A ministry leader once tried an interesting communication experiment. Holding giant whiteboards and some markers, he engaged passersby on his city’s streets. On one whiteboard, people were asked to write what they wanted to tell the church. The messages weren’t very kind. On the other board, people were asked to write, “What do you want to say to Jesus?” To Him they wrote surprisingly tender messages such as, “I miss you,” “I’m sorry,” and “I love you.”
“I’ve learned more about God from the tears of homeless women than any . . . systematic theology books ever taught me,” said Shane Claiborne, explaining what drew him to sharing life in community with the poor. His words take me back to the first time I attended a church service in a poverty and violence-stricken neighborhood in Chicago. During the service, several people stood up to testify of their grief and longing for their community’s healing. As we prayed and worshiped with a depth I had never experienced, I realized that I too was broken and deeply in need of this kind of community—where pain is freely shared and together we encounter the One who meets us in our brokenness.
Ever wanted to live like a monk? Thirty-four young adults did, accepting an offer from the Archbishop of Canterbury to embrace a countercultural, monastic way of life for ten months. From varied nations and denominations, the group formed a community that studied the Scriptures, prayed, and served together. At the end of their time, one participant stated, “We’ve spent time growing in intimacy with God, learning from Jesus and listening to the Holy Spirit.”
Watch a video of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, and you’ll be struck by the charm and grace with which they performed. It’s easy to assume that the four musicians were simply born with the skills they displayed. But in his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that what made the Beatles a hit with fans was lots of hard work. Before that celebrated performance, the band had done nearly 1,200 shows—practice that prepared them for greatness.
People often blame God for their suffering. In 2016, one plaintiff even filed a legal request for a restraining order against his Creator. The man, who actually appeared in court for the case, told the judge that over the past three years, God “had been very negative towards him” (no specifics were recorded).
The speaker at our conference asked us to gather in groups of three with people we had never met. He told us to each take one minute to tell the others about ourselves and share the story of one person we wanted God to bless. One man said he wanted God to bless his wife who was battling cancer while she cared for her invalid mother. Another praised God for healing his wife’s cancer but said he was concerned for his adult son who was far from God.
Maurice Andre was one of the best trumpet players the world has known. He once said that a good trumpet player had to be “like a matador in a bull ring.” He continued, “I see flutists and oboists go on the stage gingerly. If you do that with the trumpet you’re finished.” I believe he was saying that only a certain personality type possesses what it takes to succeed as a trumpet player. Trumpeters can’t hide; every note is heard by every listener! If you don’t have the God-given disposition to handle that, it can truly destroy you.
Many of our neighbors’ experiences have left them wondering how to reconcile what they know of the church with what they know of God. They’ve tasted harshness in place of conviction, rejection in lieu of love, and isolation instead of family. Sadly, refraining from any local church involvement has become a norm for them.
The phrase “dirty laundry” could refer to the bag a college student brings home, or it may mean a person’s private business—personal matters not to be discussed publicly. We can safely say that it’s not Christlike to air that kind of dirty laundry.
In 2015, Derrick Rose, an All-Star guard in the National Basketball Association (NBA), faced another surgery after he tore the medial meniscus in his right knee for the second time in 15 months. The meniscus is a relatively obscure part of the human body, yet this essential piece of cartilage not only threatened Rose’s career, but also hurt his team’s chances of a championship and dashed the hopes of the city where he plays. What a large impact from such a small thing!
Many of the local churches in our city still exist with the same spirit of segregation that has plagued my country for so long. Aware of this evil, a group of pastors and leaders across ethnic divides meet monthly for breakfast. We pray and eat. We talk about economic realities and political structures. We talk about our local history (decades ago a neighborhood with thriving black-owned businesses was razed to the ground). The most powerful thing, however, is when one of us is bold and vulnerable enough to share our own story, our pains and fears, our hopes and our longings. In that moment we draw others close. We allow other people to share our burdens, to share our life.
The word fellowship conjures up some rather strange associations in my mind. When I hear it spoken, I immediately think of coffee and donuts, along with the basement meeting spaces in churches where those coffee and donuts are served. Most strangely, I also think about the 2001 movie The Fellowship of the Ring. So somehow my concept of Christian community has become inextricably tied to a tale of men, dwarves, and elves dealing with “one ring to rule them all.”
Reasons? He has many. As he passes several churches during his drive to the park for his Sunday run, he enjoys his solitude. In fact, he reflects on how he can connect with God just as easily—if not more so—on his own. But deep layers of pain, a multitude of rehearsed excuses, and complicated explanations mask a simple reality: Church has not been a safe place for him.
I have a friend who has spent most of his life with people who live on society’s margins: People experiencing poverty or homelessness, those who wrestle with addictions or simply exist outside the mainstream, anyone who might be considered an outcast. “That’s where I seem to fit,” my friend says. “On the edges.” He helps believers in Jesus learn how to be in true friendship with those who are different. “This kind of friendship isn’t as complicated as we like to make it,” my friend insists. “Often it’s as simple as knowing someone’s name and how they like their coffee.”
Every year, hundreds of boys aged 3 to 8 play rugby in a tournament held across South Africa. Though it’s a tamer version of the adult game, children and parents still take it pretty seriously. For this is where a passion is forged for one of the most popular sports in South Africa. Young boys dream of one day playing for the national team. As they get older, however, the competition gets tougher and only the very best will play for the Springboks—the nation’s top squad.