Archives For Community

Last Fall, I began a series on missional living entitled “From Strangers to Missionaries” where I share about a personal strategy to win my neighborhood and city for Christ. After several recent interactions and encouragements, I felt I needed to provide an update and write more about my journey. For a review of what I’ve written thus far, click here.

Why I Hated My City

During the first four years of living in my city, I went from confusion to frustration to hate. I was confused because I was told that I live “in paradise” (sunny Southwest Florida) in what was one of the fastest growing cities in the country. But when my family and I established our roots, the boom town had become the epicenter of the bursting of the housing bubble. During those four years, 14 out of the 17 houses on my street went into foreclosure or short-sale with another one never making it past the cinder block facade.

My confusion led to frustration because, not only did my city suffer the hardest in the foreclosure crisis, but news came out that we also had the worst job performance market in the top 100 metro areas in the country. The frustration stemmed from the economic incompetency of my city to do anything but increase taxes on its citizens. Those years were full of “foreclosure tours” around the city, planned city protests my citizens against its officials, and alarming reports of increasing numbers of people attempting (and committing) suicide.

Over time, my confusion and frustration spiraled into hate. I hated the fact that I live in a city that has no roots. Very few have lived here longer than one generation. I would say that 8 out of 10 have transplanted within the last 10-15 years. They have come from all over the north (Snowbirds becoming permanent residents), from the south (Hispanics and Haitians from the Caribbean), and from the East (Europeans). So many cultures and backgrounds and traditions, there is no one cultural narrative and therefore no real city identity. Everyone is fearful and skeptical of one another, and I live in a city where every neighbor may not only be from a different state but from a different country in the world.

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I’ve been slowly working through the Gospel of Luke, reading, and rereading chapters and focusing on various sections at a time. This morning, I focused on Luke 9:28-36, the passage on the transfiguration of Jesus. As I reflected on this text, I realized that what was happening was a heavenly form of gospel community, with God the Father, God the Son, Moses, Elijah, and Peter, James, and John.

What I found particularly impacting to me in this text was the topic of the community discussion. Verse 30 says that Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus, and the centerpiece of that discussion was “his departure” or exodus through the cross. Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the Prophets) are figureheads of redemptive history up until the time of Jesus, and much like all of the Scriptures, they made the conversation about Jesus and His work on the cross.

Gospel communities can learn much from this conversation. We can learn from Moses and Elijah that all of Scripture testifies about Jesus (Luke 24:27). Moses and Elijah knew this. They were not interested in talking about types and shadows; they were interested in what those types and shadows pointed to–Jesus. This in no way diminishes Old Testament Scripture or the role Moses and Elijah played in redemptive history. In fact, it heightens it, knowing their stories are interwoven in the bigger story of God’s redemptive purposes in history culminating in Christ.

But not only does it culminate in Christ, it climaxes in Christ. When the cloud overtook the disciples, and God chose to speak, the Father declared that it is all about His beloved Son. And when God spoke, Jesus was all alone–alone because there is no one else like Him. Alone because Jesus has supremacy over all things and superior to all prophets, kings, and priests. Alone because Jesus is preeminent and holds a place in history that demands our unconditional loyalty and submission as Lord and King.

Moses spoke about Jesus. Elijah spoke about Jesus. The Father spoke about Jesus and gave a heavenly charge to everyone else to listen to Jesus. At no other point in the earthly life of Jesus was there a more heavenly moment, and it is evident to everyone that this community was all about Jesus. In fact, when Peter wanted to make tents for Elijah and Moses was when they disappeared, leaving them with no one but Jesus.

As simple as it may sound, what we can learn from the Transfiguration is this: Christian community that pleases the Father and honors His Word is all about Jesus–who He is, what He has done, and what that matters. Christian community is preoccupied with Jesus because heaven is preoccupied with Jesus. We don’t get over Jesus. We are never bored with Jesus. We don’t keep silent about Jesus. We don’t change the channel or turn it down. Instead, we rediscover again and again by the Spirit’s work in our lives more and more the beauty and brilliance of our Savior. To the degree that our conversations center on Jesus, we can say we functionally have a gospel community. To the degree that we adore and treasure Jesus, we can keep our community from lesser lovers and broken cisterns.

If we could have a conversation today with the greatest figures in the history of redemption, they would be talking about Jesus–His life, death, and resurrection. But if people could have a conversation today with you and me, what would we what we want to talk about?

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You know you are living in gospel community when . . .

  • believers practice confession instead of trying to make an impression
  • people are defined by a lifestyle of repenting rather than pretending
  • you embrace truth at all costs, not agreeing for each others approval
  • light exposes & wounds and love covers & heals – both/and not either/or
  • people are happy to be holy not content to be comfortable
  • you own your mess because of His mercy instead of hiding them because of your shame
  • functional saviors & heart idolatry are lovingly confronted & challenged by Christ’s reign & rule
  • unbelieving sinners & believing sinners together look away from themselves & look to Jesus
  • the pleasure of God in Christ to save you liberates you to passionately serve others
  • hospitality is given to those on the margins & those not like you are welcome in your world
  • individual preferences take a back seat to community purposes of loving God and neighbor

[these were some personal reflections posted on twitter last week]

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I grew up in a churched culture. From the time I left the hospital until I graduated high school, I was put through every program, participated in every activity, and was faithful to every event our local church had to offer. Children’s church, R.A.’s (Royal Ambassadors), Bible Drill, Children’s & Youth Choir, Puppet Ministry, Youth Group/Ministry, Sunday School, Discipleship Training, Christmas/Easter Dramas…you name it, I was in it.

I was converted at the early age of 8, right in the middle of all the busy life a committed church-goer. Looking back, however, one of the most glaring (and I would add scandalous) omissions is that my church never taught me how to live. I knew how to do a ton of religious things, not the least of which was checking off the boxes on my tithe envelope, but when it came to living out my faith as a disciple of Jesus, I really had no clue. I just knew how to get in the system and let the system do its thing.

The System and Spirit Within Christendom

What this system has produced, rather unintentionally I might add, is a spirit of consumerism through the culture of Christendom. In this system, who you are (identity) is defined by what you do (performance). I am a Christian because I go to church, and the fruit of my faith is manifested in my participation and religious performances. This system works within Christendom because Christianity and culture has been syncretized so that being religious or good is tantamount to being a disciple of Jesus.

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A couple weeks ago, I wrapped up the blog series “from strangers to missionaries” with a compilation post and summary. Or so I thought.

Since then more conversations have occurred, and I’d like to offer a few more posts that I believe could be helpful to those of you attempting to work this out. One stream of conversation has had to do with the online platform I use called NextDoor. I started using NextDoor to create an online hub for my immediate neighborhood with the purpose of owning my own square mile. Now more than six months in, I have experienced some highs and lows in seeking to live as a missionary to my own neighborhood. I have said this to more than one person: being a missionary to my neighborhood has to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

But it’s worth it. It’s what God has called me, called us, to do.

In our world today, pathways into people’s lives have changed. In times past, permission was given to enter through their front door (literally). People were much more accessible and approachable. Neighbors felt like neighbors. Now neighbors are more like strangers than ever before. People are more insulated and isolated through television, computers, video games, and other indoor hobbies that breed insular lives. People seem to always being in a hurry, with no time to talk and take every measure possible to prevent that from happening (tinted windows, gated entrances, security systems, and fenced in yards).

What I’ve discovered about my neighborhood, in particular, is that almost everyone is a transplant to our city and this neighborhood. The overwhelming majority have lived here less than five years. Several languages and nearly a dozen nationalities are represented in this diverse group of 1,400 people. And the few times I’ve hosted a “meet and greet”, the confession among us all is that we don’t know one another and really don’t know how to be neighbors to one another. There’s a desire, albeit often very small, but there’s a bigger problem of ignorance and incompetency in knowing how to live in community with other people. Someone has to take the lead and work to overcome the massive inertia to build relationships and forge meaningful community.

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