The Family of God

Dear April,
After careful consideration, our editorial, marketing, and business management team has decided to declare the following Work(s) out of print:
Christ Is for Us
Christ Is for Us Large Print
Christ Is for Us Epub.

I can’t say I was surprised to receive this notice from Abingdon Press. After all, I had written Christ Is for Us as a Bible study based on the Revised Common Lectionary for Lent 2017. It did well enough that the book was reprinted for 2020 when the same lectionary texts came around again. But as a seasonal Bible study, the book had a limited life span, so I signed the letter of acknowledgment, and once the necessary legal work was done, Christ Is for Us became officially out of print.

That means the publishing rights revert to me, so I can republish the material on my blog or as a book, although I’d need a new cover since Abingdon retains the rights to the original cover art. (Too bad, since I do love that book cover!)

I’m still deciding what to do—if anything—with my newly acquired publishing rights. But for now, I thought I’d share an excerpt below. Also, since I have a few print copies left in regular and large print, I’d like to give them away. So if you’d like a copy of Christ Is for Us, please send me a message with your name and mailing address through my contact page, and I’ll be glad to send you a copy (while supplies last).

The Family of God

“You laugh just like Popo,” says my niece, referring to her grandmother, who is my mother.

“You and your sisters are so close even though you live at a distance,” observes a friend. “You’re always emailing and phoning each other.”

“I thought you were her daughter,” said one of the nurses a number of years ago when I went to visit my mother-in-law in the hospital. “You look so much like her.”

What identifies any group of people as family?

It might be a shared characteristic like the way I laugh like my mother, or stir an egg into fried rice like my father. It might be the experience of growing up together in the same household as I did with my three sisters. Or the married joys, moments of crisis, and inside jokes that my husband and I shared that no one else knows. At other times, family may mean a physical resemblance, like a similar height, short hair, oval-shaped eye-glasses, and high cheek-bones.

When it comes to the family of God, Romans 4 mentions two possible sources of unity and family resemblance that are quickly dismissed:

  • family defined “according to the flesh” (v. 1) – the physical DNA passed from one generation to the next generation to the next, stretching from Abraham and Sarah down through the centuries to Paul and other Jewish members of the Roman church. But the Gentile Christians of the Roman church could not claim the same physical link to Abraham.
  • family defined by “works” (v. 2) – by keeping the law, like the practices of circumcision, animal sacrifice, keeping the Sabbath, and the many other  practices related to temple worship and daily living. Again, the Gentile Christians could not claim to share in these same practices.

The Gentile Christians of the Roman church could not claim the same physical link to Abraham—they did not share the same physical DNA or the same physical practices. Yet according to Romans 4, Abraham was still their ancestor according to faith. Abraham believed God, and so did they.

God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness—not because of anything that Abraham had done, but as a gift of God’s mercy. So too, God had mercy on both Gentile and Jewish Christians through Jesus Christ as a gift. It was not biology and the physical things of this life that bound the church in Rome together. But by faith, both Jewish and Gentile Christians could claim Abraham as their ancestor.

For the church as the people of God today, our defining mark, our true family resemblance, also resides in our faith. In my previous congregation, we had several three-generation families and even a four-generation family with great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, and children all sharing in the life of the church. What a wonderful blessing both to the members of those families and to all of us as a congregation!

But those beautiful family relationships were not what made us a church. I and others unrelated by birth, adoption, or marriage were just as much part of the church, for what bound us together was our shared faith in God and our shared walk with Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. As one member shared in her testimony:

I’m not here because I’m related to anyone else in the church.
I’m here because of Jesus.

That’s the defining mark of the family of God—for the church of Rome in the New Testament and for all of us today.

To be part of the family of God, you don’t have to be born into a particular ethnic group or a particular family. You can’t earn a place by following a particular law or practice. Instead, says Romans 4, the defining characteristic is to have faith like Abraham’s—a faith that believed God’s promise, a faith that trusted God for the journey, a faith that acknowledged God as the Creator and Giver of Life.

For Abraham, God’s promise was still in the future. For us, God’s promise has already come in Jesus. How much more then, may we continue to believe in God’s promise, how much more may we trust God for our own journey through life, how much more may we acknowledge God as the Creator who sustains our lives. That’s our family resemblance as part of the family of God.

Writing/Reflection Prompt: How has faith transformed your life—at home, in the church, and in your community and world?

_____________________

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4 thoughts on “The Family of God

  1. As my husband is dealing with health problems I need both my physical family and my faith family to help and sustain me. I also look to nature. This morning a blue jay appeared twice at the bird feeder, a sign of spirituality in Indigenous culture. I thought of the comforter the Holy Spirit and I felt at peace.

    1. I appreciate your experience, Elfrieda. Even in the midst of life’s challenges, there are signs of God’s presence all around us. I pray for you husband and for you during this time.. May the Comforter continue to carry you and give you peace.

    1. Thank you for these encouraging words, Michele. They are so fitting for you as well. I’m grateful for your example of grace as you continue to walk with God through these days and faithfully serve.

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