“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20, NASB).
“And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NASB).
“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3, NASB).
“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:8-10, NASB).
WHAT IS HOME?
Understanding what constitutes home for us is an extremely important question, as our conceptualizations of home have major implications on how we both view and behave towards others.
This question of what constitutes “home” has been on my mind for the past month, starting with a conversation that occurred while I was visiting my family in Gloucester, MA. I was walking down Stacy Boulevard (a.k.a. “the boulevahd” to locals), a beautiful esplanade that runs along a large portion of Gloucester Harbor (see below). While I was walking, I intermittently stopped to take photos. Having maintained residence in Georgia for thirteen years, my visits have become less frequent. Consequently, whenever I make it up North, I try to capture my hometown’s scenic beauty in mini-photograph excursions, especially considering that it is rapidly evolving from an industrial seaport into a tourist destination. The changes become more apparent with each successive year. I want to be able to visually reflect on where Gloucester was from where it is now (the jury is still out on whether “now” is preferred).
As I was enjoying my walk along the “boulevahd,” an older man—probably late 50s to mid 60s—approached me. The ensuing conversation went something like this:
Old Man: “Hey theah young man. Ah ya visitin’ ouah fine town?
Me: “Yes sir.”
Old Man: “First time visitin’?”
Me: “No sir. I’ve visited many times.”
Old Man: “Pretty area, isn’t it?”
Old Man: “Wheah ah ya from?”
Me: “Well, I’m from here, born and raised, but I now live in Georgia.”
Old Man: “Theah’s no way ya from heah! Who’s yoah fathah?” (Note: This is a common phrase—as is, “Whose your mothah”—when trying to determine local associations).
Me: *I share my father’s name with the old man*
Old Man: *He repeats my father’s first name* Are you his oldest kid? The one that went down South for work? I would’ve nevah thought that you were from around heah after talking with ya. You don’t sound like you’re from around heah. Ya know, I used to work with ya fathah at Gorton’s years ago… (Note: Yes, everyone local seems to somehow be connected to one another in some manner. I wasn’t surprised that he knew who my father was).
BEING AN OUTSIDER
The above conversation with the old man only affirmed what I’ve known for some time—that I’m an outsider in my hometown. The reality is that I’ve always felt like an outsider both there and everywhere else that I’ve lived.
For much of my life, this feeling of being an outsider often wore on me emotionally. From this self-perception of being an outsider, I regularly battled loneliness—an enduring sense of exclusion. Even now, there are days where I’d want nothing more than to be able to feel included in many of the places and environments that I frequent. But that’s not my reality. And it’s not my nature to be inauthentic regarding such things…
…this lack of belonging that I sensed was an ongoing, personal struggle for many years because I understood what wasn’t home, but I failed to fully comprehend what truly constituted home. In the past few years, I’ve come to a more definitive understanding of what’s home; though, likely not yet fully comprehending it. Further, as a professed Christian, I believe that as my understanding of home has come more into focus, my ability (not to be confused with my execution) to faithfully follow Christ has improved. First, however, let me elaborate on what isn’t home for me.
WHAT ISN’T HOME (TO ME)
For many us, I’d suspect that home is synonymous with a specific, physical location—a town, city, or region. This place could be a birthplace, or possibly where we were raised (or where we lived the longest as an adolescent)—if not being both. For me, however, the idea of home representing a specific, physical place in this world has been abandoned.
Furthermore, home for me isn’t socially constructed on the internet. These social media platforms are tools, neither being inherently good or bad. As tools, we can use them to construct—in the broadest, general sense—a hyperreal. A hyperreal represents an exaggerated portrayal of our reality; (in this context) allowing us to emphasize our positive and/or negative perceptions of society and the world. Social media platforms are often implemented to create an idealistic, personal representation of how we believe the world should be for us…at times sans actual reality. But then the question for us to answer needs to be: How should we understand our relationship with the world?
As a Christian, I believe that all creation originates from God (John 1:3) and that creation was made good (Genesis 1). However, as a result of the Fall, creation has been cursed (Genesis 3). Consequently, the world—in its fallen state—exhibits enmity towards its Creator. Therefore, we must be wary of conforming to the world’s ways (Romans 12:2), because to consider ourselves at home in this world is akin to being God’s enemy (James 4:4).
This is why social networks and similar media platforms are potentially dangerous tools for us to navigate; particularly when we’re operating under a worldly conceptualization of what constitutes home. For these online, hyperreal environments can be influencing; convincing us that—in contradiction to a biblical perspective—our fallen world is good; thereby, functioning in the same manner as belief in humanity’s goodness (Romans 3:23): a stumbling block (Matthew 7:24-27; 16:23; 1 Corinthians 3:11; 8:8-10). For clarification, the above position doesn’t claim that there isn’t any beauty in the world (a.k.a. general revelation of “God’s goodness”) or that we’re incapable of doing good while living in it through the Holy Spirit. What it does claim is that the world is cursed because of humanity’s sin (Genesis 3:17; Isaiah 24:5-6), and that we’re incapable of doing any good in this world apart from God (John 15:4-6; Philippians 2:13). To assign goodness to either (or both) the world or humanity is to place them on par with God. Again, that’s idolatry.
It could be argued that idolatry is the basis for all sin, considering that the fall was caused by a desire to be equals with God (Genesis 3:2-6). The word regularly used in the bible for sin is hamartia, which literally means “missing the mark,” and the sin of idolatry leads to acceptance of faulty foundations and an inappropriate prioritization of relationships. While designed to worship God, when we’re engaging in idolatry, we’re worshiping something (or someone) else. Sometimes, like the events of the Fall with Adam and Eve, we’re ensconced in self-worship (Galatians 6:3).
Therefore, my attitude towards being an outsider in this world—again, a fallen world—has slowly changed as I rest in this Truth. While I’d like to claim that I no longer battle occasional feelings of loneliness and negativity, I’d be lying. I will, however, acknowledge that those occasions are less frequent and easier to remove myself from when I focus on home, and when I engage in communities where I’m welcomed as an insider (something that will be discussed shortly). But, because of the unique nature of my home and those who call my home theirs too, I’m also better equipped to engage with those who classify me—or, whom I self-classify—as an outsider lovingly. For they, like myself, can claim the same home, but have actively chosen not to (Romans 1:25)…or have yet to realize the amazing gift of such a home afforded them (Luke 11:9-10; 12:36; Romans 10:9-10; Hebrews 7:25; Revelation 22:17).
So, what is this home of which I speak?
WHAT HOME IS (TO ME), AND ITS IMPORTANCE
For me, I’ve come to understand my home to be the kingdom of heaven (Philippians 3:20), in the full presence of our Lord. When creation was initially designed, God intended for us to live in relationship with Him forever; where we could bask in His glory, and joyfully offer Him worship and praise (1 Chronicles 16:23-31; Romans 11:36; 16:27; Revelation 4:8-11)!
As mentioned earlier, however, we’ve been estranged from God; having become His enemies through the Fall (i.e. sin). Sin introduced death into God’s creation (Genesis 2:17; 3:19; Romans 6:23), and it’s what separated us from Him (Isaiah 59:2). With this understanding of my (and our) iniquity, how can I conclude that my home is with God in heaven?
Well, as the saying goes, “home is where the heart is,” and through the gift of faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Ephesians 2:8-10), the Holy Spirit has given me a new heart (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26; Jeremiah 24:7). We become a new creation (1 Corinthians 15:48; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20-21), and our relationship with God is made right (Romans 10:9-10; Philippians 3:4-11). For all who come to faithfully follow Christ as Lord are saved through His loving sacrifice (1 Peter 1:18-22). Rather than being left for dead, we’re welcomed home (John 14:3; 2 Corinthians 6:17; Romans 15:7). And what a beautiful and glorious home it is!
Implications of Accepting Our Heavenly Home. Through our faith in Christ, with changed hearts—being transformed into new creatures—our behaviors should visibly change (1 Corinthians 15:47-49). Through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we should bear (good) fruit in our lives (Matthew 13:3-9; John 15:1-8; Galatians 5:22-23). And, more importantly, bearing good fruit and glorifying God (John 15:8) should be the desires of our hearts (Matthew 5:16; 6:33).
In addition, when adopting a Christian conceptualization of home from a worldly one (upon conversion), there should also be a conceptual reorientation of certain associative groups. The meanings we attribute to terms such as “family,” “friends,” and “outsiders”—as well as whom we identify within each of these group—will require some adjustments. Consequently, our behaviors towards some individuals may significantly change in conjunction with their possible reassignment into a different associative group.
For instance, I strongly believe that those in the the Church—the collective body of Christ, not a particular earth-based institution—should accept and act according to a literal and more inclusive interpretation of the phrase “brothers and sisters in Christ” (Hebrews 2:10-12; Matthew 25:40). As Christians, the (Big “C”) Church is our family. And we should acknowledge a distinction between our family and outsiders (i.e. nonbelievers) (Galatians 6:8-10; Romans 12:9-13).
Our Church family should ideally function similar to what we’d see from a healthy family unit. Consider, the covenant of marriage was designed—at the beginning of time by God—to picture the relationship between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:22-32); with verse 31 directly referencing the original marriage in Genesis 2, and verse 32 acknowledging its intended purpose in communicating the now revealed mystery between Christ and His Church! Christ is the loving, sacrificial Head (Romans 15:1-3). We, as His Church, are the lovingly submissive bride; trusting that following His will—possessing faith in His goodness—blesses us (Proverbs 3:5-7; Lamentations 3:22-23; 1 Corinthians 15:56-58; 1 Peter 5:6-7). What I find particularly amazing about Christ’s marriage to the church is how His covenant with His redeemed people cleaves them into the Trinity relationship (via Holy Spirit, see visual below)! Based on Christian belief, marriage between two people is both a vertical and a horizontal covenant; including an oath between the bride and groom, as well as between each spouse and God.
Further, Paul, in his letter to the Romans, summarizes how Christians should function within the Church family (Romans 12:9-13), and more generally (with elements still applying to fellow Christian brothers and sisters) towards outsiders/nonbelievers (Romans 12:14-18):
Marks of the True Christian
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints (i.e. Church), practicing hospitality.”
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:9-18, NASB).
With our identity in Christ, we’re to respond to those whom we identify as outsiders differently than world responds to its outsiders—which includes Christians. Remember, as explained earlier, those who are outside the Church are enemies of God; therefore, they’re our enemies too. Yet, while not likely to be reciprocated, we’re called by our Lord to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). We should also remember that we’re still essentially a minority, as there are many who profess faith in Christ, but don’t follow Him. I believe this is particularly true in the United States, where many seeker-oriented ministries have positioned themselves as biblically-defined churches, and have compromised key fundamental, biblical Truths of the faith during what could be referred to as the “emergent movement.” With such practices prevalent in American Christian culture, both serious investigation and wise discernment are necessary for building healthy Christian networks/communities. And it’s essential that we’re exhibiting discernment in the social group contexts to which we invest ourselves.
Jesus warns of false prophets, calling them “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15-20). He continues to say that many who claim to be His followers aren’t (Matthew 7:21-23). In his letter to the Romans, Paul also provides similar warning (Romans 16:17-20). Yet, sometimes we confuse judging (which, in some cases can be interpreted as discerning) with condemning, as many bible translations will use the word “judge” where negative judgment leads to condemnation (punishment). While we’re never to condemn—that is for God alone (Matthew 9:6-8; James 4:12)—we’re called to be discerning (Proverbs 16:21; Hosea 14:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22) for bad company corrupts good character (1 Corinthians 15:33). Therefore, we should be actively wary of the world’s many deceptions (Mark 13:5-6). Being sent forth “as sheep in the midst of wolves,” we’re to be “cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
This being said, to “love our enemies” requires both engagement and investment with them. One of my biggest frustrations is when I see what I call “fighter pilot” evangelism. Fighter pilot evangelism is when people boldly (but unwisely) preach and evangelize Truth in a manner absent relationship and love. Why should anyone listen to an opinionated stranger who directly confronts them, and speaks of things that they may have never before heard and fail to comprehend? Moreover, why should they follow-up in conversation, especially when fighter pilot evangelists generally want immediate acceptance without having any future investment made into those with whom they speak? Instead, these evangelists are more about having another “saved soul” stamped onto their planes—hypocritically focused on what they’re doing for God.
Consider, however, that plants require time and attention to multiply and/or bear fruit. For Christians to multiply and/or bear fruit requires the same—that, and living water (John 4:14; 7:37-39). The only difference between believers and nonbelievers is the gift of the Holy Spirit. None are deserving (Isaiah 53:6). None should be arrogantly boastful (Ephesians 2:8-10). Rather, with humility (Philippians 2:3-4), we should lovingly share the Gospel (i.e. “good news”); desiring for others to be blessed as we’ve been blessed.
Where I see many Christians failing (as it pertains to developing these group associations) is in their understanding, practice, and (improper) prioritization of friendship; adopting perspectives that align more with contemporary culture—not scripture. Contemporary culture seems to view friendships as temporary arrangements that will endure as long as they’re useful and convenient for both parties in the friendship (e.g. see “Facebook friends”). Based on my scriptural understanding, however, such arrangements should never be considered friendships.
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, who were His constant companions? The twelve disciples, right? These men left their families to follow Him. And, as Jesus is about to be crucified, what does He call them? He calls them friends.
“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. This I command you, that you love one another” (John 15:12-17, NASB).
Thus, Christian friendships are about loving, intentional, and fully invested commitment—not convenience. There is loyalty (2 Kings 2:2; Ruth 1:16-17). There is transparency and vulnerability (1 Samuel 18:4; 19:1-7); allowing for accountability (Proverbs 27:5-6) and comforting (Job 2:11) among friends. There is an enduring, unconditional love (Proverbs 17:17; 1 Samuel 18:1-3). It’s not a lesser relationship than family, but rather it’s a greater one. For, when considering our Christian conceptualization of family (i.e. “spiritual”), friends are the strongest cords connecting us to it (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). They’re our closest, most invested, brothers and sisters in Christ—those whose presence in our lives help us grow more into the Lord’s likeness (i.e. sanctification) (Proverbs 27:17; Hebrews 24:24-25).
Through our new understanding of home, friends, family, and outsiders, our social interactions and overall behaviors should look much different from those who live in accordance with the world (1 Corinthians 15:45-49). May everyone know us as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) through our commitment to share the Gospel (Psalms 96:3; Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15), and our love for one another (John 13:35).
This elaboration on recognizing and living with an eternal perspective that focuses on preparing for our heavenly “home” is not intended to condemn those of us who have wonderful biological families, and/or have a close association with their hometown. There may very well be strong, Christ-following environments established among our families and in the communities where we’ve been born and/or raised. That’s wonderful and encouraging, as long as our attachments to our biological families and physical homes don’t become stumbling blocks in our journey to our permanent home.
I love my biological family, and I possess a love/hate relationship with my hometown. If, however, I failed to go where God has called me because of my associations with either, I’d be committing idolatry; rebelling against my Lord. Moreover, if I’m prioritizing my biological family over my friends and spiritual family, I’m potentially restricting my ability for God to use me for His good purpose—to actively share in His story.
Lastly, these thoughts on how a Christian understanding and conceptualization of home affects our roles (and, subsequently, our behaviors) within our immediate families are developed from the perspective a grown (i.e. adult) son and brother—not that of a husband or father. Those roles—just as those of a wife, mother, and (i.e. adolescent) child—are called by God for specific functions within the family unit (Colossians 3:18-21; 1 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Peter 3:1-2; 3:5-6; Ephesians 5:22-33; 6:1-4). Ultimately, how we engage in all relationships should be God-driven; being for His glory (Colossians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 10:23-33), neither for our convenience or temporal comfort. We must go out and make disciples in whichever way He has called us to serve (Matthew 20:27-28; 23:11; Mark 10:45; 1 Peter 4:10; Romans 12:9-13), always seeking the kingdom of God first (Matthew 6:33); preparing for our journey home.