Faith In Exile Week 3: Putting Down Roots

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

Deeper Conversation

In our culture, commitments are often seen as limiting our freedoms.  How does living a rootless life impact our spiritual health?

In our fast-paced society, slowing down and being present is a discipline that we desperately need. Be honest – at what speed are you currently living? Are you hectic? Rushed? Exhausted?

Engage The Scriptures

Read Jeremiah 29:4-13

Homes, gardens, and families have one thing in common – they take time! What role does patience play in experiencing God’s mission in our lives?

God ties the prosperity (shalom) of his people to that of those who brought them into captivity. What does this speak about God’s mission for our lives?

We are promised hope and a future… yet not a way out of exile. How does hope transform not just our future, but our present?

Practice Together

Pray For Your Neighborhood And City. Part of the command of God for his people in exile was not just seeking shalom for their city – but praying for it. As you spend time with God in prayer this week, make a point to pray for your city and neighborhood. Ask God to help you see it with His eyes. Ask Him to give you opportunities to be the hands and feet of shalom!

Why Do We Serve? 3 Very BAD And Very GOOD Reasons

Some questions seem so simple and obvious that they never really get asked. And after long periods of going unasked, their answers become assumed. As a result, these assumptions go unchallenged, unengaged, and over time, become distorted. One such question has popped into my mind of late, and I wanted to ask it: why do we serve?

With the last 3 months of the year approaching, there are new and important opportunities at Restoration to meeting tangible needs in our community. As we prepare to roll these opportunities out to the Church, I don’t just want to make it clear what we are doing – I want us to know our why.

From the beginning, serving those in need both inside and outside the walls of the Church has been central to our identity and calling. As our 3rd year as a Church approaches, it is humbling to know that we’ve developed a reputation as a community for being willing to step into places of need and impact in our neighborhood and beyond. We’ve almost never had to go looking for places to serve – opportunities come to us!  To 38404798_1877978382506810_6961954275270328320_nbe honest, there are more needs that are presented to us than our little church plant can handle. In each, we try and discern whether we have both capacity and calling to engage without losing the roots of where God already called us.

So with the end of the year approaching and some big opportunities coming, I wanted to slow down and remember why we serve – to ask the question afresh and encourage us as we step into the places God calls us. But before we answer this question rightly, we need to confront some very wrong reasons why we serve in our community. Why? Because doing good things for the wrong reasons distorts God’s call and burns us out.  I’ve seen it happen to many times. And in some cases, I’ve seen it happen to me. So – what are some of the wrong reasons to serve?

3 Terrible Reasons To Serve

To earn God’s approval. This may seem obvious, but I’ve heard it out of many people in some form or fashion – both implicitly or explicitly. Usually, we feel some sense of guilt, shame, or regret about our own spiritual lives, and to numb the pain and make ourselves feel better, we get out and serve. Internally, a scale tips back and forth, and a few good deeds might make up for a few bad ones, right?

Overtime, you begin to notice – the scales don’t budge. We still feel shame, guilt, and fear about how God sees us. So we either try harder… or fall away. In the end, the problem we face is at the heart of the Gospel. Our good behavior doesn’t impress God. By putting our faith in Jesus, the internal scale has been destroyed, and we have God’s acceptance and approval as a son or daughter of God not on the basis of the good or bad we do, but rather on grace. Here’s the truth – we serve from the approval God has already given us in Jesus, not for it.

Because Those People Need Us. This one is subtle, and like the attempt to earn God’s approval, we can dress this reasoning up in religious language and crusade into issues of poverty and justice like the heroes we think we are. We have resources, they don’t, right? This well intentioned, often-beneath-the-surface mentality pervades a great deal of ministry to those in need, and I’ve found myself unconsciously assuming this posture if I’m not intentional about my motives.

It’s well intentioned, but this mindset relies on false assumptions that are not only unbiblical, but offensive. First, we are not “bringing Jesus to these people.” Jesus is already present and at work among those we seek to serve. Second, all of the resources aren’t in our hands. The poor and marginalized are often rich in ways that we are very poor – like having a deeper, dependent faith, an interdependent community of care, and a perspective on God that is not blinded by privilege. We are paternalistic in our posture if we act otherwise. Here’s the truth – we need the poor and marginalized as much – if not more – than they will ever need us.

To Tackle “Issues” In The Community. When you drive through downtown Lexington, many pressing needs will come to light (if you want to see them). You’ll see the homeless population, panhandling or wandering through the streets of the city. You’ll see poverty impacting neighborhoods and populations in pockets spread all over Lexington. You’ll see men and women impacted by addiction. You’ll notice the racial disparities and continued separation or outright segregation in housing in our city. And so on. If you want to see it, it’s there.

And while you may be seeing issues, you’re likely not seeing people and their stories. You’re not seeing the PTSD that’s driven someone to the streets. You’re not seeing the parents who can’t find good work and therefore daycare for their kids because of felonies in their distant past. You’re not seeing the death of a parent that drove someone into addiction. The closer you get, the more complex stories become. Issues dissolve, people come to the forefront. Long story short, people don’t want to be treated as “projects” or “issues.” Here’s the truth – tackling “issues” and loving people where they are are two separate things. If you’re not in it for the relationship, for the presence, for the solidarity, then you’re in it for the wrong reasons.

What About The Right Reasons?

If we’re not gaining God’s approval, trying to be saviors to people who “need” us, or tackling big issues at the exclusion of actual people, why should we serve? What should drive us to meet people where they are and serve them? Let me give you a few why we do what we do.

It’s Where We Find Jesus. If you want to find Jesus, you’ll find him among the poor and marginalized. It’s not to say he’s not present in the lives of those of us with more wealth and resources, but the Bible makes it clear that Jesus is so deeply in solidarity with those in need that when we serve the poor and marginalized, we are serving him. Look in Matthew 25 at this stunning promise from Jesus: “‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or without clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit you?’ “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:35-40).”

This passage makes it clear – when we look into the face of those we serve in need, we are looking at Jesus.

It’s Shows The World Our Future In The Present. Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).” In other words, the life of heaven – the shalom of God, where nothing is missing and nothing is broken – is the reality we are called to live right here on earth. When we stand in the gap and bring restoration in relationships and neighborhoods, both in tangible and spiritual ways, we point to the reign of God here on earth. As a result, heaven becomes far more than a disembodied future – it becomes a present reality and pursuit among us.

It Is The Overflow Of The Love We’ve Received. The truth is, we can’t give what we’ve never received. 1 John 3:16-18 tells us, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth (1 John 3:16-18).”

What is John telling us? If we’ve received the love of God in Jesus Christ, loving those in need will be the natural overflow of our lives. There are thousands of motivations to serve, but only one of these motivations can sustain us for the long haul – love. Paul reminds us that all of our frantic busyness and importance in serving is, well, meaningless without love: “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3).”

***

This fall, we’ll be painting faces, providing meals for hundreds of kids and families, serving and encouraging men overcoming addiction, handing out candy to kids in our neighborhood at Halloween, providing diaper bags and essentials for moms overcoming addiction, and making Christmas a reality for kids families impacted by that very same addiction. That’s a lot!

So before we start, let’s remember our why: the only why that can sustain us and empower us for generosity and service: love. May we receive it in Christ, and as we do, give it away freely to those God leads us to serve.

Faith In Exile Week 2: A Creative Minority

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READ: Daniel 1:1-21

Deeper Conversation

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

It’s not a question of if we are being discipled – but rather who is discipling us. What are some of the sources and voices that are shaping Americans today – for better or worse?

As followers of Jesus, what makes us different does not make us superior. How can we be both distinct AND humble in our faith?

Engaging The Scriptures

Read Daniel 1:1-21

As you read through verses 1-7, what type of emotions and feelings do you think the Jews would be wrestling with in captivity?

Daniel & his friends remain faithful to God while serving a foreign king. What can we learn about living in the tension of our spiritual & political allegiances?

What are the tensions you feel in your life now between the practice of your faith and the world around you?

Practice Together

Prayer. This week, read Daniel 6. At the end of his life, the faith of Daniel was still being challenged by the powers around him, yet he remained faithful in prayer – following the patterns that he knew in Israel decades before.  Look at your schedule. Where can you carve out consistent, scheduled place in your life for prayer?

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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READ: SCRIPTURE

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!