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Posts Tagged ‘family’

After 70 years, when Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem and the Second Temple reconstruction was completed and dedicated by the shedding of much animal blood, they celebrated the Passover, eager to seek God through their age-old rituals and traditions. They were home.

Ezra 6:21
So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it [Passover lamb], together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors in order to seek the LORD, the God of Israel.

What is my first order of business upon returning home from a long absence? Although I have no hard and fast religious practices to resume, I am anxious to get back into my routine. There is comfort in the familiar. I am happy to greet my dogs and take them outside. I peruse the mail, I make a cup of tea.

There are very few things that I can only do at home and yet, when I do, I am more contented. I can pray anywhere, but when I sit in my favorite chair, I fall into a quick communion with Christ. I can read scripture when I am away, any access will get me there, but my well-worn black leather Bible still comforts me by feel and sound, as the thin pages crackle.

Returning to church after a time away is also consoling with the familiar music and warm engagement with friends. For me, even my work, which can feel redundant and tedious sometimes, breathes into me when I walk through the door, breathes welcome.

There are amazing stories of families who have been separated by years and years through political insanity, such as the Berlin wall that divided East and West Germany or the Iron Curtain or the North Korean Demilitarized Zone, still active today. But when those barriers came down, families found one another again and fell upon each other joy and weeping. The touch of a beloved one.

Even I, when I met my half sister (who lives in Estonia) for the first time in 1996, we embraced fiercely, for we were bound by blood, the same father, and it sustained us. On the same trip, I met my aunt, my mother’s sister for the first time, and her heart exploded when we clung to each other. I was in foreign lands where I did not speak the language well, where homes were completely different from my own, where the culture had suffered from the cruel and powerful through communism, and yet, I was also home.

In May of this year, I will be retracing my steps and re-uniting again my half-sister and aunt. And my heart craves for that time together.

This is a type of longing that God wants me to have for the Holy Spirit every day.

“Come away, my beloved . . . ” [Song of Solomon 8:14a]; come home.

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Go ahead. I dare you. What criteria will you use? There are lots to choose from: kindness, selflessness, sacrifice, humility, and so on. Who do you know? Who’s on the list? Am I? Are you?

I John 3:10
This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

All right, I admit it, I’m being cantankerous. I keep thinking about all the times people say, “Remember who you are, remember that you are a Child of God.” And I wonder, am I only this child positionally (that is, as a result of my belief in the Christ) or is there evidence of my family affiliation? Is there a family resemblance?

Standing in a line-up, do I look any different than I did before Christ?

I am a follower of Christ but have I embraced being a child of God, or as the Amplified translation states, “…by this it is made clear who take their nature from God and are His children. . .”? Am I assimilating the very nature of God?

Or, am I still in the “terrible two’s,”? Investigative three’s? Adventuresome school years? Rebellious teens?

A child, in a happy and secure family, trusts the parent, looks up to the parent, finds comfort in those arms, and is encouraged by the looks and words from the parent. But a child must also grow up. A child must learn to walk in the world and become a parent as well. What is the relationship of an adult child to a healthy parent: respect, appreciation, admiration even, and thankfulness for the gifts of life, love, and wisdom.

I want to grow up.

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Of course, not all brothers love each other (or sisters either for that matter), but there is something indelible there. The Amplified translates this phrase: “loving [each other] as brethren [of one household].” The root of believers — operating as a family.

I Peter 3:8
Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.

For some people, the idea of family is riddled with issues, either because of brutal or emotionally handicapped parents or destructive behaviors by individual siblings. These are not people who will gravitate readily to the idea of a “church family.”

Others have close family relationships and they have a different problem: they know the wonder of strong familial ties and often find a group of believers can rarely engender that kind of closeness or trust.

I guess I’m somewhere in the middle, but probably leaning to the first example. My mother was mentally unstable and I never knew from one day to the next what I would awake to. My father died when I was child and I only had one sibling, five years my senior who left the family home for college and never returned in any kind of meaningful way. It was not until we were adults that we developed a truly mutual relationship. So, I confess, I’m not quick to embrace people with whom I am thrown together because we are affiliated with the same church body. It’s a trust issue, I know. I know.

Here’s what should happen anyway (in theory . . . in my mind): believers are bound to one another by their faith in God. This is actually a blood bond because of the nature of the Christ. It does not flow through our veins, but through our Spirit selves.

According to Peter, spiritually-based relationships should have harmony, sympathy (empathy), compassion, and humility. In general, this means deference to the other, concern for the other, sensitivity to the other, and willingness to compromise.

Wait a minute. We could be doing this all the time, church or no church; family or no family; believer or no believer.

These are the basics of “human.” These are the essential ingredients to relationships of all types: with strangers, lovers, or even casual acquaintances. Basics. Love of the first order. Love without strings. Love without labels.

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In several places Paul tells his followers to trust his message because his very life is a testament to his faith. In today’s world, there are those we know and have known, whether they are friends or family, and because we know them, we trust them. Or do we?

II Timothy 3:14
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, . . .

Trust is a funny thing. It can be taken for granted or it can be nurtured consciously and strengthened over time. The longer and deeper I know someone, the more likely I am to discern whether he/she is trust “worthy.” Relationships are built on trust because people must be transparent to be trusted. Without transparency, the foundations of a relationship are built on sand. And yet, despite, weeks or months or years of building trust, it can be broken with a single word, a single act, a single observation.

As soon as mistrust raises its unholy head, there’s hell to pay. Rebuilding trust after a betrayal (whether perceived or real) takes longer than the first time around. We place the other under the microscope and we find additional reasons to “not” trust. We look for the lie. We look for the secrets. We expect the worst.

I believe this “breaking of trust” moment must be examined carefully and weighed against knowledge and familiarity and love.

In the past week, I have seen three relationships within my immediate family ripped apart (possibly in a permanent way) because of broken trust. Somehow, whatever was known about each other before that moment came, was not enough to stay the doubt and suspicion, to balance the scale of possibilities, to hold the cracks together. Whether it’s teenagers falling in and out love or mature adults running from the possibility of being hurt yet again, the process is the same and one or the other says, “I don’t believe you.”

And then, on top of that, in a public forum, I witnessed palpable abusiveness and accusations because of a perceived certainty that trust was broken. I wanted to stand up and yell, “Stop! You’re talking about my friend, you’re calling into question the integrity of someone I have known for twenty years.” I trust my friend. I trust my friend’s intentions. And it hurt me to watch the bubbling cauldron of bitterness and rejection. The words were different, but it sounded the same, “I don’t believe you.”

And that’s when I saw it, this moment of decision, to stand by what has been shared and spoken before, to remember the conviviality and the good intentions, to hold fast to the history. . . or not.

Paul tells Timothy to trust in the truth of what he has learned from his mentor, from his friends, and from his family. This is Paul’s last letter to his protege. Many, many people attacked Paul in the same way that the authorities attacked Jesus. They called them liars, fakes, and charlatans. They called them destroyers and divisive elements in the faith.

Who will we choose to trust in that moment when the vase is about to shatter? Who will we believe?

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Words are compelling. They can change someone’s mind or lock in a point of view; they can soothe or they can motivate to action; they can break a heart or heal. Words create and words destroy. Depending on the wielder of those words and the interpreters, meaning can go either way.

I Timothy 6:4b-5a
“. . . He [one against the message of the Christ] has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men, . . . ”

Currently, there is quite the controversy over the book, Love Wins, by Rob Bell. Perhaps by now, a few of the attackers of this book have actually read it, but I have a feeling that their minds are made up about the author and will read into those words what they believe are true. In response, they have added more words that are even more controversial, like heretic and apostate and “universalist.” These words are highly charged and challenge anyone who might want to agree with Rob Bell’s proposition as being in equal danger. Each day, I google Rob’s name and his book to find additional essays and points of view. Today, I discovered a well crafted essay from Richard J. Mouw, the President of Fuller Theology, who called Bell’s book one of salvific generosity or a generous orthodoxy, a term popularized by Brian McLaren some years ago (also a controversial author).

And so the battles rage about words and more words. Some are determined to “protect the faith” and some are equally determined to take grace to its limits, expanding the faith.

I am not a theologian nor do I have any authority to speak either way really, except by personal experience. I have written about my mother before who died at 91, in full dementia, and after a long life of mental instability, bitterness, and hardness of heart. But, when it came time for the end of her life, love was there and she had a specific experience of seeing the Christ. How could that be? How could God break through that cloud of confusion? Because, love can win. That love came through me, my husband, my children, my church family, my friends, and my neighbors. That love was three-dimensional, yes, but I believe it was also supernatural.

There is potential for recognition of the Way at any point in a life. We will never know.

When I give my own testimony of how God reached into my own soul, I am always reminded that several people who had known me before my revelation would say, “You? You are a Christian? You are LAST person I would think would ever do that.” And so it was, that I was the last person, like the woman who washed Jesus’s hair with her tears. And so, among the terrorists and killers, the child molesters and liars, the idolaters and the prisoners, I am there too. We are all among the last. And what words are there for us?

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When Paul’s cohort (more than likely, all men) lived and worked in Thessalonica among the new believers, they had a dual role: mother and father. It’s no different for us, for me. And I don’t mean replicating what it was for us, but what it could be.

I Thessalonians 2:7, 11-12a
. . . but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. . . For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God . . .

Like so many of us, I grew up with a dysfunctional family life. I wouldn’t say my early season as a believer was much better. There were “teachers” aplenty and people who were sure they had all the answers, but not too many who role-modeled mother/father love.

One role meets those basic needs like food, shelter, clothing and above them all, unconditional love and holding (this is how I see the mother who cares for a small child). The second role expands on this one with encouragement, comfort, and advocacy. The first role builds up within the safety of a known environment and the second role sends out into the world.

Jesus did the same thing. He taught in the small circle and gave his disciples everything they needed to thrive and then sent them out to build on what they had learned. Build strength; use strength . . . to grow even stronger.

Have I done this as a parent? Only in fits and starts. Have I practiced these roles as a friend? Not as much as I could or should.

Sometimes I blame my abdication from one or both of these roles because I didn’t get the benefit of them, or at least, it doesn’t seem that way on first blush. It’s not true, of course. God provided everything I needed to move me forward in the world, but in less traditional ways. My God is creative in loving and sending me forth.

In my first year as a believer, it’s true that I didn’t have a caring core to carry me through my questions and disappointments. There were no clear mother/father faithful around me. But I also remember a specific night when I prayed to God, a time when an hour in prayer was nothing because I was on fire and so hungry for the Holy Spirit. And in those early weeks and months, many of my prayers were in Latvian, a language I grew up with as a child. My birth father never did learn English and so up to his death, this was the language we shared. And so, on this night, I talked to God in that child-like way, in a language I hadn’t really exercised much as an adult. The result? I distinctly heard, in Latvian, God speak to my heart and claim that father-place. He would be the father I lost. He would comfort, encourage, and send me forth.

” . . . for He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! Assuredly not!” [Hebrews 13:5, Amplified]

Selah! [Pause and think of that]

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We are asked to cultivate unity by using the “bond of peace.” A bond is something like a rope, handcuffs or Gorilla Glue. It’s a connection, a relationship, a hookup. It’s a union, an agreement, a promise. With these, unity is possible. And without, what do we have? Just watch CNN.


Ephesians 4:3-6
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

A bond of peace cannot be achieved alone. It takes at least two. Oh, I suppose there is inner peace, but even that comes from an agreement between the mind, soul & spirit. Peace is not achieved by threat, dictatorship or commandment. That is just an absence of conflict. A true bond of peace comes out of mutual desire, love, commitment, and compromise.

There are a couple of people I know from my work who have learned one of the first steps toward creating bonds of peace. One of their distinguishing characteristics is not taking personal offense (even when it’s intended). I watch them in difficult or tense situations and it’s like the verbal attacks or innuendos float across their spirit lakes. They know how to listen fully. They don’t grab onto words or tone of voice and prepare a response ahead of time. They know how to wait. It’s disarming in the best way. In this way, they open a door to unity and understanding.

I want this but I’m not very willing to practice. I confess, I’m always taking offense. I’m always expecting the worst in a situation. I critique the tones, the eyes, the body language and if I come up with an attack assessment, I ready my own arsenal. I’m quick. It doesn’t take long to raise the battle flag.

Unity is all those “ones.” One body, one spirit, one God and so on. Can I let go of mine long enough to enter the One? It begins with small steps, I think. Bonds with family and friends. A peace driven by love.

And so I take a breath today. I take a breath and ask for mindfulness again, to remember, to make peace.

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