Life in Community: Everyone is Broken

During our small group meeting a gentleman shared about his recent journey to the Philippines and the life changing experiences he had there.  One of the most powerful truths he saw during his visit was the importance and influence of community.  It reminded me of some blog posts I did about two years ago on living life in community and so I submit them again for your perusal.  I will be posting the series again over the next two weeks while I am working on a set of posts about Acts.  I hope that this series is a blessing to you.

Everyone who believes has God’s approval through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no difference between people.  Because all people have sinned, they have fallen short of God’s glory.
Romans 3:22-23 (GW)

“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:1-4 NIV)

My daughter asked me one day why people do bad things and I quickly replied, “Some people are just bad.”  It was a lazy answer, certainly wrong and dreadfully insensitive, but in the moment it satisfied the ponderings of a seven-year-old little girl.  Fortunately the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me get away with such bad theology – and bad parenting – and kept bringing me back to her question.  Why do people do bad things?

I came across the passage in Philippians 2 one day soon after the conversation with my daughter (it is one of my favorites), and the words jumped out at me.  Obviously my view of “bad” people was not in line with what Jesus desired of me, especially in light of Paul’s words in Romans 3.  Somewhere I had let a false perception creep into my thinking and it had skewed how I thought of others.  The devastating realization was that I had in essence told my little girl she was a bad person.

I have always enjoyed the writings of C.S. Lewis and his essay, “The Weight of Glory” is one I need to return to from time to time.

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.”

It is very easy to lump people into categories and affix our labels and go about our lives in the comfort of our well-organized world.  However, if we are looking for a better life, a richer experience of God’s presence, a deeper understanding of His love at work in our lives and the lives of others we will change our perception of what humanity is and what it can be.  When we understand that each of us will either be forever broken or forever made whole, we should be motivated to work toward the one and work against the other.  Instead we think we are okay because of how bad someone else is or because we are good at hiding our own brokenness.

After reflecting on these passages, I had to sit down with my daughter and explain that people do bad things because they are broken and that all of us are broken.  It was a simple conversation and a simple explanation, but her education in this area will advance with years.  She needs to know that we are all broken, that we all do bad things, and that it is the love of God that heals us and makes us whole; that in loving Him we find the grace and mercy to love ourselves and others because His love is greater than our own.  She will need to know that brokenness is not an excuse for our transgressions.  I will need to teach her that humility is the key to loving other people in the midst of their brokenness.  I will try to show her that it is a far great thing to be better for the sake of others than it is to be better than others.  I will try to show her what it looks like to move toward wholeness so she will know her way along the journey.

Reconciliation: Christ Our Redeemer

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. – Colossians 1:19-20 (NIV)

Have you ever experienced a long separation from someone you loved?  Do you remember the ache in your soul when they weren’t around for a special occasion?  Can you picture the moment when you were reunited and the flood of emotions that filled your heart?  Separation is painful for our earthly relationships, but it is nothing compared to the pain Christ endured to end our separation from God.

Mankind has been separated from God like the prodigal son from his father – by choice.  And yet the way has been made for us to be reconciled despite our sinful ways.  Christ has made the way for us to return to our father’s house; He has torn the veil between us and God so that we can be with Him and without shame.  This is the amazing grace of reconciliation: we could not do it ourselves and we did not deserve it.

Every day is an opportunity for us to walk empowered and challenged by that knowledge, or to live as if it had never happened – our choice.  I know that some days I don’t look like I have been reconciled to God.  I know that there are moments that I live more like the prodigal with the pigs than the prodigal in the Father’s house.  I need reminders that my life with God came at a terrible price.  I pray that as I grow in this relationship with my heavenly Father, I will have fewer and shorter prodigal moments, but I am so grateful for His grace along the way.

This week, remind yourself of all that God has done and continues to do so that you can have a relationship with Him.  Pray for a life that advertises the beauty and power of reconciliation.

Reconciliation: There Are No Untouchables

When he came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.  – Matthew 8:1-3

I am not sure if many people realize what a sanitized society we have here in the US.  Filtered water, hand cleanser and stores dedicated to bathroom supplies make being clean a commodity.  We use air fresheners and deodorizers to eliminate the evidence of atmospheric unpleasantness.  Our laundry detergents get out the stains, our dishwashers break down cooked on food and our restaurants have grades on their sanitary conditions.  It is our meager way of trying to control our environment and maintain the appearance of cleanliness, but it has been tried before.

The Israelites had gone down that same road when Jesus walked among them.  The Pharisees and Sadducees were so intent on the appearance of cleanliness that they missed opportunities for a deeper cleansing from the Messiah.  He was among them – the prince of peace, the wonderful counselor, the Son of God – and he wanted them to understand and be reconciled to his heavenly Father.

Jesus does two amazing things in this story.  He heals a leper and he touches a leper and it is important to remember in what order.  In His day, touching a leper was against the law and would make Him unclean in the sight of the religious leaders.  This didn’t stop Jesus.  Instead of requiring the leper to be clean before he can come to God, God comes to the leper to make Him clean.  This is an astonishing and revolutionary change for the religious leaders watching this encounter.  It is no less astonishing and revolutionary for us today.

Maybe you are the leper and need that touch from Jesus, but you feel as if you are unclean and don’t deserve His touch.  You haven’t stepped forward in faith and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”   There is no other way to be reconciled to God but by Him entering into our mess and cleansing us from within.  It is only by the work of His Holy Spirit that we become whole and holy people, so ask for His cleansing touch on your life.

Some may find themselves relating to the Pharisees and Sadducees (picture me raising my hand), having been told the rules and regulations of a proper Christian life and working hard to maintain a manmade standard.  It is an unforgiving system that requires much, and produces little. Legalism is a leprosy of the mind and heart and Christ can reach the deepest parts of both and make them clean.

For now, the job of reaching out to the unclean and unwanted of the world is ours.  We are the hands of Jesus reaching out to touch the unsavory of the world and that isn’t always easy for us. If you are like me, there is a group of people you have a hard time relating to or accepting.  They make us uncomfortable and so we avoid them.  We may not even know why we react like we do.  Regardless of what group you are thinking of, we all need to ask the same question: Is there anyone that Jesus wouldn’t have touched if they had been in the leper’s place?”  I say the answer is “No.”  If we want to be like Jesus, we have to learn how “perfect love casts out fear” so we can reach out to whomever He brings our way.

Pray that God will give you the opportunity to reach out to someone who needs a touch from Jesus.  Ask Him to work in and through you to reconcile to Him those who have slipped through the cracks of our sanitized world.  Be the hand of Jesus reaching out with love because He is willing.

Reconciliation: God’s Gifts in Action

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. – 1 Peter 4:10

We make much of gifted people in our culture; athletes, singers, actors and such.  We celebrate their excellence and prize their attributes, hoping that they will not succumb to the poisonous influence of fame and fortune.  But oh how our society relishes when the hero falls.  Tabloids make their business from finding the flaws in these modern-day demigods, and their business is doing well.

This view of giftedness divides us into the haves, the have-nots and the want to haves.  Unfortunately we can bring this same warped perception into the body of Christ.  We see those with what we consider laudable gifts and we esteem them too highly.  It can also take our eyes of the giver of the gifts.  Peter asks us to look at gifts quite a bit differently.

It is clear from this passage that every single one of us has been given a gift or even gifts that God wants us to unwrap and use.  In His Kingdom there is never a question of whether you have something to offer, only the question of when you will share it with others. If humility is the heart of reconciliation then serving others with our gifts is the hand of reconciliation.

If we desire to walk fully in our ambassadorship for Christ, we must take our gifts seriously.  We must value them and the one who gives “every good and perfect gift” much more than what other people think of our gifts.  God is calling the world to Himself through His people, the body of Christ, extending His hand of love, mercy and grace to draw them close.  Amazingly, we get to participate in this ministry by exercising His gifts in a broken, needy world.

So what gifts has God given to you?  What natural abilities or skills?  Do you have a knack for something that most people find difficult?  What are your spiritual gifts? Whatever they are, use them to extend “God’s grace in its various forms.”