Choose Family. Choose the Church.

Nothing quite connects a family like going through great change with one another. In the last year of my life, I have arguably gotten as close to my family as I ever have been because of all the emotions we have traveled through with one another.

My sister and I are both preparing for graduation: high school and college.

I got married.Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 12.53.23 PM.png

Our only dog we have ever had died.

My grandfather passed away.

Great joy. Great sorrow. And some serious teary eyes for our puppy.

Let me begin by recognizing that families are messy. They are often filled with people who we love but have a lot of baggage. Many have been deeply wounded by the decisions of their families. Some are estranged from families–my husband and I are well aware of what this is like.

But through my sweet parents and sister, we have been shown what it is to love well in the last year. We have seen what sacrifice looks like. We have held one another tight when we didn’t even want to be touched. When a group of people gets the word “family” right–no matter what it looks like–there is nothing quite like it.

Christian, dig deep into the closest thing you know to be family. It could be parents. It could be siblings. It could be husbands or wives or children or grandparents. For some, it is a group of close friends.

I have a fear. I fear that Christians in our culture do not place their bodies of believers within that description of family. I fear that our mommas and daddies are refined to our homes. They do not travel into the spiritual realm. I fear that we are forgetting that the Church of God is the only family that is everlasting, that it will fiercely break barriers of time and space to last for all of eternity.

Friends, the love we have for our families should reflect the love we harbor for the Church.

There is a huge misconception in Cultural American Christiandom. It says that you don’t need to be involved with a church as long as you are following Jesus. You know? Praying and reading enough. It’s only about a personal relationship with God.

I fear that those who genuinely believe Church is unnecessary are not actually conversating with God. I fear these individuals are not reading Scripture at all. All while believing that they are getting it right. If that is you, if you are reading this as your daily or even weekly dose of Jesus, please hear me say: This is not enough. The surface level devotions we read in the mornings are not enough. It may be good by the world’s standards, but nothing other than what Jesus commands is good by His standards–the only standards that matter at all.

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 12.54.44 PM.pngSisters and brothers (I call you this because we are indeed family according to God), the New Testament is the opening act of the Church! It is written to and about the Church. It is commanding us to be actively immersed in the Body of believers. Over and over, we see that being part of the Church is exactly how God refines people. It is how they are built to be mighty warriors of the King. Please hear me out. Please hear what Scripture has to say about being part of the Family of Jesus. It is messy. It is frustrating sometimes. But, oh, is it worth it. It is rewarding and renewing. Stop trying to do this on your own. You don’t have to. This is why.

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If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.

(James 2:8-10 ESV)

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Loving the Church is Loving our Neighbors.

This command that originates from early Old Testament became one of the defining features of the early church. The word neighbor refers to several things throughout scripture. It refers to the church’s enemies. It refers to people who looked and believed different from the Christians of the time. Yet its first meaning, and what it is always referring to in some extent, is the Church.

There is a hilarious video floating the internet right now. It shows a little brother and download.jpgsister made to get really close and slow dance every time they argue. They are mad about it. They clearly do not want to be there. But in their parents’ authority, they are made to demonstrate an act of love though they disagreed. Why? Because they are family. Because they are stuck with one another whether they like it or not.

If Jesus’s Spirit lives within each of us, we will be spending eternity with one another. We will be living in a world void of sin. We will love one another with everything in us one day soon because the sinful act of anger and frustration will not be an option.

Sisters and brothers, we cannot love the Church by ignoring it. It will make us mad. It is filled with sinners. Guess what? We are those sinners. By being part of the church, we will be bringing in our brokenness. But it is better for it! It reflects Jesus’ mercy more. That’s how He intended for it to be. Consider this. Am I better off with a broken arm? or no arm at all? Of course, with a broken arm. It will heal. It is not a permanent loss. The same goes for the Body of Christ. When we enter the Holy House of God, that is the gathering of His children, we enter a broken place and bring our own baggage alongside. Yet just as my bones cannot heal without my shoulder holding it to my body and my brain subconsciously telling it to restore itself, we have been given one another to promote healing through Christ. Loving myself is not cutting my arm off. Loving my neighbors is not cutting my Church out.

Dismissing the Church is Showing Partiality

In this passage, James warns against the Church showing partiality based on someone’s socioeconomic status or their past. Yes, he is warning a body of believers against cutting off an individual. But can it not work backward?

I have a friend that has struggled with this a lot in the past year. After seeing a very sinful side of the leadership in her church, she wanted to stop. She wanted to leave and tell everyone about what had happened. Of course, it had nothing to do with a socioeconomic status, but she did feel scared. She feared the difference that would follow her as she continued to attend worship with these people.

Then the Lord convicted her.

He reminded her that she was, too, responsible for the hurt that had ensued. He showed her that she was showing partiality. She was getting ready to create a divide.

I get it. The church does not perfectly reflect Jesus.

Beloved, it will not. Not until we enter eternity. Even then, we will spend our forever worshiping Jesus. We are not supposed to look perfect, and expecting that only places false assumptions over brothers and ourselves. We say to ourselves and all those to whom we justify our actions, I am better than that. I can do it by myself because I don’t sin like they do. I don’t judge like they do. 

The Stakes are High

Oh, Christian, God does not like it when we place ourselves on a higher playing field by showing partiality. He condemns it. He hates it when one child belittles another child.

I am going to get real for a minute. I am going to share a personal experience. Please read to the end. It matters.

When Austin and I first began dating, we were actively attending my own church. If you have ever walked into my church, you know that (like many churches across the US) it is filled with pretty much one race.

I have been a member at my church since I accepted Christ as a little one. I have attended always. Then I brought someone who had never been there and who had very few people who were like him to walk with Him. We heard people say some things that were hard to hear. There was prejudice, though they did not know they were being prejudiced. I was prejudice in some situations.

He had every opportunity to walk out. And who could blame Him given the history of the American church when it comes to racism.

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 2.05.06 PMBut I watched Him handle that situation with more grace than I have ever seen in my life. He listened to hurtful things people said and responded with gentle correction. He dug into scripture with people who did not know why what they were saying was hurtful. He recognized that his sin was not less than that of another. He used that to be a vessel for Jesus.

I believe with everything in me that my church is a better place because of the conversations that my husband has had with people there. People listened. They began to understand. They began to respond. He brought a new understanding into the walls of that building, but more importantly into the hearts of individuals.

Christian, it is when we enter a broken place with an understanding of our own brokenness that the Church can prosper. It is when we stop picking out what we like and don’t like about a group of people that we see healing happen. We are reconciled by being uncomfortable. We are made new and are used as vessels by God to make others new.

A few days ago, Austin and I attended our last Sunday morning worship at that church. We stood around people who love us deeply and who we love deeply. We have surrounded my more diversity than I have ever seen at my church before. We sang songs of praise to Jesus who binds us despite our different statuses and experiences. We have been loved by our neighbors. We have been loved by our family.

We must get involved with a body of believers if we are not already. It will be hard at times, but there is so much reward attached. We can in no way imagine how God will work in and through us when we are surrounded by His children. We cannot pass through this world on our own. We were not created for individual growth in Jesus. We were created for communal growth toward Jesus. For familial bonds with Jesus.

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