The Psalms: Prayers That Transform

No matter where you are in life you can find yourself somewhere in the Psalms. Whether it is despair or praise, waiting or celebration--the Psalmist knows what you feel. This gift of finding someone else expressing our own internal turmoil or joy helps us express more clearly the chaos and longings colliding within us. Any child needs help finding their feet at times, so we spiritually need help finding our footing and words in prayer.

Yet it gets even better. The Psalms are not merely a tutor in expressing our many and varied feelings towards God--as helpful as that is--but the Psalms also transform us. Even as we unleash the dump truck of our inner lives on God along with the Psalmist, we find that the Psalmist doesn’t leave us there. Something happens in the outpouring and reflection that suddenly opens room within us for remembering that our feelings are not always an accurate picture of the world. There is more lost beneath the piles of frustration and disappointment. We start seeing God’s faithfulness and mercy again. There beneath the busyness and betrayal is his steadfast love and trustworthiness. Our perspective isn’t as all-knowing (nor God as uncaring) as we once thought.

There it is again--fresh strength to walk into what God is calling us to. Fresh strength to trust him. Fresh strength to step out in greater obedience. Fresh strength to love the difficult people in our lives. Thankfully, there are 150 of them because we will certainly need another one again tomorrow.

Join us for a “Summer in the Psalms” as we all learn to find out footing and have our relationship with God transformed.

For a great overview of the Psalms, check out this video: 

The God Who Neighbors

 

People have all kinds of mental images of God.  God is our Father.  He’s our Shepherd.  He’s our Counselor, Provider, Protector and the list goes on.  But have you ever stopped to consider God as Neighbor?  Listen to how the apostles John and Paul describe Jesus.

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. -John 1:14 NLT

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. -Philippians 2:6-7

It’s not a stretch to say Jesus became our neighbor. He moved into our neighborhood. And like always, in calling us to love our neighbor, Jesus is inviting us to do more than make a futile attempt to follow his example.  The invitation of his command requires continuously returning to him so that  his neighboring life wells up through us.

Simply put - Jesus has taken notice of us. In him, we take notice of those he’s placed around us. Jesus listens to us. Having given our ears to him, we in turn listen to those around us. Jesus shares his life with us and is pleased to dwell within us. We invite him to compel our hearts with his same hospitable generosity leading us to open our homes and lives to those we work with and live among.  When we talk about the skill of neighboring, the real art is learning to live in daily attentiveness and responsiveness to Christ’s life at work within us, compelling us toward our neighbors just as he has moved toward us.

Indeed, throughout the Bible, God reveals himself as the ultimate neighbor.  This is what we’ll be exploring in our NC gatherings this April and May. We will consider several passages in which God’s neighboring nature and activity is revealed. And we’ll give ourselves to inviting his neighboring commitment to compel us to love where we live and neighbor well in some extremely practical ways.  Consider joining us.  

 

(Note: There are several combined gatherings for this teaching series:  Sunday April 30, we will combine in the evening at our Downtown location.  Then on Sundays May 7 and May 14 will be combined morning gatherings only at our E Beecher location)

Mirror, Mirror

Mirror, mirror on the wall, would my neighbor miss me at all?  

It’s a question worth asking. If I were to move, would my neighbors see that as a loss? Would they notice? Worse yet, might they be relieved? Especially for those who follow Jesus, it is important to think through what type of neighbor we actually are.  And not from our perspective, but from those living closest to us.

Christians ought to be the best neighbors anyone could ask for.  If Christ’s life is indeed being formed and shaped in us, we’re learning to listen.  We’re committed to forgiveness.  We’re characterized by compassion.  We freely share and lend in the conviction that nothing we own is ultimately ours to begin with.  It should be a great thing, regardless of one’s personal lifestyle, beliefs, or background, to live next door to a believer in Christ.  Is that your neighbor's experience?

We’re not raising the question to condemn. We’re not asking in attempts to motivate people to neighbor out of guilt, pressure, or obligation. Neighborhood Church waves the banner of neighborhood engagement because Christ says loving our actual neighbors is directly connected to loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We love because we’re loved.  And if we find we’re not loving where we live, perhaps we’re struggling to believe the heart of the gospel--that God first loved us. Deeply.  Genuinely.  Enough to move toward us in unconditional commitment to knowing and being known by us.  

To steal a phrase from authors Rusaw & Mavis, “We love our neighbors [simply] because we are Christians, not because we are trying to make the Christians.” Or as Pathak & Runyon put it, “We don’t love our neighbors to convert them, we love our neighbors because we are converted.” Or to use the Apostle Paul’s words in the present tense, “We love you so much that we are delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well because you have become so dear to us.”  We unconditionally love our neighbors from the exact love that has been freely demonstrated and given to us who share Paul’s testimony in Galatians 2:20.

In reality, it becomes question of location and intentionality.  Where do you live?  And are you actively loving where you live?  It’s nearly impossible to love someone without knowing their name.  It’s hard to love without noticing things about the one you’re committed to loving.  It’s completely impossible to love without listening. It’s unusual to love without giving to, sharing with, and even receiving from a person you love.  And at the end of the day, it’s really hard not appreciate someone who genuinely loves you.  Which brings us back to the question, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, would my neighbor miss me at all?”

 

Rusaw & Mavis co-author The Neighboring Church

Pathak & Runyon co-author The Art of Neighboring

The Apostle Paul writes these words in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 (NIV)

 

Your Local Tax Collector

Several times in our teachings lately, we have come across someone called a “tax collector.” For many of us, we immediately think of the IRS or are reminded that tax season is right around the corner. For this reason, we often stress in our teachings that “tax collectors” weren’t exactly winning the local “Citizen of the Year” award.

Tax collectors were fiercely hated, because they were living in style off the backs of their neighbors. Each tax collector would have a certain quota they were responsible to bring in, but nobody knew exactly what they owed. They had to rely on the word of the tax collectors. So many people were charged far above what they owed and the tax collectors lined their pockets with the rest.

However, the thing that drove tax collectors to the bottom of society wasn’t that they were robbing their own people. That might have been bearable enough. The real kicker was that they were actually robbing their own people in order to help the Romans. Without these local tax collectors, the Romans wouldn’t have been able to pay all the soldiers that were oppressing and abusing the people. The tax collectors, therefore, were more than local thieves. They were abuse-enablers. They were traitors.

Then along comes Jesus. People are calling him the Messiah--the one who will set everything straight. And if anybody needs an earful and to be set straight, it is the tax collectors. So when Jesus comes across Levi sitting in his tax collector’s booth, people are waiting for lightning to strike. If Jesus been calling out the religious-hearted Pharisees, imagine what he’ll say to a tax collector! But the two simple words he says to Levi are shocking: “Follow me.” He doesn’t lash out at Levi with stinging condemnation; rather he extends Levi an invitation. He asks Levi to be with him. No questions asked. No money returned. No penance given.  

This is astoundingly good news for us if we are Levi. God invites us into his presence straight out of our tax collector’s booth. But this is a different story when you have a Levi--a tax collector--in your life. Who has been hounding you for years? Who is an enabler of abuse and betrayal in your life? Who has been cheating you for years?

Our appreciation of God’s grace is truly tested not when we receive grace, but when the tax collectors in our life start to be absurdly blessed. How will you feel when God suddenly extends that person the startling grace of his presence? How will you feel when the Levi in your life has blessing after blessing heaped onto their lap? Not because they’ve asked you for forgiveness. Not because they’ve cleaned up their life. But they are called out of their tax collector’s booth and into following Jesus. How will you respond then?

It is good for us to be scandalized by God’s grace towards others, as it is also a scandalizing reminder of his grace towards us. We should sense how God’s unearned favor towards all of us is nearly unjust if it had not been for the cross. But because of Jesus’ death, God is now fair in not only forgiving the tax collectors in our lives, but in forgiving us as well.

Growing Small

As Neighborhood Church, we get to be “questionable” in a number of enjoyable ways. But one question we’ve come across more and more lately is: “Do you plan to eventually meet as one big group only, or will you keep these smaller gatherings?”

A perfectly good goal for any church is to grow bigger and bigger. Any church leader with their head screwed on straight wants to see boatloads of people transformed by the love of Jesus. But often, we assume this means meeting in a bigger and bigger building, with everybody gathered together each week in one large church service.

We too want to grow. But rather than growing into a bigger and bigger building tied down to a single location, we want to grow small. We want to see Neighborhood Church Gatherings all over Adrian. We want to see every pocket and corner of this city saturated with gatherings that fit and invest in each location. You belong there because you live there. You know the needs because your own house is down the street. It’s not just your church, but it’s your neighborhood. Each gathering knows how to best speak and demonstrate the gospel in their neighborhood, because they live with, interact with, and eat with the very neighbors they are trying to love.

Yet with all these smaller gatherings rooted throughout various neighborhoods, it would be easy to lose track of what is happening across our city. But this is where it gets even better. We also get to enjoy the occasional central celebration that brings together all the various Neighborhood Church gatherings into one large combined gathering. We get to hear stories of what God is doing across Adrian. We get to hear about how people are discovering life in Jesus, how families are being healed, how neighborhoods are being transformed. We get to see people being baptized into new life. And we get to enjoy it all as one big family. Welcome to Neighborhood Church.   

There are certainly challenges to getting these gatherings rooted in various neighborhoods. But we absolutely believe it is worth every effort to see people in Adrian amazed by the love of God transforming their own street.

No Worship Service?

Question: The Spirit compels you to enter a new city to establish a new expression of Christ's church.  Where do you start?  Or more accurately, with what do you start?    Answer: A worship service, of course.  In the words of Lee Corso, “not so fast my friend!”  (My apologies to all non-college football fans for the obscure gameday reference.)  

Neighborhood church has been gathering weekly since January. And our gatherings are not a worship service, which begs two questions. Why not? And if not, what are they?

Make no mistake. Worship services are great.  In no way is our lack of a worship service an edict against them.  We’ve attended worship services all our life.  We’ve planned and preached in them for years.  Scripture is proclaimed.  God is praised through song.  People are encouraged.  It is a wonderful element of the church.  But, hear this.  Don’t miss this.  Pay attention.  Worship services are NOT the church.  Far too many people, believers and not-yet-believers alike, mistakenly understand church as something you attend.  A place to which you go before heading back home or out to lunch.  We wrote about this in the blog, Going to Church

The church--which there’s only one by the way--is Christ’s presence in Christ’s everyday people, in every place they live, work and play every day.  The apostle Paul says it this way to the church in Ephesus, “And the church is his (Christ’s) body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with himself.”  (Ephesians 1:23 NLT)

There’s nothing new about this truth. This is not some revolutionary or heretical thought.  In fact, I’d be surprised to find any pastor who would disagree that the church is not a building or worship service.  We know the church is Christ’s people.   But can I be the first to confess?  We forget.  We get caught up in preparing messages.  We work hard to plan worship services.  We use phrases like, “how many were at church Sunday?” or “I pastor the church at 100 North Main street.”  It is oh so easy to slip into the mindset of church as location or worship service.   This is why we have been so intentional in beginning neighborhood church with something else.  

So, back to the original question.  Where do you start?  If given the opportunity to begin from square one, with what do you start in establishing a new expression of Christ’s church?   For the people of neighborhood church, we’ve chosen fairly simple gatherings.  

Our gatherings focus on training and sending.  Preaching and singing certainly have their place.   Hearing and verbalizing truths is important.  But practicing and working to live within these same truths is essential.  And so we gather around the tables to be trained by God’s word, by His Spirit, and by the experiences we share.  We work to apply the gospel truths of the Scripture to every thought, attitude, motivation, and action of our everyday lives.   We learn to pray for Christ’s work in our lives, relationships, and neighborhoods.  We are equipped to understand ourselves as neighbors, seeing and seizing opportunities to love our neighbors with the love we ourselves have received from Christ.   And we are not simply trained as Christ’s church.  We are sent as his church filling our homes, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our play places with the life of Christ being formed and shaped within us.   

Personal growth.  Relational Connection.  Neighborhood Engagement.  Living in Christ.  Relating through Christ.  Engaging with Christ.  For this we gather.  For this we are sent.  

Church isn’t something you go to; in Christ, it’s who we are.

Going to Church

“Going to Church.”  It's what we say.  But is church truly understood or best experienced as something we “go to”?   Is that how Paul describes it in his letters to the churches in Corinth, Ephesus, Colossae, etc?   After citing 1 Corinthians 12:21, author Dennis McCallum writes: 

Notice Paul is not just saying we need the presence of the other members, but that we need their function.  ...Eyes and hands have to work together, and they do work together in our bodies, because of their organic linkage.  This organic inter-connectivity in the body of Christ flies in the face of modern notions of ‘going to church’.  Christians who think they need to ‘attend’ church have missed the point.  Simply being around other members of the body falls woefully short of Paul’s picture in this chapter.”  -Members of One Another

This is why our unconventional approach to church “around the table” is so important. It forces interaction.  It fosters genuine relationship.   It reminds us that Christ has indeed placed each of us at his table. It positions us to interact with Scripture and pray together.

We say it all the time.  Neighborhood Church is not an attempt at a perfect church.  No church will be perfect until Christ returns to perfect His church. But it is fair to say Neighborhood Church is an attempt at being a local church which is best understood not as some place you go.  Not as something you attend.  The point of our gathering is not mere gathering. We gather to be reminded: we ARE the embodiment of Christ in every neighborhood we live and in every place we work.   And we gather to GO: we go into the everyday places of our lives with the life of Christ in us. 

“Church” - it’s who we are.

Christians Are Weak

Pastor and author Tim Keller has said churches should feel more like the waiting room for a doctor than the waiting room for a job interview.  I’m a sucker for a good word picture,  so think about it.  For a job interview you want to appear confident, competent, at the top of your game.  And if there are others waiting there with you, looking impressive and intimidating isn’t too bad either!  But in a doctor’s waiting room it’s the opposite. You really don’t care. People naturally assume everyone there is sick.  Anyone present is in need of some help.  Each one's presence declares, "I'm done trying to fix myself by myself."

In the same way, Christians are weak. There’s no need to pretend otherwise.  When we gather, as different as we all are, there’s one thing we share in common: Christ’s grace is sufficient, for in our weakness he is made strong.  (2 Cor 12:9)  

So I’m with Jeff Vanderstelt, another pastor and author of the book Saturate. “Jesus is not ashamed to call me a brother, nor is he ashamed to associate with a church full of broken people.  If our church were to gain a reputation of being full of people who need Jesus’s grace, well, that would be great!”  After all, “If we don’t believe we need the gospel, we will not believe the gospel.  If we don’t believe the gospel, we won’t proclaim it either.”