Tag Archives: authentic community

Revolutionary Love

Hate is Easy; Love Takes CourageNote: This post was written as a comment in response to a fellow blogger’s post about his longing to be heard and accepted, and his realization the very desire to be heard erodes our ability to listen, and in turn, to truly communicate with those around us.  The blog post that elicited this response can be found here.

For many years now I have been mediating on the linkage between being seen and heard, and being loved… and conversely, seeing and hearing another, and loving them. My first memory of this connection came from reading Viktor Frankl’s reflections on love:

“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”

To love another means to see them, and to truly see them, they must be heard. This dynamic of seeing and hearing is also central to the extension of justice. At the core of injustice is the capacity and power to silence and make the oppressed invisible. To refuse to listen, to refuse to see.

On the other hand, to hear and to see the Other is the very essence of love. This was the miracle that happened on the day of Pentecost; it was not the tongues of fire or the healing of the sick, or the raising of the dead that were the miracles, as wonderful as those things were. No. Rather, it was that a band of infighting misfits – who wrangled over who was greatest, while the One who was Greatest anguished over his impending torture and murder – these competitive, compulsive misfits were suddenly empowered from above to love one another. Did they do it perfectly? No, but they did it profoundly – so much so, that they “turned the world upside down” (according to their critics).

If Jesus had stopped there, had stopped at the greatest commandment and the second that is like it, perhaps we might find some loophole that would allow us to feel (mostly) comfortable with his command. But he went further to something so revolutionary it is still scoffed at today, and if not openly scoffed, it is conveniently ignored. Meditating on the linkage of seeing and hearing with love, justice and mercy, I find these words of Jesus astounding:

“Love your enemies.”

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Love vs. Ideology: What Motivates Us To Gather?

“If I… can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, … but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor 13:2)

Recently, my husband and I set out to do something very simple: open our home to friends and family weekly for a meal. The meals would be simple ones that we could make a lot of and keep warm, which in turn would allow people to come when they could and would accommodate whoever happened to show up. While we have kept our hearts open to where this may lead, our idea was not to have some sort of “church meeting” but rather to create a place of community, hospitality and love where all were welcome.

This gathering is really a very small beginning, and we are learning about how to create a place of community, and have much to learn, but very quickly it went from simple to complex. I don’t wish to go into details, but much of the complexity came from the thought that we should do certain things, otherwise our gathering was invalid. Without sharing any details, I wrote to some friends that I felt as if “a whole pile of religious obligation was being laid on my doorstep.” And may I say, lest any jump to quick conclusions, that the religious obligation was not “institutional” in nature, that is not related to the “institutionalization” of church life, but part of common teachings about how house churches should function. And the ideas themselves were not bad ones, but several questions arise in my heart from them, such as: What motivates us to gather? What informs the form that our gatherings take? How do we know when we really get it right?

What strikes me is that much of the rhetoric around so-called “organic” or “New Testament house church” meetings becomes about doing it “right,” “according to the Biblical pattern,” etc. I think this is laudable to desire something that mirrors the 1st century church, and is biblical. But a focus on the “the right way” becomes an ideology, and even if our form is precisely what the 1st century believers did, if that’s as far as it goes, it will be all wrong. These men and women were remarkable. They “turned the world upside down,” and indeed changed history. But I fear sometimes in our zeal to have what is “biblical” we put the cart before the horse.  For instance, we can be so bent on having a meeting where “everyone has a hymn, a word of instruction, a revelation…” etc. (1 Cor 14:26), that we miss the point of why Paul was writing about these things, which is found in 1 Corinthians 13. Over and over again, in scriptures it is emphasized that the aim is love. Love for God, love for one another, and love for the people of the earth. I have deep and high regard for the Bible, but our understanding of its teachings will only be complete when our starting place and our goal is our desire to love as Jesus loved.

The thing is we tend to speak of love as a kind of an add-on. We emphasize many other things, and then as an afterthought we say, “and yes, love is important too.” In the body of Christ when we try to emulate the 1st century church, we focus on form, structure, church government, modern day apostles, discipleship, groups of 12 (G12), cell groups, house churches, the gifts of the Spirit, church planting strategy, etc, and then because we know we should, we say, “and of course we need to love too…” And if anyone brings up the importance of love, there will be all kinds of ways to get off that subject, and back onto the important subjects like “What was the structure of the biblical new testament church?” or “What is the biblical strategy for planting churches?” or “What does a New Testament gathering look like?” All these are indeed important, but if we have not love…

When I wrote these things to some co-workers, one of them, wrote back the following:

“…the simple things are most often neglected while often being the most significant and profound. No planning, special gifts or strategy is needed, it’s something that every person can do, no matter their physical or mental condition.”

He then wrote about his sister Joy, who was severely handicapped from birth and was not able to walk, speak much, or to be easily understood when she did speak, and yet Joy had an amazing and deep ability to love everyone.

And this may be precisely why we prefer to focus on something else.  Simplicity does not appeal to our spiritual pride. We want to feel we have something that no one else can do, that we have fathomed some deep mystery which others have yet to see, but to have God tell us to do something that a child can do, or a mentally handicapped person… Well, that just isn’t good enough. We will do all the extremely dramatic things such as “surrendering our body to the flames” or “giving all our possessions to the poor” or “moving mountains” with our faith rather than do that simple thing of loving our neighbor. This we brush aside. All the while not really appreciating that truly loving as God loves is more difficult and more powerful than even the most awe-inspiring miracle. When Jesus said “as I have loved you, so you too ought to love one another” He was asking us to do the impossible. The impossible. We need this to sink deep down into our spirits.  I believe sometimes the weak are better at this precisely because they know they are weak — they are used to depending on God, and so His love flows more freely. He wants to bring us to the same point of realization of our weakness as He brought the disciples to in the days after His death. When we realize we are completely incapable of what He is asking of us, we will cry out to Him, and in that day, He will answer.

I wrote another essay titled “Only Love Can See.” I believe this is a key principle in understanding New Testament church life. The band of misfits who birthed the first church didn’t know how the church would be administered; they didn’t know they would meet in houses; they didn’t know even what it meant to be an apostle (except that it meant ‘to be sent”); they only knew Jesus, and His love, and that He had asked them to do the impossible: to love Him and one another with the same kind of love that He had loved them (alarming!). This is why I believe they waited for the Holy Spirit, and when they received Him, they were empowered to love. All strategy, all form, all structure, all administration, and all miracles — all flowed out of this love. Yet, we still think we can emulate the 1st century church form and what we see of their strategy and we will experience first century church life. We cannot. It is only love that gives us eyes to see the intent behind these things. We must start with love, and love must also be our aim. Anything short of that is nothing.

Let’s Start a Grassroots Revolution of Love!

Beautiful does not always mean the big and the “spectacular.” Beauty is also found in the small and “insignificant” places that others might walk by and never notice.

Recently I was reading this blog post entitled “a letter from an exhausted/exasperated young person who has a complicated love/hate relationship with the church” by a blogger named Ron.  As I was reading, I started thinking about the many people I’ve talked to and  blogged with who have experienced similar frustrations to Ron.  What hit me as I was reading is the the theme I hear again and again, which is people looking for authentic, genuine community.  Ron speaking of his own generation put it this way:

…there are a couple things young people simply won’t tolerate. They will not put up with what they deem to be a lack of community and/or authenticity, and they will not abide anything that appears to simply be going through the motions or the semblance of just being part of some spiritual/religious club. They aren’t interested in towing the party line that has no bearing on their social and cultural experiences.  And–most terrifying to previous generations–they aren’t threatened by threats of “It has to be this way or nothing at all.”

Why?

Because this is a generation of self-starters and micro-entrepreneurship. They have no problem whatsoever starting up their own things. And they have been. And they are. And they will continue to do so.

[Note: I encourage reading the entire blog here.]
 This particular passage got me to thinking about a theme I’ve been ruminating on  for some years, the whole idea of grassroots movements.  The term grassroots is a fascinating metaphor if one thinks about it.  It is a picture of something working and spreading beneath the surface and below notice.  We don’t need anyone’s permission to love one another, and we don’t have to have an established “institution” to create a place of community.  Actually to be the Church, it appears we only need two or three to gather in His name, so there is no reason not to start a counter culture movement of love and community.  In fact, it seems to me that a grassroots movement is already underway of people who have gotten worn out by dead religion, and want to really experience the kind of life that Jesus, Paul, James, Peter and others talked about.
So, let’s just do it!  Let’s just decide that we are going to live this way even if we can only find one or two other people who want to live in authentic community with us (“two or three… in My name”).  Not saying it will be easy, because learning to love isn’t as easy as we like to think (even our closest friends and loved ones do stupid things that make them hard to love at times, and, dare I say it… so do we).  But that being said, and drawing on the same illustration as Ron did in his blog, we can decide to be Joshuas and Calebs, who saw the same giants that the other 10 spies saw, and yet were able to believe that they could enter the Promised Land.  We too have a Promised Land: a land described in John 15, 1 Cor 13, 1 John 2, Hebrews 10:22-25, John 17, and many other places.

 

“We are surely able to take possession of it!”

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Experiencing Authentic New Testament Christianity

Author’s note: Sorry to have been away so long.  The better part of this post was actually written last May, but the last year turned out to be very eventful, so my musings got put on hold.  This morning, I woke up with some thoughts that I wanted to put down in writing, but found the draft of this post instead, and realized it said a lot of what I had on my mind.

In my observation there seems to be a huge upsurge of people within the both the evangelical and charismatic Christian traditions seeking something more authentic in their Christianity.  Many are looking to the 1st century church and asking themselves: does what we do line up with what they did?  Does what we are doing look like what Jesus meant for the church to look like?  These are good questions, but at times I fear in our quest for “authentic New Testament Christianity” we may miss the point. Here are some of the points I hear from various different camps looking for authentic Christianity:

  • We should meet in houses, because that’s what the first church did
  • We should have spiritual fathers, like Paul’s relationship with Timothy
  • We should have/recognize modern-day apostles like there were in 1st century
  • We should be experiencing miracles like the 1st century church
  • We should be experiencing church growth like the first century church
  • We should have church structure that matches the first century church
  • Our church government needs to match the first century church

I don’t wish to argue the validity of any of the above statements.  They may all be true, but my concern is that all these points miss the main point.  And if we miss the main point, then our perspective on every other point (which includes those above) will be be wrongly skewed.

So what’s the main point?  When the first century church started out they didn’t know how they were going to do any of those things.  They had only three things, (1) Jesus had loved them in a way that completely broke them to the core, and ruined them for all else, (2) He had told them that they were to love one another in this same way (!), and (3) they knew they will completely and utterly incapable of doing so in their own power!  Point #2 ought to alarm us!  If it does not, than we do yet have a revelation of the depth and power of God’s love.  As I have said on other posts, the greatest miracle on Pentecost was not the tongues or the miracles that followed, but the fact that this group of misfits who just a few short weeks before had been vying for position, now miraculously began to love one another to the point that they were “selling their property and possessions and sharing them with all as anyone had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)

So, it seems to me if we want to experience a Christianity like that which was experienced by the first century church (and I’m not sure we fully do, but that’s another subject altogether), we need to experience the same kind of love they did, and if we want to experience the same kind of love, then our only path is to gather together in prayer with others of like mind and ask Him to send His Spirit into our midst and empower us to be like, and to love like Him. (Acts 1:14)

Loneliness

Lately I’ve been reflecting on the root causes of loneliness, and have realized that, for me at least, loneliness is caused by feeling myself to be alone in my thoughts.  The thoughts may be ideas, hopes, dreams, plans, aspirations, or revelations.   When I realize that those around me are either unable or unwilling to enter my inner world long enough to understand these thoughts, it is then that loneliness often ensues.

What is the opposite of experiencing loneliness?  Perhaps it is to experience fellowship, for it is in those moments that another has truly seen and understood even a small part of my inner world that I feel the opposite of lonely.   The more authentic fellowship I experience from even a few, the less those who don’t understand matter, the more I am able to love those who even willfully misunderstand.  It was Jesus’ perfect fellowship with the Father that empowered Him with grace to love and forgive both disciple and pharisee, prostitute and priest.

Love Practically: Friendship

About a year or so ago, I was visiting a community of faith in my city.  When in the course of conversation it became obvious I was looking for a regular group to fellowship with, one of the leaders there asked me, “So, are you looking for a church?”  For some reason, the question bothered me a little – it just felt like the wrong question for me. I wanted to say “No, I’m looking for something else”, but since I knew that would sound harsher than I meant it, I just avoided the question.

The answer that came to me when I got home is, “No, I’m looking for friends.”  I suppose I could have said, “No, I’m in search of community”, but the word “community” has become so overused in Christiandom that often it seems to have lost all meaning.  We preach sermons on “community” but then don’t model it, and thus in the context of “church life”, community has often come to mean something very different in a than what authentic Christian community really is.

In meditating on Jesus’ last words before His painful and lonely death, He too recognized friendship as central:

“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)

In context He also said:

“As I have loved you, so you must love one another” – John 13:34, and

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13

It is impossible to escape that He was telling us that He desired for us to not only be His friends, but friends to one another.  And if there was any question, on the same night He modeled this friendship by deeply humbling Himself and caring for His disciples in a tender and practical way (John 13:3-17).  His humility was so pronounced as to be shocking (note Peter’s response).

How did these words and actions impact the disciples?  Jesus said to them, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” (John 13:7).  And at the time, they truly did not understand.  They were still vying for position with one another (Luke 22:24).  They had no idea that what they felt for one another was not yet love.

Case in point, when Jesus said “one of you will betray me”, they had absolutely no idea who He meant.  I’ve thought a lot over the years about how painful Judas’ betrayal must have been to Jesus, but only recently have I considered the deep impact it must have had on the other disciples.  Consider for a moment: all these men had lived with each other for 3 years, and had experienced a tremendous transformational experience together as Jesus turned their collective world upside down.  In this atmosphere, Judas was someone they thought they knew.  When Jesus spoke of betrayal, they couldn’t even imagine which of them Jesus could possibly be thinking of, nor were they able to take in that the betrayal would be so severe as to lead Jesus to death on the cross.  Afterward, I can imagine the other disciples thinking “How could we have been with Judas for so long and been so blind to what was going on inside him?”  Surely, realizing they knew Judas so little must have contributed to a deep realization that in the midst of their competitive wrangling with one another, they had failed to truly love each other as Christ had loved them.

How did these events affect this group of friends?  They were transformed men.  Even before the day of Pentecost, here was the atmosphere among them:

“…Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James…These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” (Acts 1:13-14)

Was Judas on their mind as they waited in Jerusalem?  It seems he was, for their first order of business as they prayed together concerned Judas (vs 15ff).  I cannot help but think the disciples were heartbroken over him.  How can one read his tragic tale and not feel its pathos.  Remember they had all spent significant time together.  When Peter stood up and spoke, it was a moment of closure to a painful chapter of their community life together.

Then came Pentecost.  So much has been written about the birth of the church on that day, about the tongues of fire and the miracles that followed, but perhaps the greatest miracle of all was a baptism of love that came upon the gathered believers that day.  They were filled with a tenacious determination to finally learn to do what their Lord and Friend had asked of them: Love one another.  The result is found at the end of the Second chapter of Acts (vs 44-47):

“And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Yes, the church was born – a gathering of friends who were finally learning the Greatest Love, to lay down their lives one for another.  Oh, to experience such a fresh pentecostal baptism of love in our day!

A “New” Command

I’ve found myself meditating on love quite a bit lately. About a month ago around the time that I posted the Beatles video, I felt the issue of love (or lack of it) in the Body of Christ came into sharp focus for me.

I had been meditating on a number of painful events I had experienced in different communities of faith, which had resulted in many wandering from their faith, including in each case triggering a “crisis of faith” in my own heart.  The events were so different that I had a hard time finding a common thread.  One was a church split, the others were not.  Some were attacks against leaders, some were leaders abusing people.   Some were in institutional settings, at least one was not.  As I considered each of these events, it seemed that none of the teachings I have heard about how to avoid such problems seemed to answer every one of these situations, and yet they seemed tied together by a common effect, which was  wavering faith in the hearts of believers.  Interestingly, in some cases those who struggled the most were not necessarily those being attacked or abused, even those on the “sidelines” seemed to suffer.  Why was this I wondered?  And if there was a common effect, might the cause in all these disparate events be the same?

Which led me to Jesus’ compelling words:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35

Then it hit me: Jesus said “all men” which includes me!  “All men” includes not only those outside the community of faith, but those inside it as well.  In other words, our own confidence as his disciples is directly affected by our love for one another.  When we don’t love one another, we are not only affecting the person or persons we have the direct conflict with, others in our community of faith may end up casualties as well.

As if to drive this point home, I recently realized more deeply the context of Jesus words when he gave this command:  Jesus had just spoken of his own betrayal, and Judas had just departed to sell Jesus’ life for 30 pieces of silver (John 13:20-30).  As Jesus felt the aching pain of betrayal and impending accusations, he plead with his disciples “Love one another!”  He is still pleading today.  After 2000 years of church history, the most important command of all is still neglected.  How can this be?

So for me, these recent reflections have put Jesus’ love into sharp focus.  As Paul so eloquently expounded in 1 Corinthians 13, everything else counts as absolutely nothing without it.

“Beloved, let us love one another…” – 1 John 4:7