People who have strong connections are more resistant to stress. The more real friendships you develop, the more resilient you’re going to be because you have a strong support network to fall back on.
Surround yourself by people who make you feel good and further your development. Poet John Donne once said, “No man is an island”. People who know more about the issue than I do say that the more we isolate ourselves, the more we increase our stress and frustration. Al Gore said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech,
If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
Another quirky element of being part of community is that other people can also have an impact on our effort levels. If the person next to you is working hard then it increases your work ethic.
I have seen this in the gym and at Command PT time and again. If you’re paired with someone who puts out minimal effort, your own effort will diminish. If you’re with someone who is PUMPED UP and giving maximum effort, your own efforts will improve!
Why be part of a deep and authentic community?
We were made to exist in community
Genesis 1 lays the groundwork for it. Every time God creates something, He steps back and says, “It is good.” But out of the ENTIRE created world, there is only ONE thing that is “not good.”
It is not good for man to be alone.
So man goes on a quest to find a perfect partner. None can be found. So God takes matters into his own hands and creates woman, the perfect partner for man, and thus the first community was established. We were built to exist and thrive when we take care of each other in community. Which leads us to the next point —
Taking care of others takes care of yourself.
Being of service to others is a powerful way of stoking resilience. Researchers have found that serotonin is used more efficiently by people who engage in acts of kindness. That means the more you do kind things for others, the happier and more resilient you will be. It’s almost like we were created to do good works. If only there were a Bible verse that could back up this theory…
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
Authentic Community helps us bounce back
Community groups help us as we wrestle with difficulties. AA, NA, Bible Study Groups, take your pick – being plugged into communities gives us resources and support to manage difficult times and not break. The Apostle Paul talks about this kind of thing in his letter to the Romans:
Romans 15:1-3 ~ We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.
And, in the end, this is about what real family looks like. It’s not about shared blood – it’s about choosing to be an intentional part of a community of like-minded people. People who spur us on. People who won’t let us quit. People we impact and who impact us. People who keep us from breaking.
This is family.
I won’t quit. I have impact. Pain isn’t permanent. I will not break.
And, like it or not, there is often a rift between the small churches and the mega-churches. The big churches have more money and more ability to reach the masses. Smaller churches promote the idea that they are more able to impact lives on an individual level, helping mature people in genuine Christian discipleship.
So you can imagine the hubbub in church circles when mega-church pastor Andy Stanley said in a sermon:
When I hear adults say, “Well I don’t like a big church, I like about 200, I want to be able to know everybody,” I say, “You are so stinking selfish. You care nothing about the next generation. All you care about is you and your five friends. You don’t care about your kids [or] anybody else’s kids” … If you don’t go to a church large enough where you can have enough middle schoolers and high schoolers to separate them so they can have small groups and grow up the local church, you are a selfish adult. Get over it. Find yourself a big old church where your kids can connect with a bunch of people and grow up and love the local church.
There was a large outcry from ministers and ministry workers across the country. To his credit, Stanley apologized and said:
“The negative reaction to the clip from last weekend’s message is entirely justified. Heck, even I was offended by what I said! I apologize.”
But he went on to explain that he was so proud of his church’s youth ministry reaching 4,600 teens. Just imagine if every teen could experience that kind of connection!
Sure, reaching teens is great. And I appreciate Stanley’s attempt to pacify the little guys, those of us who minister to groups of fewer than 100 people, but his apology doesn’t realy do much for me. It’s an “apology but….” He’s sorry to offend, but if you really understood his heart then you would see why he said it.
You drag your kids to a church they hate, and then they grow up and hate the local church.
Did you catch that? If we can’t give kids an incredible, big-church experience then they’ll grow up hating the church. You owe it to your children to attend a mega-church with the mega-church resources so that they don’t hate the little church that can’t provide as much.
I don’t believe parents ought to relegate the spiritual development of their children to the church (mega 0r small). Parents ought to be the PRIMARY source of spiritual development for children. And when children are raised seeing their parents engage in authentic Christian community, they will grow up belonging TO that community. What Stanley is really saying is that his church is full of parents who have abdicated their responsibility to spiritually lead and direct their children.
But what about the Bible? What does the Bible say?
Actually, it doesn’t say anything about church size. There are no directives, just examples. The example set in the Bible is that outreach and evangelism events have HUGE reach (in the thousands) but that the local church was small enough to fit in homes and local synagogues (the early church was made up of Jewish converts, so the synagogue was the natural place to meet).
The church is about Christian community. Acts tells us that they got together daily in homes to eat, worship, and listen to the apostles teach about Jesus. I get the sense that kids would have been part of this early community.
No youth ministry.
No separate area where parents allowed others to do their jobs for them. The family was involved in worship together.
Since the Bible doesn’t say anything about church size I won’t condemn mega-churches. They do a lot of good work. but Stanley is WAY off-base in his beliefs and comments. Stop worrying about the church raising kids. How’s about the church worries about making authentic disciples of the entire family unit? How can we raise mature parents in the faith so that they in turn can rear godly children?
And this is something that any sized church can do.
How about you? What size church do you attend? What are the merits of the small church? Of the large church?
We live in an increasingly fragmented and shallow society. I believe people are really desiring a new way of life that is more connected with others.
Genesis has a vivid picture of God creating. There is great chaos in the Cosmos as God is creating merely from the power of His words. Matter is neither created or destroyed, is simply changes form. God is the only one who creates something out of nothing. And every time he creates something, He steps back and says, “It is good.”
Everything is good – except for one thing in all of creation that is not good.
Genesis 2:18 tells us that it is NOT good for man to be alone.
God has given humanity all of this incredible stuff in creation, but the one thing that cannot be fulfilled by the created world is human companionship. God designed us to thrive in community. God establishes the very first human community – the family – so that we can survive.
Science shows that our health improves when we are actively plugged in to community life. Sure, there are other variables at play, but all things being equal, the person who is connected in community lives a longer and happier life. But this requires we are intentional about building that community. It means doing more than merely filling a pew with the same person week after week.
It is not enough simply to show up and think that we are building a community. Community is not built here in the service. Community is built on the outside so that we come together AS a community and worship God together. Let’s look at 3 elements of building community:
1. We must connect with Jesus.
There’s a great story about Jesus’s ministry when he encounters a small guy named Zacchaeus.
He entered Jericho and was passing through.And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich.And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature.So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way.And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
As a tax collector, Zacchaeus would have been a pariah in the Jewish community. Not only did he extort people, but he represented the Roman occupying state. He was an enemy of God’s people, a traitor to Yahweh. Yet Jesus intentionally goes to this outsider, this incredibly flawed individual, and invited him in to community!
2. Authentic community begins when we realize that we are imperfect people invited into community with a perfect Jesus Christ.
In our imperfection we’re still invited to come an sit beside Jesus. Can you imagine that? God doesn’t require us to be perfect BEFORE we’re invited in. If we had to be perfect first we’d NEVER receive an invitation. But he loves us and invites us to be part of his community in spite of our flaws and failures.
Paul writes in Romans 5:
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
You didn’t have to be good enough for Jesus to take your place on the cross. You never could have made it. And authentic community begins when we realize that I am flawed yet still invited to be part of God’s community.
Radio personality Paul Harvey once said: “We’ve strayed from being fishers of men, to being keepers of the aquarium.” Some people act as though the church is supposed to be an aquarium. It’s pretty. You clean it. You watch the pretty fish swim around. It’s perfect, down to the exact pH balance and the diver with the bubbles coming out of his helmet.
People want the church to be perfect and serene. But if you read the Bible the way I do, the church isn’t meant to be an aquarium – it’s a hospital – where broken and wounded people come to find healing. As God works on our lives he cleans us up, sure, but we’re never supposed to forget that our authentic community begins with a recognition that we’re all wounded in need of a hospital.
You don’t have to be perfect – you’re invited as you are.
3. Authentic community continues as we grow and connect with each other
Acts 2 describes the intentionality early Christians had in building community:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.And all who believed were together and had all things in common.And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,praising God and having favor with all the people.
Community doesn’t happen by accident. Community is built as we live life together, as we experience the ups and downs and the joys and the pains together. We don’t want to be a church of strangers simply getting together to do our spiritual thang and then disappear to our individual lives. Showing up once a week will not build community or establish relationships. Authentic community happens before and after church, through the week, after duty hours.
Think about group dynamics and cliques. People often get frustrated about an inability to break into new groups because of cliques within an organization. This is true in the church but it’s also true in the workplace and in neighborhoods. It’s not that cliques are necessarily bad or evil. Cliques develop because people form bonds with others outside of the large group environment. The clique is a fundamental element of community. People bond on the outside and bring those bonds into the larger group. You can’t say, “I’m going to show up at church once a week and then try to insert myself into a clique that meets together 3 times a week.”
What?!? While we want to be open and welcoming to all, we do need to recognize that there are in-group and out-group dynamics at play that allow us to build relationships with others, and building relationships is always a good thing. Just make sure that your relationships don’t cause you to mistreat or alienate others and you’re good to go.
The original Christians met together daily. They ate, they hung out, they celebrated. Their worship services weren’t about strangers getting together – they were about the extended family coming together to worship Jesus. Our social group ruts tend to be the people we can regular contact with on a daily or weekly basis. Connecting with God’s community means being intentional to develop those relationships and bonds.
Connect with Jesus. Recognize we’re all imperfect but called together to be part of the community of faith. Be intentional in developing the connection with others. It’s about deep relationships and forgetting the shallowness that comes with a lot of our modern culture.
No matter how bad your family is it could always be worse.
I mean, how many of us have had to deal with Dad chopping off our hands with an ancient-yet-futuristic weapon?
While we may not have had to face something so extreme, we can still admit that relatives can fail us.
Blood may be thicker than water, but what do you do when blood turns on you?
This is what Jesus encountered with his own family. His mother and brothers came to “collect him” – they were shamed by his public behavior – and so they tried to label him as crazy. Just quietly put Jesus away so our family doesn’t have to deal with the embarrassment of having him run around ticking off the religious leaders.
But Jesus rejected them.
Instead, he formed a new family – a spiritual family.
“Who are my mother and my brothers? Those who do the will of God are my mother and my brothers.”
Blood may be thicker than water, but the Spirit of God is thicker than blood. And so Jesus formed a new kinship group. It’s not about our ties through blood. Now it’s about our ties through a common faith in Jesus.
While you don’t hear it too much anymore, Christians once referred to one another and Brother so-and-so or Sister so-and-so. It represented the new kinship group Christians embraced.
We too often forget that we’re part of this family. We still treat each other as “other than.” We gossip about each other and treat each other like strangers, not like family. When we fully embrace Jesus’ radical view of a spiritual family it will change how we treat each other, talk to each other, and talk ABOUT each other.
When we fully embrace Jesus’ radical view of a spiritual family it will play out in how we take care of each other. Dealing with some housing difficulties, a woman in our church was told by two different families, “You and your kids can stay with us until you get something worked out.”
This woman then told me, “That’s more than my own family offered to do.”
I stopped her and said, “No – This IS your family.”
Let’s live like the community Jesus calls us to be – a new kind of family, bonded together with bonds stronger than blood.
The other day I was involved in a hashtag game with some friends called #ICantComeToChurch.
It was highlighting some of the excuses we have heard (or used) to avoid going to church. Here are just a few of my faves:
– I can’t come to church because of all the hypocrites.
– I can’t come to church because the youth pastor is filling in while the senior pastor is on vacation.
– I can’t come to church because so-and-so always shoots me dirty looks.
– I can’t come to church because last time I skipped no one notices, so now I’m too offended to come back.
– I can’t come to church because __________________________ (insert lame excuse here).
There were a lot more, some were plain silly and fictitious – some real – but it highlights the fact that we’ve all heard (and used) examples of why we can’t be in church.
I’ve frequently heard people argue that you don’t have to be in church to be a Christian- that being in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car. And that’s true. But church isn’t about you and what you get out of it.
In his book, “The Good and Beautiful Community” James Bryan Smith points out that how you feel about church and the feeling you get from church isn’t the point. It’s not about your inspiration, but “rather the ‘transformation of the person within, by, and for the community.”
Being part of the community of faith transforms us. It teaches us. It holds us accountable. It allows us to participate in God’s story, other Christians’ stories, and to share our story with others. When all is said and done, while salvation is by faith in Jesus and not dependent on your church attendance record, we are missing out on the chance to grow and mature into the kind of person we could be if we would participate in the life of God’s Community.
So when Sunday rolls around next week try something different. Don’t look for excuses why you CAN’T go. Look for reasons why you SHOULD go. Engage. Plug in. Start participating in the story. Let others influence you. Influence others.
We all get better because of it.
And together we start to look like the Community God designed us to be.
SOUND OFF! What excuses have you used…er…I mean heard others use to get out of church?
There are a lot of creative people in this world, coming up with some amazing creations. But everything that people create has a purpose – a function. Nobody designs something for no purpose. We might laugh at the design and function (like many of the “as seen on tv” gadgets) but there is still a function. When an item doesn’t work according to its design we call it dysfunctional, maybe even broken. Some easily recognizable creations and designs: the light bulb, the Hoover Dam, the Colosseum. They were all created with something specific in mind and they have lasted. But there is one enduring creation that has been around before any of these: humanity. How do we function according to our design?
Most Christians know the story of God’s work in creating. In Genesis 1, every time God creates something He looks at it and sees…THAT IT IS GOOD. But there is a problem – in all of God’s creation there is one “not good” that sets the stage for all of humanity. The only “not good” is that man is alone, and the only solution is for God to create a community for man, from man, to which he is connected and may continue to grow the community. The family is the central core to our understanding of community. We are designed to be in relationship with other people!
Quite simply, family is everything. The individual exists and continues to exist only within the context of the community. When you remove the individual from family that person becomes invisible. As such, removal from the family is no small deal. Equally, while the individual remains within the community, he or she participates in the covering of the whole family; covering that could include physical protection, shelter, food, and the like.
Americans pride ourselves on our individuality, our self-sufficiency. “You can’t tell me what to do! I am my own boss, master and commander of my own world, and my actions don’t concern you.” But that’s not how the Bible sees it. From the Bible’s perspective, the actions of one person affect the entire community. That’s why the Apostle Paul tells Christians that if a person blatantly sins and refuses to repent then the church needs to remove that person from the community. One person’s actions and behavior can influence the entire community. We have lost the biblical concept that we are designed for community and function at our best when we are engaged in community with like-minded people.
I enjoy many different games, one of them being bowling. I have my own bowling ball that is drilled for me (left-handers need the holes drilled differently than righties). About 12-13 years ago I was a sophomore in college, and I had finished all of my school work, didn’t have to work at the store that night, and wanted to go bowling. The problem was that I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. So I thought, “Hey, I don’t need anyone – I can go by myself.” So I did. But I quickly learned that it is not as much fun bowling by myself as it is when I’m bowling with friends.
God designed us to enjoy being in community with others! We were created not only to be together but to care for each other. The fall saw human weakness destroy God’s intention. In Genesis, Cain is jealous of his brother Abel and so kills him. When God asks Cain where Abel is Cain responds, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The implied answer to this question is, “Yes!” That’s how God designed us! As community, we are our brother’s keepers. We are supposed to look out for and care for each other. This was God’s intention with community, and now the church picks up where we destroyed God’s original design. The church is the new family and community in which our lives play out. But our design, being created for community, should play out in practical ways.
First, our design should affect how we behave towards each other in the church. Too often we don’t treat each other well. There’s an old expression: familiarity breeds contempt. We become familiar with people and so we let our public niceness go away. It is more common to be polite to strangers than it is to people we are supposed to be in fellowship with. Have you ever entertained guests in your home? If a child of a guest bumps the coffee table and spills something on the carpet, the usual response is probably something like, “Don’t worry about it – it’s ok.” When everyone goes home, your spouse bumps into the coffee table and spills something and you lash out, “Why can’t you to watch where you’re going? You knew it was there! Why weren’t you more careful?” We bring that same mentality into the church. We are supposed to be a new community, a new family. We are supposed to care for each other and support each other, not tear each other down when we feel wronged or, worse yet, when someone falls short of perfection in some way that aggravates you!
In John 13:34-35 Jesus says:
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Several years ago when we were pastoring in California, my family was planning a Christmas family vacation in Colorado. My brothers and their wives, my parents, and my wife and I were all going to rendezvous in Colorado and spend the holidays together. The weather had different plans and we all got snowed out of Colorado and ended up having to spend Christmas in Southern California without my family. A family in the church invited us over to spend Christmas day with their family. Another family braved a hectic department store two days before Christmas in order to get us some small gifts so that we would have something to unwrap on Christmas morning. It was nothing fancy, but they wanted us to know that we were loved and cared for. That is how the church is supposed to function – loving and taking care of each other as though we are flesh-and-blood kin. It is this kind of love that Jesus says will identify us as his disciples. We are created for community, and that design should affect how we behave towards brothers and sisters in the church.
Second, our design should affect how we behave towards the world around us. As members of God’s family, this church community, we have a God-given task: to let other people know that they are welcomed into the community! The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:19:
“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.”
In other words, we have been blessed to be welcomed into this new family, and God has made it our responsibility to welcome others into this new family as well. We cannot afford to cloister ourselves within our beautiful buildings and pat ourselves on the back that we made it into the kingdom. We have an obligation to bring others into the family as well. And, honestly, if we are loving each other the way we are supposed to be loving each other, we will have a hard time keeping people out! Paul exhorts us in Galatians 6:10:
“As we have opportunity we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.”
We are not built to be isolated loners but to live and thrive in community. Because we are created for community, God calls us to care for one another and to invite the world around us to experience what genuine, Christian community is all about. So take time to reflect and ask yourself two questions. First, how can I grow and improve in loving the people in my church? Second, how can I actively work for the good of all so that others welcomed into this loving Christian community?
God our Father, You have created us for community, to be involved in people’s lives and to bring blessings to people. Show us where we have fallen short. Show us where we have failed to demonstrate love. Forgive us, and lead us to the place where we can love every brother and sister with the love of Jesus. Amen.
It seems that there is a real life Robin Hood roaming the streets of Jackson, Mississippi. He robs from the city to give back to the citizens. Well, he doesn’t say it’s “robbing”, per se. He takes city asphalt and goes around town repairing potholes that the city has been slow to repair. Now the authorities are trying to decide if there has been a criminal act involved.
I’m not going to judge his actions as righteous or villainous, but I do think that his behavior illustrates a biblical point:
People are supposed to be proactive in helping others.
Seems really simple, really. God has called us to be a force of good in the world. Not just hypothetical good. Not just pleasant people to be around. God has called us to proactively help others with whom we come into contact. It seems that most of the western world (even atheists, pagans, and all other religions combined) is familiar with the “Golden Rule.” Even people who do not know the origin of the rule can still recite it (in essence, at any rate).
The writers of the New Testament continued the theme of serving the needs of humanity. James writes that it’s completely worthless to see someone in need and merely say, “Go in peace, be warm and filled,” but never lift a finger to help meet their needs. John’s first letter makes a similar point that love requires more than words – love must be backed by action.
It is much too easy to tell people that we care about them without any amount of follow-through. Sometimes our culture seems to promote this. We ask each other how things are going without any real concern for the answer to come. What would we do if people answered, “I’m really struggling today because I’m dealing with….” Would we step up and see how we could bring assistance? Or would we feel awkward and uncomfortable with the idea that the other has broached conversational etiquette by demanding that we care? It is a trap that many of us – even the best intentioned – fall into from time to time. So this isn’t about saying, “Shame on us!” It’s really about saying, “See how far we’ve come from existing in communities of people who stick up for each other, care for each other, and seek the physical well-being and wholeness of our brother and sister.”
So here’s a challenge: the next time you ask someone how they are doing pause and REALLY listen to the answer. If they don’t want to become vulnerable that’s okay – don’t push it. But if people actually do open up to you and you see the needs of others don’t feel awkward. Ask yourself how you can be a resource to bring relief to a troubled person.
So what about our modern day Robin Hood? Who knows. He might be prosecuted. He might be given a warning not to do it again. Whatever the outcome of his particular case I commend people who step up, take initiative, and try to solve problems rather than merely bemoan the troubles.
Step up. Be a problem solver. Show your love and care for humanity by working to make things better. You’ll never know how you might bless someone else.
How about you? Have you been the recipient of a Robin Hood or a caring person? Care to share about it?
You know those little 4×6 cards the city sends you to remind you to pay your water bill? It’s a pretty good idea not to set it aside “intending” to take care of it and then forget about it. Then one day you come home with three tired and hungry children and, when you go to begin lunch prep, realize that you have no running water coming into your home. Then you can’t use the bathroom or wash your hands either. And the kids are still tired and hungry and becoming more cranky by the millisecond.
Yup – that was me. My wife handed me the card some time ago and I said I would take care of it. Epic fail. Called the city and paid the bill and the water was back on a couple hours later. In an attempt at solidarity with the world around me (or maybe merely an attempt to feel better about myself?) I asked on social media what other absent-minded things people had done or had not done. I got some interesting feedback.
One mom said: “I put the milk away in the cabinet under the sink”
A teacher remembered: “I took my students to Disneyland for a band trip and got to the gate to pick up our tickets and realized I had left the check sitting on my desk.”
Someone else told me: “I requested drive up/pick up for my groceries and then drove home without them.
Finally one person wrote: “I forgot to put the car in park…rushed into the house…the car rushed into the garage door!”
So it seems I’m not the only one that does bone-headed, absent-minded things from time to time. I’m glad I’m in good company. Here’s the reason I’m telling you this: after the event happened I was embarrassed. I’ve never had my water shut off before for failure to pay the bill. The money was in the bank – I simply forgot. Still, I felt this big (imagine me holding my fingers close together, because I didn’t feel very big at all).
Because I was embarrassed (and spent a good amount of time apologizing to my wife for dropping the ball) I considered whether or not I was going to tell people about my goof or if I was going to conceal it instead. Since I’m writing this post I think it’s clear which route I decided to take.
But it really got me thinking: How much do/should we share with others and how much do/should we keep locked away from all but a few? Because I was embarrassed I naturally wanted to conceal my flub. But I live in a rural Midwest community. It’s not too far a stretch of imagination to think of someone at the desk at city hall recognizing my name and mentioning to someone else: “Hey, did you hear that the pastor at Central Community Church didn’t pay his bill and got his water shut off?” The way this town talks I really can see that happening (if you live here with me, let’s agree to help change the atmosphere of gossip and slander, ok?!?). I figured it’s always better to get out in front of stuff like this. It wasn’t illegal or immoral, just stupid, so I can swallow my pride and tell on myself.
But then it REALLY got me thinking about what the Bible says in regards to situations like this. The Bible tells us to carry each other’s burdens. The Apostle Paul also says that we are to treat each other with humility, and patience, accepting one another in love.
The people who are part of my spiritual family are supposed to help me carry the things that weigh me down. I’m also supposed to be able to count on this family to treat me with humility, patience, and acceptance. That means I can be free to be me and you can be free to be you.
In our contemporary, social media crazy world, we have a false sense of “knowing” and of “being known.” I might have 900 friends on Facebook but how many REALLY know me? They only see the pieces of me that I allow them to see.
Going through seminary I heard professors and students wrestle with the idea of how self-revealing a pastor SHOULD be versus how much he (or she, I’m pro-female ordination – but that’s a post for another day) should play it close to the vest. I guess it comes down to personal choice and conscience. Some pastors only post things that are very professional. Some post any ol’ thing that pops into their heads. I’ve struggled with the idea of how I come across through what I say, do, tweet, post, whatever.
I always come back to those passages. Christian community is supposed to be a place where we share life together. Where we laugh together. Where we cry together. Where we are real together. It’s supposed to be different from the world around us. All around us people look out for #1. We do things to get a leg up on the competition. We fight to beat everyone else down. That’s not the church that Jesus instituted.
His church is a place for care. His church is a place where we put others first. His church is a place where we can hear about the bone-headed things others do and, instead of criticizing and condemning, we say, “Yup, I’ve done stuff like that, too! God loves us anyway.” So I’ve decided that I’m going to share my life with people, warts and all. I’m not going to hide the imperfections. I’m not perfect. I struggle with my humanity just like everyone else (I even got a ticket last year). And Jesus loves me anyway. I do realize that there are people out there who will criticize, judge, and condemn those of us who reveal our flaws. Some people try to use our weaknesses as ammunition against us. But God doesn’t care. The Apostle Paul learned that being weak meant leaning on the strength of Jesus. He’ll provide support when we can’t carry on under our own power.
**Please note that God still expects us to be moving forward, to be growing in our spiritual maturity and attempting to be more like Christ every day (it’s called sanctification).**
But still, I think you know what I mean…
How about you? What bone-headed, absent-minded things have you done? No matter what – Jesus still loves you. And I’m gonna do my best to embrace you, help you carry your load, and treat you with humility, patience, and acceptance – just as I hope you will with me.
My kids have 14 grandmas. Not biologically, of course, but 14 grandmas in our spiritual family. Our community.
Reality television has a strange love for jamming a bunch of strangers together and watching chaos ensue as these strangers attempt to do life, overcome obstacles, lose weight, cook (or whatever the theme of the show is) together. Invariably someone is voted off, tempers flare, and relationships are damaged. You know how the story goes.
But that’s faux community – it’s a cheap, Hollywood-ized version of what people living in community is supposed to look like. Because it’s a sham of what real community is supposed to be the relationships are superficial and short-term. It doesn’t matter who gets the rose, because the odds are that they will not be together long after the reunion show wraps up.
God doesn’t care too much for faux community. He prefers the real deal. He prefers to see people who live together, love together, laugh together, and weep together. Real community is so much more than simply occupying adjacent space to other people. Community is family.
In the Old Testament, community was based on bloodlines and there was a clear hierarchy of how community was based: family -> clan -> tribe -> nation. This is what solidified the Israelites together as the original community of faith. Then Jesus radically changed things up.
As he was gaining fame and attention he was causing embarrassment to his immediate family. The Gospel According to Mark tells us that one time his family even came to his house when there were a ton of people there to see him. The family had one goal – remove Jesus from the public eye and end the embarrassment. So the people told Jesus, “Hey, your mother and brothers and sisters are here!” To that Jesus looks around and says, “Here are my mother, and my brothers, and my sisters – the ones who do the will of God.” He gives a completely new spin on the definition of community. It’s no longer about blood – it’s about a shared spirituality and kinship of faith.
At our church there is a group of ladies, mostly grandmas with a few great-grandmas, who have intentionally taken on the role of surrogate grandparents to me and my kids. It’s wonderful. Even though my parents, grandparents, and in-laws are thousands of miles away God has given us a family to look after us and care for us. I’m glad that my children have those kinds of godly people in their lives to look after them and assist us in raising them. This is real community.
Real community is not content to live in shallow relationships but strives to make meaningful connections where we care for and ARE cared for by others. Here’s the kicker – real community takes a lot of work to build and to maintain. You don’t get it by attending a worship service once a week and sitting in the same row as someone else. You don’t get it by seeing the same parents when you drop off and pick up your kids at school. Real community requires time and energy to know and be known. It requires vulnerability – sharing your life and yourself with others.
It’s not easy – but it’s worth it. I’m glad that my kids have 14 grandmas. Their lives will be richer because of it. My burden as a parent will be lessened because of it. It’s not perfect, and all family has issues, but a family we are. So my question to you is this: Will you accept Jesus’ radical notion of a remade family? Will you put in the time and effort to establish and maintain community with others around you? If so then I’m sure you’ll find your grandmas too.