Together > Alone

We live in a culture that is devastated by individualism and isolation.

·      27.2 Million People live alone in the U.S.

·      More people say the feel alone than any other time.

·      25 percent say they have no on they can turn to as a confidant.

·      More people link their depression with loneliness than ever.

*According to a study done by Duke University and the US Census

These stats are alarming, especially within our social media crazed society. We are more connected than ever, yet we are as isolated as we have ever been. Isolation has no prejudice and makes its way into our churches in the form of individualism on a consistent basis. It’s the attitude of “This is between me and Jesus.”

This mentality makes it challenging for us to appreciate the necessity of community. The “One Another’s” threaded throughout the New Testament should convince us that a solitary faith is not a Christian faith.    

The problem is, you can’t choose Jesus and not choose the church. They are a bundled deal. And by church I don’t mean a group of people you sing songs and listen to a sermon with once a week.

That is certainly one of the valid expressions of church and one we should be consistently involved in, but going to a service once a week is not walking in biblical community. Community is more than a Sunday.

Biblical community is the group of believers with whom we walk through the good, the bad, and the ugly of life while digging deeper into the gospel.

A SOLITARY FAITH IS NOT A CHRISTIAN FAITH

Recently a very popular Christian writer wrote a blog post on why he rarely attends church anymore. His rationale was that he had “graduated” from church and had found other ways to connect with God. Specifically, he said that it was through his work that he found his deepest God-connection.

Though I understand the sentiment, it is not remotely close to being biblical. Throughout the New Testament, particularly in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, we see that Christ-followers are all given different gifts (serving, teaching, exhortation, etc.) to exercise within biblical community. Every place in Scripture where we observe a spiritual gift, we always find it in a collective list with other spiritual gifts that other individuals may possess.

Spiritual gifts are not about individuals but purposed to build and edify the church and its mission. This means that the church is designed to be interdependent, working together toward one uniting mission. If one rogue member “graduates” from the body, then the body will not function with one another as it should—and the rogue member won’t either.

There are many aspects to what biblical community could and should look like but I want to give four simple aspects of community and what they should lead us towards as a church that lives on mission. A healthy community centered on the finished work of Jesus will center on the following actions:

·      Confront. Lovingly confront the sin that is hurting your brother or sister.

·      Confess. Confess sin to one another.

·      Repent. Turn from sin to Jesus with communal accountability.

·      Forgive. Receive forgiveness for our rebellion while forgiving one another.

The cross is where unity is made possible and where biblical community can truly grow.

As you walk in community with others and you begin to confront, confess, repent and forgive, you will collectively grow together in your understanding of grace. The cross confronts our sin, causes confession, leads to repentance and delivers forgiveness.

The cross is where unity is made possible and where biblical community can truly grow. Mission is but an overflow of living a cross-centered life, and living in biblical community is foundational to growing in the gospel. Without biblical community, the mission of God will not be carried out to its intended purpose.

Meet at the Table

Meet at the Table

My wife and I have a rugged wooden farm table. It’s not impressive—there are scratches, stains, and some cracks that make you wonder if it can even hold another plate. As a family of four, the table is probably too big for us. As a matter of fact, we don’t even have enough chairs to go around it so an old trunk that sits on iron cast wheels acts as a bench. Even though the table is bulky and awkward, it has become the most significant place in our house. It is our place of meeting. Around this simple piece of furniture we share stories, corny jokes, old memories, laughter and tears, joys and pain. Together we eat, pray, and live around this tattered table.

It’s rare that our family is the only one gathering around this table. Our kids love having others join us and are constantly asking the question, “Who’s coming over tonight?” Having others share a meal with us has become a regular rhythm in which we live. We are learning to view our home, and this farm table, as a means of advancing the gospel.

Through this God-ordained transition we have seen God transform our understanding of both community and mission.

Community and Mission Meet

 Within the church, we tend to equate the word "mission" with a trip we take or a weekend project that we interact with on occasion. We are prone to define "community" as something that we experience through some type of Sunday program or home group bible study. Thankfully there is no need to separate community and mission. In the wisdom of God’s plan, these two critical aspects of the Christian life work in tandem. Jesus, in fact, prayed for this in John 17. He begs the Father “that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (Jn 17:23). Jesus links the love that we have with one another with his mission to the world. As we grow in love for one another, the world will be drawn to saving faith.

Your city can be transformed when community and mission meet at the table. Your table can be more than a place that meals are shared—it can become the place where community and mission meet. Picture it: a table for the hurting, the lonely, the rich, the has-beens, the have-nots, the popular, the rebellious, and the self-righteous. Imagine God taking those gathered around your table and forming them together for the greatest mission they could ever join. This is His track record from Genesis to now. Community is more than a Sunday and mission is more than a trip.

The Christians mission involves you to bringing your friends who know Jesus into your home while intentionally and simultaneously inviting friends who do not yet know Christ. Set the table, serve the food, pray for God's blessing, and watch Him do the work.

I believe that the Christian community and God’s mission go hand in hand. We must create the space for those who do not have the gospel to see the gospel put on display. Jesus said in John 13:35, By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

 God has a divine meeting waiting on you—I invite you to pull up a seat at the table and experience life in community.

HOSPITALITY vs. ENTERTAINMENT

Hospitality is NOT about entertaining.

What have you historically thought about when you hear the word hospitality? Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart, Southern Living, cleaning, cooking, setting the table, coordinating colors, Pinterest, plate arrangements, table decorations?

This perception of hospitality means providing a flawless menu, an unsurpassed environment, and the perfect conversation. It’s like trying to provide the magical experience of Disney within the confines of your home. This ideal carries with it a load of pressure, and when you feel that crushing weight, you are not practicing biblical hospitality—you are entertaining.

Entertaining isn’t about loving people. It’s about impressing people. And trying to impress people isn’t loving them. It’s loving yourself. There is distinct difference in entertaining and hospitality. One falsely builds up self, while the other is drenched in the sincere love of Romans 12:10, “Love one another with brotherly affection.”

ENTERTAINING VS. PRACTICING HOSPITALITY

Author Jen Wilkin, offers clarity between the eerily similar but vastly different practices:

* Entertaining is always thinking about the next course. Hospitality burns the rolls because it was listening to a story.
* Entertaining obsesses over what went wrong. Hospitality savors what was shared.
* Entertaining, exhausted, says, “It was nothing, really!” Hospitality thinks it was nothing. Really.
* Entertaining seeks to impress. Hospitality seeks to bless.

THE PRESSURE IS OFF

 

The gospel says the pressure is off. You’re freed to love people because there’s no need to impress them.

You don’t have to give folks Disney World every time you open the doors of your home. Give them you.

 

This doesn’t mean you can’t attempt to make good food. That’s a great way to serve people. If you can’t cook well, order takeout. Don’t poison anyone with your lack of culinary skills—that’s not entertainment or hospitality, that’s just wrong. It also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wipe down the table so it’s clean enough to eat on. That’s something you should do regardless of whether or not you understand Jesus-centered hospitality.

NO MORE EXCUSES

But—and this is an important but—the excuse, “We can’t have people over, the house is a mess!” is no longer valid. Can I let you in on a secret? Most people have been in a house before. Many people even live in them, and they know houses get messy. It’s okay for them to see evidence of everyday life. We’re inviting folks into real life in a way that they get to know the real us, and feel comfortable enough to be their real selves, which leads to real community.

Relax and let people see you and how God’s grace meets you in your messy life.

 

Hospitality is about relational posture and attitude far more than any amount of skill, action, or practice. It’s a heart that says, Yes, there is room in my life for you. This requires that you work to be open and honest, bring your best to the table, and encourage others with the goodness of God. These practices will allow others to feel welcomed through your efforts.

 

You could have an open house and not have an open life, but it is near impossible to have an open life and not have an open home.

This is one area where you may be at an advantage if you are more introverted. Sure, you may not desire to have thirty people in your home every night, but what about building a relationship with one person? You can talk in greater depth rather than attempt the vast array of relationships that extroverts may desire. You, as an introvert, can go deeper while others, who are extroverts, can go wider. As gospel communities we are called to give up the isolated view of our homes. By pursuing hospitality, we grow from a self-focused, self-centered way of life and use our homes as a tool for displaying the gospel.

 

Portions of this blog have been taken from Dustin’s forthcoming book, Life in Community, which is now available for pre-order.

The Home, A Way for Mission

We live in the most connected time in world history yet societally we are as isolated as we have ever been. We are connected through Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat, Pinterest, Instagram, GroupMe, texting and whatever else some bored Ivy League student creates next week.

222 million adults in the U.S. have the ability to connect with the world with the touch of a button in their hand. Smart phones make it possible to communicate without being present with someone, and texting makes it possible without even hearing a person’s voice.

Technology has made communication so easy that we are addicted to convenience and we struggle to truly build relationships with one another. I am not against advances in technology, but I think it has great potential to draw us down a road of isolation.

Recent studies from Duke University and the U.S. Census Bureau suggest that our society is in the midst of a dramatic and progressive slide toward disconnection.

STATS ON LONELY AMERICA

  • More people than ever live alone – 27.2 million people.
  • More people say they feel alone than ever in our history.
  • More people than ever say they have no one as a confidant.
  • More people than ever are considered depressed due to loneliness.
  • The number of “socially isolated” Americans has doubled since 1985.

God’s word speaks in a direct, relevant and timely way to the tension of what is uncovered in the above stats. Biblical hospitality leads people toward true community and fights against the disconnection that is so culturally prevalent.

HOSPITALITY ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES

  •  Hebrews 13:2 – Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
  • 1 Peter 4:9  – Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.
  • Romans 12:13 – Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
  • Romans 15:7 – Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
  • Leviticus 19:34 – You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.
  • Titus 1:8 – Be hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.

Too often we view our homes as places of refuge, rather than a tool for gospel advancement. Michael Rhodes stated in his post earlier this week, Christians can be generous with their time and money but stingy with their homes. We must repent from worshipping the comfort of our homes. Christ must gain his rightful place as the only refuge in our lives. Life will change for you when your home becomes a hub of hospitality rather than a hotel for the healed.”

Hospitality gives us the opportunity to display the gospel to those we welcome into our homes. Hospitality at its essence is about allowing others to feel both loved and welcomed, which is what Jesus has modeled for us in His kindness toward us. One of the greatest weapons we have been given to fight against isolation is the home. How do we practically open our homes and begin to build community as we live on mission?

HOSPITALITY MADE SIMPLE

Plan for it. My wife and I struggled for a long season to be hospitable. Our tendency was to just have the same people over, because it was what was comfortable for us. We finally had to put it into our budget and onto our calendar and in due time it became a regular rhythm in which we lived. I will keep it simple. Put it in your budget and plug it into your calendar and begin inviting people into your home or you will not do it. The Bible calls us to be hospitable with both believers and nonbelievers, so make sure you are inviting both.

Be you. Biblical hospitality is the opposite of entertaining. We’re inviting someone into real life in a way that they get to know the real us and feel comfortable enough to be their real self. Am I saying don’t clean up or don’t seek to cook a good meal? No. I am simply saying to let them see the real you. We tend to frantically clean up our house and make it as Pinterest-worthy as possible. Relax and let people see the real you and how God’s grace applies in your life and that everything isn’t always perfectly together for you and your family.

Sacrifice for it. Hospitality is not easy. Hospitality will cost you something, always. Opening up your home to others will cost money, take time and drain personal energy. It will shake up the peace and quiet that seems so sparse. There’s a good reason why Peter writes, Show hospitality without grumbling. It’s easy to complain; hospitality is costly. Don’t focus on what it costs. Focus on what it’s worth. God is in the business of using those who are sacrificial.

Hospitality is the practical outworking of the gospel. Hospitality not only displays kindness, but it aggressively flies into the face of isolation and brings about catalytic change within the communities that God has strategically placed us.

A Simple Way to Share the Gospel

I will never forget going to lunch with a classmate, Travis, my senior year of college. Travis wanted to talk about some frustrations he was dealing with, and he heard I would be someone good to talk with. In the middle of his monologue about the disaster his life had become (a sign of brokenness), I stopped him and said, “Hey, man, you need Jesus. It’s as simple as that, and you need to become a Christian right now.” I’d never been that bold just to interrupt someone in midsentence and invite them to follow Jesus, but I felt the Holy Spirit prompt it and so I acted.

What happened next blew my mind. Travis said, “You’re right!” He then dropped his head and started praying. He told God his sin in great detail—right there over a rack of ribs and corn on the cob.

To be fair, I’ve had similar conversations since then, and most of the people didn’t give their lives to Jesus. But the point is simple: When God prompts, speak the gospel.

If we are going to reach people where they are, we have to be bold enough to speak the gospel where they are and not wait on the “professional” to do what every believer has been explicitly called to do.

Sharing the gospel can be extremely nerve racking. Within the North American church, evangelism is too often reduced to inviting someone to a church service in hopes that the preacher’s message that day is engaging, states all the right ideas, and, in the end, leads to your friend walking an aisle, filling out a response card, or raising her hand.

Please understand me clearly. There is nothing wrong with investing for the sake of inviting a person to a church service, but know that seeing someone move closer to Jesus is going to take much more than that. If we are going to reach people where they are, we have to be bold enough to speak the gospel where they are and not wait on the “professional” to do what every believer has been explicitly called to do.

When reading Romans 10, many of us have the tendency to get excited about verse 13—“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”—and verse 15—“How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.” Both verses communicate amazing truth and are without question something that we should celebrate. Unfortunately, I believe one of the most unapplied and overlooked verses in the Bible is sandwiched between verses 13 and 15: “But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him?” (Romans 10:14).

The good news of God’s grace cannot be mimed; it must be spoken. Other than one’s own salvation there may not be a greater joy than explaining the gospel and watching God do what only He can do: save people. The Life On Mission movement is about seeing God’s Kingdom advance through everyday people, passionately and practically living out the mission of God. We must speak the gospel and invite people into relationship with Jesus.

PRACTICAL TOOLS FOR SHARING THE GOSPEL

Within the Send Network, we talk extensively about living on mission and building relationships with those around us, but we want to give practical tools that help you and your church as you explain the gospel in conversation and invite someone to surrender his or her life to Jesus. Below is a list of a few tools we have developed as a team.

We are excited to announce that in partnership with LifeWay we just released a DVD Group Bible Study based around, LIFE ON MISSION DVD STUDY featuring, JD Greear, Eric Mason, Jimmy Scroggins, Ellis Prince, and Ronnie Floyd. 

Our simple desire is to see you succeed in the mission God has given you, whether that is through leading the church, planting a church or living on mission in your everyday life.

You Can't Choose Jesus and NOT His Church

I recently released my first book called Life On Mission. The book can work well as an individual study, but to be bluntly honest it will not be as good.

Not a great way to sell books I know but our goal is not to get rid of a bunch of books. Our aim is to see the mission of God go forth in a way that we have not seen across the spiritual landscape of North America. Living out the mission of God is designed to be done within the context of biblical community and is most effective when practiced with one another. Old testament to now, God has always been about forming a gospel people for a gospel mission.

If you choose to walk through the book, we would highly suggest grabbing a group of people not only to walk through the study together, but to intentionally live out gospel mission with one another.

 

A SOLITARY FAITH IS NOT A CHRISTIAN FAITH

 

Our North American culture places high value on independence and individualism, so it can be difficult for us to understand the necessity of community. Why can’t it just be me and Jesus? we think, toting our Bibles off in some lone-ranger mission to save the world.

The problem is, you can’t choose Jesus and not choose the church. They are a package deal. And by church I don’t mean a group of people you sing songs and listen to a sermon with once a week.

That is certainly one of the valid expressions of church and one we should be consistently involved in, but going to a service once a week is not walking in biblical community. Biblical community is the group of believers with whom we walk through the good, the bad, and the ugly of life while digging deeper into the gospel.

Recently a popular Christian writer wrote a blog post on why he rarely attends church anymore. His rationale was that he had “graduated” from church and had found other ways to connect with God. Specifically, he said that it was through his work that he found his deepest God-connection.

Though I understand the sentiment, it is not remotely close to being biblical. Throughout the New Testament, particularly in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, we see that Christ-followers are all given different gifts (serving, teaching, exhortation, etc.) to exercise within biblical community. Every place in Scripture where we observe a spiritual gift, we always find it in a collective list with other spiritual gifts that other individuals may possess.

Spiritual gifts are not about individuals but purposed to build and edify the church and its mission. This means that the church is designed to be interdependent, working together toward one uniting mission. If one rogue member “graduates” from the body, then the body will not function with one another as it should—and the rogue member won’t either.

There are many aspects to what biblical community could and should look like but I want to give four simple aspects of community and what they should lead us towards as a church that lives on mission. A healthy community centered on the finished work of Jesus will center on the following actions:

Confront. Lovingly confront the sin that is hurting your brother or sister.
Confess. Confess sin to one another.
Repent. Turn from sin to Jesus with communal accountability.
Forgive. Receive forgiveness for our rebellion while forgiving one another.

 The cross is where unity is made possible and where biblical community can truly grow.

As you walk in community with others and you begin to confront, confess, repent and forgive, you will grow together in your understanding of the cross of Christ. The cross confronts our sin, causes confession, leads to repentance and delivers forgiveness.

The cross is where unity is made possible and where biblical community can truly grow. Mission is but an overflow of living a cross-centered life, and living in biblical community is foundational to growing in the gospel. Without healthy biblical community, the mission of God cannot be carried out to its intended purpose.