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.]

 

Channeling God’s Love to Others

love_mostContinued from here.

One of the most profound lessons God taught me in my journey to forgiving others is that He provides the love for those who have wronged me. It took me a long time to forgive some of the people in my life because I had been so deeply wounded. When it was time for me to interact with these people, I feared how I might feel being around them again. I knew I had forgiven them, but I didn’t “feel love” for them. So, I spent hours in prayer, praise, and worship to fill up with God’s love before the interaction. I was blown away by God’s ability to love them through me.

While I had no love in my heart for them, God had ample love for them because Jesus died for them, too. If they only knew how deeply God loved them, they would not have behaved toward me in the way that they did. It felt like God turned on a firehose of love that coursed through me. I didn’t have to contribute any love from my heart – it all came from God. Not only did these people receive God’s lavish love through me, but I also got to experience God’s love in a much richer way because it flowed through me before reaching them. Thus, not only did forgiving those who wronged me bring me healing: it also brought me a deeper sense of love and joy!

This dynamic is particularly true in marriage. No matter how broken your marriage is, God can fill you with His love for your spouse. You don’t have to bring an ounce of love to the table. Perhaps your marriage has been dead for years. God can breathe life into the dry bones of your marriage. What resurrects a dead marriage is love – God’s love – because God loves your spouse enough to sacrifice Jesus for him or her. If your spouse truly understood the height, depth, width, and breadth of God’s love for him or her, the behavior that killed your marriage would change.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of love flowing out of Grace’s chest with the words, “Love you the most.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Go Out and Do Something Small

do_itContinued from here.

One of my favorite lines from Josh Wilson’s song, Dream Small, is…

Add up the small things and watch them grow bigger. The God who does all things makes oceans from rivers.”

Each small act of kindness matters, and it has a ripple effect that changes the world. Nothing is too small to matter. Wilson’s song includes several examples of small things that change the world:

  • Singing songs about God to a child
  • Spending time with your family
  • Pastoring a tiny church
  • Visiting a widow
  • Dancing with someone with special needs

Note what all of these examples have in common – they involve investing in PEOPLE. Each example involves seeing someone else’s needs and doing SOMETHING – no matter how small – to meet that need.

One of the greatest losses in our culture is the gift of time. We live at a frenetic pace (me included) that leaves little room to invest in spending time with other people. We have replaced quality one-on-one time with social media and try to convince ourselves that having 1,000 friends on Facebook means we are loved. Nothing can replace the gift of your time – of sitting down with someone, making eye contact, and listening to whatever is on their hearts. That’s one reason I am such a strong proponent of small group ministry. Meeting together weekly, even for one hour, and LISTENING to one another meets people’s needs for love and support in a way that social media cannot.

I encourage you not to let this topic be something you read and agree with but do nothing about. Instead, start praying for God to change your heart and open your eyes to the needs around you. Ask Him to show you who you can bless today, and when you feel his tugging, follow His lead. No act is too small. Even a simple smile might be the connection someone needs to build hope and not give in to the siren song of suicide. You never know what small act of kindness can profoundly change someone’s life and, by extension, the world.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace cheering you on against the backdrop of the words “DO IT” written repeatedly. Courtesy Bitmoji.]