What would happen if all the slick logos, branding, selfie videos, livestreams, emails and messenger group chats disappeared? I’m not predicting the internet will go down but it’s an interesting thought for a number of reasons…
If the internet went down and we couldn’t hold our old familiar ‘congregations’ together via technology, what would we do instead? Maybe the thousands of materially poor Christians around the globe could tell us. They’ve been doing church without wifi or devices or big buildings for years already. Maybe church would look like Heidi’s words: stopping for the one in front of us, in the flesh. The family in front of us. The neighbour in front of us. Loving one another in real time, intentionally and actively, the whole time.
There’s nothing wrong with the internet: I believe it’s been a massive help to most of us at this time. I’m loving the online services and online connection; long may it last. But if we’re worried at the (hypothetical) thought of what would happen to ‘church’ without the internet, maybe we’re still totally missing the opportunity that’s being presented to us.
What if Jesus has very little concern for how tech savvy we are in maintaining our local church branding online, and a much bigger concern for how we do church with the people in front of us? What if Jesus wants to ‘turn the hearts of the parents to the children, and the hearts of the children to the parents’? From the beginning of humanity, Adam and Eve, it appears that this is pretty big on God’s list of desires.
In the past few weeks, a legal pathway has been blown open which allows our entire nation to be locked down, largely so that we can protect those in our community whose biological cells are a bit older than most i.e. the elderly. At the same time, a legal pathway has been blown open which makes it easier to kill large numbers of people in our community whose biological cells are a bit younger than most: unborn children. An extreme Abortion Bill was passed in NZ just a few weeks ago, adding to our already-terrible history: 13,282 babies aborted in 2018, 13,285 aborted in 2017…the list goes on (these are official numbers taken from Stats NZ).
But before we as Christians get on our horse to judge and ‘pray against’ these legislators, maybe we should humble ourselves and look at this as a clue to the things God wants to deal with in us, the Christians of this nation, first.
It’s not our job to judge those who don’t know Jesus. But it is our job to look at ourselves. Where have we, as Christians, aborted the ways of love in our own relationships? Do we really think we’re superior to the rest of the world in this area?
In NZ right now, people aren’t legally allowed to leave their homes except to access essential services, so it’s a time when children can’t escape their parents, and parents can’t escape their children, and those who live alone can’t escape the absence of family connection they might feel. I don’t think it’s coincidence that this is also a time when many adult children are back at home living with their adult parents, and there is, for most, more contact with our ‘families of origin’ than we’ve had in a very long time, maybe ever.
What happens in our families, behind closed doors? There are some Christian parents who are in abusive relationships, and they choose to stay there, knowing it’s destroying the souls of their children. There are some Christian parents who think it’s okay to lose their temper, say demeaning things, pull the hair of their children or leave bruises on them, calling it ‘discipline’ or ‘being pushed too far’. There are Christian parents who verbally dishonour and undermine each others’ authority in front of their children, even though they know it creates anxiety and instability in the home.
There are some Christians who have the capacity to be spiritual parents, to be a spiritual father or mother – a mentor, and more than a mentor, to those who need some guidance, but they abort that concept of being spiritual parents, they abort the idea of being spiritually responsible for helping a ‘baby’ Christian in a close and loving way. They don’t want to be faced with ‘needy’ people.
They’re too busy building their own public profile in their own glorious online ministry to be concerned with stopping for the one year old Christian who is struggling with kicking that addiction, who never had a father figure and could really do with a Christian one now.
There are some Christian adults who have all but aborted their relationship with a biological parent because they decided it was too hard to love them for whatever reason, or are holding judgement against their parents. There are Christian adults who have switched off their love towards those who were spiritual parents to them – their church leaders or mentors or ministry team leaders – because some disagreement happened, they realised their spiritual parent was far from perfect, and instead of choosing to love and forgive, they swallowed the bait of satan, hook, line and sinker: offense and bitterness.
There are people who live alone or who have no solid connections with biological family who are waiting to see if some Christian will adopt them into their hearts and become family to them, like John adopted Jesus’ mother Mary after Jesus died. Do we adopt single or widowed people in our church fully or do we abort them from our clique and hope someone else will take care of them?
How many prophets and pastors and teachers in the making have been stunted in their spiritual growth or never reached their full potential because leaders wanted to be their on-stage, online teachers, but no one wanted to be their spiritual father. We have an entire generation of people, I believe, who have been spiritually ‘taught’ by all those beautiful podcasts and Sunday sermons from the stage, but they have not been spiritually parented even though the Bible makes it incredibly clear how important this is. Even worse, some spiritual leaders have used the giftings of people under their authority to make their own ministries look good, while aborting love towards those that they lead, not caring about their human needs.
At the age of eleven I was invited out to a restaurant with my best friend and her family. During dinner, my best friend said something her Christian mother didn’t quite like. So her mother slapped her on the face in front of everyone. I’ll never forget that day. I’ll never forget the tears that started to form in my friend’s eyes which she quickly held back because we were in a public place.
And I’ll never forget the dozens of other similar things I’ve seen and heard in ‘Christian’ families over the years. I’m not talking about any particular church with this post, but I’ve seen and heard enough from my childhood upwards to know these situations exist within the wider church.
So many people have been quoting that scripture ‘if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land’ (1 Chronicles 7:14). When people quote this verse, the emphasis is usually on the praying and the healing; but what about humbling ourselves and turning from our wicked ways?
What do we think this means? To ‘humble ourselves and pray’ doesn’t mean lying on the ground, praying against the people who have changed the abortion laws. I don’t think it means repenting on behalf of other people who we look down on as terrible sinners, or repenting on behalf of every sin committed by every person who ever existed going back ten generations before us.
I think humbling ourselves means asking God what we need to repent of in our own lives. Right now. Today. And then actually repenting. Even if we think it’s just ‘something small’ in our own eyes. Repenting isn’t crying for a few minutes and then going back to our old habits. Repenting means changing our behaviour. Choosing to actively love where we have aborted love before. Choosing to serve others and honour others, even spiritual parents who might have failed us, despite what we might see as their imperfections or even the ways they’ve hurt us (and yes, it is necessary to confront when someone has deliberately hurt us and it is necessary to remove ourselves from the influence of people who habitually abuse us if that’s the situation; this is not negating that part of the process, but this is about searching our own hearts and staying clean in our attitudes towards them).
Humbling ourselves means looking around for those who are without family, without children of their own, without biological parents, or without spiritual parents, or living on their own, and instead of aborting them out of our circles, adopting them in love, truly adopting them in our hearts, not just buying them a few groceries one time solely to ease our guilt complex.
It means protecting our children from any kind of abuse or neglect – even if that means cutting off a relationship with an abusive partner, living in Women’s Refuge for a while and moving house. It sometimes means confessing our sins out loud to someone else. It means apologising out loud and sincerely to our children. To those who would say to me ‘It’s too hard, you don’t understand my situation’, I would say that if you’re a Christian, Jesus has made a way – He volunteered to be beaten to death so He could give us freedom and power; what are we thinking if we’re continually choosing to live under violence and abuse? In complicated situations, we have free access to Him in asking for wisdom, and sometimes wisdom means reaching out to another human for help. Do that if you need to.
Some Christians are scared of talking about or confessing what’s really going on in their home because they’re afraid of Oranga Tamariki getting involved. Shouldn’t we be more respectfully afraid of our God who sees everything – a God who avenges those who are vulnerable, such as children who are being forced to live in abusive households when they have no power to get out of it themselves? Never mind how Oranga Tamariki sees this; how does God see this?
How can we be repairers of the breach in our communities when we’re not even willing to, first of all, be honest with ourselves about our situation, and then humble ourselves to repair the breaches, the rifts large and small, in our own families?
I know there are some in the situation where they want to have a relationship with a family member but they are forced not to because that family member has refused contact. I’ve experienced this myself and I know how painful it is. But we have a choice in those times – do we slowly and subtly close our hearts off to that person who has rejected us or do we daily love them from the depth of love that Jesus has given us, and continue to pray for them from that position of love, even if they don’t want to see or hear from us?
Maybe humbling ourselves and praying for our nation and our land means dropping the excuses when it comes to sin and the ‘wicked ways’ in our own families. WE need to stop saying ‘I was just under pressure, so I lost it’, or ‘well, he knows how to push my buttons and he won’t stop pushing them, so he deserved it’ or ‘I should probably be more of a mentor to her but she’s just so needy’. No. We have been given everlasting supplies of love – we just need to come to Jesus when we’re wearing thin. We have been given self-control. We have been given the power to forgive. We have everything we need to be repairers of the breach and lovers of family.
So maybe it’s time we humble ourselves, turn our hearts fully towards our spiritual parents, turn our hearts fully towards our biological parents, turn our hearts fully towards our spiritual children, and turn our hearts fully towards our biological children.
Maybe the last verse in the Old Testament which refers to ‘Elijah’ who will ‘turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and turn the hearts of the children to their parents’ (NIV) is foreshadowing the essence of the ‘church’ in the New Testament: a church that exists without needing the internet to prop it up, a church that has an open, warm heart towards God as our Father, and an open, warm heart towards its own children and parents, a church that is a safe place for the vulnerable, a church that can then reach the world.
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Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema on unsplash