Epic = Extremely Awesome
This Lunar New Year was epic for many reasons, the main one being that our whole family made it for the New Year’s eve reunion meal. That included my sister Sandy, her hubby Jimmy and their three girls, Song Wei, Song Yi and Song Jie; Mark and John from Singapore; Andrew who is normally based in Toronto; Stephen from Melbourne plus wife Kallie and baby Austin (yes, grandson!); Bernice and myself. And of course, my mum. Cliche ahead: I wish I could have captured this moment, but we did, of course, in our memories. And mum was so much more alert than last New Year when she was not eating well and we were told to expect the worst. It was such a joy to see her responding enthusiastically to meeting her great grandson. There’s life in the matriarch yet.
The many joyful encounters with family reminded me again of how central family is in cultures shaped by a Confucian worldview. Indeed, the centrality of family holds through in many cultures. After all, families were God’s idea:
God sets the lonely in families . . .
(Psalm 68:6a NIV)
It made me reflect on how a lot of our evangelistic framing is individualistic, ignoring family completely.
One usual sequence of evangelism begins by reminding us how we were created by God and that, because we sinned, we were cut off from His life and love. We were destined for hell, but God in His great love sent His Son Jesus to die on our behalf. If we accept Jesus’ offer of salvation, our sins will be forgiven and we will go to heaven and escape hell. I have used similar presentations to lead people to Christ and the narrative is not wrong. It’s not what is said but what is not said that should make us take a second look.
The whole presentation is aimed at the individual. Family is not mentioned at all at least not in the primary narrative. No wonder we sometimes get the response: “but what about my family?” when we couch the gospel in this way. It feels selfish. The gospel offers a “get out of jail” card for the individual but says nothing about our family.
Jesus did warn that the gospel will divide families between those who repent and follow Him and those who don’t.
“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:51–53 NIV)
It is not wrong to emphasise personal responsibility. But I don’t think it is enough. I suggest we look at two ways that family can be included in our gospel presentation.
One, we can remind those who decide to follow Jesus that they are now God’s ambassadors to reach the rest of their families. Remind them that God loves their family and wants them to be saved and that they now serve as the doorway for God’s love to touch their whole family.
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:29–31 NIV)
Next, we must remind folks that as followers of Jesus they have now been incorporated into another family, with God as their father. If one becomes a follower of Jesus, one journeys to heaven in the company of a family of brothers and sisters and that salvation is corporate, not just individualistic.
Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”
He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” (Luke 8:19–21 NIV)
This also means that our churches must exhibit the kind of mutual love that makes people want to be part of this new family. The life of the church must demonstrate the gospel we preach. At the heart of the Christian faith is relationships, with God and with His family. So, when we invite people to follow Christ, it is more than an invitation to escape hell and go to heaven. It is an invitation to join a family.
No wonder I had such a special time with family this Lunar New Year. It was a foretaste of heaven.