What is it about grandparents that you most enjoy? What is the best memory that you share with them? I cannot stop smiling when I think of my grandparents! Growing up, especially after my parents’ divorce, I moved a lot. My Grandpa Buller would always help us in the transition . . . and he would always allow me to ride shotgun in the U-Haul. Those were some of our most meaningful conversations. I have also always enjoyed looking around their home at all of the old pictures and artifacts. My grandfather has an old bible that he carried around during WWII. What a treasure . . . the book even includes an old picture of his wife and oldest daughter. More recently, I was amazed as I watched my grandfather, even at an old age, overcome losing his legs and gaining his strength and independence back. What a hero! Then there is my Grandmother Buller. What a beautiful woman! Even at the age of twenty-nine, there is little I consider more special than a “bunny kiss.” I can’t explain it . . . just a grandmother-grandson thing. She would always take me to fun places (i.e. the Portland Zoo). My Grandma Buller is also the one credited with giving me my nickname (Jud).
What is it about our heritages that we are most proud of? How about those stories that embarrass us? Everyone should take a hard look at their origins (the source of their existence). We learn a lot about ourselves by exploring our family legacy and traditions (handed down from our grandparents and beyond). I have always been grateful to my Great Grandpa Clerk, though I never had the opportunity to meet him, for teaching my father his first lessons from the bible. However, I have also been somewhat troubled with the account of my Great Grandpa Farley, who went to work one day . . . never to return . . . leaving a family of five behind to pick up the pieces.
Don’t we all reach the age in life where we begin to wonder where we came from – a journey of returning to our roots? There is so much to discover by studying our ancestors’ race, religion, and relationships. We can learn from our descendants’ hurts, habits, and hang-ups. There is a healthy benefit to laughing at our relatives’ quirks (idiosyncrasies revealed as we gather around the Thanksgiving table). At the same time, we can quickly feel doomed to repeat the past (our identity is so easily shaped by the bad decisions of our forefathers).
This topic came up in our student ministry while continuing our Fall Focus on Ephesians (Be: the church that God dreams of). Who would have guessed that we would learn so much from a letter written two thousand years ago. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wished that the church would recapture Christ’s heart for humanity (connecting their generation to the love of Christ). First, he called the Ephesian Christ-followers to begin (to go somewhere by deciding not to stay where they were). Second, that they would be below (participating in the big picture of God’s plans and purposes). Third, that they would believe (that grace is given to do good – not just to look good). Finally, that they would belong, not just to those from our past, but to a new community of people. In other words, our family history does not have to determine our future heritage.
The good news is that God is inviting people to belong to a new legacy. Paul wrote, “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (that done in the body by the hands of men)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:11-13, NIV). How many of us can relate to the loneliness and isolationism of the gentiles? Due to their pagan background, they were quickly considered by the religious community as underprivileged and unworthy. Some even went as far as to call them derogatory names (i.e. uncircumcised). This was far worse than a medical term . . . they were being harshly reminded that they were not a part of the original covenant-people. They were outsiders.
Who was it who first said that sticks and stones may break our bones . . . but words will never hurt us? That guy was stupid. Wounds heal. Words stick. Do you know how many “fights” I was in from kindergarten to second grade? All those recess scuffles were due to my over-sized ears (they have not grown since I escaped the womb). I was labeled “Dumbo.” Could you imagine being treated like second-class citizens, by birth of all reasons, and in church of all places! Living devoid of help (no connection with community). Wasn’t it bad enough that the gentiles had lived long enough without any hope (no familiarity with the Old Testament prophecies)? How many of us have felt like we just did not fit . . . either due to appearance or performance). Some of us have lived far too long in the shadow of our siblings (all of the popularity and positions just are never enough)? How many of us waste away the hours by comparing ourselves with others (whether it be our age, weight, income, GPA, strength, or even beauty)?
Paul’s dream was that the church would be the place to break down the barriers between Jews and gentiles. When speaking of Jesus, he wrote, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (vv 14-22).
Maybe we should read the well-known verse, John 3:16, a bit more carefully . . . “For God so loved the world that he gave . . . .” Not the pretty. Not the successful. Not the religious. Not the rich. Not the American. Not the famous. Not the Republican. Not the popular. Not the one with the perfect parents. The world. Every body. Both Jew and Gentile. We focus so much on the fact that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ reconnected us to the Father that we forget that the same sacrifice reconnects us to each other. He wishes to bring unity where there was once disunity.
Can you imagine the effectiveness of a church that was honestly united under the cross and by the power of the Holy Spirit?
The Jewish Christ followers grew up in a time where the temple was designed specifically for division. The very house of God had places reserved for the high priests. There were levels set apart for the Hebrews . . . and then walls were erected to keep the gentiles in the “nose-bleed section.” The cross destroyed the “temple walls” of the times (while simultaneously fulfilling the covenant laws). Christ’s mission has a way of redefining who we are and where we are going. He is pretty determined to destroy the status quo of the day . . . now making disciples of all nations (just read his commission in the 28th chapter of Matthew). Imagine the goodness and greatness of a God who desires to dwell with all people!
Your family history does not have to determine your future heritage. You must ask yourself where you find your belonging? What relationships are shaping your future? Jesus could have been haunted by his past . . . his genealogy was released as public record for all to read (Matthew’s first chapter). Sure, he had great ancestors like Jacob (grandson of Abraham), Judah (one of the twelve sons), Boaz (married a widow out of compassion and concern), great kings of Judah (such as Asa and Jehoshaphat), not to mention his stepfather (who stayed faithful to his fiance despite sensational rumors). However, he had some serious skeletons in the closet of his family tree. How about Tamar (who committed incest with her father-in-law because she wanted a baby bad enough), Rahab (who made a living through acts of prostitution), or David (who had an affair with a married woman and then attempted to cover it all up by murdering her husband)?
We must respond to our own lineage responsibly and appropriately. There is a time and place to honor the heroes of our past (but not settling on relying upon their godliness for our own salvation – but instead building on that strong foundation for the future). Or there are some of us who must refuse to continue the destructive direction of our ancestors (but refusing to be haunted by their mistakes at the same time).
How can we, your church and mine, provide a place of belonging to others? What will we have to do differently? I have big dreams for our Merge Student Gathering (every Wednesday at 7 pm in the MCA Worship Center). We must move beyond mere entertainment (though excellence has it’s place) . . . into truly being the church that God dreams of. Imagine how many more students would be connected to Christ if we would offer a place to belong. They are looking for a spot to encounter the one true God – a place to meet him in all his power and presence – a place to give him the praise that he deserves. However, we must also offer middle and high school students an atmosphere of acceptance. They are looking for a place where they can be a part . . . a team . . . linked together by a common cause.
I also have high hopes for our Student Life Groups . . . small groups of students who are committed to growing on a daily basis . . . . devoted to becoming more like Christ in their actions and attitudes. However, they must also seek accountability in such groups. They must look out for each other no matter the cost. Personally, I am sick of the so-called “friend-code.” So many times we are hesitant in breaking our friends’ confidence in fear of losing their trust – all while they drift dangerously into rebellion. We must have the courage to confront them . . . and if they are unwilling to listen – we must be willing to go to a trusted adult (parents, youth leaders, etc.). We need to be family . . . a family that is connected by Christ. A family worth belonging to.