The Church: Traveling Together

What seems like a bazillion years ago, I participated in a high school marching band (sorry, no humiliating pictures available – I did look, I promise). Before freshman year, I registered to be the pianist/accompanist for Beginning Orchestra; unbeknownst to me, everyone quit and the band director transferred me to Marching Band. And the trombone, because the band obviously did not need a pianist yet needed a trombonist.

It will require a separate soul-searching sesh to figure out why I roll with some punches and not others, why I allowed this change to be made on my behalf rather than asserting a desire to try, oh let’s say, writing, journalism, or yearbook. Whatever. I learned a few things.

I found a community. The band room became my safe haven in the large, scary ‘world’ of high school. People knew me, nick-named me (“Huggy Bear,” because I bounded a few steps, dropped my backpack, hugged, and bounded off a few more steps – repeat, repeat, repeat), teased me, loved me, encouraged and challenged me. And yes, we got into some trouble together, too; I have to remember that as I parent a high school kid of my own.

marching-band-md

Staying in step is crucial. Take a clumsy pianist who’d rather take a seat, thank you very much, put an unfamiliar instrument in her hands and to her face, and then make her march in step down streets and around fields in formation… Who thought this was a good idea? And yet it was a whole lotta fun, until we had to listen to tapes of the judges’ comments and hear them yelling, “Low Brass, out of step!” Later, when I thought maybe switching to xylophone might be at least keyboard-friendly, we heard even more, “Percussion, out of step!” Because marching with a xylophone strapped to your shoulders prevents one’s ability to see their own feet (and hurts your back. I don’t recommend). And you have to move both feet and both hands and, oh, it’s All Too Much! But it’s part of the game, so you practice it all the more.

marching-band-md

The music is the message. Left-right-left-step aside (and to think I dated the Drum Major for much of this experience – he must have been chagrined at my lack of rhythm, considering my musicality), the band had music to share. We loved playing together, being together, laughing and making music. As a dear friend recently pointed out, so much of life is work; even when you work at it, music is play, and the very best sort. We made melody and harmony together, and we had a gift to offer even when we were too-often out of step with one another.

marching-band-md

Staying in step together puts you out of step with the crowd. At our best, our notes sounded in tune and our feet hit the pavement/field in synch. But we were only in tune and in step with each other. The crowds watched and listened. They might have tapped a toe, clapped or what-not to the music, but they didn’t march with us. Marching defined us as a band, a unit, a family, distinct from onlookers.

So what’s this got to do with Church?

I listened to our pastor preach this morning on the Church, on Christ as Head of the Body, and how we all fit as God ordains, with unique positions and roles to play. And I listened as the choir and congregation sang – some more on-key and -beat than others – beautiful, joyful noise unto the Lord. And together we observed Communion, received that blessed grace God has given as a remembrance of the great gift of His Son Jesus Christ, as a defining mark of His family, the Church.

And I kept thinking about our high school band. That we belonged together. That we were in step and in tune, and when we weren’t, we dealt with it together. That together we had something to share with others who were not us. That we needed each other, and that others needed us.

Sometimes these metaphors surprise me. As much as “Band Geek” sometimes sounded like a slur, and the uniforms were universally unflattering (who looks good in a fringe-covered marshmallow hat?), I am grateful to have played with the band. C’mon, friends, C’mon, Church, let’s make beautiful noise for the Lord.

Connect
Share about a memorable trip you took with others.

Study
Read aloud 2 Corinthians 5:11-20.
Paul states several reasons why he must share the good news. What are his reasons?
How are “fear of the Lord” and “Christ’s love” complimentary and in tension as motivations, and how do they motivate us to share Christ (vv. 11, 14)?
Of what is Paul “convinced,” and what implications does that have for the Christian life (vv. 14-15)?
What does it mean to “regard no one from a worldly point of view?” (v. 16)
What does it mean to be “in Christ” (v. 17)?
Define “reconciliation.” Explain the ministry and message of reconciliation. What does it mean to be “Christ’s ambassador”?

Live
In your experience of sharing Christ, what has been your primary motivation?
What would it take for you to begin to see people from God’s perspective rather than a worldly perspective?
What do you need to feel equipped and encouraged to take up the ministry of reconciliation?
For whose sake right now in your life has God made you an ambassador of Christ?
What could you do as a small group to live out the ministry of reconciliation together?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will direct you to people who are open to hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.

Go

The Friday night DVD over, Tween got ready for bed while Guy channel surfed. He landed on a food show just as they began a profile on a restaurant in the town where we attended college.

The owner couple looked round-about our age, like ordinary, friendly people with whom we – and you – would like to spend time. They smiled. They have four tween-teen aged sons. They are passionate about their shared enterprise. And not so long ago, their restaurant went belly-up and their family home along with it; this restaurant is their second chance.

Astounded, the show host asked, “What happened?”

Their church helped them out. The church had recently come into “…a big ranch with six bedrooms that was offered to us along with a job as the janitor at the church.”

The family thought their dream was over, but they had shelter and employment. And then someone offered to carry the note on a new restaurant.

Guy and I exchanged a look. We knew that church.

The church we attended throughout most of our college years and beyond didn’t own a building. They rented, and kept enough money in the bank to cover three months’ expenses. They gave away any above-and-beyond money to mission partners and trusted God to provide. It certainly wasn’t a perfect community, but it strived to be a community faithful to God and its witness to the world.

I googled the family and church names and found the (abridged) story in the local paper. Our premonition was correct: we recognized our former church by their actions alone.

I’m so grateful that God gave Guy and me the gift of that church during formational years in our lives. I’m grateful we learned the value of community, that we saw a church attempting to be different in the world, even different within church culture, in order to authentically be the church – the people – God called them to be. I am grateful for their continued health and witness to God’s gracious love.

I’m not saying that every person or family who lost a job or home while attending that church would be automatically granted new digs. I am saying that some did, that as God provided for the church the church was able to provide for others. God provided for the church, which provided for this family, who told their story to those who would listen.

Blessed to be a blessing.

I used to think the task of “Go” was given to others, not to me. I’m not an easy evangelist, or I didn’t think I was. I can’t sidle up next to someone I’ve never met and pray with them by the end of our encounter. No way, Jose! And I was beyond-a-doubt convinced that the missionary aspect of “Go” was for others, not me. I can pray, I can give, but I don’t have gifts of service to share. I’ve tried, and felt like a failure, so no thanks.

I was wrong.

God calls each one of us to be His witnesses, to tell the story He’s writing in our lives. We all have a story, lots of them actually, and in the right light so many of them will reveal His fingerprints.

If I can talk about my favorite brand of hummus (Trader Joe’s Mediterranean Hummus, FYI) or a restaurant I’d recommend or that funny comment Tween made just last night, I can also talk about that cool way Jesus showed up in my day. I get it’s not quite the same, except it’s also not all that different.

Oh, and God corralled me into what would become a life-changing mission trip to the Dominican Republic a few years ago. I dreaded the experience, had the best week ever, and came home asking God, “What’s next?” If He can do it for me, He can do it for anyone.

For some, “Go” may seem scary. But if you’re truly convinced you’ve got the best of something, you want to share it. When you count your blessings, when you grab hold of the adventure of life with Jesus, you want to share the goodness with others.

Let’s be convinced of God’s “unfathomable riches” (Eph. 3:8) and let’s go share them with those who will listen.

Connect
How do you introduce yourself when you meet someone new (i.e., what do you most want people to know)?

Study
Read Ephesians 3:1-12.
In this passage, how does Paul talk about himself and his task, and what might that tell us about our call as Christ’s followers?
What is “the mystery” (vv. 3-6; see also Eph. 1:9-10 and 2:12-13)?
How do each of the three terms for Gentiles – “heirs,” “members” and “sharers” – further paint the picture of the mystery of the gospel (v. 6)?
What is God’s intent for the church (v. 10)?

Live
What might it mean in your life that God is both the One who reveals and the One who is revealed?
For the Ephesians, the inclusion of Gentiles along with the Jews in God’s family was an impossible “mystery” they needed God to reveal to them. Discuss contemporary issues that render the gospel mysterious to those who haven’t yet come to Christ.
How can the unity and diversity of the Church witness to the world the good news of Jesus Christ?
How has the gospel of Christ changed your life? How might God want to work through you to share the gospel with others?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will use you to share “the manifold wisdom of God” with the world.

Word

You may have noticed the cultural trend away from resolutions – 25% of people who make resolutions break them within a week – and to choosing a guiding word instead, something like “Love” or “Focus” or “Courage.”

For those who follow Jesus, our word ought always to be “Jesus,” the name of our Beloved continually on our minds and hearts and whispers.

But there are many ways to focus on Jesus, many ways in which Jesus wants to grow us, and many, many words from which to choose.

A few years ago I chose “endurance,” as in, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Except that running is not my thing, and the whole idea of endurance deflates me. Endurance sounds like agony, hard work, the opposite of joy and fun and life.

Early 2014 I attended Donald Miller‘s Storyline conference (highly recommend!). I was already using his daily planner and each day I would write “LOVE!” on that planner. Except I only used the planner when I was in the office (four days/week), and then I was out of the country for two months, and during the fall I felt so overwhelmed I didn’t resume the practice (but will – it is January, after all). So even “love” wasn’t the best guiding word for me as it didn’t inspire me as it should.

So this year, what’s the word? It’s a phrase, actually:

“Put yourself in the way of beauty.”

It comes from the movie version of the book, Wild, in which Cheryl Strayed walks out of her broken-to-bits life and into the wilderness, walking herself into the woman her mother raised her to be. I read the book when it first came out (much preferred it to the movie version) and it almost convinced me I’d like to backpack, to take on a quest of sorts. When Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl voice-over’d this sentence it jabbed me in the best way. I remembered reading it, was sad to have forgotten it, as it’s such great advice. It’s advice my mom, my everyday model of grace and beauty, might have spoken to me.

But first let’s define beauty. I actually really like this definition from Dictionary.com:

“the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).”

I expected something more superficial, as so much of beauty in American culture is just that, surface-y and fake, and absolutely not what I’m going for.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”

God created and creates and everything God has made is good, beautiful. Even when life gets all wonky, God works His beautiful purpose in our lives. We just don’t always see or appreciate God at work – hence my ongoing search for miracles in the mundane. (Hah! I just mistyped that “mundance” and I kinda like it – let’s do a little boogie!).

God surrounds Himself with beauty – “Honor and majesty surround him; strength and beauty fill his sanctuary” (Psalm 96:6) – and His people who share Truth are also beautiful – “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7).

Then there’s 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” This one reminds me of our well-meaning Sunday school teacher who used it to beat up her 7th grade girls’ small group; um, excuse me, but what 7th grade girl isn’t more than a little bit concerned about outward appearance? Yes, focus on inner beauty (as I plan to), but also teach the arguably most awkward humans on the planet how to do their hair and dress to their body type and love the physical shell God gave them. Be good stewards of the inside and out of God’s gifts.

One more Scripture, Philippians 4:8 uses a synonym for beauty – “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

So what might putting myself in the way of beauty look like on a day-to-day basis?

Getting up early or sleeping in. Naps are definitely beautiful!
Time with God in His Word
Smile, laugh, enjoy
Solitude and relationships in a healthy rhythm
Gym time and walks with friends and dogs
Surrounding myself with good stories and uplifting people
Meaningful work and play projects that motivate and inspire me
Concerning myself less with what others think and more with my own well-being
Creating experiences and making memories, not collecting stuff
Decluttering home and life so the beautiful stands out
And so much more!

As I’ve been pondering this phrase for a couple of weeks, it has already prompted different behavior, giving me hope that this word will stick in all the right ways. After Christmas we spent a few days with Guy’s parents in southern Oregon. High on our kids’ priority list: snow play. In two cars we drove to a nearby mountain and found easy parking. We tumbled out – dog, too – and threw a few snowballs, took a few pictures, and tossed our freezing-cold selves back in the vehicles, all in less than fifteen minutes. I started flipping through the pictures I’d taken and hardly noticed when the rest of the gang hopped back out again. A natural spectator, it would’ve been easy for me to wait in the car. Instead I decided to put myself in the way of beauty, to open the car door, step in the snow, walk up the hill, and see what God had done. Yes, it was a decision, just like staying put would have been, but this decision I made for beauty.

Look what I found:

A solitary pop of color

A solitary pop of color

Do you see the sunshine heart? God loves me!

Evidence of God’s love in a sunshine heart

"Survive Rough Times"

“Survive Rough Times”

snow redeems

 

It hasn't melted yet...

It hasn’t melted yet…

I also found my family – Guy, boys, my beautiful mom and my nephew, our dog – and together we played and laughed and enjoyed the beauty. A SoCal girl for most of my life, snow has been an occasion, not a regularity, and I really do prefer moderate temperatures. But I am glad I got out of the car to put myself in the way of beauty.

Here’s to a Beautiful New Year!

He’s Right

I am I to the third power: an Incredibly Indecisive Individual. Do you want to grab coffee or lunch? Up to you. Italian or Indian food? Up to you. Want to watch something on the DVR or rent a movie? Up to you. In each of those scenarios, how we spend time matters far less to me than the company we share.

But when I do have an opinion, I’m fairly certain I’m right. And by “fairly certain” I mean absolutely convinced. The difference, I’m beginning to understand, is that I feel strongly about How to Make the World a Better Place. Another I, I’m an idealist. Which is why church work has always made sense to me, as the Church is God’s family working for the sake of God’s good purpose in the world.

Alas, I am not always right, which may be why some of the opinionated Bible characters have a special place in my heart. I can relate to Moses, telling God that He’d surely chosen the wrong person to represent Him to the Egyptians on behalf of the Israelites. Moses and I need to be convinced that God has the better way. I’m pretty sure I’ve got it figured out, thanks very much, Lord.

Peter argues with God in Acts 10, today’s Bible study. He’s so convinced that the traditions of Judaism, the rules passed down for generations set out by God Himself, supersede a direct word from the Lord that he tells God no. No, Lord, never! I’ve never done it that way and never will. I’m following you, Lord, so don’t tell me otherwise.

With Peter, I have a few things to learn. May God soften my heart to be convinced that He is right, to follow Him especially when it doesn’t make sense.

Connect
When have you experienced favoritism and what was that like?

Study
Read Acts 10:9-35.
Compare Peter’s vision (vv. 9-16) with Cornelius’ vision (vv. 30-32). Why do you think the Lord appeared to them in visions? What did each have to learn?
What do you think motivated Peter to argue with the Lord over the vision’s content (vv. 9-16)?
What role does hospitality play in this story and, ultimately, in the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles (vv. 22-29)?

Live
The Lord spoke to Cornelius and Peter during times set aside for prayer. What does your prayer practice look like, and how might it need sharpening?
When has God called you out of your “comfort zone”? What happened?
For what prejudice might God be asking you to repent?
What can you do to open up in your life space for others, and how might God use that space to further the good news of Christ?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will be open to God’s Spirit and His conviction and that God will work through you to further His Kingdom on earth.

Trust & Obey

Years ago as I left one of my favorite bookstores, a man greeted me just outside the door. “Do you know Jesus?” he asked.
I answered with a hearty, “Yes!”
“Are you sure?” he forced.
“Positive,” I assured him.
He followed me down the walkway, pressing literature onto my clenched fist. I kept walking.

Really? No “Praise Jesus, we’re siblings in Christ” but instead doubt that I knew my God. Bleh.

We’ve all seen bad evangelism: televangelists, health-and-wealth “gospel,” disheveled soap-boxers with “The End is Nigh” signs. Pastors more concerned with their wallets than spiritual health. As a result we’ve become jaded, even to those who would quietly share grace, who won’t push but long to share truth.

For those who follow Jesus, we have to ask ourselves: where do we fall on the faith-sharing spectrum? I know I’ve been guilty of being too forceful. And I know just as often, if not more so, I’ve neglected to speak truth out of my own insecurity; not wanting to ruffle relational feathers, I’ve failed to trust that God will do His work when I am faithful to listen and obey.

Over the last few years, God has nudged me into a new season of evangelism. Actually, even that term makes me slightly uncomfortable as it raises images both of cold-calling door knockers or filled stadiums, neither of which are my scene. I’ve always thought of myself as a discipler, someone who will walk in faith with those who express desire to grow in faith. Except that discipleship grows out of evangelism, and some who might be interested haven’t yet figured out the words to say or questions to ask.

And so I find myself – at the school, the park, the pool party – having conversations that suddenly (it sure feels sudden, each time) turn to matters of faith. And I have become bold in ways I never imagined, witnessing to the truth I have experienced. I don’t have all the answers. I never will. But I know that out of His great love for His creation God sent His beloved Son, Jesus Christ, to live and die and rise from the dead in order to pay the price for our sin, to pave a way back to God, to heal our broken relationship with God, and ultimately, with one another.

I am not perfect. I am as broken as they come, as we all are. I need a loving Savior, and I live in the freedom that He does love me, that He forgives me, that He wants all to come to know Him. And I have the privilege of sharing that truth with others. It’s not always easy. There remains the risk of rejection.

But God is faithful. One of my favorite realizations about today’s passage from Acts 5 is that the apostles didn’t know how Gamaliel spoke on their behalf. God was at work in unexpected ways with an unexpected person who enabled unexpected ministry that changed the world. You do the work God puts before you, and trust the rest to Him.

Connect
Share a time from your past when you disobeyed someone in authority. What happened? 

Study
Read Acts 5:26-42. 
Based on this passage, describe the apostles’ faith. What stands out to you?
How does Peter summarize the gospel (vv. 30-32)? What can you learn about what’s important to tell people about Jesus?
Read 5:29, 32 and 41-42. What do these verses say about obedience as it relates to sharing the gospel, and why is that significant?

Live
Think of some current examples in your life or in the lives of those you know where the principle in verse 29 may come into play.
Sometimes Christians face opposition because the message of the gospel is offensive (see 1 Cor. 1:23). At other times, it is the Christian him- or herself who is offensive. Describe the difference.
Read 1 Peter 3:15-16. What would obedience to God’s Word in this passage look like in your life?
When have you been reluctant to share your faith when you knew you should? What might you do differently?
What is Jesus saying to you through this passage and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray for courage for one another to be obedient in sharing your faith with the people God has placed on your heart.
Pray for Christians in places like Syria and Iraq who are suffering right now for their faith in Jesus. Ask God to give them courage and perseverance in the face of suffering, and like the first disciples, to be able to rejoice that “they have been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”

By the way, if you’re using and enjoying these Bible studies, I’d really love to hear from you!