Vital Proximity of Friends

Yesterday, to the consternation of a dear friend, I witnessed a poignant illustration of the need for other voices in our lives. Voices that call us to something better than what we are focused on, and stand with us through life.

A group of us were preparing to go our separate ways on a local patio when a Japanese beetle flew into the midst of our group. For those of you not in Southern California, this beetle can be quite large and sounds like a jet when it is buzzing around you in all it’s green/black shining brilliance. Most of us backed away from the buzzing but the beetle acquired a target and made its attempts for the inside of my friend’s shirt.

She freaked. Dancing about, swinging her arms, shaking he hair out. Screams of terror!

What she didn’t see though as she was flailing, but what all of her friends saw, was that the beetle flew away nearly as fast as it approached. We all raised our voices “it’s gone!” “Don’t worry!”

Our friend responded that the beetle was down her shirt, but we assured her that it flew away. Calm returned. We went our own ways.

This is life isn’t it? We face what seems to be the attack of some crazy objects and begin to flail around, terrorized by our circumstance. If left along we might eventually figure out that the danger has passed or more likely, we will succumb to far more terror than need be.

If we have friends with proximity to our lives, the ability to be near and see us emotionally, physically etc, then we will be brought out of the trouble sooner, like my friend and her experience with the beetle.

It is vital, especially for the Christian, that we have community, friends with access to our lives, the freedom of proximity, to speak into our transformation, our path forward. They can spur us on, see that the trouble has gone, and be anchors steadying us in the storms of life.

Friends are not our Savior, but he uses them for our good and his glory in our lives. While the pandemic adds new layers of difficulty in allowing proximity, we can live up to the challenge and engage with each other in creative ways to keep proximity (dinner at a really long table, walks on the beach, conversations in the driveway.)

So as the best you can, don’t be left to be freaked out by the beetles of life, let some friends close and mutually help one another. A great place to start is engaging the people in your local church. Go for it.


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?

Discipleship, Word & Spirit

It’s Not Them, It’s Us

Today as I was reading 2 Timothy 3 I was struck by perspective. All too often I read the first five verses relating to those outside the church, the infamous “them” the bad ones. Here are the verses:

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” 2 Timothy 3:1–5 (ESV)

Notice it? We know these people, they don’t belong to a “gospel-centered” church, they are not part of our tribe or brand. They probably let women preach and wear sandals to church. They are definitely Democrats. Maybe they are Charismatics… or Presbyterians (depending on your persuasion.)

Or… maybe they are not in fact “they.” This is us.

Think of the context. Written by Paul to Timothy, the young pastor of the church at Ephesus. This is instruction of how and who to disciple within that context. Within the church. This came to bear for me in light of our current pandemic. I found myself seeing different people falling into these categories than usual. The people I know as “us” versus “them.” I also found myself in this warning.

An opportunity then arises for repentance and seeking the Lord for the “power of godliness” and the steadfastness that gets us through (according to 2 Timothy 3).

We do not lead churches where anything goes. Where you cannot teach those who already know everything. We humble ourselves and seek truth in Scripture (not our own hearts) and live in light of Christ’s work, not our desires for control or money… or pleasure, as we read.

Let us not build our lives, our churches, our communities on these things that Paul calls Timothy to avoid. Let us run to Christ for renewal, for remaking. For our good and his glory.