“Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” – Matthew 18:19-20
A few words about community
Derek Maul, Upper Room author, continues thinking about Christian community in this second of three posts.
In Matthew 18 (the entire chapter), Jesus comes at us fast and hard, offering a series of counter-cultural ideas:
We need to be humble, like children.
Don’t do anything to compromise a child.
If your hand offends you, cut it off.
Go after lost sheep, and lost church members.
Forgive one another till you lose count of how often you have forgiven.
If you are not a forgiving person, then don’t expect any mercy when it comes to your own sins.
Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
Hard teachings, radical ideas, but all with this common thread of “living in community” that runs through the chapter.
Verse 20 offers the well-known concept of “where two or three are gathered together in my name…” The idea is almost exclusively used as a reference to prayer. But I like to think about it as a call to intentional community.
Two or three gathered together is community. And community is pretty much a necessary condition if we want to experience anything of Jesus in our relationships. We limit our understanding when we imagine this principle related to an “eyes closed with an Amen at the end” scenario. Whenever there are two or three of us, doing life together, in community, then Jesus promises to be a part of the equation.
Whenever there are two or three of us, doing life together, in community, then Jesus promises to be a part of the equation.
ACKNOWLEDGE JESUS. Spiritual community may be at play simply because believers are in the same place at the same time. But, just like greeting a friend at a party, it’s only polite to acknowledge Christ’s presence. The Lord is funny like that. Never one to force the issue; never one to barge in and elbow his way to the front; not about to cough discreetly to announce his presence. Jesus knows where he’s not wanted.
Simply acknowledging Jesus takes our experience of community up a notch. We’re not so much “guarded” when we host Jesus, it’s more that we are challenged to bring our very best to the experience.
Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”—Luke 24:31-32
Article by Derek Maul, published at the Upper Room Books website, September 2012
Yesterday I drove to Sun City to enjoy good coffee and great conversation with my friend Charles. Charles, in addition to being thoughtful and erudite, makes an excellent approximation of the middle-eastern coffee he first learned to enjoy in Lebanon.
We also teach an adult Sunday morning class together at church. The name of the class is “Everyday Christianity,” and our conversation ranged around the idea of faith in real-time, planning for the next few weeks, and what it means to own a transformational walk with Jesus in our personal lives.
WHERE’S THE BEEF? One of our recurring themes has been the troubling fact that the majority of people who claim to be Christian could more accurately be described as being involved in a socially sanctioned religion-lite, rather than a living relationship. We have to ask, “How is Christ’s New and Living Way demonstrated in our day-to-day experience of life?”
Or, as I posed the question in my Men’s Room small group last week, “If someone was looking for proof of the resurrection of Jesus, would your life speak to the power of Christ’s light and life in any compelling way?”
And, when it comes to corroboration of the Good News, am I a “smoking gun,” or a “refutation?”
Rebekah this Sunday
iPhone and ear-phones: Late in the evening, when taking Scout for her long walk, I plugged in my earphones and listened to a podcast of this past Sunday’s sermon, the latest in the series on “FORGIVENESS.” (If you’re interested – and it’s a good example of Rebekah’s preaching style – you can listen at this link: “I’ll Say it Again: Rejoice!”
It’s a powerful message, it features several great stories, and – very appropriately for my thinking all day long – the whole sermon addresses the idea oftransformational faith head on.
“Forgiveness,” Rebekah said, “is an act of transformation… It is revolutionary for a clenched fist to uncurl, and to be extended as an open hand… It boils down to this: forgiveness is not a single event (there, did that, check it off). No, forgiveness is a way of life… every time we [forgive], what happens? We become a little more alive in Christ’s love and mercy. It’s a transformational event….”
TRANSFORMATION: Essentially, it’s not so much that our decision to follow Jesus demands transformation, Jesus actually comes alongside us and becomes the agent of transformation. Our discipleship is not post-transformation, it is peri-transformation; there is no post-transformation, it’s a day-to-day process. Like the man at the pool of Bethesda, Jesus tells us to get up and walk. The healing requires those first stumbling steps to take hold.
it’s a journey
Our transformation is wrapped up in our intention to take those first, fumbling, steps, and our moment-by-moment commitment to actually live as if what Jesus promises is true. To live like we mean it, because God most certainly does.
66-degrees! Okay, so my readers who are not from Florida may not fully appreciate my excitement; but to wake up this morning and walk the dog with the temperature registering 66-degrees, with low humidity thrown in for good measure, well, all I can say is “Thank-you, thank-you thank-you!”
Then, as soon as we returned home, and while the coffee was still brewing, I opened all the windows and doors. I know I’ll probably have to close them again and crank the air-conditioning well before lunch, but I want to wring every ounce of fall-like refreshment possible from this small window of opportunity.
SERENDIPITY: This morning is a serendipity, and serendipity by definition is ephemeral. The fact that serendipity is unexpected, impossible to contain, and fleeting doesn’t make it any less real, it simply means I need to cultivate my awareness and then pause to enjoy the moment.
My spiritual life is a lot like that. Like serendipity, the Spirit of God tends to move outside my default level of awareness. If I don’t cultivate my receptivity, then I blunder blindly through my day, my week, as if it is God who is silent rather than me who is unreceptive….
If I rise on the wings of the morning, if I settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, your right hand shall hold me fast. – (Psalm 139:9-10)
Reading those verses is an example of cultivating receptivity. Spiritual serendipity becomes more frequent when we adjust those “default settings” of awareness. One way to do this (just about the best, in my estimation) is employing intentionality when it comes to daily devotional readings.
How do you spell refreshment? With Rebekah at Grotto Falls in Tennessee
Time spent with God, in the context of scripture, is always refreshing.
God; serendipity; 66-degrees with the doors and windows wide open; scripture; prayer.
Refreshment. Replenishment. It’s like a waterfall of grace.
Hanging out with my community of faith at First Presbyterian of Brandon
NOTE: Today’s post first appeared earlier this week at the Upper Room Books web page as an “Author Blog.” I have been asked to write a 3-post series on “The importance of Christian Community. Here’s the link – Upper Room Books– I’d encourage you to check out their site. Alternatively, you can link directly to their excellent bookstore – Bookstore.
Derek Maul, Upper Room author, shares some thoughts on the importance of Christian community in this first of three blog posts.
And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.—Hebrews 10:24-25
’m writing this post on a Saturday evening, which means I’ll be in church first thing tomorrow morning. There are several reasons for this, but one of the most compelling is how critical it is for me to be immersed in my community of faith.
It may be a beautiful morning tomorrow, one that cries, “Golf!” or “Beach!” at full volume.
Or I may be dog-tired and desperately in need of a couple extra hours of sleep.
Or I may have this looming deadline that a long Sunday and a large pot of coffee could handily take care of.
Or I may simply not feel like heading in to worship.
It’s up to me. I could go, or I could not go—my decision. I’m an adult now. I could go to church, or I could stay at home.
But I’m going to be there; you can count on it. There’s no “maybe” when it comes to church. Because everything I value in my life is encouraged, validated, fine-tuned, and restored in the context of intentional community.
INTENTIONAL: Yes, intentional. I’m using the word carefully. I’m a loner by nature—the kind of guy who could happily make his way through a week or three without having a conversation, or watching a TV show, or checking in with his kids. But I’ve learned over the years how important it is for me to invest myself in other people. I’m always glad when I do; I just have to be deliberate about taking the necessary steps.
Just because community is good for me doesn’t mean that seeking it out comes naturally, or that I don’t have to make any effort.
COMMUNITY AS DISCIPLINE: Here’s the thing. Irrespective of my “natural” proclivity to keep myself to myself, I still need the community of faith. It’s how – and why – I was created. God created us for community, deliberate relationship both with God and with other people; community is at the core of how we are designed.
The (person) who says, “I’m not any good at making friends” is no more —or less—in need of life-charged community than the [person] who has accumulated a dozen friends without even trying. We were created for relationship with God, and we were created for relationship with other people. Building community is absolutely necessary for anyone who wants to engage their full potential.
celebrating our common life together – in our new fellowship hall.
So I make the effort to attend my men’s group; I have an “accountability” covenant with a couple of friends; I talk about absolutely everything with my wife (especially when I don’t want to); I talk to at least one of my adult children every single day; I intentionally avoid sitting in the corner during gatherings . . . and tomorrow morning I’m going to be in church.
How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore. —Psalm 133
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: (Philippians 2:1-5)
I’ve been thinking seriously about U.S. foreign policy this week, and I’ve come to the conclusion that we (the people, the government, the State Department, Congress…) need to first contemplate and then adopt a fundamental shift in how the United States of America relates to the rest of the world.
What I’m recommending is completely a-political. In fact, I think it’s a safe bet to say that my approach would be pretty-much impossible to pull off for either major party.
AMERICAN INTEREST: Essentially – and simplicity is important in a blog post – I believe our problem stems from one of the oldest “doctrines” in U.S. foreign policy: that of “America Interest.”
The idea of “American Interest” as the bedrock of foreign policy has been articulated since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Additionally, part of the subtext of this thinking also has its roots in the 19th Century idea of “Manifest Destiny.” Then there’s America’s self-appointed mission to promote and defend democracy, and the belief of many evangelicals that the USA is God’s new “Chosen Nation.”
The Bush Doctrine of 2001 added a “We’ll come and get you before you come to us” dimension, and that really hasn’t changed under President Obama.
A NEW AND LIVING WAY: What I’m proposing, instead, is an across-the-board recalibration of what it means for the United States to interact with the world community. I’m proposing a re-write where the term “American Interest” is replaced – in every instance – with “The Interests of Others.”
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
citizens of the world
THEY’RE NOT ASKING FOR THIS KIND OF HELP! That’s the first part. For the second, I recommend a deeper understanding of the important fact that “The entire world does not think like us.”
Case in point, have we noticed what’s been going on in response to that distasteful, poorly produced, insulting to everyone video about the Prophet Mohamed that’s got so many people riled up?
The same folk who we are so determined to bring democracy, free speech, and civil liberties to are more than happy to attack and kill those who exercise such rights.
When will we learn that we can’t (indeed, shouldn’t) export “Americanism” as a magic pill, and expect it to take hold from the outside? Likely as not we’re going to be treated like an invasive virus that eventually gets swamped by white blood-cells and needs to be excised from the host.
Just look at Afghanistan. And don’t be saying, “That’s the work of evil-doers; once we defeat them things will settle down.” No. We cannot, must not, use military force to establish “American Interest” and then expect the host culture to fall – gratefully – in line. That’s not the way the world works. We’re not going to change that by sticking our heels in and trying harder.
LONG TERM BENEFITS: Lastly, and I think this should help, I firmly believe that “valuing others above ourselves,” “not looking to our own interests,” and “looking to the interests of others” as our first order of business will ultimately advance “American Interest” by virtue of the spiritual principle of “Doing Right.”
A world in which the leading power and most influential culture shifts its core value away from self-interest and toward the interests of others is going to be more profoundly changed than via any military conquest.
always thinking about “stuff”
And – lest readers think I’ve forgotten this – I am not discounting the HUGEamount of good the U.S. already does in the world, both via Government sponsored aid and the heroic, epic work of so many non-profits. However, there’s a difference between altruism and foreign policy doctrine.
It’s not like what we’re doing thus far has been working…
Peace, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart – DEREK
n May of 1999, two separate events took place. First, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released, featuring the new super villain, Sith apprentice “Darth Maul.” At the same time, somewhere in our neighborhood, someone dumped off a jet-black kitten. The kitten followed Andrew and Naomi home to Maul Hall (with a little help).
Our new pet’s name was a no-brainer. Darth Maul demonstrated unprecedented friendliness for a feline, quickly developed the endearing habit of gruff, conversational mewing, and became an instant hit with everyone who crossed his path.
Darth’s favorite activity during the past year
Darth was, in a word, “cool.” He became friends with my old dog, Mozart, and developed the habit of joining us on our late evening walk. He became friends with everyone at the Valrico Animal Clinic, and was possibly the first cat in history to allow certain intrusive examinations without extending his claws or biting. He simply voiced disapproval via a steady stream of indignant conversation.
supervising the gardening this summer
GARDEN: Rebekah and Darth loved to garden together. He’d wait for her to get situated, walk over, and either stand or sit nearby, talking expressively all the time. When she moved, he moved. She could always count on his presence.
Sometimes, when he was younger, Darth would go up to the 7th green on the golf course and sit next to a newly arrived ball, watching the golfers as they came up. I’d see him bat the ball around, then run like crazy. He never used a litter box, he preferred the bunkers.
He had an uncanny sense of respect for other life, including our garden snakes. One day I saw the cat next door come out of our bushes dragging a large black snake, pouncing on it, playing with it, batting it around. The snake was hurt, but not mortally. Darth watched for a few moments before heading over to the scene. He stood next to the other cat, mewed a few distinct expletives, then smacked the offending cat hard before chasing it away. Darth then proceeded to coax the snake back to life and ushered it into the safety of the bushes.
Enjoying the garden
DOG FRIEND: When Mozart died, Darth mourned. The moment the clinician administered the final shot (it was a home visit), Darth jumped off the bed and joined Moe on the floor, curling up and nuzzling his best friend till he slipped peacefully away. Later, he sat vigil on the headstone for hours.
Late that same night Darth insisted we go out for our 11:00 walk. “Would you look at that Derek Maul,” the neighbors probably said, shaking their heads, “now he’s out there walking his cat…”
the last time we saw Darth, comfortably asleep in the guest room…
“THERE IS A SEASON (TURN, TURN)”:Two weeks ago, while we were in Tennessee, Darth Maul left the house for his nocturnal rounds, and he never came home. Our house-sitter – bless her tender heart – was inconsolable. Friends and neighbors searched, but to no avail. When we came home we held out hope that Darth might show up, but it’s been over a week now (20 days in all) and – we have to accept it – our cool cat is not coming home.
Yes, he’s micro-chipped. Yes, we’ve put the word out. Yes, we’ve searched in every conceivable place. No, the shelter hasn’t seen him.
Darth Maul, circa 2000
BENEDICTION: Darth has been wandering his exact same territory (two-houses in every direction) for over 13 years. Lately it’s just been one house on each side. Then – the night we came home – Scout and I ran into a mean Coyote in the neighborhood….
Darth Maul was a great cat; he was better than a great cat. Everyone who house-sat fell in love with him. Melissa, Lacey, Holly, Faith. Darth was a real friend; he was the best. You didn’t have to be “cat people” to be “Darth people.”
So thank you, you cool, gruff, and conversational cat, for being such an important and loving part of the Maul family all these years. We’re going to miss you more than I can possibly express. You loved with the kind of unconditional love that humbles those of us who are less genuine and less grateful for one-another. And we love you; we love you – we always will.
In gratitude, and with far too much pain for the moment – DEREK
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. – Ecclesiastes 3