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Andy Stanley Thinks His Church is a Better Parent Than You Are

Some churches are big.

stadium-1082235_1920REALLY big.

Like, “fill a soccer stadium on a Sunday” big.

Still, most churches are not.

And, like it or not, there is often a rift between the small churches and the mega-churches. The big churches have more money and more ability to reach the masses. Smaller churches promote the idea that they are more able to impact lives on an individual level, helping mature people in genuine Christian discipleship.

So you can imagine the hubbub in church circles when mega-church pastor Andy Stanley said in a sermon:

When I hear adults say, “Well I don’t like a big church, I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody,” I say, “You are so stinking selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids [or] anybody else’s kids” … If you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough middle schoolers and high schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big old church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church.

There was a large outcry from ministers and ministry workers across the country. To his credit, Stanley apologized and said:

“The negative reaction to the clip from last weekend’s message is entirely justified. Heck, even I was offended by what I said! I apologize.”

But he went on to explain that he was so proud of his church’s youth ministry reaching 4,600 teens. Just imagine if every teen could experience that kind of connection!

Sure, reaching teens is great. And I appreciate Stanley’s attempt to pacify the little guys, those of us who minister to groups of fewer than 100 people, but his apology doesn’t realy do much for me. It’s an “apology but….” He’s sorry to offend, but if you really understood his heart then you would see why he said it.

I call shenanigans.

In a nutshell, Stanley believes that his church and their teen outreach can do a better job of parenting than Christian parents can. He said:

You drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church.

Did you catch that? If we can’t give kids an incredible, big-church experience then they’ll grow up hating the church. You owe it to your children to attend a mega-church with the mega-church resources so that they don’t hate the little church that can’t provide as much.

Barf.

baby-17342_1920I don’t believe parents ought to relegate the spiritual development of their children to the church (mega 0r small). Parents ought to be the PRIMARY source of spiritual development for children. And when children are raised seeing their parents engage in authentic Christian community, they will grow up belonging TO that community. What Stanley is really saying is that his church is full of parents who have abdicated their responsibility to spiritually lead and direct their children.

But what about the Bible? What does the Bible say?

Actually, it doesn’t say anything about church size. There are no directives, just examples. The example set in the Bible is that outreach and evangelism events have HUGE reach (in the thousands) but that the local church was small enough to fit in homes and local synagogues (the early church was made up of Jewish converts, so the synagogue was the natural place to meet).

The church is about Christian community. Acts tells us that they got together daily in homes to eat, worship, and listen to the apostles teach about Jesus. I get the sense that kids would have been part of this early community.

No youth ministry.

No separate area where parents allowed others to do their jobs for them. The family was involved in worship together.

Since the Bible doesn’t say anything about church size I won’t condemn mega-churches. They do a lot of good work. but Stanley is WAY off-base in his beliefs and comments. Stop worrying about the church raising kids. How’s about the church worries about making authentic disciples of the entire family unit? How can we raise mature parents in the faith so that they in turn can rear godly children?

And this is something that any sized church can do.

————————————————-

How about you? What size church do you attend? What are the merits of the small church? Of the large church?

DVD Review: Whiplash – A Conversation With My Father

My wife and I recently watched the award winning Whiplash.Whiplash It is a phenomenal movie and stirred something in me. I found at times that I was holding my breath and my heart was racing. I watched a few scenes over again and had the same effect (you can watch one of my favorite scenes at the end of this review). If you’re going to watch it, though, know that the language is raw and graphic – clearly a reason the movie is rated-R. After making a comment about the movie on social media, my dad, Paul Linzey, mentioned that he and my mom had also recently watched it. Then I had a great idea: Why don’t I co-write a review with my dad, looking at some of the themes of the movie from a biblical perspective? So today’s review is actually from an ongoing email conversation he and I have been having over the past couple days. I’ve enjoyed it immensely and hope you find some value in it. 🙂

Chris: I’d like to kick off with the theme of relationships since I’m doing this with my you. There are three primary relationships I can identify in the movie:

– Andrew and his dad
– Andrew and his girlfriend
– Andrew and Fletcher

I think it’s pretty clear that Andrew’s relationship with Fletcher overrides the others. Here’s what I find interesting, though. While the girlfriend moves on and finds someone else, the dad is constant throughout Andrew’s ups and downs. They go to movies together. Dad stocks Andrew’s apartment with snacks. When the lawyer is trying to convince Andrew to testify against Fletcher, Andrew asks his dad, “Why are you here?” Dad’s response? “Don’t you know there’s nothing in the world I love more than you?” Even when Andrew returns to play with Fletcher for JVC after both had been kicked out of the conservatory, his dad was at the performance and ran backstage to hug the son in his most embarrassing moment. I’m very much reminded of the father in the Prodigal Son story. No matter what the son did, the dad is still there to throw his arms around his son and proclaim his love.

Paul: Yeah, the relationships are a powerful part of the story. And at times they’re pretty painful. Like in the scene at the family dinner table. It’s obvious the whole family is so proud of the football star and totally unimpressed with Andrew’s musical ambitions. You can feel his pain and anger when he points out that the football player is merely at a Division III college. In other words, it’s not worth bragging about. But nobody gets it, and Andrew is still considered the oddball whose goals and values are meaningless. But you’re right about the dad’s loyalty. Even though he didn’t understand his son, he was always there, like you pointed out. There’s a verse in the Bible that says

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he grows up he will not stray from it.”

Some commentators point out that the terminology in the text is farm language, agricultural terms, specifically having to do with shaping and growing trees. If this is so, they believe the point of the verse is that good parents will find out their child’s interests, callings, and personality and adjust their parenting methods to bring out the best in the child – to help the child discover his or her direction in life. It’s not telling parents to make sure they raise the child the way they want the child to turn out. There’s more to parenting than that. It’s an art. It requires diligence, attention, getting to know the child intimately. It calls for relationship patterns that allow the child to explore and experiment. And the wise parent guides the child in the process of becoming. I didn’t see Andrew’s family fostering this kind of emotional-psychological freedom to be. We typically use that verse to tell parents how to raise their kids, and to tell our kids what we want them to do. Very controlling, very heavy-handed, very condescending. But maybe it was actually designed to liberate parents and liberate children, freeing all of us to discern what the Lord might want us to do, and to become. And then support each other in that process.

Chris: Let’s talk for a second about Andrew’s intense desire to be the best. In one scene, he tells his girlfriend, “I want to be great.” She responds, “You’re not great?” He comes back, “I want to be one of THE greats.”

Paul: Why are people who excel in almost any field edgy, quirky, OK — weird? Do we have to be so intensely focused and driven in order to be the best? Is it even possible to be “normal” and still be the best in the world at something? It’s true that in order to succeed, we have to make sacrifices. We have to prioritize. But is there a limit to how far we should go?

Chris: I was really pondering this one. I had a friend some years back who thought that all competition was contrary to Christ-like behavior. I’m not inclined to go that far, but I see his point. When you hear Jesus using expressions like “servant of all,” “the last shall be first,” and “the least of these,” it’s easy to see that Jesus has a heart for the underdog. The question is, “How far do Jesus’s teachings call us to care for the underdog vs. how far do Jesus’s teachings call us to BE the underdog?” I’m don’t think Jesus is calling us to eschew success, but there needs to be a healthy balance between success and humility, and my personal opinion is that such humility prevents us from ever achieving the status as “best in the world.”

Paul: It seems clear biblically that the Church will be the underdog societally, especially as we move towards the Eschaton. It’s also true, if I understand James 1:27 correctly, that we are called to care for the underdog. And it is true that we are called to be servants of all. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean we are called to be underdogs, impoverished, or less than the best in our chosen vocation. To follow that logic, each of us would need to be orphaned and widowed to truly be Christian. But that is clearly not the case. Jesus told at least one person that he would need to sell all his possessions and give to the poor, but there were quite a few other rich people he did not tell that to. In fact, there were some wealthy folks who supported him and his disciples so they could do the work of the Kingdom. Same with Paul and his ministry team. I don’t think humility per se is contrary to being the best. Many would agree that Moses would be considered one of the greatest leaders of all time. Yet Numbers 12:3 specifically says he was the most humble man in all the earth. I think you and I would agree that Jesus was the greatest person of all time. Yet, he was humble, according to Philippians chapter 2. And St. Paul was a pretty impressive apostle. Perhaps the best? Yet he displayed some impressive humility. Perhaps understanding of the word “meek” can be helpful here: “Power or greatness under control.” So I don’t believe that humility ought to prevent a Christian from being the best at what he or she hopes to achieve in life, whether as a musician, an athlete, a teacher, a pastor, a plumber, or anything else. In fact, the Bible says,

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”

Don’t we usually understand that to mean “do your best”?

Chris: I don’t think humility NECESSARILY prevents us from greatness, only when pursuing greatness requires trampling on others.

Paul: Absolutely. I agree. And this is what we see happening in Whiplash. People trampling all over each other. Dog eat dog. Get mine. do what it takes to self-promote. I guess you could say Osteen’s teaching applied to the music industry. It’s all about you.

Chris: BWAHAHAHA! Joel Osteen applied to the music industry – now that.is.funny. Making sure that “I get mine” regardless of how it affects others flies right in the face of biblical principles:

Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them (The Golden Rule) Matthew 7:12

and

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Switching gears again, how did you guys respond to the language? It was incredibly harsh.

Paul: The profanity was indeed overwhelming. But we knew going in that the main reason for it’s R rating was raw language. More importantly, however, being in the world means we rub elbows with real people, real heathens, real scoundrels. We’re called to be in the world, though not “of” the world. Jesus didn’t avoid sinners. That included prostitutes, tax collectors, and cussers. Besides, there’s not a single word or phrase in the movie that I haven’t heard in the Army . . . . . . . or in the church! An aspect of human existence that I thought the movie showed pretty well was that every one of us has our own pain, our own problems, and our disillusionments. This was true of just about every character in the show. Would you comment on that?

Chris: You hit the nail on the head. The director has even said he approaches life from a dark place and I think the characters reflected that. But each gets so caught up in his own trouble he fails to find the relief that can be found in community. It’s the attitude that greatness only comes through suffering and, while there may be some truth to that, authentic relationships can help heal wounds.

Paul: And that’s where art and the gospel begin to intersect.

Chris: Thanks, Dad.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _
As always I welcome your thoughts and opinions. did you see the movie? What did you think?

Paul Linzey is a pastor, writer, and mentor. A retired Army chaplain, he and his wife live in Lakeland, Florida.
Paul Linzey is a pastor, writer, and mentor. A retired Army chaplain, he and his wife live in Lakeland, Florida.
Chris Linzey is a husband, dad, pastor, and writer. Currently an Army Reserve Chaplain, he and his family Illinois.
Chris Linzey is a husband, dad, pastor, and writer. Currently an Army Reserve Chaplain, he and his family live in Illinois.

And You Thought Your Family Was Bad…

stick-family

No matter how bad your family is it could always be worse.

Right?

I mean, how many of us have had to deal with Dad chopping off our hands with an ancient-yet-futuristic weapon?

Luke Loses His Hand

While we may not have had to face something so extreme, we can still admit that relatives can fail us.

Blood may be thicker than water, but what do you do when blood turns on you?

This is what Jesus encountered with his own family. His mother and brothers came to “collect him” – they were shamed by his public behavior – and so they tried to label him as crazy. Just quietly put Jesus away so our family doesn’t have to deal with the embarrassment of having him run around ticking off the religious leaders.

But Jesus rejected them.

Instead, he formed a new family – a spiritual family.

“Who are my mother and my brothers? Those who do the will of God are my mother and my brothers.”

Blood may be thicker than water, but the Spirit of God is thicker than blood. And so Jesus formed a new kinship group. It’s not about our ties through blood. Now it’s about our ties through a common faith in Jesus.

While you don’t hear it too much anymore, Christians once referred to one another and Brother so-and-so or Sister so-and-so. It represented the new kinship group Christians embraced.

We too often forget that we’re part of this family. We still treat each other as “other than.” We gossip about each other and treat each other like strangers, not like family. When we fully embrace Jesus’ radical view of a spiritual family it will change how we treat each other, talk to each other, and talk ABOUT each other.

When we fully embrace Jesus’ radical view of a spiritual family it will play out in how we take care of each other. Dealing with some housing difficulties, a woman in our church was told by two different families, “You and your kids can stay with us until you get something worked out.”

This woman then told me, “That’s more than my own family offered to do.”

I stopped her and said, “No – This IS your family.”

Let’s live like the community Jesus calls us to be – a new kind of family, bonded together with bonds stronger than blood.

“Best” Parenting Tips

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So a friend and his wife just welcomed their first child to the world. What an exciting time! I vividly remember our firstborn arriving. I nearly passed out. At one point of the delivery I had more nurses attending to me than were attending to the lady in labor!

In honor of my friend’s new parenthood I enlisted the help of some friends to come up with a list of “best” parenting tips we could think of. I mean, real life stuff that no parenting book or manual could ever teach you unless you go through the experience yourself – the kind of stuff everyone SHOULD know but never talks about.

Here are some of the gems we came up with:

–          In the event of a monster diaper blowout, the garden hose is an acceptable alternative to the bath for cleaning baby

–          When baby is teething the best thing for him to chew on is a frozen Snickers bar (ignore the studies on infant diabetes)

–          You can save money on washcloths and paper towels by letting the dog clean baby’s face.

–          Use of Velcro on baby and wall is acceptable method of watching baby

–          The television is a TERRIFIC babysitter when you and the Mrs. need some alone time.

–          Use Bynadryl & Nyquil to teach the child how to take communion. You might even want to take some, yourself.

–          Chicken wire is a great way to rope off a play area.

–          Place vegetables on the floor when the child learns to crawl. They are more likely to be eaten there

–          When the baby won’t stop crying, if you will cry even louder it will teach them how annoying it is.

–          If the kid wants ice cream for breakfast, give him ice cream. Life is short; don’t deny him anything.

–          Buy the healthiest cat or dog food you can because when baby finds that bowl…

–          You can save money on formula and juice by letting baby drink straight from the bathtub.

–          Legos will pass through the digestive tract of a 4 year old.

Please recognize that these are jokes – don’t get all huffy about mistreating infants.

In all seriousness, caring for kids is a great responsibility. It doesn’t matter if you’re parent, uncle, aunt, or family friend – whenever we have an opportunity to contribute to the well-being of a child it is an honor and a weight.

The Bible talks about training children from the time they are young. When we do our jobs as caretakers we give kids the best chance possible for a happy, healthy, and productive life.

Never take your role for granted.

Step up to the plate and do right by that kid.

How about you? What “best” tips would you add to the list? 🙂

YOU YOUNG WHIPPERSNAPPER!

Curmudgeon

Have you ever had that job that was simply the toughest job you’ve ever had to deal with?

For me that’s parenting. HARD! There’s the constant battling over little, itty-bitty things. Things like simply putting on appropriate clothing.

 

But all kidding aside, the Bible puts responsibility for training kids squarely upon our shoulders. Parents are told to train their kids in God’s ways, to talk about it in the home, on the road, everywhere. The Bible points out that if you do the right things when the kids are young they won’t stray far as adults.

Keep in mind that this is NOT a promise from God. Sometimes parents do everything right and kids still choose the wrong paths. But there is a general principle – a truism – that says when we instill things in our kids then those things will stay with them.

One of my favorite folk songs is Teach Your Children, recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young.

You, who are on the road, must have a code, that you can live by.
And so, become yourself, because the past, is just a good bye.
Teach, your children well, their father’s hell, did slowly go by,
And feed, them on your dreams, the one they picked, the one you’re known by.

One thing we want our children to learn and care about is their education (spiritual and secular). So we talk about things at the dinner table. We ask what they’ve been talking about in Sunday School. We ask about spelling tests, books they’ve read – stuff like that.

We’ve found that turning learning into a game has worked really well. For example, we play a game called “First Letters.” We pick a letter of the alphabet. Then we go around the table clockwise and each person has to come up with word beginning with that letter (kids can come up with anything, parents have to come up with a word with at least 3 syllables).

Simple, but it is a fun way to talk about words and learning.

All said and done, school and church can only do so much to train kids. It’s really up to us: the parents (and also relatives, friends, and church families). When we engage kids in their learning they’ve got a much better shot of holding onto it as they grow up.

And for faith and for facts, this is a good thing.

Sound off! How have you helped kids engage in learning (sacred or secular)?

You Are Not an Island: Created for Community

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are a lot of creative people in this world, coming up with some amazing creations. But everything that people create has a purpose – a function. Nobody designs something for no purpose. We might laugh at the design and function (like many of the “as seen on tv” gadgets) but there is still a function. When an item doesn’t work according to its design we call it dysfunctional, maybe even broken. Some easily recognizable creations and designs: the light bulb, the Hoover Dam, the Colosseum. They were all created with something specific in mind and they have lasted. But there is one enduring creation that has been around before any of these: humanity. How do we function according to our design?

Most Christians know the story of God’s work in creating. In Genesis 1, every time God creates something He looks at it and sees…THAT IT IS GOOD. But there is a problem – in all of God’s creation there is one “not good” that sets the stage for all of humanity. The only “not good” is that man is alone, and the only solution is for God to create a community for man, from man, to which he is connected and may continue to grow the community. The family is the central core to our understanding of community. We are designed to be in relationship with other people!

Quite simply, family is everything. The individual exists and continues to exist only within the context of the community. When you remove the individual from family that person becomes invisible. As such, removal from the family is no small deal. Equally, while the individual remains within the community, he or she participates in the covering of the whole family; covering that could include physical protection, shelter, food, and the like.

Americans pride ourselves on our individuality, our self-sufficiency. “You can’t tell me what to do! I am my own boss, master and commander of my own world, and my actions don’t concern you.” But that’s not how the Bible sees it. From the Bible’s perspective, the actions of one person affect the entire community. That’s why the Apostle Paul tells Christians that if a person blatantly sins and refuses to repent then the church needs to remove that person from the community. One person’s actions and behavior can influence the entire community. We have lost the biblical concept that we are designed for community and function at our best when we are engaged in community with like-minded people.

I enjoy many different games, one of them being bowling. I have my own bowling ball that is drilled for me (left-handers need the holes drilled differently than righties). About 12-13 years ago I was a sophomore in college, and I had finished all of my school work, didn’t have to work at the store that night, and wanted to go bowling. The problem was that I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. So I thought, “Hey, I don’t need anyone – I can go by myself.” So I did. But I quickly learned that it is not as much fun bowling by myself as it is when I’m bowling with friends.

God designed us to enjoy being in community with others! We were created not only to be together but to care for each other. The fall saw human weakness destroy God’s intention. In Genesis, Cain is jealous of his brother Abel and so kills him. When God asks Cain where Abel is Cain responds, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The implied answer to this question is, “Yes!” That’s how God designed us! As community, we are our brother’s keepers. We are supposed to look out for and care for each other. This was God’s intention with community, and now the church picks up where we destroyed God’s original design. The church is the new family and community in which our lives play out. But our design, being created for community, should play out in practical ways.

First, our design should affect how we behave towards each other in the church. Too often we don’t treat each other well. There’s an old expression: familiarity breeds contempt. We become familiar with people and so we let our public niceness go away. It is more common to be polite to strangers than it is to people we are supposed to be in fellowship with. Have you ever entertained guests in your home? If a child of a guest bumps the coffee table and spills something on the carpet, the usual response is probably something like, “Don’t worry about it – it’s ok.” When everyone goes home, your spouse bumps into the coffee table and spills something and you lash out, “Why can’t you to watch where you’re going? You knew it was there! Why weren’t you more careful?” We bring that same mentality into the church. We are supposed to be a new community, a new family. We are supposed to care for each other and support each other, not tear each other down when we feel wronged or, worse yet, when someone falls short of perfection in some way that aggravates you!

In John 13:34-35 Jesus says:

“I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Several years ago when we were pastoring in California, my family was planning a Christmas family vacation in Colorado. My brothers and their wives, my parents, and my wife and I were all going to rendezvous in Colorado and spend the holidays together. The weather had different plans and we all got snowed out of Colorado and ended up having to spend Christmas in Southern California without my family. A family in the church invited us over to spend Christmas day with their family. Another family braved a hectic department store two days before Christmas in order to get us some small gifts so that we would have something to unwrap on Christmas morning. It was nothing fancy, but they wanted us to know that we were loved and cared for. That is how the church is supposed to function – loving and taking care of each other as though we are flesh-and-blood kin. It is this kind of love that Jesus says will identify us as his disciples. We are created for community, and that design should affect how we behave towards brothers and sisters in the church.

Second, our design should affect how we behave towards the world around us. As members of God’s family, this church community, we have a God-given task: to let other people know that they are welcomed into the community! The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:19:

“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.”

In other words, we have been blessed to be welcomed into this new family, and God has made it our responsibility to welcome others into this new family as well. We cannot afford to cloister ourselves within our beautiful buildings and pat ourselves on the back that we made it into the kingdom. We have an obligation to bring others into the family as well. And, honestly, if we are loving each other the way we are supposed to be loving each other, we will have a hard time keeping people out! Paul exhorts us in Galatians 6:10:

“As we have opportunity we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.”

We are not built to be isolated loners but to live and thrive in community. Because we are created for community, God calls us to care for one another and to invite the world around us to experience what genuine, Christian community is all about. So take time to reflect and ask yourself two questions. First, how can I grow and improve in loving the people in my church? Second, how can I actively work for the good of all so that others welcomed into this loving Christian community?

God our Father, You have created us for community, to be involved in people’s lives and to bring blessings to people. Show us where we have fallen short. Show us where we have failed to demonstrate love. Forgive us, and lead us to the place where we can love every brother and sister with the love of Jesus. Amen.

Related Posts:
~ 6 Ways to Build or Demolish Unity
~ Robin Hood Lives: Taking Care of Others
~ 14 Grandmas

America: Still Racist After all These Years

Racism. It’s still there. Sometimes it feels like we pretend it doesn’t exist but it does. It affects the way we look at people. It affects the way we treat people. It affects the way we talk about people. But it’s not something we address openly and honestly until something blows up and then everything is chaos and then all hell breaks loose.

No, I’m not even writing this in response to the Paula Deen debacle, though it certainly seems to fit.

Paula Deen’s situation reminds us that, no matter how far we have come, we are a people that draw lines of distinction based on race and heritage. Sometimes those lines of distinction are good and result in a renewed sense of pride and family background. I applaud people who utilize websites like ancestry.com or 23andme.com in an effort to know and appreciate their genetics and history. Knowing from where we come and from whom we come goes a long way in helping us create a personal sense of identity.

In regards to the words we use to define ethnicity, I do believe and emphatically suggest that we call people what THEY desire to be called, not what we think they should be called. I am Anglo-European. Let’s be totally honest, I’m Scottish on one side and Irish on the other. I’m white. A honkey.  But I’m married to a brown-skinned woman. It doesn’t matter what language was used around me growing up, she deserves to be identified in the way she chooses; Black, African-American, Negro, or even colored (which is how some of my wife’s older relatives still refer to themselves). Anything less is disrespect towards her AS A PERSON. It doesn’t matter where people come from – call them what they desire to be called.

This was part of Paula Deen’s problem. As an older white woman from the south, she probably grew up with some choice descriptors for brown-skinned people. And let’s be honest – it’s hard to break free from the language and images that were around during our formative years. It really takes a lot to move beyond how we were raised.

This is not to excuse something she might have said nearly 30 years ago, but it does help to understand where she is coming from and how she is wired. But this is a great illustration of the problem. Racism exists still. Many people don’t even realize that their behavior is racist – and that’s just wrong. It’s when you hear someone telling a story about someone else and they just “happen” to throw in the description of ethnicity.

“I was help up at knifepoint by this wild-eyed Mexican guy…”
“I was cut off by this black lady…”

We are racist every time we feel a need to describe ethnicity. Does it matter what race the thief was? Does it matter what race the crazy driver was? It adds nothing to the story except for the racist subtext you want to convey to your audience. We are racist every time we alter our behavior because of or around someone of different ethnicity. We are racist, and I don’t mean “we” as in “European-Americans like me.” Humanity is racist – we divide along ethnic lines.

Yet there is supposed to be a kinship that supersedes ethnicity. The bible says that we share a new family through our faith that moves us beyond all titles, descriptions, and subtext. It is no longer white, black, Hispanic, Asian, whatever-mix-you-want-to-be…. We shed all of that with one new title: CHRISTIAN.

This new title is supposed to characterize all we say and do. It’s supposed to saturate us and flow out of every pore. It’s supposed to take the old way of thinking about things and people and replace it with God’s way of viewing things and people.

Yep – we’re a racist planet. And we always will be as long as we hold to our ethnic identities over and above our spiritual identities. So, Christian, it’s time to grow. It’s time to change. It’s time to let stop identifying yourself by your race and to start identifying yourself by your faith.

Who are you?

My name is Chris. I’m white Christian.

No Superficial Relationships Please!

old-ladies-texting

My kids have 14 grandmas. Not biologically, of course, but 14 grandmas in our spiritual family. Our community.

Reality television has a strange love for jamming a bunch of strangers together and watching chaos ensue as these strangers attempt to do life, overcome obstacles, lose weight, cook (or whatever the theme of the show is) together. Invariably someone is voted off, tempers flare, and relationships are damaged. You know how the story goes.

But that’s faux community – it’s a cheap, Hollywood-ized version of what people living in community is supposed to look like. Because it’s a sham of what real community is supposed to be the relationships are superficial and short-term. It doesn’t matter who gets the rose, because the odds are that they will not be together long after the reunion show wraps up.

God doesn’t care too much for faux community. He prefers the real deal. He prefers to see people who live together, love together, laugh together, and weep together. Real community is so much more than simply occupying adjacent space to other people. Community is family.

In the Old Testament, community was based on bloodlines and there was a clear hierarchy of how community was based: family -> clan -> tribe -> nation. This is what solidified the Israelites together as the original community of faith. Then Jesus radically changed things up.

As he was gaining fame and attention he was causing embarrassment to his immediate family. The Gospel According to Mark tells us that one time his family even came to his house when there were a ton of people there to see him. The family had one goal – remove Jesus from the public eye and end the embarrassment. So the people told Jesus, “Hey, your mother and brothers and sisters are here!” To that Jesus looks around and says, “Here are my mother, and my brothers, and my sisters – the ones who do the will of God.” He gives a completely new spin on the definition of community. It’s no longer about blood – it’s about a shared spirituality and kinship of faith.

At our church there is a group of ladies, mostly grandmas with a few great-grandmas, who have intentionally taken on the role of surrogate grandparents to me and my kids. It’s wonderful. Even though my parents, grandparents, and in-laws are thousands of miles away God has given us a family to look after us and care for us. I’m glad that my children have those kinds of godly people in their lives to look after them and assist us in raising them. This is real community.

Real community is not content to live in shallow relationships but strives to make meaningful connections where we care for and ARE cared for by others. Here’s the kicker – real community takes a lot of work to build and to maintain. You don’t get it by attending a worship service once a week and sitting in the same row as someone else. You don’t get it by seeing the same parents when you drop off and pick up your kids at school. Real community requires time and energy to know and be known. It requires vulnerability – sharing your life and yourself with others.

It’s not easy – but it’s worth it. I’m glad that my kids have 14 grandmas. Their lives will be richer because of it. My burden as a parent will be lessened because of it. It’s not perfect, and all family has issues, but a family we are. So my question to you is this: Will you accept Jesus’ radical notion of a remade family? Will you put in the time and effort to establish and maintain community with others around you? If so then I’m sure you’ll find your grandmas too.

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