“THE CRUCIFIED COMMUNITY”
August 15, 2009
I just kept thinking how improbable the events of that day truly were and how blessed Babs and I were to be invited to share in them. Earlier we had witnessed our dear friend, the cook at Carrow’s Restaurant where the “Church at Table #2” is located, getting married in a small, civil ceremony in a nearby city. Now the extended family was gathered in his backyard in the East Bay community of San Pablo for a festive barbecue and celebration. Babs and I were the only non-family members present. Yet even though the party was held in honor of the new bride and groom, we were treated as their special guests. Making the occasion even more incredible was the fact that three of the family members spoke little to no English. Neither Babs nor I spoke Spanish. Consequently, conversations were continually being translated back and forth. Despite the awkwardness of our communications, the love seemed to flow freely in both directions.
Since that gathering last Monday afternoon I have taken the opportunity to reflect upon all that led up to this remarkable scene where Babs and I were virtually being adopted into a family from another culture. For two years we had been following the Lord into this bountiful harvest field, cultivating a growing friendship with this family and sharing Jesus with them. At times we had wondered if our efforts would ever bear fruit. Now we were celebrating not only a wedding for which we had been lobbying since we first met them, but also the salvation of four members of their family. Our love for each other had conquered the cultural divide between us.
Over the course of our strengthening relationship we have freely blessed them with some badly needed furniture, assisted them in the renewal of their immigration status, and shared our knowledge of God’s Word with them during church gatherings in their home. We have prayed with them, counseled with them, shared each other’s cooking, stumbled over learning songs from two very different backgrounds, and marveled as God knit together the hearts of our two dissimilar families. Have we been experiencing some freak anomaly of the nature of human relations or have we stumbled upon some principle of kingdom expansion? My vote is for the latter for which I also place into evidence exhibit number two.
For the last two years Babs and I have been meeting regularly for simple church with a Singaporean couple in San Ramon, the community just to the north of our hometown of Dublin. Their daughter is one of my piano students and our growing relationship led to them inquiring as to how we do church in the home. “Could we do church in our home?” they asked after hearing my brief explanation of the benefits of house church and, of course, we gladly accepted their invitation. To begin with they invited only their churched friends to our fellowships. But as most of these strong Christian families fell away from participation they began to reach out to their substantial circle of friends who were nominal believers or non-Christians. Now they have a good mix of veteran believers and seekers who meet together every Friday evening.
This San Ramon group is predominantly Asian, so how did Babs and I manage to bridge another cultural divide? Once again, over the course of two years, we have been patiently growing a love relationship with them. Many of these now dear friends I met because the original couple recommended me as a music teacher for their children. We have discovered that blessing someone’s kids provides a wide open door into the hearts of the parents. It seemed only natural to invite them to the Friday evening church gathering.
Babs and I have spent many months discipling the host couple who are rapidly growing into seasoned spiritual leaders. Already this year we have baptized five individuals from this gathering. Now this group is growing in numbers to such an extent we feel the need to split into two gatherings. What has led to the success of this simple church? Babs and I have opened up our hearts and allowed the love of God to flow freely, unhindered, at flood stage between us. In this case love meant spending time, lots of it. But we are seeing a spectacular harvest as a result. Let’s move on to exhibit number three.
Earlier this year I received a call from a friend ours with whom we ministered some fifteen to twenty years ago in the North Bay. He asked if we could come to their home and help them start a simple church with some of their neighbors. The main sticking point was one of logistics. They live in the community of Olivehurst, some forty miles north of Sacramento and a two hour drive from our home. Yet, prompted by the Holy Spirit, we have been making the journey at least once a month to connect with these families who are intent on drawing closer to the Lord and reaching out to their neighborhood. This gathering is mostly African American, yet the color of our skin has been forgotten in the midst of our passion for God. Once again, the love of Christ freely flowing through us, even to the extent of driving over two hundred miles to meet together, has crumbled the walls dividing our cultures. But wait; there’s even more.
Several months ago, in obedience to what we were hearing from God, Babs and I opened up our home to a mixed race family from Philadelphia. They needed a place to stay for three months until they learned how permanent the father’s new job would be. Compounding the difficulties of joining two diverse families under one roof was the fact that this family had seven members, including a two-week old baby girl. Their passion for simple church had led them to seek out a host family who was already engaged in organic church planting hoping to learn from them.
During the course of our stay together something totally unexpected occurred, something that could only be wrought by the working of Divine hands. Instead of a growing frustration over having too many people sharing life together under the same small roof, we experienced a growing love for each other until our two families became one. In the process God forged an apostolic partnership between us that has already greatly blessed our ministry. In a most unusual turn of events God miraculously answered one of my most heartfelt prayers, not just for workers for the harvest, but for apostolic partners who would be able to assist us in reaching the overwhelming size of the harvest field in this area. Once again the breakthrough occurred because we were willing to sacrificially love people, in this case complete strangers, in order to see the kingdom of God advance.
So what are the principles for kingdom expansion we have learned over the past two years as we have seen our ministry take off? The Lord of the harvest continues to confirm to us the truth that the lost are rarely going to wander into our church gatherings. We need to discover ways to get out into the harvest field. We met the cook at Carrow’s because we were already meeting there for a men’s Bible study and were reaching out to the restaurant staff offering to pray for them. Rather than invite the cook to our Sunday evening gathering in our own home, we opted to take him up on his invitation to do church in his house. Our San Ramon gathering came as a result of getting out into the community through teaching private music lessons. Once again, instead of inviting them to our home we went their direction and planted a church in their place. For the church at Olivehurst we had no alternative but to follow the Lord deep into the harvest field and trust him for the results. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out…” – Luke 10:2-3.
In each case the Lord led us to an individual who invited us into their life and opened up their home to do simple church. “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house…” – Luke 10:5-7. But how do we encourage “people of peace” to open up their hearts and homes to us? Scripture tells us to first bless them. If they are a “person of peace” our blessing them will link us together. And how do we bless them? We do so by allowing the overwhelming, all-pervasive, self-sacrificing, culture-bridging love of God to melt down the barriers between us. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35.
The strategy is to build community with those God brings to us, who appear to be “persons of peace.” That very community, based upon sacrificial love, will bridge any cultural chasm and melt the hardest of hearts. It is a community reflective of our triune God, who exists in community as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is a community which, wonder of wonders, through the grace of our heavenly Father and the sacrifice of His only begotten Son, we have been invited to join. It is a community which we now open up to share with others. And it is a community for which Christ prayed the night before He was crucified. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” – John 17:20-21.
What kind of community are we talking about? It is a community of the cross where sacrificial love flows from Christ into His body compelling us to pass it on to others. It is a community where individuals surrender their own needs and desires in order to advance the cause of Christ. “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” – 2Corinthians 5:14-15. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23.
What kind of community are we talking about? It is a community of sacrifice, one in which members daily pick up their cross and follow Jesus into the harvest field. It is a community in which we sacrifice our time, our finances, our homes, our hearts, and yes, even our lives. It is a crucified community, led by our crucified Lord and obediently followed by His children who are crucified with Him for the sake of the harvest. And when the crucified community is extended beyond the walls of our churches and home gatherings, it becomes a community whose gravitational pull is nearly irresistible.
Bill, a child of God and member of the crucified community