Is reconciliation required?

BrokenFriendshipWhat do we do when a relationship is fractured by an offense? How do we find forgiveness and reconciliation?

And what do we do when we are faced with the problem of the unrepentant offender that will not or has not reconciled to us.

We might even question God, saying, “Do I have to forgive them? Am I required to reconcile to them when they are unrepentant and still actively offending me?”

First, these are two separate issues. Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same. Listen to the definitions of these two words (Paraphrased from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary):

Forgiveness – The state of having given up resentment or claim to requital from an offender. To have granted relief from payment or indebtedness by an offender.

Reconciliation – The act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement. To have restored a friendship or partnership, so that harmony is regained.

With these definitions in mind, we may understand that the Bible offers different, yet related, instructions for forgiveness and reconciliation. Let’s restate the two questions, offering brief answers followed by biblical support:

  1. Is forgiveness of others required? Answer: Yes, always.
  2. Is reconciliation with others required? Answer: The attempt is required. The outcome is not.

Forgiveness is always required. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he taught them to say, “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12). If we don’t forgive, how can we pray the way the Lord taught us? We can’t.

We are always to forgive because God has forgiven us. We forgive whether the offender asks for it or not. Forgiveness is drawn from the limitless supply given to us in Christ. As the apostle Paul told the Ephesians,

Ephesians 4:32 (ESV) Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Forgiveness is the grace that oils the grinding gears of our human relationships. It keeps us right with one another as Christ has made us right with God.

Reconciliation is to be attempted (Unless it is either unwise or impossible due to circumstance). The truth is, we can forgive someone without them even being in the same room. But it takes both parties sitting at the same table to reconcile. We should attempt to reconcile, but we cannot determine the response of the other party. The only outcome we can control is our own attempt at peace. As the apostle Paul told the Romans,

Romans 12:18 (NIV) If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

What does an attempt at reconciliation look like? We have the teaching of Jesus to help us with this. He gave very specific instructions, I’m sure knowing that we would need it often. The following Scripture passage is often used by church leaders to help an offending member be reconciled, but a careful reading reminds us that it is addressed first to the one who was personally offended.

Matthew 18:15-22 (ESV) 15“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” 21Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

Here is a summary of the steps Jesus taught for finding reconciliation with one who has offended us:

  1. Go privately to the person and name the offense. If you are reconciled, then you have found harmony again. This offense is not to be named again. But if not..
  2. Go again with a witness.The witness should come from your common fellowship (church, family, friends, etc.), showing that the offense affects a larger body of people. Notice, that the Lord is still advising us to limit the number of people that know about this. We are not trying to punish the offender by exposing his sin. We are trying to help him repent and be restored to fellowship. But if he will not repent and be restored…
  3. Tell it to a common fellowship (“Church” is the translation of “ekklesia,” which could also be translated “assembly”). If this does not involve a church member, perhaps the gathered assembly might be your family or circle of common friends. In this case, you are letting the others in your common fellowship know that the offender refuses to reconcile.
  4. Break fellowship with the unrepentant offender. You are basically allowing them to have what they have chosen. They have been made aware that continued offense without repentance and reconciliation has led to this break of fellowship. Now they are to be released. Yet, we must be ready to welcome them back, if they desire to return and repent.

Notice that all of these meetings are to be in person (Not texting, emailing, phoning, etc.) Notice again, that in verses 21-22 that Jesus taught us to forgive as many times as needed, but He did not teach that we have to stay in relationship with an unrepentant offender. Forgiveness is our Christian duty. We must always forgive. But sometimes we have to forgive without being able to reconcile.

Christ’s death and resurrection are God’s means of forgiveness for all of humanity, yet not everyone is reconciled to God. Many remain separated from Him. I’m sure that this grieves the heart of God because for His part, He has done all, in Christ, to make things right between us.

We are to be like God in this. We are to do all that we can to reconcile, but sometimes the only way to find peace is to let the person go their own way. Yet always praying for them that the possibility for reconciliation may someday come.

(I’m aware that this is a brief response to a very complicated issue. There are often extenuating circumstances that I did not address in this article.)

 

The greatest gift exchange

0829-leisure“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NKJV).

Do you remember “leisure suits?”

My grandmother Combs used to buy a suit for all her grandsons every Christmas. She was a very smart shopper and would have most of her Christmas shopping finished for the following year’s holiday, by shopping the after-Christmas sales every year. She even kept a locked bedroom at her house that she called the “Christmas room,” because that’s where she kept next year’s presents, most of them already wrapped.

She carefully chose matching shirts, ties and socks to go with the suits and wrapped them separately, so that the ensemble was revealed in stages every Christmas. This progression was somewhat taxing for the grandsons because we were all anxious to open the gifts that might contain toys. Plus, she invariably insisted that we take a break and try the suits on, which always aroused sounds of young boy groanings and parental corrections.

Looking back, I understand why she wanted us to try them on. Buying suits for her growing grandsons required her to make an educated guess as to their annual growth rate. She made us try them on to see if she guessed right.

I invariably disappointed her. I was a late bloomer. I don’t think I grew much at all between the ages of 9 to 14. Every year, we had to exchange my suits because they were always too big. Then at age 15, I shot up eight inches in one year. I finally grew more than enough to wear my Christmas suit.

So, that was the year that she finally guessed right. It was also the year she decided to follow the new fashion trend of the ’70s. That year, she bought all the grandsons, polyester leisure suits (with matching wide ties and white belts of course).

And my leisure suit was yellow.

Because of her previous failings, she always included receipts, so I could exchange the suit. But there was no need for a gift exchange that year. Not only did the suit fit perfectly, but I was ready to do some “styling and profiling,” wearing that yellow suit with a fat tie, wide white belt, bell bottomed slacks and stacked heel shoes (Imagine the sound of BeeGees’ disco music playing in the background here).

It’s fun to remember Christmases gone by, with stories of yellow leisure suits and gifts we received from our parents and grandparents. But remembering those past Christmas times exchanging gifts that didn’t fit, reminds me that the greatest gift exchange of all has been offered by God through Christ.

Christ offers to exchange our…

  • …sins for His righteousness. The apostle Paul wrote, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christ took our sin and offers His righteousness to us.
  • …separation for His Sonship. On the cross Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). In that moment, Christ experienced our separation from God the Father. He took this in exchange, offering His relationship as Son to us. As the gospel according to John said, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
  • …death for His eternal life. Our need for this exchange is explained by the apostle Paul in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This death that Jesus died in our place is further explained in Hebrews, “But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). This is the great gift of God! That in His mercy, Christ died our death, so that we might receive His life!

This Christmas, may our focus be less on what gifts we need to exchange from under the tree, and more about the greatest gift exchange that is offered because of the Cross.

Have you received the greatest gift exchange?

Why we’re doing “Rockin’ Christmas”

Rockin' Christmas“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’” (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:22-23 ESV).

Some have been wondering why we’re doing an event that has such a secular feel to it. With a promotional title like “WCC’s Rockin’ Christmas,” a tagline saying, “A Holiday Experience That Will Rock Your World,” and well, the program itself, that begins with secular Christmas music and feels so performance driven… Some are saying, “This doesn’t feel at all like church!”

Our answer: It’s not supposed to feel like church.

We’re not trying to reach “church people.” We’re trying to invite people who celebrate Christmas, but don’t go to church. We want this event to be something that WCCers can invite their family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers to as a gift to them at Christmas. We promise that they will hear Christmas music that is both popular and familiar, all presented with excellence. We hope to entertain and inspire. But most of all, we hope to offer them the greatest gift of all…

… a clear presentation of the gospel within the Christmas story.

Which, by the way, includes the reality that God sent His Son as Immanuel (God with us). Christ Jesus left the eternal worship service taking place in heaven and came to us. He revealed the Father to us by becoming one of us. He communicated the love of the Father to us in a language we could understand. So, now we’re hoping to communicate the love of Christ to our community in a language that they can understand.

Our “Rockin’ Christmas” event is our way of offering the true gift of Christmas to our community. So, when you’re thinking about who to invite, consider that person who celebrates Christmas, but doesn’t go to church. That’s who this event is really hoping to touch.

Whose birthday is it?

gold_frankincense_myrhh“And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11 ESV).

When I asked the children at a Sunday service, “Who gets gifts on your birthday?” Their answer was a loud, “I do!”

Then I asked them, “Since Christmas is the birthday of Jesus, who should get gifts?”

They shouted in response, “Jesus!” The logic was inescapable even for a child.

The gospel according to Matthew reported that Magi came bearing gifts for Jesus. These men were probably Persian or Babylonian wise men, students of the stars and of ancient Middle Eastern writings. Perhaps they had access to the writings of Moses, that king Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon had acquired when he conquered Israel and looted the Jewish temple. Maybe the Babylonian wisemen who were their forefathers had been saved by Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzer’s dream and ever since, the Magi had been students of the Hebrew writings which we call the Old Testament.

Certainly, there is a prophecy concerning a coming king found in the Torah that said a “star will come out of Jacob” and a “scepter will rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17). If the Magi were students of these writings, the appearance of a new star over Israel would have led them to conclude that the prophesied Messianic King had arrived.

It seems ironic that these foreigners would travel to the land of the people of the Book looking for a prophesied king, when those to whom the Book and the King truly belonged, failed to recognize his arrival. The Magi traveled a great distance bearing gifts while the people of God went about their daily business unaware of the significance of the season. The Magi brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh while the people of faith brought him nothing.

As people of faith today we often make the same oversight. We get caught up in the busyness of Christmas and forget to acknowledge the one for whom the season exists. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can offer Jesus the same three gifts that the Magi did centuries ago.

We can offer Jesus the gift of gold. Gold is a gift fit for a king. We can acknowledge Jesus as the King, the Lord of our lives. We can give him the gift of gold. How? Jesus said if you’ve done it for the “least of these,” then you’ve done it for him. We can show that Jesus is king over our possessions by giving to the “least of these” this Christmas. We can submit to Christ as Lord and King over our time, talent and treasure.

We can offer Jesus the gift of frankincense.  Frankincense is a gift fit for a priest. This aromatic resin was highly valued. The odoriferous substance was used throughout the Jewish temple as a main ingredient in the holy anointing oil, and was burned with the meat offering. Giving Jesus the gift of frankincense means that we acknowledge him as our divine priest, the one who mediates between God and men. We can recognize Jesus as the only mediator between God and humanity.

We can offer Jesus the gift of myrrh. Myrrh is a gift fit for a savior. Like frankincense this resinous exudate was prized for its aromatic qualities. While it had many uses it was especially known as a medicine to relieve pain and a spice employed to prepare the dead for burial. When we offer Jesus the gift of myrrh we recognize that he himself is our sin sacrifice and accept him as our Savior.

Christmas is the season when we celebrate that God “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” It is also the season when we can acknowledge God’s gift by giving back to him. Wise men and women still offer him gifts fit for a King, a Priest, and a Savior.

Will you include Jesus on your gift list this year? After all, it is His birthday.

Is your Bible gathering dust?

DustyBible“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Where’s your Bible? Have you picked it up lately? If you find it, does it have an inch of dust and a couple of water-rings on it where you’ve been using it as a coaster?

“No way!” You say. “I’d never abuse the Bible like that. I keep it in the box it came in when my grandmother gave it to me for graduation. Look, it’s got my name on the front and it still has that new Bible smell.”

Here’s the thing. The Word of God is not the leather binding. It’s not the gold-gilded tissue thin paper. It’s not even the ink (whether black or red). The Bible is not a magical charm to be held up in the air to claim health, wealth and prosperity. Nor is it a talisman to put under your pillow to ward off nightmares and such.

Listen to what C. H. Spurgeon said about the right way to handle God’s Word:

“What is the right way, then, to handle the Word of Truth? It is like a sword, and it was not meant to be played with. That is not rightly to handle the Gospel; it must be used in earnest and pushed home. Are you converted, my Friends? Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Are you saved, or not? Swords are meant to cut and hack, wound and kill—and the Word of God is for pricking men in the heart, and killing their sins. The Word of God is not committed to God’s ministers to amuse men with its glitter, nor to charm them with the jewels in its hilt, but to conquer their souls for Jesus Christ!” – C. H. Spurgeon

The Word of God must be read and heard to have its effect on us. When we read and study the Bible it comes to life in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is no longer a dry, dusty book. It is “living and active.”

There are four steps that we can follow to experience its “living and active” effect on our lives:

  • Observation. Open and read the Bible asking questions like: who, what, when, where and how. Write down your observations.
  • Illumination. Ask the Lord to give you light to understand what He is saying. It is His Word, not ours. We don’t want our own multiple interpretations. We want His. Not, “this is what it means to me,” but “thus saith the Lord.”
  • Interpretation. After observing and meditating on God’s word for illumination. Write down what the text meant in the time period and setting it was written. Then, write down the timeless principles that you see emerging.
  • Application. Ask, “How does this apply to me and what changes do I need to make in my life?” This is where the Bible gets its nickname, “The Sword.” Perhaps if the author of Hebrews were writing today, he would have called it a “scalpel,” because God’s Word works like a surgical instrument to reveal and excise sin in our lives.

So, get those Bibles out, blow off the dust, find a quiet corner and read. Ask God to speak to you today.

Visiting the orphan with gospel hope

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Visiting a Child Development Center in Kisoro, Uganda

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27 ESV).

This coming Sunday is “Orphan Sunday.” Our church is joining churches around the country by setting apart the first Sunday in November to focus on the plight of the orphan. However, every Sunday could easily be considered “Orphan Sunday,” since we were all once fatherless until we were adopted into the Father’s family.

John Piper calls the doctrine of adoption, the “heart of the gospel.” He sees caring for orphans as an appropriate outworking of the gospel’s work in us.

I think this is what the apostle James meant when he spoke of “religion that is pure and undefiled.” James mentions religion not in the usual sense to describe it as false, but true religion, a religion that is “faith with works.” Perhaps one of the clearest expressions that the gospel has indeed done its work in us, is that we are doing the work of the Father for the fatherless.

But what does it mean to “visit” the orphan with gospel hope? The Greek word translated “visit” is ἐπισκέπτεσθαι (ep-ee-skep’tes-thai). The great Greek scholar, A.T. Robertson, described it as a “common verb meaning to go to see, to inspect, to have a care for, to have the habit of going to see.”

Understanding the word, “visit,” in the context of gospel hope, implies at least three actions:

  1. We can see their affliction as God saw ours. We can open our eyes to the plight of the fatherless in our world just as God saw our affliction. According to a recent UNICEF report there are 210 million orphans in the world. Much of them in Africa where AIDS has orphaned 1 in 5 children. We must stop turning a blind eye and take notice of their need. We can look without turning away because Christ did not turn away from our distress.
  2. We can go to them as God came to us. Certainly “visiting” means not only to open our eyes to their need, but also to go and be with them. God didn’t just see us, He sent Jesus, Immanuel, to be “God with us.” Christ left the glory and riches of heaven to be with us. We must be willing to leave our place of comfort to be with them. In his book, Orphanology, my friend Tony Merida speaks of the impact of going to be with the fatherless: “A burden for orphans often develops by simple exposure to them. If you hold an orphan or visit an orphan, or watch an adopted child grow up in a loving family, then I believe your heart will be moved with compassion.”
  3. We can care for them as God has cared for us. God didn’t leave us as orphans. He made a way through faith in Christ for our adoption as His children. As Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18). We are all called to care for the orphan as Christ cares for us.

What does caring for orphans look like? It depends on how God moves your heart. But be sure of this, God’s heart is for the fatherless and when our hearts are attuned to His, our hearts will beat in rhythm. Here are a few ways you might care for the orphans in our world:

  • Consider adoption. There are 130,000 children available for adoption in the US.
  • Go to visit them with us locally. We partner with the Baptist Children’s Homes, specifically the Kennedy Hope in Kinston, NC.
  • Go to visit them with us internationally. We partner with Caroline’s Promise for our work in Guatemala. We partner with Amazing Grace Adoptions for our work in Uganda. Go with us next summer.
  • Sponsor an international child. We partner with Caroline’s Promise and Compassion to help sponsor at-risk children. For around $35 a month, you can change a child’s life.
  • Pray for the fatherless and the widow. Find out the facts. See the need. Lift up specific prayers to the Father.
  • Give to an adoption fund. Help prospective parents pay the high costs of adoption. Help us set up a fund at our church to help others adopt.

I have seen the face of the fatherless. I have looked into their eyes. They are no longer nameless and faceless. The gospel hope within me moves me to share it with them. Join us.

Let’s visit the orphan with gospel hope.

“My” church vs. “His” church thinking

WCC Ribbon Cutting Day 043011“I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” (Psalm 122:1 ESV).

As Americans, we are so accustomed to having things our own way that it should come as no surprise that we bring this way of thinking into the church. We tend to approach church attendance and church membership with an eye towards what will most benefit us. When we find a church that seems to meet all of our family’s needs, it’s not long before we begin to refer to it is “my church.”

Now this use of the personal possessive pronoun is not really a problem unless we forget that the church is “His church” as well as ours. For the church is not the steeple, it’s the people. It is the body of Christ of which He is the head and we are the members. So, the church is surely ours, but it is also, first of all, His.

Those who grow to understand this “both/and” thinking, that the church is both Christ’s and ours, begin to approach church differently. Here are a few marks of those with this understanding:

  • They bring their worship with them. They come prepared to give their tithes and offerings and to sing His praises and hear His Word. They are “glad” and prepared to go to His house.
  • They serve one – attend one. At WCC we offer three Sunday morning services, making it possible to attend one worship service and volunteer during another.
  • They arrive early. They don’t want to cause a disruption in the children’s classes or the adult worship, so they arrive early to worship and/or to serve in their respective ministries.
  • They leave the best parking for guests. They don’t park near the front door for their own convenience. Rather, they leave the best parking for guests.
  • They check their children into the Reel Deal and Nursery. They are aware that the children’s services are designed for children from the crib to the 5th grade. They are also aware that bringing children into the adult worship can be a distraction. They would never want to cause a seeker or guest to miss hearing the gospel because of a crying baby or disruptive toddler.
  • They take the seats down front. They want to encourage the worship band and the pastor, so they fill in the seats down front. They also want to be as close to the action as possible because they are enthusiastic for worship. (Exception: unless they have to leave early to serve in VIP or other ministries, then they sit in the back to avoid disruption.)
  • They leave the back seats for guests. They recognize that first-timers may feel nervous when they are looking for seats, so they leave the back seats for them. Members should find seats near the front and be willing to fill in the rows without taking all the aisle seats. They would never think of crawling under or taking down the back seat ropes.
  • They turn off their cell phones. They are careful to avoid disruptions, especially during the sermon.
  • They follow the “3-Minute Rule.” After the worship service, they spend at least the first 3 minutes talking to someone they don’t know before hanging out with their usual friends. They want our guests to feel welcome.
  • They make an effort to talk to our Hispanic members. They overcome the language and cultural barrier between our English and Spanish speaking members by reaching out to one another.
  • They always thank our volunteers. When they pick up their children from the nursery and Reel Deal they always thank them for taking care of their kids. They are thankful to our ushers, greeters, coffee shop workers, etc. They want their fellow WCCers to feel encouraged.
  • They hang out before leaving. They spend a little time in the foyer greeting others before rushing away.
  • They have a “Kingdom-focus” rather than a “me-focus.” They do not think of what the church should be doing to serve them better. Instead, they are constantly aware that they are the church and that they want to see God’s kingdom come, rather than their own.

These are a few of the marks of those who recognize the tension between “my church” vs. “His church” thinking. The beauty for those who put “His church” thinking first is that their own needs are not left unmet. In fact, focusing on His kingdom ahead of ours, we discover that our own needs are met along the way.

Can you think of other marks of those who recognize the church as “His” church first?

Fish symbols and generosity

6a00d83524c19a69e2011279660c7428a4-320wi“You will be glorifying God through your generous gifts. For your generosity to them will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ” (2 Cor. 9:13 NLT).

Some years ago I had a conversation with my son about his job at the car wash…

“How did work go today?” I asked.

“Fine.” He replied with his usual non-specificity.

“Any tips?” I asked (He made most of his money on tips at the car wash).

“Yeah, some.” He said. “It was a decent day.”

“Who gives the best tips?” I questioned, hoping for a more inspiring dialogue.

“Well, I’ll tell you who doesn’t tip.” He answered. “People with fish symbols on their car. They rarely, if ever tip!”

“You’re kidding.” I said, hoping he was.

“Nope. If you see a car roll in with a fish symbol, you can be sure they will be the most likely to complain about a spot we missed and also the most likely to stiff you on the tip.” He stated in scientific fashion, like a researcher who had obtained disappointing results.

“That really irritates me!” I exclaimed. “People should either pull those fish off of their bumpers or start giving generously like the Lord they say they follow!”

“Yep.” My son replied, not seeing the need to add to my outburst.

While preparing for this week’s sermon, I remembered this “fish symbol” conversation. As we continue our sermon series on The Seven Habits of Growing Christians, I think it’s important to know that one of the important habits for those who would grow to maturity in Christ, is the habit of graceful giving. Generosity is a mark of a mature Christian.

Don’t you think it’s time that Christians started being known more for their giving than their grumbling? We should be the most generous “tippers” and gracious givers in the world!

So, let’s either start giving generously like Jesus or let’s “reel” those fish in from our bumpers!

 

This article is an edited version of a similar article I wrote in March 2009.

Tattoos, tribes and true community

6a00d83524c19a69e2010534afdc4e970b-320wi“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 2:42 (ESV)

What makes a true community?

People use the word community to describe all sorts of social groups. But what constitutes a “true” (real, authentic, fully realized) community? If we are born into the same race or family, does our membership in the same tribe equal true community? What if we wear the same colors, tattoo our bodies, endure the same initiation, does our gang become a true community? What makes a true community?

Psychologist and author, Scott Peck, says that most people have only experienced true community in accidental ways and that usually during crisis. He says that most groups that people think of as communities are really just “pseudo-communities.” He believes that true community requires going through a four stage process of deepening relationships and connection.

These four stages are:

  1. Pseudo-community: Where participants are “nice with each other”, playing-safe, and presenting what they feel is the most favourable sides of their personalities.
  2. Chaos: When people move beyond the inauthenticity of pseudo-community and feel safe enough to present their “shadow” selves.
  3. Emptiness: This stage moves beyond the attempts to fix, heal and convert of the chaos stage, when all people become capable of acknowledging their own woundedness and brokenness, common to us all as human beings. Out of this emptiness comes…
  4. True community: the process of deep respect and true listening for the needs of the other people in this community. This stage Peck believes can only be described as “glory” and reflects a deep yearning in every human soul for compassionate understanding from one’s fellows.

Peck’s description of true community as the “deep yearning in every human soul” is what drives us to tattoo ourselves and identify with tribes. We all have a deep desire for true community.

I think God made us that way. He made us relational. He made us to be in relationship with Him and with others. That’s why Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God and to love others as ourselves. In other words, God designed us to be in true community with HIm and with HIs people.

The Bible word for this true community is “fellowship.” The Greek word is κοινωνία, koinonia, which can also be translated as “communion, participation, partnership” or literally as “what is shared in common.”

Any community that approaches the level of being “true” always seems to have certain traits in common. The first century church described in the book of Acts was certainly a “true community.” They had four traits in common. These four traits or “devotions” were the apostle’s teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer.

These four traits of true community might be restated as:

  1. A common belief
  2. A common identity
  3. A common practice
  4. A common dependence.

This past Wednesday I gathered with my weekly WCC Community Group. We stood in a circle holding hands and prayed over our meal. We ate together, laughing and talking about our week while nibbling away at our food. We gathered in the living room to discuss that Sunday’s sermon which was about prayer. We read the Scripture and discussed its implications and applications for each of us. After Bible study, the men headed to the dining room to pray while the women stayed in the living room to do the same.

We decided to follow the three points or “movements” of the sermon in our prayers, so each man gave three prayer requests. One was an “inward” confession of a sin or struggle. The second was an “upward” prayer, offering thanks to God for something specific in our lives. And the third was an “outward,” kingdom-come prayer for some gospel need was sensed in our world. A real sense of God’s presence was felt as we prayed.

After the men finished praying, we could still hear the women praying passionate prayers in the other room. When they finished there was a flourish of hugs and handshakes, a gathering of our things and a scurrying out the door as we said “goodbyes” and “love yous” until next week.

If true community, true fellowship, is having all things in common. Then, I think we’ve found it.

 

 

This article is an edited version of an earlier one I wrote in September 2008.

Bible memorization and business cards

6a00d83524c19a69e20111688a82d7970c-320wi“… he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law …It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees” (Deuteronomy 17:18-19 NIV).

A few years ago I had a weekly appointment with a friend for breakfast and Bible study. We decided to help each other memorize Scripture. So, week after week we enjoyed breakfast and rehearsing our Bible verses with one another.

You can buy Scripture memory cards and systems from several vendors. They’ve already done the printing for you. You just have to do the memorizing. But my friend and I decided that we should make our own. We figured that the process of making them would help in the process of remembering them as well.

I think it was Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators ministry, that used to say, “Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and the fingertips.” I agree.

We stumbled on the idea of buying perforated business card sheets for desktop printers to use for our Scripture memory cards. They come 10 to a page, so, we’d pick out ten verses we wanted to memorize and then make our own. I still have nearly a hundred of these cards “rubber-banded” together in my top desk drawer.

But more importantly, I have them in my heart.

We’re not the first to realize the importance of copying, reading, and memorizing Scripture for ourselves. God told Moses that every Israelite king was to make a copy of the entire law for himself and read it daily. That way, he could rightly govern God’s people.

I like the feel of these old business cards with Scripture written in my own hand on them. They have stains from breakfast and bent corners from handling. They remind me of God’s Word and of learning together with a friend.

 

This is an updated version of my blog from February 20, 2009.