Face to Face

I am thankful for the letters of the Apostle John in the Bible. To me they serve as permission to be brief but weighty in communication. But in the wake of this pandemic, John’s concluding line in his second letter laid bare my heart.

Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” 2 John 12 (ESV)

I have much to say to those I pastor, and man have I tried using the paper and ink of our day. But I long for face to face. It is what we were meant for. Without a doubt. And thank God we are in the beginning stages of gathering as the church again.

Even with this desire, the hunger for the complete joy we find in community, I don’t think John would encourage us to be reckless about it. As a whole I don’t think Scripture would either. So I won’t infringe on the conscience of others with my claim of my own rights, I will be patient as we get toward the day we can see smiles without masks again, I will attempt to humbly remind and be reminded that every path is an experiment as we don’t have all the answers.

I hope to be face to face soon, and that hope will carry us through… We are people of hope, now we get to live like it.


Facing the Future with an Eye to the Past

Stay-at-home orders are being adjusted and the usual places in our lives are opening again. In California, depending on which county you live in, you can even get a haircut (which does not excite me one bit). As we engage and move into our new future, it might be helpful to keep an eye on the past.

Memorial Day was a good reminder of this. One of my dear friends posted a meme on Facebook with two beach scenes, one crowded with revelers the other a war zone. The text read: your day at the beach brought to you by their death on the beach. It is a good reminder, in the U.S. at least, we enjoy freedoms because they have been routinely secured by the ultimate sacrifice of others. If only we used our “freedom” for more than revelry!

Shifting gears to think about how this relates to the church. In California, again depending on your county, churches are now able to meet in person with restrictive guidelines. You can’t engage in wild revelry but you can gather around the word in groups again. For many wearing a mask during the whole service or having their temperature taken at the door will be too much to bear and they will choose not to come. For some, it will be wiser to stay home and continue to worship via the internet. Others will gladly follow the guidelines and worship in what will surely be an awkward arrangement.

While this moment is unique to us, and feels like one restriction too far, we follow the lineage of Christians who have (and still do) face much harsher circumstances to worship together. Pentecost occurred in a prayer room where disciples of Jesus gathered because they were concerned they would be arrested. Third century Christians descended into the depths of Rome to sing of Jesus among the buried dead in order to avoid persecution. And down the line of history, believers have sacrificed themselves to care for plague victims, they have huddled in dingy and dark places to remind each other of the grace of Christ and eternal life in him, they have faced arrest, harassment, and death because they had a love that was sweeter than life.

Truth be told, prohibitions on crowd size and instructions to wear masks is not the persecution we were looking for. Currently, movie theaters are more persecuted than the church. So with an eye to the past, we don our masks and take our temperatures and join in the cloud of witnesses that have faced the awkward, hard, and even brutal to worship Jesus with other believers.



Other-Oriented Community

At Reservoir Church, the church I help lead in Escondido, we have been working through our Leadership Track as a cohort of elders and happen to be currently setting out a vision for the church as guided by the book Creative Minority. It is a short little book packed full with deep wisdom on what it could mean for the church to live for renewal of the people around it. Written by Jon Tyson and Heather Grizzle it has served as a pamphlet for me to give out anytime someone asks what our vision is for the church.

Today I was struck by this quote in the chapter on covenantal community: “We live in a relational moment where the needs of the individual have completely eclipsed the concerns of a larger community. The choice architecture of our entire lives exists to facilitate individualism and rather than articulating an alternative vision, the church has embraced this value. We speak primarily of a “personal relationship with God” as the fundamental goal of faith. There is nothing wrong with personal faith, but the love that Jesus speaks of is fundamentally other-oriented and generally communal. If the goal of church is self, we will not fulfill Jesus’ command that we be known as a people of love.”

There is a lot here. Of course this was written years ago but is now a timely reminder as we are asked more and more to perceive the needs of our neighbors and serve them. But this is beyond a personal expression of sacrifice. It is for the community of believers.

This is where the covenant community of the church shines before a watching world. Accountable to each other, invested in one another, and sticking together even if things get hard. This is then the tapestry that tells the story of the gospel at work in the lives believers as a family.

Each day we face the choice to find something more fitting of our preference and perspective but if we jump we miss the purpose we are brought together for, to join Jesus in his renewing of the world. As the church gears up to gather and get back to normal, or as I prefer thinking, move forward to what’s next, there will be plenty of opportunities for local iterations of the church to live out covenant community, to serve together, to sacrifice for others together, to proclaim a better vision for existence together. But it must be together.

Rescued by Jesus and formed into a family for the renewal of others and all things. Jesus gives us the power for it by his Spirit and the motivation for it as recipients of his grace. How will you endeavor to more thoroughly embrace your covenant community and what will motivate you to set aside self in the process?