Friday, January 16, 2009

Jesus: Family Unfriendly

We have family friendly radio stations, family friendly movies, family friendly churches and family friendly businesses. Some are so family friendly they "focus on the family." But I have to ask: Is Jesus family friendly? The reason I ask this question is because, it seems to me, there is a type of family friendliness that kills conviction. There is a type of focus on the family that is good. And there is a type that is very dangerous. Many churches want to be considered family friendly churches. Everything in the church revolves around family - serving the family and strengthening the family. This isn't bad in itself. After all, Paul told Timothy that an elder had to "manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?" (1 Timothy 3:4-5). So it seems that the church is a big "household" or family. Here's where I see the problem come in.

I have been chastised at times, in different settings, for too closely resembling Paul's perspective on life: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again" (Philippians 1:21-26).

If I say something like Paul said, it is inevitable that someone will bring up my family. "You should be ashamed of yourself, wanting to go to Heaven when you have such a nice family." I cringe when I hear this. It reminds me of Peter rebuking Jesus for being too Jesus-centered; you know, the time when Jesus called him Satan. No matter what priority we want to give our family, one thing is certain - family is a shadow, not the reality. Christ is to be our longing.

If I say that Christ has to be our longing, then I'm chastised with this: "I understand that Christ is to be our longing, but you also have a responsibility to take care of your family, not escape your duty." If I remind my chastiser that my family is not mine, but God's, I'm reminded of this: "But God gave them to you to take care of, and that's your primary responsibility on earth." I then tell my chastiser that I think I am meeting that responsibility, but I still desire to go to Heaven regardless. It is far better, after all. Then I usually get this: "You should be ready to go to Heaven if that's what God wills, but you shouldn't want it right now. That's selfish. You should want to stay here and take care of your family."

It's right here in the conversation that an idol is discovered. The idol is not my desire for Heaven. The idol is my chastiser's desire for something other than Heaven. Paul's desire was Heaven. Paul did not say that he was willing to go to Heaven. That's just absurd, though many in this Disney World we call America say that very thing. With country singer, Joe Diffy, they can say, "Lord I want to go to Heaven, but I don't want to go tonight." Or with country singer, Hank Williams Jr., they say, "If Heaven ain't a lot like Dixie, I don't want to go." Of course, they might not want Dixie, but they fill in their own thing.

The fact is, the intense longing for Heaven was Paul's default position. It guided everything he did, and everything he didn't do. Here's where the rubber hits the road in our Christian idea of family. Though Paul said he was convinced that he had fruitful labor left on behalf of the young Philippian church, he didn't do anything to assure he could carry it out. Paul did not say, "Oh, the church needs me, so I have to do whatever I can to not get arrested. And if I get arrested, I have to do whatever I can to get out so that I can return to them. Poor things." Paul died after writing this letter. He never got out to go make much of the Philippian church.

Family is an idol for many American Christians, which is why Paul's mindset is so difficult to grasp for many of us. I think there are those in America that seriously lament the "breakup" of the family. They see things like high abortion rates, attacks on marriage, widening definitions of what a family is, children raised without fathers, frivolous divorces and they gasp in horror, longing for the golden age of the family. So when they hear my desire for Heaven, I automatically get lumped into the group that thinks family isn't that important.

Our focus on the family has crippled the inherent desire in Christians to sacrifice anything and everything for the sake of the gospel. We've somehow confused Jesus' desire to rescue the dying for Jesus' desire to wipe our kids' noses. Now, wiping noses isn't a bad thing. In fact, it seems quite loving, and easier on the eyes. The problem is, we never move beyond wiping noses. We've made a virtue out of doing nothing but focusing on our own little family to the neglect of the very thing our family is left on earth to accomplish.

Let me make this as clear as I can. Offensively clear. God cares more about the gospel than my children. This is a fact as sure as gravity. How can it be proven? Children can be sacrificed for the sake of the gospel. Parents can be sacrificed for the sake of the gospel. But the gospel can never be sacrificed for the sake of family. Ever. Not without serious consequences from the One who came to "set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 10:35-39).

While we're working 50 hours a week to provide a nice house and comfortable car with a DVD player and all sorts of toys for our children; while we are spending hour upon hour ushering our children to all sorts of unredeemed recreations and experiences; while we are focusing on the family, supposedly out of love for them (though it fosters little more than a love for the world); there are people in the world who are focusing on Jesus, and leaving an incredible heavenly-minded example for their children. They show that Jesus might not be the kind of family friendly God that Americans think he is. In fact, he might just be downright family unfriendly depending on where your heart is.

"Many Colombian believers face death daily for Jesus because they refuse to stop sharing about him (Romans 8:36). Colombian "Pastor Marco" was warned by FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas not to preach or meet with other believers. Yet, he risked his life to attend a secret Christian meeting. He was caught. The FARC, who seek to overthrow the government and establish communist rule, hate Christians for choosing to take up the cross instead of guns. In June 2007, with his congregation, family and the whole town looking on, Pastor Marco paid the ultimate price for this choice. His children, ages 7, 11, and 13, stood next to his wife as he was shot four times. Still, Marco did not fall and kept encouraging his family never to forget the Lord. When the guerrillas returned and found Marco still alive, they shot him five more times, finally killing him. Marco's wife and children are struggling to adjust to life without Marco." (Voice of the Martyrs, Special Issue, 2008).


Cathy said...

Thank you for this reminder that we must try and test our priorities to see if Jesus is truly Lord of our lives and our highest desire, over and above our families. Aren't we showing them an agape love rather than a selfish one when they see that Christ is #1 in our lives? Our focus should be for their "eternal" rather than "temporal" well being and security.
Through God's grace, may we put our own families in their proper perspective, keeping Christ alone on the throne of our hearts and lives.
Thanks again for this reminder, Darby.

JanAl said...

Though, my heart is at peace, when it is the Lord's will for me to leave this earth, because I KNOW where I am going. I have a hard time saying , Lord, take me now. But, when I hear others say it, I think, I wish I could be more like that , not that I do not love the Lord, and desire to be with Him, but because I also want to be with my family, to see them grow, to see my grand-kids, and to grow old with my husband. I know that it is earthly minded, but I am also at peace with whatever God has planned for me.