Tag Archives: love one another

Forgetting 9/11, Changing seats, and the breaking through the Invisible Wall (aka “3 ways we need to improve as a loving church family”)

21 Jun

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Yesterday I mentioned 6 ways I think Faith Church does really well at being a loving church family.  But how could we improve loving one another?  We’re certainly not perfect.  No church is.  So today I am talking about ways that a church family can improve in their love for one another.  I hope these will encourage you to love one another more deeply in your own church family.

Malcolm Gladwell had a recent podcast episode on memory. It really freaked me out.  In the days after 9/11 scientists asked people a few basic questions like: “Where were you when you first heard about the attack?”  “What were you doing?”  “Who told you?”  We love to talk about that kind of thing right?  On September 11, 2001, I was in Kingston, Jamaica, feeding our neighbors’ rabbits because our neighbors were on vacation, and Michelle called me on the cell phone and told me to turn on their TV immediately.  I was stunned.  Where were you?  What were you doing?  Who told you?

So in the days after 9/11, people wrote down answers to these questions.  Then they came back a year later, and the scientists asked them the same questions.  Guess what?  The people had different answers!  In fact, the scientists pulled out the paperwork with the people’s original answers in their own handwriting, and the people stared at their answers in disbelief saying things like, “Why did I write that?  That is not what I remember.  That’s wrong!”

We’ve all experienced this, right?  Memory fails us.  You know this means?  We should not automatically trust our faculties.  Not that we doubt everything we think or remember. But when it comes to interacting with people in our church family with whom we disagree, we should be quick to say “I could be wrong about this.”  That’s the first thing I want to encourage you to practice in love for one another.  In a church family we need to give one another the benefit of the doubt.  We should be quick to open up the possibility that we could be wrong.

I bring this up because in a church family we can disagree with one another.  The presence of differing opinions is normal, and can even be healthy.  I would actually be very suspicious if I heard of a church family that did not have differing opinions.  In the family of Faith Church we have conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, young and old, male and female.  We are diverse in those categories.  That means we have plenty of opportunity for disagreement.  We should not see that as a problem, but as the natural outflow of a family.  We are not trying to achieve uniformity. Instead we are okay with variety and diversity.  We are, however, trying to achieve unity, and that will require an intentional practice of humility, of saying “I could be wrong about this.”

Next it is easy to get in our comfort zone with our close friends, and it can be hard to reach out with someone new.  We sit in the same seats during worship.  So would you counteract this by sitting in new seats each week!  That small gesture alone can help you interact with new people.

What can it look like to get out of your core group, or include more people in your core group? There is a comfort in what we know.  It is familiar, expected.  We generally feel best about that.  To symbolize this, I encourage you to sit in a new spot every week.

But understand that some personalities will click more than others, and that’s okay.  That’s part of loving deeply, that we find those we connect with and we dig deep.  It is unrealistic to think we’ll be close friends with more than just a couple people in the church family.  That’s normal.  That’s how actual families are too.  But don’t let that keep you from still reaching out to others.

Finally there is a phrase I have heard about a situation that has affected some in our church family.

In my almost 16 years here at Faith Church, I have heard multiple viewpoints on this phrase.  This past week I asked numerous people to share their thoughts with me.  It was quite interesting.  There are many people who have moved to Lancaster for a variety of reasons, and with a variety of life situations, and unique points of view. In what I share here, I don’t want to give the impression that “one size fits all”.  But I do think there is legitimate wisdom in many points of view, all of which I hope we can learn from.

The phrase I am talking about is what I call The Invisible Lancaster Wall. In our church family, most are from Lancaster, with a history in Lancaster. It is their home and they have a network here.  But then there are some not from Lancaster. I’m referring to those who have moved here and maybe have lived here many years.  Some of those not from Lancaster have told me that they feel like they hit The Invisible Lancaster Wall.  Not all of those from outside Lancaster have experienced this, but some have, and they said it has been difficult.

Let me describe what those who have hit the wall have said to me.  What they have said is that they felt very welcomed by the church, loved even, but then after a year or so, they hit a wall.  A wall of exclusion. It is not necessarily an intentional exclusion.  They have little or no family here, no network, and it feels to them like it is incredibly difficult to break through that wall and become family.

What I have heard is that the holidays, those times of the year with traditional family events, can be especially tough.  Feeling alone, the holidays can be the loneliest, most painful times of the year, when the holidays are intended to be some of the most joyful times of the year.

My parents used to invite people from church over on the holidays.  One guy who came multiple times was a really unique individual.  He was previously homeless and came to us from Water Street Rescue Mission.  He was unkempt, believed strongly in conspiracy theories (which led to some amusing behavior when my FBI uncle was at the family gatherings!), and had some bizarre obsessive behaviors like stroking his mustache really emphatically.  But there he was at Thanksgiving dinner.

I have so appreciated what one family in our church has started.  At numerous holiday meals they have an open invitation to anyone to join them.  They have a heart for people who don’t have family!   If you don’t have family to go to on the holidays, you can go to their house.

In any church family, there should not be a single person that is alone at the holidays, if they don’t want to be alone.  Not a single one.  Ask yourself: Who are the people in your Sunday School class, or in your small group, that might be alone on the holidays?  Don’t assume that they are okay.  Invite them to your home, and make them a part of the family.

But sharing meals at the holidays is not what makes a family.  The loving relationships that Peter is talking about are day in, day out loving relationships.  To be healthy they take work from both friends.

And that is what I found out when I talked with people from our church family who were not from Lancaster who had another view of making deep relationships in the church family.  I got permission from them to quote them.

Here is what one of them said, “I never felt any non Lancaster vibes.  I tend to think “If you want something, you have to go out and get it for yourself.” When I didn’t have a Lancaster network, I had to make one. Don’t get me wrong, most of those who would eventually become my Faith Church Family were welcoming and wonderful from the very beginning, but ultimately, once I was acquainted with the setting and people, how and where I got involved was my own doing.”

Another one said this, “In my season of blatant need, the church supported me, but did not spoil me.  I had to learn that people were not at my beck and call every time I felt lonely or sad.  And that benefited me greatly in the long haul.  I learned that having a healthy personal life will lead to other healthy relationships. ”

One other person emphasized the importance of being in a small group and meeting consistently and choosing to open up to them.

So in conclusion, I hope you see this is a both/and.  Reach out.  Dig in.  Mix it up.  Go out of your comfort zone.  Ask God to help you love deeply.  This is for those of your who’ve been in a church family for a long time.  And this if for those who are newer.  Love.  Look for new ways to love.  And give grace to each other as we all learn and grow in this.

6 ways a church family can love one another

20 Jun

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

How would you say your church does at loving one another deeply from the heart?  Today and tomorrow I’m going to talk about Faith Church, where I serve, and how we are doing loving one another.  We’re not a perfect church, and we will look at some ways we need to improve, but I am also convinced that Faith Church is a loving church, and we are doing many things well.  My desire in sharing about Faith Church is that perhaps all Christians and all churches can evaluate their own church families.

This week we have been looking at 1st Peter 1:21-25 and we have found that Peter is teaching Christians how they are a new family with a priority to love one another deeply.  You can read the previous posts here and here.

Now nearly 2000 years later, the same calling exists for us.  In our local churches, we must love one another deeply from the heart, thus creating a new real family.

Years ago we, Faith Church, updated our church mission statement and we decided it should focus on four key areas: Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship and Outreach.  It is the Fellowship area that most relates to what Peter is talking about.  Here is what our mission statement says about Fellowship:

Fellowship – Being a Community of Love – We work toward loving one another, building authentic, accountable, healthy relationships.

I want to say I am very encouraged by how I see this happening. Here’s how I see Faith Church doing great loving one another.

First of all, about 70% of our church family is involved in small groups.  We call them Care Groups, and they are about 8-12 people meeting regularly in one another homes, often sharing a meal together, and caring for one another through honest communication, prayer and discussion.  This is incredibly important.  Most of our groups meet once/month.  That alone is fairly infrequent, and slows down the relationship development process.  If you miss one month, it can be two months until you hang out.   May I make a recommendation?  Start meeting more often.  If you are unable to meet more often, check in with one another throughout the month.  Put a priority on getting face to face and catching up, even if it is just two of you.  Also consider using technology, like texting or social media, to connect with one another between meetings.  When you do meet as a small group, or as individuals, ask yourself: are you sharing honestly with each other and then following up with how things are going?  Don’t wait for another person to do that within your group, you be the one to do it!

Our church leadership team is attempting to show loving care for the church family through what we call our Growth Process.  (You can also learn about how our church logo tells the story of our Growth Process here.)  The heart of the Growth Process is that our leaders want to help every adult in our church to move forward, or grow, in their relationship with Jesus.  So we endeavor to get in touch with them a few times each year to check in and see how they are doing.  Maybe there is some way we can point them toward a mentor who can guide them to go deeper in their relationship with Jesus.  Maybe there is some way we can pray for them.

Another wonderful way that I see Faith Church loving one another is through meals.  We have a ton of people making meals that go out when someone is ill, recovering from surgery, or just had a baby.  Our Fellowship Serve Team sets up an online sign-up sheet, and it is amazing to watch how quickly people volunteer to sign up.  Out of your love for one another, you make a meal and then deliver it to the family in need.  I love when this comes full circle, and the recipient of the meals stands up during our worship service sharing time and expresses how they felt the love of the church family through receiving meals!

We also have Family nights 6-8 times each year.  On the first Wednesday night of most months, fall through spring, our Fellowship Serve Team makes a meal, and we gather in our fellowship hall to eat and talk, just to get to know one another better and catch up.  (Have you noticed how food seems to be a centerpiece in this post?)  Simply put, loving relationships take time.  Over the years, I’ve heard that when it comes to relationships we should put a priority on quality time over quantity of time.  But I have found that it often takes a large quantity of time to achieve quality time.  This is why availing yourself of additional opportunities to connect with people, be it small groups or Family nights, is vital to building loving relationships in the church.  And I am so thankful how I see that happening in our Faith Church family.

Another thing I am so impressed with when I look at the family of Faith Church is how many visit others, especially visiting those who are sick in the hospital or who are homebound.  A couple weeks ago, one our oldest living member passed away.  Betty was 99 years old, just four months shy of her 100th birthday.  She lived in a local retirement village, and for years, one of our Faith Church family visited her weekly.  Dee would decorate Betty’s door for each season, bring her news of the church family, and care for her.  We need more of that, and our Leadership Team recently talked about making a Visitation Team that will coordinate efforts to visit.

Thus far in the post, I have talked about formal ways that our church strives to gather and love one another.  I know there is much happening informally too.  We have people that on their own meet for coffee or lunch and praying for one another.  They are accountability partners.  They are prayer partners.  They are friends.  Do you have someone within your church family that you can share honestly with?  If you do, that’s excellent!  That’s more than some people have within their “real” families!

And by the way, in a series of posts where I am saying that the church should be a family, it is important that I pause and talk about real families.  I’m saying this because if you have a close friend you can share deeply with, that could be more than what some people have in their real families.

We need to be realistic about families.  There is no perfect family.  There are members of families that don’t agree, and there are some that seem to agree about everything.  There are some that are best of friends, while some only speak once or twice a month, or maybe not at all.  There is laughter and there are tears in families.  There are some members that work harder at relationship than others.  There are misunderstandings, there are differing personalities.  Family is made up of people.  People will inspire, they will disappoint, and through it all we will hopefully keep trying, working and striving to be our best selves with each other, even if that looks different with each family member.

How can you love your church family more deeply?

If you want to be a loving church family, seize the 167!

19 Jun

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Yesterday I said that Peter, in 1st Peter 1:21-25, says that a church family must love one another deeply from the heart.  What is this love Peter is talking about?  We all know what love is, right?  It’s obvious.  Love is love!  Well even though there is one English word for love, Peter uses two words for love here:

First is the word, philadelphia.  In the Greek language that Peter wrote in, it is literally the word philadelphian, one who practices brotherly love. Peter is referencing here the love that a Christian should have for his or her brothers and sisters in Christ, for their church family.

But notice that Peter tacks on another word to this.  He adds the word “sincere,” and thus he is talking about brotherly love that is genuine, lacking in any pretense or show.  It is real.  This is the love that those Christians had for one another, flowing from their obedience.  They had real brotherly love.

Peter says there is another kind of love too.  This other love is called agape, and he uses the word agape in the phrase, “love one another deeply from the heart.”  The word “deeply” means “unceasing or earnest.”  But what is agape love? Scholars define it as “affection and high regard.”  Peter is also using the imperative tense here, thus teaching the people that they must love like that.  He is saying to them, add this love to the brotherly love you already have shown.  And it is not just agape, but it is agape love that flows deeply from the heart.

Sounds great, right?  Just love one another!  No problem, right?  The reality is that that kind of selfless love can be difficult.  1 Corinthians 13 is considered the love chapter in the Bible. “Love is patient, love is kind, love bears all things, never gives up, etc”?  1 Corinthians 13 is perhaps the best description of agape love anywhere.  It is beautiful.  It is used in weddings, because husbands and wives should love each other like that, but if you look at the chapters surrounding 1 Corinthians 13, you’ll see really quickly that the author, the Apostle Paul, was not talking about weddings or spousal love.  He was talking about how people should love one another in the church family.  That’s same group of people Peter refers to in 1st Peter 1:21-25.  What both Peter and Paul describe is a sacrificial, selfless love.  It’s beautiful, but that kind of love is not easy to give.

One author that was quoted at our week pre-sermon roundtable Bible study remarked that it is easier to love Jesus who we cannot see, than it is to love our brothers who we can see.  Isn’t that ironic?

But think about it.  What do we think of when we think of Jesus?  His love for us, his self-giving sacrifice on our behalf, his perfection.  It’s easy to love that.

On the other hand, what do we think of when we think of brothers and sisters in Christ?  Some we love deeply, some are easy to love.  Others in the church family are difficult, and they rub us the wrong way.

Sounds like a family to me.  Families are comprised of people with differing personalities, styles, emotions, and habits.  And man oh man, can we rub each other the wrong way.  Same goes for the church family.  Think about your church family.  My guess is that there are people whom you find very difficult, people you probably don’t want to spend time with.

When I say that, it could be easy to think, “Is he talking about me? Surely not me! Everyone would want to talk with me and hang out with me!  I’m likeable. I’m easy to get along with.”  If you are thinking that, think again.  None of us should think that everyone would find us easy to get along with.  Not me, not you.

Before we can love one another deeply from the heart, we need to admit that it can be hard.  But let that not be an excuse!

As Howard Snyder says,

The church today is suffering a fellowship crisis.… In a world of big, impersonal institutions, the church often looks like just another big, impersonal institution.… One seldom finds within the institutionalized church today that winsome intimacy among people where masks are dropped, honesty prevails, and that sense of communication and community beyond the human abounds—where there is literally the fellowship of and in the Holy Spirit.[1]

Is Snyder right?  Well, before we answer that, let’s see how Peter finishes out the chapter.

In verse 23 he says, “you have been born again of something that is not perishable, but the imperishable word of God.”  Then in verses 24-25 he quotes a passage from the Old Testament that agrees with and supports what he just said in verse 23.  From Isaiah 40:6-8, the quote affirms the perishability of humanity, but the imperishability of the word of God.  That imperishable word of God, he says, in verse 25, is the word that was preached to them.

There you see the continuity between the OT and NT.  To people who are being persecuted, to people who are uncertain about life, this is a statement of the one certainty in life, the word of God.

So let’s put it all together.  What can we conclude about Peter’s teaching?

Peter envisions a transformed community of believers.  Peter is saying that a church is a group of people who have heard the imperishable word of God and are reborn into a new family which is marked by loving one another deeply and radically.

Peter isn’t just making this stuff up.  Jesus taught it to Peter.  30 years before Peter wrote his letter, we can read a story in three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) about a time when Jesus said something that could have been interpreted as being really cold to his family.  He was in a town, healing people.  Preaching.  Crowds were following him.  Huge crowds.  Everyone wanted to see this Jesus guy.  In this town Jesus was at someone’s house.  We’re not told which town it was or whose house it was. But the crowd was packed in the house so tight, hoping to get close to Jesus, that people couldn’t squeeze their way in anymore.  Guess who shows up?  Check out Matthew 12:46-50.  Be forewarned, when you hear who shows up, and then what Jesus says to them, it might shock you.  Go ahead, click the link and read the story.

Now how about that?  You see what Jesus is saying?  In Jesus’ Kingdom, your family identity is not based on genetics, not based on blood, but based on how you respond to him!  There is a new family for those who have been reborn in Christ.

This command was very much in the hearts and minds of the original 12 disciples because look at how the early church started out. In Acts chapters 2:42-47, 4:32-37, and 6:1-8.  I think you’ll see in these chapters how the early church took Jesus very seriously and attempted to create a new family.

What we can conclude about this is that what happens during the one hour we gather on Sundays only scratches the surface of what it means to be a church family.  One Christian organization I appreciate has started using the phrase “Seize the 167!”

The 167?  What do they mean?  There are 168 hours in a week.  Most churches gather for worship on Sundays for approximately one hour.  What about the other 167?  The rest of the week is where we live out our faith!  What we read in these passages in Acts, and what Peter describes is a practice of loving one another as a church family in the other 167 hours of the week.

Peter has to teach these new Christians how Christians are a new family with a priority to love one another deeply.  That same calling exists for us.  Faith Church we must love one another deeply from the heart, thus creating a new real family.  But we can’t do it in one hour per week.  A church family that loves one another deeply will have to do so in the other 167.

Check back in tomorrow as we start to look at how we can Seize the 167 and love one another.

[1] McKnight, Scot. 1 Peter. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.

The one thing needed for a church to become a family

18 Jun

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One church I visited during sabbatical did something that weirded me out a bit.  You know what they did?  During the worship service they introduced themselves to new guests by saying, “We’re a family here, and we want you to be a part of our family.”

You might be thinking, “Joel, why did that weird you out? Don’t many churches say that?”

Well, as a first-time guest there, I have to be honest that when I heard them say they wanted me to be a part of their family, it felt intrusive and odd.  I thought, “Does this church really think that I could become part of their family after one visit?  I’m not part of their family after just one visit.”

Or how about Olive Garden Restaurants which once had an advertising slogan stating, “When you’re here, you’re family”?  That’s nice, but it’s not true.  Deep family-like relationships take time.  You can’t just walk through the doors of restaurant or a church and instantly become family, right?

Then it hit me.  I call Faith Church a family too!  Our church newsletter used to be called The Family of Faith newsletter.  We often start our weekly church emails with the line “Dear Family of Faith Church.”  I had to admit that though I felt weirded out at that other church, I still want Faith Church to be a family, not just a label, but an actual family.

I believe that identifying as a family and acting like a family is a primary distinguishing feature of what any local church should be.  But as I sat in that other church service, I had a whole new perspective.  You can’t just declare that people are your family, can you?

I know, I know, maybe I’m being picky.  Good for those churches or any organizations that want people to feel like family.  That’s really the important thing, right?  We want the people in our church to become like a family, to act like a family, and for new people to become part of the family.

This week we continue looking at 1st Peter, and we come to the end of chapter one, verses 21-25.  Remember that Peter is writing to Christians scattered around the Roman Empire. He has called them strangers and aliens.  But are they a family?  Read the passage and see what Peter has to say.

After you read the passage, look with me at the middle of the passage.  Did you see in verse 23 that Peter brings up the idea of being born again? What does “born again” mean?  This is the second time that Peter has mentioned this.  The previous time was in verse 3.  What does it mean to be born again?

Born again means a new beginning, a new life, but this time the Holy Spirit of God is with you, helping you and empowering you to be different.

It is an image that points to the transformation that we Christians should be seeing in our lives. And furthermore, just as we saw last week, our new birth in Christ means we have citizenship in a new country. In the same way, our new birth in Christ means we are born into a new family.

Now let’s go back and add verses 21 and 22.  Peter says that being born again starts with belief (which he mentions in verse 21).  Being born again starts with believing in God who raised Jesus from the dead, so that our faith is in God.  Belief, faith, and trusting in God is the critical starting point.  But it doesn’t stop there.  True faith in God, and the evidence of new birth, Peter says, is obedience to the truth (as he mentions in verse 22).  Put these two things together (belief in verse 21 and obedience in verse 22) and you get the words of the classic hymn “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

As we have seen so many times already in his letter, Peter is not teaching something new here.  He is repeating what Jesus taught him.  Jesus often told his disciples that they, followers of Jesus, first say, “Yes, Lord, I place my faith in you,” and then follow up that faith with action, obeying the teachings of Jesus.  When that trusting and obeying happens we can know that we have been reborn into a new family that resides in a new Kingdom.

What is so interesting, then, is that when Peter talks about obedience in verse 22, he mentions one thing that is the outflow of the obedience.  He has all kinds of actions he could choose from to illustrate obedience to Jesus here: Tell the truth.  Be honest.  Preach the Gospel.  Feed the hungry.  Clothe the naked.  Give to the poor.  He doesn’t choose any of those.  Later in his letter he’ll get to some of that.  But for now, he chooses one thing and one thing only to illustrate obedience to Jesus.  That means this one thing he chooses is probably very important for us to learn.  What is that one thing?  Look at the final phrase of verse 22.

“Love one another deeply from the heart.”

Once again, Peter is teaching something that Jesus taught him.  Check out Jesus’ teaching in John 13:34-35.  “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

There you have it: Christians, followers of Jesus, are born again into a new family that is marked clearly by loving one another deeply from the heart.

Check back in tomorrow as we explore further what Peter meant by “love”.  It might surprise you.