Faith In Exile Week 1: Lament & Hope

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Community is about relationship. Take time to listen to and engage in one another’s stories.

DEEPER CONVERSATION

We are all typically prone to respond to suffering and struggle in two ways: fight (anger, bitterness, cynicism) or flight (escapism, numbness, distraction). How do you find responseyourself responding to hardship in unhealthy ways?

How have you experienced God in a time of trouble in a way more powerful then when times were good?

ENGAGING THE SCRIPTURES

Read Lamentations 3:19-26

Verse 19 speaks of wandering, or homelessness. Is there any area of your life that you feel lost – or wandering?

God has new mercy for us every morning. What does this mean for our experience of struggle? How does it reframe what we are facing?

Hope is the act of letting the future reframe the present. What are you hopeful about in your life right now?

PRACTICING TOGETHER

Practicing Lament. Some have taught that bringing our questions and hurts to God is a lack of faith – but the opposite is true. Take some time this week and pray from a place of gut-level honesty with God. Don’t hold back! Ask him to meet you in the places where you are hurt, confused, and broken. Remember, his word promises that he is near to the broken-hearted! 

What Do We Do With Our Sadness?

This week, the news of the suicide of Jarrid Wilson, a pastor and mental health advocate, has once again stirred the attention and anguish of many in the Church in regard to mental health – and how we respond. Wilson was an outspoken and vulnerable advocate for those who suffered with mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, having himself struggled through the darkness of these issues first had.

With it also being National Suicide Prevention Week, I’ve been thinking a great deal about what it means to suffer in the Church. For many, the onset of negative emotions and mental illness has driven them away from community, either as a response to a well-meaning-yet-short-sighted spiritualized attempt to “fix” them, or from the personal shame of not having it all together in an environment where this false projection is often valued. To come into an environment often only known for celebratory music with trite, pragmatic advice on getting “better” seems useless to touch the deeper wounds of the soul.

Having grown up in and around Church, I don’t remember having the language to speak into these places of grief. For the most part, only funerals served as occasions for sadness, and even these were centered on the promise of a life to come – not the impact of our sadness in this life. This wasn’t (in my case) willful neglect, but rather a cultural norm. Whether spoken or unspoken, sadness, despair, and anxiety were met with a simple fix – have more faith. Believe more in the truth. And if truth and faith couldn’t touch those places of pain, doubt would creep in. Maybe this stuff isn’t true, after all. If it’s not “fixing” me, it can’t be what it promises, right?

But as is often the case, there were sides of the Christian faith and the Scriptures that were neglected and unseen to a “fix-it” faith. Namely, I had absolutely no knowledge and exposure to the language and practice of lament. It had been right there in front of me all along, peppering the pages of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. I had missed them, in part, because I had no reason for them. They were rarely if ever preached on (what a buzzkill!), and I wasn’t exactly excited to put them on my coffee mugs and bumper stickers.

But there they were: gut-wrenching, body-aching, God-questioning prayers and petitions of despair. Sadness. Hopelessness. I didn’t know we were allowed to talk to God this way! There were prayers I found in the Scriptures I wouldn’t dare pray to God. For example:

O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
Psalm 13:1-2 NLT

Why then does my suffering continue?
Why is my wound so incurable?
Your help seems as uncertain as a seasonal brook,
like a spring that has gone dry.”
Jeremiah 15:18 NLT

I am dying from grief;
my years are shortened by sadness.
Sin has drained my strength;
I am wasting away from within,
I am scorned by all my enemies
and despised by my neighbors—
even my friends are afraid to come near me.
Psalm 31:10-11 NLT

And that’s just a few. In fact, a third of the Psalms are lamenting songs. There’s a whole book of prayers of sadness and complaint called Lamentations! But here’s the thing – discovering these verses don’t magically “fix” us any more than the happy verses. So why do they matter?

They matter because they show us that for thousands of years, good, godly men and women have found themselves in places of despair just like us. They’ve found themselves overwhelmed in emotions, stuck in dead ends, helpless to the grief that overwhelms their souls. And more importantly, this lament and grief was not a sign of being unfaithful to God, but rather an expression of their faithfulness to him. What these saints of old knew was that God wasn’t afraid of their questions, their emotions, their doubts, or their sadness. It’s why the Psalmist reminds us: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed (Psalm 34:18).”

The language of lament we find in the Scriptures is a gift. It reminds us that we are not alone. For those of us who’ve been in seasons of grief and despair, we know that sometimes it’s the words and attempts to fix the problem that can cause even more pain. The greatest gift in these seasons? People who choose to be with us, to cry with us, to hurt with us. In these seasons, words often fail. How comforting, then, that God himself meets us first with not a quick fix, but with loving, suffering, compassionate presence? God suffers with us. Like we see in John 11, Jesus weeps with us. In both joy and pain, God’s greatest gift remains the same: presence.

I have a theory. Over the years, I’ve known many Christians who have gone through seasons of doubt. On many occasions, this doubt is less an intellectual exercise and more an inability to reconcile the emotions and disappointments of life with the reality of a God who they’ve been told – implicitly or explicitly – wants us to be happy more than anything else. How can my sadness and grief connect to a quick fix, happy God? And… if everyone in the Church is happy too? I don’t fit. It’s easy to doubt in this environment. It’s easy to move away from community. It’s easy to walk away from faith altogether. But…

What if the quick-fix, happy God isn’t God after all?

What if the doubt we feel could be expressed in the prayers and expressions of lament?

What if our pains and doubts brought us TO God – not away from him?

What if the Church made lament a part of their spiritual language, not an afterthought?

What if Christian community made vulnerability in our grief and sadness a normal practice?

And most importantly… what if God is like Jesus – suffering with us and for us?

This Jesus, after all, is the one described by Isaiah as “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain (Isaiah 53:3).” By taking on human flesh, Jesus experienced every temptation, emotion, and hurt that we feel. There is no suffering that Jesus, Himself, has not experienced. In fact, the central act of redemption in human history – the cross of Christ – is centered in God suffering for us. The God who is with us in our suffering is a God know knows suffering all too well.

What does this mean for us? Well, we are prone to expect God to be present only in the wholeness. Only when the sadness goes away. Only when the doubt subsides. But what if God is waiting to meet us here in our pain? What if our grief, depression, anxiety, and pain are not a barrier to God, but the very place he’s waiting to meet us?

I can’t pretend to understand the depths of depression, anxiety, and despair we face on this side of eternity. I do know that when Jesus returns and makes everything new, it won’t just be our bodies that are healed. It will also be our minds and emotions. I often wonder if we will recognize ourselves when we see who we are apart from our insecurities, our defense mechanisms, and our anxieties. I can’t wait to see us free, our minds whole and healed in Christ.

But until then, the promise we have is simple: presence. Jesus Christ is present with us in our suffering, and if His family – the Church – is faithful to his love and mission, they will be too. Will some overcome their sadness and grief? Yes! And praise God! But will some fight these battles until they die? Yes. Thankfully, we have a faith and Story that not only makes room for those in despair, it welcomes them with open arms, crying out: you are not alone.

Gather Week 4: Weak And Strong

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DEEPER CONVERSATION

Community is about relationship. Take time to listen to and engage in one another’s stories.

“Bearing with one another” means standing together under the weight of our lives in love. Be honest: what in your life feels heavy right now?    

Think about your story. Who has come alongside you in seasons of heaviness and held you up? What did you learn about love in this season of life?

ENGAGE THE SCRIPTURES

Read Romans 15:1-7

Look through the previous chapter (Romans 14). How does this give context to Paul’s understanding of strength and weakness?

Paul says to live in “harmony.” How can unity be practiced through the weak moments of life?

Church is a place where we can be weak…yet grow strong. How can we love one another towards strength and find transformation in Christ? 

PRACTICE TOGETHER

Speak Encouragement. Live is heavy. Circumstances and struggles often weigh us downMESS and leave us discouraged and exhausted. With this in mind, look at your relationships here in community and beyond… who needs a word of encouragement? Who needs to be built up? Who needs your help to carry a heavy load. Speak encouragement into their journey.

Gather Week 3: A Story Of Family On Mission

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Deeper Conversation

Community is about relationship. Take time to listen to and engage in one another’s stories.

As the saying goes, “some things are better caught than taught.” What is an example in 69306018_10103869535771573_465897960413069312_nyour own life of learning more from following someone’s example?   

Loving one another like family lies at the heart of community. What are some real, tangible ways your community group can love one another this way?

Engaging The Scriptures

Read Romans 12:9-13

Paul says love must be sincere. What types of counterfeit or lesser loves do we often settle for?

Zeal and spiritual fervor are not postures that are always associated with love. How does loving community both spur on and root our passion?

How can we be more intentional in practicing hospitality? What are some of the components that would help our group be more welcoming?

Practicing Together

Throw A Party. That’s right. We said it. Throw a party! Celebrating together is one of the ways that we can not only honor and enjoy God, but be more welcoming to one another. Talk to your group about finding a time to throw a party together. Invite friends from outside your group to join you. Doesn’t have to be fancy – just focus on being welcoming and fun!

Gather Week 2: Tear Down The Walls

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DEEPER CONVERSATION

Community is about relationship. Take time to listen to and engage in one another’s stories.

We live in a polarized society, driven by “us vs. them” mentalities everywhere we turn. How does this reality make loving our neighbor harder? 

When in the last time you have a conversation or shared a meal with someone who had differing backgrounds or views from you? What did you learn?

ENGAGE THE SCRIPTURES

Read Ephesians 2:11-16

Paul speaks of “walls of hostility coming down through Christ. What walls do you currently seeing dividing the Church that need to come down?

Paul makes the cross central to our reconciliation. How does Jesus’ sacrifice make loving our enemies possible?

Are there people in our world today that you feel “hostile” towards? What would it look like to love them with the sacrificial love of Jesus?

PRACTICE TOGETHER

Tear Down The Walls. If we’re honest, we all have enemies. Jesus commands us not only to love our enemies, but to pray for them! This week, as you consider who you find yourself ‘hostile’ towards, make a point to pray for this person or group. As God to give you a heart of love for those with whom you disagree – to see them like He does.

Gather Week 1: From Me To We

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Deeper Conversations

Community is about relationship. Take time to listen to and engage in one another’s stories.

We live in an individualistic culture that isolates us from one another. What are some of the barriers you face in making community a priority?

When you think on your own story, what are some places where you felt like you belonged? What factors helped you feel this way?

Engaging The Scriptures

Read John 13:34-35

Jesus challenged the disciples to love the way he loved them. So – how did Jesus love them? What made Jesus’ love different from other loves?

Loving each other, Jesus says, would mark his disciples as a people of Jesus. How might our love in community serve as a witness to our world?

What are some of the practical ways that a community of Jesus followers can display this kind of love for one another?

Practice Together

Pray. It sounds simple, but praying for one another is one of the easiest ways we can show our love for one another in community. This week, find a friend and commit to pray for each other daily. Or, in your group, put everyone’s name in a hat and draw a name to pray for in the coming week. You could even check in to see specific needs for prayer and encouragement!

People Of The Presence Week 9: Spiritual Gifts Pt. 4

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Next Step Questions

1.  Our culture carries a suspicion of supernatural experiences. Do you approach these topics with openness? Suspicion? Fear? Confusion? Be honest.

2. Healing happens spiritually, emotionally, and physically as God brings us to greater wholeness. Where do you see the need for healing in your life or those around you? 

Practice: Pray For Healing

You may be a skeptic or a believer, but either way, we want to challenge you. In your City Group or with friends, boldly pray for healing and wholeness by the power of the Spirit.

People Of The Presence Week 8: Spiritual Gifts Part 3

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Next Step Questions

1.  Read Ephesians 3: 16-19. How have you experienced more of God’s love together with other believers than you have simply on your own.

2. As you hear and read through the descriptions of the 5 gifts we discuss today, whichone grabs ahold of you and says – “that’s me?” How might you see this gift in action?

Practice: Looking For God At Work

Ministry isn’t just the Church-y stuff. Ministry is the mission of Jesus in the everyday stuff of life, where he’s already present and at work among us. This week, look for where you see God at work – and join him!everybody

“I Saw You At Church.” On Gathering In A Bright Room.

It’s funny where a story takes you. It’s true with books, it’s true with people, and it’s true with churches. The church we planted two and a half years ago looks very little like the one we envisioned, and has found us in a place we did not expect – and yet love. We entered into our partnership with the Lyric Theatre in December of 2017 after 11 months on Sunday nights in Grace Baptist Church. Grace was a classic, earlier 20th century church building that had a lot of charm, but swallowed us up. And the room we were moving into – the Lyric Community Room – was big, but cozy and way, way more bright.

Church on Sunday morning in a room with lots of windows and sunlight was a big shift. It wasn’t as if our services at Grace were shrouded in darkness, but evening services and some marginal lighting controls allowed us some flexibility. At the Lyric, we had two options: bright or brighter. Honestly, I didn’t think twice about it; in fact, I immediately loved the sunlight pouring into the room. I hadn’t been a part of a Church with a room this bright since the stained glass windows of my childhood. Somehow for me, the room felt really new, and yet harkened to some memory of Church that was very old – even being in a theatre community room.

Now a year and a half into our time at the Lyric, I’m beginning to see the shape of the community God is building at Restoration. Being downtown in the East End, there are immediately cultural barriers to those who may have a slight… well, nervousness, with life outside the suburbs. But for the most part, we’ve not experienced that. Instead, in both spoken and unspoken ways, I’ve noticed that one of the biggest cultural barriers some folks face walking through our doors is – you guessed it – a bright room.

And I know where they are coming from. In the decade prior to planting Restoration, I was a part of churches that, like most so many in modern America, had done everything in their power to make their room dark. The bright, stained glass sanctuaries with altars and pulpits had been replaced by dark, projection-oriented rooms with stages and _MG_0202spotlights. Architecture shifted over the last half of the 20th century, and more and more churches made the shift to looking less like a sanctuary and more like a theatre. Not only did this help illuminate the band and speaker on stage, it helped seekers remain at whatever level of anonymity they desired.

For some, seasons of anonymity are healthy. I’ve known several folks who, after struggles with divorce, infidelity, miscarriages, or other circumstances, go through seasons of not wanting to be seen. It’s enough just to show up, let alone get in a conversation with a stranger. Dark rooms allow you to sneak in during the second song and sneak out during the last – and never be seen. But there lies a problem when anonymity stops becoming the exception and becomes the norm. If Church is simply a service we attend on a weekly basis, attending anonymously barely makes a difference. But Church is people. Church is family.

Hear me clearly: I am not placing higher spiritual value on brighter rooms. I am not claiming to have reached a “purer” version of Church because we choose simplicity in our services instead of lights and fog machines and the like. Based upon our values in regards to budget, mission, and community, we’ve made intentional choices about what we will and will not do in our services. At heart, things like dark rooms and stages and bright lights are cultural. They are a part of one specific church culture among many. (It took me spending time outside of a typical white, evangelical church culture to understand this.) The same is true for those who wear suits and dresses to church every week. Is it wrong? No. It’s just cultural.

And while being in a bright room wasn’t a sort of grand, spiritualized plan for our church, I have noticed something beautiful about what gathering in a bright room does for me. You see, at heart, Church is the place where I am seen. I’m not talking about the well-curated version of myself that I put online. I’m talking about the “show-up-late, hair’s a mess, kids making me look like I’m going to explode” self. I’m talking about the “I almost didn’t come because I can barely hold back tears” self. I’m talking about the “I’m not sure if I even believe this stuff” self. And so on. The you that needs to be seen. And while a bright room doesn’t guarantee this will happen, it sure does make it a lot more possible. At first, it can be scary. But in the end? It’s liberating.

One of my favorite sights every week is watching the line of people walk forward to receive communion. In these lines? Frazzled moms, addicts clinging to a few weeks of recovery, doubters and skeptics, homeless folks, rich, poor, and everyone in between. Different stories, different spiritual journeys, united in the body and blood of Jesus among a messy yet beautiful, growing Church. And the best gift we can offer people as we worship is the opportunity not just to be present, but to be seen. Wherever God sends us, wherever and however we meet, that’s the beginning of love taking root.

People Of The Presence Week 7: Spiritual Gifts Pt. 2

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Next Step Questions

1. How have you experienced the gifts of the Spirit through the lives of people around you? How did they encourage you?
2. Spiritual gifts are not proof of spiritual maturity. How we we ensure that love stays central when we are seeking God’s power and presence?

Practice: Discerning Your Gifts

Pick up one of the spiritual gift sheets available today, or see the corresponding blog on our website. Pray through the list of gifts, and talk it over with your friends and City Group. What do you sense God has gifted you with to serve the body?

LIST OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS