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09-15-11
"The Family Identity" by Pastor Matt

One of the characteristics I have noticed from being a Bay Area resident for a few years now is the business of our schedules and how that affects our family's identity. If your like my family, there are some activities or tasks we do as a family and some activities or tasks we do on our own, but there is always something to do. I think it is a very healthy thing for a family to have both these activities, but how do we - should we - decide which is which?

Some things are easy to define. Jobs lend its tasks to the individual, homework as well. Birthdays and holidays are family events. Dinner can go either way. But what about Church? That one I think are a little confused about.

Is participating in the life of a church body a family thing? Or is it really an individual thing that is under the guise of "family-ness". When I think about it, we break up all parts of our church going experiences and commitments into age levels, we rarely sit together as families in worship on Sundays, and youth group often becomes a time where space is given for teenagers to grow apart from their parents. At the heart of it, our church offers things for the whole family, but when does the whole family do something together at church on a consistent basis, where they inhabit the same space, engage in the same program, build upon the same relationships. Not very often.

Is this ok? Is this normal? Is this reflective of how the people of the Kingdom of God are called to live? One of our Goals as a church FAMILY is to become a more multigenerational church - which means we want to do things as a family, not necessarily "have things for the whole family." There is a difference.

The concept of family in the OT and NT are different from our concepts today. The Hebrew family was larger, including the father of the household, his parents, his wife, his slaves, children, daughters and sons-in-law, slaves, guests, and foreigners under his protection. Marriage was arranged by the father of the groom and the paid for by the family of the bride. Today most families that live like this wind up in the evening news with reports of one or more members being pushed over the line of sanity and doing something regrettable.

The NT concept of family follows the OT in that parents, children, husbands, wives, masters and slaves were all commanded to live together in harmony and love.

However, despite the cultural differences we find between our times and those of Biblical times, there are still instructions for us in scripture that we would be wise to take notice.

First, love and respect are critical to any family's unity. Ephesians 5, for all its gender-charged statements about marriage, highlights above all the need to love each other by putting the other above yourself. And that translates to the rest of the family as well. It isn't about asserting power over another - making someone do something for your gain or pleasure, but a respect for what is going on in the heart and mind of the other family member - and desire to understand the thoughts, emotions, and actions of each person. We can't do that if we are left to find God on our own. The family unit is the community to which we belong most noticeably and intensly, and should be treated and invested in as such.

Second, the idea of family (especially described in Deuteronomy) seems to be the place where the teaching of God's Word, rejoicing together, and remembering who we belong to should take place. The family. Not youth group, not worship services, not Bible study, not even sunday school. Deuteronomy 6 says:

"4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates."

This is hard for us to do, because a lot of us feel inadequate to teach others about our God, when we ourselves feel like someone needs to teach us. Yet the urgency and command remains. This part of scripture, called the "Shema," was what the Lord commanded the Hebrew people to pass on from generation to generation right before they entered the promised land. The Shema gave the Israelite people their identity by telling them who they belonged to, what priorities to put first, and where their responsibilities lie. It is all focused on reminding each generation of who God is and