I grew up in a small town, surrounded by family.  I could see my grandparents’ house through my front window.  My eight aunts and uncles plus their spouses all lived in Washington/Oregon, most of them within 20 miles of our home.  We got together frequently; large gatherings with many cousins, lots of food, and fun times.  I was surrounded by a loving family and extended family, all of whom made me feel that they really cared about me and what was going on in my life.
 
Of course, there were many problems, but I don’t remember those; I remember the incredible feeling of acceptance and belonging. That kind of family life is very rare in our country today.  In one generation it has virtually disappeared. It is sad for me that my children did not get to experience that family life.  However, all is not lost.  We believers are part of a family that is much bigger than the one I described. Our church is our local family, plus we have family members throughout the world.
 
In his book, “The Storm-Tossed Family” (How the Cross Reshapes our Home), Russell Moore writes, “Family is awesome. Family is terrible. As Christians, we already have a category for that. The cross shows us how we can find beauty and brokenness, justice and mercy, peace and wrath, all in the same place. The pattern of the Christian life is crucified glory—this is as true for our lives in our families as in everything else”.  He sees our family life as involving both a spiritual battle and the sacrifice of taking up our cross daily.  “The cross shaped life,” Moore writes, “frees us to neither idealize nor demonize the family”. 
 
God created us with a need to belong, a need to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and he continues to meet that need through families.  The church is critically important in our time because of the breakdown of many families.  We must be the family that God calls us to be.  We must be a place where everyone feels accepted and where they can belong, no matter the failures in their life.  Moore writes, “The church is not a collection of families. The church is a family. We are not ‘family friendly’; we are family” (p. 60). Or, as the poet Robert Frost put it, “A family is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
 
We don’t get to choose the family into which we are born, and we don’t get to choose who belongs to our church family.  God chooses.  Our job is to accept people as they are, to love them, nurture them in the faith, disciple them and allow God to transform them into the person he created them to be.  We should each experience the fullness of family life in our church; the beauty and brokenness, peace and wrath, justice and mercy.
 
Even if you have never had children, you get to be a father and mother in your church family.  We have spiritual children, fathers, mothers, and grandparents in our church, and we need them all.  My prayer is that Bethany will be the family that so many are searching for; that we will be a place where people, wherever they are in their spiritual journey, will feel that they belong.
 
Families are messy and we hurt each other frequently, but there is nothing better than belonging to the family of God.  If we will fight the spiritual battles together and help each other bear the cross we have to carry, then Jesus will be there with us through every struggle and will, one day, take us to our true eternal home which will be so much better than what I experienced growing up in that small town.