Archive for ‘Community’

June 14, 2013

I can’t make you care.

I’m coming to terms with that reality recently.  The idea that my words, my passions, my heartbreak will not make you care about the things that I care about.  And to think that it will only leads to frustration and anger and bitterness.

I’m overwhelmed with the thought that there has to be more than Sunday mornings.  There has to be more than hanging out and enjoying the company of my brothers and sisters in Christ.  There has to be more than worship sets and sermons.  Certainly He has given us this community, but there must be more.  He builds our community, our family, that we might grow, that we might encourage and strengthen one another… and then?  Then He sends us out.

But will we go?  Will we risk our comforts, reprioritize our lives, put Him first, and in doing so, put others first?  Will we give of our time, our money and our very lives because the Gospel is true and because others need to hear it and see it?  Will I go?  And will I go regardless of who goes with me?

All I can do is go.  All I can do is pray that my words, my passions and my heartbreak put the Gospel on display.  Pray that in my weakness, His strength is made perfect.

After all, my words, my passions and my heartbreak are not mine.  They’re God’s.  They are the things He has planted in my heart and soul.  They’re a fire sparked in me by the love of my Savior.  The compassion I feel is a gift given to me by God.  All I can do is share that gift, and pray that He will bestow it upon others.

There is pain in that gift, there are moments of overwhelming grief and sorrow over the broken, lost people across the whole world.  The magnitude paralyzes me.  I cannot help them all.  I cannot save them all.  In fact, I cannot save any.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit.  As we preach the Gospel, He pierces hearts with words entrusted to us by God.  The Gospel is His, the words are His, the heart is His, the glory is HIS.

There are moments I’d rather run from it.  Moments that I want to slip back into the comforts of life in America.  A life of luxuries and self-centeredness.  There are moments I do, and then God, in His grace, calls me out of my comforts again.  Reminds me that He is the ultimate Comforter, and that the comforts of this world cannot compare with the joy found in serving Him with the entirety of my heart.

Jesus beckons us to lose our life that we may find it.  He calls us to abandon the things esteemed by our culture.  He calls us to live a life committed to His cause.  He calls us to preach the Gospel to a world that does not know Him.  He calls us.

By His grace, He will open our ears, our eyes, and our hearts.  He will both call us to action and give us the strength to act.

I cannot make you care.  I cannot make myself care.  But He can.

“Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:33-34)

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

June 10, 2013

What are we missing out on?

Lately I’ve noticed something in myself.  Some sin in my life.  It was something I swore that God had dealt with right out of the gate when I surrendered my life to Jesus.  But that old sin is poking and prodding and I’ve allowed it to creep up in some rather unexpected ways.  God has begun to convict me of it and to reveal how it has permeated so many areas of my life.  Through this process, I’ve come to more clearly see one of the reasons God deals with those sins in love– it has been robbing me of my joy in Him.

Have you ever come across a portion of scripture and been so filled with joy and gratitude that you just love Jesus all the more?  I love those moments.  His love, His worth, His power– they just become so clear that the only way to respond is with praise and adoration!

There are passages that I believe should be stirring that up in me.  The very word of God should be capturing my affections and drawing me nearer to Christ.  These passages should secure me in my identity in Jesus and remind me of the overwhelming, all-encompassing, mysterious love of God.  And yet… they don’t.  Instead I find myself nitpicking.  I’m trying to figure out what it “means”, when what it means is plain.  It just makes me uncomfortable.

You’d like an example, you say?  Let’s take a look at Ephesians 1:3-12:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.  In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.

There is so much there to rejoice in.  So what’s the problem, you ask?

The problem is that when I read this passage I see certain “buzz words”: chose (v.4) and predestined (vv.5,11).  While these certainly won’t be a problem for everyone, they have been for me.  Why?  Because immediately my mind thinks: Calvinism and/or Reformed Theology.  Having been heavily influenced by Arminians (see: free will) for much of my early Christian life, I have a tendency to respond poorly to these words instead of rejoicing in them as I ought.  But why? (Hint: here’s where my sin comes in)… I’m fearful of what others think of me.  I’m fearful of being caught up in the “us and them”.  I’m fearful to be labeled as something or someone without even fully knowing or understanding all that lies behind that label.

Labels can be dangerous.  Not just in the church, of course, but I would say especially in the church.  I’ve become so fearful (in my sinful desires to be accepted by my peers) of labels that I’ve disregarded beautiful truths in the Bible!  These aren’t extraneous words that someone added later, and they certainly aren’t heresy.  I may not fully grasp all of the implications behind those words but here is what I know:

I am chosen.  I am predestined.  I am adopted.  BY GOD!

Isn’t that incredible?  That is really good news.  And the craziest part?  Paul says in Ephesians 2:8 that I have been saved by grace through faith– not that of myself, but a gift from God.

When I fear the label and the potential alienation that comes with it, I miss out on joy.  I miss out on the gift.  I elevate the opinion of man and minimize the opinion and truth of God.

No matter where we stand on the spectrum from Calvinism to Arminianism and everywhere in between, we should never shrink back at the incredible truths in the word of God.  May scripture lead us to know God more fully and rejoice in who He is and all that He has done.

Christian, you are chosen, predestined, adopted.  And it is a gift of God, not of yourself.  Rejoice!

April 15, 2011

My time is not my own.

Yesterday Nicole of Modern Reject posted a blog about discipleship.  I’d recommend reading it as it’s thoughtfully written, based in scripture and about something we as the Church should really be engaging in.

For me, it brought up another topic of discussion: how and where and with whom we’re spending (or not spending) our time.

In case you’ve been out of the loop for the last 3 years, I live in New York City [the greatest city in the world].  Everyone is in a rush to get somewhere and meet somebody to do something very, very, very important, you know?  Us New Yorkers are important people.  We can’t be bothered to walk slowly, allow someone to go ahead of us, wait more than one minute for our Starbucks latte to be prepared… you know, that sort of thing.  It just inconveniences us.  We’re very important people doing very important things. </sarcasm>

In light of all of the above, often times our relationships just plain stink.  And I’m talking inside the church, as well.  We’ll hang out all day Sunday, sure… but during the week we’re far too busy and caught up in our own lives and issues to truly sacrifice of our time and invest in each other’s lives.

I’m guilty as charged.  The work day is done and I want to come home and relax.  Some nights my phone will ring and I’ll ignore it.  You know, because I’m too “busy”… watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune (I wish I were kidding about this…)  After all, I deserve some time alone to not have to think about or deal with anything or anyone.  (Did I mention that sometimes I just don’t have time to read my Bible and pray?  I know, I’m just so busy with Facebook and Twitter.  Yikes.)

I don’t want to be honest with you guys about this because I’m not particularly proud of it.  Nonetheless, God is gracious and He’s teaching me.  Some days I’m a pretty teachable student, other days I make every excuse in the book and give Him a hard time.  But He continues to teach me, and I pray that I listen and learn and grow by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Some of you might be thinking, What’s the big deal?

For me, the big deal is this: My life is not my own.  My time, my money, my resources… none of it belongs to me.  They’re all gifts from God.  And Jesus calls me to lose my life that I might find it (Matt. 16:25).  The Bible calls me to live a life of radical generosity and love and self-sacrifice.  The gospel frees me from my sense of entitlement because it declares that everything I have is a result of grace.  If I got what I deserved, I’d be dead.  So if none of this belongs to me (time included), why do I cling to it?

As believers in Jesus, we’re called to live counter-culturally.  The world says we deserve “me time”.  Our natural inclination is to be self-serving in our friendships.  As Americans, we live in a culture that is incredibly individualistic.  We’re self-centered.

Paul challenges our natural inclination to self-centeredness in Philippians 2 by pointing us to Christ’s example:

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:1-8 (NASB)

Notice that Paul doesn’t give us a list saying, “Do this, but don’t do this.”  Rather, Paul says, “Look at Jesus.”  As I grow closer to Jesus and get to know Him better, I am challenged by His love, humility and sacrifice.  I desire to live a life that reflects who He is and what He has done.  His love is challenging me and changing me.

Relationships that are real and powerful and meaningful require our time.  They require us to give of ourselves.  We have to be willing to say, “You’re more important to me than I am to myself.”  Tim Chaddick (Pastor of Reality LA) put it this way in one of his sermons: “Love that doesn’t cost anything isn’t worth anything.”  We can merely give people our time when it’s convenient and easy for us, but it will not produce anything meaningful.  We will remain acquaintances, saying hello to each other at church or Bible study, occasionally grabbing coffee or lunch afterwards.  But what about when life gets tough?  Will we know that there are people we can call that love us, listen to us, and pray for us?  Or will we scroll through our cell phone contacts realizing that we’ve never formed friendships deep enough to feel that we can “inconvenience” one another?

Part of me wonders if there’s an element of fear.  True community calls us to transparency, and transparency can be scary.  However, if we’re in a community of people who believe in the gospel, grace abounds.  Avoiding transparency is never the answer.  I’d argue it breeds more fear, anxiety and shame because there’s always the risk of being “found out”.  Transparency aside, what if someone is struggling and we don’t know what to say?  What if our words fall short?  Friends, our words will fall short.  Our goal is not to fix one another and solve all of life’s problems.  Our goal is to build a community where Jesus is exalted, where prayer is integral, where ears and hearts are open and grace is shown.  Our hope is in Jesus.  Our salvation is in Jesus.  Therefore, the goal is Jesus.  We need to come alongside one another and say, “Look at the cross.  Look at Jesus.  Life is hard, but He is better and He is worth it.”

It’s funny, it seems to be that the solution to the issue of community is the same as the goal:  It’s Jesus.  As we draw near to Him, we’ll be compelled to serve others, love others and invest in others, and as we spend that time in community, we’ll encourage one another to draw near to Him.

Then again, I suppose it should come as no surprise that Jesus is the center of it all.  He is everything.  Isn’t that what this Christianity thing is all about anyway?

There’s a possibility of a “Part 2” of this post based upon your thoughts, ideas, concerns, struggles, questions, objections, etc… let’s get this conversation started:

In what areas do you struggle to build community?  What are some of the excuses you’ve either heard or made for yourself?  What are some practical ways we can encourage more selfless community?  Have you ever been blessed by someone who clearly sacrificed much of their time to invest in your life?  Let’s talk community!