The Importance of Community for the Church

Why is community so important to the church? And why do we too often neglect it?

I was reminded earlier this week of one of my favorite parts of the Cormac McCarthy novel, The Road. It’s where the father is trying to impart some encouragement to his son, as they journey through the bleakness of the post-apocalyptic wasteland of the United States,

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F: You have to carry the fire.
S: I don’t know how to.
F: Yes, you do.
S: Is the fire real? The fire?
F: Yes it is.
S: Where is it? I don’t know where it is.
F: Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.

Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Many have speculated about the significance of “the fire” to which McCarthy refers. Is it a reference to Prometheus’ gift of knowledge to humanity in Greek mythology? Or perhaps a reference to God Himself, and the importance of faith and religion in making us human in an inhuman world? Is it simply the life that is still existent in the love of the son and his father contrasted with the death and chaos around them? These would certainly fit the narrative of The Road.

But what I find interesting is that this particular exchange shows us how community – or, fellowship – functions.

There is a goal, or mission, and a very real struggle. What sustains us through the struggle is having someone be in it with us. What helps us when we cannot see something is to have someone else see for us. What keeps us from quitting or falling into despair is the presence and performance of another.

In other words, life is too hard to go it alone; we need others. We need others to not only accomplish the work, task, mission we have been given to do, but also to make it through any given day.

And yet we so often miss out on the presence of others in our lives due to so many reasons. Busyness. Work. Play. An “always-on-and-available-except-to-the-people-that-matter-most-to-us” mentality. Living in a constant age of distraction and disruption.

What would happen if we chose to disrupt the disruption? What could happen if we gave time, energy, and attention to the relationships that need it most? What if we as a church collectively regained our sense of purpose in “carrying the fire” – the light of the world – out of our buried baskets and frazzled lives and out into the world that’s desperately dying from not having it?

Might we just see that fire spread to others? Could we perhaps get a glimpse of what it looks like when the world starts to be healed, redeemed, restored, and renewed and brought back into life and alignment with God? Would we not see the knowledge of the glory of God cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)?

Could we perhaps get a glimpse of what it looks like when the world starts to be healed, redeemed, restored, and renewed and brought back into life and alignment with God? Would we not see the knowledge of the glory of God cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)?

Would we not see the knowledge of the glory of God cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)?

“Our collective holiness is a witness to our Holy God. How we live, then, not only expresses our calling but also narrates a story to the world. It tells others something about who Jesus is and what he is doing in the world. If our life together is focused on fulfillment from “one another,” we will quickly devolve into a dysfunctional community marked by disillusionment, silent record-keeping, or unrealistic demands. We are called into community but not for community. We exist for Christ and in Christ. He is our all in all. If this is true, we will live together in a gracious, forbearing, truthful way. This way of living is a counter-cultural witness of Christ to the world. Our community becomes part of God’s greater mission for us. We are not only conceived in the church, but also called into God’s mission—to redeem social ill, make good culture, and share a whole gospel. We are sent together, called to carry the good news to people and into cultures.”

– Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson,

Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities

 

 

 

 

Sin as Vandalism of the Life We All Want

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banksycosetteokBelow is one of my all-time favorite quotes, highlighting that what we experience is not life as we want it, nor as it was meant to be.  Something has gone wrong and hijacked God’s good intention for all of Creation.

“The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight — a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be….

In sum, shalom is God’s design for creation and redemption; sin is blamable human vandalism of these great realities and therefore an affront to their architect and builder.”

Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way Its Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, (Wm. B. Erdmans Publ. Co., 1995)

Jesus Brings a Deeper, More Comprehensive Fix (Mark 1:40-45)

christcleansingHere we have what seems to be a familiar enough story. As Jesus was going through all Galilee preaching in the synagogues and healing people, a man approaches Jesus with a particular need. Up to this point, we might expect Jesus to say a word and heal the man. After all, Jesus has places to go and people to see. He just told his disciples that He couldn’t stay put long enough to meet the requests of everyone who had needs (Mark 1:35-39). But Jesus surprises us (you would think we might get more comfortable with this, even this early in the Gospel of Mark).

Jesus touches the man and he is healed. Actually, he is “made clean.” What vexed this man was he suffered from leprosy. Today, we can distinguish between leprosy and other skin abnormalities, but in Jesus day, any skin related issue – deterioration, discoloration, deformity, etc. – would be labeled leprosy. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “This disease in an especial manner rendered its victims unclean; even contact with a leper defiled whoever touched him, so while the cure of other diseases is called healing, that of leprosy is called cleansing.” According to Leviticus 13-14, anyone who suffered from the affliction was to be isolated and in effect quarantined in order to contain the spread of the disease. Likewise, if anyone came in contact with someone suffering in this way, they themselves became “unclean” – a term not necessarily denoting that they became leprous, but at least susceptible to it and thus needing to “purify” themselves to become clean. This man was not in that situation.

Most likely, he would have been living with the other “outcasts” – those who because of their unclean status were forced to live outside of the city walls. It was common for these people to dwell in caves with others in similar situations. If they had loved ones or deeply committed friends, they might have a visit occasionally with the visitor bringing some kind of food, often lowering it down into the cavern. This man had no basis for hope of escaping his stations whatsoever; at least not until Jesus shows up.

Imagine the obstacles he had to overcome to come to Jesus. Wading through crowds of people that Jesus tended to attract, venturing into the city’s perimeter, even daring to cross the six-foot perimeter he needed to maintain in order to approach this popular teacher and healer.

This man implores Jesus to heal him and make him clean. And Jesus is “moved with pity.” The phrase is translated from a single word in the Greek, its splanxna, and it means “the inward parts,’ specially the nobler entrails – the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys,” and eventually would come to denote “seat of the affections.” Jesus sees this man and is moved in his inmost being.

Remember, Jesus can heal with a word; he has just done so in the verses preceding our passage here. But here it says that Jesus “touches him,” and he is cleansed. Why this peculiar detail? Is it just a demonstrable flourish for Jesus?

To a man who has spent perhaps his entire life being isolated away from others, not able to participate in the community life, always making sure he kept his distance (or rather, feeling the awkwardness and emotional devastation of watching others adamantly avoid him), this man didn’t just need physical healing from the leprosy – he needed a more comprehensive healing.

He needed one that covered his physical (cleansing from leprosy), his emotional (the touch from another person) as well as his social and even spiritual needs. Jesus goes on and doesn’t tell him to go on about his new life. Instead, Jesus directs him to present himself to the “priest” and make the acceptable offering for his cleansing to him (Mark 1:44; cf. Leviticus 14:2-32). Why bother with this at this point? Jesus had healed him. More to the point, Jesus is doing something so new and qualitatively different from the priests of his day – why bother sending the man there?

This was the accepted practice to be restored to the community at large. Jesus was telling him to go through the official, proper channels, not in order to become clean, but in order to be seen as clean. For Jesus, this is proof enough that the kingdom of God is at hand, and a new thing is being done in their midst. There’s no need for the man to go out and make a big show of what happened. Just go do what is necessary to be welcomed back into the life of the community. But the man can’t help himself. His deepest longings and wildest hopes have been met by this different kind of teacher, a different kind of healer than even he had dared possible.

How could he not tell everyone about it?

Don’t Call it Inspirational. It’s Depressing

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“Don’t call this story inspirational. It’s not. It’s depressing.” – Malcolm Gladwell

Recently listened to Malcolm Gladwell’s new podcast Revisionist History, “Carlos Doesn’t Remember.” This is a powerful and sobering story talking about the reality of privilege and the struggle of those without it in our country, in our day.

One step towards working for a better world for all is first coming to understand how others live. That’s why the gospel of Jesus Christ doesn’t just begin when He is dying on a cross, or raised from the grave, but when he comes “in the flesh” (incarnation) and walks in the shoes of His people. It even begins much earlier than that though, where we see that the story of Jesus and His incarnation, substitutionary death, and resurrection life is really the fulfillment of how God entered into the world wrecked and ruined by sin. 

In the Garden, God comes into His ruined creation and asks, not “What have you done,” but “Where are you?”

God leads with empathy and entering in. 

We can do the same for others in our midst – loving and serving them and their interests, regardless of our own interests – but only if we do the work of building relationships with them. Relationships characterized not by moral judgments or simply making opportunities available, but by entering into the world and life of others and seek to be a blessing.

This is how we build the shalom Jesus brings. Not through triumphalistic endeavors or merely good intentions. But through empathy and relational trust whereby we seek the interests of others ahead of our own.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

Listen to the episode for the story “Carlos Doesn’t Remember.”

http://apple.co/29W6gEl

#empathy #know #feel #act #shalom #notthewayitssupposedtobe #gospel #incarnation

What We Have Suffered Will Wither Away

What can possibly help us cope with the sad, sorry state of affairs that we encounter in this life?

This past week has brought this question to the forefront of a lot of our collective hearts and minds. At Christ Church Mansfield this past Sunday, we found hope in God our strength and our refuge, the God of Jacob, from Psalm 46, and saw that it is the presence of God with us in the pain, rather than the mere absence of pain, that helps us get through life.

lightstock_190452_medium_user_3970569But we never get through unscathed nor unscarred.

So where does my hope for a better future that sustains me in the brutal present come from? How, once again, can we make it through?

One author helped me appreciate that all this pain and suffering and sorrow will not disappear, but simply “wither away.”

“What we have suffered weighs us down like a heavy load we long to have lifted; like an indefatigable enemy, it assails us relentlessly.  The wreckage of history – a trail of shattered beauty, defiled goodness, twisted truths, streams of tears, rivers of blood, mountains of corpses – must somehow be mended.  That the past must and will be redeemed is a conviction essential to the Christian notion of redemption.”

“Will we let go of them [memories] so as to be able to rejoice with complete and permanent joy in God and in one another?  No, that is not quite the right way to think about the not-coming-to-mind of memories of wrongs suffered.  We will not ‘forget’ so as to be able to rejoice; we will rejoice and therefore let those memories slip out of our minds!  The reason for our non-remembrance of wrongs will be the same as its cause: Our minds will be rapt in the goodness of God and in the goodness of God’s new world, and the memories of wrongs will whither away like plants without water.”

– Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World (pgs. 42, and 214)

 

 

Prayer of Corporate Lament and Mourning

cc46af8a-8441-42e0-9822-f5355827f087This past Sunday at Christ Church Mansfield we had a time of corporate lament and mourning. Lament for the stories, situations, and tragedies happening around us (such as #blacklivesmatter, #backtheblue, and #dallasstrong).

But also mourning. We learned of the death of one of our beloved members – a 19-year-old college student and were needing to deal not only with the pain and loss throughout the world and our community, but very acutely within our own hearts and minds.

This was the prayer we prayed to help us process our emotions of sadness and anger, as well as confront the complacency or numbness we would have been more comfortable with nursing.

I hope this will help and serve you as you do the same.

 

Prayer of Corporate Lament and Mourning as the Body of Christ

L: Father, we come to you today with heavy hearts.

The killings of Alton Sterlin, Philander Castile, and Officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson and Patrick Zamarripa unite our hearts in grief. Good Father, show yourself both good and bigger still to the families who are left to mourn their loss. And for all that fractures our communities and causes the divisions and strife to mount to such terrorizing tensions, Father let us continue to trust in you alone to do what is right and to bring your perfect justice in your perfect timing.

People: … [Offer up personal calls of prayer for the stories and situations weighing on your heart]

All: Lord God, heal our broken world.

L: Lord Jesus, who breaks the power of sin and death by the power of your grace.

We look to our own lives, mourning the loss of loved ones near and far. We especially grieve over the loss of our beloved friend, brother, and son, [….] . We ask that you would surround the […] family with your love, grace, and peace that surpasses all understanding. Be the hope that sustains us through our grief and the presence that outlasts all the pain.

People: … [Offer up personal calls of prayer for the stories and situations weighing on your heart]

All: Lord God, heal our broken hearts.

L: Holy Spirit, who enables us to become children of God.

Today, Christians will gather in Asian churches, Black churches, Hispanic churches, and White churches. Today young Christians will gather separately from old Christians. Progressives separate from Conservatives. Rich from the poor. Reformed from Baptist from Evangelical from Catholic from Charismatic. All the while you have called us to be One church, worshipping One Lord, gathered by One faith, introduced by One baptism, to become the One body of Christ. We lament, not over the differences and distinctives of each peculiar church, but over the divisions we celebrate, rather than tolerate or obliterate, and ask you to renew a right Spirit within each of us.

People: … [Offer up personal calls of prayer for the stories and situations weighing on your heart]

All: Lord God, heal our broken churches.

L: Father God, through your Son Jesus Christ and by the power of Your Holy Spirit, move in our hearts and minds to grieve as those with hope and to become your people who act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with you in your World.

A Response to the Tragedy of this Thing Called Life

13631587_1339660476049071_5031917597077668152_nI have never been very good at Pastoral Responses. Those times when a word is needed to help frame specific events and tragedies that happen around us, or even to us, as a collective people. One on one, we can at least listen and offer up a ministry of presence. But communicating to the masses only seems to feed the machine that helps propagate and perpetuate soundbites and the always present search for the right scapegoat.

There is no scapegoat to cast the blame on the events that have occurred just in the last week alone.

There is no scapegoat to cast the blame on the tragedies that have fallen on Alton Sterling, Philando Castille and his four-year-old daughter, Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, those many more wounded, and countless others traumatized by the senseless acts of sin and evil of others.

This week my heart is raw. My capacity to comprehend is exhausted.  I have no great answers, and I frankly question anyone who would want to offer any up for such a time as this.

What I want to offer is not a person to blame or a logical reason for why we have to justify the existence of others – black and blue alike.

Instead, I want to point my heart and mind and strength to hope.

Hope that is found not in justice imperfectly administered by fellow fallen and sinful people.

Hope that does not reside in the hands of the socially powerful or the culturally privileged.

Hope that does not depend on the firepower at one’s side or the force of numbers at one’s back.

But hope that resides perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ. Who administers justice perfectly as the innocent slain on behalf of the guilty. Whose hands bear the marks of powerful love scarred forever for you and I, and who has the right and the privilege to speak and act on behalf of all who suffer the insufferable.

He knows what it is to suffer. He knows what it is live with tragedy, and die at the hands of corrupt and corruptible men.

And He knows that one day, in the end, the senseless will end. The corrupt and corruptible will be stopped.

Revelation 22 ends with the temporal plea of His people that will one day give way to inevitable reality and the eternal praise of His people for all He has done in bringing about His perfect peace into this world of evil, and hatred, and murder, and strife, and war, and insecurity.

It is the hope that is a person, not a process.

And we plead for this because it is Him and Him alone who knows what it means to suffer the ultimate injustice and yet rise up from it in order to stand with and for those who also suffer in this world and life.

The plea, the promise, and the praise our hearts, souls, minds, and wills need:

“Come Lord Jesus come.”

 

End of Year Ministry & Financial Update, plus “Thanks” from the Gensheers

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Friends,

This update is long overdue, but just in time before the year 2015 comes to a close. This is the 18 month mark for Maggie and me being in Mansfield, and we have a lot to be thankful for – to God, for what He has done and continues to do; but also for you all, who have partnered with us and supported us with your prayers and financial contributions to the church planting work.  It has been an amazing year and a half at Christ Church Mansfield; a year in which YOU played an important part.  Take a look at this short list.

TOP THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN THE LAST 18 MONTHS

  1. Three people placed their faith and trust in Jesus during our time here.
  2. Launched a new community group and weekly Bible Study, reaching and engaging people not already a part of the church (but later have come to be part of our church community).
  3. The church has experienced significant growth, in attendance (up 82%), membership (8 new families/singles joined as members), giving (up 66%), and especially in visitors and regular attenders (almost weekly with new people and 24 “regular” visitors, at least monthly).
  4. Preached through the Gospel of Mark, Lord’s Prayer, Isaiah (for Advent), Spiritual Disciplines, and currently working through Romans, to help us grow in the faith.
  5. Church received some free, positive publicity by being written up in local Mansfield Magazine.
  6. Launching and supporting new ministries on the campus of University of Texas, Arlington.
  7. Moved out of the school and into the Aristide Event Center, a nationally recognized wedding and event location, with a great working relationship with the owners and have been blessed by the space for our children’s ministry and easier-to-find location.
  8. Through our partnership with the Southwest Church Planting Network, contributed to church planting works in downtown Houston, Fort Worth, Phoenix, and Albuquerque, NM.
  9. You were a part of all this because you made a financial contribution and commitment to pray!


That’s an amazing list, and those were just a few of the highlights.  You may never know how many marriages were saved.  You may never hear about how many children and teenagers were impacted.  You may never see how many people have been influenced by a different picture of God and the gospel, and hopefully many more coming to saving faith in His Son, Jesus Christ! We can’t measure the influence of the gospel being lifted up all around our city, only capture a glimpse of it, and what we have seen so far, is nothing short of amazing.

As your friend, and one who has had the privilege of being sent out and supported by you in this work, I want to personally thank you for your sacrifice to make all of this happens.  You’ve heard me say it before, but real ministry takes real money, and I am honored that you would choose to partner with us in this way.  I consider you a vital part of our team, and you’ve got an important role in the mission.

As we look forward to 2016, I can’t wait to see what God does in our church and in our community.  In the coming months, I’m looking forward to sharing with you details about several things:

  • Our new partnership with The Common Ground Network, a group dedicated to meeting the social, physical, and financial needs of our Mansfield/South Arlington community, and ways we can continue to “serve the city” with the love of God.
  • Our long term partnership with the Southwest Church Planting Network and increased efforts of growing as a church that reflects the diversity of our community – becoming more multi-generational and multi-cultural through this and other strategic partnerships.
  • The expansion of our children’s ministry – we’re improving so we can serve even more children and families, which is a key demographic of our community and ministry we have experienced significant growth in over the last 12 months.
  • Growing and launching new initiatives involving discipleship of men, women, and children, as well as efforts to help strengthen marriages and families as a whole.

We believe these are things worth funding.  That’s why we’ve given our lives to spread the Gospel and that’s why I serve as the church planter of Christ Church Mansfield.  I believe in what we’re doing here, and want to invite you all to become a part of it with us if you have not yet partnered with us, or to continue to be a vital part, through your prayers and financial support, in 2016.

We left Santa Fe and came to Mansfield with a financial goal of raising $100,000 to support the work over a two year time frame. Through your generosity and partnership with us, we were able to raise our first year goal of $60,000. Now, we are asking that you continue to partner with us in 2016 and help us reach our second year goal of $40,000.

Will you consider giving again to this work if you have given a one time gift in the past? Or if you were unable to give in the past, would you consider giving now?  You can give online through this link on our support raising website:  http://www.frontiermissionproject.com/#!how-to-give/c1smk

I wonder what a “Top Sixteen Things That Happened in 2016” list would look like?  Let’s find out together!

In Him,

Chris Gensheer

P.S.  No matter how you choose to partner with us, through prayer, and/or financial support…THANK YOU! We couldn’t do this without you.

And here are some more pictures to enjoy – some of our family, and others from the church plant in Mansfield.

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Jesus Outside the Lines – Great deal

jesus-outside-the-lines_saulJesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Side by Scott Sauls, and Forward by Gabe Lyons.

For a limited time, this book by friend and fellow pastor, Scott Sauls, is only $5 (Kindle).

But this book is worth the full price, even for just the first chapter on politics alone!

Go check it out, buy a copy (or 12) for yourself and your friends. And please share with others!

Here’s a sample of some of the goodness that lies within!

“When the grace of Jesus sinks in, we will be among the least offended and most loving people in the world.” – Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines

 

“What matters more to us  — that we successfully put others in their place, or that we are known to love well? That we win culture wars with carefully constructed arguments and political power plays, or that we win hearts with humility, truth, and love? God have mercy on us if we do not love well because all that matters to us is being right and winning arguments. Truth and love can go together. Truth and love must go together.” – Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines

 

“Christianity always flourishes most as a life-giving minority, not as a powerful majority. It is through subversive, countercultural acts of love, justice, and service for the common good that Christianity has always gained the most ground.” – Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines

 

 

Learning to Have What it Takes…from Mary

lightstock_8127_small_user_3970569In my studying this week for our upcoming Advent sermon series on the songs of Christmas from Luke 1-2, I have been thinking a lot about Mary, the virgin who would carry and bear “the One who created her,” (Augustine).

While there are some very good reasons why as a Protestant, I do not want to ever advocate for ascribing to Mary a more prominent or necessary role in the work of redemption (nothing less than the fact that she herself rejects such a position or posture of being a co-Redeemer with Christ or even a necessary mediator on our behalf to Christ; cf. Luke 1:46-55), I am utterly astounded at what she has to teach me about the nature of faith and growing in it as a follower of Christ.

She, a teenage girl, has a lot to teach me, a middle-aged man, about growing in the gospel.

Take for example the fact that when she goes to greet her cousin who is also with child, Elizabeth, she takes the praise directed at her and redirects it all back to God (Luke 1:39-55).

She is not concerned so much with herself as she is her God, her Savior, and her Lord.

Here’s a great quote from Jared C. Wilson in the new ESV Men’s Devotional Bible that sums up what I’ve been pondering and wrestling with this week in particular.

“Am I strong enough? Do I have what it takes? Will I be able to get ahead in the world and provide for my family? Will I be remembered? Does what I do matter in the long run?

Most men think about these things often, both explicitly in their worries and implicitly in their actions. And these are not, in themselves, wrong things to think about. But because sin is real and our flesh is always at war against the spirit, too often these areas of concern become ares of self-concern. We have in mind with these questions our own name and renown, our own glory.

In Luke 1:39-56 we find these very issues in play, and what can be humbling for the Christian man is to see that we learn their proper context and proportion from a teenage girl!

Mary has been blessed with the greatest blessing anyone could ever receive – to bear the Messiah, King Jesus, in her virgin womb. She knows that she will, from this moment on, be considered blessed by future generations. And yet, her song of praise is not to or about herself – it is about the glory of God.

Her soul is not full of itself; it is magnifying the Lord (v. 46).

When she examines herself, she sees only lowliness, poverty, weakness. But when she sees herself in the light of God’s grace, she sees his glory, his riches, his strength working through her song of praise: ‘His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation’ (v. 50).”