Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Thicker than Blood: The Church as the Primary Community

Sunday Message (September 29): CROSS

Message Audio: Listen HERE

I wrapped up the "Friends: Be a Real One Series" on Sunday by exploring the third "C" of lasting and thriving relationships: CROSS. I used Paul's reconciliation strategy from Philippians 2 to argue that lasting and thriving relationships follow the way of the cross.  In this week's AfterWORDS, I will address two topics (tangents, if you will) I was unable to cover in the "Friends" series: 1) the Church as God's primary community and 2) the problem with eros.

If you happen to live in a suburb, like I do, it becomes apparent that businesses cater to the family...fine by me. I have three boys! Think about it: Chuck E. Cheese's, or what I call Kid Vegas. Have you seen how kids blow their $10 in tokens by gambling it all on the "ticket slots?" There is nothing more satisfying to a parent then spending $10 on 5 Jolly Ranchers and a snap bracelet. Actually, the $10 is for an hour of sitting without worrying about your kid biting the dog, flooding the toilet, or tagging the hallway wall.

"But Chuck E. Cheese is designed for children," you say! I'd argue it is designed for parents. But Chuck E. aside...take into account indoor playscapes, children's menus with more puzzles and coloring than food items, children's barbers with airplane stools and video games, Bass Pro turning into a Winter Wonderland at Christmas, and even Home Depot's "kid's project" Saturdays.

But IKEA is my favorite. In case you are unfamiliar with IKEA, it is a giant furniture store designed around family comfort. When you walk in the door you find yourself staring at a day care! You can drop your child off for an hour and shop kid free. I'm convinced some parents head to IKEA, not for the furniture, but for a 1-hour IKEA date! If your kid is in the "clingy stage" or if you are afraid to leave them at the day care because you weren't able to wipe down the entire playground with sanitizing wipes (Don't worry that will change by kid number three. The "3 second rule" has turned into a "5 day rule" at our house), then just head upstairs to the IKEA cafeteria for Swedish Horse Meatballs, baked chicken or Mac and Cheese and pudding. For the sake of your cafeteria sanity, IKEA has created a rolling tray carrier capable of carting 5-6 trays. No longer does the lone parent have to juggle a baby and three food-loaded trays. After getting a snack, or 5-course meal, you walk through the store where IKEA has strategically placed sensory stations for your kid to touch, climb, hit, and spin. As you leave, a second round of hunger pains will be setting in because it takes about 2.5 days to make your way through the store. No worries! A snack bar lives right behind the cashier serving hot dogs, cinnamon rolls, ice cream, and pretzels. Even if you are not hungry, you can bet your kid will "need" a snack. IKEA caters to the family.

In this world of IKEA's and Chuck E. Cheese's it is no wonder families come to Church expecting the Church to cater to them. Now don't get me wrong. I'm a firm believer in stellar children's programs and parenting and marriage classes. But, suburban culture and family friendly Churches often come with a side-effect. We reinforce the idea that God created the Church to serve the family. In scripture it is the opposite. God expects the family to serve the Church because God designed the Church as his primary community.

You may have heard the idiom "blood runs thicker than water" as a rationale for siding with your family over non-family. In large part, that is true. I'm most defensive about my wife, children and extended family. You can talk about me but don't talk about my wife. You can pick on me but don't you dare mess with my little guys. Why? Because blood is thicker than water! But according to Paul, the Spirit is thicker than blood!

In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul is doing conflict management between Gentile and Jewish Christians. For thousands of years God identified his people with a certain ethnic group. Granted, others could be grafted in, but there was no separating the Jewishness of God's people. But in Ephesians, Paul says that through Jesus God's purpose was to create one new humanity out of the two [Jews and Gentiles].  He says, through Christ we both [Jews and Gentiles] have access to the Father by one SPIRIT and that in Christ Jews and Gentiles are being built together as to become a dwelling in which God lives by his SPIRIT. Paul tells us that the Spirit of God runs deeper than Jewishness, Gentileness, Taylorness, or your familiness. It runs thicker than blood.

God's primary community, the community to whom he commissions his mission is not the family unit. It is the Church. Blood is exclusive by nature. That's part of the power of adoption...the grafting of an individual into the family unit - making someone a part of an inherently exclusive group. But the Church is not exclusive. It is a community of male-female, young-old, black-white, married-single, Irish-Armenian, Chinese-Russian... God's core community is the Church and not the family. God labels the Church as The Body of Christ, not the family. The hope for America, for the world, is not in the nuclear family, but in the gospel-bearing body of Christ.

I'm a huge family man! I believe family is important. I'm ready to die for mine! I believe, as a minister, in helping foster better marriages, closer families, and more effective parenting. But...I believe the Church is God's primary community and believe God calls my family to serve the Church rather than waiting for the Church to serve my family.

So...how can your family serve God's Church?

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