Joshua Hughes

Life in the AD (After Degree)

Life in the AD (After Degree)

One of the things I have always loved about our church is that so many people come in for a season and are sent out to impact the world . For over half of the year, 35,000 young adults rub elbows on a campus a little larger than a square mile. Like an airport, its inhabitants are heading to their own destinations. Yet here we are, spending several years in our own terminal and now we are boarding our flight into the “real world”. We see people grow in their faith, share the Gospel with others, and love people well.

But what happens after college? Where will I live? What will my job be? With whom will I surround myself?

These are all questions I asked myself as my time at the University of Georgia was winding down. Sometimes it seems there isn’t much decision-making remaining for yourself. You fall into a job and…well, you just take it! I’m not here to make you second-guess the job you already took. If you took one, then congratulations on securing your first position after college! But, let’s figure out how to set you up for success when you get there.

First, do you know people where you are going who love Jesus and want other people to know His love?

If yes, then go ahead and reach out to them. They will be a great resource! Ask them if they know of a good Gospel-centered church in the area and a community group around your stage of life. You don’t need to church hop every weekend. Find your fit, set your stance, plant your feet, and dig your cleats in. It’s game time.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to stick around a place that isn’t preaching the Gospel, but doing some research will help in the process. Go ahead and reach out to the churches and tell them you’re moving there and looking to get connected with a gospel community. They want to help you follow Jesus and love people well so let them do that. You'll want help in the process.

Life after college is…an adventure. You may be worried about losing your Christian community, but instead of worrying, think of this next stage as an opportunity to dive and conquer and share The Gospel with even more people. Set yourself up with people who point you to Jesus, preach the Gospel to you, point out evidences of God’s grace in your life and around you, and ask you the tough questions. Press into things and have conversations with people beyond the limits of school and work. School and work will inevitably be a topic of conversation, but don’t stop there.

Get to know your new friends, for they will become your family. Spend time with them. Listen. Ask questions. Eat with them—you may want to venture outside your college staple Ramen, Pop-Tarts, and Yoo-hoo.

So, how do you set yourself up to grow in your faith as you take your next step in adulting? Put yourself out there to intentionally get to know fellow Christians. Commit to membership in a Gospel-centered, missional church. Participate in a regular worship gathering (with a consistent group of believers). Engage in regular spiritual conversations consulting the Bible as the ultimate truth, and look to share the Gospel with those who God has brought into your life.

Let’s look to create rhythms in our lives that set us up to reflect on God’s Holiness, our sinfulness, and God’s incredible love shown to us in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Happy adulting.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen.”

-- Ephesians 3:20-21

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Cam Newton Needs Grace, And So Do We

Recently, if you were one of the 111.9 million people who tuned into CBS on Sunday night you saw the showdown of the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos. If you were not one of those 111.9 million then you no doubt have seen memes, Vines, Instagrams and Facebook posts about what happened and the subsequent post game interview with Cam Newton. I have been a Panthers fan for at least 15 years so I had an interesting perspective to the game and the subsequent dissection of Cam Newton. I knew that the Panthers losing, and losing in the way they did, would make for some interesting conversations with some of my friends. What I did not expect was that almost everyone I ran into who knew I was a Panthers fan would want to give me their opinion on Cam Newton. Something about talking to a Panthers fan just allows the flood gates to open because Cam Newton is apparently someone whom almost everyone has an opinion about. If you haven't seen anything about Cam recently, just take a second and Google his name. We will quickly be on the same page.

Hearing these opinions isn't anything new, though. This season, with the Panthers going 15-1, Cam has been in the spotlight more than ever. As a result I have heard every line in the book. Some of the highlights include that Cam Newton is the "scum of the earth", the "most arrogant" player in the National Football League, "just putting on a show" as a marketing campaign, a thug, a bad influence on children, and so on and so forth. In fact, about the only semi compliment I have heard from a non- panthers fan is that "he is a thug, but that's what is likable about him". All these statements came back up as Cam let his emotions bleed through onto the football field and into his post game interviews. Cam has never bottled up his emotions and whether it was for his emotions in this game, his emotions this season, the allegations that his father was shopping him around to different colleges, his incident with a stolen laptop at Florida, or any number of things, most people have at least one issue with Cam.

I don't think it's extremely relevant how I feel about him, or how I feel about watching my team lose in the biggest game they have been a part of. I think the biggest thing that gets under my skin about the reaction to Cam Newton is the lack of grace. What I do love about Cam is the fact that he holds a mirror up to American Christians and makes us see that we do not have the ability or the deep desire to extend grace to others in the same way that Christ has extended grace to us. So often, Christians are amazing at being advocates. We can stand up for unborn children that can't stand up for themselves. We can speak for women and children in other countries that aren't allowed to speak for themselves, but the grace stops as soon as someone is a professional athlete . Now, I know this isn't everyone but I feel comfortable making the claim that  almost everyone reading this has a hard time being an advocate for athletes. This goes far beyond the insanely high standards of perfection that we expect out of them to be role models, and to use their money in a way that we think is right. This goes beyond the double standards we apply to give passes to the athletes we like and not the others.

This goes right into the heart of the reality that we are to extend grace to people that no one else is extending grace to because of the grace that Christ has gifted to us.

I'm not just thinking about Cam Newton either. Even if you love Cam, I'm sure you have an issue with Johnny Manziel, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Greg Hardy, Ray Rice, or Adrian Peterson, just to name a few people who have been in the spotlight this year. I know I have had issues with some of them. A lot of these men have been accused of, or even done, terrible things but whether they danced at a time that you didn't like, deflated a ball a tiny little bit, had an issue with alcoholism or hit their girlfriend in an elevator, we have had almost the same reaction. Condemnation. Unfortunately, as Christians though, we don't get to condemn.

We don't have the luxury to sit back and judge people the way the rest of the world does.

As I was washing dishes at Chick-Fil-A tonight, I was contemplating all this and I was reminded on two stories in scripture. The first is in John 8.

“The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
John 8:3-11 ESV

If I am to take anything from this, it's that Jesus is the greatest advocate there ever was. He actually had the ability to take away sin and place it on himself on the cross and so he was able to forgive people of their sins. Even though I cannot actually forgive people, I can still stick up for them when no one wants to assume the best in them. I can choose to only speak kindly of others, and most importantly I can go in prayer to the one who can forgive sins. Out of all those athletes listed I calculated the amount of time I have spent praying for them and totaled it up. It was honestly easy because I got zero. I hadn't spent any time praying for these people who are in desperate need of a savior and a hope that is not reliant upon their performance. I had never prayed for them yet I had still "analyzed" their situations which honestly, is just complaining when it's not about any technical side of the game. I have to be able to extend grace to athletes who will never know I am doing it. I have to be able to avoid condemning them and contributing to the caricatures the media paints of them.

I don't have to agree with everything they have done or even pay attention to them, but if I do take the time to pay attention to them, my response has to be loving.

The second story comes from Matthew 18:21-35 where one servant is forgiven for a debt he owes his master and upon being forgiven, immediately attacks another servant who owes him money. The passage is a little long so I'll just give you the last couple verses.

“Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’”
Matthew 18:32-33 ESV

Straight up Jesus is commanding you and I to show mercy on others, no matter what, because we have been shown abundantly more mercy. We can all see how this applies to those whom we have personal relationships with. We have been forgiven much so we must forgive much, but what does this look like with athletes?

What does this look like with people we know so much about but will never meet? What actions can we take to be an advocate for them?

Pray. This is the only action we really can do. Christ is the only hope for change in this world and so we have to go to him. My first reaction is so rarely to pray. I get so fired up about people and don't assume the best in them at all. If I care enough to read an article explaining what is wrong with Tom Brady then I should care enough to pray for him. And really intercede. Imagine the freedom that Cam could feel to face the media after having a bad game when his identity is in something other than being the quarterback. I hate to see him be crushed because his identity is so wrapped up in something that will let him down in one way or another. And ultimately we all put our hope in other things than Christ, we just don't have to discuss it in front of cameras when we are let down. We get the luxury of handling the despair of being broken in the privacy of our rooms and behind closed doors. 

Pray for athletes when we find out they are just as messed up as us.


Pray for our own hearts. Why are our hearts so wicked that we even care about these things? They have no bearing on our lives in any real way yet an athlete can make our blood boil, or cause us to feel hate, or envy, or any number of sinful heart conditions even though we have never met the person. So much of the condition of our heart is revealed and even though I can't always stop my heart from feeling those things, I have the choice to either complain about the 24 year old kid who likes to dance, or pray that Christ would make my heart clean.

I love sports, and I love talking about sports, but I have to find a line between the game and the people. And ultimately I cannot condemn the people behind the game. I have to be an advocate for anyone and everyone, even if they make $20 Million a year. I pray that I will be shown the grace that I so desperately need even if and when I don't extend it.

Cam Newton needs grace, but he is such a reminder that I do too, maybe even more.

Written by: Cameron Woodard

 

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Swallowed Up By Life! An Epitaph From Ed Hague.

4/12/1957 – 8/18/2015

Last Tuesday, the founding pastor of Christ Community, Ed Hague, died following a long and courageous battle with cancer. It was a heartbreaking journey to watch from a distance. And yet anyone who came into contact with Ed found themselves believing they could actually be themselves and believed that God loved them.
The day after his death, one final blog was posted. An epitaph of sorts. A final statement from Ed about his life, and more importantly, about his God.
So I asked to have this post put up on our blog because we want to use this platform to tell both the story of our church and the story of our God. Whether you have been part of our church for years or for days - or maybe you aren’t even part of our church - I hope you will be encouraged through Ed’s words.

 

Ed Hague was born April 12, 1957 in an ice storm in Indianapolis, Indiana. He spent the rest of his life thawing out. As a young boy, he learned to hide his heart in a family that was abusive, unsafe and, frankly, pretty crazy (his sisters are absolutely amazing, however). His grandfather, Jack, helped him through some of the roughest years, though, gently pushing him on towards manhood.

In seeking to assist in this project, Jack tried to take Ed out one night to see (God forbid) “Bikini Beach” starring Annette Funicello. Sensing trouble, Ed’s grandmother, Helen, stopped the two of them at the door, forbade the outing, and gave Ed a Bible to read instead.

The Bible reading must have stuck as Ed ended up spending over 30 years in the ministry, but he never truly got over Annette, and he never forgave his grandmother for the emasculation. As for the missed movie, he soon figured things out, though, going on to have four beautiful and intelligent daughters.

These daughters came through his marriage to Betsy Snapp when he was 17 years old. Ok, he was 22 when they married, but for those preceding 5 years he really wished he was married to her. To the countless men who wished they could have been married to her, Ed says, “You lost. I won. Deal with it.”

The church and Ed had a troubled, love-hate relationship. He put in many years of service in different congregations, but like an ill-fitting suit, it never seemed a good match for him. He met a lot of great people, though, who helped him heal and thaw out some. He is incredibly grateful to all of them.

At the end of his life, Ed fulfilled a lifelong goal. He left the pastorate and started his own business. His son-in-law, Drew, who is doing a much better job of it than Ed ever did, now runs it. It’s called FloridaPro Computing and is located at Midtown in Tallahassee, FL. They service and support all brands of computers and love caring for their clients. They are also the only Apple Authorized Service Providers in Tallahassee.

Here’s the most important thing to know about Ed, though. God loved him and made sure that Ed knew it. Hiding from love all of his life, after his cancer diagnosis, God turned the love firehoses on him.

It was as if He wasn’t going to let him die until every dried up and hardened part of Ed’s heart was showered and soaked in His love. He used an army of people to do this. Ed is certain they are all angels in disguise.

Ed being loved by God? He has no explanation for it other than grace. It was grace that put God’s Son on the cross for Ed’s sins (of which there were many – see the attached list) and then forgave him of those sins – the greatest being his damned self-righteousness.

God then, through Christ, gave Ed another undeserved gift. He took off Ed’s tattered cloak of self-righteousness and gave him the perfect robe of Christ’s righteousness. If you were wondering, that’s how Ed entered the presence of God without being stopped at the door.

Ed, amazingly, is now who he was meant to be when God created him. He’s not hiding, he’s not afraid, and he’s even gotten things worked out with his grandmother. He is now fully and completely Ed. If this scares you, he wants you to know he understands, but that you should get over it.

Joyfully exploring heaven, where all is as it should be, Ed is fiercely happy these days. But more importantly, Ed himself has been restored to his original glory. Jesus proved Himself faithful to be both the Author and Finisher of his faith. The good work He began in Ed has now been made perfect and complete.

Death has lost and, thanks to all of you, love has won in Ed’s heart – forever.

Surviving him are Betsy Hague (stunning spouse), Mary Catherine Register, Andrea Dawson Hague, Karen Margaret Shackelford, and Martha Brower Hague (daughters). Ed also has two sons-in-law, Drew Buol Register and Zachary Allen Shackelford. His grandchildren are Lina Nowlyn Register, Cora Benton Register, and Aria Mae Register.

In lieu of flowers, Ed would like for you to give lots of money to:

Ransom Fellowship
5245 132nd Ct
Savage, MN 55378

 If you would like to give online, you may do so here:

https://npo.justgive.org/nonprofits/donate.jsp?ein=85-0305473

Your gifts are tax-deductible. NOTE: do NOT get confused and send flowers to Ransom Fellowship. Send money. Ed believes a gift to Ransom is a gift that will advance God’s kingdom in this world and turn back a corner of the darkness. In memory of him, please support them generously.

More information about Ransom Fellowship can be found here

http://www.ransomfellowship.org

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, September 12, 2015, at 1:00pm at:

Bradfordville Baptist Church,
6494 Thomasville Road
Tallahassee, FL  32312

During the service, “Ed stories” will be told. If you embellish them, though, Ed wants you to know he will ask God to erase your name from the Book of Life.

The gravesite service will be private – please, no paparazzi or drones.

To each of you who have followed Ed’s journey through this blog, he would like to remind you a final time of the message of his life.

In Christ:

“Our bad things turn out for good.
Our good things can never be lost.
And the best things are yet to come”
– Jonathan Edwards

As some of you know, Ed loved the following benediction from Jude 1:24-25. It is a fitting way to conclude this blog and his life:

Now to Him who was able to keep Ed from stumbling,
and to make him stand in the presence of God’s glory blameless with great joy,
to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be glory, majesty, dominion and authority,
before all time and now and forever.
And all the people said:
Amen.

 

You can find more from Ed's blog here

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In the Beauty & the Broken

Despite the fact that it is still as hot as the sun outside, Fall is actually coming. Our summer here in Athens is coming to a close. Students will begin trickling (okay, flooding) back onto campus and the relative quiet of the summer months will be shattered by game days and Dawg fans and more than one drunken reveler.

 

For some, this transition into Fall is already in full swing. Children have returned to school, work may have picked up, vacations are over, and we all find ourselves revving up once more for a busier season of life. The respite of summer has ended and the grind of Fall looms overhead.

 

Fall doesn’t take any of us by surprise. It comes around each and every year. It’s a rhythm that we have grown accustomed to, yet some seasons are harder than others - because they are filled with transition. This summer has been a season of transition for many at Christ Community. Many of our members have left Athens, as they embark on new journeys after graduation. We’ve watched as these same members navigate post-college adulthood: finding their first jobs, getting married, moving far away from friends and family. Others in our church are struggling with the illness of a family member or friend. We have had the pleasure of seeing babies born and children starting school. Many of us (like a good half of my community group) have moved from one home to another - losing familiar spaces or roommates - or even leaving the state of Georgia all together.

 

Transitions are good, but transitions are hard.

 

I Peter 2:9-10 speaks of transition.

 

“Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

 

Arguably, this is the biggest transition in most believers lives: being brought into the fold of God. No longer being lost, but being found. There are a thousand cliche ways to describe it, all of them falling utterly short of fully illustrating how in one moment, all believers have found themselves walking forever into the loving arms of an all powerful and limitless God to be accepted as a son or daughter.

 

It puts all other transitions into perspective. Or it should.

 

Leaving your family and friends? {Mark 10:29}

 

Getting Married? {Isaiah 54:5}

 

Facing illness and death? {Col. 3:3}

 

This is not to say that these transitions here on earth are not significant, but to encourage us all that we have already faced many of them when we accepted Christ.  

 

I Peter 2:9-10 also speaks to HOW we are to live in these transitions.

 

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

 

Last Sunday Matt rephrased this idea to us when he said, “You were created to tell the story of God through both your life and your words. Every single person in this room was created to tell the story of God through the beauty and the brokenness of their work.”

 

So, how do WE tell the story of God in our lives? In the beauty and the brokenness? In the transitions? In our work?

 

As we begin this new sermon series focused on God’s desire for our work and our everyday life, let’s first set the stage by recounting how God has been faithful to us during this past season FULL of transition.

 

So, share with us.

 

We want to know. We need to know. This is one little way that we can declare His goodness. Use the comment section below and tell us how God has met you this summer - in both the beauty and the broken.  

 

 

~~If you are not comfortable with internet comments, still share:  in community groups, at church, or among friends.~~

Author: Lydia Wells
 

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He Is Able

This is a story from Mary Elizabeth and Klint Ware, who will be joining our family as part of our staff in the fall. Listen and be encouraged.

The title of this post is very much what the cry of my heart has been for the years I’ve been a believer in Christ.  To summarize that, my heart fights at times to believe that the Lord is able to hear our prayers and to heal what’s broken. Personally, I remember reading/hearing stories in the Bible of Jesus physically  healing people, and I would immediately feel doubt that He is still able to bring healing in this day.  Maybe this is a truth that, more often than not, many of us believers struggle with.  A lack of belief.  In the 9th chapter of Mark in the Bible, a man brings his son, who is physically suffering from an unclean spirit, to Jesus and says, “…But if youcan do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus replies, “If you can‘!  All things are possible for one who believes.”  Immediately, the father cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” People even had doubts then.  Oh, how we always have and will need Jesus.

And to be honest, this doubt began to grow stronger in December 2011 when Klint and I heard the news that there was a possibility we may never conceive, and that we would definitely need medical help if we wanted to.  I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which apparently is very common, though my diagnosis was the so called “rare kind”, as I didn’t show any symptoms, except for overactive ovaries.  This was never shared with me in the past, so you can imagine how much of an impact this news had on me, personally.  The enemy immediately gripped me with taunting thoughts…”You’ll never be able to give Klint a child”, “If you only had not done ‘that thing’ in the past…”, “It’s all your fault”…and on and on.

I began to read through the Psalms, underlining words/phrases here and there like “You are holy” & “Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness will preserve me”.  I wanted to fight the enemy’s lies and cling tightly to the truth that infertility was not the banner over my life.  I’m not saying that I didn’t have to fight believing that, because I have…often.

I could write an extremely long post about all of the details in between then and now, but I may lose you. So, let me continue with the “shorter” version…

The past 3 1/2 years have been filled with every emotion, facing the reality of Satan and his divisiveness, struggling to be faithful and continue moving forward, and often just wanting to not face the day ahead while my heart was completely shattered in a bajillion tiny pieces.  I was so hurt every time I saw/heard a pregnancy announcement and hearing people say things like, “Your children are going to be SO tall”. Not to mention the irregular menstrual cycles that were a constant reminder that my body is not “normal”. This may sound like crazy talk, but I was learning the process of grieving what, for many years, my heart longed for.  And it was ugly, beautifully ugly. The Lord continued to press on my heart in overwhelming ways, even in the days I questioned His love for me.

I would keep returning to Isaiah 43.  Specifically v. 1-2 which says, “…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name,you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”  He didn’t say IF you walk through fire, He saidWHEN.  That fact hit me hard, and I’m thankful.  It was a reminder that we WILL struggle on this side of heaven, but we have hope that can only be found in Christ.  And what’s even more beautiful is the truth that Christ isn’t only there with us when we die or only when He comes back, but through the Holy Spirit, He dwells within us always.  We must keep persevering.

With much prayer and counsel, Klint and I decided to pursue further treatment with a Reproductive Endocrinologist after a few months of failed treatment with my OBGYN.  We continued with a couple of months of “test” treatments before they presented the idea of performing an IUI (intrauterine insemination).  Minus a couple of months of “breaks” to step back and check our hearts, we ended up having 5 total IUI procedures done.  Our last IUI was done in August 2014.  After we received another “no” and were encouraged by our doctors to consider IVF (in-vitro fertilization), we both felt strongly that the medical route door had closed.  We were both exhausted and wanted more than anything for our hearts to firmly believe in the power of God and His ability to open my womb and allow us to conceive, even miraculously.  Because He can. He did.

On June 9th, 2015, I had a scheduled appointment with a new OB.  I was at a point where I really just wanted some guidance on how to better manage my crazy hormones and not just cover it all up with a pill.  I had my last menstrual cycle in February of this year, which didn’t make me think twice about being pregnant, because it isn’t abnormal for me to go months without having a cycle.

So, I’m sitting in the exam room yapping away to the sweetest nurse about my hormonal roller coaster, and I’m sure she was getting motion sickness just hearing me explain it all.  Then, she proceeds to tell me that I am pregnant in a really subtle way.  I, of course, was immediately in shock.  Then cue the tears and the laughter.  Feeling it all.

Klint and I went in the next day for the sonogram to distinguish how far along I was…6 1/2 weeks.  We heard the heartbeat.  Again, the Lord’s sweet provision in His timing.  Things quickly turned scary when I ended up in the ER that following weekend with what we thought was a miscarriage.  Then there was that little, but strong, heart flickering on the sonogram screen.  I found out a few days later at my OB that I had a sub-chorionic hemorrhage, which is internal bleeding between the placenta and my uterus.  All of this news in less than a week was overwhelming to say the least.  Although, through the fear, we wanted to remain steadfast in trusting Him who is the giver and sustainer of life.

Two weeks passed, and we went back in to the OB to check everything out. The baby had grown significantly and even was wiggling on the sonogram at just an inch long!  We continue to be amazed and overwhelmed by the Lord’s grace and mercy.  The bleeding has significantly decreased, and we are hopeful it will completely disappear.

Today, I am 11 1/2 weeks pregnant, and we want to rejoice with you all in His goodness and thank you for praying for us over the years.  He IS able.  And He DOES hear our prayers.  His timing is truly perfect, and we never want to forget that through days, months, years, of suffering, He is working for our good.  He loves us.  He loves you.  To be honest, I am hesitant to share this news publicly because I will always remember (and want to) the sting I felt when others would announce their soon to be parenthood. I don’t know if you are suffering today and longing for something with an aching heart.  If so, I just want to say that I am so sorry.  And I understand.  I pray that our story would be a sweet and gentle reminder that the Lord cares for you.  He is always present and He is always working.  “‘For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed’, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” [Isaiah 54:10]

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Grace, Sovereignty & Community

Almost every Sunday evening after the hubbub of the worship gathering and well-deserved (read: mandatory) naps in our household, my little family and I (and a whole lot of others) can be found squatting in someone else’s home for the evening. Sometimes we are eating dinner. Sometimes we are eating ice cream en lieu of dinner. Sometimes we are just sitting around watching other people eat. Obviously, we live a non-stop life of excitement and thrills.

 

After all the eating, those gathered sit around and talk. It never fails that we begin this time of conversation with a lot of laughing. We crack jokes, tease one another, recount the craziness of our respective weeks. And it would be fine if the conversation stayed at this level. I think we would all still walk away feeling loved and seen. We’d feel closer to one another for having shared time. We’d still be community.

 

But we never get to stay at the laughter level.

 

Without fail, the person leading the group will find a break in the laughter and (at just the right moment) pose a deeper question. It’s always a question of faith and it always begins with the whole of our group getting very quiet.

 

Last week’s question was a good one. It was two part.

 

  1. Do we fear God as much as we should?

  2. Why do we (humans) struggle with the idea of God’s sovereignty when we display sovereignty in our own lives every day?

 

If you’re anything like me, these questions cause your mind to ache and heart to race. Answers come crashing into your head at such a fast pace that you can’t even attempt to register all of them. Your mouth and brain don’t connect properly, so your mouth stays closed and your eyes glaze over - not because you have no opinion, to the contrary, you have way too many opinions.  The questions connect so deeply with your heart and your experience as a Christ follower that your system is in a bit of shock. You are not removed from these questions. These questions are you. Someone has called your number and it’s time to face the music.

 

And this all happens in a room filled with other people. Your insecurity laid bare in front of a group of people you were just making jokes with.

 

It may be very similar to many of your recurrent nightmares - you know the one where you get to school and don’t have any clothes on?  Yeah, this is pretty much that.

 

But the beauty of this group of people, unlike the classmates from school, is that you have laughed and broken bread with them and they are struggling through the question as well. Even the person who posed the question is not asking it with a “gotcha!” motive, but from a posture of humility - seeking to answer the question as well...this moment is not a pop quiz or an expose, but an invitation to seek and struggle and question together. In fellowship. In community.

 

After a thoughtful pause, our group jumped right into the question of God’s sovereignty and the human condition that is so often at odds with a sovereign God. It’s a hard question and with it came several other hard questions that revolved around the ideas of goodness and justice and our limited human understanding of those concepts. We confessed desires to control our own lives and how while we believe in a good God, there are times when we question whether or not He is in control or just an omnipotent observer.

 

We posed more questions and looked at scripture.

 

We sat in some uncomfortable silence.

 

We laughed.

 

We openly admitted that we would not be revolutionizing anything that evening. We would not leave our hosts’ house having solved the problem or settling the issue. We are, after all, only human. We sat in our imperfection - pondering the sovereignty of a perfect God and His role in our lives...and our inability to wrap our mind around the WHOLE of God.

 

Heavy.

 

For me, the most poignant moment came when one of us stated (and I am paraphrasing)

 

“But at least we are asking the questions and talking about them. I’ve known of so many people who have asked these questions and struggled with these ideas, but never TALKED about them with others. After years of struggle, they eventually say, ‘I’m done with this God.’ ”

 

And there it is.

 

That’s the reason behind our every Sunday night.

 

As great as it would be to use that time to prep a week’s worth of meals or to just sit and read a novel, I take part  in this community every Sunday because my soul needs it. This group of people, this fellowship, they help me to go beyond being seen and loved. They help me to be known. They help me struggle through the hard questions, MY hard questions. They help me to see that I am not alone in my wandering and confusion. Together we wander, seeking God, and finding Him.

 

We might not be making a dent in the whole of theology with our questions and answers, but we are making a huge impact in one another’s lives. Living life in all the beauty and the funny and the struggle - together.

 

Last night, as we do at the close of every Sunday evening, we shared struggles and asked for prayer. As the prayer came to a close and thanks was being given, I heard the most beautiful description of our little group.

 

“Thank you for THIS family.”

 

Amen.

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Community groups are such a huge part of how we function at Christ Community. It is a point of connection. It is a point of service. It is a way to be known. It is an amazing way to love your neighbor. If you are not a part of a community group and would like to learn more click here.    

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Who Is My Neighbor?

“You should love your neighbor as yourself.”

This phrase touches the very heart of following Christ.

We find this call in the middle of the book of Luke. Jesus is having a bit of a back and forth with a lawyer of the day (‘lawyer’  at that time being a man who had intimate knowledge concerning the Law). The young lawyer asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life.

Well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but… Jesus wins the exchange. He is the Son of God and all, but he does it in an interesting way - by getting the lawyer to boil the Law down into two very simple commandments.

“ ‘Love the Lord, your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind;’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

Jesus tells the lawyer, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

On the one hand we have a man living under Levitical Law…..literally hundreds if not thousands of laws for him to abide by.  And then, on the other side - there is this man, a Godly man, a man that many are calling the Messiah, telling this lawyer, “Hey, all those thousands of laws, it’s important, but the essence is THIS.”

The lawyer’s not being given a “get out of jail free card” - that is not the case at all.  But in that moment, all the confusing and hard law is made incredibly graspable. I feel like the Lawyer should respond with praise or a sigh of relief.

But he doesn’t. He asks ANOTHER question, “Who is my neighbor?” (emphasis mine)

Isn’t it just like a lawyer to try and find a loophole?

Isn’t it just like a human to try and find a loophole?

Isn’t it just like ME to find a loophole?

We all do it when given a hard task. Especially when it’s a hard task that we would rather not do. And loving people is HARD.  Especially people we don’t want to love.  But even for those we do want to love - it’s hard and it’s ugly and it’s confusing and it’s messy and it hurts.

Even at it’s very best here on Earth, love is hard...because we are broken people trying to love other broken people in a broken place.

As Matt stated in one of his recent sermons, “Love is a relationship that always takes place in the ruins of life.”

Ouch.

This is not exactly the love that Hallmark or Hollywood are trying to sell. But there it is, staring us in the face - it’s the love that we have been called to.

Back to our lawyer friend.

He’s trying desperately to find a loophole. WHO is his neighbor? If the lawyer is anything like me, he is hoping that he can refer to his family, friends, the old lady next door, his work colleagues, people who vote like him or look like him, the fellas at the club or people in the same tax bracket, his church buddies. He’s really crossing his fingers and hoping that those are his only neighbors. Those are the people in his every day. They are the easiest to love. And they’re just so darn convenient.

Oh, but that’s not the story.  That’s not how Jesus’ love functions. Our God is not a god of loopholes and His Son sure did like to call people out on their stuff.

Enter the story of the good Samaritan.

We all know it. A young Jewish man is walking along a road when he is stripped, robbed, beaten, and left for dead. A priest walks down the same road and, not wanting to muss his pretty robes, he keeps walking right past our poor broken fella. A Levite (a member of the Israelite tribe set aside as a priesthood) happens upon him as well...and keeps on walking. This broken fellow was beaten and bruised and an Israelite, yet his own people ignored his pitiful existence. Ah, but then comes a Samaritan. Keep in mind that Samaritans are viewed pretty poorly by the Israelite community of the day - as vermin. However, this Samaritan stops in the middle of his journey, gets this wounded fellow some much needed help, AND foots the bill.  

I can almost guarantee you that the young Israelite and the good Samaritan were not physical neighbors or work colleagues or drinking buddies. They probably wanted nothing to do with one another. And yet, this is how Jesus chooses to portray what it is to be a neighbor. Notice that we never see the Good Samaritan lecture the Israelite or expect a change in the Israelite’s behavior or belief system. In fact, it seems very clear that the Samaritan expects NOTHING in return for his acts of loving kindness.

Isn’t it just like Jesus to shut down every single possible argument we could have concerning neighbor criteria?

There are no loopholes.

Love is hard, but it is simple.

I’ve seen a few images recently that exemplify loving our neighbor in what could be considered some of the most difficult personal and physical circumstances.

The first is an image of a young woman. She is in the middle of an angry crowd of protesters. It’s clear that an exchange is becoming increasingly violent. She’s thrown her body on top of a man to protect him from those surrounding them. She’s a black woman. The man who she is trying to protect is a white supremacist. Neighbors.

The second image is one that circulated the internet during the Arab Spring. It is a photo taken in Egypt. It depicts a group of men forming a human chain around another group of men. It’s clear that the men are trying to hold out danger or menacing behavior - violence. They all look hard pressed and a bit stoic, determined. All the men are Egyptian. They are countrymen. However, the first group of men is Christian and they are encircling a group of Muslim men who are kneeled in prayer. Neighbors.

Love your neighbor. Simple.

Don’t look for the loophole. Don’t look for the RIGHT neighbor to love. Just love.

It will be a struggle. You will have to die to yourself over and over - because all your neighbors will never be exactly like you. They are not going to look the same, act the same, vote the same, speak the same, prioritize the same. They will be different.

But we are called to love. We are called to love how the good Samaritan loved.

We are called to love how Jesus loved.

And we CAN love because He first loved us.

Who is your neighbor? Do you love him?

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About The Other Night...A Word From Lewis

I think we all find it difficult to pray.

And when we pray we never seem to get beyond the “ critical list” to our neighbors and our city.

This summer we are emphasizing just this area using B.L.E.S.S. as our guide. Last Sunday night we got together to pray and it was so encouraging to see the number of people who are genuinely caring for the city and the people around them.

We had about 50 people show up to pray at the Woods' house.  That's a big number, ya'll. Especially for summertime, when folks are out of town. Let's celebrate what God is doing among us!

God is reviving an outward vision in our church toward the community.  

This is what the first members of our church had in mind when they planted it over 20 years ago, and the thing about God is...when He gives someone an idea, He doesn't change His mind. This church was planted in this city to love the city, and He is still using us to do that. 

But we're not done yet...

We want to see community groups balance caring for its members and working together to reach out into the city. It's not an "either" "or". It's a "yes" and "yes". This is who we are. This is who we were created to be. Sons and daughters living a lifestyle of Loving God and Loving Neighbor.

Be on the lookout for people to love. Take time to ask good questions and listen to their story. Invite them to share meals with you. Consider how our conversations would change if non church-folks were around. Listen for opportunities to serve them. And tell them your story (which is a tiny reflection of the Gospel) when they ask what you are about. 

Please share your stories

Even the small ones, with each other and the church. You can even post some in the comment section below. We need to hear more stories of what God is up to around here. 

And please continue to pray. 

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