Archive for April, 2010

Life Together

Granada is midway through an experiment in Christian community.  We began Easter Sunday with an eight-week cycle of community groups in neighborhoods all across central Miami-Dade County.  Our goal has been to see our Granada church family experience Christ in their midst through the presence of other Christians and to see new relationships form and flourish.

Bonhoeffer

My views of Christian community are the product of growing up in the church and an early reading of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together.   I am one of those people in ministry who does not hate church.  Yes, the church I grew up in had problems, but the institutional church never captured my heart.  People did.  I was surrounded by a trans-generation Christian support group.  The church for me wasn’t meetings or committees.  It was the people. Because of this, I never felt let down by the church.  Of course, people were bound to disappoint.  But, I disappointed others as well.  The people God swept into my life through the church nurtured and served me and helped me become what I am today.  The problem is that many of us have been involved in church without getting close to people, without really becoming part of the community.

In the first chapter of Bonhoeffer’s book, he warns us against having what he calls a wish-dream.  That is, he warns us of the danger of loving our ideal of what the church should be more than we love individuals.  He says:

He who loves his dream [his ideal of what the church should be] more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the later, even though his personal intentions be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial…. God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.  The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself.  He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brothers and God accordingly.

Now Bonhoeffer is not discouraging us from desiring a greater sense of community.  We should long for this.  He is saying, God does not command us to love an idea of what the church is to be. God calls us to love the actual people, the community itself.  How can we know if we are putting our ideal before the people?  Do we refuse fellowship because we feel we are better than others?  Do we find ourselves constantly criticizing others or the church as a whole?  This may indicate that you love your own ideal of the church more than the people.  At times when I have struggled with this I can see that my thoughts gave me an excuse for not sharing the life of the community.  They were part of a self-protective strategy I was using to remain safe and not risk being vulnerable or hurt by others.  The problem was that I was missing the wonder of being in community with other Christians.  Bonhoeffer learned all about this.  As a young pastor, the Germans imprisoned him and cut him off from Christian fellowship.  Amidst the deprivations of prison, Bonhoeffer longed for community with other believers.  He was never released from prison. But, he left us his call to take community seriously and to share our life together.

What Do Men Do When they Go on Retreat?

Last weekend about 25 Granada men attended the “Gospel Man” conference at Willow Creek Church in Orlando.  Mo Leverett of Desire Street ministry in New Orleans provided the music, and the speakers were Scotty Smith of Christ Community Church, Franklin, TN, and Nate Larkin of the Samson Society.  So what do men talk about during a weekend together?  Both speakers shared the story of their discovery of grace.  Actually, we heard about how God searched them out and found them.  Scotty used the book of Jonah and his flight from God and grace as a window through which to show us how he had “clung to worthless idols and forfeited the grace that could have been his.”  The unexpected loss of his mother in a car wreck when he was eleven and his unresolved grief opened up a gash of self-protection that pressed him to protect his heart from pain no matter what it cost.  It wasn’t until a series of events led to a breakdown at age 50 that the healing from his childhood loss began to come. Scotty explained that as a pastor he’d been preaching grace for decades as he needed gospel restoration himself.

Scotty Smith's book in grace.

Scotty reflected the need men have to heal from their wounds and see the gospel worked out in their relationships.  His story showed that unresolved grief and anger do not go away on their own.  They produce strategies of self-protection that hinder relationships and block the full flow of grace.

Nate Larkin of the Samson Society shared with us the story of his plunge into sexual addiction.  He retold the stories of David and Samson showing us why Samson failed and David succeeded in the end.  David had friends.  His life was filled with a cast of supportive people while Samson lived and worked alone.  Nate’s story is shocking to say the least.  While in seminary to become a pastor, he had an encounter with sex on a field trip to see how illicit sex in its many forms was hurting people.  Nate became fascinated with it and soon was drawn into the shadows of pornography.  He explained how after he became a pastor he saw a prostitute on the way to church to preach. The fracture was deep for Nate and bandaids and promises couldn’t save him.  It was in a support group with friends who would hold him accountable and hold him up that Nate was finally able to apply grace and walk away from the shame.  [Read Nate’s Samson and the Pirate Monks for the full story.]

Nate Larkin of the Samson Society

Nate gave hope for men in recovery and challenged us to get into community together. Nate explained how the Samson Society emerged from his experience.  What is the Samson society?  It is a organic group of men who have covenanted together for mutual support, confidentiality and accountability.   Imagine how different Samson’s life might have been if he had not attempted to be the “loner hero.”  The truth is that true heroes are never loners.  We need other men in our lives to be healthy.

Our Granada Men have the challenge of taking the wisdom of Scotty and Nate and applying their life lessons in community.  This past year a number of Granada Men launched men’s fraternity.  They invited the men of Granada to go a gospel journey together, to acknowledge and begin to heal their wounds, and to develop the kind of community that will enable them to experience authentic manhood.  If you would like to get involved in this movement, hunt down Marcos Ruiz.

“Through many dangers, toils and snares…we have already come. T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far… and Grace will lead us home”

What You Do After

What am I here for?  That’s a question many Christians find themselves asking.  Think about it. Many people when they came to Christ were led to believe that our time here on earth is really a waiting game.  We’re all waiting to die and go to heaven.  That’s when God’s plan really comes together.  That’s what being a Christian is about.  Sure we were told that we needed to share this gospel with other people so that the whole world could know Jesus.  But, that is pretty much the extent of what God has in store for us until we reach heaven.

Now I can understand where this perspective came from.  The church has tried to focus on grace, and well it should.  That means we need to remind people that our place with God and our future with God comes from His favor given freely to us through Christ.  It is not the result of anything we give to God.  It’s a free gift, scripture tells us clearly.  As the church has rightly turned our focus away from our efforts for salvation, there’s been an unintended consequence.  We’ve missed the point that while grace brings us to God (and keeps us secure), God intends on transforming our character right here on earth.  He’s not waiting till heaven to start that project. It is important what we do.  This isn’t a new teaching. The Bible is filled with statements about this.  Here are a few…

Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. Romans 6:19

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24

What’s clear is that God has a plan for you after you come to faith. His plan is for right here and right now.  His purpose is to renew you, to conform you to Christ. How does this happen?  Through character transformation and through engaging you in his project to redeem the creation.  But, is that the way we see it?  I’ve begun to read N. T. Wright’s new book entitled After You Believe.  He’s written on this topic as a corrective to the currents sweeping the western church.  (I do not agree with N. T. Wright on everything he has written.  But, I have found his challenge to the church in this volume very helpful.)  What’s most important is that we know scripture and understand God’s plan for his people.  We need to know what we are here for.  Do you?