Tag Archive | church community

Rescuing Family

rescuing familyI have rewritten this post several times now. It’s a plea, a call for help, and a risk. Because, you see, I don’t love like Jesus loved. He looked at people who wanted to kill him, and he loved them. He looked at a disobedient nation, and he loved it. Seems to me he loved people pretty equally.  And I don’t.

Confession: I want my people–my children, my spouse, my family, my friends–to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus more than I want anyone else to come to that same knowledge. I will sacrifice more, pray more, and plead more for those people than for strangers. I might give up on strangers if they deny Christ. But I will never give up on the people God has given me.

I suspect that’s true for all of us. And it makes sense. None of us can invest in everyone. Even missionaries in distant communities only live in a single community at once. A person who invests his life in a tribe in South America can’t also give his life to a village in Asia. We all invest more in some than others. Jesus was the same, pouring himself into a few men and not everyone. So maybe I shouldn’t feel bad about this.

God has given me a church family. I hope he’s given you one, too. And although I believe the Spirit opens hearts and draws people and ultimately saves a soul, I believe He does it through people. And likely He will win my people through me or other people I know.

Because I have people in my life, people I love, who don’t know God. Some have never known. Some are wandering. I’m willing to bet everyone in every church is the same. We have people who mean the world to us, and they haven’t answered the call to live for Jesus, and our hearts shatter into a zillion pieces with every prayer, every hope, every conversation. We can only do so much, pray so much, and love so much, and sometimes it doesn’t seem to change a thing.

When someone who isn’t walking with God agrees to attend church with you, how do you feel? Is there hope? Do you pray that that person will be changed, that the Spirit will sweep over your person during worship, during songs, during  fellowship? I do. It’s what I want more than anything else, that a person I love who walks into a worship service with me will walk out new.

So, here’s the thing. Here’s where I keep deleting and starting over. Church body, this part of the post is for you. For any church body. Every church body. It’s normal to greet strangers. Every church I know greets strangers, surrounding them with love, asking them questions, hoping they will return, praying they will feel loved and sense the Spirit in our midst. But how do we do with the not-so-strangers? The adult children who walk in with parents. The siblings who appear only on holidays. The parents who come only for a grandchild’s baptism.  How hard do we work to love those people?

I hate to admit this, because it’s a heartbreaking truth, but not all of my children are pursuing God at the moment, not with any fervor. Some are questioning and wandering. They know the truth, but they haven’t claimed it yet. They weren’t loved well by other bodies, and now they hesitate to enter a body again. And I have done all I can do. I have said all I can say. Every now and then these children agree to attend church with me. And I pray and hope every single time that this time the body will gather round them. Perhaps this time they will meet a kindred soul and develop a friendship that will ultimately lead them back to the fold. Maybe someone will speak the words to soften their hearts and pierce their armor and remind them of the truths of eternal life. I hope someone will be the lifeline to lead them home in a way I haven’t been able to do. Yet often we walk in and out and nobody says a word to them.

When I bring my people into the body, I’m calling in the cavalry to surround them, to speak to them of love and truth, to be God’s hands and feet. This is a battle and a rescue, and I need help. I am not, as the commercials say, an army of one. God never meant for me to be that.

A few weeks ago another mother of a young adult son approached and asked me if we could introduce my son to her son. She felt they might have some common ground. And the two young men talked a long time. I realized I need to do this, both search out people who might have common ground with the guests I bring into the church as well as seek out other people’s guests. Because I am the cavalry, too. Perhaps someone will bring a daughter or friend or sister who needs me, something only I can give. Maybe the Spirit wants me to be the one to head up the rescue of someone else’s special person. Someone might have shed as many tears over her people as I have over mine, and God’s answer to her tears is ME. It sounds unbelievable, but maybe it’s true. Maybe that’s why each particular group of believers is together, because we have what it takes to rescue each other’s people as well as reach the world where we live.

We want to rescue the world. That’s a perfectly good thing to want. But more personally, we want to rescue our own. And if I worship with you, your people are my people. Your family is my family. Your tears and fears and hopes–they’re mine, too. So here’s my promise. I will help you rescue those you love. I hope you’ll help me rescue those I love. If I don’t worship with you, I hope you will make and keep such promises to your own bodies about your own people. Between all of us, we can reach many, many souls.

We need to love each other well. Have each other’s backs. Speak the words of the Spirit to each other’s people. And not let the enemy carry away anyone we care about if there’s anything we can do to stop it.

 

 

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The Bride on Her Own Terms

bride on her own termsI read an article recently about young people turning from church and pursuing God alone. They don’t trust the Bible. They don’t trust the church. They want to find a spirituality that’s strictly individual and doesn’t ask for more than they want to give. They want a spiritual life fully on their terms, and they have no patience with people who get in their way or inconvenience them.

I don’t think young people are alone in this. Spiritual community isn’t easy, because community in general isn’t easy. We don’t live in a culture where community is a thing, so in the church it feels forced and strange and unnatural.

I attend a church with very few programs. If I’m going to live in community with my worship family, I have to do it on my own. I have to search out the pregnant mom and offer her a meal. There is no meal committee to make it happen. If someone needs help moving furniture, someone has to learn it the old fashioned way, through talking and relationship. There is no moving committee.

We do have a couple programs. A simple children’s program, although nothing for older kids. As of a couple days ago, my son is the only high school student in our church, so I tease him about having youth group when he’s hanging out alone. We have teams to get things done, like setting up the worship space (we meet in a building with multiple uses) or praying during worship. But even there, there’s a lot of freedom as to how we interact.

In other words, we have to decide to live in community and then do it. Nobody’s going to make it easier. Programs are fine, as long as they don’t become a substitute for community, but I’ve discovered I kind of like the informality of a non-programmed church. It means when someone in the body shows me love, it’s spontaneous, not scripted. It’s heartfelt. Often it’s creative and out of the blue. No, we don’t always do it well. We still get caught up in the busyness of our individual lives and miss huge needs in our corporate life, but we’re working on it. Community is happening.

I spent some time in Mexico, and a tiny body of believers there met every night in someone’s house. Every night. Can you imagine? Community completely trumped individual, independent spirituality. They were all connected and united. They learned and lived and died as a group. Part of it had to do with this being a small village that already understood community. They lived it daily, working together to survive. But here, community is foreign, so we struggle to live as a body, since our spiritual life is the only place we do it.

A body. Yeah, Jesus used that term, didn’t he? I feel like we use the word without thinking about it. Each us of want to be a whole body. Our (MY!) math is Me+God=Healthy spiritual life.  But God says we each have a role, and without some of us, the whole thing is broken. God’s math is this: God+me+you+you+you+you…=healthy spiritual life. We rely on each other. God didn’t give any of us all the answers (not even the super-rich authors and megachurch pastors who make the news. Yep, they need you and me. We all need each other.). He did that on purpose. For some reason, from the beginning, he wanted us in groups. Families. Churches. Nations. He made us to need groups.

This is coming from an introvert who sometimes has words with God about this whole group thing. Trust me, I’d like to be a whole body. Some days I want nothing to do with community. I want Christianity on my terms, and my terms include words like solitude and peace and convenience. Which are fine sometimes. But his terms include words like body, sacrifice, and unity. It can be rough.

What if Jesus had used our logic on earth? First, he and God had a really good thing going. Morning prayers, sinlessness–it was good. What if Jesus had looked at the Israelites–and everyone else– and said Wow. These sinners are dampening my spiritual fervor. God loves a bunch of irritating people. They bring me down. Plus, I hate all the rituals and commandments. I’m just going to head back to God and forget this whole sacrifice thing. This isn’t about them. It’s just me and God. And we’re good.

The crucifixion wouldn’t have happened, because that’s as far from individual spirituality as possible. But Jesus lived in community. He lived for community. He was here to rescue that community, clean it up, build it up, and then offer it to God. A single bride. A single body.

I hope the young people realize individual spirituality needs to be lived out in a body. I hope all of us realize we aren’t our own, myself included. Jesus loves us each as individuals, sure. But he didn’t mean for us to live our spiritual lives that way. We have to put aside all the frustrations of dealing with people–just like he did–and find community again. On his terms.

It’s not easy. Or at least it isn’t for me. In this culture it’s awkward and takes thought and work. It means  rearranging life to accommodate the needs that arise within the body. Time. Patience. But Jesus says it’s worth it. He wants to present his beautiful bride to God.  One single bride. I look forward to that wedding day, and that means I have to be part of that beautiful bride’s body.

 

The Elusive Christian Community

Community blogIf you’ve been in a church for any length of time, you’ve watched the powers that be wrestle with community.  Personally, I’ve been part of Life Groups, Community Groups, Women’s Groups, Homeschool Groups, and a number of other programs designed to unite us into communities.   I’ve seen them divided by life stages, educational preference, sex, and more.   The biggest common factor is that a couple years down the road someone throws up his/her hands in despair and tries a new program of community.

Not to say we shouldn’t try.  The Bible is filled with commandments about unity, bearing burdens, praying together, eating together, sharing belongings, and otherwise being in community.  It sounds so simple–we are all part of this invisible kingdom.  In a way, it’s us against the world.  That united purpose should create some sort of natural community, right?  So why is it so hard to do that? Continue reading