August 16, 2012
How a Jars of Clay song gives a beautiful picture of small groups
At church this weekend, our worship team led us in singing a 2010 Jars of Clay song called "Shelter." As I sang the lyrics, I was reminded of the beauty of small groups. In small groups, we gather in safe places of shelter—places where we can "set aside the names [we've] been given," and "set aside the lies [we've] been living." Small groups are places that we never walk alone.
I was most moved, though, by the following lyrics:
We must all believe
Our lives are not our own
We all belong
God has given us each other
And we will never walk alone
In the shelter of each other
We will live
It's so true: our lives are not our own. I believe this is true in the sense that our lives belong to God, and that we belong to one another. We are responsible to and for one another. This is a high calling and a humbling privilege. In small groups, we gather, believing that we belong to one another, that we can help one another to transform into the people God created us to be.
Small groups give us hope, help us grow, allow us to be who we are, and provide shelter from the storm of life. It's a beautiful picture. Reading these lyrics has reenergized me for small-group ministry this fall. What about you?
August 9, 2012
How the mess of missional living is blessing me
I've written before that missional living is messy, but I really want to drive home this fact: It's not for the faint of heart. Lately, I've been challenged by several situations that have highlighted the messiness of missional living, and it's caused me to reexamine what I really believe.
Not too long ago I sat behind a young couple at church. Their clothes were dirty and disheveled, yet I could tell they had tried to pick out clothes appropriate for church. They both had unkempt hair that hadn't seen water or a brush for some time. Worst, though, they reeked. The woman smelled like cigarettes, and the man smelled like a dirty diaper. As he shifted uneasily during the sermon, the stench wafted back at me. It made my stomach turn, and I found myself unconsciously leaning back in my seat, trying to put more distance between us.
I'll admit that my mind was screaming, "Get up and move! Get away from these people!" It took a lot of willpower to stay put. But I kept thinking, Aren't these the kind of people you want at church? The people you've prayed God would bring? Isn't it amazing that they had the courage to get up this morning and come here?
I don't remember much of the sermon that day. Instead, I prayed that God would give me courage and the words to make this couple feel welcome. After service, I struck up a brief conversation with the couple, introducing myself and asking their names. Sadly, it took a lot for me to look past the dirt, grime, and smell. I realized that morning that while I say I believe that all people are made in the image of God, my natural instinct definitely didn't align with that. However, I felt that tension and trusted God could fill the gap. And he did. It was an extremely short conversation, but I consider it a win for God. It challenged me to trust in him, trust in his truth—even if my trust was shown in an extremely small act.
Weeks later, my small group had the opportunity to bless an under-resourced mom and her two girls. They are on the cusp of homelessness. They do have a home, but there's not much money left over for anything else—including food. We brought tons of groceries over to their home, filling their cupboards and refrigerator. The mom was overwhelmed by the bags of groceries brought by the eight strangers invading her home.
The biggest blessing, though, had nothing to do with food. Instead, it was the love we gave her daughters—a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old. Her younger daughter was born with a condition that has left her severely deformed. Her body remains the size of a 1-year-old, and she must be carried around like a baby, unable to walk or sit on her own. She also can't speak. Because people aren't sure how to act toward this young girl, many just look away.
I, too, was nervous to interact with this young girl. Would I hurt her? Does she understand what people are saying to her, or should I speak to her like a baby? Could she communicate at all? What should I talk to this young girl about? Would she be scared of me?
Despite these questions, two of us sat holding her while the rest of the group helped the mom put away the groceries. When I said "hello," she smiled so wide. A grin snuck onto my face. We held her, brushing through her hair with our fingers, telling her how beautiful she is. The woman with me had brought her own daughter who promptly asked what was wrong with this little girl. My friend quickly responded, "That's how God made her. Isn't she beautiful?"
What astonished me was this young girl's wit. While she looks like a very young child, even a baby, her brain obviously functions at a higher level. As we talked with her, she warmed up to us and began "bumping us"—touching her fist to our fists—her own way of saying "hello." Pretty soon she started to fake us out. She would put up her fist to "bump us," but when we put our fists up, she would move her hand away and start laughing hysterically. I couldn't help but laugh, too.
I left feeling that I'd made a new friend, very different from how I thought I might feel afterward. I'll admit this was a tough experience for me. I was nervous about what it would be like, and I had questions that made me want to stand back. But God used this situation to stretch me, to remind me that each and every person is made in the image of God.
Twice in a matter of weeks, God put me in situations where he challenged what I believe. In essence, he asked me, "Do you really believe that every person is made in my image?" I'll admit my heart hadn't bought in like my mind had. But these experiences have done a lot to convince my heart.
When we're on mission for God, we live our lives in a way that makes the kingdom present, that makes Jesus present. We live by God's values instead of society's values. We bring the love of God to each person we interact with. (And we experience the love of God in others.)
And all that can get pretty messy.
But that's the way we grow. God meets us in the tension we feel, offering to fill the gap with his strength, grace, and love. And we find that as we seek to bless others, we are blessed beyond our imagination.
For more on missional living, read our free digizine.
How are you helping your group members live on mission? How are you encouraging them to offer up to God the tension they feel so they can grow?