Monday, August 17, 2009
In the last blog, using John 15:1-17 as the text, I wrote about how important it is for us to understand the context of our spiritual life as connected to God and others (I highly recommend reading the two preceding blogs before reading this one if you haven’t already). In this blog I want to begin working out practically from the last blog to discuss how these connections will look for the Northshore Vineyard in our philosophy of ministry. In this blog I want to give the idea of the connected life a little more definition by looking at four aspects of a connected life—1.God 2.Christ-following community 3.Non-believers and 4.Our own hearts. These are four fundamental connections that, as a church, we will strive to give expression to in everything we do. Though we will look at each of these connections more as directions of movement they can also be thought of as the legs of a stool that will keep the stool stable and firm.
Our connection to God is the meaning that brings meaning to everything else in life. It is the fundamental connection and the foundation of everything else that we do. We must remember that the fruit of the Christian life comes from our connection to God—it’s his life living in and through us.
Have you ever been to a Church which didn’t seem to have much of a connection to God? There may have been a lot of God-activity or even rituals and traditions but somehow the church had become disconnected from God. Something that will be conspicuously absent in such churches is—LIFE. As Jesus said, “if you are not connected to me you are deadwood, ready for the fire.”
I think Bono summed up this sentiment well in a 2004 interview with Michka Assayas in which he said, “Religion can be the enemy of God. It's often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building. A list of instructions where there was once conviction; dogma where once people just did it; a congregation led by a man where once they were led by the Holy Spirit. Discipline replacing discipleship.”
As individuals and as a community of Christ-Followers we need to mind the God-connection in our lives. We do this by actively seeking God, by carving out time to listen for what God is saying, by worshipping and praying, by living life with eyes wide open to what God is doing. In John 5 Jesus made an amazing statement, “The Son does nothing of himself but only what He sees the Father doing.” Jesus was making the point that his life had nothing to do with following tradition, pleasing the expectations of people, or even just trying to buck the system. Everything he did was connected to what the Father was doing. Everything Jesus did flowed from this connection. In the same way we need not be a group of people who are just running around like busy little bees for God or just mindlessly following rules and traditions, instead we must seek to remain connected to God in everything from mundane everyday tasks to worship gatherings with other Christians, from times of joy to times of sorrow.
Connection 2—Christ-following Community
Though we often talk about going to church or use the word “church” to simply speak of a building, church in its most fundamental sense is the community of Christ-followers.
We live in a world that is fragmented, divided, and broken. People live in “broken” homes, groups are divided among class and status, and even the very technologies that have promised connection have left us alienated, fractured and alone.
The earliest pictures of the church that emerge in the Book of Acts were of a community of people who had chosen to orient their lives around Christ and live in community (common-unity) with one another. Though they were from many different races, ethnicities and walks of life they connected around Jesus and His purposes. God created us to experience his life not as lone individuals but in relationship with other Christ-followers. Our connection to fellow Christians breaks the individualization, self-sufficiency and alienation that is so prevalent in the world and keeps us in relationships where we learn both how to give and receive. Being in relationships with others is really hard because it will involve learning to communicate, learning how to work through conflict, and learning how to hurt with the hurting and hole up the weak but the fruit of our connection to others is a deepening of God’s love in our hearts and the transforming of our own brokenness into the nature of Christ.
You may have been a part of a church that was very connected as a community of Christ-followers but to which those who were outside the faith would have a very hard time connecting. This likely happened because as that community began to form its identity it began to form its own sub-culture of customs, expressions, and insider language. This is one of the greatest dangers of Christian community because without a connection to the larger culture it will begin to erect a wall through which the very ones who need to connect with Christ have a hard time getting through. This means that even as we work to be in relationship with other Christ-followers that we must be diligent to connect with those who have not yet found themselves in God’s story. This means that as a church we seek to serve the community in any ways we can, from mentoring kids in the public schools to building homes for the poor. This means that rather than harping on the evils of society we seek to connect with the larger culture through art, music, and creativity. This means that in everything we do we try to maintain hospitable spaces for folks to connect with and encounter God. This is what gives meaning to the value of-Culturally Relevant Mission.
In the second century Ireneus wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”
It is quite common to get caught up in a Christianity that is just about externals while never getting to the deeper levels of the heart. However, it is the journey inward which keeps community from just turning into social gatherings and that helps us more fully enter into the struggles of others because we are becoming more and more aware of our own struggles within.
I recently heard Rob Bell talking about how the church could learn a lot from Alcoholics Anonymous. He noted that AA starts with everyone admitting their weaknesses. Because of this there is no pretention in AA, no acting like folks have it all together. One comes to AA precisely because one knows his/her life is a mess.
In our world people frequently just live on auto-pilot going through the motions of life struggling with addictions, habits, anger, resentment and jealousy because they have failed to ever encounter God very far beneath the surface. And when there is no connection to the heart, Christianity ultimately just becomes something external and certainly not fully alive.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” There is something about becoming aware of our poverty of spirit, of our own brokenness that opens us up to the kingdom of heaven, to the richness of kingdom life. Staying connected to our own hearts helps to keep us living more authentically and more passionately whether around Christian community or those who have not yet come to faith. What might it be like to be around Christians who took the inward journey seriously and who helped one another on that journey?
These four connections will be what we will be about at the Northshore Vineyard no matter what we are engaged in. In the coming months we will explore each of the connections more fully.