But First Jesus

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)

 

Due to some recently events in my life, I’ve really been thinking about the centrality of Christ. How does He impact my everyday life? How does Jesus influence my conversations with others? And how does He direct how I interact with those who I am trying to mentor? The past couple weeks I’ve needed to take a step back and look at the end goal of all of my mentoring relationships. And because of this passage I’ve had to refocus my efforts and revaluate if Jesus was central in those relationships.

But First Jesus

In Colossians 1, I see three ideas about Christ that should influence mentoring in the church.

  1. Christ’s power. (15-17)

Jesus is the creator. Everything was created by Him and He is sovereign over all. That includes all thrones, dominions, rulers, and authorities. The power used to create the universe is the same power that breathes new life into the hearts of sinners.

Jesus is central to mentoring, because only His power is strong enough to change a sinner.

  1. Christ’s position. (18-19)

Jesus is preeminent. Jesus is the head of the church. Jesus is completely God. Christ’s position in this world, our churches, and the believer’s heart is supposed to be above all. What Jesus teaches should be above any personal ideology. He should be the reason we gather at church. He is the reason we proclaim the gospel.

Jesus is central to mentoring, because He is preeminent.

  1. Christ’s payment. (20)

Jesus reconciled all to himself by dying on the cross. He made peace with the Father by shedding His blood for you and for me. Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay. And it is only through Him that we can peace with God.

Jesus is central to mentoring, because it was through His blood alone that we can fellowship with God.

Conclusion

Jesus is central to all of the Christian faith, and that includes how we mentor. Because of His power, position, and payment for our sins we should have an occasional pulse check to make sure we still have Christ where He needs to be, at the center.

Here are a few questions that I had to ask myself about my mentoring relationships to help gauge if Christ is where He needs to be:

  • Only Jesus has the power to change men’s heart, so am I mentoring with the Bible or my opinions? If with my opinions, why and are they Scripturally-based?
  • Christ is preeminent, so am I mentoring to encourage all out pursuit of Him or the things of this world?
  • Christ is preeminent, so am I pointing to Him as the goal of sanctification or am I trying to create a little me?
  • Christ is preeminent, so do I spend more time talking about Him or about the latest sports game or political article?
  • Christ is the only way to have peace with God, so do I encourage those that I mentor to completely rely on Him or trust in our own strength to make it through life?

When it comes to mentoring, across all age groups, Jesus must be central. All the strategies, ideas, blogs, and books that are being written and distributed are great, but before any of those can be used effectively, we need to focus on Christ and put Him at the center of our mentoring relationships.

Next time I meet with my mentor or those that I am mentoring, I must think and put Jesus first.

 

 

 

You Want to Talk About That?

“For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.” (Eph. 5:8-14)

 

I had the privilege of speaking on this passage in my church’s youth group a couple weeks ago. It was hard to speak on a couple specific verses before these because they were just…well…uncomfortable. But it led to good conversations and I was able to touch on this passage.

Every time I’ve heard this passage preached on, the preacher generally will like to stay with the whole we are child of light part. Which, don’t get me wrong, is truly awesome! I am literally eternally grateful for the fact that I am a child of light through the work of Christ. But I don’t remember ever hearing a good explanation of what exposing the unfruitful works of darkness looks like.

My mind automatically goes down three trails of thought when I read this. First, I think of Scooby and gang pulling of the mask of the villain as they reveal his plan and him saying, “I would have gotten away with it too. If it weren’t for you meddling kids!” Next I think of this tattle-tale kid telling his dad that his brother or sister did something wrong. Or last, to a legalistic-type preacher naming off a list of things he doesn’t like in the world and labeling them as wicked, and thus he exposed the darkness of the world. But this passage isn’t any of those and it’s what so many mentoring relationships need.

So what is it?

We as the redeem children of God were in darkness (sin) and have made light through the blood of Christ. So we should have a desire to live life in a matter pleasing to Him and that’s found in all things that are good, right, and true. So as we live here on earth and have the light of Christ shine through us into other’s lives we see things they might not. Those dark places are exposed by the light of Christ and they become visible.

In summary, it is us being an imitator of Christ as a dear child and letting His light shine through us. And as we do life with our brothers and sisters in Christ, His light shining through us exposes the dark areas in our lives.

That kind of sounds like mentoring. Two or three people pursuing Christ with the help of each other and in that relationship having the light of Christ show them where they need to grow and change to be like Jesus.

Applications

Here’s a couple of ideas to help us get started into harder conversation that could come from this:

  1. Make sure you have the relationship to do this. I’ve seen someone who doesn’t have deep relationship with someone come out of nowhere and say that someone is sinning because of x, y, and z. Generally, the response is not the accused becoming more like Jesus (even if the accusation has merit), in fact I’ve seen it backfire more often than not and the accusation does more damage than good. If you want to know, be proactive and have the conversation of, “if I saw something in your life that I thought was Biblically wrong, would you be willing to talk about?” before you start down this road. That conversation is the starting point.
  2. Come with a Bible. If there’s one thing I know about my generation is we’ll do the research if we don’t like what was said or we can’t follow the logical flow from point A to B. Information is at our fingertips and we’re very good at finding it. And an older generation is well versed in Scripture. So come with the Bible (in context) and let the Word of God “pierce to the division of soul and of spirit, of joint and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” God’s Word carries more weight than ours.

Mentoring relationships aren’t just “let me give you advice on life.” They include hard conversations about sinners being sinners and how the light of Christ can and should change us.

We Need Each Other

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (I Cor. 12:21)

I spent a few credit hours during undergrad in psychology classes. One of my favorites was developmental psychology (I was an education for a couple years). I thought it was incredibly interesting how human interaction plays a massive role in the development of children. A simple Google search will give you story after story of feral children. These are kids that developed without any or very little human interaction.

A case I remember studying in class was that of Victor of Aveyron. Victor was a feral child found in the early 1800. He couldn’t speak, didn’t like wearing clothes or taking baths, and acted as if he were an animal. By the estimates of the doctors of his day, he had lived by himself for many years and was just starting puberty when he was found.

A French physician name Jean Marc Gaspard Itard took Victor in and proceeded to attempt to teach him language and essentially tame the boy. By the time Victor died at age 40, Itard’s years of work had gotten Victor to understand basic questions, wear clothes, bathe, and eat cooked meat. But Victor never once uttered a complete sentence.

Years of isolation away from human beings during the most crucial developmental stages of childhood set Victor’s life on course for a very interesting and, to me, a very sad existence.

Christian Development

Victor never had the interaction of humans in his life as he developed as a child and hence his life as an adult. Our churches have many under or undeveloped Christians. They’re the teens in your church that believe in Jesus, but haven’t developed a passion for anything spiritual. They are the young adults that are Christians, but have the hardest time talking about anything spiritual because they just can’t. They don’t know how. They are the adults that can talk Jesus, but can’t give a clear gospel message. They have the appearance of a Christian, but haven’t grown into the full stature of Jesus.

1 Corinthians gives us a great example of how members of the body of Christ are supposed to interact with each other. And with these interactions comes the spiritual development that our churches need.

We Need Each Other

The church is a body. Every Christian is a member. God placed us in a specific role. And we all need each other.

“But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” (I Cor. 12:18)

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.” (I Cor. 12:21)

To isolate ourselves from the rest of the body and say “I have no need for them” is foolish and, well, not Biblical. We need each other to grow. When our human bodies don’t communicate within each other and systems start to do their own thing, we general end up at the doctor’s office or in the hospital.

When the body of Christ has members that isolate themselves from the rest of the body, they become spiritual sick and stagnant in their growth. God specifically placed us in the body of Christ to have a specific role and to influence those around.

The Basis for Mentoring

This a foundation for mentoring. The body of Christ united and working together to help each other grow “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Eyes need the feet to move from point A to point B. And the feet need the eyes to show them the path. So Christians need each other to grow.

We can’t encourage others to live in spiritual isolation and expect full spiritual development. We can’t let those who are spiritual children wander without any interaction with other believers and expect them to lead the church effectively in the future. Paul already told us what happens to isolated spiritual children. They’re “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

We are a body, placed in a role by God. When we fulfill our role to the best or our ability and help those around us develop in their role, we grow as a church into the stature of Christ.

We are the body and we need each other.

Living and Proclaiming the Gospel

“Because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” (I Thess. 1: 5)

So this post is for me as much as it is for you. One of my pastors spoke on this passage a few weeks ago and it struck a chord with me, because I see what this passage says, and then the church having two extreme parties on either end of a spectrum with each generation leaning to one or the other.

Here in 1 Thessalonians Paul is explaining how the gospel was proclaimed in Thessalonica. We learn that the Gospel wasn’t just proclaim, but it was proclaimed with the power of the Holy Spirit and backed with the full conviction of the Apostle. Then afterward this gospel was determined to be genuine by the conduct of the Apostle among the people. In the words of my pastor their Gospel message was:

  • Word-filled
  • Power-enabled
  • Holy Spirit dependent
  • Sincerely genuine

Here’s the reason why I bring the topic of Gospel preaching/witnessing up: because I see two different parties, with very few people landing truly in the middle.

Party 1: The Tract-Giver

Let me first state that I do believe that God’s Word does not return void and tracts can be a good way of sharing the good news of Jesus. But, I will also say that I have seen those simple pieces of paper destroy months of work in a mere matter of seconds. I’ve watched as my co-workers received a tract instead of a tip and launch into a rage about the jerk that says the news on that piece of paper is worth more than the $1.00 tip they could have left. My gospel efforts completely destroyed in a matter of seconds.

Tracts are Word-filled and therefore power-enabled. But guess what, unless you’ve made contact with that person over and over again the chances of the message being considered sincerely genuine are slim (notice I did not say impossible, because God can still use tracts even without a consistent Christian testimony in someone’s life). Paul’s message was made more powerful by his life with the church at Thessalonica.

Party one-ers are people who only proclaim the Word with no attempts at making sure the message is being perceived as genuine by consistent contact and  Gospel-living. This is the stereotype of the older generation. Younger generations see many older people in their church passing tracts to everyone, but without making an attempt to make a connection that so many in a younger generation crave and need in order for the message to be perceived as genuine. There’s no proving what manner of men they are.

Party 2: The Bible-Liver

People in this party are those that use the “by your fruits you shall know them” to get away with never once sharing the gospel in word to anyone. They focus solely on “living for Jesus.” They think that if a passerby would just see them reading their Bible in public, watch them volunteer at the local children’s home, or hear them praying and talking about how much they love Jesus with their friends it will be enough for that passerby to engage them in conversation. Now I can’t deny that this doesn’t happen. I’ve been that person praying with a friend and have someone come up to talk to us specifically about the Gospel. It does happen, and when it does it’s an amazing work of God.

But I must say that throughout Scripture there is a lot of proclaiming of the Gospel for it to change lives, not just living with hopes of starting conversations. Here in 1 Thessalonians the Word was preached and then received because of conduct of the proclaimer. We see in Romans 10 that the proclamation of the Word of God is vital to the spread of the Gospel.

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

This party is the millennial stereotype. We like to be involved with lots of ministries, we want to serve, we like to talk about Jesus and what He’s done, but we’re not the best at speaking the Biblical gospel. We feel more comfortable serving on mission fields by feeding the hungry and fighting sex trafficking, than we do sharing the gospel with a neighbor or going canvassing with our church.

Party 3: The Bible

The Bible is pretty clear that it takes both. First we must proclaim, like actually talk and speak the Gospel. When was the last time we actually spoke the Gospel to an unsaved person? The Word needs to proclaimed and be heard in the ears of the unsaved.

Second, we must live a life worthy of the message we proclaim so that message will be received as genuine.

“so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Col. 1:10)

It is by our actions the message we have been given to proclaim is determined as genuine or not. We need to start living the Gospel out to those around us. And we must engage in questions over time that lead to deeper, more eternal-focused discussion.

We need to leave the extremes and join the middle. We need to have the words of the Gospel genuinely proclaimed by Spirit-filled people whose manner of living are worthy of the calling that we have been given.

 

Can We Talk About This?

I’ve found, in my relatively short life span, that the best way to carry on a conversation is to come to an understanding of terms. It keeps both parties honest in how they use them and they will come to a mutual understanding of each other’s statements. Matt and I have thrown this term around a few times and I’ve heard it come up in conversation as I’ve discussed our blog with people in the community around me and my church. The term I’m referring to is “open relationship.”

What does that mean? How can we have them in our churches if we can’t put a definition on the term? Here we go, let’s try to define a very trendy, but very important phrase in our churches.

Let’s start with a definition that I got from a medical journal article that a friend sent me.

“An ‘open’ relationship system is one in which an individual is free to communicate a high percentage of inner thoughts, feelings, and fantasies to another who can reciprocate.”1

To my knowledge the author of this article is not a Christian, but this doctor was able to capture in a sentence what I know many in our churches very desperately need and want.

We need relationships that will allow us to share our inner thoughts. What are the questions that are plaguing our minds at night? What are the “issues” that we are trying to come to an understanding of? The church is facing many cultural issues now that it didn’t have or didn’t talk about 20 years ago and we need to be able to have conversations about them. Like what do I do when my professor is flagrantly anti-Christian? How do I treat my sibling or close friend that just came out as gay or transgender? How can I feel like I live in a community, when I don’t understand what true community is because I’ve never seen it in my own family? How can I believe God is good, when my entire childhood is riddled with sexual abuse? Realities that need Bible answers.

We need relationships that let us ask Bible questions. The church was the center for learning theology at the beginning of Christianity. They didn’t have Christian colleges to send kids to in order for them to learn the fundamentals of their faith. Doctrine was taught in the church and by their members. The church needs relationships that let those in them ask the hard doctrine and Bible questions. They need to be able to ask what does it mean to “be all things to all men in order that I might win some” in our culture today? How was Jesus both completely God and completely man? How can what I read in my Bible and what read in my science textbook be so different? Which is right? If God were love, then how can He condemn someone to hell? How did we arrive at this standard on (insert standard here) Biblically? Where does the Bible say that?

We need relationships that let us share our feelings. That felt so weird typing that. I’m a guy that takes a while for me to be willing to share how I really feel about something, but once I know you a bit be prepared for an outpouring (my brother-in-law will attest to this). Our church members need someone to be able to share our sorrows, frustrations, joys, and victories. It’s only in these types of relationships that we can truly share our feelings and fulfill Romans 12 and “rejoice with those who rejoice, [and] weep with those who weep.”

We need relationships that allow us to dream both spiritually and personally. I know I’ve enjoyed a mentoring relationship that where my mentor supports me in my dreams both spiritually and professionally. He gives me guidance in my professional career, but also helps me grow in my spiritual walk as well. I have a close friend that knows where I want to be in the future spiritually and prays that I will someday be there if God directs and permits. Our churches need to be filled with relationships that will help push each other to our next goal and next step toward Jesus.

Doesn’t that sound amazing. Hopefully you can see the need for this type of relationship and maybe you’ve experienced it. How different would your spiritual walk be if you had that type of relationship? I know my walk with Jesus would have been much different than it was in college and high school if I had someone that I felt I could have been completely open with.

I want to give just three ideas that can help you start these types of relationships with someone in your church. These are ideas that I’ve come to cherish in a couple of my mentoring relationships.

Listen.

Don’t listen to answer. Listen to hear what’s really being said. Let them vent. Let them talk, and eventually they’ll really say what’s on their heart. You’ll be amazed at what someone can work out on their own if someone were to just listen in silence. Listen to hear and understand, not to answer.

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Prov. 18:13)

Share Bible. Not preference.

If there is one thing I’ve had the privilege of having is a mentor that shares more Bible than opinion. I’m pretty sure this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote “but as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” to Timothy. After you’ve listened to hear and understand within the next minute whatever you say should have SCRIPTURE in it, not your opinions on the matter. God’s Word will not return void, I can’t say the same about our opinions.

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1)

“Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly.” (Col. 3:16)

Point to Jesus.

When Paul addressed the church at Corinth he could have made his knowledge of Scripture known. Instead he pointed to Jesus. He preached Jesus to them, and let the Spirit do the rest.

“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (I Cor. 2:2)

 

I hope that I’m a person that can have an open relationship with those in my congregation. I want to be able to talk about the hard things and point to Scripture and Christ. I pray the Church can start having more open relationships and conversations and grow closer together by asking the hard questions.

 

1 Bowen, Murray. “Family Reaction to Death.” 335–336. Print.

Growing Together

I’m excited to have this be our first guest writer post. I’m even more excited that it happens to be my mother. Both Matt and myself have a desire to incorporate perspectives from both ends of a generational spectrum into the blog, and what better way to start than have some who has raised four of her own. Hope you all enjoy.


I am not a millennial, but I have experience with them. I birthed four of them. I read an occasional article about millennials and have a couple of real frustrations with them. First is the criticism heaped on this generation for characteristics that were developed by those in older generations—the ones writing the blogs complaining about them! The other is the blanket categorization of all millennials being “this way.” Setting these soapboxes aside however, let me share a little on what I have learned from living with millennials.

Listen. James implores us to be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath—basically to hurry up and listen. One of the hardest thing for parents or anyone working with kids is really listening. We too quickly assume we understand the issue and want to jump in with the answer, solution, or critique. I am learning to just shut up and listen. It’s amazing the conversations that open up when you do this … and for some reason around my house the golden hour for these conversations seem to be 11 p.m. I have also learned not to push my agenda. There have been times that I’ve really wanted to address an issue on my mind, but I know if I just dive in with it, it will probably not be received well. So I pray for God’s wisdom in the timing to broach a subject and amazingly enough, as I listen during a conversation, the door opens wide, and my concerns and opinions are voiced. The other struggle is to shut up once it’s out there. Still struggle with that one, but we’re working it. Overall, I’ve found that if I listen, I am listened to.

Think. As I listen to the ideas, frustrations, and hopes, there are many times I’ve had to just sit back and think about what they are saying. I am very fortunate that in my experience, we are all looking at life from a Biblical worldview. As ideas are shared, there is always a scriptural basis for the thinking and an overall agreement that Scripture is truth. I believe one of the hardest realizations for my generation is that many of us have lived our lives according to Biblically-based traditions ingrained in us as Biblical truth. Our children’s “why?” or “the Bible doesn’t say …,” posed inquisitively not rebelliously, has caused me to think through a lot of things. It’s hard to admit that for one’s whole life you felt that a certain wardrobe choice, entertainment choice, music choice was sin when according to God’s Word, that prohibition is actually a person’s or movement’s interpretation and application of a scriptural principle. Clearly, as issues come up with anyone of any age group that question something clearly defined in the Bible—lying, killing, adultery/immorality—Biblical truth rules firmly and clearly; however, I believe too much of the generational and church-body conflicts stem from traditions and personal preferences being raise to the level of Scripture and being held too tightly. There is the danger for millennials to move forward with a spirit of arrogance, sort of a “Ha! I CAN do this!” and for the older generation to judge them as unspiritual or rebellious. Balance is very important. We are commanded to love one another, server one another, defer to one another, and we must remember that “one another” goes two ways. Paul addresses this in several epistles—all things are lawful, but all things are not expedient. Discernment. This is where we, the older generations can assist. Rather than judging the youngers as just wanting an excuse to “sin,” take a step back, acknowledge their interpretation and application of the Biblical principle, and have a dialogue. Share why you have concerns about that viewpoint; however, if it is not a violation of sound Biblical truth, agree to respect each other’s positions—mutual respect—and move on serving God together as two parts of the body of Christ, because if both parties are saved by the grace of God through the finished work of Jesus Christ, that’s what you are, whether you sit in church with a coat and tie or blue jeans!

Pray. In every epistle Paul wrote, he expresses he is praying for believers near and far. Perhaps if we’re praying for one another rather than criticizing, our love and unity would grow a bit faster.

“… we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Colossians 1:9-10

I am richly blessed in my relationships with the millennials in my life. God has recently moved me into a position where I will have interaction regularly with more of this age group. I have no idea what the background or baseline of thought and discernment is for some of these young people, but my desire is that I can listen to them, think about their views and ideas, talk with them and pray for them in a way that will benefit each of us in our walk with Christ and our journey to be more like Jesus.

 

 

Learners Needed

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Suess

I’m sitting in a Bible study on a Saturday morning. Well, it’s more like a Bible discussion, accountability, and mentoring group than an actual study and I love it. We’ve spent some time talking about life and how our week has been, but now we’ve moved into discussing what we’re memorizing. A friend quotes a passage that he’s memorizing from Proverbs 14 and the next guy in our group chimes in about a passage he memorized from Proverbs 15. And the short discussion starts. The subject is someone being closed-minded to ideas or having an open mind to learning. Here’s the verse we discussed for a few minutes:

“He who disdains instruction despises his own soul,

But he who heeds rebuke gets understanding.” (Pro. 15:32)

It’s pretty clear in the verse that someone who is close-minded to learning and receiving instruction “despises his own soul.” But someone who is willing to learn and receive a rebuke or two will get understanding. Sounds like a simple statement. If you are willing to be rebuked, you will gain understanding. If you hate instruction, then you despise your soul. Basic if/then statements that everyone should understand. Basic and incredibly hard to practice.

The church as a whole appears to have a learning problem. I will admit that receiving instruction is something I struggle with. Especially when I feel like I have the answer to the question or I just don’t want to hear an answer because of my pride. But it’s not just me. Every church is filled with people just like this, we’re ones that think they have it figured out and don’t want to learn anything else.

It’s as if we view the church as our spiritual “safe zones” that we hear so much about on college campuses. Church is the place I can go and not hear anything that is different from my views. If you’re going to say something that could be different than what I believe than you need to warn me before saying it, because everyone in the church reads the same Bible and therefore must come to the same conclusions as me.

Is that really what church is supposed to be like? Shouldn’t I be able to fellowship with another believer in my church that thinks differently than me? Isn’t the church a tapestry of grace, filled with believers from every tongue and nation, and not a collection of clones? Shouldn’t I be open to instruction from the Bible and then study what I just heard to test if it holds up to Scripture and not blindly accept what was taught because it aligns with what I predetermined to be correct? I should clarify that I’m not talking about core doctrines of the faith. There are doctrines not up for discussion like faith in Christ’s work on the cross as the only way to have a relationship with God. But there are a lot more areas of church life that seem to be taboo to have a different views on. Those are areas that we should learn about with each other.

Dr. Suess had it right when he wrote, “The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.” If we want the church to grow and go places, we need to be willing to learn from each other. We’ll need to take rebuke in order to gain understanding. A church on the move looks like generations of people that hold Scripture higher than their traditions and the Bible tighter than the latest trend or book by some famous theologian. It’s members being willing to learn from and be rebuked by their discussions with each other about the Scripture, so we can gain understanding together.

A church on the move is a church of learners. A church that refuses to receive instruction hates its own soul and will not gain understanding. None of us have it all figured out, there’s always more to learn, and what better way to grow together than by receiving instructing from each other.

Theology of Community

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me”.

John 17:20-21

I find myself praying over and over again that God would allow me to grow in my sanctification. I’ve prayed so often that He would allow me to reflect the image of His Son through my words and actions that day. But what does that even mean? What are ways we reflect the image of God on a day to day basis?

In John 17, Jesus prays for us. That’s in verse 20, when he prays for “those who will believe in me through their word.” Here’s what Jesus prayed for you and for me: that we would be unified, just like Jesus and His Father are, with the purpose that the world would believe that Jesus sent us.

Communal Nature

Our God is a communal God. He is three-in-one. He is triune. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God. So when God created man in His image, He created us with a need to have community. He made us communal beings, after Himself. It explains why we have an intense desire to fit into a group or community, why the thoughts of spending a lifetime alone scares most of us, why isolation is viewed as a form of punishment, and why most of us feel happy when we are in community with others of a like mind. Our need for community is an attribute of God that is in our nature because He created us in His own image.

God-like Community

Since we are created in the image of God and God is a communal being, when we live in community with each other we are best reflecting the image of God. When we fulfill one of our most base desires, having community, within the church we have an opportunity to show the world what God is like. This is what Jesus prayed for. He prayed that we would be unified like He and the Father are, and because of our community the gospel would be spread.

Living It Out

We all know the person. He or she is the one that bounces around from boyfriend to boyfriend or girlfriend to girlfriend for about a year. Then after that year, they’re single for a really long stretch. And we all think what? “Well, I’m glad they’re single for a bit, because they just need to find themselves before they go date somebody else.” You can’t deny it. We’ve all thought it. The problem is we’ve let this thinking into how we choose our relationships within the church.

Either we jump from community to community looking for whatever it is that day, don’t find it, and move on. And then when we get tired of searching we think we need figure ourselves out before we can enjoy community within the church. Or we’re the ones that let those people suffer alone and a way from community as they find themselves or we’re the reason they felt like they weren’t welcome in our community. Neither of those options are a reflection of the image of Christ.

So what about your community? How are you reflecting the image of God? How are we enjoying being together like the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit? Do our relationships lead the world to think that God sent us?

Relationships and community are what Jesus prayed for. It’s a desire instilled in us from the very beginning of time when man was created in the image of God. But are our relationships and community within the church a reflection of the unity of God Himself? And are they a reason the world knows that God sent us?

Restorative Relationships

I walk into my room. The same room I’ve lived in for years. It was the same maroon carpet that had been there since we moved into the house 12 years prior, and fortunately the pink walls had been painted a light yellow since I had moved into the room. I had memories stored in the look and smell of the room, but it was time for a change. My room needed a makeover, and it needed it soon.

I ripped up the carpets and exposed the original hardwoods underneath. They simply needed a little TLC to get them back to their former glory (by little I mean hours of sanding, stripping, and sealing). With the help of a friend we patched the hole in my ceiling. My mom and dad helped me paint the walls a nice gray and brighten up the room. By the end of my project I had what looked like a new room, but was really what the room looked like when the house was originally built. I hadn’t renovated my room, I restored my room. I restored it back to its original glory.

I love being able to restore older items back to its former brilliance and purpose. For a house, it’s taking what is considered old, ugly, and uninhabitable, and turning that into something beautiful and a home for someone to make memories in. I also love it because it’s an amazing picture of our relationship with Christ and what our relationships with each other should look like.

Restoration vs. Renovation

There’s a big difference between those two words. Restoration takes something old or broken-down and makes it like new. Nothing is changed about it. It’s like taking that one item and sending it back in time to when it was originally made, to when it was new. Renovation is taking what is broken-down and making it your own. For a house it’s putting the latest styles in, opposed to the styles common in the time the house was built. It’s taking “now” and putting it in the place of “back then”. They have the same purpose, making something useful again, but they have two different ways of accomplishing it. Restoration is taking something back to its original state. Renovation strips everything away and rebuilds it to your specifications.

A Common State

You see, we’re all run down with sin. We have our ugly spots. We have our uninhabitable sections of our lives because we struggle with our sin nature. Romans 8 gives a picture of all creation groaning because of the futility of earthly life. Verse 23 describes us as heirs with Christ and the firstfruits of the Spirit groaning inwardly until our bodies are redeemed with Jesus. The truth is, we are redeemed and washed by the blood of Jesus, but we still are not completely free of our earthly, sinful nature.

A Common Goal

Since we find ourselves in the same state, we should have the same goal. Our goal should be restoration. We should be restored to our original purpose and state. At the beginning of time man was created in the perfect image of God.

 

“So God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him;”

Genesis 1:27

 

Man had a perfect relationship with God. Adam and Eve walked with God. They talked with Him in the garden. Until after the fall there was no barriers between them.

The purpose of sanctification is to make us like Jesus, or to restore us to our original design and purpose. That’s you and me being the perfect image of God and in a barrier-free relationship with Him.

Restorative Relationships

As believers and followers of Christ we need to be restored, not renovated. We need to be taken back to the original state of man: the perfect image of God. We don’t need to be renovated. We don’t need to take what we think is correct or better and shape ourselves into that image. We need to look at Scripture and be restored to the image of Christ.

So here’s the point. What are we doing within the church? Are we trying to restore our brothers and sisters in Christ back to man’s original state: the perfect image of God? Or are we trying to renovate them? Are we trying to put a touch of us into their lives?

Instead of focusing on renovating each other’s lives, let’s take it upon ourselves to have restorative relationships. What would the church look like if we focused on helping each other be restored into the image of Christ? And how different would our cross-generational relationship be if we stopped renovating each other, and focused on helping each other be restored to the image of God?

A Starting Point

Mine started in March of 1991. It’s formed how I view the world, people, geographical regions, economics, relationships, and theology. It the lens that colors my world, and makes my views different than yours. It’s my story. How I got from point A to point B. Yeah, our stories may be similar, but they aren’t identical. My twists, turns, valleys, and mountains have had a hand in forming my view of theology, just like your journey has helped form yours. It’s the reason why I may really cling to an attribute of God more closely than you and vice versa.

Last week Matt wrote an amazing post about transparency and how our church seems to be the one place that we should find it, but don’t. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, well click here and take a look. It was a call to be real, not a perfect Christian, but a real one. And for Christians to have transparent conversations and speak Christ into each other’s lives. But I’m sure some have had the question, “But how? How do I get to that point with someone? Where do I start?”

This is not a step by step guide, but a suggestion that I think could help.

In I Corinthians 6 we see this list of sinners that will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, but when we come to verse 11 we see an amazing verse about personal stories and works of grace.

“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

This church in Corinth was filled with liars, adulterers, drunkards, and swindlers, but they had been washed in the blood of the Lamb and justified in the eyes of their Savior. They had a story that shaped their view of God. I’m sure the adulterer’s view of the purity of Christ was much more personal than the drunkards. His story shaped his view of purity. The swindler’s view of truth is much more precious to him than we could imagine. The freedom we experience through Christ may be more excellent to some one that was enslaved by alcohol. Those life experiences and stories are why each one of us may cling to a different attribute of God. Even if you haven’t been saved from specific sins listed in I Corinthians your history has still had a hand in forming your view of your Savior.

So how do you start having real, transparent conversations? Start with learning each other’s story. Find out why this person is the way they are. There are reasons why we believe what we believe and why we hold some truths so tightly while others we are more open to discussing. It’s our story. And until we make an attempt to understanding the why of each generation’s thinking and how they got there, a church accord may stay a thing of legend.

The point of understanding someone else’s story is not to hold it against them or have our view of them change for the worse. Christ’s blood has made each one of us as white as snow and as pure as Christ. Our list of ordinances against us have been taken away and nailed to the cross, with Christ gloriously triumphing over them, putting to open shame those that would hold it against us. The point is to find the common ground. It’s understanding each person at their most basic part and building open, transparent relationships from there.

So here’s how you start. It’s simple questions. “Why? Why do you think this way about _________? How did you get to there?” Then listen. Learn. And try to understand.