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Being In God's Family
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Photo: Noriko Cooper
Many of you are familiar with a classic old tale entitled Cheaper By the Dozen, about the family exploits of a Frank and Lillian Gilbreth back around the turn of the 20th century. Two of the twelve kids wrote the book, and they dedicated it as follows: “To Dad, who only reared twelve children, and to Mother, who reared twelve only children.” Isn’t that nice? Each of these 12 kids—Anne, Mary, Ernestine, Martha, Frank, Bill, Lill, Fred, Dan, Jack, Bob, Jane—was special, was unique and important, to these very talented and sleep-deprived parents.

These two newlyweds are on a train heading out of Oakland on their wedding day. Holding hands as newlyweds, they begin to talk about a family. “We’re going to have a wonderful life and a wonderful family, Lillie,” he says. “A great big family.” And she agrees. “We’ll have children all over the house, from the basement to the attic.” And as they rode into this new life, they agreed to have twelve kids. In fact, he took out a piece of paper and wrote on it: “Don’t forget to have six boys and six girls.” Over the next 17 years, that’s exactly what they did. 

Why have parents here in our own church family gone ahead and deliberately had babies? For what purpose do we create someone in our own image? We have some little boys here who look so much like their daddies that we can hardly tell them apart. But why do we go through the hassle and expense of growing our families?

Last week we discovered that God put us in this world for the purpose of Him loving us and having us love Him. We call that worship. We were planned for God’s pleasure. Now, here’s God’s second purpose: we are formed to be a unique part of His family. Hebrews 2:10 says so specifically: God is the one who made all things, and all things are for His glory. He wanted to have many children share His glory. The scientific “Anthropic Principle” points to the design in the universe, all of the intricate evidence that everything around us is carefully calibrated and designed to support human life, to make it possible for God to have a family.

I’ve always like the “adoption” motif found in the Bible, especially here in the book of Ephesians. Notice: His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. Actually—think about it—the entire Bible is really the story of God building and restoring a family. And not just one that’s here for a while and then breaks apart. You and I are in His mind as part of an eternal group, a forever family.

Now, there’s something that I know and you know. I’ve watched you people work at building the family—meaning your own. I’ve seen you with diaper bag and car seats. I’ve seen you babysitting. I’ve watched as you administered discipline. I’ve been there when you taught your kids to pray and sing and listen to stories about Jesus. I’ve seen you spend time and money and energy on making your family strong and healthy. It takes more than just being on default mode, or of just enjoying a romantic night and then having a free baby come down the chimney nine months later. Building a good family is work; it always has been and it always will be. And here as we study this second purpose of God’s, that’s even more true. We need to focus on being in His family, and we need to work on it. 

First of all, as it says in I Peter 2:17: Love your spiritual family. This is part of our second purpose: to love this family we call the Body of Christ. And here God means: 1) the Christian church, 2) the Adventist Church, and 3) this church. It’s God’s purpose for this place to be a strong, healthy family and for us to do the necessary work. I say this kindly, but if you’re not doing your fair share of the work, then get your act together.

Pastor Rick Warren, who preaches with conviction about this idea of God’s divine purposes, shares several reasons why we need to do the work necessary to develop love for this family. First of all, God is love, and it makes us more like Him. Secondly, God simply wants His children to get along. 

I remember when I was a child some of the friction that existed. Have you ever been told, “Now, shake hands and say you’re sorry”? I can say this: saying sorry to avoid a spanking is a facade; it’s false repentance. But false repentance is better than none. I have sometimes said “sorry” with the veins in my neck standing out and my fists still clenched. And I would give my sibling a look which plainly indicated hypocrisy, that I was not sorry and that the battle would be resumed as soon as Mom left the room. 

But this is what God desires from us: true love for each other. In heaven we’re going to love God forever, and we’re going to love our neighbors forever. So right here, right now, in this place, under these human circumstances, we’re supposed to practice loving each other. Forgiving each other. Working out our differences. I guess one of the best things that can happen in this place is for there to be some disagreements, because then we can practice loving one another and learning the spiritual maturity of give and take, of treating each other as family.

What exactly is the nature of fellowship which God intends for us to experience here? The word “worship” is often relegated to a narrow idea, sometimes that of just—music. And the same thing happens here. We have our fellowship lunch where we talk about Macs vs. PCs, about I-Pods vs. Dell jukeboxes, about Democrats vs. Republicans. Why couldn’t our favorite baseball team win at all last week? Things like that. Is this fellowship? Well, not really. It’s “chewing the fat.” But what is fellowship? The Bible gives us a loftier definition in I John 4:21: The person who loves God must also love other believers. So let’s put the high bar up here and say that fellowship is our choosing to love God’s family.

Now, this can all be rather amorphous and ethereal, so let’s try to proceed biblically and make it as practical as we can. The apostle Paul helps us with a verse in his first letter to Timothy. I’m writing, he says, so that you’ll know how to live in the family of God. That family is the church. 

So what is this church? It’s clearly not a building, because we don’t own it. “It’s not an institution; it’s not an organization; it’s not a club. It’s a family.” The moment God and God’s people called me to minister at this place, I came into a new family. Again borrowing from Rick Warren—he explains to people: “Church is not a place you go to; Church is a family you belong to.” And we’re going to think about four levels of functioning and belonging. Here they are.

First Level

The first is membership: choosing to belong. This is something all churches struggle with, and Adventist churches are no different. People move, they transfer, they stay for a while, they church-hop. There was a joke in the Baptist denomination where some statistician said: “According to our membership records, there are more Baptists than there are people.” But I want to encourage you today to be as proactive as you can about joining and being a part of this church right here. We are stronger when we make a commitment to a spiritual body.

Even more than what some computer at the conference office says is this: making an emotional promise to a body of believers, to a group. Saying to this church community: “I am with you. I’m part of this. I’m not just stopping by to see what’s going on and to visit my friends. I’m joining this family.” Notice what it says in Ephesians 2:19: You are members of God’s very own family and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian. 

I want you to know today that we love you and we want you to belong. I hear from lonely people who are feeling very discouraged. And I say to them: Wouldn’t you like to be at a place where many people will love you, will pray for you, will say hello to you, will call you when you’re sick or missing? Where many people will consider you family? 

Now, we end up in our physical families by default. We end up in our nuclear families by default. But we have to enter into God’s family by choice. We have to raise our hands. We have to step up to the plate.

Let me open up my heart to you. And you’d expect this little speech because I’m the pastor, but I believed this even before I put on the clerical collar. There really is no such thing, in my view, as Christianity apart from the church. Someone once wrote: “The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” I just don’t think you can be an effective disciple of Jesus without being in the church. I’ve seen people try and it doesn’t work. I’ve seen people claim they were doing it, but the evidence was very meager. And I say all of this kindly. But bear in mind this: the Christian Church is the bride of Christ. It’s Jesus’ most beloved thing. When we absent ourselves permanently from the church, we’re essentially trying to say to Jesus: “I love You, but I frankly can’t stand your wife.”

Our Christian friends with the Saddleback church program share some cute metaphors about this: trying to be a football player with no team. A tuba player with no band. A bee without a hive. A soldier with no platoon. And then he sums up: “A Christian without a church family is an orphan. God meant us to be a part of a family.” 

The Reader’s Digest shared this insightful bit of humor a while ago. “Walking through the jungle, a hunter found a dead ferocious-looking rhinoceros with a Pygmy standing proudly beside it. Amazed, the hunter asked, ‘Did you kill that rhino?’ ‘Why, yes,’ said the Pygmy. ‘How could a little fella like you kill a beast like that?’ ‘I killed it with my club,’ explained the Pygmy. The astonished hunter exclaimed, ‘Wow! How big is your club?’ The Pygmy replied, ‘There are about 90 of us.’” So you see, there is power in this family, in this church body, that cannot be matched at your home, by yourself, sitting under a tree. 

In his book, The Body, Chuck Colson writes this: “Following the pattern made normative in the Book of Acts, each believer is to make his or her confession, be baptized, and become part of a local congregation with all of the accountability that implies. So membership in a church particular is no more optional than membership in the church universal. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for Christians to drift from congregation to congregation, usually where their friends lead them or where the pastor happens to give the most satisfying message. Many have no sense of roots or responsibility, and some never even join a local church.”

One key reason why it’s important to be a joiner, a member, is because the church meets our needs and we meet the needs of each other. Romans 12:5: In Christ we who are many form one Body, and each member belongs to all the others. 

I have been guilty of something over the years—and I occasionally do it here. But I’ve said to people who attend other churches, “Hey, come visit us.” Now, very occasionally, a little road trip from Church A to Church B can be a nice change of pace. But I’ve asked God to help me not troll for votes, for church-hoppers. Church-hopping or “floating,” as some put it, is really not a good thing. A liver and a kidney and a heart and the lungs need to stay in one body, building up the one body. On a major league baseball team, the biggest success has come when the same eight guys are out there on the field day by day. And what our church honestly needs today is a strong group of people, men and women, who are consistent pillars here, present week by week, building up this body right here.

By the way, just as there are weddings where a person joins a new family in a public way, this family here has the same thing. It’s called baptism. Rick Warren had a young girl come up to him and say very eagerly, “When can I be hypnotized?” But I Corinthians 12:13 describes baptism as our public declaration about joining the family, about loving the family and being loyal to it.

So the first level of fellowship is membership, choosing to belong.

Second Level

The second level is friendship and sharing. Clear back in Eden, families were made for sharing. Bob Hope grew up in a family with a lot of brothers. He once said: “We handed down pants until the seat was so threadbare I could sit down on a dime and tell you if it was heads or tails.” I read a line by comedian Bernie Mac, who talks about sharing this way: “There were 13 kids in my family. We were so poor we had to eat cereal with a fork, so we could pass the milk to the next kid.”  Acts 2:44 describes the New Testament church: All the believers met together constantly and shared everything with each other.

Something wonderful happens when we meet with each other and share. Some of you have friendships that go back 20, 25 years. I know you are giving back and forth, sustaining each other. One thing that’s true is this: the friendships and the sharing will be as good as we make them be. We all know how to make friends and keep them. We either invest the time or we go home and watch TV. But this church right here can be as rich in sharing and friendships as we decide to make it.

There are at least three things we should share with each other. Well, four. If you own vacation homes in Maui, I think you should share them with those who don’t have one. But moving beyond material bribes, what else? One, the Bible says we should share our experiences. Donald Rumsfeld, our nation’s former Secretary of Defense, was quoted a couple of years ago as saying: “Don’t make all the same old mistakes the last team in Washington made. Try to make all new mistakes.” And, while I’m sure Jay Leno could have fun with that, it’s true. We can share with each other and learn from past mistakes. I love sitting in board meetings and hearing someone else’s new and heretofore-unthought-of opinion . . . and it saves us from doing something foolish or destructive. I heard of a guy once whose boss put on his job evaluation form: “This person never makes the same mistakes twice, but I think he’s made them all once now.” But as a collective body, sharing its collective wisdom, the church can keep from making unwise choices. On a personal level, as we are friends with each other, the same thing is true. We teach and instruct and encourage each other. Proverbs 27:17 says: People learn from one another, just as iron sharpens iron.

Number two, we share our homes. What we have in here from 11:00 to noon isn’t really fellowship. It’s worship and it’s family, but it’s not fellowship. We get into some fellowship across the hall while we’re eating, and we have some out in the foyer until 10:59, when we promptly come in and sit down so we won’t be late. But true fellowship happens in smaller groups. It happens in our homes. It happens in our Friday night small groups. I Peter 4:9 tells us: Open your homes to each other.

I have enjoyed chats here among our church family where we had our fair share of “how ‘bout them Dodgers” discussions after supper. But I’ve also had the holy joy of experiencing discussions—heartfelt, honest, no-holds-barred talks—that were pure fellowship. I’ve sat with dads who talked about their dreams for this church. They wanted it to thrive and be strong. They were eager for its success. They wanted to be a part of something that was purpose-driven and powerful, something they could invite their friends to with confidence and pride. I mean, they took the words right out of my mouth and I just sat there listening to them and thinking, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever been in.” It was opening up the heart and talking about big, important stuff.  

Do you know what one of the great culprits is for our cocooning, our hiding ourselves away? Well, TV is a big one. But here’s another enemy: automatic garage door openers. We drive into our cul-de-sac, we flip the door up, we wheel the car in, we hit the button, and we’re in our fortress. We don’t have to connect with our neighbors, we don’t have to give five minutes of our leisure, nothing.

I look back with shame at the times I’ve kind of maneuvered to keep my privacy, to avoid an entangling conversation. But the Bible tells us to step outside of our sinful, selfish tendencies and open up our homes. To share that part of our lives.

Here’s the third biblical mandate. God’s Word invites us to share our problems. There’s an old line that goes: “When you share a joy, it’s doubled; when you share a problem, it’s cut in half.” Galatians 6:2: Share each other’s troubles and problems. 

I’m sure we can all remember times of personal crisis, where a church friend simply stopped by and was present. Moments like those are huge; we can’t put a price tag on them. 

And again, this kind of fellowship has to happen mostly away from here, in our homes. One of the key Bible verses on this is found in Hebrews 10:25: Let us NOT give up the habit of meeting together, the author writes. Instead, let us encourage one another. People lose their jobs, and the church family is there. Moms miscarry, and the church comes over. Teenagers are arrested, and friends come by and say: “Hang in there. I understand.” Someone goes through a divorce, and the church is there to say: “We still love you. We don’t judge you. Better days are ahead.”

Third Level

Now, here’s the third level, which is where I go from preaching to meddling. Partnership is doing my part. Someone said that church isn’t just a spiritual spa where we come and soak. It’s a place of cooperative work. In that Frank Gilbreth family with 12 kids, the dad was a motion study expert, and he began with his family. It was a well-oiled machine, where even the smallest kids would dust the low parts of the furniture.

Now, we don’t want to burn people out; the only person being paid to give their entire life to this church is me. But it’s absolutely biblical that every member of this family have a role to play. I’m told that there are 58 New Testament references to the idea of everyone working shoulder-to-shoulder, and that this is love in action. Rick Warren’s team suggests: “You share your heart—that’s level two. You do your part—that’s level three.” I Corinthians 3:9 says: We are partners working together for God. Some of you are in law or medical partnerships, and I’ve heard firsthand stories from you about it being tough when some partners do their share, and others don’t.

The good news, even here, is that God has put the necessary people in this place. We have the talent we need, right here, to be a complete and healthy and thriving body. I believe that practically and I believe that spiritually. There’s a divine element of guidance to who’s here. So many of you have skills that I lack. You have abilities and backgrounds that this body needs. Ephesians 4:16 tells us so. The whole Body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole Body is healthy and growing and full of love.

I love watching a successful baseball team play . . . and not just play but interact emotionally. On a good team, it’s 25 men thinking as one. If a player is taken out, instead of crabbing, he roots for his replacement. If a hitter is moved up or down in the order, he praises his manager for his wisdom. When someone hits a home run, 24 fiercely competitive friends are there to greet him. Why? Because in the final analysis, all 25 get World Series rings. It needs to be that way here.

Let me encourage you with something. Nothing is sweeter than when, in a church, every single person is doing a job they love. I have a concept I call “3 - 10 - 1,” which is my invitation to you. Come here three Sabbaths a month. Give God ten percent of your resources one way or another. And then, step forward and do one thing for this church, one job, one assignment, one family responsibility. 3 - 10 - 1.  

Ideally we’d all get a fun job, a plum assignment.  It’s a lot of fun to play the guitar up front. But it’s not as fun to wind up cable cords later. For most of you, it’s more fun to eat off the potluck plate than it is to wash the potluck plate. But there are grunge jobs that have to be done. Some committees are boring; some jobs involve cleaning up, or getting up at four in the morning to head down to Mexico for a day of mission outreach. It can’t always be fun around the family work bench, and it can’t always be fun here. That’s a plain fact.

Mother Teresa was once asked how she faced up to all of the despair and the destitution and the death that she had to deal with in her ministry. There weren’t a lot of Cadillacs or caviar in her work in Calcutta. She had a simple answer. “Every person I bathe, every person I bandage, I imagine seeing the face of Jesus and I do it for Him.” She got that idea from the book of Matthew, chapter 25, as we all know.

Fourth Level

The final level of fellowship is this. Kinship: loving believers like family. We can all recall chores or duties we did for a family member simply because it was the right thing. We didn’t feel like it; we knew it would not be fun. But sometimes we do the loving thing despite our selfish feelings. Love is often a discipline. C. S. Lewis once had someone complain: “I don’t feel any love for so-and-so.” And he replied: “If you did love them, what would you do? Well, go and do that anyway.”

What is kinship? When someone dies, we notify the next of kin. So it’s a close, inner circle. It’s the people you do the hard things for. Waiting for hours in the visitors’ lobby of the hospital. Picking them up at the airport. Loaning them money with no expectations. Praying specifically for them in a time of deep need.

And kinship is daily praying, sending a card, making a call, stopping by to see someone, driving over to the hospital. Kinship is small groups rallying around when someone loses a parent.

You’ve heard it said that when someone’s on their deathbed, they almost never say, “Bring me my Blackberry. I want to just cradle it next to me.” Or: “Bring me my golf trophies. Or the gold watch they gave me for working so hard.” No, what people want just before they cross over into eternity is their friends and close family. Bring me the people who have loved me. Bring me my circle of church friends.

And if we love as these Bible verses tell us, if we love each other unto death, if we are sacrificial within this family, a watching world is going to notice that. We’ve been keeping the Sabbath for about 150 years now, and not too many have noticed. We’ve had some colorful and accurate prophecy charts, and people in our city have just driven right past. We feel confident that we’ve locked in the one true and correct interpretation regarding what happens to a person’s soul when they die, and the people in the apartment buildings right across the street don’t seem enthralled by that discovery.

But if we will be a family that truly loves, that unselfishly surrounds the frail and fragile among us, this community—and I mean around here, and also the community of your backsliding peers—will begin to hear about it. People will stop going to bars and they’ll start coming here instead. Pastor Gordon Bietz once preached a sermon built around the popular sitcom Cheers, and asked: What if that lonely person off the streets could walk in here on Sabbath morning, and have the whole church turn around and go: “Norm!” What if people could find love here, find a family here? Wouldn’t you like to be “where everybody knows your name”?

The church should be a place where people can come and find that they’re safely home.

This is part 4 of a 8-part series: 1 | 2 | 3 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8
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Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2007. Click here for usage guidelines.



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