Friday, February 4, 2011

Family Church

Family Church.



A dangerous term I've used here, as these two words can strike up some very painful, raw feelings and images for most people. Of course we'd all like to believe we had a 'Leave It To Beaver' childhood or even been one of the Huxstables, but most of us weren't that lucky. We all know family and church are two of the most tiresome and challenging circles that we find ourselves in. And despite popular belief, we continue to freely and willfully subject ourselves and our children to these instances; assuming we have no choices and even believing this is how God intended us to live.

Wow, did I just say that really?

You heard me right, I just said you do not have to continue to subject yourself to abusive, frustrating and selfish family or church members. If that's the first time you've ever heard that I hope you are feeling empowered to live and raise your children as our Lord would have intended. But before you disown your family and leave your church with a nasty e-mail, let's proceed cautiously and prayerfully with an open heart and mind.

Let me first beg your forgiveness for the cliches that are about to ensue as I walk you through this journey that I've been on and how I've come up with my conclusion of the deadly term, yet lively practice, that is Family Church.

Enter now, Jason and his desire to follow Christ fully with the influence of one of the most loving, contagious and challenging individuals we've known yet. This is where the journey begins, with a desire, a need, a desperate longing to know our Lord. To know Him personally and to really know the purpose He has created us for. Well, there really is no better way of knowing what He wants from you and for you than by picking up His "Love Letter" and pouring over it. Inhaling it, digesting it, regurgitating it and then repeating the process all over again. I know it sounds a little gross, but well, no one said following Christ was a neat and clean job.

So with our hearts and teeth sunk into scripture and several years of frustration under our belt we felt free to really assess our life. We questioned everything we did. We continue to do this today, constantly evaluating our choices based on Christ's desire for us and if we both come to the same prayerful conclusion we go for it. Taking a leap of faith and we never accept that there is no way out of our situation, even if it is "worldy" speaking a VERY BAD IDEA. We willfully sold our 'dream' home at a loss, to move into an older, quainter, diverse neighborhood. Unthinkable to most Americans. But our 'dream' home had turned into more of a nightmare. We were slaves to our home and we constantly had people thinking we were better than them because we had a big fancy house and that what we had is perfect and that's what they should strive for no matter how much debt it cost them. It was difficult being far away from Jason's work and from the people we wanted to spend time with. We felt isolated and stuck.

With impeccable timing from one of our greatest friends in Christ this is where we chose to re-define ourselves. We no longer live under the sole label as American, we haven't for a while now so it's time to act like it. We are Christians, which means we are to be Christ. Christ was constantly going, discipling and sending. Never staying anywhere for too long. Loving each and every person He came into contact with. Some love was tough to recognize, and some love was unmistakable Grace. All genuine and real, the perfect example for us to be and share.

So we've made this mildly radical move to be Christ to our neighbors, our friends, our schools, our co-workers and anyone Christ might have us cross paths with. We are excited to be Christ! We've spent a lot of time learning what that means, and we've got plenty more learning to do for sure, but we are experiencing success. We are helping others feel loved, we are learning that we struggle with helping others feel loved unconditionally so we are self evaluating again, asking God to not only reveal our flaws but to allow his perfection to flow through us so that people begin to feel Him. We've entered into others lives, learning about them and are now beginning to really introduce some of them to who our Lord is and why He is. It's cosmically exciting!

This year we'll be celebrating one of the most awesome victories of Christ we've taken part in to date. As we travel to North Carolina in the fall, Jason will baptize my mom. We've been loving her for years now and we are being blessed with the opportunity to take our family to her church where all of her family is and witness her life dedication to Christ. We haven't made any specific plans of this yet, but I can only imagine our sons will be old enough to not just watch but also to participate in this ceremony. Little things like filling the basin with water or bringing her a towel will be perfect things for them to do. And how powerful is it to see an elder in your family whom you love make such a profession of love to Christ? Some of us may have had wonderfully spiritual grandparents or parents but do you remember watching them get baptized? Or helping with the baptism?

Awesome tingly feeling inside right now right?! Children being able to participate in traditions of our faith, not just put on stage to perform and left in the back of the building the rest of the time, out of sight out of mind. No, these precious gifts are getting to participate in the growth and maturity of the Kingdom. Learning by example and constantly bringing their pure-heartedness and innocence back to the table. An equal opportunity of learning for both young and old.

One of my causes for frustration with the traditional church format is that we (the "grown ups") are expected to know it all, have it all together and not talk about or share it publicly when we don't. We are expected to show up and give our money each week and enjoy the production of worship while we send our children off to volunteers that we know nothing about (as far as their spiritual status, emotional well being and ability to model Christ for our children in and out of the classroom) hoping that they can teach our children enough about Christ to get them through their childhood.

Then we send them to the teen group and hope that all the trips and game nights we send them to and fork cash out for will result in their salvation, preferably before they are old enough to have sex and go off to college. But the time arrives and we send them off to a private school, frequently sending them into debt and all the time wondering, "Why are they struggling with life? I did everything I was supposed to."

I'll tell you why they are struggling... they don't know who they are, why they are here or what they are supposed to be doing with their lives. AND THEY DON'T KNOW WHERE TO LOOK FOR ANSWERS!

Whew! Well, now that I've got that off my chest, let me unwrap it a little for you in my mind. I believe in excluding children, separating the family unit inside the safe walls of church and encouraging the parents to wear masks there is no instruction on how to be a family, how to follow Christ and how to be honest, open, transparent and even real with your children. No parenting guidance no witness of struggle and most importantly victory over the struggles. No witness to Grace both given and received. Without those examples how can the children understand what exactly it is Christ has to offer them? Face it, most of our children grow up overly privelaged, they don't need Christ. It is our jobs, and solely our jobs as their parents, the ones in which Christ entrusted His babies, to show them. Children do what they see, not what they hear.

But now I'm ready to move on and talk about what I think can be done about these concerns of mine. I think that if we as the church can learn to be a family again and in discipling as Christ instructs us to do so, share our discovery we can slowly heal the wounds and scars of family division and maybe give Christ a chance for our children. If we can show them even the smallest of struggles and the tiniest of victories, they might learn that He is real. He is no Santa. He is not miraculous because of our imagination but because of our real life healing and transformation.

In order for something like this to occur our family unit must be pulled together as much as possible. All the family spending time apart, especially when the children are young and maleable is the worst thing we can do. There are so many outside influences... too many to overcome! Keep your family close, read together every day. Have a meal together. Talk about life. Take field trips together. Don't allow each other to live parallel lives but enter into life with one another. Relate to one another. See each others suffering, see each others triumphs. Praise Christ together. Sing together. Play together. Love together. Fight together. Ride Bikes, climb mountains, pick up trash. Turn off the T.V. Go to birthday parties. Don't give free time away. Make all non-essential work/school time, family time. At first it might be difficult as we all want space, but face it, we have too much space! You don't need more space, you need community with your loved ones.

So now I can almost hear your eyes rolling. Yes this is practical. I'll tell you how we are doing it. We have identified the people God wants us to love and we are spending time with them. We watch Madison twice a week and our children will grow up together, learning lessons from each other and bringing our families close creating opportunities to share with each other. Jason plays dungeons and dragons as a hobby and he has not only introduced our children to the game, but he has brought his group of friends to our home to play with our children. They are delighting in our children and our children are delighting in them. It is wonderful to see relationships grow despite age barriers. We've spent time on a regular basis helping our single neighbor and we are doing it with things that our children can participate in. Every little bit helps and I can only imagine how many more doors Christ will open for us with these individuals if we continue to be obedient in love with our family unit united. I anticipate even more watching our children as they grow into adults, how these experiences of life will shape them and hopefully allow them to better grasp their purpose and relationship with Christ.

After such a long post, I'll leave you with a few images:

Family Church looks a lot like a little boy on a trampoline, experiencing and stretching his natural limits. Feeling God around him, as he jumps higher and higher trying to grasp the clouds, the robe tail of our Maker.

It also looks like a Daddy and his boys, enjoying each others company as they use technology to expand their understanding of our Lord and the traditions that we celebrate. Engaging one another to learn and trust and grow in faith and knowledge.

It might even look like a tiny little girl, almost not a baby anymore, anticipating her point of participation in our home worship service. It was her turn to blow out the candles when we were done with the weekly readings. She is attentively waiting for her role to be fulfilled.

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