The Bad Thing About Living in Community

So, I don’t really think that belonging to a community of believers is bad. However, the title got you to click the link so let’s keep going and I’ll explain my meaning behind the title. 

When true Christian community happens, there are bonds that form between people that last long after job transfers, moves, and life changes. They are bonds that grow deeper than friendship. They are the bonds of Christian love. 

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From about the middle of August until around the middle of November I go through a period of something that I am going to name “Not Greatness.” The Not Greatness doesn’t affect me everyday…I’ve been there, done that, and learned a lot along the way. However, every year since leaving Winston-Salem, I go through the Not Greatness. It usually sneaks up on me out of nowhere. There I’ll be, minding my own business, going about my day, and BAM! Suddenly I’m crying, longing for something I left behind.

What is it the I am longing for?  What is it that the Not Greatness has me bawling my eyes out over?

It is community. Specifically, the community I left behind in Winston Salem.

Why this time of year? I have some guesses but I don’t know exactly. The Fall made me fall in love with Winston Salem, and Winston Salem made me fall in love with the Fall. I had never seen leaves turn the colors they do until I moved there. The golds, reds, and oranges surrounded me as I walked my neighborhood. I learned to appreciate the full cycle of life and God’s creation in a different way. It is a time of the Dixie Classic Fair, walks on brisk days, fire pits and smores, festivals, trick or treating, and hot chocolate. 

But if it was just these things and events I don’t think I would have such a longing. I don’t think the Not Greatness would even rear it’s head. And I don’t think that two years ago I would have walked through deep depression. No, it’s not the things and events.  It’s the people that were with me when I was doing these things and going to these events that made them so special. The people  are what I long for and miss. They are the reason behind the Not Greatness. 

Please don’t hear me say I don’t love where I am or that I want to be somewhere else.  I love where I am. There is no where else I’d rather be. I’m trying to make new traditions and find new events and things to invite others into that will make them just as special as the things and events I left behind. I am loving the community that is developing around me. It’s beautiful and lovely and brings great joy. But there are times when I long, desperately so, for those friendships I left behind that go deeper than friendships. They are relationships rooted in Christian love and community. 

So why is it that I still miss this community so much? What is it that made it (and continues to do so) special? It’s the love that exists between us. It’s the love that most of us hear preached about at weddings, but really was intended for the Church. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul writes to the church in Corinth that “[l]ove is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

When the Church remembers that is to be like Christ, who IS LOVE (which means he is all the things in the list Paul gives us) then what a better Church we would be. How amazing it would be to have a body of believers who didn’t insist on their own way or hold grudges or let sin slide under the rug. How incredible to have that body be patient and kind to one another, never letting arrogance or conceit or envy put them at odds with one another.

And this is how my community in Winston-Salem functioned. It did not accomplish this perfectly, but this description of love was its foundation. Everything was based on this. It was how we were able to forgive one another for offenses, celebrate each others successes, mourn losses, serve selflessly, give freely, and take correction. It was a community that pushed me, tried me, made me uncomfortable with my sin…and drew me closer to Christ.

So what’s the “bad thing” about true Christian community ? It is having to walk away from it. I guess the Not Greatness isn’t so bad either. It reminds me of people I love. It reminds me to pray for them, call them, text them.  The great thing about this community is that no matter where I am in the world, it will always be there. A phone call, a text message, a FaceTime call away. They are forever a part of our lives, no matter how many miles separate us. This is what true community should be, right? Our lives should be so interwoven that when one of the threads breaks away, it 1) hurts like crazy and 2) is not severed completely from the others.

As I think about where I am now, I look forward to the new relationships and community that are developing that will be closer than friendship because of in Whom it is rooted. I am excited for the 1 Corinthians kind of love to permeate who we are as a church and how we interact with one another.

So I give myself permission each Fall to feel the deepness of the Not Greatness, but I don’t give my permission to stay there. Instead, I mourn what was and I look forward to what will be.

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Affection, Unity and Love: Things found in the Gospel

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Our summer interns left this week. I don’t think I have written about them this summer. Daniela has been here five weeks and Chelsea came down for three weeks after some time up north. During these last few weeks they have become an interwoven part of our families and it has been hard this week without them here. While I am excited to hear about all the incredible things that await them in the coming months, I am also incredibly sad. Part of me is still expecting the door to ring at 9:00 every morning.

Two weeks ago Tommy Orlando, a pastor from America, and his family were here for a few days. While here, Tommy preached on Acts 20, focusing on verses 36-38.

“And when [Paul] had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.”

Tommy’s main point was that there should be great affection between believers. Even if we have nothing in common, nothing that would bring us together under normal circumstances, we have Jesus. Jesus unites us. It may be all we have in common, but it’s the greatest thing we have in common. It binds us together in a way that nothing else can, which is why Jews and Gentiles, slaves and slave-owners could weep together as they saw Paul to his ship, knowing they may never see or hear from him again.

If the Gospel unites us, if it creates deep affection between believers, then why is they so much disunity among us? When I read the things people are writing in light of all the terrible recent events not only in America but around the world, a question presents itself: Where is the Gospel?

Church, we are not told to only love the easy, those who look like us, those who think like us, those in the same socio-economic status as us, those who go to the same type of church as us.We are told to love. Above everything else, love.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”            1 Peter 4:8

How can we expect the world to change when professed Christians do not love each other with the love of God? But how do we define that love? 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and 1 John 3:16 tell us how.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”

Jesus is the only person who loved perfectly because he is only the one who could love perfectly. He set the bar high, didn’t he? But if we are to be imitators of Christ, then it means we are to imitate him in all things, not just the things that suit us or the things that are easy. We are to love all people, all the time. How else can the Gospel be seen?

 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.When we take our eyes off the cross, forgetting all that we have been forgiven, and only see the differences, the sin, the ugliness in each other, we can not have a deep affection for one another. If we cannot love one another well, how can we expect to love those outside the circle of brotherhood well?” Luke 6:42-36

We should have a great affections for one another to the point that we suffer, we laugh, we cry, we rejoice, and we grieve with one another. That is not only having great affection for each other but what it means to live in community with one another. Our great affection for one another should trump any wrong suffered. As Tommy said, how can we remember the bloody face of Jesus hanging on the cross for our transgressions, forgiving us, loving us, dying for us and NOT forgive, not have sympathy, not care for other brothers and sisters in Christ? How can we turn our heads and look the other way when they are hurting? The love found in the Gospel compels us to care for them. Even if it is the only thing we have in common.

This affection, this love, that unites us is exactly why it was so hard to say goodbye to two young women I have only know a few short weeks.