The Need For Community

The Need For Community

Community isn’t always going to be readily available, but you won’t get through this life without needing it because God hasn’t designed us to function independently of the body of Christ. So if you can’t find a community, create one. Create a solution.

God's Work Outlives His Workers

The book of Judges opens with the five most powerful and chilling words of any other book in the Bible: After the death of Joshua… I love it because for many of us, death is a conclusion; however, in this case, death was merely an introduction to God’s continued work. God’s work always outlives His workers. The Bible is full of great little tidbits like this (that we often gloss over) in order to remind us that this book is a story about God, not us. One of the greatest military commanders in the history of Israel has five words written about his death. It’s not even a complete sentence. It’s a transition phrase that merely serves as the backdrop to move us along in the story.

A Sobering Reality

This is the way it’s been (for Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, etc.) and one day the same will be true of you. One day, your name will be preceded by the words “after the death of…” When this happens, there will be people that mourn for you; however, one day (and a lot sooner than you think) the mourning will end, life will go on, but more importantly God will still be hard at work in this world… without you. People will still seek God. If you’re a preacher, people will still be able to hear a “word from God” regardless if you (their favorite preacher) are gone.

A Sobering Relief

While this may sound morbid, it’s really a good thing for at least two reasons. First, there’s great comfort in knowing that God’s work will continue. Regardless of how much people are dependent on you right now, one day they will learn that God’s work is so much bigger than the part that you play in it. If they take God’s work for granted now because they’re enamored with you, we take relief in that one day they’ll see God a little clearer.

Second, this truth enables us to breathe a little freer today, knowing that as sure as God’s work will continue without you one day; even today, success isn’t dependent on your labor. Jesus has already guaranteed that God’s work in the world will be successful (see John 17:1-5). You and I merely get to play a part in it. A part. None of us are Atlas, tasked with the burden of carrying the world on our shoulders. We are free to fail, free to make mistakes, free to play our part in God’s story. Exhale and enjoy your day.

A Sobering Responsibility

If all of this is true, that God’s work will in fact outlive His workers, then our task is to live in light of this truth even today. The one thing that will be common for all of us is that when death knocks on our front door, it’ll feel like the friend that came to pick you up and you just got out of the shower. Very few of us will feel like we’re dressed, ready, and have accomplished everything that was on our plates.

Knowing that this will come soon and our lives will feel like they’re cut short, our responsibility is to prepare those that come behind us for life in this world without us. One day we will go, but people will have the same responsibility to God that we had while living: spending our lives to increase His fame in the world among those who don’t know Him or don’t care to know Him (which is often one in the same). Our lives are best spent preparing those who come behind us for life in the world without us.

In the opening of Judges, the rest of the first sentence is just as powerful as the introduction.

After the death of Joshua… the people of Israel inquired of the Lord.

Joshua was gone, but the people that lived on knew exactly what to do next. How are you doing that today?

Would your kids know how to navigate their relationship with God if today was the last day they had you to show them? How about your roommates? Your friends? Your spouse?

One day, they are going to have to navigate life in this world without you. Will God’s work continue in their lives? I hope that you’ll use today to ensure that it does.

Be Rooted in Family

"that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

– John 17:21-23

Jesus prayed that prayer for us. Let me say that again. Jesus prayed that prayer for us. He asked God to make us one in him. To unite us, so he could use us as a city on a hill, a light in the world of darkness, salt in a life of weak flavor, family in a species of broken relationships.

He prayed that we would be completely one. Other translations read perfectly oneperfected in unity, and brought to complete unity.

But when we look around, we know are clearly not completely unified. Did God decide not to answer his own prayer? If so, surely our prayers our doomed.

Of course not. Through his death and resurrection, Christ provided the answer to his own prayer. There is a constant paradox in the Christian life: the already/not yet. We are already justified in Christ, but not yet sanctified. We already have new life in him, but are not yet resurrected and glorified. We are already one in Christ, but not yet a perfectly unified family.

And we won’t be in this life. Because we’re human. It’s impossible to always be one when our tendency is to make ourselves the only one. But, as with many of the other not yets, God uses the reality of the already to push us toward the not yet. He desires for us to ache and claw and strive to be one, even while we are not yet one. God wants us to act like family, because that's what we are.

So we pray for oneness, for there to be unity in our churches and in the global Church. We pray that He would break down the walls that we've built– cultural differences, theological disputes, bitterness, and preferences. We pray for our eyes to be opened to see the needs, joys, and potential of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

But we don't want to just see our family. We want to engage them with love. We can't be afraid to step out and make amends or to begin a new friendship. We know sometimes we are going to feel alone. We know our efforts can be misinterpreted, ignored, or scoffed at. But our prayer is that God would help us endure, with courage and peace, knowing He is calling us to this oneness, and has already done the work of ultimately binding us together in Him.

Jon Foreman writes, “We struggle better than we salsa. The habit of the fight seems easy to explain: Dominance is easier to achieve than friendship; consumption is easier than love; and objectification is easier than empathy… all too often I’m distracted by the fight: sidelined by the little battles along the way.”

We are so easily distracted; we so often trade the eternal for the temporal. Love isn’t about agreeing with everything someone says. It’s not about a relationship status or mutual friends. Love isn’t a feeling or emotion. It’s a choice, a commitment, a change.

Jesus told us to love the poor, the lost, the sick, and the disenfranchised. But also he said the world is going to know we belong to him because we love one another. That should change everything about how we interact with others in the Church. In Christ, love is the essence of family. The Church is family.

"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

–John 13:35

We get some excellent descriptions of love throughout the Bible. Paul’s now famous lines in 1 Corinthians 13 are a good place to start. Love is patient, kind, doesn’t envy, isn’t selfish or egotistical, rejoices in truth, and more. But that's not all. The pages of Scripture practically leak love. Here are a few other passages that remind us how to love our Family:

"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?"

–1 John 3:16-17

"Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

–Romans 12:9-12

"And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'"

– Matthew 22:37-28

God is love (1 John 4:7-10). Without His love for us, we wouldn’t have a clue as to what it means to love. But He proved His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We know we fail at loving like He does, but we also know He gives us the inspiration and ability to love. We do love Him, even though we fail. And we want to love one another, even though we fail.

Let us love with abandon, without boundaries or conditions. Let us not just say we love, but let us show love to our brothers and sisters with our actions and our lives. Let us love those in the world, but let us also love one another with a ferocity that makes the world take notice. Let's ask God to teach us to love like He loves-- with the sacrificial, deep, eternal love that He lavishes so freely on us.

 

(Post adapted with permission from related posts on LauraCoulterwrites.com.)

Broken but Beloved

With this series, we want our blog to invite a spirit of confession & vulnerability that would define our community.

How did I get here?

Who am I?

Now what?

These are the questions I've been asking myself the past couple of days. Where is here? Embarrassed, ashamed, broken, contrite and wishing I could run away or sit in my room watching On Demand all day, so I don't have to deal with reality.  Reaping what I sowed and scared that my future doesn't look so bright anymore. How did I get here? Chasing satisfaction. Consciously and subconsciously. Embracing the tangible because I couldn't feel the invisible. And hiding from the light to keep my dark deeds hidden.

Who am I? Beloved. It cracks me up to hear Iyanla say this so often, but I've been reading a book that has me embracing the truth that I am loved. Trying to root my identity in the fact that the Creator—perfect, holy, and full of light—loves me: prideful, addictive, weak, sinful me. But let me not glaze over who I've been up until a few weeks ago. Someone once said that we make the most fuss about the things we're actually guilty of ourselves. Either we are intentional hypocrites or we think if we insist on the wrongness or rightness of something long enough we will actually get the memo we've been passing around to others. Arrogant and prideful either way. You've seen it: preachers and gospel artists ruined by affairs, the down-low population, and conservative politicians caught in scandals. I fell in the latter category: looking at specks and ignoring my plank. I've often acknowledged my wrongdoing inwardly, but rather than confessing it to others, I set out to cure myself or minimize my shortcomings thinking they'd go away. And I've been very protective of my golden child image. But that old Baptist pastor was right when he said, "You reap what you sow, more than you sow, and later than you sow." Or better yet, my mom's warning: "What's in you is gonna come out!"

It felt good to become a Christian in college. Not only did I think I had a Heavenly hook-up for my dreams to come true, but it rounded out my already well-rounded Cosby-kid life. Yet, believing that now there was the divine requirement for me to be perfect,  I went right into performance mode. What are all the do's and don'ts? Ok. Got em. But what happened when I did a don't?  Rather than prostrating myself on an altar, I developed an alter ego that was so righteous it made up for the wretch in me. What I didn't realize was that because that wretch was still in me, whether I acknowledged its presence or not, it was growing. I was feeding it in my darkest hours, and caging it when the sun came up. But it peeked out every now and then and broke loose this summer: every unchecked thought, every explicit visual, and all the lonely moments I'd ever filled with something or someone that I wasn't supposed to. They collided with my desires for childhood and adolescent friendship that would make me feel wanted, accepted and loved—sin was the result. My shiny car that had long been admired was totaled.

Here I am now—wrecked. I can't just patch myself up. I can't look at anyone else's dents to distract me from my own ruin. And I can't pretend that I don't need healing, because I've shown people my scars now. Scared and ashamed, I confessed to others my shortcomings and need for healing. There goes the image I worked so hard to construct. I feel so dumb. So exposed. Is this my true self? This person controlled by passion, emotion, desires and lust? Yes and no. Born sinners. We all are. And what I didn't get all these years was that God is not asking us to pretend like we're not. He's not asking us to fix ourselves up before we come to Him. He's pleading with us to see ourselves as people in need of redemption, so He can come in and do what He loves: make beautiful things out of dust. He doesn't want us to think we can muster up enough strength to overcome our dark pasts (and even the dark presents we find ourselves in) or earn our way into His grace. Nor does He want us to be independent of Him and others. He wants us to need Him, not because He needs attention but because He knows our hearts are restless until they rest in Him as Augustine confessed. Kinda makes sense. We were created by Him for intimate relationship with Him. Unfortunately, there's countless miles literally and spiritually between us. But He wants us back and has gone through great lengths to display His love. He's asking us to come out of hiding behind relationships, in closets, under sheets, in front of our computers, alone in our rooms, in the pews and in the pulpit and meet Him at the foot of the cross. He's been beckoning me to find all the love I've longed for in Him first and foremost. He's asking me to trust that all that I can feast my eyes on here and wrap my arms around is not all there is to life. What I see now are just shadows of something greater. There is more. But I have to fight to see it. And do whatever it takes to stay in the light as gravity works against me.

It's not easy though. No need for misconceptions or false expectations. And considering that we'll never reach perfection in this life and the world around us won't either, I have to accept that I will not live my best life now. He hasn't promised that. As one noted, "Every day with Jesus will not be  'sweeter than the day before.'  Some days with Jesus we are so sad we feel our heart will break open. Some days with Jesus we are so depressed and discouraged that between the garage and the house we just want to sit down on the grass and cry ... The reason David praised God with the words, 'He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul,' is because he had bad days."

What's the point then? Is ultimate satisfaction here and now to be found in my faith?  If not now, then why not instead pursue happiness and pleasure here the best I know how? Well, that's what I've been doing and today I'm farther from happy than I was when I began my pursuit. I'm seeing that nothing here lasts forever and there are consequences to the chase. Everything is fleeting, so once the pleasure fades and you come down off the high, the reality of what you sacrificed along the way sinks in. There's no turning back the hands of time. And there's no red carpet laid out just because you decide to move forward.

There's no easy way to travel the path that leads back to God. It's a narrow, humbling road, but I hear rest for the weary soul awaits now and forevermore. And the good news is that not only has He given us His son as the way to reconnect with Him, but He's given us His word so that we may know Him. Even more, He will bestow His spirit to guide us from within and wants to connect us with others journeying towards Him as well. Confessing to others was hard, but now I'm not alone in fighting sin. I had to realize that while others may not have had a tainted view of me as I kept my sin hidden, God knew who and what was behind the mask.

I've claimed Christianity for years and gone to church even longer, but I feel like I'm just starting down this rocky road. It's time for a new platform. Not one built on perfection. Instead, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power—the power I need to lift my head out of the rubble—may rest on me. Besides, I have nothing left to boast in.

All is Vanity.

This Is No Utopia

A few weeks ago, while closing his sermon, John prayed a prayer that I hope will change our church forever. Tucked inconspicuously in his prayer was this statement: “Father, send us the people no one else wants.” I mean, it sounds good. We are the church, and we should be a refuge for the broken and abandoned in our city. Our doors should be wide open to receive whoever comes, or more so, we should be out in the city trying our hardest to find them.

Since then, I’ve probably heard Dhati quote John’s prayer in every meeting I’ve been in and every time I’ve heard him speak. But I don’t think that it has penetrated his heart because it is a prayer that sounds good to champion. Quite the opposite, actually. I think this prayer hits home so hard, because, quite simply, we are not ready for this.

More than anything, such a prayer brings a lot of conviction. For instance, I’ve always wondered why there are very few, if any, young, single mothers in our church. Perhaps it’s a good thing and points to the uncommon number of strong men and strong families. Perhaps. But, part of me can’t help think it has more to do with the way single mothers would, or wouldn’t, fit into the social circles of our church. Small example, but it breaks my heart nonetheless, and makes me wonder: Are we even the people who would want the people no one else wants? And If God answered that prayer and started sending us the people that no one else wants, what in the world would we do?

I’m convinced that we have a habit of romanticizing everything. We sing songs of the beautiful flowing blood of Jesus. We write bars about being martyred. We hype up community, “getting it in” and “chopping it up”(as the young folks say). Ministry in the city is the sexiest thing happening right now and our favorite rappers are finally getting recognition for being legitimate artists. Life is good. Well, life is good if romantic ideals are good enough for you. And we want them to be good enough. Even in our passion for the city, I think we’ve created a romanticized expectation. It’s as if we mean that by successfully impacting Atlanta, there will be an end to sex trafficking, an end to homelessness, an end to abortion, an end to socio-economic disparity, an end to homosexuality, an end to divorce, an end to rape and molestation, an end to addictions, and an end to pain altogether. But, to be quite honest, our worldview makes no room for such shallow notions of utopia. The vices of our city are going nowhere. At least, not in this life. There is no romance in our mission. There is grace and there is darkness. We live in the paradox. We embrace, as good news, a faith that promises pain and suffering here. But that’s the whole point: This is not my home! This is no utopia. Yes, Jesus promises comfort. Yes, he promises peace and joy. But in those promises, there is the inherent assumption of discomfort, persecution, pain and sadness. Jesus, our hero, will indeed make it all right eventually. But here, now, we live in the thick of the wrong. We hurt. We weep. We are the people that no one else wants! And our call is to join together, constantly reminding one another of the hope we have in Jesus’s return.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6

We are beginning a new sermon series this week called utopia and our hope is that God would break our hearts to the point where we are, as a united church, willing to live in eager anticipation of being used to answer John’s prayer: To welcome into the body the people in our city that no one else wants. But that means taking care of some in-house issues and opening our eyes to the deep need for grace in our family right now. We hope that a new spirit of confession and vulnerability would define our community. We pray that we would stand firm in one Spirit, ministering grace amidst the deepest, darkest and most genuine pains of our family. It is our desire that we would strive side by side for this faith we cling to, carrying each other’s burdens. We pray that we would live knee-deep, together, in this beautiful mess we call life. We hope that grace would define everything about us, our current relationships with one another and the new relationships that God brings when He answers our prayer.

Father, give us the people no one else wants!

Hide No More

A few weeks ago, at Church in the Park, Muche delivered a powerfully compassionate message using Jesus' dealings with the woman at the well to point us towards Christ in our quests for satisfaction. At one point, as he continually repeated Jesus' words—"Go get your husband!"— to this Samaritan, I held back tears. I've never been married, or had a boyfriend for that matter, but I could imagine the emotions stirring within her. Earlier, Muche had captured the essence of the shame she must have carried with her by drawing attention to the time of day she'd come to the well and noting that she'd made that trip alone. She'd seemingly avoided all the disapproving stares of those who were aware of her five failed marriages and her current relationship, just to end up face-to-face with the son of God. Great. It's one thing for people to kinda know your business; it's another thing for someone to know every single one of your thoughts. Hiding no longer makes sense. But that's what we do. I know I have. Just like Adam and Eve in the Garden. Not that our attempts are ever really thought out—I mean can you really win a game of a hide and seek with Someone that has the ability to be everywhere at once? (It's like in scary movies when someone runs frantically to a room, locks themselves in, slowly backs away from the door and then gets a tap on the shoulder from the person they were running from. Busted.) Nevertheless, we run. We run away from people, run away from church, and even worse, we run away from God. But why? Fact: People—Christian or not—cannot always be trusted with knowledge of others' sin. We can be judgmental gossipers that show no grace or compassion. So, we run from people. Besides people, if you've read the Old Testament and all the specifications of the tabernacle and the veils, and the priests, etc., you may have developed this 'touch the steps of the church and you'll die' mentality. Then again, it's also where the judgmental gossipers are, so running from the church makes sense too. (Let's not forget perfectionists like myself who aren't running from gossipers, but just want to look perfect for self righteous reasons.) But why run from God?

"The spiritual life begins with the acceptance of our wounded self." -Brennan Manning

I recently read that line in a book I'm hoping will give me a much-needed, fresh perspective of God's love and desire to be in relationship with me. It struck me pretty majorly considering that I've told plenty of people that they don't need to get themselves together before they come to church, because God wants to change them from the inside-out. But obviously, I've just been passing along great song lyrics. I too run from God. I don't think of it that way, but I know for sure that up until recently, I didn't bring all my thoughts, fears, failures, weaknesses, etc. to God and cry out for his help to heal my brokenness. For one, I didn't realize just how wounded and in need of help I was (am), I'm prideful, and even in my weakest moments, just like the woman at the well, I am too embarrassed. Too much shame. But you wouldn't know it. Instead, I have "manufacture[d] a false self which is mostly admirable, mildly prepossessing, and superficially happy." But it seems I'm not alone. "We hide what we know or feel ourselves to be (which we assume to be unacceptable and unlovable) behind some kind of appearance which we hope will be more pleasing. We hide behind pretty faces which we put on for the benefit of our public. And in time we may even come to forget that we are hiding, and think that our assumed pretty face is what we really look like." (Simon Tugwell, The Beatitudes)

That is until you encounter Jesus and admit that you are thirsty. Desperate. Addicted. Needy. Lost without Him. Recently, I jotted down all my sinful thought patterns (topically, not trying to recall every single sin), actions I've been ashamed to confess, and the thoughts that I'd want no one to know have actually crossed my mind. I listed them in a letter to God that I concluded with "Help Me. Heal Me." I realized that, over time, the reality of all these flaws and failures, while not previously acknowledged to this magnitude, has made me not too happy about who I am. That means a deficit in the self-love department. I'd been taking a microscope to everything that's wrong with me and subconsciously, and at times consciously, hiding as much as I could from others. Thinking that everything always needs to look good—never let them see you sweat.

"But we cannot assume that [God] feels about us the way we feel about ourselves—unless we love ourselves compassionately, intensely and freely...It takes a profound conversion to accept that God is relentlessly tender and compassionate towards us just as we are—not in spite of our sins and faults (that would not be total acceptance), but with them. Though God does not condone or sanction evil, He does not withhold His love because there is evil in us" (Manning, p. 16).

I might have just accepted how much of a wretch I am, but He already knew it. And He still decided to love me and never stop loving me. There's no reason to run from that kind of God. And if we, as the Church, become those kind of compassionate people, there's no reason for people to run from us either.

Like the woman at the well, I don't want to thirst anymore. And I don't want to bring my broken cistern to another person for filling only to realize they too carry a cracked jar. But that means I must believe Jesus has living water. And not only does He have it, but that He only wants to expose my thirst so that I will ask Him for his endless supply. He doesn't want to embarrass me; He wants to satisfy me forever and ever. And amazingly, while there will be natural consequences to our sin and times we need to be restored, because we are in Christ, those sins don't ultimately disqualify us from being used by Him. Instead, I have found hope in realizing that Jesus came to heal the sick and to turn the sick into His healing aids in the lives of others. Or as Manning puts it, "In Love's service, only wounded soldiers can serve" (p. 25).

*Quotes taken from Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging by Brennan Manning

Deciding with others

You fall into one of three categories. You’re either preparing to make one.  You’re living in light of the consequences of one that you’ve made.  Or you’re rethinking one that you were convinced of at some point in time.  What am I talking about?  Decisions.  Major decisions.  Life-Shaping Decisions.

Decisions, Decisions

There are two inevitabilities in life as it relates to decisions (and major decisions at that). (1) You’re going to have to make major life-shaping decisions more often than you think, and  (2) no matter how confident you were when you made that decision, there’s going to come a point in time where you think that you made the wrong decision.  I can guarantee that even on the “right path," there are rocky roads.  At some point, the bottom is going to fall out, and the certainty that you had when you made the decision that you did is going to fade away.  What then?  What do we do when we’re doing what we’ve been “called to do” and things don’t turn out like “they should?”  How do we maintain the certainty of our call in the midst of calamity?

Well, we have to revisit the way that we go about hearing from God.  One of the great blessings God provides in this life is community, but in my experience I’ve seen that it’s been one of the most neglected of all of God’s gifts when it comes to decision making.  We tend to view other people as individuals that will stand in the way of our happiness instead of tools that God has provided to ensure our holiness.  They’re neglected and not viewed as necessities as it relates to hearing clearly from God.

In light of that, I have a confession to make.  I’m biased.  I’m very partial when it comes to me and what I want to do.  So much so that I can rationalize a terrible decision and even use the Bible to make it sound like this is something that God wants me to do.  The worst part about it is that I’m so biased to myself that I don’t even know when I do it all the time.  If you’re honest, I would imagine that you’re the same way.  But, what we all have to come to realize is that we see that confidence we once had in our decision transform into confusion when the bottom falls out.

Wisdom in Community

There’s a proverb that is repeated three times in the Bible, because I think that we need to hear it at least that many times before we even begin to pay attention to it’s importance.

Proverbs 11:14 – Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 15:22 – Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 24:6 -  For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in an abundance of counselors there is victory.

There’s wisdom in community.  God’s wired us to be interdependent, and I think that he’s left us biased and partial to ourselves to remind us that we need other people to speak into our lives when we’re making major decisions that affect us.

Community is a great safeguard and a tool to spur us on into action.  Think about it.  Have you ever been in a movie theater and you misheard what someone said?  Ever tried to receive instructions from someone and you have a hard time understanding what they’re saying? What’s the first thing that you do if there’s someone else around that you trust?  You turn to that person and ask them, “Did he just say…?”  You ask someone who has the same access to the information that you do if they heard what you heard.  It’s likely that one person can misunderstand something that’s said.  When you increase the number of trustworthy people and scrutinize what they’re hearing and you all come to the same conclusion, there is more confidence going forward that you heard correctly.  The same is true when we’re seeking to hear from God in decision making.  You put a whole bunch of people that are directing their thoughts and attention towards God (and have access to the same information—the Scriptures) and your chance for success skyrockets.  This brings an amazing confidence and security that you can’t necessarily achieve in isolation.

For those of us that are apprehensive in doing what God has called us to do and are likely to constantly shrink back when times get hard, having a community that has been convinced of our call can spur us on to continue.  For those of us that are overly ambitious and think we have to take advantage of every opportunity for greatness, this same community can be a great protection from our ambition and pull us back when we’re running full speed in the wrong direction. Community isn’t something to be neglected. It’s an absolute necessity when making major, life-shaping decisions.

Labor to hear from God & invite others to scrutinize

Informing people of decisions you’ve already made isn’t the same thing as inviting them in to help make those decisions.  One almost always leads to heartache, pain, and uncertainty when the bottom falls out.  The other almost always leads to the courage and strength that enables you to persevere when the bottom falls out.  Communal consensus can be a great tool to help you push through the obstacles that lie ahead to ultimately see the opportunities that are only made visible by perseverance.

Don’t make major decisions in isolation.  Labor to hear from God and quit leaning on your own personal biases.  Invite others in.  Invite other people that aren’t just centered on giving their two cents, but invite others that will labor to hear from God.  Remember that God speaks clearly and freely through His Word.  A community centered on hearing about God from His Word is perhaps the best resource to confidently determine God’s calling.

I pray you never make another major decision the same way again.

Expansion & Excavation

My name is John, and I’m a pendulum swinger.  I don’t mean to be, it kind of just happens.  I live in a constant state of FOMO or fear of missing out. Maybe you’re like me.  Maybe you are perfectly content doing something and then you see someone else talk about an activity (that couldn’t be more unlike what you’re currently doing) and you feel like you’re missing out on something.  So you, like me, drop everything that you’re doing because you don’t want to miss out.  There’s so many arenas that this takes place in life, from workout plans to diets to hobbies—you name it.  Somebody always has advice on what we “should” be doing that makes us feel like we’ve been wasting our time.  So, we scrap what we’re currently doing and start from scratch. Lately, as we’ve been going through the book of Acts as a church, uncovering the history of the church, I’ve felt this pressure in evangelism.

Lately, it feels like this term missionality has been exclusively defined as “meeting new people.”  Missionality, then, is really all about expansion.  I feel this internal pressure to spend all of my free time meeting strangers, or people who I don’t yet have a close relationship with. But I’ve seen a huge problem with this. As a pastor, I have a full-time job and other obligations when I get off work.  Simply put, I don’t have the relational bandwidth to make new friends every week.  More than that, even if I do make new friends every week, they won’t be my friends for long if they are constantly replaced with newer friends with whom I’m trying to be missional.

Even though I know this truth on the inside, I still feel “guilty” when I’m not meeting new people, because I feel like I’m not doing what I “should be doing.”  I feel like I’m missing out on something, and I hate that feeling.  You probably hate that feeling too.  So, you do what I do—you swing the pendulum and become fully immersed in building “new relationships”.  That is, until you realize that there comes a point where expansion by itself becomes counterproductive.   Sooner or later you’re going to realize that you’re missing out on helping these new friends grow deep in their faith.  When this time comes, my prayer is that you learn from your mistakes like I have.  Here’s the truth, when you always live in a state of fearing what you’re missing, you’re never able to be fully invested in what’s right in front of you.  If you spend all of your time feeling guilty about the stuff that you’re not doing that you “could” be doing, you’ll never fully give yourself to what you “should” be doing right now.

Pendulum swinging affects our perspectives as well as our practices

If missionality is only about meeting new people and expanding God’s kingdom numerically, then you’re perspective on the book of Acts is going to be extremely one-dimensional.  You’ll focus on the expansion of the message to the neglect of the excavation of the same message in the lives of the people that come on board.  In Acts, the church grows both deep and wide.  There’s both expansion and excavation (digging deep).  We usually leave off the larter part and disregard that aspect of God’s mission.  A quick survey of the book will show you that as often as God’s people meet new people, they remain with them for many days, weeks, even years to make sure that they’ve got it (Acts 9:43; 10:48; 14:3, 28; 15:35; 17:14; 18:3, 11, 18; 19:22; 20:6; 21:4; 25:6, 14).

What that means is that we’re constantly going to exist in a tension between the two.  A good friend always says, “This tension isn’t meant to be solved it’s meant to be managed.”  We don’t need to feel guilty because we’re giving more attention to one at a particular season of our lives.  If God has granted you favor and you have many significant relationships with people who are open to learning about who God is, it may be a good season for you to spend some time with them unpacking who God is.  You may have to “stay with them a great many days.”  Don’t be concerned with what you’re “missing out on”; rather be fully invested where you are. Take full advantage of the season that God has placed you in.  It’s impossible for you to do two things at once, so we’re always going to be “missing out” on something.

Corporate Mission – We can do two things at once

The great comfort that we have in remaining fully invested in the season that we’re in is the fact that this is a collective effort. The beautiful thing about really being “missional” (accomplishing God’s mission) is that God intends for his mission to be carried out by a collective group.  While individually we can’t expand and excavate at the same time, we can do it collectively.  In Acts 17:14, as Paul was getting ready to move on and meet new people, he urged Timothy to stay behind.  He understood that priority needed to be given to introducing people to Jesus and ensuring that people that met him have a right view of Him.  I doubt Paul or Timothy felt guilty about where they were investing their time because they were confident that the other side was being taken care of.

Hear me, this is not an attempt to absolve you of responsibility or justify the lazy.  This is not an attempt to pigeonhole anyone into a role.  We are commanded to do both—regardless of if you’re an introvert or an extrovert.  My hope is that as you find yourself moving in and out of the worlds of expansion or excavation that you would do it with all of your strength and unnecessary guilt wouldn’t make you ineffective.

Now, time to get to work.

Why not?

The harvest is plentiful. I get it. But I got it last summer when I was a kounselor at KAA and encountered teenagers in need of the hope of the Gospel. (Yes, we spell kounselor with a 'k' there, among other things.) It gripped me. There's a world full of people who don't know Jesus. They do not have a relationship with the greatest love of all. They are existing, but they are far from living. I even came back home after that epiphany, which followed a trip to Guatemala where the global need for Christ and the vanities of my life in this country were realized, motivated to live an intentionally missional life. I wanted to share with everyone I could, because I'd realized how many people are in need of the Good News.

But then reality sunk in—the kamp experience is not the real world experience. Kids came to a Christian camp, so they knew what they were getting into. Whether they wanted it or not, they knew what we were going to be giving out. But outside those gates, being missional could and would likely mean sharing truth with people who didn't sign up to hear it. Uhh awkward. So, I decided that sharing with strangers was a kamp thing, not something to be emulated in real life. Right? I should just focus on the three or four people in my life who already have some desire for God but need help growing in their relationship with Him. And that may have been exactly where my focus should have been the past couple of months and exactly where yours should be now. I think too often we apply our personal convictions that the Spirit has placed within us onto others and end up creating a culture of performance where people either think they're doing well or performing poorly. (I know I do it to others, unfortunately, quite often.) I'm discipling people, so I'm representing team Jesus well, or I'm condemning myself for being a lazy Christian. Either way the focus is on us.

What if, instead, we looked at Jesus and those in the scripture who identified as His followers not prescribe what fulfilling the Great Commission should look like for every person, but to be challenged, encouraged and inspired by their lives? Sunday, Dhati revealed that for the next 90 days he was going to share his testimony and/or the Gospel at least once a day. That was an act of discipline he chose to enforce in response to going through Acts and seeing that time after time the apostles were out sharing their faith. But his commitment could have landed on your heart as though if you don't do that too, then you're not a devoted Christian. It could have elevated him to some level of piety in your mind that you don't have. But it shouldn't have done that. Man's endeavors are not what we should compare ourselves to in order to determine what Christ thinks of us. So, let's take that weight off and instead ask ourselves what I did when I decided to travel with others to Guatemala last year to build a well and share about the living water. Why not? That's why I went. Why not? Going or staying would not make me more or less righteous in the eyes of God. But if there is a need, why not volunteer to be a part of the crew going to meet that need? Often times if we hear a message repeatedly, it becomes fear mongering and our guilt for not responding to the message leads everywhere but into action.

But what if you didn't have to think you were not doing enough as a Christian in order to start doing something? (That is of course if you are dedicated to loving God and loving people, and love is already an action to you.) What if, instead, you read the words of Jesus and examined His life not to tell yourself to start doing more stuff to look like Him, but to see Him for being all that you never could be and worship Him for that? And as you look at how His life was and is the epitome of loving God and loving people, the Good News of the Gospel just might fill you up to go out and share that with others.  As a staff, we accepted the week-long challenge from Dhati of going out and sharing our faith. And yesterday, after having a three-hour long conversation with two universalists (one who identified as an angel) and an hour-long conversation with a Muslim Monday in Little 5, all I can think is why not?

If there are people right down the street from me who don't know my Lord and Savior or need hope or need prayer, why not take time to talk to some of them every day? What is more important? Maybe I can't do 1pm-4pm every day, but if I encounter at least one person, why not tell them about Jesus or ask them can I pray for them or tell them my testimony? Really, why not? The apostles had seen something they couldn't shut up about. Don't I have the Holy Spirit, a witness to all they saw and heard, living on the inside of me? Should I go out and share my faith every other day this week, the next week, the weeks after? Why not go out and share like the apostles did in Acts?

Well, I know why I changed my mind about doing that last August when I returned home. I lacked the solo initiative to talk to strangers. I was surrounded by kounselors and staff last summer who planned to share Jesus all day, every day and did right beside me. But that wasn't waiting for me when I returned. If my missional community would have said they wanted to go out regularly, I would have gladly joined in. It would have become my way of life. Am I blaming my MC? Absolutely not. While going out with someone else is wise, if I'm honest, I didn't press the issue enough to anyone. It all came down to fear and comfort. And those are two very real struggles, with the latter being something that I believe comes with being an American. (Regardless of how intense our struggles feel, they're still mainly first-world problems.) And fear, well, I couldn't imagine talking to the same people a group of us spoke to these last two days by myself. I just wouldn't have done it. I probably would not have even made it to those difficult conversations. After the first person rejected a request to pray for them (that happened a couple times), I probably would have talked myself out of the whole thing. But I was with two other people who experienced the same rejection on Monday. And yesterday, I wasn't the only one being told that I was not as enlightened as these universalists. I shared those experiences with my brothers and sister and knew that even in the face of opposing beliefs, we were unified in the truth. So, we persisted.

I'm not saying I don't need to pray for courage and boldness to act when it's just me (I do, and I will), but I am saying there is strength in numbers. Think about how many other people walked by us today as we were sharing with just two guys for three hours? If 10 of us were able to talk to a handful of people, imagine how many people could hear the Good News if 20 of us went out. Or 50. Or 100. If you've never shared your faith with anyone, yes, you should examine why you haven't. You might even need to feel convicted about that. But conviction should never lead to condemnation; it should always lead to the cross. And if you don't go out regularly and talk to strangers about Jesus, I'm not proposing the same conviction. I'm also not saying you are any less Christian. I'm just asking you to ask yourself the same question that I will continue asking myself—why not?

Forgive me for asking

For the past few weeks, hmm maybe months, I’ve been wrestling with something inside. My friends can attest to it, because just about once every week I’m venting to one of them about it. I even read some articles that communicated much of what I was dealing with (Anthony Bradley and Jasmine Baucham), but not exactly.  I do feel like an emphasis on discipleship and exposing our comfortable Christianity were necessary books and speeches written and given by David Platt and others, but I don't think we've heard enough of the perhaps less radical messages to give us a healthy tension. So, I feel trapped in the thinking that I have to share Jesus everywhere in everything. I wanted to come to some amazing, John Piper-inspired conclusion about it, but I can’t. I didn’t want to keep questioning God or other people, but I know that God (at least) can handle my questions—even if it means He’ll just respond with even better ones like he did to Job (was that not the finest sarcasm ever?). So, please God, forgive me for asking… But can I just live a normal life?

I love you, I do, but that’s not enough it seems.

Do I have to tell everyone I meet about You, otherwise I’m failing at the mission?

I used to share the truth of Your word freely, but now it feels like a responsibility.

I used to spend time with other believers regularly, because I wanted to and knew I experienced You more fully around them than by myself. But now I feel like I have to.

I can't even genuinely talk and listen to an unbeliever without thinking that I've got to share my faith with them. Soon and very soon. But I can't even remember where they said they were from. Is that okay? Is that loving them?

If I don’t knock on my neighbors’ doors and tell them about Your love, do I not love them either?

If I don’t tell the girl I just met not too long ago that she’s not actually a Christian, am I avoiding conflict?

If I write a blog for a secular site and don’t find a way to mention You in it, am I selling out?

But then again, if nothing is more important than people having a relationship with You, should that be my focus all the time?

Or does that require a calling to ministry?

Is it possible that I could actually be doing what You want me to do despite hearing message after message and reading blog after blog about people not being missional enough?

Where is the encouragement?

But, hmm, is there a way to encourage the congregation and still prevent us from getting comfortable?

Can I read the book of Acts and applaud those brave men, but not think I have to go to Little Five Points and stage a Day of Pentecost?

Then again, why won’t I go? Why don’t we plan to do that one Sunday instead of gathering in a building? (Minus the flaming tongues part.)

Why don’t we just take a day to go evangelize?

Oh, yeah. That’s not discipleship. We have to build relationships first, right?

Have we dissected Your word too much?

What did the disciples daily lives, post-ascension, look like?

Were they always sharing with everybody?

Were you honored the same by the early Christians going to work and working hard?

They didn’t have tv, so did they have less distractions?

Do you give us grace for all the distractions around us?

Then again, where does eat, drink, and be merry fall into the call to make disciples?

Am I the only one that’s only been eating and drinking (peach tea), but not experiencing the merry in the mission?

Sometimes, I wish I could just do what I love and talk about who I love the most as I go and know that I’m on the right path without having to think about it so much. Is that possible?

I know that’s what some of my friends do, but why don’t I feel the freedom to do that?

Why do I even question whether they’re doing enough?

Am I trying to earn a few missionary patches on my heavenly robe that’s up there waiting on me?

Am I confusing Christianity with competition?

Do you actually want more from me, and I can't tell if it's conviction from the Spirit or from man?

Do I love you the way Scripture says I should?

Yes. Some days more than others.

Is Jesus my treasure?

Yes.

Do I love people?

Yes, but sometimes I do love myself more.

Does your Spirit live in me?

Yes. Sorry for acting like it didn’t last week. (And a billion other times.)

Am I surrounded by other people who love Jesus and are wiser than me and can challenge me?

Yes.

Do I talk about You and want to make disciples?

Yes.

Is the spreading of the Gospel solely dependent on me?

No.

Do You expect me to be Paul?

No. You expect me to be me and do what You want me to do. I think.

Does that mean that two believers’ missional lives can look different and one isn’t wrong or better?

Can I just rest in knowing that?

I think You’re screaming, “Yes!”

Will you finish the work you started in me regardless of my confusion?

Yep.

If I'm supposed to go to Nineveh, will you make sure I end up there?

Ha. I bet.

Have I been trying to be the perfect Christian and earn your grace?

Yes.

Does that sound noble but actually dumb since grace is something I don’t deserve?

I think you just laughed.

So, you’re telling me that I’ve been overthinking all of this?

Have I read too many books, articles, and sermon transcripts and not lived enough years to process them all?

Did you just smirk?

Ok, last question.

Did You see that Warriors’ game last night?

Woo! Wait- but you knew they would lose, so could you even enjoy it?

Oh snap! What’s it like to know…

Just kidding.

“Love God. Love people. And do whatever else you want.”- Dhati Lewis

I’m going to try that approach...again.

So, help me God.

Ugly People Hate Mirrors

Being a member of the Blueprint family for the past three years has been an incredible blessing for me. One of the primary things that the Lord has taught me is the importance of the community’s role in my growth as a believer. I’ve heard Dhati hammer the point home on countless occasions: Community exists for the purpose of sanctification. Makes sense. I mean, you can’t really exercise the gifts of the Spirit alone, and you certainly can’t bear the fruit of the Spirit alone.

This is one of those statements that sounds really good on paper (Yeah, lets challenge each other and grow closer to Jesus!) but gets pretty messy once you actually try and do it. Being merciful when you’ve been wronged is not easy. Giving cheerfully when you’re broke? Not easy. Longsuffering? It is as unpleasant as it sounds. But that is the reality. For whatever reason, God in His wisdom has ordained the community as the primary environment for discipleship and spiritual growth. And within this community, marriage is set apart with special significance.

Marriage is the most intimate relationship that two adults can share. My wife sees aspects of my character that other people would never have the opportunity to witness. Because of this, marriage exposes, more than any other relationship, our own sin and deficiency. I don’t want to sound as if marriage is not a wonderful blessing, full of joy and happiness as well. It most certainly is. But I always have an audience to serve through the Spirit; there is always someone there in need of gentleness, goodness and love. In marriage, there is constant opportunity for growth and sanctification, even when I don’t feel like taking advantage of it.

Constant opportunity. That is one thing that the Holy Spirit has been confronting me with lately. Probably more than in any other season of my life since He first drew me to Himself. God has been exposing deep levels of sin and selfishness in my heart, and He has been doing it constantly. And if I am honest, it has been one of the more frustrating experiences of my life. At every turn, it seems, I have been making mistakes, failing to meet expectations, losing patience and succumbing to discouragement.

Ugly People Hate Mirrors

At the same time, my wife has been feeling that I haven’t been genuinely enjoying her presence lately. She wonders why she gets the least of my patience; she laments how I seem to run to everyone’s rescue at work, but not notice her struggles; and questions why my attention defaults to my phone, tv or the computer. I typically deny any legitimacy to her claims, but I’m realizing that it is just that—denial. And she’s right. She does get the least of my patience, creativity and energy. I'd been struggling to see the correlation for a while. If I’m frustrated at work by my shortcomings, I just try harder. If I’m discouraged because things didn’t work out the way I had planned with family, I just make up some way to rationalize the failure. But then it hit me: None of these failures really expose the depths of my heart. Sure, they cause the facade that I’ve built to fall apart, but it wasn’t really me anyways. In my marriage, though, when I fail my wife, it is a failure at the core of who I am. And it explains so much as to why my demeanor and affections toward her would change. Simply put, ugly people hate mirrors.

What I mean is this: people who struggle with body image don’t typically sit in front of the mirror, gazing proudly into their own reflection. No, they avoid the mirror at all costs—hating to be reminded of their reflection, hating to see their flaws and the blemishes that they think make them ugly. And in our marriage, my wife is my mirror.

If God uses marriage to sanctify us, then my wife is the primary tool that God has been using to expose my sin.

Poor thing. She wasn’t/isn’t the problem, I am. It’s not that she follows me around criticizing everything that I do, either. She doesn’t. But it’s as simple and practical as this: Deana needs me to lead her spiritually, to pray with her and guide her in the Word. She should need that from me, and I don’t do it. And when I see the effect my failure in leadership has on her faith, her ability to hope, and her overall temperament, it makes me want to retreat. It doesn’t make me want to draw closer to her, because in my twisted thinking, she is the reason why I keep falling short. If her hurt reminds me of my failure, it is no wonder why I tend to withdraw my affection. That’s obviously not fair to her, and I unfortunately don’t have a solution.

So my prayer is this, that the Holy Spirit would protect her from my selfishness and give me the grace to lead and love her. I pray that as he exposes my sin, He would also give hope and a confident expectation of change and growth. I pray that He would inhibit me from accusing Deana of being the cause of my sin, but force me to accept the fact that my sin is my own and to fight it daily. I pray that if Deana is to be a mirror in our relationship, the reflection would be that of Jesus and not of myself. And as He exposes my own sinfulness I hold  to 1 John 3:2,3 as my hearts cry:

 but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Talking to Strangers

How do I say hi? To answer, I posed the question to MizChatty, an experienced conversationalist (and fictitious persona).

This is what MizChatty says: "Start with Goodbye." "Yes, That's what I said. You heard me. Let me explain."

"When I was a teen I noticed most of the other teens looked like this:"

"Then again, I probably looked like them too."

"I like fun; so, what do I do? I had to say 'Goodbye' to: Do they like me? Do they think I'm pretty? Am I funny? Can I impress them?"

to get them to look like this:

"And then the fun started!"                                                                                                                          

"By asking questions about THEM that couldn't be answered with YES or NO. Questions like: Where do you live? What is your dog's name? Why? What kinda music do you like? What is your favorite subject? Why? How's your day so far?"

So that's what  MizChatty says.

How do you say hi?

By saying Goodbye to

YOU.

Some Slightly Misanthropic Thoughts On Community

I typically read the first paragraphs of most Christian non-fiction with qualms I am only now admitting I have. “I’m a little fragile,” I say to the book, “Can I trust you not to mislead or condemn or discourage me?” (This is more than a little ironic when you consider that I write Christian non-fiction for a living.) It’s not that I’m unteachable. I daily open the Word and welcome its nigh-unto-impossible instructions, but the writer of biblical words is a trustworthy God who is full of mercy and grace. Human writers are just so… so human. So when I picked up Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together (Gemeinsames Leben) the other day, it was a small act of daring. It seemed like a book I had to read. Because, as we all know, community is a big deal these days. And I agree that it should be. But I find it more elusive every year. Dangerous, even, because straining toward a common goal is always unpredictable among a group of people who may or may not have much else but the goal in common.

Community is one of those things it looks like everyone has but you. My friends who read this probably have the idea that I myself am so busy living in community I don’t have time for them. The truth is, time is perhaps the deadliest in an arsenal full of weapons against community. In our city, depending on the time of day and the weather, it can take an hour to get anywhere. Most of us have jobs, kids, neighbors, friends, and, to be honest, TV shows we like to watch, books we want to read, trails we want to run or gyms we want to visit somewhat regularly. We have services to attend, groceries to buy, and gas to pump. Lawns to mow in the summer and gutters to clean in spring. We might even need a nap every now and then. There is not enough time in one day for it all.

And what about the people who are not part of our faith communities? Don’t we owe them some of the precious commodity of our time? The lost, the poor, the widow, the alien, the orphan. What about them? Are they enemies of community? Well, yes, if by community we mean gathering for solace and support with other believers. (Now you understand that by “enemy” I don’t necessarily mean evil.)

Time and space and priorities and life itself make community difficult, but we still need to figure out how to do it. So I opened Living Together poised to take it like a grown woman, to hear Bonhoeffer’s wisdom and heed his advice even if it seemed hard. I would not flinch.

Chapter One opens with the ideal:

“How good and how pleasant for brothers to dwell together in unity.” (Psalms 133:1)

We used to have a ceramic plate with this verse painted on it. A friend made it for us to commemorate the birth of our second son. I put it in an easel on the dresser in his room, all propped up and pretty just like my belief that our two sons would epitomize the message painted in baby blue on the plate. I have no idea where it is now. It disappeared, just like my sentimental delusions about having perfect children. Gone. The plate did not shatter during a fight between those same boys or their brothers, although that could have happened. I didn’t stick it in a drawer in a fit of despair. Our boys’ bedrooms simply outgrew it. It was a baby gift, after all. So I wondered: If this is all Bonhoeffer has to say about community, I’m not sure I can stomach it. Sure, it’s good and pleasant when we are all in the same room, and even better on the same page, but what about those times when we’re not?

Thankfully, Dietrich quickly moved on to Zechariah 10:9 and Deuteronomy 28:25, verses which, rather than paint a picture of perfect (unattainable) community, define all of Christendom as a “scattered people.” I was instantly set at ease. Here was an adjective I understood. There is an ideal—unity—and there is a reality—scattered. We experience community in the tension between these two.

Bonhoeffer wrote Gemeinsames Leben while teaching illegally at a clandestine seminary in Finkenwalde, Germany. When he wrote, “It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing,” he spoke of his own future. Less than a decade later, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at a Gestapo concentration camp.

Perhaps we should consider community, first, as an undeserved gift, like grace. Something more tenuous than tangible in terms of our own ability to capture and preserve it. Then, only when we are filled with gratitude for the “physical presence of other Christians,” can we really learn to live together in community. I fear we analyze our own communities and find them lacking far more than we burst into fits of gratitude for the miracle of having them at all.

I think I trust Dietrich, and I’m going to finish his book. He affirmed the truth that “Christian brotherhood is a divine reality,” and he understood what it was like to be a “scattered seed according to God’s will.” That means he would have understood us. I know this is a stretch. The reasons we find community elusive have nothing to do with an oppressive government or the threat of imprisonment or even death, but our reasons, like Dietrich’s, do have to do with the fact that we are each but a breath, that our lives are as unsubstantial as grass. None of us is hardy enough to do community without some guidance. I’m only on Chapter Two, but I am going to let Dietrich Bonhoeffer tell me about what it means when we scattered seeds, who most days feel like we live “alone in far countries,” gather to do gemeinsames leben.

Ready.Set.Wait.

Go. We go to work. We go to class. We go to the movies (if we can still afford to). We’re always going somewhere it seems. If we’re not, then the assumption is that we’re lazy. Motion equals purpose in most of our minds. Or, in the Christian context, it means we’re on mission. Jesus told us to “go and make disciples” and Francis Chan warns us not to “make excuses.” Everything seems to fall on us going.

But what about waiting? When’s the last time you were encouraged or had that often prayed for, yet (just as often) rarely attainable peace in waiting? Most encouragement to wait usually surrounds talks about purity and singleness.  Beyond that, who really waits anymore? You have a dream; make it a reality! You want to try something new; do it today! Tomorrow isn’t promised; so, get going!

While waiting can be counterproductive, in Acts 1 we find that everything seemed to fall on the apostles not going (just yet), but instead waiting.

And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:4-5 ESV)

They were eager. They’d witnessed the resurrection of the dead. They’d seen more than enough to keep sharing! Why wait?

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

Waiting meant not going and relying on their own abilities now that Christ was physically leaving, but gaining the power of God in the form of the Holy Spirit. They needed to wait on something better. But let the record show, their waiting was not to be a static, do nothing at all in the meantime kind of waiting.

And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10-11 ESV)

Imagine watching someone disappear before your very eyes. Or maybe more realistic to us, consider when the unexpected happens in your life. The abruptness leaves you stagnant. For the apostles, while it wasn’t time to go anywhere physically, the time was ripe for them to do something:

All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. (Acts 1:14 ESV)

While they waited, with undoubtedly tons of questions in their hearts, the apostles gathered with others to pray. And their waiting was not in vain. It turned out to be the difference between the 120 brothers in the faith at the opening of Acts 1 and the 3,000 at the close of Acts 2 only days later. Waiting, in this case, was the most productive thing they could have done.

God, grant us the wisdom to discern the best course of action in our own lives. May your Holy Spirit direct us when to go and when to actively wait.

 

New Service

  It’s been amazing to see the faithfulness of God over the past 3 and a half years that Blueprint Church has been in existence in the city of Atlanta.  From 30 people meeting in a living room in the summer of 2009, to watching the seats fill up at 2 services every Sunday, hearing the countless stories of how God is unleashing people to do ministry where life exists in our neighborhoods, our city, our country and even our world (through members that live in the city as well as those that have been sent overseas as missionaries) we are humbled by the amazing work God has done in and through us as a church.  We are just as thankful for YOU—the amazing family that God has created at Blueprint Church.

As the gospel has been changing people and people have been changing and impacting the city, we’ve started to run out of space in our facility downtown—which is a great problem to have.  Two services are no longer able to fully accommodate all of the people that are coming.  With that being said, after much prayer and consideration, we are happy to announce that we will be adding a third worship service on Sundays.  Beginning March 3rd , Blueprint Church will be offering a 9am service in addition to our newly adjusted service times of 10:30am and 12:30pm services.  “Hello Word” (our ministry to the kids) will be running at full capacity during all 3 services.

After considering a number of options, we believe 9 AM works out the best for our church for a number of reasons.  First, by keeping all 3 of the services in the morning, we ensure that each service is just as family friendly as any other service. Also, by adding a service in the morning as opposed to the evening, we reduce the strain on our current volunteers and leave the afternoon uninterrupted so that you are freed up to engage neighbors, co-workers, and even first time visitors to Blueprint. With all of that considered we would invite all of our members and regular attenders to partner with us a few ways.

(1) PRAY.  Pray that God would continue to bless the gathering of his people and the preaching of Word.  As we attempt to make the message of the Bible plain, pray that people would meet Jesus in a very real way.

(2) ATTEND.  If you are able to attend this 9 AM service we ask that you would make this your primary service, in order to make room for those visitors who would come to one of our morning services.  Historically, the 10:30am and 12:30pm services are the time where the highest percentage of visitors come.  We want to do our best to accommodate those who God sends our way.

And Lastly,

(3) SERVE. An additional service is just that…another opportunity for us as a church to serve the community and people that God brings to us.  We as a church believe deeply the words of Jesus when he says “it is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).  We would invite you to join with us in this opportunity. (Email serve@blueprintchurch.org for more info)

Grace and peace,

John Onwuchekwa Teaching Pastor, Blueprint Church

 

What Does Racial Healing Look Like?

A Georgia State Senator recently filed Senate Resolution 28, a statement of “remorse” over our state’s part in slavery. Detractors argue that it is too little too late, that it should—but doesn’t—use the word “apologize.” Supporters are grateful Georgia is finally doing what other Southern States have done and are officially acknowledging the grave errors of our past. Which has got me to wondering about racial healing. What does it really look like? A legislative action?

I wonder how we heal. Or, in my own experience, how I have healed. How have my relationships and my attitudes and my soul healed? How have I evolved from a white, privileged, suburban (I don’t live there now, but I grew up there) woman with a confusing legacy of racial open-mindedness in a world that looked just like Jackson, Mississippi, in The Help into a… well, I’m not sure what I am except that I am not that anymore.

Several years ago Bill and I went to the MLK Center in our city for the first time. We marveled that we’d never paid any attention to this treasure. The first thing we did, as the compliant museum-goers we are, was watch a short film about Dr. King’s life that left me in tears even though I knew most of the story and had read, in their context, most of the quotes that flashed on the screen. As I made my way out of our row, a black woman about my age stopped in the aisle and looked at me. I glanced back and smiled at her. She took a step toward me and I took a step toward her. We embraced.

Actually, she grabbed me in a bear hug, released me, and said, “That just seemed like the appropriate thing to do.”

I couldn’t have agreed more. We talked and discovered we were, indeed, the same age. She wanted me to know she had never had any rancor toward my race, that she had never participated in or experienced any of the extreme hatred we’d just seen in the film. I told her the same. We talked about bussing and integration in our hometowns in the ‘60s and ‘70s. We even talked about white and black cheerleaders. (Is there any question which were the most talented back then?) We formed a little friendship right there.

Is that what racial healing looks like? A high school reunion?

Around fifteen years ago Bill pastored a somewhat racially mixed church in a thoroughly racially mixed community. We hosted a “racial reconciliation” group in our home. We read a book (like Malcolm X and Black Like Me) and watched a movie (like To Kill a Mockingbird and Schindler’s List) as homework each month and then discussed them. It was nice. Informative, too.

Is that what racial healing looks like? A seminar?

I’m sure these things—laws passed, hugs exchanged, conversations moderated—have helped us to heal. But if I look at my own life, there is one element that has all but erased the scars of the past.

Leadership. The white, evangelical church has finally begun to lead its people toward racial healing, even though, like our lawmaker’s resolutions, their decrees and apologies have been scandalously inadequate and behind schedule. Even so, we’ve held discussions and we’ve embraced. We’ve written books and produced films. Better yet, we’ve opened up our doors. But because these efforts have been made at the initiative of white leaders, they allow us to keep—as usual—the upper hand.

Is that what racial healing looks like? Benign majority rule?

When I talk about leadership, I’m not talking about a white man or woman leading the way in racial harmony. I’m talking about a black man or woman leading white men and women. I can’t help but ask myself and others like me: We can apologize, but can we follow?

My husband is a former pastor who now follows the leadership of our black pastors. Given our age and our backgrounds, we find this healing. I honestly don’t think our pastors, Dhati, John, James, or Muche, have a clue what this does for us. We don’t follow them because they are black. We didn’t join our church to make a racial statement. We follow them because of who they are and how they lead and where they lead us. But for the first time in our lives, we are not the dominant people in the room. We are not the culture-setters. We are not the value architects. We are not the teachers or the counselors or the leaders. We are not even peers or facilitators. We are the followers.

Maybe that’s the best kind of healing, the kind you don’t get by leading a charge. The kind you don’t even seek. The kind that shows up while you are following something or someone more valuable than the healing itself. And so you just look up one day and discover the wounds are gone.

God In Us

When Dhati kicked off our new series, One, by looking at the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church he gave the challenge to study the person of the Spirit as depicted in John 14-16. What follows are my thoughts.

The story depicts the emotionally charged account of Jesus’ last night before he was betrayed and delivered over to be crucified. In John 16, Jesus is trying to warn his disciples of His fastly approaching death. The man who they had come to know and trust as Lord, who they left families and gave up everything to follow, would no longer be there to guide, teach and love them.  I don’t think there is a louder cry in the human heart than the desire to know God. And they had him: tangibly, intimately and very personally.

And he was leaving.

I can’t imagine the sorrow that must have permeated the environment. Right in the thick of this sorrow, Jesus makes an ironic and almost incomprehensible statement, “It is to your advantage that I go away” (John 16:7). Advantage? What could have possibly been more advantageous for the disciples than Jesus staying with them forever? It would seem to me that having God in the flesh with me would be the best way for me to know him, but Jesus says otherwise. “It is to your advantage that I go away. For if I do not go away, the Helper (The Holy Spirit) will not come to you.” Jesus says it’s better for the church to have the Spirit of God living within us than to have the Son of God standing before us! But why?

My thought is this: Jesus being there in the flesh could only do so much to enact the type of heart change that would be needed to love like him. And loving like him is the primary command to us (John 13:34) and the primary task that the Holy Spirit is to help us with. It’s easy for [pull_quote_right]The work of loving one another is a matter of the heart, not the flesh. It is a work that must be accomplished from the inside out.[/pull_quote_right]me to think that if Jesus were physically present it would be so much easier to avoid sin. I’m sure I would never have looked at any pornography if Jesus was actually sitting in the room next to me. I would never yell at my wife, if Jesus was sitting in the room next to me. But the interesting thing is that it doesn’t mean I would never lust in my heart if Jesus was in the room next to me. It doesn’t mean that I would never be angry and bitter and hateful in my heart toward my wife, if Jesus was in the room with me. It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to be selfish with my time and resources when my friends need my help. If anything, it just shows that I value the presence of the Spirit less than I value the presence of Jesus, physically. Maybe that’s why Jesus says the Spirit is a more advantageous helper than himself. The work of loving one another is a matter of the heart, not the flesh. It is a work that must be accomplished from the inside out. My heart is flimsy, and as sad as it is to say, I would probably find reason to doubt God’s goodness even if he stood right in front of me.

In light of that, it makes sense why we would need a different helper. If Jesus is God with us, then the Holy Spirit is God in us! He is in us (John 14:17), empowering us with courage (Acts 4:31), convicting us of sin, teaching us about our Father (John 16:13-15) and giving us gifts to love one another with (1 Corinthians 12:7). If we are to grow together in the gospel, in the context of family while living on mission, we must come to embrace the Holy Spirit as our Helper in knowing the Father and loving one another. He is to us what Jesus was to the first disciples, only more advantageous! I pray that his presence would be very real to us and that we would see that having God in us is even better than having God with us.

Friends with benefits?

This past Sunday, as a body, we walked through 1 Corinthians 11:17-28, as I shared on the importance of Christ, and Him alone, remaining central to the church. While I was preparing earlier in the week to preach on that passage and building a case for the significance of communion to our Sunday gathering, one of my arguments sent me beyond our weekly service. The fact that communion re-establishes our unity as the Body of Christ drifted towards one of the downfalls of the Body. The unfortunate reality is that many of our practices as believers, in regards to church, mirror the social scene of popular society: commitment phobia. If we’re not dating churches, we’re in a long-term relationship with one (church), but still making “friends” with others. And because we’re only dating, we can visit as many churches as we want without fulfilling certain expectations. Or even though we are members at a church (long-term), we can still bail when something goes wrong (because we aren’t actually married). Our membership is solely a matter of time and space, rather than a covenant. I don’t believe we view church through the proper lens, because we are neglecting the fact that under God we are family. Instead, we seem to want the benefits of a church, without true commitment to one. We may faithfully attend service at a certain location, but the people we do life with and invite to our children’s birthday parties belong to another local body. Sure, we can and should build with believers, whether we share the same elders or not, but the place we call our “church” should be synonymous with our family. And family is defined by intersection and accountability, which makes it void of ambiguity and not based on addition. Simply put, we need to be sure that we see our church as a covenant family who we share our lives with regularly, not simply weekly.

I began learning the importance of this distinction as I realized the commitment that comes along with the covenant of marriage, yet how loosely I would commit to everything and everyone else. That bond of commitment must be expanded beyond just marriage of man and wife; it must spread into the local bodies comprising Christ’s bride—the Church. So, while Paul exhorts us not to forsake the assembly, I encourage you not to forsake those who actually comprise that assembly.

Invest in them. Commit to your family.