A song from the Doobie Brothers got me to thinking. The title is “What a Fool Believes” and I thought about some of the things I once believed. Yep, I have believed some foolish things in my life. I used to believe that I had control. Life showed me otherwise. I used to believe that performance pleased God. Now I know that the gift of grace is that my faith pleases Him. I used to believe that I could go it alone. I have learned that is the worst way to navigate this journey and that we are designed to be in community. Philip Yancey states it beautifully.
“The church works best not as a power center, rather as a countercultural community – in the world but not of it – that shows others how to live the most fulfilled and meaningful life on earth. In modern society that means rejecting the false gods of independence, success, and pleasure and replacing them with love for God and neighbor.”
The author of Hebrews knew this.
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another… (Hebrews 10:24-25, NLT)
I wrote about this in my book Stay: Lessons My Dogs Taught Me about Life, Loss, and Grace. Here is an excerpt about living in community.
We were created to be in a community with other believers. Because of our unity in Christ, we are to embrace those different from ourselves. That’s what makes a church dynamic to a person who experiences grace and acceptance for the first time. And that is why church can be devastating when the congregation becomes selective, judgmental, and legalistic. Anne Lamott shares a thought-provoking observation: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
That is both an ouch and an amen statement. When differences result in judgment, what we thought was a safe place instead becomes the biggest betrayal of all. When we become “experienced” Christians, something seems to happen. We can lose touch with our former brokenness and sinfulness and desperate need to be forgiven and accepted. That is when the pretense begins that our holiness is based on performance instead of complete dependence on Christ.
Years ago I wrote When Bad Christians Happen to Good People. I envisioned a church that would be the kind of place that you couldn’t keep people away from even if you barred the doors. A place that would value every spiritual, physical, and financial gift, no matter how big or small. A place that would make it a practice to reach out and care for one another sacrificially. A place committed to meet those needs that we now prefer to leave to the “professional Christians” on staff. I dreamed of people from different walks of life, economic status, and culture being involved in each other’s lives without our differences dividing us. A place that would practice the prodigal son ministry, running to welcome those returning home, especially those scarred by bad decisions and sin. We would hold our brothers and sisters accountable to godly standards, but always in humility and grace. We would delight in the company of other spiritual travelers and make it a priority that no one ever felt alone.
I realize now that what I was longing for was a place of grace.
I know that finding and living in real community in our culture isn’t easy. I understand how easy it is to want to throw in the towel. I almost did. The truth is that we need community, even if we’ve been hurt by bad relationships in the past. If you aren’t in a community of grace, it may be time to ask God to lead you to such a place. I know that can be daunting. It took me a long time to find such a place, but I found one. It took me a longer time to realize how God was redeeming every hurt, every slight, and every trial. Eventually, I was able to see how He’d been preparing me, especially through those hard times, to embrace and welcome grace in a whole new way.
I have been swept away by grace. My life—including my relationship with Jesus, my marriage, and my ministry—have been transformed. It’s been that dramatic.
Taken from Stay by Dave Burchett copyright © 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.