Radical Thoughts, Real Community


Sunday night, my church shared a Thanksgiving feast together. And while some may believe Lutherans have cornered the market on potluck dinners, my Pentecostal church did a fine job.

So I went off my diet for a day. Sometimes you have to savor the moment with friends.

When I think about one area of our lives as Christians where our walk doesn’t match our talk, it’s in building real community. The word community lingers on the lips of so many  Christians today, but when I look around I don’t see much community. At least not real community that bursts ungodly societal constraints.

In talking with a friend from church, Don, we both commented on how dependent we have become on technology in our lives. Don mentioned that one finely placed electromagnetic pulse over the United States, crippling most of our electronics, would have a destabilizing effect on our society. In many ways, we have made ourselves so dependent on our cell phones, computers, cable TV, and even the simple electronics that run a stoplight, that to lose them for an extended length of time would wreak utter chaos.

I believe Don is correct. When I lived out in California, an intersection lost a stoplight for a few minutes and someone who didn’t like the snarl that occurred got out a gun and started shooting. With people wound so tightly by our modern society, should we be surprised?

Even if society should fail to collapse without our tech gadgets, those electronics have changed us in profound ways. Call me a neo-Luddite, but I believe that many of those devices have already had a destabilizing effect on our society, especially when it comes to experiencing genuine community.

The items we buy, especially advanced machinery and electronics, may make our lives simpler, but they also make us self-sufficient to the exclusion of others. We live in an age dominated by the idea that we do not need each other. Our machines have made it possible for us to exist apart from other people. Many would consider this a positive, but when it comes down to how God made us, it’s clear that the very foundations of community are specters of their former selves.

The result? We have become a disconnected and depressed people.

One of the radical truths of the Gospel we can’t escape is that Jesus is NOT so much a personal Savior as He is a a Savior of a people, a people He is drawing to Himself. The Marriage Supper of the Lamb will not be you alone in a room with Jesus, but with the whole host of believers from all time. If we are being fitted to heaven by our time on this blue orb, then that fitting must be thought of in terms of community.

Yet we do little this side of eternity to live in community.

Our problem stems from our inability–to use a much overused phrase–to think outside the box. I remember many years ago how my old neighborhood experienced a power outage that blackened TVs, silenced video games (Atari 2600s back then), and stilled the bits and bytes of computers (Commodore 64 and Apple IIe).  Right after supper, the electronics stilled, the soft voice of that beautiful summer night  called to people. The next thing I knew neighbors were chatting in each other’s yards, kids were playing impromptu games of Kick the Can and softball, and the neighborhood came alive. But when the power kicked on an hour or so later, the neighborhood took on the feel of a tomb. People had trudged back to their electronic distractions, each homeowner shutting on the door on his or her personal fortress.

We’re still locked up today. Perhaps more so.

But the Bible is a story of God and the community He is creating. The Gospel exists for people and is meant to be shared between people, to be celebrated in community. Christ’s clarion call in the Great Commission is Christ’s call bids us, his people, to go out and bring in more people to the Church. We exclude no one. The widow, orphan, and immigrant are to be welcomed in our midst. Jew and Gentile, all are welcome. What Christ is building has no limits and no boundaries, save for our own unwillingness to participate in the work.

This is why we Christians MUST rethink how we view the Gospel and the Kingdom. Every effort we make, the very way we live, must be oriented toward outreach. Even when we play, we don’t play alone, but with others. It’s our mandate.

Do we see how this is at complete odds with our societal constructs? We talk about relevancy in the Church, but the truth is that most of how we are to live cannot be shoehorned into society and culture. Instead, they must conform to the ideals of Christ. This means we Christians must learn to think like Christians and not like the world.

Well, no duh, right? We all know this.

Do we?

Think about a common activity we enjoy today: listening to music on our iPods. We Christians should ask ourselves how this solitary activity connects us in community to other people. Truth is, it accomplishes quite the opposite effect. Worse, it disempowers the listener, forcing him or her into a consumer mode. The music is disconnected from the hearer and from the community. Something is ultimately lost in the process.

So what is the truly Christian response, the one that works toward community and sharing among people?

What would happen if instead of reaching for the iPod, we make music ourselves? And what if we make it in community, getting together with others to play and sing? Just hanging out together and jammingSuch a move makes us less dependent on consuming and more dependent on each other. Not only this, but we encourage others to use their gifts. We provide an example to the young and to each other. The musical talents we share uplift the community that forms around our music.

When we keep community in mind, we form relationships that build networks of dependency that shatter our self-reliance and return us to God’s ideal interaction. He walked with Adam in the garden because He is a relational God. How then do we approach all of life with this mindset?

Why do our families eat alone? What if the rarity was to eat just by ourselves? Should we not have others eating in our homes on a regular basis? Wasn’t this one of the unusual hallmarks of the early Church? I believe we Christians must start opening our homes on a regular basis so that few of our meals are eaten just with our own nuclear family. What better way to talk with others about what God is doing in our lives than in this kind of atmosphere?

How would this kind of thinking change our culture?

What if Christians were at the forefront of the slow food movement, taking time to prepare good food made without extreme processing, and always share that food with a group? What if we set aside our evenings for being with other people around a table of homemade food? How would that transform our understanding of community?

Even if we were to go out to eat at a restaurant, why not pay the way of some people we don’t know well so they might join us and begin to share in our community?

What would it mean for the Christian community to live in such a way that we share what we have rather than buying redundant copies of everything we believe we need? Would we be able to work fewer hours and devote more time to the Gospel and to others?

Consider what might happen if we begin to forgo purchasing more junk for ourselves so that we might consider the needs of others. Watch this video to see how one church thought better of building a new building and decided to put that money to a more Christ-centered use. Then consider how saying no to extravagance might change the lives of others. What if we lived that way every day?

Think about what might happen to us and those around us if we turned off the TV. What would we do with that free time that would place us in the lives of other people?

What might come about if truly esteemed others better than ourselves?

If we begin to ask how we might be more others-centered, I suspect that we’ll eventually change how we live and, ultimately, change the world for Christ. It doesn’t take much more than making a few decisions differently each day. If we do that long enough, our lives are transformed. Hospitality doesn’t become so frightening to us anymore. People aren’t left on the vine to wither. The Gospel goes out into new venues. Others see that Christians really care, rather than just talking about caring.

Radical thoughts lead to real community.

Readers, what are some of your suggestions for taking the worldly way of looking at a situation and turning it into a godly means by which we encourage interaction with others and build community?

The Loss of Imagination


Ever drive by one of the new breed of churches and think, It’s just a big, ugly box ?

Ever wonder why what passes for Christian art in most Christian bookstores is only a step or two removed from velvet paintings of Elvis?

Ever wonder where the great contemporary Christian literature vanished to?

I think about that last one a lot. As a writer, I struggle with the dearth of avenues for Christian fiction that veers outside the mainstream. I recently wrote a story called “Killing Lilith” that deals with the crushing load of sexual guilt that many men carry. Not only does that story suffer from being brutally frank, but it’s a short story, a form of fiction that lies in a coma in secular realms, and has been dead, buried, and its grave trampled in Christian ones.

If you struggle with fasting, write short fiction for the Christian market. Just be wary of the tendency to starve to death. 😉

I hate to see loss of imagination triumph in the Church. I meet too many Christians who long ago relegated creativity to the devil. It saddens me to no end to encounter dull, lifeless children from Christian homes who have had the imagination beaten out of them, who if asked, “Tell me a story,” can’t dream up one. Somehow we’ve gone overboard in rooting out “vain imaginings” and removing any and all things that stem from our “deceitful hearts,” never questioning whether we have to throw our minds out altogether or if our imaginings and hearts can be redeemed.

So in our purges, I wonder if we’ve left Christianity a shell of what it’s supposed to be.

What should we think when God demands the finest craftsmen for His OT tabernacle and temples? That He asks that the lampstands around His altar be crafted in the likeness of almond branches and their blossoms? Or that He chooses men to write down His inspired words of Truth in a wealth of styles?

I can think of few things more appalling than ugly churches. I mean, if we’re going to spend millions on building a church building (and there’s an ethical question for you), what could be worse than spending all those millions on something that’s ugly as sin, an edifice glorifying mediocrity? Whatever happened to building that building to the glory of God and making it look like something honoring a supreme and majestic Lord?

And why so much bad art in Christian circles? It’s okay if Thelma Lou Posey makes a cross-stitch of the ubiquitous “Footprints” poem and sells it as a church auction, Fridtjof Schroder - 'The Pieta' - 1961but God forbid if some trained Christian artist creates a challenging oil painting and asks for support.

I wrote a couple weeks ago in my “100 Truths in 30 Years with Christ” post that we need to honor our artists and intellectuals as highly as we do our pastors and preachers. Are we? If we were, what then explains the stifled creativity that inhabits the Christian circle of influence? Why such lowest common denominator art and expression? Shouldn’t we be the ones who foster imagination and the creative spirit?

One of the most underappreciated aspects of us being made in the image of God is that God is a creator at heart. Therefore, so are we.

If we can’t evangelize that truth as much as some of the others we so readily support, we’ll wind up impoverished people. I can’t help but think that if the world saw that Christians led the arts again, they’d be more open to the Gospel.

Yet what would do they think when they encounter a huge multi-million dollar building of cinder block and corrugated metal passing itself off as a church? I know that I don’t immediately think, That’s where life, redemption, and joy happens.

It’s tough to be in the arts and know that few of your tribe value your work enough to pay you to do it. I’m struggling now to know what to do with the short story form, one that I enjoy writing but pays nothing. When I think of God demanding only the finest artisans for His works, I wonder how we got off base.

I wonder.



Additional links from previous Cerulean Sanctum posts on this issue:

100 Truths in 30 Years with Christ


'The Thinker' by Auguste RodinThis year (2007) marks my 30-year anniversary of coming to Christ. I met Him at a Lutheran camp on a confirmation retreat weekend. Even to this day, I can remember much of that evening.

I’ve kept my eyes, ears, and spirit open over that time, storing away what I’ve learned. Obviously, what I share here isn’t the sum total of all I’ve learned, just some basic truths God taught me that inform my every day.

I hope these observation get you thinking and praying. Most of all, I pray that they are a blessing that brings lasting fruit for the Kingdom. Thanks for being a reader.

In no particular order…

  1. Love God. Love people. It’s that simple.
  2. Anytime we interact with another person, we should ask the Lord, In what ways can I help this person grow closer to You?
  3. Christians who take time to observe the world around them see God and gain wisdom.
  4. The most worthy lessons of the Kingdom take the entirety of one’s life to fully learn.
  5. You are never more alone than in an unfriendly church.
  6. God could directly feed the widows and the orphans with manna from heaven, but He instead chose us in the Church to bake the bread through the resources He’s already given us and then distribute it.
  7. The world is tired of hearing Christians talk about the Gospel; they want to see it actually lived.
  8. In the end, nothing in life satisfies but Jesus.
  9. It’s a terrible indictment against men and young people in the American Church that old women are praying most of the intercessory prayers.
  10. Always lead with love. Love should precede every act we perform in the name of Christ and love should be the finale.
  11. Small home groups are fantastic for relationship-building, prayer, and sharing, but usually not the best venue for serious Bible study (especially if they’re co-ed).
  12. Admonish an adult once, perhaps twice, then turn the issue over to the Lord in prayer. Never hound people.
  13. We won’t find ourselves transformed, much less change the world, if we pray less than an hour a day.
  14. Most Evangelicals have little or no understanding of the Holy Spirit.
  15. The American Church needs to learn a truth Ben Franklin uttered at the signing of the Declaration of Independence: “We must all hang together, gentlemen…else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.”
  16. Too many Evangelicals long to see Jesus thrash those they view as heretics rather than help them come to a better understanding of truth.
  17. One of the most easily seen fruits in mature Christians is that they pray for people who oppose them rather than complain about them.
  18. A simple truth we constantly forget: Do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
  19. If all other aspects of Sunday meetings were removed, prayer would be the one untouchable, yet we spend less time doing it in our meetings than anything else.
  20. The mature Christian is more concerned with being loving all the time than being correct all the time.
  21. Each of use should know our neighbors’ names and the names of their children. We should also know their birthdays, if possible, because the card we send might be the only one they receive. And that’s a powerful witness.
  22. It is a sign of our trustworthiness as Christians that other people seek us out when they need help. If that’s not the case, then something is wrong with our witness.
  23. There is no shame in confessing a need, especially before fellow believers. That’s one reason why the Church exists.
  24. Many of Evangelicalism’s most intractable problems would vanish if we adopted the confessional booth.
  25. We must start seeing discipleship in terms of an entire lifespan and not what we can accomplish in the moment.
  26. Preaching is most effective when it’s lived by the preacher.
  27. We do a great disservice to families in our churches when we split them up the second they hit the lobby.
  28. If we wish to see the American Church be all She can be, then let’s welcome persecution.
  29. A youth minister’s primary responsibility isn’t to teens directly but to their parents. A good youth minister teaches parents how to teach their own teens, leaving the bulk of the responsibility to them.
  30. The way we so easily judge people offends the One who said, “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone.”
  31. We are too obsessed with heretics and not concerned enough with understanding what their heresy says about our own shortcomings and failures.
  32. It costs us nothing to judge others, but an enormous amount to walk beside them and help them grow.
  33. Bible study works best when led by highly-trained, Scripturally-knowledgeable people who have lived what they believe.
  34. Busyness is crippling the effectiveness of the American Church, but no one wants to fix the root causes because doing so would call into question the very nature of our modern society.
  35. True love is laying down our plans and schedules to help a person in need.
  36. One of the worst things a Christian can be is unteachable.
  37. God never rescinded His first command to Man: Steward the Earth.
  38. The man who recognizes the goodness of God in nature and sees Christ in the stranger has the more complete theology.
  39. A man is only as deep as his prayer life.
  40. A message every church in America should learn: You never have to advertise a fire.
  41. The more we restrict God in what He can and will do, the more He’ll honor that restriction.
  42. The Holy Spirit is a gentleman; He only shows up where He’s gratefully invited.
  43. Our neighbors should know that our houses are always open to them.
  44. Love truly does cover a multitude of sins.
  45. If we haven’t died at the cross, we’re worthless to the Kingdom.
  46. Who we are in secret is a better gauge of our spiritual maturity than who we are in public.
  47. Not seeng results in prayer? Better check how grateful we are to God for the little things He gives us.
  48. We never know enough of someone else’s story to judge them perfectly. Better to listen carefully, then admonish…carefully.
  49. No great, wise saint of God started out that way. We never know at what stage we meet one of those future saints, so we must always be gracious when interacting with others.
  50. The perfect recipe for helping someone grow in Christ: Six parts love to every one part admonition.
  51. God makes all things beautiful in His time, not ours.
  52. If there were no people, there would be no reason for the Gospel.
  53. If we are unwilling to help others work through the admonitions we give them, we should instead remain silent.
  54. On Judgment Day, God will be far less concerned with how well we knew the Scriptures than how we practiced what we knew.
  55. Too much of what we supposedly do for the Kingdom comes from the arm of flesh, not from the power of the Spirit.
  56. There’s no reason each of us can’t lead at least one person a year to Christ.
  57. Most churches never once consider what it feels like to be an outsider, which is why so few visitors take root.
  58. Most of the West has heard about Jesus (even if they’ve heard incorrectly), which is why our practice of our message is as vital as our pronouncement of it.
  59. A person may have perfect doctrine and a form of religion, but if he doesn’t care about his neighbor, it’s all for naught.
  60. The reason we learn the Scriptures is to be equipped for every good work.
  61. The more tender my heart is toward the least of these, the more tender it is toward God—and vice versa.
  62. We minister best from the overflow of our Spirit-filled hearts, not from being poured out until empty.
  63. For some reason, we stopped making heaven the ultimate destination.
  64. Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain.
  65. We make an idol of the nuclear family if we raise it above the needs of the household of Faith.
  66. If a fellow Christian has a financial need, forget about buying that plasma TV. And remember this: someone is always in need.
  67. The first thing the new Church did after being filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was to see that no one among them lacked for anything.
  68. Fear drives almost all human failings. The opposite of fear is love.
  69. You can tell the effectiveness of a church’s discipling program by noting how many of the leadership staff came from within.
  70. A king’s ambassador, when sojourning in a foreign land, is the full representative of the king and wields his complete power and authority. Never forget that we are Christ’s ambassadors.
  71. We perpetually underestimate Satan’s wiles; at the same time, we underestimate our authority over him in Christ.
  72. Most lost people aren’t consciously looking for ways to sin; they’re only trying to get by.
  73. You and I have benefitted greatly from the prayers of others, but most people have never had someone pray for them.
  74. Because our God is a God of beauty and truth, we Christians need to honor our artists and intellectuals as much as our pastors and preachers.
  75. Most of the Lord’s finest servants labor in obscurity.
  76. We Christians should spend every day working to depopulate hell.
  77. We may know what it means to be a sinner, but few of us have appropriated what it means to be a saint.
  78. Our communion meals should be feasts as big as we eat on Thanksgiving Day.
  79. Wine is the drink of celebration, not Welch’s.
  80. A church-hopper is a carrier of dissension.
  81. We need to treat our pastors as imperfect fellow laborers, not as Grand Exalted Poobahs.
  82. Without the Lord, we can do nothing.
  83. If we Christians stopped worrying about what others think of us, the Church would be transformed and the world along with us.
  84. We spend too much time trying to keep our youth from sleeping with each other and not enough time teaching them to be husbands and wives.
  85. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
  86. We were all born to serve.
  87. American Christians are more concerned about what’s in their bank accounts than in their treasure chests in heaven.
  88. Joy can only well up in a grateful heart.
  89. Gossip destroys anyone it touches.
  90. In Christ, there is no shame or guilt.
  91. Christians who pray prayers with enormous faith get enormous results.
  92. If we don’t reach people with the Gospel before they are 21, most will never come to Christ.
  93. We have not because we ask not.
  94. It is best to think of the Scriptures not as what we can read through in a year, but as what we can read through in an entire lifetime.
  95. We come to Christ full of holes. Whatever hole we forbid Christ to fill will instead be filled by the world.
  96. If we’re discipling correctly, no Christian in a church should be irreplaceable.
  97. A community of Christians is only as strong as its weakest members.
  98. If our lives are filled with everything but Christ, then we are impoverished indeed.
  99. We are all dust.
  100. God is always nearer to us than we believe Him to be.

Blessings! Have a great day.