True Family

By Scott Armstrong

“He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’ For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50).

Teaching, preaching, healing.  Matthew does a good job recording the purpose of Jesus’ time on earth (see 9:35-38).  In Matthew 12, after traveling around a lot, proclaiming many controversial things, and receiving death threats, Jesus withdraws from the hubbub of the crowds (12:15).  Or so he thinks.  Many needy people follow him and Jesus continues to heal, cast out demons, and respond to his critics.  The day is getting hot, the teacher is getting tired.

Jesus needs to recharge his batteries.  So what better way to do that than by spending time relaxing with family? He probably has not seen his mother and brothers in many months.  Imagine his joy, then, when someone tells him that his family is waiting outside and wants to talk with him.  They had surprised him!  Surely he would end his sermon, disperse the crowd, and greet them with open arms!

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But that isn’t what happens at all.  In fact, his response seems a bit harsh.  He seems to say, “Who cares about them? They aren’t my true family.  You are.”  And then chapter 13 says that same day Jesus continues his ministry as if nothing had ever happened.

We need to be careful here.  The point of this passage is not that we need to abandon our families in order to serve God.  The key is found in Jesus’ response (v.50).  Whoever does God’s will is truly part of Christ’s family.  There is something that supersedes even blood relationship here.

My wife and I are missionaries living in Dominican Republic.  Our parents are in the US.  We miss them.  We value our relationship with them almost more than anything.  I say “almost” because there came a point years ago when it became clear to us that God’s will for our lives was to serve him far away from home and family.

That’s never easy.  But we have no regrets!  Following God’s will has brought us closer to Him and closer to our family as well in many ways.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that following God’s will and being part of Jesus’ family is not worth every sacrifice you make!

My wife and I are missionaries living in Guatemala.  At this very moment, I am writing these words from my parents’ home in the United States.  It has been good to relax and be with family.  I miss them.  I value my relationship with them almost more than anything.  I say “almost” because there came a point years ago when it became clear to us that God’s will for our lives was to serve him far away from home and family.

That’s never easy.  But we have no regrets!  Following God’s will has brought us closer to Him and closer to our family as well in many ways.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that following God’s will and being part of Jesus’ family is not worth every sacrifice you make!

Upper-level Vision

By Scott Armstrong

What is your passion? What gets you out of bed even on the bad days?

When I was a teen, I probably would have thought of such questions as irrelevant or even dumb.  I was driven to get good grades, but I was probably just as passionate about eating ice cream or playing basketball.

Although my youth pastor and many other speakers urged us to share our faith with our friends, I think I was mostly focused on trying to not look stupid – unsuccessfully, by the way.  I knew I should be passionate about winning my school and city for Christ, but I was actually much more excited about my baseball or football team winning it all.

More than two decades later, I’m in a different place.  Don’t get me wrong: I get pretty pumped about the Kansas City Royals finally winning some games, and I’m unequivocally passionate about slow-cooked, barbecue pork ribs.  But those things do not drive me.  There are two firecrackers that now wake me up every morning with an explosion louder than any alarm clock: Christ and his mission.  I am consumed by God and want everyone in this world to know Him!

Yet, even with those forces propelling me, why do I sometimes allow my focus to be so often on lesser things?

I recently heard the church planter Will Mancini talk about helping our churches to dream and plan big.  Mancini maintains that most church attendees are connected to the following:

  1. Place.  If you’ve ever tried to broach the possibility of moving church structures or allowing another congregation to use your facilities, you know the physical location is important to people.
  2. Personality.  The dynamism and the talents of many leaders attract and inspire.  When we feel most attuned to God and his kingdom, sometimes we are actually connecting with a certain leadership style or personality.  This is why members frequently leave a congregation when there is a change in leadership.
  3. Programs.  “They have a great children’s department.”  “I love singing in the choir.”  Programs help us and our families fit in and involve ourselves in ministry.
  4. People.  Think about five favorite friends that are part of your local church.  Praise the Lord for meaningful relationships like those!  At the same time, if those five people were to suddenly not be a part of the congregation, would that adversely change your attitude?

To clarify: none of these “connector categories” are bad at all.  Our facilities are a great blessing, and we would rather have charismatic, personable leaders than not!  A church with no programs at all is a virtual impossibility, and people loving people is the definition of Christian fellowship!  Nevertheless, I agree with Mancini when he says that all of these are lower-level visions.  None of these should be goals in themselves.  If we fail to move our focus beyond these four areas, we will never see upper-level multiplication dreams come to fruition in our churches.

That term: “upper-level dreams,” reminds us of a few upper rooms, does it not?

In one upper room we see in John 13 that Jesus takes the towel and basin and washes his disciples’ feet.  His time is short and he chooses this powerful means to “show them the full extent of his love” (v. 1).

The focus in that upper room? Service.  Love.  Christ.

Acts 2 tells us of another upper room.  Nearly two months later, the resurrected Jesus sends his Holy Spirit upon 120 of his followers and they are deployed into Jerusalem and the world with the multi-lingual message of repentance and hope.

The emphasis in that upper room? Unity.  Wind.  Mission.

You see, when we dwell in the upper room, we begin to have upper-level dreams.  We do not focus on the petty or trivial.  We are overcome with things of eternal significance.  Place, personality, programs, and people have their moments.  But what connects us and compels us in the day-to-day is the work of Jesus Christ in us, among us, and through us.

I spent my teenage years as a good Christian boy.  I liked church and I for the most part made good decisions.  But if I had to do it over again, I would get out of the lower level and start to dream upper-level dreams.

What about you? Is your focus on lesser things, or are you obsessed with Christ and his mission?!

May we hesitate no longer.  Let’s intentionally walk up the stairs to the upper room.