You know what I’ve come to realize after 25 years of pastoral ministry? Many of us fail to really connect within a community of any kind, let alone a community of faith, because we’ve been co-opted by the philosophy of consumption. We enter into relationships influenced by a backdrop belief that fundamentally thinks we’re supposed to seek the best communal experience at the lowest possible cost to ourselves. Just turn that last phrase over in your mind for a minute. Of course when we click through Amazon we’re seeking the best brand/product/thing at the lowest possible cost, and maybe even with the best warranty. Think about how that mindset permeates our thinking when it comes to relationships in community. We walk into a community just like we click through Amazon seeking the best communal experience for ourselves at the lowest possible cost to ourselves. This is not conducive to real connections in a real community of faith.
Participating in a real community of faith involves some cost, some vulnerability, and some beauty. We’re giving of ourselves to each other vulnerably, and there is some cost to that vulnerability, but when we’re vulnerable in a fairly safe and fairly healthy space there is a beautiful thing that happens. Connection, love, sharing, strength, and healing happen in that space.
Let me describe what a real community of faith space feels like just from my own experience in the last week. It looks like getting over myself, and veering away from my long time friends, and saying hello to new families who are being vulnerable as they try to enter our faith community and then hearing their story and then introducing them to my friends. It looks like always being ready to add one more person into my life, when my natural tendency is to circle the wagons around “my people.” It looks a heartfelt conversation with a couple who helped us launch our church, who came to the difficult realization that for the next season of their lives it would be better to plug into another church. There’s no hard feelings and their decision is wise, but there’s the sadness of no longer being able to see how God is working in their lives up close and personal anymore. It looks like tender moments with long time friends you’ve known for many years. It looks like saying goodbye to a widow and her orphans, a family our faith community has cared for and loved, and celebrating a move that is better for her sweet children but also being honest about the sadness you feel in saying goodbye to a loved one in your church body. Like I said, participating in a real community of faith is going to involve some cost, some vulnerability, and some incredible beauty. I hope you, my reader, have found this kind of community, and if you haven’t found it I hope you won’t give up looking for it.
I could pick a lot of great moments out of this last weekend in the life of Faith Community Church. We just wrapped up our sixth annual all-church campout, and just like every year it was filled with many memorable moments. There was the good food created by Chef John Stuart and his team, there was the memorable “blue water” pool prank, the kids campfire light show, and the baptism of two children who have grown to love Jesus in our Kids Community ministry. As good as those were, what I always enjoy the most are the real connections I get to make with people over the course of two days. It’s amazing how light, and yet how deep, the conversations become when your smart-phone has no connection, and there’s nothing to do but connect with one another.
My personal favorite moment came late on Saturday afternoon. I’ll admit that by that time I was pretty tired being married to the amazing Camp Director Aleta Lewis and being her right hand man, but that’s when I saw my friend Toby. He was sitting in a quiet place and I just asked, “Hey bud do you need some space or can I sit with you?” Toby said, “Come on over.” Then we just sat there and talked. Then my friend, and co-bandmate, Todd Kitch came over. Then Jonathan Hughes sat down with us. For a short time I just sat there with these three men I’ve known for 20 years. I’ve watched them get married, even officiated a few of their weddings, and I’ve watched them become fathers. These men have faced loss, hurt, and sickness and yet they have been refined into the image of Jesus – and I just loved sitting there with them soaking in the goodness of God the Father who was giving to us real connections that only He can make happen. Then more joined into our circle, then the kitchen team brought out the snow cones, and then came the instruments, and it just kept getting better.
In a world that makes it so hard to find real connections, God has created an entity called “the church” where – when it is healthy – you can find real connections with real human beings created in the image of God. If you don’t have a church where you can find real connections please don’t give up, there real are faith communities where you can know and be known in a life-giving way.
Last Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at Elevation Church here in Santa Cruz. I spoke about the worthlessness of comparisons, and there was this one quote I wanted to use but didn’t have room to insert it into my message. So I’ll just share it with my blog readers. This is good.
The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our “behind the scenes” with everyone else’s highlight reel. – Steven Furtick
Yesterday I got to experience more of the kingdom of God. While one of the people on the preaching team at our church spoke at Faith Community Church, I spoke at my buddy’s church. My friend Chuckk Gerwig from Elevation Church, is on a long overdue 3 month long sabbatical this summer. He needs time to renew and reset for the long haul of ministry and I had the honor of speaking to his people as they met in a bar. Yes, they meet at Don Quixote’s, which is this local pub/bar/music venue in the Santa Cruz mountains. All of the people I met are lovely people, who love their mission, their pastor and their community of faith.
At the end of our time of worship I met a young woman named Sandra (not her real name) and found out yesterday was her first time at Elevation. Her story illustrated to me why it is so important that we plant churches of all different styles, formats, looks, and feels to reach all kinds of people. You see Sandra has just gone through the agony of a divorce after 20 years of marriage. While she had given her life to Jesus years ago, she’d kind of walked away from it all until the tragedy of divorce came her way. She told me that she’d been listening to christian radio and just needed God, and since this church was in walking distance from her house, and was in a bar – she could risk showing up. She cried as she told me her story and I encouraged her to come back to Elevation and to keep seeking after God and then I prayed for her. When I was finished praying she said, “Thank you for coming today and praying for me.” Sandra, allow me to thank you for reminding me that on any given Sunday somebody could be joining us in worship who is at a pivotal moment in their life.
“Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom! I hope you will make a good use of it.”
John Adams – founding father and 2nd President of the United States of America
I have a much longer list of favorite things but it would probably bore you to tell you all of them, so allow me share with you three of my most recent experiences of my favorite things – experiences that come from the hand of God.
- Thing 1 – One of my children pulls me aside and shares with me, “Dad I really want to grow closer to God and I know I need a partner. Will you be my partner in reading the bible, and growing closer to God?” Hearing how God is pulling my kids towards Himself and inviting them to be His friend is music to my ears!
- Thing 2 – My daughter has brought over to our house all of the women staff counselor’s who have just finished their week being trained to love, and then lead campers to know about abundant life through Jesus Christ. I’m not in the room, but through the wall I hear the angel-like voices of 35 young women lifting their voices in praise to their God. Not very many choirs sound as good as that sound in my own home!
- Thing 3 – My friend, and ministry co-worker, Tarah Brown preached at our church yesterday morning. You see Tarah has served at our church so capably as our kids ministry pastor, and just recently became our pastor of Family life to add youth ministry to her plate. But Tarah also accepted God’s invitation to learn how to preach to adults. Over the last few months she’s entered into the hard work of learning how communicate God’s word to adults, and yesterday morning I heard her do a fantastic job communicating the reality of God’s presence in our lives, even when it doesn’t feel like He’s present. One of my favorite things in ministry is when I can invest in eager people, and then disappear to watch them succeed!
What are your most recent experiences of your favorite things?
Last week my wife and I took a walk through Arana Gulch, down from our home to the Lighthouse. It’s a beautiful walk. As we made our way toward the lighthouse we had to jump out of the way to avoid a young dude screaming up the pedestrian trail way too fast on his Vespa. As he swerved to avoid us, he hit the gravel and then went down hard with his Vespa landing on his ankle. Aleta and I immediately ran over to help him and pull the Vespa off of him. He was in a hurry, and the more we tried to engage him, the more he seemed to be on something – something that probably kept him from feeling any pain in his ankle that I’m absolutely sure he injured pretty seriously. As he was making his way onto his Vespa to get out of there, a kind middle-aged woman, who had been sunning herself on a nearby bench also came over to help. She was very kind, but also very marked on her face by the tell-tale signs of meth addiction. The guy left on his Vespa, and the woman shrunk away back to her bench and Aleta and I both were struck by the brokenness of the people in our city.
Literally within seconds of that experience we ran into a new acquaintance named Barrett who is a Christian, and is a part of a new business endeavor in our city called Bottleneck Solutions. The guys at Bottleneck solutions brew cold brew coffee and other things as a means of bringing God’s beauty into the business community of our city. He is a light of beauty and grace in our city. Then as we made our way to the beach we saw a bunch of groomsmen setting up for a beautiful beach wedding at Seabright beach. We actually stopped to say hi to the groom, and found out that he is a beautiful person who serves the elderly in our community as a nurse at Dominican Oaks rest home. Following that we ran into Mike LaMarche a friend from our church and we had the most enjoyable chat about the goodness of God, and how kind God is to allow us to live in such a beautiful place.
After that entire experience I was left wondering a few things. Is Santa Cruz broken? Clearly the answer is yes. Is Santa Cruz beautiful? Clearly the answer is also yes. This is the tension of anyone who follows Jesus, the ultimate beautifier of everything. We’re all placed by God into cities, families, businesses, and industries that are both broken and beautiful to varying degrees. We’ve been put into these places to weep over the brokenness, and then work towards beauty in the power of Christ, aiming towards the goal that beauty wins out over the brokenness.