re:THINK

What re:THINK Is Not About

think2As important as it is to say what you are trying to be about, I find it equally important to state what I am not trying to do or redo with this blog. The spirit of re:THINK is not to claim to know the best way. This is not about I’m right and you’re wrong. I understand that I do not necessarily see things any more clearly or better than anyone else.

Also, this is not about winning an argument… more about that to come. My experience has been that when you take a stance of trying to prove that you are right and everyone who sees it differently than you do is wrong… everyone loses.

That said, this is also not about “anything goes”… your truth v. my truth. I have observed that both ends of the spectrum are usually wanting. If the polar ends are ignorance and intelligence, both come knocking with arrogance. I will try to avoid both extremes by holding and discussing positions wrapped in humility.

Finally, this is not about me. Frankly I’m more than a little uncomfortable with a website that bears my name… and putting my picture on a website… etc. This is not about me. My aim is to create and challenge us to have thinking and conversation that is more in line with the teaching of Jesus. What are you about?

The Goal of re:THINK

think4So exactly what am I trying to do with re:THINK? To answer that question well I need to tell a little bit about the journey that I’ve been on myself these last few years.

I have been blessed to grow up in the church. All of my earliest memories involve being in church and learning to love and understand the Scriptures. I still believe that following Jesus is a worthwhile pursuit. However…

Almost ten years ago now I began asking myself a difficult-to-deal-with question. It was very simply this… “If following Jesus is a worthwhile pursuit, why am I not doing more to demonstrate that to people who do not believe?” I wasn’t consumed by it… at first. It didn’t keep me awake nights… at first. It was persistent.

Around that same time I was reading all these books that were challenging the way in which I understood faith. Frankly, I was beginning to question the very essence of what it means to be Christian. In the midst of that wrestling I was certain that part of the answer was to start thinking differently about how I express my faith in Jesus to others.

In the summer of 2008 we began planting the seeds of what would become Process Church. Never before had I been so beautifully connected to people who were outside of faith. And as I began and continued to form friendships with people far from God, what I learned was that one of the biggest obstacles to them understanding the Good News about Jesus was, in fact, the way that Christians handled themselves. It was rarely about what Christians believed. It was almost always more about how Christian people expressed what they believed.

Having said all of that, my goal in writing this blog is to challenge those of us that identify as followers of Jesus to reexamine, reevaluate, and yes, re-THINK what it means to be Christian. Are you willing? Will you do the hard work and ask difficult questions of yourself? There is too much at stake to do otherwise.

A November Experiment

calendar-2For the last two years I have been trying to find and establish an identity that defines “re:THINK”. I have listened and written and observed your responses to conversations. As I have said from the beginning, I especially enjoy challenging followers of Jesus to reexamine, reevaluate, and re:THINK what it means to be Christian.

During the month of November we will interact with the heart of where this blog is headed. I believe I have learned what that is supposed to look (and sound) like. Your reaction this month will prove it. Please share with others – it’s easy. Click your favorite social media connection below!

You’re Not JUST A Youth Pastor

potterThursday afternoon near the end of my work day I stopped at a coffee shop on my route. I noticed a guy with a Bible and a few other books at a table nearby. We had a short conversation as he was leaving. Included in that exchange was my question, “Are you a pastor?” His answer sent me into a 3-day thought process, the fruit of which is this article. His response? “I’m just a youth pastor at ___________ Church.

I began my career as a youth pastor. From that day to this – almost 22 years worth – I have always served students in some capacity. I write these words as one who has shared your experience. I am for you.

Be A Shepherd
If you joined this game for any other reason, you should probably stop and do something else. Students and their families are your flock. You have been tasked with leading them to green pastures. Take yourself seriously and others will too. Understand the gravity of your position.

Be A Strategist
Though you may often wonder if your students are listening, they are. The data supports this notion. Ages 11-18 are among the most formative and developmental years of a child’s life. Because of this, you and I cannot afford to be casual about our approach. What an opportunity we have been given to change the landscape of Christianity by helping students understand and own their faith. Pray. Contextualize. Strategize. What was missing from your own teen experience? Be intentional.

Be A Student
First, I am not suggesting you act like you’re a teenager again. It is imperative to model that being a student is a lifelong process. Show them what you’re learning and who you are reading. Live out your faith by demonstrating that learning never stops.

If you are a Youth Pastor, thank you. Keep striving to be more than you are. If you know a Youth Pastor, please pass this on to them and encourage them to be more than JUST a youth pastor.

Vineyard: A Parable

vineyardsThroughout the Scriptures we hear teachings that refer to vineyards… and for good reason. Vineyards were good object lessons because they were everywhere. I can visually identify with this. One unexpected blessing of living in southwest Michigan was its vineyards. That experience made the analogy that much fuller.

In Isaiah chapter 5 the writer uses this image to tell a story. A story of fruitfulness. A story of the Israelites and their relationship with God. A story that is transferable to us. He uses a theme similar to the one Jesus used in Matthew 7 when He was teaching about how to distinguish false prophets from true followers. Isaiah & Jesus agree that it is the individual’s fruit that determines their spiritual health. Thankfully this is not a lesson simply about production – though many Christians seem to believe that production is the key to following Jesus. Instead it is about the type of fruit one produces.

So a better question would be… what kind of fruit am I producing? Here the distinction is between sweet grapes & wild ones or good grapes & worthless ones. The next logical question seems to be… how does one tell what kind of fruit is being produced? And while I don’t believe his answer here is the only way that you determine someone’s spiritual worth, I do believe it is reflective of the spirit of “sweetness” that he is asking for.

Verse 7 says… He (God) expected them to yield a crop of justice, but instead he found bloodshed. He expected to find righteousness, but instead He heard cries of oppression. I am painfully aware that issues of justice and oppression in our time have become cultural buzzwords and even politically pawns for power. But I cannot escape the language that is here in God’s Word. These concerns are concerns of God.

From its invention to now, I have been proud to be a part of www.one.org. I do not believe that they are the spiritual hope of the world… that job has already been spoken for. However I do believe that they are conducting the kind of business that Jesus (coincidentally the One who is the hope of the world) spoke about & they demonstrate the kind of spirit that demonstrates the good grapes that Isaiah is teaching about. A book that I have been privileged to lead several leaders through is titled The Externally Focused Church. One of its challenging thoughts for me was the idea of working with agencies (like one.org) who are not necessarily Christian. The authors’ position was that they will “… partner with any organization that is morally positive and spiritually neutral.” They go on to say that, “If churches can honor God through serving the needs of the community and creating relationships with those leading the local agencies, we may have the opportunity to share the good news of God’s grace.” In the margin of my copy of the book I wrote that by meeting needs we have already begun to give the gospel! Most people already know the gospel. They want to know if it works.

Stay Salty My Friends

Landmine Interesting CelebrityJesus tells His followers that…

Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

What was He saying?

Contextually this has to be about discipleship. The latter half of Luke 14 has this as its theme. Jesus is explaining what it takes to follow Him. Here’s my take on what it means to be salty and how to stay that way.

I believe the text is talking about flavor or influence. Jesus is teaching us that the best way to represent Him is to be a compelling follower. Is it possible to do this too much or too little?

I love salty snacks. I prefer a bowl of popcorn over a bowl of ice cream any day. You know the saying that you can’t get too much of a good thing? It’s a lie… you salt 1can. Several months ago I discovered that my blood pressure had skyrocketed due in large part to my addiction to salt. Similarly I remember a time I made cookies and mistakenly swapped teaspoons of salt for tablespoons. Needless to say, those were nasty cookies.

Have you ever been around a Christian who was too salty? Well meaning… trying to add flavor and influence… but completely unpalatable.

There is also the very real possibility of not being salty enough. I was eating a bag of pretzels the other day. They were supposed to be salted. I think they had 3 or 4 granules of salt per pretzel. Not tasty.

I know Christians like this as well. They say they are following Christ yet nothing about their life is influential in that regard.

So how do we stay salty? Want to. The #1 thing that holds me back from being salty is me. I enjoy chasing things that don’t matter… good things even. I substitute influence for congruence. I try to fit in when what I should be doing is helping those outside of Christ to find freedom by fitting into His plan.

There is no substitute for time with God. Nothing can replace the saltiness gained from spending time allowing God to do His transformative work.

Blessings In Disguise

sunriseI am reposting the story that follows with permission from Miles Coleman. Miles’ dad Fred was my first-ever vocal coach and is my friend. This story is one that is truly inexplicable. I don’t usually use the word “miracle” simply because of how it has been abused and misunderstood. But there is no other acceptable word to use for this story. No more words from me. What follows is written by Miles’ wife Anna.

Two years ago today, I was planning on working out at the  5 am CrossFit class that my husband happened to coach. I was dressed, had my shoes by the door, and at the last minute decided to stay home and go back to bed. I had a headache and thought I should rest before going to work for the day.  My husband, Miles, kissed me goodbye, told me he loved me, and headed to the gym.  Twenty minutes later my phone rang. I glanced at my phone and saw that it was a friend from the gym. I assumed she was going to harass me as to why I wasn’t at the gym, so like any normal person would do at 5 am, I ignored her phone call.  She then texted me, “Anna, please pick up your phone.” I sensed something was wrong, and that this wasn’t a joke. I called her back and could tell her voice was shaking, she told me I needed to get to the gym as soon as possible because Miles had gotten hurt.  I still was trying to process what she was saying, and didn’t fully comprehend how serious it was.  I asked what was wrong, and she said he had hit his head and needed to go to the hospital.  My response was to ask if he needed stitches. Clearly I didn’t have a clue as to what had transpired.

I got up out of bed, put my shoes on, and found my keys.  I drove to the gym anxiously praying it wasn’t anything serious. When I arrived an ambulance was pulling away, and some of the guys from the gym took my keys and ushered me to another vehicle.  I got in to the car of one of the gym members, Ryan, who happened to be a doctor, and he asked me for my phone and who should he call to meet us at the hospital. I was starting to realize this was more serious and involved more than just stitches. I was confused and asked him what he meant. He said, “you should probably call his parents, and any other family members and tell them to come down immediately.”  I looked at Ryan, and asked him if it was that serious and he said yes. I also asked him if Miles was going to die, and he said, “I don’t know.”  At that point I think I was in shock. I still didn’t know what happened and what was going on.

We arrived at the hospital and several of the CrossFit members arrived as well. They started to tell me what had happened that morning. While Miles was getting the class warmed up he sent them out for a 400-meter jog.  The WOD that day included rope climbs.  Miles was going to get the ropes down that were stored up among the rafters from which hung when in use. As he had done countless times before, he grabbed a plyometric box, and jumped up to grab a loop of the rope that was hanging down slightly from the rafters.  While hanging on with only one hand, he was using the other hand to wrestle the rope down from the rafters. Somehow, his knee got tangled in the rope and he lost his grip, flipping him upside down and falling about 12 feet to the ground, where he landed directly on his head on cement.  They didn’t tell me he was unresponsive, and all the blood he had lost. But I could tell by their faces and tears in their eyes they were shaken up but trying to be supportive.

Miles was placed in ICU and it was at least a couple of hours before I could see him and they had stabilized him. I finally was able see him. I walked in the ICU room and vividly remember seeing him hooked up to a ventilator and a probe coming out of his brain. The doctors and nurses were all talking and trying to explain to me what was going on. I didn’t hear them, I was still in shock staring at my husband who was currently in a coma and non-responsive. This couldn’t be real, I kept thinking.  The nurse handed me a stack of papers to sign, and at that moment I broke down and lost it.  I was trying to process what was happening but still couldn’t wrap my head around it. Miles suffered a traumatic brain injury from the fall and as a result had a factored skull, severe swelling in the brain,  and two hematomas.  I walked over to him held his hand, told him I loved him and that everything was going to be ok. I barely recognized my husband, and asked for him to squeeze my hand…but nothing. No response.

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They ushered me back out to the waiting room, and I still was in a state of shock.  The doctors came out and began to explain that the next 24 hours were critical. They also explained that if Miles did survive, he would most likely have serious complications and there was the possibility of never walking or talking again.  They were certain he would never practice law and he may lose his memory including his memory of me.  I suddenly realized how my life was probably going to change forever.  I remember walking out of the hallway and not being able to breathe.  Two of my friends embraced me, and our pastor came over as well. I don’t remember much from that time, but I do remember our pastor saying, “All you need to do is remember Jesus loves you and Miles.” The words were simple, but true and comforting. The One who created the world out of nothing loved me and had my best interest in mind, even in the midst of this horrible situation.  I knew ultimately that Jesus loved Miles more than I did, that He would do what was best for both of us, and that I needed to trust Him.

Over the next few weeks, miracle after miracle occurred. The doctors thought they would have to do brain surgery on Miles to relieve the pressure, but moments before they began, the pressure subsided on its own. Miles was responsive that same evening by squeezing my hand. The next day a therapy dog–who happened to be a Great Dane, like our two dogs–came to visit. I leaned over and told Miles there was a dog that came to visit him, he lifted his hand up and  placed his hand on the dog. A few days later they took the ventilator out of his mouth, they asked who his wife was and he said my name. Three days after the accident a physical therapist came down and he was able to walk. The doctors were astounded and nicknamed him “Miracle Miles.”  They had never seen someone with such a severe brain injury begin to recover so rapidly.  We spent 11 days total in the hospital and then went to an inpatient rehabilitation hospital.

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When we left for rehab, I started to notice that Miles wasn’t quite his normal jovial self. He was extremely serious, and it almost seemed as if he lost his sense of humor and filter. I was warned by the doctors that the part of his brain that was injured could affect his personality. But, I was so excited because it seemed he would make a full recovery physically that I dismissed any signs in the hospital of a personality change. As we progressed through rehab, it was apparent his personality had changed. I was heart broken, and kept asking the doctors if he would return back to the way he use to be. Of course, they couldn’t tell me yes or no, but just said it would take time. I prayed and prayed that God would restore his personality.  Honestly, the thought of living with someone who acted different than the person I married quite frankly scared me. I knew that if God had healed him this far, he could continue to completely heal his brain and mind and restore his personality that he created in Miles. While sitting in rehab, I would play sermons out loud and Christian music.  I clung to the truth and knew Miles had hidden God’s word in his heart and those truths would not be void.  I prayed that the Holy Spirit who dwelled inside of him would be evident and his personality would return. After spending two weeks at inpatient therapy we were able to go home. Once we got home, little by little Miles personality was restored. He continued out-patient therapy until December, and then was cleared.  Amazing!

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Now, two years later, looking back before the accident, it’s amazing to see how God had prepared us to go through this trial without us even knowing what was coming.  He provided a church family after almost a year of searching, he provided us with a second car so that when my parents unexpectedly flew in we would have a way to transport them back and forth to the hospital, I had recently moved to a new school with an incredibly supportive staff.  Finally, he providentially placed at the accident scene an EMS worker, a fire fighter, two doctors–one of whom was the chief of staff at the hospital–and two nurses in the CrossFit class that morning. Miles was able to receive immediate medical attention seconds after the accident occurred.

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Fast forward to today, it’s by God’s kindness and grace that Miles is doing so well. If I were to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have believed you if you would have told me two years later that Miles would still be working as a lawyer and we would have a son.  Not only did God restore Miles’ health and personality, but Miles has had some amazing opportunities in his career the past year and a half. He has been able to write several briefs that were submitted to the United States Supreme Court, argue before the South Carolina Supreme Court, and work on a number of other significant cases.  This truly is a testament of God’s amazing healing power that allowed Miles’ brain to be restored.  Laura Story’s song, “Blessings” was a great encouragement to me during that time.  The trial he allowed us to go through turned out to be one his greatest blessing…

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace,
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep,
We pray for healing, for prosperity,
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering.

All the while You hear each spoken need,
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things.

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops,
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights,
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

What if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear,
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near,
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love,
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough.

And all the while You hear each desperate plea,
And long that we’d have faith to believe.

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops,
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights,
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

And what if trials of this life
Are Your mercies in disguise?

When friends betray us, when darkness seems to win,
We know that pain reminds this heart,
That this is not, this is not our home,
It’s not our home.

‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops,
What if Your healing comes through tears?
And what if a thousand sleepless nights,
Are what it takes to know You’re near?

What if my greatest disappointments,
Or the aching of this life,
Is the revealing of a greater thirst,
This world can’t satisfy?

And what if trials of this life,
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights,
Are Your mercies in disguise?

I’m extremely blessed that I have a husband who is alive and healthy and that we are blessed with a son as well. When our son was born we decided to name him Asher, which means “blessed” or “blessing” in Hebrew. God has been gracious to me and has blessed me with two miracles in my life, Miles and Asher.  I have learned that life is a gift,  cherish your loved ones, and do not take them for granted.  I would have never chosen to go through the trial that the Lord allowed us to go through; however, it has changed our lives and made us appreciate each day the Lord gives to us.

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An Exciting Opportunity

In Touch MinistriesThank you to so many of you that have encouraged me to write. I cried tears of joy all the way home yesterday after reading this email. Click on the graphic above to read about my exciting opportunity!

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: An Accidental Mirror

ALS-ice-bucket-challengeAmyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. And in case you’ve been in a cave in Afghanistan (some have) for the past few weeks, the internet has been all abuzz with people challenging each other to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. And while several individuals have been named, it is almost impossible to credit a single person with its origin. The goal is to raise awareness and money to fight ALS. The fact that you’re reading this almost certainly demonstrates awareness. And, as for money, nearly 23 million dollars have been donated in just the last few weeks… and that’s only to the ALS Association.

Closer to home, one of my friend’s closest friends married a man – Steve Dezember – who is fighting ALS as we speak. I have connected with them from a distance and continue to pray for them often. I have prayed long for healing, but I have also prayed  for another part of their struggle… their faith. If you click on Steve’s name above, it takes you to an ABC News story. In it you will see my friend Joel baptizing Steve. Hope and Steve have combined faith and fighting ALS. They are likely the reason that my attention was drawn this direction.

As I have watched these Ice Bucket Challenges, at least 100 at this reading, I have noticed some accidental mirror images between people who say they accept the Ice Bucket Challenge and people who say they accept the challenge to follow Jesus. I am not judging. The fact is, no matter what you believe about either of these realities, the word is getting out. It may not be how you would do it, but at the end of the day it isn’t about you anyway. See if you agree.

  1. Most are excited to tell their story – sure everyone does it in their own style, but as they tell their story, you will quickly learn something of their motivation for participation.
  2. Some have no idea why they are doing it – this is not a judgment, just an observation. When someone just stands there and “does the deed” with no reference to why or for what… well, you get it.
  3. Others are careful with the details – others want you to know the history and why this decision is so important to them.

So why are you doing it? Now I’m talking about following Jesus. If that’s a challenge that you’ve accepted, please make sure that first of all you know why. Next I would challenge all of us, in our own style, to learn how to effectively tell our own story.

What You Probably Never Knew About Robin Williams

Professor KeatingThe answer to this title… anything.

For the last few days I have read and heard pontifications surrounding the unfortunate death of Robin Williams. The fact is that a very minute number of those same people knew anything about him. Most of us only knew his persona. So for anyone to draw “certain” conclusions about his death and depression and their relation to each other and what should have been done to prevent this… is mere foolishness. It took me two days to cool down enough to write something about this. The arrogance and stupidity of comments I have read from people who profess to follow Jesus has been unnerving, to say the least.

You don’t know anything. I don’t know anything. Not about Robin or his struggles or his life or what caused him to take his life so, please stop.

When these types of events continue to come to the fore, what are some helpful responses? Seriously, what would Jesus do? A few suggestions:

  1. Resist the Rush Limbaugh, Al Sharpton, Ann Coulter, Jesse Jackson, Matt Walsh approach. If your response is inflammatory by nature, it is likely not of Christ or at very least not helpful to the current situation.
  2. Reflect on how your words may affect people who are already hurting in the same direction.
  3. Respond with Scripture… as a salve, not a sword.
  4. Remember your own fallenness and need for grace. Practice humility.
  5. Realize (and acknowledge out loud) that you may not know everything.

I know many of these suggestions overlap. I understand that not all of my readers will share my perspective. Can we all at least agree to say a prayer before we write or speak and allow our words to be directed by more than just our tongues?

The Fox News Channel Wasn’t Good for My Soul

fox-newsReposted with permission. Article written by my friend Tim Stevens.

On November 7, 2012, I stopped watching the Fox News Channel (FNC).

That might not seem like a big deal if you didn’t know that I probably averaged 7-10 hours a week for years. I was a news junkie. I LOVED watching the news, hearing different angles on the news, and listening to incredibly smart commentators share their opinion about the news. I watched other channels too, but I was probably 90% watching FNC.

I was especially focused during the election season. I loved watching every debate, and hearing the debates about the debates. For me, politics was a game and I was spectator number one. But that all changed in an instant.

After feeling deceived and misled during the 2012 election by some of my favorite news personalities—I shut it down. I was done. I didn’t know for how long. I just knew my steady diet of Fox News wasn’t good for my soul. So I walked away.

I’ve noticed several things have changed in my heart and mind as a result of no longer watching FNC…

I no longer feel hopeless and defeated. I no longer think the world is going to end, or that “America as we know it will cease to exist.” That’s a ridiculous, never-ending chant from those who make their money by us believing the rhetoric and coming back for more. The truth is, America as we know it ceases to exist every day, and I’m okay with that. As we all contribute to solving problems and helping our fellow citizens—we continue to make America a different place.
I am less cynical toward politicians. Many of them are hard working Americans who love their country and are trying to do the right thing. They need more of my prayers and less of my high and mighty criticism.

I have more of an interest in hearing from people with whom I don’t agree. I am a bit of a hodge-podge as far as my political views, but I’m mostly conservative. When I was getting a steady diet of commentators telling me every night how “liberals” were evil, that they hated America, and they were trying to take my kids and my freedoms and my rights—then I had no interest in sitting down with “those people” to hear what they believed, how they thought, what they valued, or what drove their worldview. I didn’t want to hear it because I already knew. FNC had told me what was true. Now, I’m much more compassionate. I really care what they think. They may not sway my opinion, but I really care about them.

I am becoming more interested in what Jesus would do rather than the right political stance and how it will effect the next election. When I think about illegal immigration through the eyes of Jesus and how he would care for human beings who are trying to survive or find a better life—I land in a different place than when I think about it logically or economically or politically. If my filter is first loving God and loving others instead of making a point or winning an election or passing a law—then it makes a big difference in my life and my attitude and my focus.

My list goes on. I am more loving, less tense and more hopeful. I have clearer thinking about real solutions for real problems and I have more compassion for all. I sincerely want to know about other views and have found some of my own long-held beliefs shifting as I’ve been released from the quicksand of group-think. I’ve discovered that Jesus is not a republican nor are “Christian” and “conservative” synonymous terms.

I have some friends who are still deeply embedded in the Fox News Channel sub-culture, and sometimes I feel sorry for them. I see the weight on their shoulders and tension in their face and want to say, “It’s okay. America is not going to end tomorrow. There is much to be hopeful about.” But Sean or Bill or Meghan or Brian or Karl has told them otherwise. And as I know personally, it’s really hard to see the sun if you are being told every day the storm is coming and this is the big one and we may not survive.

For those of you who worry that I might not know what’s happening in the world anymore, fear not. I read a steady supply of online news apps each day to keep up and be aware. But rather than 5% news and 95% slanted commentary—I try to find sources that are 98% news. I don’t need someone telling me what I should think about the news.

I am in a much better place. My soul is healthier and I am more kingdom-minded. I still love America, but am more aware that Jesus died for the world, not just the USA. Although my love for elections will tempt my resolve as we get closer to November 2016, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the way things were. I couldn’t see it at the time (people mired in a sub-culture rarely ever do), but that person is not who I want to be. I want to be who I am and who I am becoming—and to do that, I need to leave the Fox News Channel in my rearview mirror.

Family First

Family FirstI have used this saying for years as an out-loud declaration of what I believe in my heart… and now my typical honesty. As you will readily see by the picture, physically getting family together is not always easy. I think the last all-together McQueary time was 2009. That’s not what “family first” is about (only). Family functionality (or dysfunction) is every family member’s responsibility and privilege. Is dysfunction present in families? Yes, always. Because, as it turns out, families are filled with people… and people are filled with dysfunction. But labeling a family “dysfunctional” and moving on is not the right thing to do… especially if you say you follow Jesus. If you follow Jesus and understand yourself through the eyes of Jesus apart from grace, you know that all of us are by nature dysfunctional. This ought not lead us to despair. Instead, this reality allows and demands that we pursue our families the way that Jesus pursues us. As I have stepped back from this thought in the last few days, these are a few of things that “family first” has meant to me (particularly in my adult years).

Nuclear Family First
I realize this title labels me. I further recognize that the definition of nuclear is changing in our culture. Nuclear has historically been defined as a family group consisting of a pair of adults and their children. My emphasis is not on defining or redefining the term, but challenging myself and you that the one(s) to whom you have been partnered and the one(s) to whom you have given birth or are seen as their primary caregiver are foremost in the discussion of which part of family should be first. If you have chosen to be part of this kind of family, they are your most important responsibility. After God, there is no one who is more important to me than Christina, Natalie, Erica, and Tyler. This choice will likely frustrate other family members from time to time, but if you start early and practice the rest of what follows, they will respect you more for it in time.

Marriage, Divorce, and the Oxford Comma
Even my title is a gentle poke at the irreverence with which modernity handles family realities. Growing numbers of individuals find themselves in very different expressions than what was formerly referred to as “the traditional family”. The poke of my (only-humorous-to-a-few) paragraph title is not meant to say that God has no opinions about the categories that people occupy. What is important in my view is that we see all of them as part of the same family. Simply put, marriage does not remove you from a family (your original birth or adoptive family) any more than divorce does. And whether or not a state or a church recognizes your family, put its members first.

Extended Family
First off, I hate that phrase. I think it is at least partially responsible for why many families function the way they do. I like “included family” or something headed in that direction. When Christina and I married 21+ years ago, we did not remove ourselves from our individual families. Instead, we each joined the other’s family. We did not transfer our membership, we multiplied it. I was thinking about this just the other day as it relates to my own situation. I love Lorri and Eddie and Colleen and Kirk and Rebecca and Brian and Lauren as if they were my “natural” siblings. The first three married my siblings and the last four are Christina’s brothers and their wives. Similarly I love my in-laws (another term of which I am not a fan) as a second set of parents. Why does this matter?

A Few Suggestions

  1. Family first is work… period.
  2. Family first is my immediate family before my included family.
  3. Family first means that sometimes other things take second place.
  4. Family first means I spend time with my family simply because they are my family.
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