"Com' on, get real, dude."
"Hang on, man, I'm going to get real with you."
"I just gotta be real: all unvarnished truth and no bull."
"This here is the real deal — nothing phony, just plain real!"
"Can't we just be real about this and not get all worked up about stuff that doesn't matter?"
If we are honest — if we get real with ourselves — we like people who let us be real with them, but we are not so sure about having everyone get real and be real with us. That's why Jesus commands us to love our neighbors like we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39) and to do for others as we would like them do for us (Matthew 7:12).
For the past 10-15 years, the hot word for believers has been "community." We have missional communities, communities of believers, and sharing together in community. Community has become part of our pet set of phrases. Yet, there is no place that we "get real" and "be real" with each other quite like family. That's why, I believe, that Jesus didn't use the word community very much to talk about his followers. The Lord used the image of family to describe both his followers and how they were to live with each other.
We are brothers and sisters with each one another. God is our Father. And as Jesus teaches the basics of how we are going to live with each other as fellow believers, he doesn't leverage the language of community. Instead, he uses the language of family.
Even more powerfully, Jesus says that if we are going to experience him as Immanuel, God with us, we are going to do in family! Notice first the Immanuel saying and then we will notice the context:
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:20 NIV).
We experience Immanuel in "getting real" and "being real" with each other in the context of family — family that welcomes openly (Matthew 18:1-5), guards our influence carefully (Matthew 18:6-11), finds the missing family members by searching relentlessly (Matthew 18:12-14), restores broken relationship passionately (Matthew 18:15-20), and forgives each other's offenses extravagantly (Matthew 18:21-22). What's more, we have a Father who demands we do this genuinely because that is what our Father did to make us part of his family (Matthew 18:23-35).
And the predominant language of this strong teaching of Jesus? Family! God is our Father. We are brothers and sisters. New members of the family are little ones or children.
So here is the truth, clear and simple... and, for real!
God called us into family.
Family is messy so our Father reminds us that some in the family will
- ...hurt us and disappoint us: so we go to them to reconcile and forgive them.
- ...not always apologize or recognize the hurt they've caused us, so we are going to go to them and help them see so they can be part of the family again.
- ...leave us or wander from us: so we do whatever is necessary to go find them and bring them home.
- ...depend on us and look up to us: so we avoid whatever we have to avoid to keep them from stumbling and messing up because of our influence.
And because we are family and human, they are going to repeat those behaviors again and again, so we have to be ready to offer them grace... again and again. Just as we are going to need grace from our family again and again!
Let's get real: when we make church a community of folks who voluntarily come together out of like interests and purposes, we lose the heart and soul of what Jesus came to create: family — each one of us is blood-bought at the high price of Jesus. This is family where blood is thicker than water and the Holy Spirit inside us is thicker than blood. We are not a voluntary gathering, but a blood purchased family of brothers and sisters adopted by the sacrifice of our oldest brother, Jesus. Because of that, we can get real and be real and most importantly, we can be God's family. We won't quit on each other like you can quit a club, a church, or community group. We're family!
Filled with wanderlust that leads us to lose our way.
Sometimes hurtful to each other because we are so close and love each other so much while still wrestling with our own bad stuff.
Sometimes dependent and sometimes depended upon.
But always precious... precious to God... and precious to each other.
Let's get real: for church to be what God wants it, it's got to be more than a gathering of people with common interests and made into a community.
It's got to be family.
No matter how flawed or wounded or distracted or...
So when we live as family, real family, Jesus isn't theory: he shows up as Immanuel and is among us as our Savior and Lord and brother who is present (Matthew 18:20).
And that, my brother and sister, dear precious child of God, is for real!