What Will It Take to Change the World?

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Recently, I stood among a gathered group of people, most of whom I did not know.  I was there for a memorial service.  A few short months ago, a fellow colleague received the kind of news that no one wants to hear.  In a matter of weeks, she was gone.  Not every funeral I attend (or even officiate) is beautiful.  This one was.  And I’ll state from the outset why I believe it was: the collective experience of both joy and sorrow.

I walked away from my friend’s remembrance with a clear conviction – one that had been percolating and forming within me for quite some time.  This conviction might seem exaggerated, yet it by no means is meant to be.  It’s just what I have come to believe about the universal human experience.  It comes from the confidence and experience of a lifetime of observation and ministry.  It is neither merely a heartfelt sentiment nor a passing feeling.  No, it really is a conviction, a firm principle or persuasion.  It is this:

Crying with strangers in person has the power to change the world.

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I think I’ve always known this.  It just crystallized for me through this experience.  After all, I have watched with awe the privilege I have to walk into a dying patient’s room, full of tearful family, and enter with them into their pain.  The sharing of stories is powerful, eliciting both great joy, reminiscent laughter, and profound gratitude; as well as tremendous sorrow, grinding grief, and sad lament.  Tears and celebration mix in a sacred alchemy producing a kind of care which transcends description.

It’s one thing to observe other’s joy and sorrow on the news, or even from afar.  It is altogether a different reality to participate up close and personal.  It’s something akin to watching a travel documentary on Yellowstone Park versus visiting the place in person; there’s just no comparison.  Shared human experiences of grief will nearly always translate into new and emerging capacities for empathy.  And where empathy exists, there is hope for all humanity.  Being with another person or group of people in their suffering creates a Grinch-like transformation in which our hearts suddenly enlarge.  A single tear from a singular small little Who in Whoville had the power to penetrate years of hardness of heart and change what everyone thought was a shriveled soul full of garlic and gunk.

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If I need to say this a different way, I’ll do it: The spiritual and emotional heart of a human being is able to shrink or expand.  It shrinks from spending far too much time alone and/or holding others at bay, at arms-length, while playing the armchair critic to those whom are out rubbing shoulders with real flesh and blood people.  Conversely, the heart can grow and expand.  The Grinch never went back to his isolation.  Instead, he did what Whoville thought was the unbelievable: The Grinch fully participated in the joy of the community, up close and personal.  It was full-bore holding of hands, singing, and eating – which illustrates a conviction I’ve held for a long time:

Hospitality, that is, showing love to outright strangers through celebration and participation with food and drink has the power to change the world.

And if I need to be demonstrative, I will: Hospitality cannot happen from afar; sitting around the table with strangers and interacting with them is needed; it alters our perspectives so that we live our shared humanity.  It is rather difficult to hate someone when you get to know them and discover their loves and joys, hurts and wounds.

This all leads toward asking one of the most fundamental and basic biblical questions that must be asked by every generation and considered by everyone who respects God and/or the Christian Scriptures:

Am I able to see the image of God in someone very different from myself?

The Christian doesn’t have to go very far to answer this one, at least from an objective cerebral perspective.  Jesus saw the humanity in everyone he encountered, from Jew to Gentile, from sinner to saint.  In fact, Jesus saw this image so deeply within another that he sat around the table and ate with people whom others saw as not worthy to eat with.  Jesus’ willingness to participate in the hospitality of strangers was downright scandalous.  It isn’t a stretch to say that it got him killed.

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What’s more, Jesus wept.  He cried in public with strangers.  For followers of Christ who seek to emulate him in his practical ministry, that point ought to be noticed.  After all, we choose to remember and participate in the life of Christ through the elements of bread and wine at the Table.  God’s radical hospitality toward us is truly meant to translate to an open heart toward those who look and act differently than me.

Public policy and even public theology are necessary and important.  Yet, unless policies and theologies and philosophies are buttressed with a foundation of basic human respect and dignity that has been borne of lived experience with strangers, those policies, philosophies, and even theologies have the power to denigrate and destroy rather than build-up and support.

The great fourteenth century mystic, Julian of Norwich, a female devotee of Christ and an influential theologian in her own right among a world of men who tended to see the image of God in women as flawed, understood what it would take to reawaken image-bearing humanity.  She stated, “All that is contrary to peace and love — is in us and not in God. God’s saving work in Jesus of Nazareth and in the gift of God’s spirit, is to slake [lessen] our wrath in the power of his merciful and compassionate love.”

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The Apostle John put it this way: “We love because he [Christ] first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

Don’t think for a minute that crying with strangers is an easy thing for me.  Truth is, crying is not something I typically do, or even like to do.  Yet, constrained by the love of God in Christ, and putting myself in a position to feel with the emotions of others in front of me, I have come to allow and embrace those tears.

We now know that the act of crying produces endorphins which is the body’s way of bringing emotional comfort.  When we apply that understanding to a collective group of people sharing tears together, we end up with a communal sense of solidarity and succor.

Yes, collective experiences of emotion have the power to change the world.  Yet, this occurs only if we show up.  Perhaps this is the reason for the Christian doctrine of the incarnation: Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us, the One who is present.  He showed up, and salvation happened.

Hebrews 10:19-25

            Discouragement can easily settle into the bones when we are not thriving in some way.  The church rests upon three indispensable elements that must be present for every believer in Jesus to thrive as citizens of God’s kingdom:  faith, hope, and love.  “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith… Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering… And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”  Just as a three-legged stool cannot stand on only one or even two legs, so our personal and corporate Christianity will not stand unless faith, hope, and love all exist side by side.
 
            Furthermore, these three vital elements must be based in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and not within our own soul’s fortifications, or lack thereof.  The basis of our confidence in living the Christian life is through the blood of Jesus, that he has taken care of the sin issue once for all through his death.  This is all activated in a practical way through meeting together and encouraging one another as the Body of Christ.
 
            The irony of the Christian life is that in losing our lives we find them; in being last we become first; in emptying ourselves as servants of others we are full.  It is people who attempt gain for themselves that miss faith in Christ; who always have to be right that ultimately lose hope; who seek to be served and thus never know real love.  Let us develop and maintain habits of faith, hope, and love – accessed fully through participation in meeting together as believers in Jesus.
 

 

            Gracious Lord Jesus, you have gone before us and secured deliverance from sin through your death on a cross.  My trust is in you, my hope is in your promised return, and my love belongs to you and your people, now and forever.  Amen.

The Necessity of Community

 
 
What stands out to me about the very earliest believers in Jesus was their amazing transformation (Acts 2:38-47).  Only 53 days earlier these same people had applauded the murder of the Son of God.  But they realized their terrible error, changed their mind, and turned from their sin and embraced the grace of God in Christ.  They became a group of Christians committed to learning more and more about Jesus; sharing their burdens and blessings together; enjoying communion and eating together; praying with and for each other, confessing sin and seeing new life and fresh spiritual health come right in front of their faces.
 
            They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship.  This is a picture of a group of Christian disciples who were hungry for instruction.  They were so hungry for teaching and fellowship that they met every day.  They met in the temple (large group), and in homes (small groups).  Both large group meetings and small group gatherings are necessary for healthy spiritual growth and development.  In other words, this is no superficial once-in-a-while get together; this is a deep devotion and commitment to learning Scripture together, and sharing life together in fellowship.
 
            A simple observation of the text of Acts chapter 2 is that all the pronouns are plural; those pronouns include everyone – not just a select few.  This is why throughout the New Testament the images used to describe the church emphasize its communal nature.  Church as the Body of Christ, the temple of God (building), and as the army of the Lord are all images that require the community of the redeemed working and worshiping and reaching out together in order to glorify God.  True Christian discipleship does not happen apart from life together.
 
            Therefore, we need to be aware of church images that emphasize only the individual and not the community.  For example, seeing the church as a gas station where you fill up your spiritual gas tank when you’re running low ignores the community. Get a good sermon and some energizing worship and hopefully you will make it through the week to another service without running out of gas.  For other people, the church may be more like a movie theatre, a place that offers an hour of escape, and leaving your problems at the door, with the goal of coming out of church feeling better than when you went in.  Or maybe some might view the church as a kind of drug store – a place where you can fill the prescription that will deal with your pain.  Yet others might opt for seeing the church as a big box retailer – a place that offers the best products in a clean and safe environment for you and your family. The church should offer great service and programs at a low price.
 
            Certainly, the church ought to serve and meet individual needs.  The problem arises when we only function as autonomous persons who don’t really need others in order to live the Christian life.  The early church was committed to learning the Word of God together; they committed themselves to fellowship, to practicing hospitality with each other and praying with each other every day.
 
            The results of those two primary communal commitments of learning and fellowshipping on a daily basis was that:  everyone was filled with awe (the fear of the Lord); everyone saw and experienced signs and wonders (miracles); everyone had everything in common (they met one another’s needs – the fact that they sold things implies personal property, not communism); everyone was glad and content with their simplicity of life (“sincere hearts” means they lived simply, and were not encumbered with a lot of stuff and their schedules and calendars overflowing); everyone praised God; everyone enjoyed the favor of the non-Christians around them; and, the result of all this behavior was that people were being saved left and right from their sinful, empty ways of life apart from God.
 
            If any of us today want to have that kind of community dynamic then we must be willing to devote ourselves to biblical teaching and Christian fellowship every day!  No church can become or remain healthy apart from Christian community; it requires doggedly embracing the commitments of learning Scripture, and eating and praying together through being yoked in fellowship.  Being part of a small group that meets once a week, for the purpose of learning more about the Bible and developing community is not really optional equipment for the follower of Jesus.  It is a small thing when you put it in the perspective of the early church meeting every day
 
            That early community had such a curiously learning and deeply loving dynamic that the poor among them knew no shame, and the rich knew no pride.  It was a community where the uneducated felt free to drink in knowing more about Jesus, and the leadership graciously gave instruction that they had gained from being with Christ.
 
            In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott shares a story she once heard from her minister that illustrates the necessary presence of others in our journey of faith:  “When my pastor was about seven, her best friend got lost one day. The little girl ran up and down the streets of the big town where they lived, but she couldn’t find a single landmark. She was very frightened. Finally a policeman stopped to help her. He put her in the passenger seat of his car, and they drove around until she finally saw her church. She pointed it out to the policeman, and then she told him firmly, ‘You could let me out now. This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here.’”  Lamott further writes:  “And that is why I have stayed so close to my church—because no matter how bad I am feeling, how lost or lonely or frightened, when I see the faces of the people at my church, and hear their voices, I can always find my way home.”
 

 

            The church, the Body of Christ, needs you.  The community of the redeemed needs your gifts and abilities, your presence and wisdom.  Disciples are made, formed, and forged in the context of community.  The sharing of your experiences and insights, as well as your hands and feet, are necessary for being spiritually developed in Christ.  Confidence is only gained through practice, and the spiritual practice of community is what is needed.  May the results of that early congregation be our collective experience, as well, as we devote ourselves to the teaching and to the fellowship.

Confess Your Sins to Each Other

 
 
When it comes to learning a new skill, or developing some practice, it really requires the willingness to take a risk and go to places we have not been before.  But fear of the unknown can hamstring us and be a significant barrier to our development as followers of Jesus.  Any growth in Christian faith will require risk.  Understandably, this is uncomfortable.  Especially as we grow older and settle into certain routines and ways of life, we become used to being in control.  Over time our comfort zone might shrink to encompass little more than the things we are good at, doing the activities that bring us a reasonable chance of success, and avoiding things that leave us vulnerable.
 
            But God calls us to faith, which requires a real sense of dependence and the necessity of putting ourselves out there for him.  So, hearing the biblical phrase “confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16) may cause us to be anxious, nervous, or just downright scared.  All of us, without exception, have our adverse circumstances, our trials, and our tribulations in this life.  The perspective of the Apostle James is that coping and dealing with the things that trouble us and give us grief cannot effectively be dealt with apart from the church.  Overcoming our troubles requires corporate involvement.  The medicine that we need to deal with life is confession of sin and prayer.  It may be a hard pill to swallow, but every good thing in the Christian life is accessed through the humility of confession.
 
It is part of the church leadership’s job to encourage, to listen to confessions, and to pray (James 5:14-15).  The Apostle James clearly puts the burden on the needy person to share his/her need.  You cannot expect others to read your mind or pick up on clues; you should take the initiative to seek prayer and encouragement.  And you should not expect healing to happen if you do not admit your need for help.
 
            In his book Invisible Men, psychologist Michael Addis tells the story about meeting a middle-aged man named Patrick. Although by all accounts Patrick was an easygoing, happily-married family man who ran a successful business, he had just tried to take his own life. After some prodding from Dr. Addis, Patrick finally divulged the events that led to his suicide attempt. His business had steadily slowed until he was unable to make the mortgage payment on their new house. Things went downhill financially from there. Then the economy crashed.  Dr. Addis writes:  “It was Patrick’s response to these events that really struck me. Rather than letting his wife and close friends know about the struggles he was facing, Patrick kept it all to himself. Over time, the gap between what people thought was going on in his life and what was actually going on grew larger, and Patrick became profoundly depressed. He couldn’t face working, but he also couldn’t face telling people how bad things had gotten …. Eventually the depression became so overwhelming that he saw no other way out.  “How could I face them?” he asked. “What would they think of me? In their eyes I’d look like a has-been, somebody whose time had come and gone, only because he couldn’t handle it.”  “But those were extremely difficult experiences you had,” I said. “Nobody could have foreseen the financial difficulties.”  “I should have been able to. Besides, that’s not what I’m talking about. I should have been able to handle it emotionally. Instead, I fell apart and turned into a sniveling little boy. What was I going to say, ‘Oh, Mommy, please help me?’ I couldn’t let people see me like that.”  On the one hand, it seemed obvious to me that no man would want to see himself like a little boy asking for Mommy’s help. But then if you stopped and thought about it, is asking for help worse than dying? How far will a man go to hide his shame? How many Patricks are out there who would rather [suffer alone] than try to break through the gauntlet of silence and invisibility that prevents them from finding the support they so desperately need?”
 
  • Some Christians are emotionally suffering and mentally struggling because of their unforgiving spirit concerning some past event and are holding on to bitterness.  They will not be well until they accept God’s prescription of confession and prayer.
  • Some Christians are suffering in silence and experiencing physical ailments because of a stubborn refusal to admit need and obey the Scripture to confess sins.
  • Some Christians are overwhelmed with life circumstances to the point of physical and emotional exhaustion because they are holding on to things that they think are important, but are not important to God.
  • Some Christians have gone to doctors, counselors, and talked to everyone under the sun about their situation, but have not taken the Bible seriously through confession and prayer to deal with their problem.
  • Some Christians are harboring secret sins and do not have victory over them because, even though they have prayed, their pride has stopped them from confession to others.

 

So what should we do?  We should confess our sins to each other and pray for each other so that we may be healed.  This is the responsibility of every believer.  God has not given a spirit of timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).  We can do this.  I am praying for you, that your personal courage will result in confessing your sins to a trusted Christian person.

True Community

 
 
Not all communities of Christians are alike.  Some churches are vibrant, open, and caring; some churches are downright grumpy as if they were all baptized in pickle juice.  Churches are at different places with each other because to be a genuine God-honoring community takes much work – community cannot be cheaply gained or maintained.
 
M. Scott Peck was a psychiatrist and the author of one of the most read books of the 20th century, The Road Less Traveled.  He wrote many other books, including the lesser known, but just as significant work, The Different Drum, where he argues that we all must march to the beat of a different drum when it comes to community.  He observed and described 4 stages a community must move through in order to become a true authentic loving group of people:
 
1. Pseudo-community.  This is a community where people are polite, nice, friendly, and well-behaved, but say very little about themselves because they are guarded with each other.  They speak in generalities and platitudes.  “How’s it going?”  “It’s going fine.”  Community at this stage, if the people have been together for a long time, is a mile wide and an inch deep.
 
2. Chaos.  Peck labels this stage chaos because it is here that every group of people must experience the out of control feeling (chaos) of doing conflict together.  This stage is doing the irritating work of accountability, and loving each other enough to confront and not let each other stay in the first superficial stage.
 
3. Emptiness.  Peck means here the act of self-emptying love.  In this stage we let go of our ego, and put down our personal demands, so that we can respond to others’ needs.  This is a stage of genuine listening to each other and responding in grace and love, instead of just making dogmatic statements toward each other.  This is where we hear one another’s stories, and extend forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration.  We seek to bridge our differences with integrity, kindness, and concern for the other.
 
4. True community.  Everyone belongs to each other, and we all belong to Jesus.  We give to each other the encouragement that is needed no matter what.  This is a stage of deep honesty, and deep caring.  Sin in the Bible is not so much breaking the rules; sin is giving up on Jesus and/or giving up on his church.  Apathy and lethargy are the twin demons that destroy Christ’s Church.
 

 

What I am stating is neither easy nor popular.  There is more pain in community than outside of it.  But there is also more joy.  And there cannot be life apart from the church.  The perspective of the Christian Scriptures is that we must act Today, because there may not be a tomorrow.  Grace and forgiveness are to be the rule of Christian community, because this emulates the behavior of our Savior, the Lord Jesus.  That cannot happen apart from true community and the work it takes to become one.  So, it is high time to get another perspective on community, a face to face one with real people, rather than a view of the back of people’s heads.  It takes much personal courage to gain community.  Are you willing to do it?

I Am My Brother’s Keeper


It is a common misconception among some Christians today that what others do is none of my business.  Therefore, any bad attitude, each morsel of gossip, every tidbit of running another person down behind their back, and a person’s spiritual lethargy or half-hearted commitment is just politely ignored.  But Christian love will not allow this without a word of exhortation and a helping hand of encouragement.  Every believer is to have a personal interest in the spiritual well-being of others.  It is the spiritual obligation of every Christian to promote the growth in grace of every other Christian.
            Love cannot be expressed in isolation, but only in community.  Proverbs 27:17 says:  As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.  And Proverbs 27:5-6 says:  Better is open rebuke than hidden love.  Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.  There is to be a care, concern, warmth, and willingness to speak truth and grace into the life of others and not leave them wallowing in a superficial Christianity with toxic relationships that are of no benefit to others.
            The Church is to be a gymnasium of the soul where we dig in with a group of believers, be it hell or high water, and commit ourselves to the way of love and good deeds, rather than only having a personal concern for what benefits me.  Even though Cal Ripken, Jr. is one of the greatest individual players in baseball history, what mattered most to him was succeeding as a team. In one interview, he said: “I’d much rather be referred to not as an individually great player, or someone who tore up the record books, but someone who came to the ball park and said: ‘Okay, I’m here. I want to play. What can I do to help us win today?'”   He went on to say:  A lot of people ask, “What is your greatest play—your greatest accomplishment?” I say, “I caught the last out of the World Series.” It wasn’t a great catch—I didn’t dive, I didn’t do a cartwheel and throw the guy out at first base. People’s mouths didn’t drop open on the play. We all want to be part of something bigger. But we all have our little jobs that we have to do as a member of a team. Everybody has their individual responsibilities, but they all have to come together for a main goal, and that’s to win. I’ve had great years when we haven’t won, and they have not been really fulfilling. I’ve had not-so-great years, but we’ve had a good success as a team, and they were more fulfilling. So the most fulfilling moment I could ever have, again, was catching the last out of the World Series—knowing we did it!
            Christians are to consider one another, to pay thoughtful attention to other believers, take an interest in their welfare, and think about how to encourage them (Hebrews 10:24-25).  We are to put some effort into it.  A major opportunity for this occurs at corporate gatherings.  Believers in Jesus are to not be in the habit of skipping opportunities for growth in grace.  Attendance to church services and other Christian gatherings is not an end in itself, but is the means to the end of practicing love and good deeds toward one another.  This implies and requires us to not think solely in terms of what I personally get out of the meeting, but also what we have to offer others.  And what we offer to each other is, quite literally, to spur one another on.  We are to give each other a loving kick in the pants when we need it.  We are to be provoking, inciting, even irritating each other to spend our lives for Christ.
            Please note that this does not mean we lay a guilt trip on people, because Christ’s blood cleanses us from a guilty conscience.  Rather, it means we lovingly come alongside another person and help him/her be effective in walking with Jesus and being a faithful follower of Christ.  If left to ourselves, we end up becoming disillusioned and bitter.  Hebrews 12:15 says: See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.  If you are in a conversation that ends up leading to gossip, or slander, or back-biting, or tearing another down, then you need to step up to the plate and lean into that discussion and call it for what it is.  And after shutting it down you need to not just walk away but turn that conversation into something that encourages and builds up and helps and spurs and incites each other to godliness.  If you are not willing to do that then you had better start fasting and praying for God to grow you up so that you can do His will.  After all, I am my brother’s keeper. 
            How is your Christian community characterized?  What level of accountability exists between one another in your group?  Do people love each other enough to confront?  Is restoration and reconciliation pursued at all costs, or not?  What can you do to help spur others on toward the way of love and good deeds?

Speaking Truthfully to One Another

When we go to the doctor, we want he/she to be honest with us about our true condition and health.  If we have a clean bill of health, we are glad for that truth.  If, however, we have something wrong, we would like to know what it is and how to deal with it rather than have the doctor avoid the truth so as to not make us feel bad or hurt our feelings.
 
            In many ways pastors are spiritual doctors; it is their job to deal in the care of souls.  In order to care for those souls, telling the truth to parishioners can not only be comforting, but it can also be painful.  Pastor John Ortberg once said that “Trying to grow spiritually without hearing the truth about yourself from somebody else is like trying to do brain surgery on yourself without a mirror.”
 
            The truth will set you free.  But before it will free you, it will make you uncomfortable.  We all have a real need to hear the truth spoken in love.  And here is the truth that we must get a hold of:  we are to be open, honest, and real with each other in the church because we belong to one another (Ephesians 4:25).  We are to stop being dishonest, and start being truthful.
 
            What is truth?  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  Our lives together as a community of believers are to be shaped around the person and finished work of Jesus Christ.  Since Christians share a common confession of Jesus together, we are to share a common life together.  That life is to revolve around the truth of Jesus.  That means we will put off non-Christian ways of relating to each other, and put on a Christian way of relating to each other.  We will speak truthfully.  And we will do it because we belong to each other.  Just as Jesus closely identified with us in his life, death, and resurrection, so we are to so closely identify with each other that we take responsibility for each other.  My problems are your problems – your issues are my issues.
 
            We are to put off bad habits, and put on good habits.  We are to put off lying, and put on truth.  Let’s be honest:  we are in the habit of not being truthful.  We are in the habit of being liars.  We are in the habit of pretending and being plastic – and what we need to see is that, in the Body of Christ, pretending that you are okay when you are not, or even acting like your life is hard when it is really not, is presenting yourself in an untruthful way.  Secrecy and deception are tools of Satan, not God.  Therefore, we must put off the bad habit of pretension, and put on the good habit of speaking truthfully to each other. 
 
 
 
            Why do we lie and not speak the truth?  We are in the habit of lying because we have bought into the lie from the enemy of our souls that being truthful and transparent is too traumatic for us – we believe we can’t do it.  The truth is that many Christians don’t think being open, honest, real, vulnerable, and genuine is worth the risk.  We have believed the lie that we will not be accepted, that we will lose face with others, or that people will just gossip about me if they really knew about me.  In other words, we let shame call the shots instead of speaking truthfully to one another.  So, we simply avoid the truth and, so, end up avoiding others.
 
            A lie is like a knife stabbed into the bowels of Christ’s Body, the Church.  We are not to hide in the shadows and live in the dark.  We are to step into the light and forsake all fakery and be truthful.  Ephesians 5:8-11 says: For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 
 
            When Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Apostle Peter, they were judged severely because they betrayed the community.  Lying undermines community and erodes the church.  If we cannot be truthful to each other in the church, then we are living in the darkness and have need of coming into the light of truth. 
 
            How do we speak truthfully?  We speak truthfully by making and keeping promises to each other because that is what God does with us.  Churches that love truth will make a safe place for the awkwardness of confession, forgiveness, and healing.  There must be assurance that members won’t abandon one another as they reveal their sins and weaknesses and fumble forward toward maturity and holiness.  Truthful churches are communities of encouragement and hospitality where we are safe to be real.  No one in the Body of Christ should ever have to suffer in silence, cry alone, or wonder whether the church will forsake them.  The Church of Jesus Christ is to have a refreshing openness with each other, since we belong to one another.  To have union with Christ is to have union with one another; you can’t have one without the other.
 
            We must love one another enough to both speak and listen to the truth.  Author Lewis Smedes has said in his book The Power of Promises:  “Yes, somewhere people still make and keep promises. They choose not to quit when the going gets rough because they promised once to see it through. They stick to lost causes. They hold on to a love grown cold. They stay with people who have become pains in the neck. They still dare to make promises and care enough to keep the promises they make. I want to say to you that if you have a ship you will not desert, if you have people you will not forsake, if you have causes you will not abandon, then you are like God.
 
What a marvelous thing a promise is! When a person makes a promise, she reaches out into an unpredictable future and makes one thing predictable: she will be there even when being there costs her more than she wants to pay. When a person makes a promise, he stretches himself out into circumstances that no one can control and controls at least one thing: he will be there no matter what the circumstances turn out to be. With one simple word of promise, a person creates an island of certainty in a sea of uncertainty.”
 
            I am harboring no illusions or ideals here: being transparent and real is both scary and traumatic, but if we are to be the church we will speak truthfully and not put up a false front.  We will neither hide nor hurl.  We will neither pretend everything is okay when it is not, nor will we project our problems onto others by hurling untruthful accusations.  Instead, we will learn to communicate to each other by speaking the truth in love. 
 
            There are two tendencies that may plague us going forward from here:  complacency and mediocrity.  When it comes to having healthy relationships, we are too easily satisfied with a minimum amount of effort, words, and commitment.  We are to live into our baptisms; we are to renew our covenant of care and commitment to each other.  That means we will let the Word of God invade our hearts to the point of being willing to say what needs to be said and to be open enough to let others into our lives. 
 
            Some of us have putrid spiritual abscesses in our lives from either hiding the truth or hurling truth without love.  Spiritual healing does not come apart from spiritual surgery.  We must let God’s ordained means of bringing health and healing into our lives today.  God the Father sent God the Son to die on a cruel cross for all of our unhealthy and sinful ways of relating to each other.  God the Father and God the Son sent God the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to form a new community of believers in Jesus around truth.
 
            I’m not talking out of the side of my neck when I speak about these things.  I did not grow up in a family that was safe to have truthful communication.  As a result, I learned very early in life to hide.  My learned habits of communication were untruthful.  It took years of painful spiritual surgery to become a person who could swim in the truth of deep relationships instead of superficial ones.  It pains me, I think more than others, to see people settle for mediocre relationships in their families, with their friends, and especially with their church.
 
 
 
It only seems reasonable to me that churches need small groups of people who come together with the expressed purpose of sharing life together through being real and working out our salvation together.  When Paul wrote his epistles, he wasn’t writing to a large building with hundreds of people in it; he was writing to small gatherings of believers throughout the city or region.  If we lose our first love of Jesus we will see no need for sharing life together in such a way.  You cannot have a robust relationship with Jesus Christ without having an equally robust relationship with others in Christ’s Church.  The first step of real spiritual growth, after professing Christ as Savior and Lord, is allowing Christ’s Church to take responsibility for you, and for you to take responsibility for the Church because we belong to one another.
 

 

Will you let a trusted layperson or pastor into your life?  Is there anything hindering you from doing so?  Do you settle for superficial relationships?  Why, or why not?  What do you think God would like to do through you and your church when it comes to genuine community?  Go for it.