The Art of Neighboring (Pt 2)

Let me ask you…how well do you neighbor? Do you know the names of your neighbors? Do you know their stories…their needs?

If the reason you don’t know them is not because you are in a different stage of life, then maybe busyness is to blame. Maybe you don’t really know your neighbors or love them well, because you are just too busy. Or maybe it’s because your neighbors are weird! (We all have them.) And if you can’t think of any weird neighbors, maybe you are the weird neighbor.

Either way, does your level of neighborliness depend on your neighbor? Or do you neighbor well despite who your neighbor is?

What kind of impact could we have on our communities if we all were intentional to move from stranger to acquaintance to friend with all of our neighbors? I am convinced that we could make major change in the world if we just start by loving our neighbors.

So who is your neighbor? Glad you asked!

Jesus answers that same question with a parable about a man who, while traveling from one town to another, was beaten, robbed, and left for dead. A couple religious people pass by, but they step over him on their way to wherever they’re going. (Side note: it’s been my experience that the most religious people can be the least compassionate people.)

This is possibly the most well known of Jesus’ parables and most of you know how it goes. The thing that has always stuck out to me and I’ve not heard many others speak to is this…

When we consider our neighbors, we can’t ignore needs.

It seems to me that Jesus is binding the two together here. There is an obvious connection between neighbor and need. The man who was robbed had a huge need. The Samaritan passing by chose to meet his need. This was the answer to who is my neighbor.

When I gave this message in The Gathering for Multiply Church, I shared examples of what to say and what not to say as we begin to reach out to our neighbors. The list was funny and people laughed, and we should have fun with this. Rather than feeling like an obligation, I think Jesus understood that it was in our best interest–part of living into abundant life–that we make loving our neighbors a priority.

So who is your neighbor and how do you love him or her?

The best first place to start is by knowing the name of your neighbor. After all, how are you supposed to know the need of your neighbor when you don’t know the name of your neighbor? So let’s start there. If those you live closest to are only “buddies” or “mans” or “hey theres,” let’s go through the potentially awkward first step of learning (and remembering) names.

Then we can move onto needs…

 

The Art of Neighboring (Pt 1)

The church I get to pastor, Multiply Church, recently participated in an incredible display of church unity with over 100 other churches in the Charlotte metro area.

Local churches of different socioeconomic, denominational, and ethnic make-ups together focused on loving our neighbor. The reach of this effort spanned over 60,000 people here in the Charlotte metro area.

As you play those numbers out, 60,000 people with 8 neighbors each is a potential of over 480,000 lives impacted by this effort! All this to say…the opportunity the church has to make an impact in our local communities is huge!

And it all starts with a simple command.

As we think about the greatest command Jesus gave…to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves…I have to admit that I’ve not always been the best neighbor.

In fast, when we originally moved to the Matthews area almost six and half years ago, we decided to rent for a short time while we discerned where best to set up permanently. Our neighbor right next door was named Sicily. Sicily was like 130 years old…and she was amazing!

She was originally from a Caribbean island where everyone eats only greens and mangos for every meal so even though she was nearly a century old, she was active and could easily pass for being in her late 60’s or early 70’s. I guess there’s something to that whole clean eating/ natural diet thing!

Even though we knew her name and would say hi whenever we saw her outside, we didn’t have much interaction with Sicily. One day, after returning from a week at the beach, Sicily rang our doorbell. I welcomed her in and said it was good to see her.

Upon entering the foyer, she asked if we had been out of town. Without considering why she might be asking, I told her how we had been on vacation and shared some details of our time away.

What she said next convicted me about my neighboring…

“Oh, well I had picked some fresh tomatoes from my garden last week and left a basket for you at your door when you didn’t answer, but since you were out of town, they rotted. You should let me know when you will be out of town. That’s what neighbors do.”

Ouch!

I immediately knew she was right and looking back on it, I wonder if it was the difference in our stage of life that kept us from really acting like neighbors. In fast, there was a family who lived a couple streets over who we had befriended because our kids played so well together. And they actually knew we were on vacation!

(More to come on neighboring next week…)

Clash of Kingdoms (Part 2)

(This is a continuation from last week’s post. You can find the first part here.)

To illustrate the answer, and the accompanying framework that hopefully simplifies it for us, let me tell a story…

My wife, Emily, works for a large financial corporation and recently transitioned into a role where she analyzes the effectiveness of their training for lenders. I know what you’re thinking…sounds like a barn burner of a role!

She actually loves her job and the people she works with, including her supervisor. In one particular conversation with her supervisor, she was told that they were looking to hire a new employee with a masters and/or PhD in “descriptive statistics” to help use big data in the evolution and analysis of their training effectiveness.

Just like we do in the church world, Emily’s supervisor was thinking that more education would be the key to unlocking their greatest potential. Emily, however, began reading a book on the subject and discovered something…it turns out that through an Excel add-on, anyone with a computer and Microsoft Office can accomplish the goal they were thinking they’d have to hire an (overly) educated addition to the team to do.

Again, this is an (overly) long way of illustrating that when it comes to the Kingdom of God, the key is resourceful action over knowledge. The Kingdom of God is something to live into and pursue through our action…not something to be studied from the outside. That’s what the Kingdom of God has to do with you.

And even more pointed, the Kingdom of God has to do with whoever is right in front of you.

So we’re through the warning and the framework regarding the Kingdom of God. Now onto the overview

For this, we will turn to a passage from Mark’s narrative of Jesus’ ministry and a few places in the physician-turned-journalist, Luke’s, account as well. Mark writes, “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!'” So, first of all, according to Jesus, the Gospel or good news is that the Kingdom of God has come near. Is our personal salvation a part of this good news? Of course! But it’s sooooo much more!

And as you can read, the proclamation of the Kingdom of God is accompanied by an instruction. Repent and believe.

Then Jesus gives us some further glimpses of the Kingdom in a few different places we read of in Luke’s documentation of his ministry. Looking at 8:1-3, 10:8-9, and 17:20-21, we can understand that:

  • the Kingdom of God is good and it is good news
  • the values in the Kingdom of God are often counter-cultural to values in kingdoms of man
  • Jesus will use whatever means He so chooses to support and grow the Kingdom of God, including the earthly wealth of those who are in power at the top of kingdoms of man and at odds with the Kingdom of God, such as that of Herod Antipas himself
  • the Kingdom of God is accompanied by healing, often times miraculous
  • the Kingdom of God is less tangible and more mysterious than kingdoms of man

There is so much we can understand about the Kingdom of God by looking at the narrative of the Old Testament as well, but as you can see here, we get a great view and understanding from the ministry of Jesus.

So the next time you read or hear someone talking about the gospel, consider what they are really saying. Is it the whole gospel? And what does it look like for you to live as a citizen of this Kingdom?

Clash of Kingdoms (Part 1)

What is the Kingdom of God?

If you are in any way a church person, of course you’ve heard or read about the Kingdom of God. But how would you define it and what does it have to do with you? I’m sure these are not questions many people walking around asking in their heads most days, but let’s take some time to consider them today.

Over the course of this post, I’m going to do four things:

  • Give a warning regarding how the Kingdom of God is taught
  • Give a framework for understanding how the Kingdom of God relates to you
  • Give a brief overview of the Kingdom of God that we see in the words of Jesus
  • Finally, give a specific application of the clash between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of man

You ready? Let’s go!

As I was considering this topic and doing some reading, I came across a really helpful quote that speaks to some of the queasiness I feel even at the mention of “The Kingdom of God.” In his work, Divine Government, RT France (an anglican cleric and Oxford theologian) speaks to how the phrase Kingdom of God is often interpreted in many ways to fit the theological agenda of those interpreting it.

What does that mean?

Basically, it means that whoever is doing the teaching about the Kingdom of God will typically fashion the details (consciously or subconsciously) in order to match the teacher’s desired outcome and personal understanding.

For example, if I am not concerned with the here and now of this world and, therefore, don’t care if you are either, then I will likely talk about the Kingdom of God as a future reality. That way, you don’t need to give much attention to how you treat people or care for our creation today, but it’s temporary and there’s something better coming anyway.

Or, if you think we should all be evangelizing everywhere and at all times in the typical sense of evangelism, then you will teach on the Kingdom of God as a people group. And, coincidentally, God’s expectation for us is to get as many people into that particular people group as possible.

Finally, if I think of the Kingdom of God as a lifestyle, then I will teach about it in a way that would get you to consider your behavior above all else. Therefore, to take this position, would be to consider how in the Kingdom, you are supposed to speak and to act in a particular way and I want you to speak and act in a predetermined manner as one aware of the Kingdom and its expectations. You get it?

All of this to say…

Be careful and thoughtful when people start talking about and teaching on the Kingdom of God…like I am here 😉

So with all of the interpretations and philosophies and teachings of the Kingdom of God, what does it have to do with you and me??

(More to come next week…)

 

Faith for Exiles (Part 2)

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(If you missed last week’s post, I recommend checking it out here before continuing!)

Well, as David Kinnaman puts it, “we have allowed our technology to outdistance our theology.” We now turn to Google above friends or trusted advisors (if we even have any).  Kinnaman writes, “Young people are looking to their devices to make sense of the world around them. They are using the screens in their pockets as their counselors, their entertainers, their instructors, and even their sex educators, among many other digital-Sherpa roles.”

And, in true millennial fashion, I would say adamantly that it’s not our fault!

Instead, as David points out, the issue is discipleship. The main reason why people drop out of church or fall away from the faith is insufficient discipleship. When the true troubles and worries of this life rear their ugly, painful heads, many exiles tend to go the way of culture rather than the way of Christ.

And there are different levels of “exile” today. One of the most helpful aspects of Kinnaman’s latest work is the stratification of exile and the corresponding definition.

  • Resilient Disciple
  • Habitual Churchgoers (my personal favorite designation)
  • Nomad
  • Prodigal

You can read the book to find out the definition of each grouping, but they are very helpful and it would be interesting for the Barna Group (Kinnaman’s research firm) to create an online assessment individuals could take, based on the data, to determine the category in which you’d fit!

So what can you do about all of this?

Kinnaman is careful to explain that this is an explanation of lots of research and not a guide on how to reach young people. (By the way, that kind of language–reaching young people–will typically send exiles running the other direction!) But, if you must reverse engineer this from a particular end point, the Faith for Exiles book might be helpful.

As to top predicators of resilient Christians, the research reveals four big factors:

  1. Feeling connected to a community of Christians
  2. Understanding the church as a place where you feel you belong
  3. Feeling loved and valued in your church
  4. Feeling connected to people who are older

As you can see, people feeling connected, like they belong, and valued will more than likely result in resilient disciples.

Therefore, the organizational/institutional local church might do well to direct its resources to making all people feel connected, creating a place where they belong (no matter what they believe), showing love and value to all people, and providing environments where people can connect intergenerationally.

Along with being awakened to our current reality straight from the horse’s mouth, Faith for Exiles creates some great language to describe the current state of the church in America. For example, concepts like brand Jesus, insulating tribalism, empowered atheismcultural indoctrination, among others are helpful language to get a grasp on how the experience of the local church is viewed in the eyes of many today, especially younger generations.

To be fair, Faith for Exiles is not your typical page-turner, but for anyone interested in what’s really going on in the hearts and minds of those leaving the church over the past several years, it’s an incredible resource…and one you might need to refrain from defending yourself against if you are going to make a difference moving forward.

And I highly recommend it!

Faith for Exiles (Part 1)

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Have you ever had a moment when you were attending a conference, reading a book or a blog post, or even watching the latest Netflix documentary, and had what can only be described as an epiphany?

About seven years ago, I had one of these moments!

At the encouragement of a great friend I knew from seminary who is also a church planter, I jumped in my car and drove up to Washington DC to attend an event called You Lost Me Live. An author named David Kinamman had just written a followup book to his very popular unChristian book; which had been released a couple years prior. The name of the new book? You Lost Me. And David was on a tour promoting the new book to begin a conversation about why young Christians are leaving the church and rethinking faith.

The event was amazing! Both David and Mark Batterson (the pastor of the host church) spoke to a small crowd for a couple days and, in the meantime, we got to do some sightseeing in our nation’s capital; which never gets old to me! As David, Mark, and other presenters spoke, I remember taking notes until my hand fell off! It was incredible.

The funny thing is that I had not even read the book before the event, but, fortunately, everyone who attended received a copy. When I returned home to the south, I started reading right away and came to a chapter in the book about Exiles; in which David uses the language of exile from the experience of the Israelites in the Old Testament. He applies this experience to many of us in the church today. Essentially, David says that there are a number of young people who are in the church, but feel like they do not belong. They are exiles.

And in that moment, David gave perfect language to what I was feeling.

This was the epiphany: I was an exile. Despite an ever deepening faith in Jesus and a hunger for the Kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven, I felt like I didn’t belong in the local church. I was a stranger in a strange land…and lots of the folks around me felt like I was a stranger. They were always wondering why I had to be so strange and would much prefer I just get with the system…the status quo.

So naturally, when I heard that David was releasing a new book (Faith for Exiles) and I had the opportunity to be a part of the launch team, I jumped at it. I have read the new book thoroughly and am excited to share some of what I think we can all learn from his latest project!

First of all, David has an incredible understanding of the current culture, especially the white, middle-class, suburban culture. He states that “many of us today turn to our devices to make sense of the world.” I actually have a real-life example of this concept…

Several years ago, I was officiating a wedding for a good friend. As is often the case, there was a little spat between a couple of the bridesmaids before, during, and after the ceremony. I remember sitting next to one of the bothered bridesmaids at the reception and I picked up her Blackberry (which should give you an idea as to just how long ago this occurred). I noticed that her browser was open to Google. And what had she googled?

“How to make the best of a bad situation.”

Think about it…

Here sits a well educated, intelligent, and socially well adjusted young woman, surrounded by her closest friends, but yet she chooses to turn to a handheld computer and strangers on the internet for advice on what to do in her current situation.

This is the norm today. We turn to Google first. It’s easy. It’s quick. It does not require us to be vulnerable with another human. It allows us to hide while we put on a front to convince everyone that we’re just fine.

So what does this have to do with faith?

(Stay tuned for the second part of my review of Faith for Exiles in next week’s post!)

Putting Identity Before Instruction

Several years ago I was doing my pre-service ritual on a Sunday morning; which included sipping coffee and gathering my final thoughts while early arrivers made their way into the lobby. As I made small talk; which is not exactly fun for an introvert like myself, the doors to the gym-made-sanctuary were violently swung open by a production team volunteer yelling, “Hey Stephen, will you tell Erik to take his hat off?!?”

Erik was the recently hired worship director and he was guiding the different teams in their run-through prior to the “worship experience,” as we called it in those days. Of course my first thought was, “Oh yeah, this is what Jesus died for and why I went into full time vocational ministry.” Then I thought back to that day in seminary when we discussed the case study of a camera operator triangulating the pastor in a plot to make a wardrobe change.

Are you feeling my sarcasm??

Turns out that the production volunteer had already asked Erik to remove his hat; which he declined because, well, who cares?? The real issue, however, is that Erik was new and a relationship had not been developed between him and this entitled production volunteer.

This ministry moment illustrates the damage we can do when we throw around instructions before addressing identity.

We all get our identity from our relationships with others…starting at day one. I was born a son to my father and mother. When I arrived, they chose my name (coincidently the same as my father’s) and wrote it on the certificate. I didn’t choose my name and yet that is the most prevalent way by which I am known. I received that identity out of relationship to my parents.

Do you can see just how tied up our identity is in our relationships with others? Therefore, we really have to consider relationships (and their correlation to our identities) before we start throwing around instructions.

I’m sure there have been times when another parent at school or in the neighborhood gave you some parenting instructions and yet didn’t know you from Adam. Or there was that time when a supervisor at work started assigning you tasks and you thought, “Why is this assigner telling me what to do? Who does he think he is?,” because he was not your supervisor and had not built the relational equity like your supervisor had.

We are all tempted to instruct others, but that’s never the place to start. We see this in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He spends chapters on identity before he ever gets to instructions. It is our identity as saint, saved, chosen, and sealed that serves as the foundation for the types of behaviors Paul gives us. Notice that he doesn’t start with submission.

For those of us who profess Jesus as savior, king, and lord, we really should consider our identity. Most of all, we should consider how our baptism is the signifier of our identity, because we will only live in submission to Jesus (and to one another) in as much as we live out of our submersion.

In this passage, near the end of his letter to the Ephesians, and only after Paul has spent so much time on our identity, do we find that there are twice as many instructions to husbands as there are to wives. Interestingly enough, when I was preparing for this message, Emily (my wife) and I ended up in some of the silliest spats.

She berated me for being too liberal with our body wash in the shower. Later in the week, I informed her how she was opening a bag of chips incorrectly. (Obviously she was very appreciative of my correction.)

Seriously though??

We were both forgetting our identity. We were failing to live out of our submersion and, consequently failing to live in submission.

So don’t be like me!

Instead, I encourage you to resist the temptation to throw around instructions before you consider identity. Develop relationships with people before you start instructing them on how to live. And, if you believe that Jesus is Lord, remember your identity before writing off any instructions that may actually be helpful in reinforcing that identity.