Opportunity to Love

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I realized after moving out of my childhood home that it can be really easy to start thinking in terms of a singular perspective. We have certain paradigms that we grow up with that aren't always going to be the same for everyone, and I just recently became fully aware of this idea while talking to a coworker/friend.

We had been talking about our lives growing up, and we soon both came to realize we had been raised in completely different environments. It was a good conversation with stories of childhood foolishness, good family times, and of course food. The conversation ended with my coworker jokingly saying I was just a "rich kid". I have never wanted to be completely broke financially until that moment in my life.

It wasn’t said in any demeaning way. It was simply said to show I had just been more blessed and privileged than he was. It made me think of how much we oftentimes disregard people because they aren't the same as us, how we think less of someone just because of their situation they are in that we have no understanding of. We put people at different levels of importance to us and our lives. Either one of us could have given the cold shoulder, but instead we simply didn’t care about where we came from. We both instead decided to value the fellowship and community we had with one another.

Just listen
to their story.

It's become clear to me from this situation and the last couple months, just how important love is. How important it is to just listen to other people speak for a minute and gain a new perspective. Just listen to their story. Its important to make friends with the community of people around you; that’s what makes it a community. We are all people, we all have problems, and we all need one another. There isn't one person who is better than the other, I mean I feel like I am repeating myself, but how many times do you put yourself above the various people around you? It's a big problem in our culture to try and make ourselves the center. To make what we are and have done seem like the best or the only way to do it, when there is actually no 'set' way. We are so narrow minded and don't put down our defenses long enough to gain a new perspective. I find myself doing this a lot with certain societal issues that I've had opinions about for a long time. But that’s just the problem, a lot of what we think to be the right way are just opinions we've decided to build our lives on. That is why I believe it is hard for people to actually listen sometimes.

We are all people, we all have problems, and we all need one another.

Romans 12:9-10 says, "Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other." 

Jesus stressed love so much in his ministry. Its sometimes hard for me to look around at fellow brothers and sisters and not see love being demonstrated the way that it should be. Paul talks about love in Corinthians and says it is so many things, but I think it's important to just remember love has to start with us, by making the choice to love people and seeing it as an opportunity and not a nuisance.

- Preston

 

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Community: Simplified

Jesus says a lot of good stuff in the Gospels. So much so that even when breezing over a few pages in your Bible reading plan or checking out a blog, you may still pick up some truth-packed goodies while drinking coffee and waking up. In this blog, we’ll unlock a few gems from a familiar verse: "...and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30-31, NASB).

Love God. Love people. Mean it. Jesus made following him pretty simple. Definitely not easy, but simple nonetheless.

Love God. Love people. Mean it. Jesus made following him pretty simple. Definitely not easy, but simple nonetheless. The complications of following Jesus come as a result of good, old-fashioned human brokenness. We fumble around in prayer with some shallow “hallelujahs” and then stumble into our families and friend groups with deep fears and insecurities. For many, the pain of seeking to simply follow Jesus and falling embarrassingly short is exhausting. The sting of those failures can leave us running into dark isolation and unhealthy spiritual independence; or spiritual co-dependence and worship of religious constructs. Gross. How do we get out of those cycles?

Jesus came to establish a Kingdom. Kingdoms are comprised of individuals. By nature, individuals flock to groups and small communities based on appearances, interests, stages of life, occupation, etc. (Pro-Tip: one commonly overlooked factor in understanding community is location. People can gather, be recognized, and appreciated best by those in proximity). The Kingdom Jesus came to establish is best known as the Church and within it are communities illustrated with age, color, economic portfolios, etc. The solution to what feels complicated in following Jesus (specifically related to loving people) is embracing that Church right where you are. The answer is Jesus-centered Community.

The way we understand community is often under-defined, worshipped, or misrepresented.

It is under-defined in the sense that it is frequently left up to personal interpretation. When someone says the word “community” it brings hundreds of pictures and nuances to mind. We all come to the table with tons of ideas about what community could and should look like and often we’re disappointed when it doesn’t turn out like we thought.

It is worshipped in a sense that once the ideas of community is solidified in our minds, we won’t be persuaded into revising those ideas. We can’t just manufacture our imagined (or preferred) communities based on what we’ve seen, read, or listened. It may not apply where we are and it may not be what we actually need.

Community is misrepresented in the fact that most of us have seen some of that good, old-fashioned human brokenness firsthand. We’ve seen mistakes made and people hurt time and time again.

All of these issues affect our opinions and preferences on community and likely come as a result of putting Jesus on the sideline. Community is very simple. Not easy; simple. We could define it using the template that the early disciples embraced, "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42, NASB).

Community is simply seeing and believing that the people within our reach are worth pursuing because Jesus pursued them. The way we chase our communities is like a gauge for how well we can love Jesus.

They understood where they were, the culture surrounding, and the mission at hand. They were a family, on a mission, at war. Our friend groups, families, and local churches didn’t just happen to us. They’re not coincidental, they are gifts from Jesus. Waiting behind the way they dress, look, talk, and even think is an opportunity to fall more in love with Jesus. It’s even the way we’re identifiable as believers. (see John 13:35)

Community isn’t an obstacle to Mark 12:30-31. It’s the means. Community is simply seeing and believing that the people within our reach are worth pursuing because Jesus pursued them. The way we chase our communities is like a gauge for how well we can love Jesus (see 1 John 4:21). With Jesus off the bench and at the center of our relationships, we begin to define community by the love we share, the God we worship, and the Gospel we represent. The rest is history.

Don’t dream of a group who looks like you and talks like you. Embrace the group that loves you and will help you look more like Jesus.

Take Action:

  • Discover Jesus’ passion for community in the gospels. Fall in love with his leadership and commitment to the growth and development of his friends.
  • Talk to leader in your life about how to get more involved in your church. If you’re a loner, don’t be. Get off your couch and go meet people. Let them push you to greatness. If you’re a social butterfly, take another look at your friend list. Who actually knows you? Who’s asking about your spiritual health? Go deeper!
  • Allow the mission to define the team. Jesus understood his mission to give the world “life and life abundantly” as the means of gauging success in his community. Don’t let your community “win” be just a board game and some snacks. Press on to know Jesus and make him known.

 

Much Love, Zac Lovelight
Children’s Director, City Life Lansing

 

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The Messiness of Community

Community is a word that is comforting yet terrifying to many. We long for community, to be surrounded by others with a common goal and heart, to love and be loved, to laugh with others and cry with others. Yet, there is something that holds many of us back from true community, and that is vulnerability.

Why? Because we are afraid. Afraid to be completely known. Afraid of being rejected. Afraid of judgement. Afraid of getting our hearts broken.

Honestly, these are all things that can happen, and many times do happen, when we are vulnerable with people, but if we do not allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable, we can never FULLY experience love. If we’re not open and honest, how can we expect to grow? If something is worthwhile there will almost certainly be some sort of risk involved, and I think experiencing love and growth are definitely worth the risk!

C.S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Being vulnerable is one of the bravest and most necessary things we can do as human beings.

I believe that being vulnerable is one of the bravest and most necessary things we can do as human beings.

Jefferson Bethke said, “To be truly human, is to be truly known.”

You may read that and say “Yes!”, yet still hide behind things like social media. We have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but how many of them know that you spend your days worrying about how you’re going to pay the rent? How many of them know that you eat your dinner alone in front of the TV every night? How many know that you dream of becoming a doctor, but can barely pass your classes? How many know why you bow your head and thank God for every meal?

I am not saying that we need to broadcast everything about our lives on social media. I am saying that we need to get into a community of people who we can interact with face-to-face-- a community of people who love each other, who believe in each other and desire to see each other grow. Paul encourages us in Hebrews 10:24-25, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” When we’re in a community it is harder for us to hide behind false intentions and pretty masks. It’s so awesome because then we know we are kept accountable. We know that there will be someone to encourage us when we fall, and we can trust that when we are corrected it is for our good.

I’d rather take the messiness of community and possible joy, than the cleanliness of isolation and sure despair.

Psalm 133:1 says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” When you take a deeper look at the word community, the prefix com- means “with” and -unity means, well, unity--oneness, unit, agreement, sameness. So community means literally “with unity” just like that psalm says, “to dwell together in unity.”

Jefferson Bethke said, “I’d rather take the messiness of community and possible joy, than the cleanliness of isolation and sure despair.” You see, we were not made to live in isolation. We were made to live WITH others. We were made to love and be loved, and the only way we can experience the true depth of that is to be vulnerable.

 

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