Category Archives: Community

Paul’s Catchphrase

I say it all the time. Every conversation, with friends and strangers, I start out, “How are you?” They always say “Good” or “Fine, how are you?” I assure them that I, too, am fine, and we go our separate ways.

It has started to bother me, though—even as I say it. “How are you?” It feels like a robotic courtesy without the genuine concern the phrase itself seems to hold. Too many times, the words have automatically tumbled out while I whiz by someone. Neither one of us stops to truly honor the question.

Eight Different Letters, One Phrase

It was in Ephesians that I first noticed it, but I would soon find it in other New Testament books, too. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:2).

In all, Paul began eight of his letters with this same phrase. Word-for-word.

Why would he include identical greetings in so many of his letters? “Grace to you.” Wouldn’t his readers start to tune that part out?

Grace, Grace, Grace

The most powerfully evident display of God’s grace was at the cross, where, as John Wenham said, “evil did its worst and met its match.” That grace—the undeserved favor of God—fills our every moment, before and after our eyes are opened to Christ’s great gift and we join the family of God. We are saved by grace, absolutely. But grace doesn’t stop flowing into our souls after conversion.

Grace tells us that when we fall short, He provides the difference. When we fail, He comes through. When we are tired, He provides strength. Grace shows us that no matter how deficient we are, He is enough. Always.

We are saved by grace. And we live by the grace He gives us every day.

Pay It Forward

We are enriched by grace (2 Corinthians 8:9), we are strengthened by grace (2 Timothy 2:1), and Peter encourages us to “grow in…grace” (2 Peter 3:18a). For the believer, all of life is grace. But the grace God gives us is not for us alone.

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).

Grace enriches us—so we can give. Grace strengthens us—so we can serve. Grace equips us to do those things God planned before the ages for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). And when—through grace—we speak and serve, write and sing, work and create, listen and love, grace is passed on again.

Paul poured himself out for his beloved brothers and sisters. He labored in prayer for them. He wrote theologically-rich, heartfelt letters to them. He lived among them when possible, often at his own inconvenience.

Paul wished more grace for his brothers and sisters. The goal of his relationship with them was to bless them, to strengthen them, to encourage them—to be a channel from the Father to them, bringing them more grace.

No Robots Here

So Paul desires more grace for us. Thanks, Paul. But you say that to all the churches, right? It’s starting to sound like a robotic courtesy again.

Why would Paul wrap up such deep truths in a canned little catch phrase?

Paul wrote several books in the New Testament, fully understanding the weight of his words to the early church and all who would come after them. He would not flippantly include any words without meaning what he wrote.

When he wrote to the Ephesians, the Romans, the Corinthians, to the Philippians and the Thessalonians, he desired grace for them. More grace. Deeper grace. Grace for them to grow in, grace to strengthen them, grace to enrich them in ways they may not have even realized they were lacking.

But why would Paul just say that? “Grace to you”?

He didn’t just say it.

Paul opened most of his letters by saying “Grace to you” and then diving right into his teaching, expounding on the works and ways—the grace—of God. This was Paul’s stewardship of God’s varied grace. This was his work, his love offering, his sweat and tears spent for his brothers and sisters.

This was grace.

As Paul poured out his heart, laboring to encourage and strengthen them, he was passing on the grace he had received. And that’s what he told them: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We may have varied ways of saying it. It may be, “I’ve been thinking of you all week,” or “I’m so glad to see you today!” It may be a hug, a card, or a phone call that seems out of the blue. It may be an act of service, a gift, a listening ear, or hard words in a very needed conversation.

In other words: “Here. Let me share with you the grace that I have been given.”

You may still ask, “How are you?” I know I do sometimes. And that’s okay. Whatever we say, whatever we do, however we reach out, it can all be sharing the grace we live and breathe everyday, as long as we build our words and our actions on what we were given first.

Grace to you.

Neighborhood on a Hill

I left my house and walked down the street. A neighbor I’ve talked to many times was trimming her bushes. A teenage boy I have never talked to parked his car and went in his family’s house, closing the garage and locking the car as he went. I heard the beep as I walked by. Two women living together were working on their yard and preparing for errands. I waved at one as I passed by. When I came back around, the other turn to the first and asked something. Then she turned back to me, grinned and returned my wave.

I made a couple more laps through the main road in our neighborhood. A new neighbor was watering plants. I had briefly checked my phone to see what my Facebook notification was, and didn’t see that I had walked right by her until I had already passed. I called out a good morning, and she turned to see. Her response was eager but betrayed hesitant English. The two women drove by me and waved. A man and a woman were working in their yard and garage as I walked in their cul-de-sac. He looked up briefly but never said anything. I don’t think she ever knew I was there.

My family moved to a small town when I was eight. My mom still talks about when Mrs. Wingard first stopped by. An elderly widow with a severe heart condition, Mrs. Wingard had likely spent most of her day on the pie she handed to my mom. Over the few months we lived there, she showed us her birdhouses a few times and welcomed us into her home, always glad to see us talkative and noisy kids.

I can tell you so little about my neighbors now. So few of their names, occupations, likes, dislikes, or joys and heartaches. We are called to live as light that can’t be hidden (Matthew 5:14-15) and we have good news to share that every person on this earth needs to know (Mark 16:15). That responsibility doesn’t end with a wave and a cheery morning greeting. But perhaps it can start with no less.

 

Friends Like This

My family and I were late to the party when it came to smartphones. We weren’t into texting yet, and really only used phones for calling, so flip phones worked just fine.

During our flip phone days, we found ourselves traveling home from Texas under a cloudy sky. As we approached the Kansas border, rain started falling, eventually becoming a deafening presence on the roof of our van.

My mom fielded several calls from a friend back home, calling with updates about the storm and giving us information that helped us “see” through the blinding rain. It will get worse, they told us. It was just a hard rain then, but at their advice we pulled over at a rest stop and went inside to wait with other travelers. The rain came down harder, with pieces of hail even, and the winds were crazy. We couldn’t see anything.

Messy Beautiful Friendship

After reading Christine Hoover’s From Good to Grace, I was excited to launch into her newest book: Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships. As a church-planting pastor’s wife, Christine has many experiences with making new friends and working hard to make those relationships work. Her insights cover everything from our misconceptions about friends and friendship to healing from friendship hurts to learning to give and receive biblical friendship.

Through her book, Christine reminds us that friendship isn’t as easy as we think it is, and it will take work, but the encouragement of Christian friendship is worth the effort.

“May our friendships in the present day be received as gifts from God for us—but may they not be only for us. May they be signposts, guiding any who will stop and seek directions toward what our hearts innately crave most, pointing the seeker toward a Person and a place where all longings will be longings no more. For it is only in true Christian friendship that two people who are different in every way possible—race, background, language, personality, socioeconomic level—can love like this.”

Friends Going Somewhere

Friendship is a universally recognized gift. People from all walks of life, nationalities, worldviews, and life seasons find other people—typically like themselves—that they call “friends.”

What stands out about Christian friendship? How are our friendships different? Our sameness is found in our deepest convictions and our worship of the same God, though in our individual friendships, many of our other interests or passions can be very different. But what is it about Christian friendship itself that might be different from other friendships?

In the pages of Messy Beautiful Friendship, a quote from C.S. Lewis stopped me.

“The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends. Where the truthful answer to the question, Do you see the same truth? would be ‘I see nothing and I don’t care about the truth; I only want a Friend,’ no Friendship can arise—though Affection of course may. There would be nothing for the Friendship to be about and Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travelers.”

That’s it. That is how Christian friendship is different: our destination.

Friends as Traveling Companions

We may not think of our friends as traveling companions, but that is what we are, because while friendship can certainly include common interests and similar daily patterns, it is so much more than that. We are all going somewhere. As Christians, we know that friends are there to help us up when we fall (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10) and remind us of truths we might forget (Hebrews 10:24-25) as we journey to Heaven.

“We’re not at the supper table yet,” Christine reminds us, “and it’s going to be a long, arduous journey to get there.” Friends come alongside us on this journey through life, and in a thousand different ways spur us on.

You may have heard the overused question If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you?

How about this: If you were traveling on a long and sometimes difficult journey, what kind of friend would you choose to go with you? Are you that kind of friend to the travelers around you?

That Kind of Friend

Christine says it well. “When we sit side by side at the supper table, we will be celebrating that, by God’s grace, we made it to our destination. We made it because of Christ, we made it with the help of our friends, and we made it together.”

As we traveled home that torrentially rainy day, the dangers of flash floods and hail damage and being stranded on the side of the road were lessened because of a friend’s warning. A friend who knew where we were in our journey, shared with us resources we didn’t have (a weather radar map, primarily), and were quick to contact us to warn us of danger. A friend who, when hearing about potentially dangerous weather, thought about us, and spent time studying the weather radar to pass info on to my parents. As if they were traveling on the road with us.

Because, in a way, they are.

The “L” Word: 5 Ways Legalism Kills Community

Some friends of ours used to attend a different church. One with conservative beliefs and many children—two things close to our friends’ hearts as their own children were young.

But after awhile, our friends became concerned. A parenting book had been shared among the church members, and that was fine. Our friends had no problem with the book. But the other families in the church took what they read differently, and began parenting their children more strictly.

These churchgoing families had taken good intentions and developed them into rules to govern their children’s lives instead of engage their hearts. When our friends tried to share their concerns, they were silenced, and left the church under veiled accusations of disturbing the group’s unity.

  Continue reading The “L” Word: 5 Ways Legalism Kills Community

What Cinderella Taught Me about the Body of Christ

“Would who she was—who she really was—be enough? There was no magic to help her this time. This is perhaps the greatest a risk that any of us will take: to be seen as we truly are.”

With that phrase Disney’s most recent Cinderella (2015) distanced itself from the animated version of my childhood.  I watched as the unloved stepdaughter emerged from the attic, coming face to face with the prince of her dreams and the memory of her night of escape. She didn’t know if the glass slipper in his hands would fit without her fairy godmother’s spell. Would her deepest longings come true? Or would the magic be lost—forever?

Photo source

We can empathize with Cinderella’s gamble: It is risky. What if others see who we really are deep down inside? Will they see our struggles and oddities and decide we’re more trouble than we’re worth? Will they catch a glimpse of our insecurities and walk away before they are entangled in our issues?

Will we be enough to keep them from turning away? Continue reading What Cinderella Taught Me about the Body of Christ