“The Roanoke Valley is a great place to raise a family.” I hear that statement a lot. As a father to four children under the age of eleven, I couldn’t agree more. This is a great place to raise a family. If you ask people why they believe this is “a great place to raise a family,” you will get all sorts of reasons. Strong schools, slower pace, friendly people, low crime rate, affordable housing and on the list goes.
When I press people on the deeper question, “What kind of place is good for raising a family?” – it often comes back to living in a place with “good people.” I like that answer personally because, after all, I live here and I am a good person. I don’t disagree that our valley is filled with many “nice” people. My concern is that this is not necessarily a great thing for raising a family. In fact, it might even be a really dangerous thing. Let me explain.
Some years ago, Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse was serving as the pastor of a church in downtown Philadelphia. In a sermon in which Barnhouse speculated on what his town would look like if Satan ran the place he said, “if Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday . . . where Christ is not preached.”
Many of us in this valley attend church regularly; help out with the PTA or other civic groups. We coach sports teams and wave at our neighbors. All of those things do make for a “nice” place, but when it comes to “raising a family,” my primary desire is that my children trust in Christ and live for His glory all the days of their life. I want them to know the Lord Jesus and to make Him known.
Now as I read the Scriptures, what strikes me is how much of the Bible is written to disquiet the hearts and souls of very “nice,” moral, religious people. I am sure that it would have been said that Jerusalem was a “great place to raise a family.” Jesus seemed to go to great lengths to confront those who seemed to be the most comfortable. In fact, in Luke 5:31, Jesus declares, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” For Jesus, the best place to “raise a family” is a place that is filled with repentance.
The Apostle Paul builds on this idea when in Romans 2 he asks the moral and virtuous readers in Rome, “do you presume on the riches of [God’s] kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” That hits home for me because too often I presume, or take for granted, God’s kindness and patience towards me. I wonder how often my own “nice-ness” is simply presumption masquerading for something else. I model presumption before my children, going about my life too often never reflecting on and rejoicing in God’s great mercy to me through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in atoning for my sins. When I focus on that reality, repentance is the only possible and appropriate response.
So, don’t give me a “great place to raise a family” but rather help me to create a great community marked by repentance. I am raising my family in this valley, praying that through Jesus and the power of the gospel, it becomes a valley of repentance. I am seeking to make it so by beginning in my own heart, my own home and my own community. How about you, are you living a life of repentance or presumption? Are you seeking to create a great community marked by repentance or simply taking for granted it’s “a great place to raise a family?”
* – Column name taken from Luke 15:25-32
Ed Dunnington is the Senior Pastor at Christ the King Presbyterian in Roanoke, visit them on the web at ctkroanoke.org