The Gray Space

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Photo Credit: ChadMT via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ChadMT via Compfight cc

I’ve started a new blog at www.droppingtheact.com. Check it out for the latest content.

I’ll admit I often see things as either black or white. Right or wrong, with little space for anything in between. Life is easier that way. Everything in a neat little box, no pesky loose threads to deal with. But lately I’ve been thinking about the gray space.  That nuanced space where a soul is leaning towards God, hungry for something they can’t quite put their finger on, but they haven’t yet made the leap into his arms. What about that space?

How do we, as followers of Jesus, participate in that sacred space that exists between the moment someone feels the tug of God on his or her heart and the moment they decide to surrender to his love? Because how we choose to participate matters. Our response can turn people towards God, or against him. Unfortunately, many people outside of the love of Jesus also feel unloved by and unwelcome in the church. How do we change that? How can we create an environment that says, “You are welcome and loved here,” and yet encourages people to confront their sin, because we all need to, don’t we?

Too often as Christ-followers we’re offended or surprised when unsaved people talk or act–well–unsaved.  Offense doesn’t do anyone any good. Not you, not them–no one. I become pretty unloving and unkind when I’m offended, and I’m guessing it doesn’t do anything lovely for you either. The results are usually pretty ugly.  God alone has the right to be offended, and yet he chooses to forgive. What a powerful way for us to show the love of Jesus–by choosing not to be offended.

A friend of ours, a pastor in a large city, welcomes people who don’t yet know Jesus to be a part of the worship team at his church. He feels this is a great way to surround them with people of faith and whet their appetite for God. Other people would argue that it’s counter-productive to have unsaved people on the worship team, because the team is meant to be the ones leading people into the presence of God. I understand the argument for both sides.  But how we respond and react to an opportunity like this has repercussions that shouldn’t be taken lightly. More than anything, I love that our friend was willing to think outside the box, wrestle with the question, and then do what he thought Jesus would have him do–despite how others might react. Is this a way for us to participate in the gray space and draw someone closer to Jesus?  Maybe. It’s definitely something to think about.

Have you ever wondered what God saw in you before you knew him? As his followers, are we able to look for those same things in others, who don’t yet know him, and encourage, not squash, them?  It’s easy to label, pigeonhole, and typecast an individual and then dismiss them based on those assessments. But is that what we want–easy? Nothing about Jesus transforming a life is simple, but it is incredible, and something I want to be part of in any way I can.

I asked a lot of questions in this post because (dah, dah, dah, dah–drumroll, please) I don’t have all of the answers (you’re shocked, right?) :). These are just questions that I wrestle with, and I thought maybe we could work through them together.  I would love to hear your thoughts!

The Cost of Community

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I’ve started a new blog at www.droppingtheact.com. Check it out for the latest content.

The word “community” has become a buzzword in church culture.  How do we build it? Do we have it? What does community even mean?  What does it look like?  All questions that many a church leader has asked (and that we’re asking as we’re getting ready to launch small groups at our church) at some point.  Because, unless you’re a recluse who orders all of her wares on drugstore.com and happily never sees the light of day, we all crave deep, meaningful relationships and choosing to live in community with other people is the perfect way to meet that need.  But living in community costs us something as well.

The purest form of community means no one walks through their darkest valleys alone. It means there’s a shoulder to cry on, another voice lifted in prayer when your need becomes too difficult to speak aloud, and a listening ear when you just have to vent.  Quite frankly, sometimes it’s difficult to do those things for someone, and other times its hard to allow someone to do them for you–because, in both instances, it costs something.  Sometimes it costs a lot.

It costs us our privacy and our independent “I can do it myself, thank-you-very-much” pride, and requires us to be vulnerable in a way that can be incredibly uncomfortable when we’re hurting.  It requires us to allow someone to come in close, to see the pain, the ugliness that we’d rather hide and pretend doesn’t exist.

I was part of a community of wonderful friends several years ago that quite literally saved my life.  It cost me all of the things I just  talked about to be in relationship with them, but it cost them something as well.  It cost them emotional time and energy as well as time to be available as they walked with me through a very dark and difficult season.

To be honest, sometimes I’m not willing to pay the price to live in relationship with people.  Sometimes it costs too much–too much time, too much energy.  Too. Much.  But I have to remind myself it’s worth every sacrifice, every ounce of effort when you emerge with a friend that knows you–really knows you–and loves you no matter what.  That’s the true cost of community, and it’s well worth the price tag.

How has living in community impacted your life?

How has paying the price to be in community affected you? Please feel free to leave a comment!

You’re So Vain

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Photo Credit: juicyrai via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: juicyrai via Compfight cc

It was another hot, sticky day in Northern India, and we were on our way to a small village about two hours from our home where Jonathan was to preach that morning.  After lurching through one last pothole, we finally arrived in the village and were ushered inside the small one-room structure where the church met.

The pastor and the people were very welcoming and had prepared lovely marigold garlands which they placed around our necks.  However, I noticed that when Jonathan was introduced and went up to preach he left the garland behind.  It was forming an orange coil on the seat next to me.  I thought it might be because he’s allergic to flowers.  Regardless, I thought it was strange (and a little rude!) that he would remove their gift…

Jonathan preached the entire message and I noticed some furtive glances cast in my direction periodically.  After he was finished, Jonathan took my elbow and said, “You’re supposed to take the garland off.  If you don’t it means you’re really vain.”  I thought, Now you tell me!  Now that I’ve been wearing it for the past hour.  That’s me, the vain American. 🙂

Ah, the joy of cultural ignorance!

Creativity in the Church

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The network staff here in Iowa is gearing up for an annual conference for students called Fine Arts Festival.  It’s an amazing platform where junior high and high school students are encouraged to develop and display their God-given talents in music, photography, writing, art, preaching, etc.  And I LOVE it!  Some of the art that these kids produce is truly stunning.  But I want to start a conversation about creativity within the church (and I really hope that someone will respond, because otherwise it’s just me talking and that’s not a conversation–I bet you’re glad I just defined what a conversation is for you 🙂 So, what I’m thinking about right now is…

what happens after these students graduate?  Is there a place for those gifts (especially the creative ones, the ones that aren’t traditionally used inside the church) to continue to be developed, and then are they encouraged to utilize them–even if it takes them outside the four walls of the church?  Does something have to be overtly “Christian” to have value in the church?  Are we, as the church, not utilizing (or valuing) some of the less obvious gifts that people have been given?

I believe, creatively speaking, the church should have some of the most original and creative people on the planet.  But I think we have yet to unlock the potential of all the unique gifts that God has given to each of us.  There’s more!…if we have the courage to think outside the box and the four walls of the church.  I think sometimes we overemphasize the importance of vocational ministry, and ministry inside the walls of the church (and please understand that I’m not minimizing it!), and overlook the equally important task of marketplace ministry.  If all of the creativity that God has placed within his people were unleashed on a community, and the world, I can’t even imagine what that would look like, but I want to!

If you have a thought, answer, or question of your own to add, I want to hear it!  As you can see, I have a lot of questions, and I don’t have all the answers.  So please, add your voice.