Growing up in a small village, population 200-plus, it was easy to recognize and know your neighbor. I remember one family had a couple of boys who were known to be “rough and rowdy”; another family was referred to as the “gossips”; another as the “holy rollers”; one was called “those rednecks”; another had the reputation of being “stand-off-ish,” etc. Because of man’s carnal nature the practice of giving families “nicknames”; seems to be a popular practice. Whether positive or negative, right or wrong, it creates a reputation.
Think of the families you know or have known and ask yourself “What is or was their reputation? How about your family? Do you know what reputation it has in the minds of those who know you or who may observe you from a distance?
The local church is the “called out family of God” (i.e. ekklesia). Here’s Paul’s reference to the church being a family: “Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulation for you, which is your glory. For this reason, I bow my knees to the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the WHOLE FAMILY in heaven and earth is named” (Ephesians 3:13-15).
In writing to the young preacher, Timothy, Paul admonished him to behave himself properly in the house of God (i.e. family): “[B]ut if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).
Just as families in neighborhoods, etc. have reputations, the church family in local neighborhoods have reputations. The reputation is established whether deserved or not by the actions of individual members as well as by the enter congregation. I am ashamed and embarrassed to mention some of the reputations I have heard applied to some Christians and congregations. Whether true or not, deserved or not, the truth remains that every Christian and congregation has a reputation.
Most congregations have a priority or several priorities. The English word priority means to “create or recognize an order of importance, precedence in time; to make first, etc.” I have observed over my years of ministry how congregations have created and maintained their various priorities, which related to the place and practice of local autonomy—each congregation is independent of a governing board or dictates from a sister congregation. I have noted that some congregations have established some of the following priorities:
I am not passing “right or wrong” judgment on any of these practices. I am only sharing what I have seen as various congregation priorities. According to Revelation chapters 2 and 3, the Lord Judges each congregation on its own merit and practices. It is a congregation’s priorities which build its reputation.
Since Jesus built His church (Matthew 16:18); purchased it with His blood (Acts 20:28); is the head of His church (Colossians 1:18), etc. He has the right to establish the priority for members of his church—His body and family. Here’s the priority Jesus gave to His followers—His church: “A new commandment I give to you that you LOVE ONE ANOTHER, as I have loved you, that you also LOVE ONE ANOTHER. BY THIS all will know that you are MY DISCIPLES, IF you LOVE ONE ANOTHER” (John 13:34, 35).
According to Jesus the priority of any local congregation must be LOVE, because love for God, neighbor and self is the core identifying characteristic and behavior of the church we read about in the Bible, which belongs to Jesus. This priority is consistent with the Greatest Commandment taught by Jesus in Mark 12:28-31: “And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceived that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘Which is the first commandment of all?’ And Jesus answered him, ‘The FIRST of all the commandments is “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord: THOU SHALL love the Lord thy God with ALL thy heart, and with ALL thy soul, and with ALL thy mind, and with ALL thy strength: this is the FIRST commandment. And the second is like, namely this, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is NONE OTHER COMMANDMENT GREATER THAN THESE.”
The priority of loving one another in the church is taught over and over in the New Testament with reference to how it is the priority of God’s family, and love is what established the church’s reputation both in and out of the church. Jesus said, BY THIS shall all men KNOW you are My disciples if you have LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER.
There are approximately 60 Scriptures in the New Testament which reference our responsibilities to ONE ANOTHER in the local congregation—the church. Here is a sampling of these Scriptures:
LOVE (agape and philia) is the undeniable badge of Christianity demonstrated by local congregations and individual members. A reading of Paul’s letter to the church of God in Corinth reveals one problem after another. Ranging from division to going before secular courts to solve problems. What was the ONE solution to all these problems and issues? LOVE! Read Chapter 13 to see how Paul used the greatest of all virtues—LOVE—to resolve their problems.
When the weather permitted the preacher of a city congregation would stand at the bottom of the steps of the church building and greet the members and guests attending Sunday morning services. He noticed Sunday after Sunday a young boy, maybe 12 to 14, passed by with a large family Bible tucked under his arm. One Sunday morning the preacher stepped out and stopped the boy, asking him where he was going to church (Evidenced by his dress and Bible). When the boy mentioned a church across town which required the catching of a bus and transferring to get there; the preacher invited him to attend his congregation, asking “Why do you go way over there, we are close to your home?” The boy replied, “Thank you, sir, for the invitation. I know you folks must be wonderful here, but I’m going over there because at the First Street Church they know how to love a little fellow.”
Isn’t that where we all want to be? In a congregation where they know how to love a little and big fellow; a tall and short fellow; etc. WHAT IS YOUR CHURCH FAMILY’S REPUTATION? How about your reputation?
Unless one has been exiled on Mars or has just awakened from a Rip Van Winkle sleep, he realizes the family in our country is in deep trouble and its growing deeper. Yes, and even families which claim to be Christians and “churchgoers.” One teenager said, “I’m sitting on the edge of the pew waiting to graduate from high school, reach my 18th birthday, and quit this forced on me church going.”
Surveys and polls continually reveal that we, across all religious lines, lose approximately 85 percent of our members between 18 to 25. We have watched the divorce rate maintain a 50 percent average each year relative to the number of couples married each year. The breakdown in the family is seen in the violence, abuse, crimes, and unhappiness behind four walls in most neighborhoods.
The social and psychological Einstein’s of the 21st Century continually drum beat the causes and effects with very few sustainable solutions. Whatever the solutions might be, I personally believe they must start by affirming and putting into practice the words of one of the greatest leaders whose words we read in Joshua 24:14,15: “Now, therefore, fear the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and in truth: …And if it seems evil unto to you to serve the Lord, CHOOSE you THIS DAY whom you will serve; …but as for me and MY HOUSE, we will SERVE THE LORD.”
Wouldn’t it be great if the fathers in our congregations as well as in our nations would take a stand with Joshua and say AMEN? Sadly in our day, the proverb which was circulated in Israel applies to our day: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2). Even worse are those fathers who have followed in the steps of Eli. God informed Samuel about the judgment He was going to bring on Eli’s house and family; one reason was the failure of Eli to discipline his sons: ”For I have told him that I will judge forever for the iniquity which he KNOWS, because his sons make themselves vile, and he DID NOT RESTRAIN THEM” (1 Samuel 3:13).
Most of us have heard these two sayings: “The family that prays together stays together” and “As the family goes so goes the nation.” Whatever we do as a nation or church begins in our homes. We leave the house to go to work and to attend the assemblies of the church. It is in our homes where we, for the most part, determine what we will do once we exit the door. This brings up the once popular subject and practice of Christian families engaging in “Family Devotions” or “Family Worship Time.”
When was the last time you heard an emphasis from the pulpit, classroom, or in the bulletin about family devotions? When was the last time, if ever, your family engaged in planned family devotions? I can remember when seminars, workshops, and lectures were popular subjects, as well as articles and bulletin articles.
Whatever happened to family devotions? One preacher answered, “They were never started.” It is worthy to be noted, because it was written for our learning (Cf. Romans 15:4), that God instituted family devotions for the Nation of Israel: “And these words, which I have commanded thee this day, shall be in thine HEART: and thou shall TEACH them diligently unto thy CHILDREN, and shall TALK of them when thou SITES IN THINE HOUSE, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou LIEST DOWN, and when thou RISEST up” (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7). What do you suppose would happen if every Christian family started practicing this command every day?
OBSTACLES TO FAMILY DEVOTIONS
I doubt if a Christian family would come right out and express their disapproval of having a family devotional; perhaps a few would but they would be the exception and not the rule. As I observe, read, and am challenged in my own life, I have observed various obstacles which stand in the way of families, even those with good intention, having planned family devotions. Here are some of those obstacles:
Can you think of additional reasons why some families don’t have family devotions? How about your family?
SUGGESTIONS FOR CONDUCTING FAMILY DEVOTIONS
Here are a few suggestions for starting and conducting family devotions;
The strength and ministry of the local congregation are the results of what each family brings to the church. Positive and biblical family devotionals will make positive contributions to the Lord’s church.
In 1989 Stephen Covey wrote a national bestseller titled 7 Habits of Highly Effective People ® which continues to be a popular seller today. In the book, Dr. Covey listed 7 basic self-help principles which would help persons achieve business success, personal success, etc. in life. Here are those principles:
As you may know, 7 is an interesting number related to short term and working memory, first popularized in a paper published back in 1956 in Psychological Review by George A. Miller. For example, phone numbers have 7 digits, automobile tags have a maximum of 7 digits, a point needs to be heard 7 times before it sticks, the Bible used the number 7 frequently—the 7 Churches of Asia, etc. Why 7? Because the human mind has an amazing capacity to remember and retain up to 7 items but beyond that, it becomes a challenge.
I have used the number “7 Learning Tool” to write this lesson on becoming a DOER OF GOD’S WORD which is commanded in James 1:22, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” The English word “DOER” is a translation of the Greek word POIETES, from which we get our word “Poet.” It means “A maker, performer, etc.” A Poietes is a creative person, a maker, and demonstrator of something. I look at the alphabet and all I see are letters, a poet looks at letters and sees words which can be produced and performed as poetry, etc.
James is making it clear that each Christian must be a “PERFORMER” of the word, a MAKER of applications. We tend to wait on a preacher or teacher to spell out suggested applications of the word, which is okay, BUT whether the preacher or teacher gives us a list of steps or rules, we must use our hearts and heads to be CREATIVE DOERS of the words. For example, when I read Love your enemy (Matthew 5:44), I must figure out creative ways to DO this command.
What follows are 7 habits I personally believe will help every Christian become a committed and effective doer of God’s word:
There are basically 59 “One another Scriptures” in the New Testament, which means obviously God wants us to practice his word in our relationships with one another in the body of Christ.
Here are 7 “one another” passages for you to begin your practice of DOING them by applying the 7 habits listed above:
While it is essential that we read, study, and memorize Scripture, the ultimate challenge is DOING the word. Remember, you can teach a parrot to speak Bible verses but the bird can’t do them. Remember these words spoken by Jesus, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who DOES the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
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Some of us remember these statements:
When you hear the word FAMILY what comes to mind? Sadly, when some hear family in cause’s painful memories; others are filled with happy memories. From the first family—Adam and Eve—until the most recent family, families have faced challenges. Some families have grown stronger and closer together, while others have deteriorated.
Whatever happened to family?
“There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families” (Margaret Thatcher). If society is composed of families, it follows that if there is something wrong with society there must be something wrong with families. What do you think?
In recent years there has been a proliferation of TV reality shows depicting various constructs of families, from “Housewives” to the Duggars, Duck Dynasty, etc. All of these have had an effect on families. The bubble burst relative to the “perfect family” image of the Duggars when a son committed adultery.
Whatever happened to family?
Social science studies, as well as government surveys, and commonsense observations have clearly documented the breakdown of the 21st century family. Houses, instead of being homes, have become no more than motels where mom, dad and all the kids gather in their own mental space to spend time on their social media gadgets. I heard recently that the “Average family” in the USA shares one common meal a month around the dinner table. Houses are now being built without formal dining rooms. The rise of fast food locations is another evidence how families are being fed. Some wives and mothers brag about the fact that they no longer cook at home.
It is obvious that the once traditional American family has been replaced by what social historians refer to as “the nuclear family.” Marriages once involved couples who grew up in the same community and knew each other; their marriages expressed the same values as the community they grew up in. Today, this is no longer true. Marriages are engaged in by couples who met online, in a bar, on vacation, at work, etc. The issues of ethnicity, culture, values, education, geography, and more have to be negotiated, in most cases with great effort by each partner in the marriage. Perhaps this challenge is one of the reasons the divorce rate is 50 percent in our nation. When the issue of same sex marriage becomes part of the mix, the challenges facing the traditional family and society explode.
Whatever happened to family?
The family structure that once was a haven of love, a training center, a safe place, a sanctuary of spiritual practices, and place dedicated to the welfare of each member, is dying a slow death. And in some homes it has died, as each family member is doing his or her own thing. Values that were once taught and practiced in the family and showed up in the work place, school, neighborhood, and in churches, have gone the way of the rotary telephone.
Families in neighborhoods where they once knew each other and talked over the backyard fence, have been replaced by families locked behind walls with alarms, fences, guard dogs, and garages where cars speed in and out. Many neighborhood have become islands of isolated strangers. Neighbors peep through their windows to spy on their neighbors.
Whatever happened to family?
Think about this. The family is where we all start our journey in life. From the training and examples we have been exposed to, we were prepared to go out into the world with a negative or positive attitude. They formed our basic values, beliefs, fears, prejudices, and habits in life. Abraham Lincoln said, “I am what I am because of my mother dear.”
Whatever happened to family?
10 FACTORS IMPACTING FAMILIES
In my personal opinion, based on research and 50-years of ministry, that there are 10 major factors, with numerous subsets, impacting today’s families:
Whatever happened to family?
It’s an irony that many churches that claim they are “a family” are composed of members who aren’t really practicing family in their physical homes. Which comes first? Does a family learn how to be “a family” at home and then take it to the congregation? Or does a family learn how to be a family in a congregational setting and then take it to the home? Which comes first?
Whatever happened to family?
Regardless of the answers we give to the question—whatever happened to family?—; there is no doubt there are many, however we always go back to the first family: Adam and Eve. The deterioration of their family unit, which later involved one son killing his brother, started with Eve obeying the voice of Satan, followed by Adam’s disobedience (Read Genesis 1-3). The word SIN, especially in the Greek language, means “To miss the mark, target, etc.” God has a “target” for the family. It is to glorify Him (Ephesians 3:21)
Whatever happened to family?
God gave Israel a commandment that required a set of behaviors in the home as well as in daily life. Notice Deuteronomy 6:4-9: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today, shall be in your HEART. You shall TEACH them diligently to your children, and shall TALK of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall BIND them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall WRITE them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” From these core behaviors all values would emerge in the daily life of an Israelite and his worship of God. This serves as a biblical, positive and workable model for families today.
Whatever happened to family?
It is easy to cry wolf and talk about the symptoms of the declining family but the need is to offer some biblical, positive, and workable solutions. Here are a few:
Whatever happened to family?
How are things with your family? What is your intentional plan to make sure your family is being taught, led, and encouraged to be what God desires?
Have you ever wondered, as I have, what happened in the life of the Ethiopian eunuch, who was baptized by Philip (Acts 8:26-39), when he arrived back home in Ethiopia? Was there a congregation there with which he became identified with? Did he, as some think, start a new congregation? Regardless of what the answer might be, one thing is certain as a new Christian he had to make some attitude adjustments.
Revisiting the Day of Pentecost when 3000 were baptized, we have the account of how, under the teaching and leadership of the Apostles, they began to adjust their attitudes and actions. We read: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers … So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Acts 2:42, 46).
Then there is the Gentile convert, Cornelius, a military soldier who was baptized. (Acts 10). After hearing the Gospel he was baptized (Acts 10:47, 48). Have you ever wondered how he must have felt when the Jewish Christians rejected him? It took a major conference of the leaders to accept the Gentile Christians into complete fellowship (Acts 15).
People obey the Gospel from various habits, attitudes, and places in life. Some are converted on the “road between Jerusalem and Gaza” (Acts 8:26). Some are converted in a “crowd where a meeting is occurring” (Acts 2:1-47). Some are converted because of being taught in a home (Acts 16:31-34). Some are converted because of some event in their lives (Acts 9:1-6; 22:16).
Today in the 21st Century people also obey the Gospel from various habits, attitude, and places in life. Some from having grown up attending church services. There are those who heard the Gospel in a meeting or by watching a TV program or listening to a radio program. Some were motivated to be baptized by studying a Bible correspondence course or reading a tract. Some were converted in a home Bible study conducted by a neighbor or friend. I know of several cases where a person was picked up hitch-hiking and taught the Gospel and obeyed it. Some have gotten permission to leave their jail cells to be baptized. I could go on and on. The point is people obey the Gospel from “101” places in life. There is no right or specific place a person must be in before he or she can obey the Gospel.
The point of this article is to reflect on the various attitude adjustments a new convert has to make as he or she “grows into the fullness of the measure of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-17); adjustments they must make in order to develop spiritual habits and practices which contribute to the 5-E mission of the church. It is not uncommon for a person to be baptized and not show up for congregational meetings, causing us to wonder why. There may be numerous answers but one may be we haven’t helped them or taught them how to make the attitude and action adjustments the Lord wants them to have (Cf. Philippians 2:8-10).
With the exception of those who may have grown up attending congregational assemblies, most new converts have to go through a whole series of attitude adjustments (Even those who have been observers have to adjust their attitudes).
Let’s take a few minutes and note some of the attitude adjustments a new convert may have to make in order to please the Lord and grow spiritually:
Obviously, this list of attitude adjustment could go on and on. How about you, what was the biggest attitude adjustment you have had to make after being baptized into Christ? Why does the lack of fruit in these areas, by some new converts as well as old, say about obeying Jesus’ command “to teach them to observe all the things I have taught you”?
Through the years I have heard Christians reply, when asked why they weren’t doing a certain thing in the congregation, “I didn’t know I had to do that or be there.” Sadly, some leave the congregation when they discover teachings and emphasis they had not known. Why does this happen? It may be a failure to teach what Jesus taught about “denial of self, cross-bearing, and following Him” (Matthew 16:24). Perhaps repentance (“A change of mind or having another mind) didn’t occur prior to baptism (Luke 3:3, 5; Acts 2:38).
Sometimes there seems to be an anxiousness just to baptize a person, but a failure to teach the counting of the cost and requirement of changes in attitudes and actions. One person said, “It was like signing a loan application without reading the small print or having it explained to me. Later I discovered some new demands that I hadn’t been taught before being baptized at about midnight. I resent that.”
It was prophesied by Jeremiah (31:33-37) and later quoted and applied by the Hebrews writer. Under the New Covenant a person would no longer be a covenant member, like in the case of a male at the time of circumcision and then having to learn what it meant, his requirements, and obligations as a member of the Old Covenant. Under the New Covenant. The Hebrews writer makes it clear that in order to become a member of the New Covenant he must first be taught:
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their MIND and write them on their HEARTS, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for ALL SHALL know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (Hebrews 8:10, 11).
Regardless of a persons’ place or station in life he or she is a sinner separated from God (Isaiah 59:2; Romans 3:23; 6:23). Therefore, all need to hear the Gospel (Romans 10:17); believe the Gospel (Mark 16:15, 16); confess their unbelief in Christ (Matthew 10:32); repent (change their mind or have another mind) of sin and unbelief in Christ; die to sin and be buried with Christ in baptism and be raised to “walk n newness of life” (Romans 6:1-12); and to “grow into the fullness on Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-17). ALL OF THIS REQUIRES AN ADJUSTMENT OR CHANGE IN ATTITUDE.