We Need Others to Be Christians

Continued from here.

A wise man pointed out that Christianity cannot be practiced in isolation. In other words, Christianity isn’t taking place if there is no investment in other people. Tony Evans puts it this way: Christians have a vertical relationship with God and a horizontal relationship with others. Without the horizontal beam, there is no cross. That’s the basis of the title of his book, Horizontal Jesus. The book is all about how to live your faith as you invest in other people.

Far too many people are selfish Christians. They want just enough of Jesus to avoid going to hell, which focuses only on their own needs. What about the other people who also need to avoid going to hell? Your reaction is likely like mine – I don’t want to be an offensive “Bible thumper” who annoys people by trying to “save” them.

However, Jesus and his disciples changed the world without thumping anyone with a Bible. They did it through LOVE! And love is expressed by investing in other people. In fact, if you aren’t investing in other people, you are not loving them, and God is love. Jesus commanded us to love one another as he loved us. The Bible even tells us that if we aren’t loving one another, then we don’t know God.

If we are living our faith, then Christians should be known as the most loving people in existence. We should be the people who notice someone’s pain first and reach out in love. We should be the ones who are the most willing to slow down to 3 MPH and listen to whatever is burdening someone’s heart. If we were to do this – to live as Jesus did – we would change the world just as surely as the disciples did in the First Century. People were – and still are – drawn to God because of His love, and they should be seeing this love through us.

[Graphic: Cover of Horizontal Jesus. Courtesy Amazon. ]

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Community Groups

group_hugContinued from here.

I have been leading Bible studies through my local church for well over a decade. One of my concerns has been seeing people grow in their knowledge of God without becoming the hands and feet of Christ. Don’t get me wrong – I have interacted with many wonderful women (and men!) through these Bible studies, but something has been missing. There’s been a disconnect between the level of knowledge accumulated about the Bible and turning that knowledge into “love in action.”

In seminary, I concentrated on discipleship and learned the importance of leading holistic small groups that have not only an upward (God) focus but also an inward (group members) focus and an outward (missions) focus. Without an inward and outward focus, there’s nowhere for the accumulated knowledge to be applied. Jesus did not sit around with his disciples getting them to learn the Torah better. He led by example in the community and showed them what “love in action” looks like. That’s what our small groups need to be doing as well.

Last week, my church launched its first community group (although it’s using a different name for it) to apply what I learned in seminary, and I’m excited about the potential. The small group will spend half its time each week with an inward focus, encouraging group members to invest in one another. The second half of the session will be a traditional Bible study (upward focus). And then every fourth week or so, the session will consist entirely of a missions focus – either serving in the community as a group or meeting away from the church to discuss how members are serving as Jesus’ hands and feet in the community. My hope is that this balanced structure will help the group members grow as disciples of Christ who apply what they learn from the Bible study into their relationships with the other group members and with people in the community. I also hope that this structure will help meet each group member’s need for intimacy – of being seen and known as we travel this road together.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling and standing between the words, “Group Hug.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Developing Intimacy

heart_thoughtContinued from here.

Another point from the documentary Godspeed is the importance of developing intimacy. We live in a world where people have 500 Facebook friends but nobody who actually knows them. The DJs on a Christian radio station were recently talking about a study that America’s Youth do not know how to carry on a face-to-face conversation because their communication is always through text and social media. American life has become very disconnected, and yet God calls us to intimacy, both with Him and with one another. How can we do this if we don’t slow down enough to make eye contact and to know one another’s names and stories?

One of my favorite names for God is El Roi, which means “the God who sees me.” I have spent most of my life feeling unseen. I have oceans of depth to my soul, but few people bother to look. However, God not only sees this depth, but he even understands the complexity in me that I don’t even understand about myself. He knows me intimately, which draws me ever closer to Him as He meets my deep need to feel seen and known.

In my Evangelism class in seminary, the professor said that someone set up shop in a mall and offered to spend 30 minutes listening to whatever someone wanted to talk about for $20. Per the professor, this person had no credentials but made a lot of money because people are that desperate to feel “heard.” However, nobody is listening because we are all racing from here to there, many of us with earbuds in our ears to ensure that we fail to hear as well as see the pain of those around us. This is not the way God designed Christian community to be.

The Church is supposed to function as a Body, but how can that happen when we do not see or hear one another? How can we learn to walk together when each one of us is racing to his or her own destination at 90 MPH? It’s a lot easier to move as a body at 3 MPH, getting to know another’s names and stories as we walk.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling with her eyes closed and thinking of a heart. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Slowing Down

snailContinued from here.

Slowing down is a concept that most Americans cannot even process. When I tell people that I observe the Sabbath each week (on Fridays so I can rest while my family is at work or school), they look at me like I have two heads! How could I possibly afford to take an entire day off from work, cleaning, running around, and getting things done? My response is that I cannot afford NOT to take that day. When I was working full-time and going to school full-time, my Sabbath was my day of sanity – a break from an overstuffed life. I actually get more accomplished in six days while observing the Sabbath than I could possibly complete in seven without it!

I also slow down in the mornings and evenings by spending both blocks of time with God. I don’t how I used to get out of bed and immediately go at full speed, but I did this for many years. I need that time of grounding – of filling up with God – before interacting with another person. The slow pace of my morning provides the foundation for hitting the ground running when I start my day.

A wise woman once told me that I am a human BEING, not a human DOING. A wise man said that America has it backward: Rather than “don’t just sit there, do something,” our motto should be “don’t just do something, sit there.” God did not design people to go at 90 MPH, and that is not how Jesus lived. If he was going at 90 MPH, he never would have noticed Zaccheus or the Samaritan woman at the well. How much do we miss as we zip through our lives to make progress on our endless to-do lists?

Many people tell me they wish they could discern God’s voice as well as I seem to be able to. I wonder how many of those people have any time during the day in which they are only walking 3 MPH so God has an opening to speak to them. God frequently “interrupts” my quiet time because that’s when I am walking slowly enough to hear Him. It’s harder to get my attention when I am racing from one task to the next.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crawling out of a snail’s shell. Courtesy Bitmoji.] 

 

Godspeed

godspeedMy church provides its congregation with a free subscription to RightNow Media, which is a streaming service of Bible Studies and sermons, kind of like a Christian Netflix. Because I have an account, RightNow Media periodically sends me emails promoting one of the available videos. I generally simply delete those emails because I have limited time for viewing them, but the latest one caught my eye. It was advertising a documentary called Godspeed, which you can watch for free here.

Godspeed is the story of an American priest who moved to Scotland and learned about living life at God’s pace (hence the pun in the title Godspeed). In the United States, life races by at a dizzying pace, but God led this priest to a parish in Scotland where everything moves at the pace that Jesus did – at 3 miles per hour. When we move at 3 MPH, we notice things that we simply cannot notice when we are racing from one place to the next. In fact, that’s the pace Jesus used to change the world!

By moving at only 3 MPH, Jesus had the time to notice people – to not only learn their names but also their stories. He got to know the people around him intimately, as they also did with him. This is what the American priest learned to do in his parish. His “office” was the village. He got out and walked, getting to know the people as he walked throughout the parish. He shared a powerful story of feeling led to do a sermon without notes, which was frightening because he didn’t want to freeze up in front of “the congregation.” But then he realized that “the congregation” was made up of individuals he had gotten to know intimately, so freezing up did not have to be scary. These were not nameless people congregated to hear him speak. He was speaking before a room filled with friends who he knew and who knew him.

I was blown away by the simple and yet profound concept of slowing down and developing intimacy among the people around you. I loved the line in the documentary about how we race through life, impatiently waiting for God to catch up with us while if we would simply slow down our pace, we would catch up with God.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling over the word, “Godspeed.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Motivation for Discipleship is Always Love

love_youContinued from here.

Radical discipleship is not possible without love, which is why it’s so important to invest quality, one-on-one time with God every day. Humbling myself to apologize to the mother of my son’s bullies was not easy for me, and there’s nothing in my natural self that was inclined to do it. I chose to say, “Yes, Lord” because I loved God more than I hated the thought of having that conversation. I don’t know if God will use that conversation to change the mother’s life, but my obedience certainly changed mine.

Each time we say “Yes, Lord” to something we REALLY don’t want to do, we deepen our level of intimacy with God. We get the opportunity to experience Him in ways that most other people do not. God rewards those who earnestly seek Him, and the momentarily pain of obedience is more than compensated for in the long run. Joyce Meyer words it this way: obedience first causes pain to the flesh before it results in pleasure to the spirit.

Radical discipleship is what Jesus called us to. All of his disciples were radical in how they lived their lives and how they interacted with others. Their priorities were not the same as the World’s. They weren’t concerned about saving up for retirement and making sure their kids got into the right college. Their focus was on Kingdom purposes, doing the will of God and sharing their faith with anyone who would listen. They loved God more than their own lives, and they gave up their right to live as they pleased to become slaves of Christ. That’s the same level of radical discipleship that God calls us to as well.

Are you a disciple of Christ? Or are you just going through the motions to avoid going to hell when you die? Do you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? Or is going to church simply an activity you do on Sundays that you check off your to-do list each week? God isn’t looking for pew warmers – he’s looking for people who will radically follow Him, loving Him more than they love their own lives. Is that you?

In March 2013, I became a radical disciple of Christ, and my life has been completely transformed. Anyone who knew me before then will testify that this is the case for me. I have made many sacrifices, but I have gained so much more in return. God IS the gift. Chase Him! Cling to Him! He is worth it!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up a sign that says, “Love You.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Radical Obedience of Christian Discipleship

truck1Continued from here.

Being a disciple of Christ requires radical obedience. Let me give you an example from my own life…

When my son was a freshman in high school, he was bullied by two brothers. Things got ugly, first with the boys and then with the parents and the school. While I did pray for God’s wisdom and discernment as well as for the bullies and their family, I did not handle the situation in a Christlike manner. I even threatened to sue the school if the situation was not resolved to my satisfaction, and I meant it. (I have a law degree and am married to a lawyer.)

God was faithful and brought about many blessings throughout this difficult and painful time. My son is a better person because of the bullying, and I learned much about God’s faithfulness and grace. Hindsight is 20/20 vision, and I now see how God used what was intended for harm to bring about much good.

Now for the “Yes, Lord” part of the story … The bullying was at its worse in December and January, and then someone vandalized my husband’s truck in July, the night before my son left for the hospital for major back surgery. To this day, my family is convinced these bullies are the ones responsible, but we are unable to prove it. So, you can imagine my reaction when God placed on my heart in September that I needed to apologize to the bullies’ mother for the way I handled the bullying situation.

Let that sink in for a minute. These bullies vandalized our house and vehicle, emotionally tormented my son for several weeks, and did not take much responsibility for any of this, with only a minor consequence applied to one of the bullies after my threat to sue the school if no action was taken. And God told ME to apologize to the mother of these bullies.

As a disciple of Christ, I knew only one answer was possible for me: “Yes, Lord.” I told God that if He would provide the opportunity, I would do so. Within a couple of weeks, I crossed paths with the mother at a soccer game, and I followed through with my promise. I apologized for how I handled the situation and said that while I still don’t know how I should have handled it better, I wish I would have spent more time on my knees before God in prayer before reacting. That was a difficult conversation for me to have (and was well-received by her), but I loved God more than I hated having to do this.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Photograph of Grace’s husband’s vandalized truck. Courtesy Grace Daniels.]