Tag Archives: mutual encouragement

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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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

“If only one flower stands out, it is not truly spring”

The following article was published on the Serving China Prayer Blog.  Though it was originally written to help foreigners more effectively pray for and serve the Body of Christ in China, it is really full of many lessons that we can learn from them as well.  Enjoy!

A House Church Pastor’s Perspective

By Brother Dong

EDITORS’ NOTE: This month we are so glad to present you with a letter written first-hand by a leading Chinese house church pastor himself! “Brother Dong” is a premiere Christian leader on a nationwide scale, involved in a very wide spectrum of Christian work across many provinces. Recently, he spoke to us by phone, giving us his insights on what we as a foreign servant ministry in China should focus on in the months and years ahead. It was so profoundly valuable that we asked him to put it in writing, which he agreed to do and then let us share with you also.

When Brother Dong first shared with by phone, his framework was how we could better pray for the church in China. Later, when he wrote the article, the same comments focused on how to best serve the church in China. Finally, when we read the article ourselves, we couldn’t help but notice how much we here in the West could learn from the church in China. It is our prayer that this excellent article will aid you both in better interceding for our brothers and sisters in China, as well as inspiring all of us to learn and apply lessons from the church in China to our communities of faith at home.

God’s work in China in the past fifty years has surprised many–Christians and non-Christians alike. Restricted circumstances and non-existent religious structure have birthed a homegrown movement, which does not easily fit into any traditional model. Maybe now for the first time Christianity has taken root in China. For the church to flourish within and without China, it is important for the Body of Christ to engage church in China in a holistic way.

First, help her stick to the essentials that sustain and grow a Christian or a church. There is a continual need for Bibles, and literature on spiritual life, preaching, and teaching, gospel tracts, world mission history and missionary biographies. Particularly in the current circumstances, these types of literature can reach many people at many places.

Second, help her return to the basics of Christian faith. The simplicity of Christian faith is the vitality of God’s church. The essence of Christ’s gospel needs no more than a mouth and a breath to spread. As the educational level improves in Chinese society, there is a temptation to develop elaborate theologies and practices, which are not only incomprehensible to many Christians and cause divisions, but also divert and waste the energy that should have been utilized to expand God’s Kingdom.

Third, encourage her to pick up the zeal and vision for world missions. The Chinese rural house church will be an important model for the future of world missions because 1) it is homegrown, which is non-threatening to local community and culture; 2) its strategies and methods are indigenous, mostly free of Western denominational influence, and so are flexible and adaptable; 3) its operation, without the burden of church building and clergy, is least resources-dependent, which in turn enables her to focus the resources for outreach; 4) it remains communal and relational, which is the nature of many societies/cultures in Asia and Africa; 5) it is of the lower class, which comprises of the majority of world population. This will potentially result in a shift in Christian missions and social development from “the strong reaching out the weak” to “peer help”.

Fourth, interact with the urban church productively. This requires Western believers to be especially wise, using caution in this effort. The urban church has experienced significant growth in the last fifteen years. It tends to be strong in education, affluence, skills, and resources, thus often self-sufficient. The strong background of leaders and limited exposure often result in isolation of churches. Intellectual ability often hinders urban churches from coming together because disagreement on certain doctrine or practice. Advanced training offers the urban church competence in managing efficiently, which could lead to some mega-churches. This may not be a good thing. There is a Chinese saying, which says: “If only one flower stands out, it is not truly spring.” In the same way, efficiency of one entity may not mean effectiveness of the whole Body of Christ. To gain recognition, urban church tends to institutionalize through legal/structural effort and purchase of property, which is resource-draining. The consequences may be unexpected: when the Spirit is there, everybody cares for one another; but when the Body of Christ becomes institutionalized, each person becomes just one of many which often results in insensitivity and indifference. It is our hope that urban church would not fall into Western denominational structures and theologies.

Fifth, build dialogue and partnership between urban and rural churches. Because of societal and cultural differences, China exists in two very different worlds: the rural and the urban. Despite rapid urbanization in recent years, the influx to cities is mainly of rural outlook. The feelings of inferiority among the rural versus those of privilege among the urban often hinder interaction between the two worlds. This bears similar impact on the churches as well. They need to be pushed into dialogue and partnership to utilize their respective gifts. Rural churches typically are strong in dedication, human power, time, and contextual adaptability, while urban churches possess finance, knowledge, and advanced skills. Doing projects together may offer a good venue to develop dialogue and grow partnership.

Sixth, network churches from different background and areas. Because of the current circumstances, churches, big or small, often operate within their own circles. It would be beneficial for them to cross the boundaries which they have placed between themselves so that they can catch a big picture of God’s work and His call upon the Chinese church. This is usually not easy for nationals to initiate. Foreign believers are a good third party to initiate and sustain this kind of interaction. Only through this effort can real growth and expansion happen. Then many small and solid churches will bloom all over China, rather than a few big ones in a few centers.

Seventh, help her grow in the understanding of social witness and cross-cultural outreach. The one-sided economic development in the past thirty years has left out many in society. Most of the marginalized live among or are from the rural area. Christians have won approval through their upright living in their community, but they need to actively enter the society to reach out to the needy. Churches need to open their eyes to see the needs of orphans, HIV/AIDS, prostitutes, and the poor. Another area is cross-cultural: many churches have little experience or understanding of other cultures in China’s predominately Han Chinese society. As a result many Chinese missionaries are not effective in their work among ethnic minority groups. There is a need to understand cross-cultural issues and their practical implementation in order to include those people groups in fulfilling the Great Commission. Chinese churches are rich in resources, which can be effectively used for reaching out people outside of China, such as North Korean refugees and people-groups in Southeast Asia.

Finally, rekindle dedication to and sacrifice for Christ. As China develops economically, comfort, security, and stability begin to set in. Programs and strategies become increasingly sophisticated. There is a need to return to simplicity and rekindle the spirit of dedication and sacrifice. That is the most sustainable strategy in bringing the whole world to Christ!

Thanks to you Truth Tellers!

A few weeks ago I was discussing with my mother what I appreciated about the teaching style of a pastor friend of mine, which led to a discussion of how two people can say basically the same thing, but with one it’s just words, but the other there is life because there is depth behind the words.  To this my mother asked, pondering, “What do you think it is that causes that depth?”

I like my parents, because they both really make me think.

After considering for a moment, I replied, “I think it is suffering.  Not that the whole world doesn’t suffer, but some people allow the suffering to touch them and transform them.”

Another time recently, a friend wrote me an email to encourage me about something I was going through.  The words deeply encouraged me.  Why?  The brother wrote me from the experience of his own dark nights, and long and weary fight.  The words were so beautiful in their truth that I encouraged him to consider writing a book one day.

Or, I could also tell of the friend I spent a week with recently.  She is an absolute beautiful lady, a precious gem, but her life has taken her down a road that is currently causing her deep pain.  Her pain took me back to experiences I had nearly 20 years ago.  We spent the week together in both uproarious laughter and heart-wrenching tears.  Was this friend’s suffering a burden to me?  No.  It is an honor and a privilege to be allowed to enter another’s suffering.  To me such a place is like the Holy of Holies.  My life is richer for knowing such a woman.

These and other experiences have reminded me lately of a favorite passage in Oswald Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest.  This passage articulates both my own struggle to express truth, and my appreciation of many of you out there who express truth to me.  Sharing Oswald Chamber’s words below is my way of thanking you and encouraging you – some of you are fellow bloggers or writers, some are friends, some are leaders, some are just simple folk who don’t think of themselves as leaders but are.  Thank you for struggling to express to me and others the truth God has given you. My life is richer because of it.  I hope you know who you are!

APPROVED UNTO GOD (Source: My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers – December 15 entry)

“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15

If you cannot express yourself on any subject, struggle until you can. If you do not, someone will be the poorer all the days of his life. Struggle to re-express some truth of God to yourself, and God will use that expression to someone else. Go through the winepress of God where the grapes are crushed. You must struggle to get expression experimentally, then there will come a time when that expression will become the very wine of strengthening to someone else; but if you say lazily – “I am not going to struggle to express this thing for myself, I will borrow what I say,” the expression will not only be of no use to you, but of no use to anyone. Try to state to yourself what you feel implicitly to be God’s truth, and you give God a chance to pass it on to someone else through you.

Always make a practice of provoking your own mind to think out what it accepts easily. Our position is not ours until we make it ours by suffering. The author who benefits you most is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance.

Validation

Loved this little clip!  Check it out! We all could do with a little validation 🙂

What implications does this little story have for living in community together? If you have thoughts, leave a comment.