Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Image-Bearers

Friday, February 19th, 2021

When we are living in a spiritual community where radical hospitality, total authenticity, true diversity, and agenda-free relationships are the spiritual operating system, every question is not only manageable but welcome, because our default condition becomes hope and not fear. We don’t come burdened with shame, we don’t come fearful of expulsion, and we don’t spend our time waiting for the judgmental shoe to drop. When people come to the bigger table, they don’t need to earn acceptance — this is a given. When we gather at the table Jesus sets, none of us are misfits. By our very presence we fit, because we are full image bearers of God and beloved as we are, without alteration. The traditional Church tends to favor a clearly defined, very narrow inside and outside, and this is where many people part ways because they find their messy, gritty reality doesn’t feel compatible with such clear delineation. But when everyone is openly bringing everything, there’s real connection — when each person realizes they are not outsiders around the table.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 163-164

Photo: Alsenborn, Germany, December 2001

Soul Stuff

Thursday, December 10th, 2020

Real love is contagious. It is infectious. When something is purely of God, it can’t be contained within the walls we fashion for it. This kind of love always yields a fruit that can’t be managed or manufactured or scheduled. Jesus said this was the expectation-defying, unpredictable activity of the Spirit that would characterize his people (John 3:8). This was the movement of the early Church, a movement that grew exponentially in a way that modern churches all want to replicate but rarely can because we’re all trying to engineer man-made miracles. We craft baptism events, we schedule worship nights, we plan revivals. We so love to talk about following the Spirit’s leading, but in practice we really want to run the show and get God to work for us. One of the most freeing lessons I ever learned as a pastor is that I cannot do spiritual things; I can only do physical things. I can only respond in flesh and blood to what I believe God is saying, and then rest in the results. God is the only One who can do soul stuff. My most pressing job as a pastor is often to get out of the way — and it ain’t easy.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 153

Photo: Gundersweiler, Germany, December 1999

Dearly Loved By God

Thursday, December 3rd, 2020

The more I’ve studied the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation, the more I’ve started to notice something about those who embrace the view: they tend to be more loving and accepting of those who are unlike them.

Maybe it’s because when you realize that everyone is equally loved by God and that God is really intending to bring everyone to repentance, and that, one day, every knee will bow and every tongue will gladly confess that jesus Christ is Lord, well, you kind of relax and enjoy being alive.

See, instead of seeing people as “saved” or “lost,” and grouping everyone you meet into the “Christian” or “non-Christian” category, you may start to see people as simply people.

Not only that, but you also begin to see them as God sees them. You slowly recognize that everyone you meet — regardless of their beliefs or spiritual condition — is someone who is dearly loved by God. You also start to understand that everyone you meet is indeed your brother or sister, and you realize that we all have the same Heavenly Father.

This really starts to change the way you treat other people. It starts to bear good fruit in your life. It even makes it easier to love others as Christ has loved you, without conditions or strings attached.

Eventually, you begin to recognize that God loves everyone much more than you could ever love them; even your own family members who may be far from faith in Christ as the moment. You start to realize that God has a grand design in motion to draw everyone to Himself, eventually. We get to take part in that, if we can learn to abide in Christ and collaborate with the Holy Spirit in the process. But, we can also enjoy a newfound sense of ease with this process. Because now we’re not fighting the clock or worried about closing the sale. Instead, we’re trusting in God’s ultimate victory which is inevitable and unstoppable.

— Keith Giles, Jesus Undefeated, p. 155-156

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, December 2, 2020

Visible Compassion

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

Christians are meant to be the visible compassion of God on earth more than “those who are going to heaven.” They are the leaven who agree to share the fate of God for the life of the world now, and thus keep the whole batch of dough from falling back on itself. A Christian is invited, not required to accept and live the cruciform shape of all reality. It is not a duty or even a requirement as much as a free vocation. Some people feel called and agree to not hide from the dark side of things or the rejected group, but in fact draw close to the pain of the world and allow it to radically change their perspective. They agree to embrace the imperfection and even the injustices of our world, allowing these situations to change themselves from the inside out, which is the only way things are changed anyway.

— Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p. 148

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, November 7, 2020

A Bigger God

Wednesday, November 18th, 2020

This is almost always the by-product of expanding the table: God is right-sized. Rarely, if ever, do you do the work of hospitality, authenticity, diversity, and agenda-free relationships and encounter a smaller, more selective God.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 149

Photo: Skyline Drive, Virginia, October 14, 2020

Removing Barriers

Monday, October 26th, 2020

When it comes to removing barriers between people or between people and God, we as the body of Christ should be on the very front lines. We should be leading the charge. We should be defining the movement of equality and justice, not bringing up the rear and definitely not digging in our heels and fighting against it with all that we have. That simply doesn’t glorify God, and it isn’t making disciples either. The world is seeing this and rejecting it. I hear their stories every single day. The name Christian is no longer synonymous with Jesus out in the world, but with bigotry, with power, with discrimination. This is the script that we who desire the bigger table must flip.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 140

Photo: View from Skyline Drive, October 13, 2020

Living Alongside

Thursday, September 17th, 2020

It isn’t about taking some loud, blustery stand against sin, it isn’t about how much we pound our pulpits or how loudly we condemn or the cultural battles we wage. It isn’t about drawing some moral line in the sand. It’s about our willingness to be with people and live alongside them.

This is why the inclusion of the LGBTQ community into the body of Christ is so important in these days, and why it is one of the hills worth dying on for me as a pastor, because it is one of the greatest opportunities we have to set the kind of table Jesus set for the believers he entrusted to carry the message forward. It is an opportunity to show the watching world what Christ looks like by emulating him. The Church’s resistance to and persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning men and women is a push against the Holy Spirit because it runs in direct opposition to the heart of Jesus as reflected in the Gospel biographies and the book of Acts. It isn’t just shrinking the table: it’s walling off the table from those who desire to be present. And the answer isn’t offering some tentative, heavily conditioned token tolerance as a compromise. (If that were the case, Jesus’ table gatherings would have been very different.) It is to be fully obedient to Jesus’ command to love another as oneself. The straight Church doesn’t need to tolerate or pacify or throw scraps to the Christian LGBTQ community, it nees the LGBTQ community for the same reason it needs all those seeking and walking in faith regardless of their gender or skin color or sexual orientation — because these folks are breathing sanctuaries of the Spirit of God and because without them any version of the Church is still inferior and incomplete. Until the queer Christian community is received fully and welcomed and included without caveat or restraint by the institutional Church, the Church will continue to be less grace-filled, less rich in its complexity, and less in the image of Christ than it should be. When Christians attempt to exclude any group from the table, they distort the Church because they deny the heart of Jesus for all of humanity. Discrimination hinders people from finding community, and it robs the Church of the tremendous gifts that diversity brings.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 138-139

Photo: View from Burgruine Koppenstein, Germany, September 19, 1998

Sharing Life

Friday, September 4th, 2020

As people watched how they lived, how they faithfully cared for one another, how they embraced diversity, how they lifted one another up, they noticed that they resembled Jesus. The believers began to claim ownership of the name Christian and to redefine the word and themselves, precisely because of their bigger table.

This was far more radical than we can really appreciate today. In a culture reinforcing the sharply drawn lines between people — the lines of religion, ethnicity, nationality, and gender — the followers of Jesus were erasing the lines, knocking down walls, and pulling up chairs. The incredibly narrow “chosen people” of the Old Testament tradition was now giving way to a far more expansive new “kingdom people” based solely on their faith in Jesus. As the apostle Paul would describe, in their tribe, there were no longer any divisions that mattered more than what grafted them together in redemptive community (Gal. 3:26-29). They were one body with disparate but equally necessary members. Their primary commonality was Christ. He became their peace. To be Christian meant to willingly cast aside any idea that another was unworthy to share in fellowship; it was to give up the moral evaluations and preconceptions they may have had before. When we look back at the table of Jesus, this early Christian community really shouldn’t surprise us because he was pointing toward this day the entire time, as he met with lepers and Pharisees and tax collectors and street people. The early Church wasn’t doing anything in its infancy other than replicating his life together with those in their midst. In the two thousand years since then, we’ve added a great deal around this idea, cumbersome layers of tradition and doctrine and pageantry, and yet these are the things we could easily discard and still have the essence of the Church. We would still have people sharing life.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 134-135

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, September 4, 2020

Agents of Healing and Change

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020

In this way, the spiritual eyes through which we see the world change everything. If our default lens is sin, we tend to look ahead to the afterlife, but if we focus on suffering, we’ll lean toward presently transforming the planet in real time — and we’ll create community accordingly. The former seeks to help people escape the encroaching moral decay by getting them into heaven; the latter takes seriously the prayer Jesus teaches his disciples, that they would make the kingdom come — that through lives resembling Christ and work that perpetuates his work, we would actually bring heaven down. Practically speaking, sin management seems easier because essentially all that is required of us is to preach, to call out people’s errors and invite them to repentance, and to feel we’ve been faithful. But seeing suffering requires us to step into the broken, jagged chaos of people’s lives to be agents of healing and change. It’s far more time consuming and much more difficult to do as a faith community. It is a lot easier to train preachers to lead people in a Sinner’s Prayer than it is to equip them to address the systematic injustices around them.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 125

Photo: Isle of Staffa, Scotland, July 13, 2003

Our Actual, Non-Ideal Selves

Thursday, August 6th, 2020

Christians should help one another to silence the voice that accuses. To celebrate a repentance — a snapping out of it, a thinking of new thoughts — which leads to possibilities we never considered. To love one another as God loves us. To love ourselves as God loves us. To remind each other of the true voice of God. And there’s only one way to do this: by being unapologetically and humbly ourselves. By not pretending. By being genuine. Real. Our actual, non-ideal selves.

— Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shameless, p. 183

Photo: near Skyline Drive, Virginia, August 6, 2009