Sunday, June 15, 2008

Christian Community in Action

Via de Cristo rollo for Men's Weekend #70, July 2008

We are here by divine purpose. Each of us has been called to be a part of this wonderful experience, and each of us will take from this experience tools to change our environments. Our mission is to transform our environments into living Christian communities. This mission is built on 3 steps:
-developing leaders. Yestreday (leaders), Ed reminded each of us …
-helping them understand their place in the mission. This morning (environment), Graham told us …
-Linking them together to work more effectively, which is the underlying theme of this talk.

We live on a planet full of people. Yet in spite of all the potential for relationships and camaraderie’s, we’re lonely; we want to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. The human heart craves social interaction – this is a basic human need.

And so our society has formed within itself a whole host of social groups or communities made up of folk with something in common. A family is one type of community. A club is another type of community. There exist groups of people who compete athletically with each other, there are internet groups, political groups, environmental groups, Each group has a purpose that influences the atmosphere of the group. But most of these groups do not go beyond providing a central purpose for the group. A Christian community, on the other had, is a group of people working together to share Christ in the world by spreading God’s love, forgiveness, and encouragement to others.

In 1999, I was called by God to teach alternative education in the city of Big Rapids, Michigan. I didn’t know anyone there, I had never taught alternative ed before, and my wife was not going to move up north with me. It was just me and God (so I thought), and I was quite apprehensive. But I was welcomed by a staff who also ‘happened’ to be believers and who took an honest interest in my life. These Godly folk helped throughout my transition; the students in their own unique way won me over, and I grew to love the chaos and unpredictability of that environment. During my first year in Big Rapids, we four teachers began meeting one morning a week to pray for the kids, the administration, current issues, and each other. We started simply with that main intent ~ prayer ~but almighty God in His infinite wisdom was in the process of molding us into a small Christian community right there in the midst of that irreverence and hostility.

We defined CC as a group of people working together to share Christ in the world by spreading God’s love, forgiveness, and encouragement to others. There are two characteristics of a CC that I’d like you to get in your notes:
i) Authentic – accepting the Christian ideal: a common spirit of self-surrender, trust, self-less love, praying together, guided by the Holy Spirit.
ii) Apostolic – called to evangelize the world: centered on Jesus the Christ and His mission.

So our little group in Big Rapids, Michigan continued to meet and pray for our students. We saw ourselves as Authentic (our focus was the Christian ideal of surrender and trust) but we were slowly being transformed into Apostolic: we knew we were a light in a dark world…and we looked for ways to let that light shine!
We were four followers of Christ, from different backgrounds and religions, and we found common ground through time spent with God in prayer, and a desire to affect our environment for Him. We built up trust in each other so that we felt comfortable sharing details of our personal lives so that we could pray for each other. Friendships were being formed, and we were committed to each other and our mission. It became a team effort.

Many of you have experienced this and many of us will yet experience this process…as you find yourself in an opportunity to become part of a CC, here are a couple of main points in the process:

-Personal encounter, sharing joy, concerns, etc…PRAYER!
-Friendships form, based on a common love of Jesus and each other
-Make a decision to commit. Intentional action is imperative! Teamwork is key!

The Via de Cristo method is a means to form Christian communities. We must establish a Christian community in each environment if we are to bring the world to Christ. Brother David shared with us the wise maxim: Make a friend, be a friend, bring that friend to Christ. It’s not an option, it’s our mission! So, the method to begin, form, and sustain small groups of believers is not unlike what you’ve been experiencing at your table during this weekend. Getting to know one another, sharing, growing in friendship centered in Christ, self-surrender, a spirit of charity, calling on and depending on the power of the Holy Spirit; these elements all enable a Christian community to be formed.

God-given characteristics (attitudes) needed to form these communities:
-Faith and prayer
-Love and humility to work as a team
-A sense of responsibility
-Dedication and initiative

Listen to how J. Douglas Holladay describes William Wilberforce, the great English philanthropist and abolitionist:

Wilberforce and his colleagues were motivated by a robust personal belief in a
living God who is concerned with individual human lives, justice, and the
transformation of societies. At their core was a profound sense of the presence
and power of God, giving them vision, courage, and the necessary perspective to
choose their issues and stand against the powerful interests aligned against
them. Wilberforce had a deep sense of calling…(and was committed to the
strategic importance of a band of like-minded friends devoted to working
together in chosen ventures…and believed deeply in the power of ideas and moral

These were the attitudes that I saw as we were getting to know each other, and these were the attitudes that drew me into the community and then sustained our relationships. We felt a sense of responsibility for our students, many of whom had no real parents. We trusted God to meet their needs, and we became the first real Jesus many of them had ever known, through our words and actions. We proceeded in an attitude of prayer and dependence on His Spirit for direction. We served with a God-given generosity by providing transportation, meals, and clothing. We visited them in prison and we listened with an open ear to those children of the Heavenly Father. We were dedicated to the mission, and we accepted the responsibility impressed on our hearts by God. Please write this down:

The purpose of Christian Community is the evangelization of the world. Through teamwork and by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians can influence all environments for Christ. We are called to be salt, light, and leaven for the world.

The witness of how we live our lives is only the beginning: at some point we must proclaim the Word! Every Christian should be a part of a vital community that, through its actions, is the source of Christian influence in the environment. When we have small evangelizing Christian communities in several environments, we have an evangelizing church.

There was one particular miscreant who I became close to at the Mecosta-Osceola Alternative School. He had a propensity for thievery and my last year in Big Rapids he wound up in jail for a couple months. One morning I was taking my wife to work in town and just after I dropped her off, I heard a frantic “Dave!” I pulled over and saw Chaz, who had been kick out of our school for possession of a controlled substance, running toward my red 01 Dodge Dakota. He had lost a lot of weight and looked sickly and he proceeded to tell me the whole story of how the sherrifs had come and got him one night while his mother and sisters cried as they took him away. He continued with a positive twist: some local folks had brought Bibles into their cells and had started a weekly study group for the inmates. He continued to share with me events of his time behind bars as we had breakfast together at Bob Evans. He had begun praying with these folks and before our meal, he asked a blessing on the food and thanked God for teachers who cared about him. We spent the rest of the day picking up a few personal items at Wal-mart, and I took him to another school in town to enroll because he wanted to graduate and go to college to become … a teacher. He wanted to touch other’s lives as we had touched his. Last I heard, Chaz was working {hopefully yadayadayada} One at a time, our mission is to transform the world to Jesus Christ.

Authentic Christianity is a true extension of Christ’s hands into the world. He has no other plan. The pain of the world is very real and very deep. People are crying to God for an answer, sometimes not even knowing they cry. God has heard their cry, and has sent His only son Jesus. And in turn, we are sent to bring the message of Jesus, beginning where we are. This challenge is real. If we all give to others what we have experienced this weekend, our environments will take on the spirit of Christ. It begins with our families and extends to all our environments, even those that seem to be the most challenging. But if we press on, our world WILL become more Christ-like. The Church will be the people of God, the body of Christ, the light of the world. This may seem overwhelming to us as individuals, be we have the support of a Christian community and God will give us what we need for the task. Our confidence is not in ourselves, but in the Christ. H promises in John 16:33: “In this world you will have troubles, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world”.

God loves you but I'm still His favorite!

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