there is a large Gospel thread woven through the whole story. Finishing this book felt both like a great accomplishment and the end to a marvelous story. If you’re looking for some fiction with some meat on it, this is the book for you.
And in case you’re interested….here all the other books I read this year with my rating for them in parentheses:
The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ (5) / Evangelism in a Skeptical World (4) / Atomic Marriage (1) / Prophetic Fishing (5)
Poke the Box (5) / A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (5) / Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus (3) / Fahrenheit 451 (5) / 1984 (5) / Trump, 2019, and Beyond (3)
The Art of Invisibility (3) / The Master Plan of Evangelism and Discipleship (5) / Raising Giant Killers (4) / Beyond the Local Church (3)
A Tale of Two Cities (5) / Gospel Boldness: Mission, Prayer, and Evangelism (3) / Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out (4) / Disruptive Witness (2) / Spirit Led Evangelism (4) / Managing Oneself (4) / The Mystery of Catastrophe (4) / I see A New Apostolic Generation (4)
The Religious Affections (4) / Rising Tides (4) / God is Good (2) / The Three Day Effect (3) / Hope Never Dies (3) / Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (4) / Giving Up Control (4) / Anonymous: Jesus’ Hidden Years and Yours (4) / The Dispatcher (4) / Out of the Salt Shaker and Into the World (4)
The Cost of Discipleship (5) / The Consolation of Philosophy (3) / The Seven Spirits of God (5) / Getting Things Done (4) / To Be Near Unto God (3)
The Poverty of Nations (4) / Screwball (3) / From Cocaine to Christ (3) / The Man Who Knew the Way to the Moon (4) / The Lost History of Christianity (3) / The Fuel and the Flame (4)
12 Rules for Life (4) / Wally Roux, Quantum Mechanic (3) / Redshirts (4)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (4) / Journey to the Center of the Earth (3) / Godology (3) / The Charisma Myth (4) / The Joy of Early Christianity (4) / Grace Abounds to the Chiefest of Sinners (4)
Joan: The Mysterious Life of a Heretic Who Became a Saint (5) / Balaam’s God (4) / One Bloody Road (4) / Seeing in the Spirit Made Simple (4) / Burnout Generation (3) / Divine Healing Made Simple (4) / Reaching the Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art (4)
Mostly Harmless (4) / Climbing with Mollie (4) / Microchurches (4) / Not the Parable of the Lost Sheep (4) / Fox’s Book of Martyrs (3)
The Communist Manifesto (2) / The Storm-Tossed Family (5) / Bird by Bird (4) / Called Together (4) / Do More Better (3) / A Preface to the Acts of the Apostles (3) / The Christian Book of Mystic Verse (5) / Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Spoke in the Wheel (3)
So…what’d you read this last year? And what did you love? Let me know in the comments.