I am six Sundays into life here in Pasadena, and the greatest value I have been learning is the infinite worth of community.
There is something powerful about seven peers who eat, sleep, work, learn, lead, and love together for 10 weeks in the name of Christ. This is what I experienced over the summer working with Next Step Ministries. In a community of believers that are so spirit-led and Christ-centered, it’s hard to understand the magnitude of positive impact it has on one’s life until you step out of it in transition to another.
Looking back further, I realize that the local expression of the church I was a part of in Jacksonville was incredible and walked alongside my spiritual growth every step of the way. A church that is grounded over three thousand miles away from my current existence still manages to support me financially and is always there for me if needed. MPC continues to connect me with amazing people.
My mentor back home continues to love on me and teach me through the glorious web-interface known as Skype and my parents have yet to miss a week of checking in on me, giving me new recipes or helping my California car insurance payments go down (thanks Mom & Dad!). Overall, I continue to feel this awesome love from people back in Jacksonville and abroad, I cannot thank you enough for what you’ve done for me. The simple fact that you are reading this means more to me than you’ll ever know.
However, I would’ve never realized the depth of the importance of community if I hadn’t moved to Pasadena; it was a place I could count with one hand how many people I knew when I first moved here.
I could go on with example after example of how faithful God has been, but I now have roommates to call best friends, and two incredible groups of friends, one from Fuller and another from the local church I am attending called Reality:LA. Both of these groups are rapidly expanding, but at the same, I am growing deeper in relationship with all of the above.
This past Saturday, I went with a few new friends of mine on a road trip to San Diego for the day. I had never been, but now understand why everyone loves it. Let’s face it…it’s beautiful! So after enjoying an incredible California burrito (carne asada, fries, and avocado) and the greatest red velvet vegan cupcake known to mankind, I realized something on the drive back to Pasadena:
As this overwhelming feeling of being wrapped in the arms of the love of God swept over me, I knew that I would never have been able to experience or have these incredible memories without the Christ driven Church.
Everything I’ve been learning here, in and outside of school, is teaching me the underestimated, eternal worth of the Church. Church is being defined as not a building where believers congregate but the global body of believers in the salvation of Christ through faith, functioning as both the body and bride of Christ. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul describes the community of believers under Timothy as “the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”
While learning about the formation of the Canon (or the collections of writings we now know as the Bible), we realize that it’s formation paralleled the very growth of the original Church, the one championed by the Apostles. According to Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology, it states: “the canon thus represents the collective experience and understanding of the Christian community during the formative centuries of its existence.”²
In other words: the Church itself formed the Bible that we carry with us today. This means that the faith we have must then include the Spirit’s leading and guidance of the early church fathers to solidify the greatest collection of writings this earth has ever read.
Does that not blow your mind? Just like Christ was 100% human and 100% God, our Bible is thus written by 100% humanity and 100% God. This is part of our inheritance: that the scriptures you read were written by man and put together by man, but also written by God and woven together by his Spirit. This is faith at its core. The gospel that contains our salvation is spoken, written and believed by man in communion with God. Operating at the highest levels of holiness, the breath of God flows through our scriptures like the impressive power of an ocean wave and yet this breath has been given to us as well through his Spirit, that we as a church, would do even greater things than the Son of Man (John 14).
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5 (ESV)
A healthy love for the Church as a community is so important because there is an incredible inheritance at stake, being prepared readily in eternity. This is our motivation. When we pray in the Lord’s prayer, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-15 ESV), we are welcoming this inheritance.
Tim Chaddick (pastor at RLA) spoke on the first Beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount. His sermons are always an hour long and it wouldn’t do the Spirit or Tim’s words justice to try and paraphrase it. However, he told this unforgettable story: He was talking to a woman on a skid-row like place in another city and she had never heard the Gospel. So he’s walking this homeless woman through the incredible story of Christ and all He’s done for us and as they cried tears of joy together at the end she said,
“I feel like a million bucks, and I don’t have a dime.”
This story hit me so hard, because that feeling, the feeling of being swept up in the grace of Christ, is something I want everyone to feel. Whether you have children, or are in college, or grad school, or high school, or middle school, or are in the military or are enjoying retirement, wherever you may be, I want you to feel that feeling; that regardless of what you have, whether it be a lot or barely anything, that you would be “in a state of wonderful well-being in relation to God”¹
Notice that this isn’t a one time feeling you get from a great sermon or worship-filled week of missions but a state, it’s a condition that we are a part of in time. The outstanding reality of this state, is that we can experience it together, that we can build up one another through it, and worship in it as a part of the body of Christ.
As the Church.
So please, before you ever put-down, insult, badmouth or “feel burned” by the Church, just know what that means. Know that the same God who inspired a murderer/adulterers psalms, the writings of a persecuting pharisee, and the letters of a denier of Christ to bring us the Truth of the Lord is the same God who led the Church to give us that Truth. On the surface, both the writers and those who have given us the writings are incredibly broken, but God diplays his splendor through those who are willing to follow him through the narrow gate, to those who are willing to be still and know that He is Lord.
I am in no way saying your local expression of the church is perfect, nor is mine. None of them are. There will always be people who claim to be a “Christian” but fail to act like it. We are all guilty of this, that at one time or another we have not loved one another as Christ has loved us and therefore others have suffered the hurt it brings to forget that love. If the church is not a building but a community of believers, then we know that eventually someone’s going to mess up, because we mess up. But the Church does His work in the world and through it the Kingdom of Heaven collides with us, and the result will be imperishable, undefiled and unfading. Because in the end, we won’t have a dime, but our treasure will be stored in heaven, and we’ll feel like a million bucks.
So know your church, love your church, forgive your church, seek forgiveness from your church, and live in your church, because it is full of us who are poor in spirit, those of us who are broken and in a deep debt of sin, but through the promise and grace of Christ, we will be blessed. (Matthew 5:3)
¹a quote from Tim’s sermon from this past Sunday, you can listen/watch them here
² from one of my textbooks at Fuller – Achtemeier, Paul J., Joel B. Green, and Marianne Meye Thompson. 2001. Introducing the New Testament: its literature and theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub, (608).