A Compelling Vision for Family

Does Christianity have a compelling vision for family life? Some ancient religions required child sacrifice. That is not a compelling vision for family at all! Some would say that the Christian vision for family is likewise not compelling. It is too rigid, too patriarchal. Does the Christian vision for family make you think “that sounds right, that is consistent with a good and loving God” Is the Biblical vision for family beautiful, or ugly? It is beautiful, for the following reasons.

There is a beautiful vision for parenting.

To begin with, child sacrifice was strictly forbidden under the Old Covenant law. God’s people were to be different from other peoples of that day who did indeed sacrifice their children. The place near Jerusalem where people sacrificed their children was eventually used as a garbage dump, as it was despised by God’s people. It was called Gehenna, which most English Bibles translate as ‘hell.’ God’s people were expressly forbidden from sacrificing their children. This already was a positive step for family life!

But is there anything else about parenting? If you happened to read through the entire Bible this week, you might say, “I did not see too much on parenting.” If parenting is all about technique, then yes, the Bible does not say too much. However, if parenting is about character, then the Bible has much to say. Let us consider one example from Galatians:

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV)

Not only will those who “live like this” not inherit the kingdom of God, they will also make life miserable for their children.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:22-24 (NIV)

Those who live like this, on the other hand, will be appreciated by their children who will have great examples to follow. Who wouldn’t want to grow up with parents whose character is marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control? Techniques in parenting will vary according to culture, but the character of a parent can make for beautiful parenting in any society.

Character development is also good for marriage, which is also great for family life. This brings us to our second point.

There is a beautiful vision for marriage.

While we find polygamy quite often in the Old Testament, things are different in the New Testament. In speaking about marriage, Jesus focused, not on the people from the Old Testament who practiced polygamy, nor on the law, which allowed for polygamy, but on the creation account:

3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:3-6 (NIV Quotes from Genesis emphasized)

This return to the original vision for marriage paved the way for women to be on a more equal footing. Polygamy naturally leads to someone being in charge of “the clan,” a supreme leader. Monogamy more naturally allows for the possibility of an equal partnership.

Further, the Biblical vision is of covenant faithfulness and loyal love between two people. Such covenant faithfulness, based on God’s covenant faithfulness, is a beautiful thing and enables family life to be settled and stable. It is a beautiful thing to grow up in a home where one’s parents are in love, with each other!

There is also beautiful vision for leadership and submission in marriage:

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:21-27 (NIV)

Perhaps that does not sound beautiful to everyone. Women being under the thumb of a controlling man sounds ugly. However, let us dig deeper. When leadership is about control, it is ugly. When leadership is about care and responsibility, it is beautiful. Notice the focus on the lengths Jesus went to in his care of, and love for, the church. He was willing to die for the church! There is a great expectation placed on men here, and one that was not prevalent in that day. Likewise, when submission is about giving control over, it can be ugly. When submission is about trust, it is beautiful. When a man loves a woman the way Christ loves the church, trust is built. This passage is not about men taking control without building any trust. It is about harmony in care and trust. It is a beautiful vision that was quite radical and woman affirming in its day. And let us not forget verse 21! Love, trust, and mutual submission makes for great family life.

There is beautiful flexibility in the Biblical Vision for Family.

Although Jesus focused in on the creation account of marriage, something you do not find in the New Testament is a push for everyone to be married with children. Jesus himself affirmed that not everyone will be married with children in Matthew 19:10-12. The Ethiopian eunuch was welcomed into the Kingdom in Acts 8. Paul encouraged people to remain single in 1st Corinthians 7, or get married! While married with children is a beautiful vision, it was not an expectation in the New Testament church. It should not become an idol on ours. If you are single, or have no children, you are not a second class citizen in the Kingdom of God. We do well to ensure that no one is a second class citizen in our churches.

Since there is flexibility in not forcing everyone to fit the pattern of married with children as set out in the creation account, is there also flexibility with leadership within the family? Can it be based on giftedness and capacity rather than gender? My wife takes the lead in a number of areas of our family life. She is so much more capable than I am in those areas!

Proverbs 31 is often thought to be about “the virtuous wife.” It is often pitched to women, that they should be more like that Proverbs 31 ideal. However, I think it pitched to men. The lesson of Proverbs 31 for men can be summed up as “don’t micro-manage your wife, she excels without your interference.” Proverbs ends with this instruction:

31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. Proverbs 31:31 (NIV)

This description of the capability of a wife must also be considered a part of the overall Biblical vision for family. The flexibility of the Biblical vision for family is a beautiful thing.

There are those who say that even if they became convinced that Christianity is true, they would still not want to be a Christian because it has a very patriarchal and constrictive vision for family life. Indeed, some Christians live out a constrictive and patriarchal vision. However, the Bible gives us a vision for family which is a beautiful. This is another aspect of Christianity that is compelling. What the Bible teaches about family life is indeed consistent with a good and loving God.

(This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.)

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A Compelling Mission.

Does the way in which we engage people outside the church point to the reality of God?

In previous posts we have looked at Christianity as compelling because it is true. This week we begin looking at how Christianity is compelling because it is beautiful.

My boys are now reading Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which I also read in school. In this book and corresponding tv series American society has been ordered, supposedly, according to the teachings of the Bible. However, it is not long before the reader realizes that this is a very ugly society. If that is what Christianity leads to, it is not compelling at all! If Christianity is true, reflecting a good and loving God, we will expect it to bring beauty, not ugliness. Does Christianity lead to beauty or ugliness? Specifically, is the way Christians engage non-Christians beautiful?

First, freedom is beautiful. Imprisonment is always an ugly thing. With Christianity there is to be freedom. When we read the New Testament we find people freely choosing to be followers of Jesus. In the “Great Commission” of Matthew 28, Jesus did not say “go and force everyone to be a Christian,” but “go and make disciples.”

This means that everyone should have freedom to not be a Christian. Some religions and worldviews use power to keep people in. We can think of fundamentalist versions of Islam. In some nations it is illegal to convert from Islam to another faith! My own children have been raised with a strong connection with the church family. But they are free to not be Christians. While my heart’s desire is that all three will follow Jesus, it is not my decision to make. They are free to choose their relationship with Jesus. As they grow into adulthood they will be free to choose their connection with the church family also. Sometimes we as Christians have made it difficult for people to leave the faith. That gets ugly. Freedom is beautiful.

There is also to be freedom for the non-Christian to not have to act like a Christian. Jesus did not say in Matthew 28 “go and make Christian nations, forcing everyone to have Christian morals,” but,

. . . go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT emphasis added) 

The New Living Translation goes beyond what is in the original Greek, but captures for us well who is to learn Christ’s ways, namely, His disciples. As a Canadian I am watching the culture war in the States with interest. I see a desire to ‘make America Christian again.’ However, forcing an entire nation to follow Jesus gets ugly. We understand that Christianity is spreading very well in China. I imagine that the Chinese Christians are focused on making disciples, one person at a time, not fighting a culture war, one law at time. That is not to say that Christians should not be involved in politics. But when we are, let us not confuse lawmaking with evangelism.

We Christians have sometimes denied freedom, and sometimes still do. It has been and can get ugly. But we will not deny freedom if we are looking to Jesus, if the New Testament is our guide. Freedom is beautiful, and a Biblical Christianity promotes freedom.

Second, words are a beautiful way to share truth. Forced conversion through violence is ugly. Conversion through force or manipulation is something you will not find happening in the New Testament, nor is it something Jesus told us to do. Instead, we find people sharing what they know to be true about Jesus using words. You will not find a Christian going to war in the New Testament to ‘take the land for Jesus.’ You will find honest sharing. You will find conversations. You will not find warriors. You will find preachers.

We Christians have sometimes resorted to power, and sometimes we still do. It has been and can get ugly. However, we will not use force if we are looking to Jesus, if the New Testament is our guide. Words are beautiful. A Biblical Christianity promotes conversation and sharing through words.

Third, it is a beautiful thing to share good news. Keeping life changing good news to oneself would be ugly. Keeping Jesus for ourselves would be ugly. Keeping quiet about the amazing news of God’s amazing grace would be ugly. Some religions may promote a ‘keep to yourself’ attitude. That might be okay if you are keeping your love for liver and onions to yourself. But imagine finding the cure for cancer. We have learned of the cure for death itself! We have learned that God has a love solution for our separation-from-God problem. Keeping that to ourselves would demonstrate an ugly, ugly lack of love for others. From the very earliest days, Christians have been involved in missions. Because we must in order to get to heaven? Nope! Because sharing good news is a beautiful thing, a natural thing. The good news is too good to keep to ourselves!

The way Christians are to relate with non-Christians is not ugly, but beautiful. Freedom is beautiful, words are a beautiful way to share truth, and it is a beautiful thing to share good news. God’s call for how the Christian should engage with the non-Christian is, just as you would expect from a good God, beautiful. This is yet another aspect of Christianity that is compelling.

(This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.)

A Compelling Turn of Events. How the Events of Easter Point to the Reality of God.

Can we really believe that Jesus rose from the dead? If someone told you they had a friend who spontaneously rose from the dead three days later, would you believe them? Probably not, and that is good, for doubt and scepticism are important tools in helping us avoid deception and discover truth. So if we would not believe a report about a friend being raised in three days, then why believe it with regards to Jesus?

First off, let us remember the nature of the Bible. It does not present a simple system of belief, or a series of philosophical ideas, but instead a series of sometimes convoluted history lessons. For the person of faith it is the history of God’s interactions with humanity. For the unbeliever, the history lessons are still important. For example, when we look to the Old Testament, even a very sceptical person will want to consider what happened that caused the Israelites to think they were rescued from Egypt, and to think they had a special covenant relationship with God. Likewise in the New Testament, even a very sceptical person will want to consider what happened that;

  1. caused the body of Jesus to not be in the tomb in which he was laid, nor ever be produced.
  2. caused many people to go around saying that they saw Jesus risen from the dead and be willing to die for that testimony.
  3. caused naysayers like James, and especially Paul, to change their tune despite a very devout devotion to Judaism. Paul went from persecuting Christians for their supposed blasphemy to being one. Why?
  4. caused theology to develop within the New Testament which has some surprising and unexpected twists. It was expected that God would rescue His people. It was expected that God would send a messiah. It was expected that there would be a resurrection of all people at the end of the age. It was not expected that God would rescue people through being the suffering messiah who would be executed then rise from the dead, quite apart from a resurrection of everyone else.

What happened to cause these things?

Were the disciples hallucinating? Were the disciples so distraught that they all just thought they saw Jesus? The possibility of mass hallucinations is fraught with problems from the get-go, however the hallucinations theory does not explain the new boldness of the disciples, the empty tomb, the turn-arounds in Paul and James, nor the surprising new twists in theology.

Did the disciples steal the body of Jesus then make up the story of the resurrection? This would explain the empty tomb, but would not explain why the disciples were not only willing to die for their testimony, but able. No one broke down and shared a different story! It also does not explain the change in Paul or James. Nor is it likely they would have made up a story and developed a theology which ensured persecution from both Jewish and Roman antagonists alike.

Perhaps Jesus did not really die? However, the Romans were recognized as being very capable at putting people to death! But why the change in Paul and James, neither of whom were disciples before the events of Easter? A battered and bruised Jesus would hardly be convincing. Why the interesting and unusual new twists in theological reflection?

If you are open to a miracle at all, an actual resurrection of Jesus is the simplest explanation that accounts for all the evidence. The resurrection explains everything; why the tomb was empty and a body was never produced, why the disciples were willing to die for their testimony of seeing Jesus alive and boldly all stuck to the story, why sceptics like James and Paul change their tune, and why theology developed in an unexpected way.

If you are open to a miracle. Therein lies the problem for many people. However, we have already looked at compelling reasons to believe in a miracle working God, a creator God. The cosmos points to the reality of God. Our minds point to the reality of God, as does the existence of evil, the fact of morality, and the existence and nature of the Bible. We can be reasonable people, and be open to the miraculous. If you are open to a miracle at all, the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of all the facts.

Consider also, that the resurrection of Jesus was not a random occurrence that came out of the blue. Rather this is an event in history which fits the compelling nature of Jesus. What he did, what he taught, how he related to people, it was all extraordinary. His resurrection may still be surprising, but it makes sense given how extraordinary Jesus was known to be. The resurrection is also an event in history which perfectly fits what the Old Testament was pointing to all along. The death and resurrection of Jesus confirms what we should expect to be true about God, that God is perfect in justice and in love. While a story of spontaneous resurrection would normally be considered nonsense, the resurrection of Jesus happens in a context in which it makes sense.

In considering the context of the resurrection of Jesus, we can also consider the purpose. If Jesus rose from the dead, we look forward to resurrection to eternal life also. This too, is compelling, for why bother with a random resurrection that has no purpose? The resurrection of Jesus is not some random event but one which fits a context, fulfills a purpose, and best explains the evidence.

Last, but not least, the resurrection of Jesus makes sense of the experience many of us have of Christ making a difference in our lives!

Can we, as intelligent, thinking people, really believe that Jesus rose from the dead? Yes, not only can we, there are compelling reasons to do so. The events of Easter point to the reality of the God we discover in the Bible.

(This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.)