This is the Introduction Chapter to a Vacation Bible School lesson that was written in 2002. I am reworking each chapter and will eventually put it online in it's entirety. The theme of the Bible Study was We are the family of God; Learning, Loving, Lifting and Living the Word of God. I Pray that it blesses you now as it did our former place of ministry.

We are the Family of God
Copyright © 2002
D. S. Briggs, BA., ThM., D.Min
Ephesians 3:14 – 21
Memory verse: Amos 3:3

(This series was prepared for Vacation Bible Study during a pastorate at Mount Zoar Baptist Church, Durham, North Carolina)

Family matters!!!

That was the name of a hit sitcom that aired from the mid 1980’s until the mid 1990’s in original airings and now runs in syndication in many outlets. However it was more than just a tug at the heart title, or a catchy song that introduced the show to millions of viewers week after week. It demonstrated week, after week that no matter what the problem a family that was committed to each other would rise above and conquer. Although it wasn’t paraded out and pronounced verbally week after week, (for that would be anathema to the producers) you just knew that the ultimate strength of this family was their faith in God.

The sitcom, set in Chicago, had all the concepts of a traditional nuclear family that has been offered to us down through the years with one major change. This family, the Winslow family, was African –American! So many other shows produced and offered to the public for their viewing pleasure either patronized the African-American race, or characterized them as incompetent, irreverent, and totally dysfunctional. Not this show! The husband worked as a police officer…struggling year after year for that much wanted promotion (validation in the sight of his peers as well as himself). The wife who wrestled with changing careers and even wrestled with being a at home mother for awhile. One son and two daughters (Eddie, Laura, and Kelly)who matured on television right before our eyes as we saw them wrestle with pre pubescent, pubescent and finally young adult problems. Sports activities, cheerleading, dating, rebellion against their parents for not understanding them, attempts to divide the father and the mother, sibling rivalry…we saw it all. Yet there was more.

As in so many African – American homes, as well as other minorities, the home is not just a place for the nuclear family, but extended family as well. When one was blessed, all were blessed. As long as one family member had a roof over their head, no matter how large or small, no other family member was going to be left out in the cold. The mother of the husband lived in the home as well, after the death of her husband. Like in many African – American homes before the 1980’s she was the fount of all wisdom, spiritual and otherwise. She kept the family together through the tough times. She not only provides the family much needed spiritual wisdom, humor and moral counsel from time to time, but also gives them the shock of their lives when she starts dating again. This caused a reaction in her son that causes him to act more like a detective and less like a son. The wife’s sister resided in the home as well after the death of her husband, along with her son. No matter how attractive she looked, gifted she was singing in the church choir, and talented when she finally opened her own business, it seemed like she spent every Christmas with no man to call husband, boyfriend, or any other endearing nickname of closeness. Yet in very few episodes do we see either of them dwelling so much on the loss in their life that they live like they have no future. Neither one hung their harp or their heart on the willow tree down by the river.

Then there were the non-family members who did not have the blood of the Winslow’s running through their veins but they were family nonetheless. Week by week we walked with them and grew up with them. There was Waldo, the son’s best friend…whose character had no diagnosed learning disabilities but just was definitely challenged in the learning arena. Yet he makes it into college and discovers a gift for cooking in the process. No matter how many seemingly idiotic things Waldo did, and even though they may had lost friendship and partnership for a season, the relationship remained strong. Then of course there was Steve, the nerd with a genius IQ living next door who was hopelessly in love with Laura and dreamed of nothing more than being with her. Laura however would have no part of dating a nerd!

Americans of all racial backgrounds tuned in week after week and year after year to see if Laura’s resolve would ever break down and she would finally give Steve a chance. Clumsy, careless, a cheese connoisseur and fashion challenged he pined week after week over the affections of his sweet Laura. Steve was over the Winslow residence so much that he too became family. In later shows he even submitted that his family did not want much to do with him, that is why he was always over the Winslow’s house. So much that he became (whether intentionally from the inception of the program or not we are not aware) the main character that viewers tuned in to see.

Through Steve’s genius, he invents a machine that allows him to alter his personality and person to be exactly what Laura wanted in a relationship, and perhaps also what he inwardly wished he naturally were. This role (Stephan) however only wins Laura for a few seasons until she realizes that she really has developed feelings for Steve as himself. Finally there was Myra, who eventually came on the show (before the transforming machine) and fell in love for Steve being Steve and became his girlfriend after he gave up hope of ever dating Laura as himself. Rather than try to change Steve, she accepts him as he is, even learning how to play the accordion so she can play duets with him. She hated the transforming machine and tried to destroy it a couple of times. But no matter how much he tried to forget about Laura, she was the true love of his life. Nothing Myra could do or say would stop that aching in his heart for Laura.

This show both in production and in real life had a myriad of issues. Yet they remained a family. The show revived the career of Telma Hopkins who played Rachel, as her last work of notoriety was as a backup singer for the group Tony Orlando and Dawn in the early 1970’s. It rocketed Kellye Shanynge Williams (Laura) Jaleel White (Steve) and Laura Voorhees (Myra) to many more prominent acting careers including a recurrent role for Laura Voorhees on One Life to Live. Finally it had to deal with the untimely death of one of its bright stars, as Laura Voorhees died of ovarian cancer in her early twenties.

As we pause to return to the thrust of these series of lessons we have to ask, what has happened to the family today? The nuclear family has gone nuclear. There was a time that we stuck together through the thick and thin, no matter how thin it became. Live in cousins, nieces, and nephews….two or three generations of kin living under the same roof…sharing the same space…extended family, adopted…both formally through court appointed legislation and informally through the taking in of a god-child or a wayward child so that they are not lost to the chaos of the government welfare system.

Now we all demand our own space and our own private time. Families today seemingly represent a live together, roommate combination of single individuals, rather than one unit fulfilling the plan of God for their lives. Everyone has their own room, own job, own cars, own telephone numbers, own life. In some cases we rarely gather around the dinner table once a week, let alone once a day, choosing rather to eat in the solitude and privacy of our rooms. We have as many televisions as we do rooms in the house and it seems like every one is watching a different program. Dad with his sports, Mom with her decorating, daughter with her teen dramas, and Junior with his cartoons. Asking about a child’s day in school incurs the wrath of the child for the parent being too intrusive or nosy into their business. Dad comes in from work and slumps in the recliner and says not a word to anyone, stressed out over how to pay the bills on time. Mom keeps her pent up frustration to her self, working in the garden so she doesn’t explode.

And we have the nerve to call this…progress.

However in mind, it is the concept of family in the house of God that is under the greatest attack. Once the devil has attacked the foundations of the nuclear family and extended family in the home, he goes down the street to the church. Now that he has the mother fighting against the mother, the son and the daughter in rebellion against the rules of the house, he goes to replicate what he has done in the home to the church. And once there he attempts to cultivate the same individualistic, “it’s all about me” atmosphere that he has in the home. The adversary causes us to bring our modernized myopic misconceptions of family and transplant them into the church. Then he seeks to get us to establish them as the normative behavior and not an aberration.

We wonder why our church relationships are strained, we have no joy in serving with each other, preferring rather to do it all on our own. We have abandoned the family concept of God and decided we would rather sink or swim on our own than to be slowed down by standing in the gap and helping our brothers and sisters in the faith. We have said over and over again through our attitudes, arguments, and actions, that we don’t care what others think, say, or do. Just as long as it does not interfere with what I want to do, because what I want to do…what I want to think…what I want to say…what I want to feel is more important than what anybody else has to offer to me, or to anybody else.

The devil is a liar. Family matters. The concept of the family grew in the mind of God before the world was formed. The family relation is the institution of God lying at the foundation of human society. As the family is strengthened, so is every institution that is serves. As the family is united in purpose, so also the church will follow its lead in maintaining unity in its purpose. The leader of Israel Joshua was so convinced of his responsibility as the leader of his own family and the impact that it would have on the rest of the people he led boldly declared…

When we look at the word family in the Old Testament, it is translated from the word “Mischpachah” in the Hebrew. This word occurs over 300 times. It means… “all members of a group who were related by blood and still felt a sense of consanguinity belonged to the clan or the extended family.” (Vines Topical dictionary) In the New Testament we see it derived in the Greek language from the words “oikos” and “patria” which means larger than a nuclear family, but smaller than a tribe. Family was so important to God that He created it, challenged it, and cared for it. Family was so important to the Lord that when He chose to destroy the wickedness off the face of the Earth, he still saved not only a righteous old preacher by the name of Noah, but his family as well. So important was family in the religion of the Israelite’s, that the times of the feasts and especially the Jubilee were set aside as a time for all families to return to the homeland, no matter how far their own personal journeys had taken them. This was a time to reconnect with their families as well as their faith. Family matters.

While serving a small rural church on the outskirts of Farmville, Virginia, I was always reminded about the fact that the church I pastored was a family church. Churches (or certain difficult family members) always use this statement as a pre-emptive strike to avoid anything that looks like ministry, sounds like ministry, or cost ministry money to implement. It was used to discourage preachers from doing anything more than picking up the check, going home, and minding their own business. Truth is many of those churches can take preaching or leave it. The family church would take care of itself I was assured without any outside intervention. When the preacher had gone on about his business, (called to another church, resigned, voted out, left for the day, or silenced through death) the family would remain together. Church growth was not something they truly even looked for, or prayed for unless it was their own kinfolk that walked the aisle and joined the church. Outsiders who had no blood claim in the church were advised not to join, or if they did join were shut out of the decision making process, and any positions of influence and power. (ex: they could help in the kitchen, but not become the chair of the kitchen committee.)That was their premise.

While that statement was always used in the pejorative sense, I see now after many years a positive side to it. Although the devil tried to pervert the purpose, I see a blessing in the designation of…”We are just a family church.” Especially if it is God’s family.

We are a family church. We ought to operate like the family that God intended us to be. A family is where everybody is some one special. A family is where all gifts are cherished and appreciated. Family is the one place where no matter what fame or wealth you have achieved in the world, when you hit the door, all formalities cease. Every family I know always has endearing or embarrassing nicknames for each other. They are never thrown out in insult to one’s character, but rather affirm the genuine love that the family has for that member. Family is the place where you are offered safe haven from the hurts, harassment, and hatred that the world seeks to hurl against you. No matter how long they have strayed or stayed away, a family where forgiveness carries the order of the day. A family is where we look out for each other and protect each other’s reputation from injurious assault. Now inside the house we may get on you, but no one that is outside the doors of the family will never cause you any harm because we stick up for and stand by our family. A family is where we connect with our faith and each other. A family where we can be real, right, and rewarded together. Where we share in each other’s joys, comfort each other in sorrow - through thick and thin, we remain bonded. Why?

Because family matters.

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