Crying Uncle

family_holding_hands-1430My poor kid; he's gonna have a lot more uncles and aunts than the average person. Now mind you, I only have one blood sibling, and Sara only has three. But as he grows up, Little Man will call a lot of people by "Uncle" and "Aunt." It's a tradition that began when I was younger; there were various family and friends that became "Uncle ______" and "Aunt ______" to me. My wife doesn't quite know what to think about this. In fact, she objected one day to my referring to someone as "Uncle ______" to Daniel. She didn't think we were quite that close to the family. It seems "Uncle" and "Aunt" is a special moniker only for those deserving and properly initiated.

But the reason my kid will have a lot of adopted aunts and uncles is quite simple: I want him to have a different view of family than the one others have. Family is more than who you're blood relatives are. Family is those people with whom you celebrate the fellowship of Jesus. A simpler way to put it is this: I want Little Man to associate "family" with the church. I especially want Little Man to feel a close kinship to other preachers and ministers; it's why our Youth Minister is "Uncle Jon."

Indeed, in 1 Tim. 3:14, Paul refers to the church as God's "household" or "family" (NCV). Jesus radicalized this redefinition of "family" with these statements: "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37), and "For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother" (Matt. 12:5).

Growing up, my family never lived near relatives (they were always at least an hour or two away, if not more). So the people with whom we shared life was our church family. We celebrated birthdays, holidays, and other life events with them. We ate in their homes often, and they in ours. And because of our like precious faith, we had many, many opportunities to celebrate the glory of being a part of God's family.

Considering our fellow Christians as honest-to-goodness family should affect how we treat them.

  • It's OK to be upset with one another, but be quick to forgive. When feelings are hurt, move on swiftly. If more Christians thought of leaving a congregation like leaving a family, we would have much less church-hopping Christians.
  • Defend one another to outsiders. You're family is likely like mine; you squabble amongst yourselves, but you bow up and band together when an outsider attacks. Learn to give your family the benefit of the doubt.
  • Help out when there's work to be done. I've been impressed with how the Robertson clan of Duck Dynasty fame lives out this principle. They make tackling challenges a family ordeal. They know that if they all chip in, the work gets done sooner, and that means they eat sooner (insert potluck joke here).
  • Be concerned with one another's spiritual well-being. If you had a grandparent, parent, sibling, or child that was away from the Lord, it would bug you. It would bug you bad. You'd lose sleep over it. You'd pray fervently for them. Why not do the same for a spiritual brother who is astray? Don't wait for someone to be diagnosed with cancer before you pray for them.
  • Love and accept one another unconditionally. Your family members give you plenty of reasons not to be annoyed by them, but you (hopefully) learn to love them in spite of their flaws—and sometimes because of them.

If you have a large, extended, biological family, good for you. I pray you are close to them. But realize that Jesus radically redefined "family." We are blood-relatives with all those who have put on Christ in baptism. Jesus' blood has bound us together in a special relationship. Let's not take that for granted. Instead, let's embrace, practice, and celebrate it.

So when my kid calls you "Uncle" or "Aunt," just roll with it.

In your opinion, what other ways should the church act more like "family"?

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