Forged in unity through walking with Christ.

1. The Gospel Story 2. Unconditional Love 3. Diverse Fellowship 4. Generous Sharing 5. Humble Service 6. Preemptive Peacemaking 7. Total Forgiveness

1. The Gospel Story – Strong families have a sense of context, heritage, and ancestry. They know their name, and they know what it means to them. They know who they are, and where they came from, and what they’re proud of. They value their story. We value our story in similar ways. Our story is the Gospel Story. It’s the story of God creating, and restoring the world through the redeeming work of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and is perhaps best summarized by what early Christians called, “the Apostles Creed.”

Apostles Creed 1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. 2. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. 3. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. 4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. 5. On the third day he rose again. 6. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. 7. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. 8. I believe in the Holy Spirit, 9. the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, 10. the forgiveness of sins, 11. the resurrection of the body, 12. and life everlasting. Amen. – Mark 1:15; Luke 24:25-27, 44-59; Acts 17:24-31; Romans 1:1-6; 8:1, 18-39; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; 1 John 4:14

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2. Unconditional Love – Strong families value unconditional love. Whether family members experience seasons of great joy or sorrow, swelling pride or deep disappointment, hilarious laughter or passionate arguing, at the end of the day, family is still family and their love undiminished because it is also unconditional. Unconditional love flows quite naturally from our heritage in the Gospel Story. It’s the love of God who loves the world – just and unjust, good and evil, grateful and ungrateful alike. (Matthew 5: 45; Luke 6:35) When we treasure the fact that God loves us unconditionally, we seek to love others as He loves us. (Matthew 7:12; John 13:34-35; Luke 10:25-37; 6:27-35) Why then, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once observed, do we allow 11:00 AM Sunday morning to remain the most segregated hour in America? Because we Christians put racial (and other) conditions on loving fellowship, that’s why. We limit our love by reserving it for people just like ourselves. Our love is conditioned by race, social status, personal interests, political leanings, theological opinions, outward appearance, you name it. But we think that to truly move through life with Jesus we need to value unconditional love for brother, sister, neighbor, and enemy alike.

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3. Diverse Fellowship – At their best, families are a diverse fellowship, they are diversity living in harmony. Marriage is diversity in harmony as two very different people becoming one new unit in society. Children too, are not clones, but the unique, yet harmonious combination of their parents’ diverse genetic makeup. Families with adopted children add even more diversity to this mix. In the spirit of this metaphor the church values diverse fellowship. The Church is the family of God who adopts His children from every nation, people, tribe, and tongue. (Revelation 7:9-12 ) To live in this family means learning to embrace diversity, including people who make us feel uncomfortable. o See Dave Gibbons, The Monkey and the Fish, Zondervan, 2009, p.65. o For further reading, see Miraslov Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, Abington Press, 1996.

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4. Generous Sharing – As in any family, the members of God’s family must learn to share generously. It’s been this way since the beginning when Christian people in Jerusalem “were of one heart and soul” and shared all they had for the common good. (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37 ) In this kind of environment no one feels forced to grab for power in order to get what they think they need. Here humility trumps politics as power-grabs quickly go out of style. Here people consider the needs and interests of others as well as their own. And even when our hidden selfishness is revealed as we make mistakes in our weaker moments, we learn to receive correction with humility and generous sharing is once again restored. (Philippians 2:4 and Acts 6:1-7; Matt. 5:45; 10:8; Luke 6:37-38; Acts 6:1-6; Phil. 2:3-4; 4:19,)

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5. Humble Service – In God’s family everyone has his or her chores to do. Everyone pitches in and helps. Everyone serves everyone else. And everyone agrees that service is good. But some, like the lawyer to whom Jesus told his famous “Good Samaritan” story (Luke 10:25-37), seek approaches to life that limit service or avoid it all together. But Jesus’ story teaches us that service to others naturally follows love for God and neighbor. It teaches that neighbor service, like neighbor love, is radically unconditional as it crosses social boundaries and breaks traditional rules about who is worthy or unworthy of our loving acts of kindness. It goes radically beyond our normal tendency to love those who first love us, or to do good for those who first do good for us. (Luke 6:28-35) Instead, it does what the Samaritan did. It loves and serves people for no apparent reason and without expecting personal gain. Humble Service is the universal language of Unconditional Love, a language that we Christians are called to learn to speak fluently.

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6. Preemptive Peacemaking – Members of strong families initiate peacemaking with one another and also with their neighbors. Pursuing peace while conflicts are still small and initiating practices that anticipate and prevent potential conflicts before they occur, helps to cultivate an environment of mutual love, honor, respect, and concern that turns households and neighborhoods into places ripe with wellbeing. By practicing preemptive peacemaking we seek to prevent potential conflicts and heal existing ones. By trying to understand and consider the interests of others along within our own interests, by resisting the temptation toward vengeance, by inviting the others into our conflicts so that a better peace may be negotiated which serves the common good. (Philippians 2:4; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 5:21-26; Matthew 18:15-20; Romans 14:17) We believe that we are never more like our Heavenly Father than when pursuing peace. (Matthew 5:9) And that peacemaking is at the heart of the Gospel Story and the transformation it produces. (Romans 14:17)

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7. Total Forgiveness – No family or community can survive without forgiveness because forgiveness is the gateway to reconciliation, and peace, and the Jewish notion of Shalom. It’s the forgiveness that Jesus lived and now expresses in the lives of his followers. It’s a “Father-forgive-them-because-they-don’t-know-what-they’re-doing” kind of forgiveness. (Luke 23:34 ) It’s Amish forgiveness. It’s the kind of forgiveness that gained global attention on October 2, 2006 when a small community of Amish people (hyper link to – http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14900930) from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania refused to return evil for evil, choosing instead to return goodness for the evil they endured. It’s the kind of forgiveness that remarkably transformed people who live without using a single kilowatt of electricity into the light of the entire world! It’s the kind of forgiveness that transforms us as well, the kind that makes reconciliation possible. (Romans 2:4; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; 2 John 2:2; Matt. 6:12; 18:21-35; Luke 6:37; Ephesians 4:32; Psalms. 103:3.)

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