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The Practice of Community.

A quick Google search reviews millions of references to the notion of Community. It’s a buzzword today with everyone seemingly trying to capitalize on the relational allure. We are relational beings. God created us to know and be known. So it makes sense. But it's also true that at no other time in history have we as a society been more connected because of modern technology. Yet, people have never felt so isolated and disconnected from people being a caring part of their lives.

We don’t usually think of practicing community. What’s there to practice? You either like someone or you don't. You either have regular contact or don’t. But community is more than if we simply like someone, agree with them, have the same socio-economic status, or enjoy the same things. Community is so much more than a familiar face or even a history together, though those are significant. Community also requires proximity, a “standing appointment” of sorts, so that we can be current in each other’s lives. I think God’s intention for Community is the where we work to discover our potential and find our contribution. The two go hand-and-hand. It’s where we can grow and get better through mentoring, accountability, encouragement, and teaching. But it’s also the place where we find a way to make others or the group better through serving, leading, sacrificing, and giving.

My wife, Laurel, is a marathon runner. Impressively, she runs at least one a year. A couple years ago, after training with a friend, they set out to run a race together. As Laurel told shared with me afterward, “she was trying to get rid of me almost the whole time”. Realizing she wasn’t as prepared for the race, her friend didn’t want to hold Laurel back so she kept trying to get her to run ahead. But for Laurel, it wasn’t about pushing herself to set a personal record or qualify for Boston. It was about running together. Laurel described how in supporting her friend all along the way actually energized her. What was fun was receiving a call on Monday from her running buddy. She began to thank Laurel saying, “Without you, I would’ve just walked. But you stuck with me and kept encouraging me. I couldn’t have done that without you!” There is something about being in relationship when we’re able to get better AND make others around us better too.

So what does this mean to be a faith community? The New Testament includes about 25 different references to “one another”. This is significant instruction of what God intended our collective faith to look like. It’s things like “live in harmony with one another”, “carry one another’s burdens…”, “forgive one another”, “Offer hospitality to one another”, and “have fellowship with one another”.  The bottom line, church is more than an event we attend on Sundays. Church often becomes limited to Instruct, build up, sing songs, and teach one another. If all we do is attend on Sunday’s we might be inspired but we’ll miss impact. The impact of a faith community is when we begin to discover our potential and find our contribution.

Faith is something that's supposed to be both shared and practiced. And while faith is deeply personal, it's not something we're supposed to work out in isolation. The practice of community, that is the church, gives us a laboratory to know and be known. To grow and contribute. To receive while giving. To lead and to learn. This is the Power of Good. Works.

This is not that.

Former NFL Quarterback, Doug Williams had a historic career in the NFL. In 1998, he was named Super Bowl XXII MVP as he led the Washington Redskins to victory passing for a record 340 yards and four touchdowns. Williams was also the first black starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl. In 1998 Williams become the head football coach at Grambling St. succeeding the legendary Eddie Robinson who had coached there for 55 years! When Williams was introduced as the new head football, “You don’t try to fill those shoes. You just dip ‘em in bronze, kiss ‘em, and sit ‘em on your mantle.”   In simple terms he was saying about his new tenure, "This is not that!” 

We often need a new lens to see a new opportunity. When we’re trying to adjust to something new, something different…maybe the least helpful thing we can do is try to compare it. When it comes to our faith, we all have a reference point that helped shape who we are, what we believe, and what we like and dislike. We all come with an expectation, a hope, a desire but only God can meet that in the most personal and maybe surprisingly different way!

As we create Mission Hills Church together, whatever your church experience was (good, bad or indifferent), can I just say, “This is not that”? This will feel different simply because it’s new, which might be what Austin (and each of us) needs. While we want to create a dynamic worship environment with some familiarity, we also want to see our lives — that is, our gifts, resources, time, and influence — align us with the God’s heart in Austin as it is in Heaven. 

If you’re used to a small group with curriculum and easy answers…
If you’re used to a lotta talk and large crowds…
If you’re used to merely being divided up by a stage of life and calling it community…
This is not that.

Tribes are designed to be more like an extended family group who offer encouragement and support in friendship and living out our faith. 

This is…surrogate aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.
This is…finishing the night in the kitchen cleaning up together.
This is…investing in other’s kids because they’re a part of the life of the tribe.
This is…connecting with different stages of life and discovering what's common among us.
This is…experimenting, practicing, embracing and implementing the Rhythms as a way to follow Christ in community.

Many are skeptical of religion yet are spiritually curious. We need a place to ask questions and express doubt. We also need a community that offers a way to express care and justice in order for faith to gain traction.   This can be that.

Many are far from family physically, perhaps emotionally. Yet we all need a community who stays current in our lives, reminds us of who we are, knows our potential, and calls us to make a contribution. 
This is the dream that is Mission Hills Church. 

The Power of Good. Works. An intro to our Rhythms

In 1966, after drawing “only” 50,000 fans for show at Shea Stadium, the Beatles were fed up w touring. In an interview years later with Paul, George and Ringo seated around a table, McCartney said, “We were getting worse and worse as a band while all those people were screaming. It was lovely that they liked us but we couldn’t hear to play.” They could no longer hear the music. When that happened, they lost their meaning. They had to go back to the studio to find their sound again. 

If our faith is the melody and God’s presence is the harmony, how can we hear God’s redemption song despite the insufferable distractions? I like to say that we need to find our spiritual rhythm, if you will—a way to tangibly express our faith and represent the belief we profess. And we need each other so we don’t lose it. 

We all have a desire to grow. Some of us have a plan for it. We have ideas about how to grow a career, our business, net worth, improve our health or relationships…but do we know how to grow our faith? I want to introduce a way of thinking about faith as a way of living.

Jesus said, ‘My mother & brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.’  (Lk.8:19-21). Ancient Israel shared a common understanding of the concept of good deeds. In causal Jewish English, “doing a mitzvot” means doing a good deed, something nice, something helpful to someone, a favor; but these meanings derive from the original sense, “a commandment” from God. It is somewhat shocking to learn that the Torah contains a whopping 613 mitzvot for the Jewish people to obey! 

Central to Jewish people was to live the way of Torah. These ‘commands’ from the first five books of the Bible were God’s design to help us live in harmony with God, with one another, and with the environment. Torah contains all kinds of laws that about the minutia of daily living (Lev.19; 25; Dt.24). Torah speaks to issues about food, possession, neighbors, sexuality, family, business, and clothing – in order to live the way of God. It’s about how to work, treat employees, treat customers, take of others because prosperity was thought of as communal not individual, that if one prospered others should too. And if the community prospered, no one would go hungry. Jesus embraces this inspired Jewish idea when he says, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your (mitzvot) good deeds and praise your father in Heaven” (Mt. 5:16)  

Many discussions in Jesus’ day centered around which were the most important commands. The better the rabbi, the fewer amount of words and letters he’d use to summarize the commands in the shortest way possible. Daily discussions were held in temple courts around these interpretations and which ones were most important. Debates among rabbis and religious leaders were won with someone’s ability to best summarize God’s intent behind the Laws. In a drop-the-mic, stun-the-crowd kind of moment, Jesus summarizes 613 commands saying, Love God and love others as much as self (Matt.22:24).

Different rabbis would have different interpretations of Torah. For instance, some might emphasize how much a person could lift or how far one could walk on Sabbath and still keep the day as holy. Others might emphasize personal hygiene or acceptable eating habits. And still others might scrutinize care for the most vulnerable in society. Many interpretations were so strict, legalistic, and became a source of pride. What’s interesting is that a rabbi’s interpretation was known as his ‘yoke’. Jesus, a master rabbi himself, comes along and declares, “my yoke is easy (or, useful) and my burden (or, load) is light” (Matt.11:30). Jesus wants to show what it looks like to put these commands on display. He wants to restore harmony with God and creates a tangible, guided way for people to follow. 

At Mission Hills Church, we’ve compiled a rather simple “yoke” for people to follow. We refer to them as our Rhythms. We believe that faith is supposed to be both shared and practiced beyond simply attending a worship service. We’re not trying to be spiritually comprehensive with these values. Rather, we trying to outline a tangible way for people to follow Christ, express faith, and experience the Spirit’s impact. Our belief is that if we practice these Rhythms, it can form Christ in us. And if we practice these Rhythms, it will benefit people where we live and work. 

  • Hospitality – because faith and community need to remain accessible.
  • Generosity – it’s in giving that we’re reminded of God’s gracious provision in our own lives. 
  • Gratitude simply requires discipline and thanksgiving is a valuable expression of worship.
  • Compassion – it’s in serving that our hearts are re-sensitized and needs are met.
  • Community – faith is supposed to be shared and practiced with others. 
  • Renewal - because margins are a good thing and we need to live more sustainably 
  • Apprenticing – because experience is both a need to gain and a gift to steward for all of us. 

Opportunity Knocks

Do you ever have those moments when you just feel like there’s something more going on? It might be a lesson to be learned, a prompting to give, a moment of pause, overcome with joy or even sadness. Yet, you struggle to find words to explain it? 

I tend to think God’s at work even when we don’t have words. God is near even if we can’t feel Him. 

Mark’s Gospel records a rather bold announcement when Jesus says, “The time has come. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” (Mk.1:15). When Jesus announces “The time has come”, he’s not referring to a chronology of events in time. Rather, Jesus uses the word ‘Kairos’, which translates time as 'opportunity'. 

In other words, we have regular - if not daily opportunities - to experience God’s presence in the grand, ordinary, and/or minutia of life. That is, if we’re paying attention.

‘Opportunity’ Knocks...but an opportunity for what?

...An opportunity to gain God’s perspective. 

...An opportunity to experience the our lives as God intended.

...An opportunity to usher in heaven on earth.

…An opportunity to turn or re-turn to a God who accepts, loves, sees, and knows.

With all the demands for our attention, recognizing God’s presence and hearing His voice becomes a discipline. Yet the thing that we all want is for God to draw near. So let’s practice noticing these “opportunities” and learn to share them together.

Keep a "Kairos journal". Let me encourage you to try something new this month. Notice and jot down the times where you feel like there’s something more going on – maybe an unsettledness, a check in your spirit, a sense of conviction. Sometimes it will be a lingering thought. Other times, it might be an interruption to your day. Simply observe, reflect, and respond. This might just be God drawing near. 

Lean in.  Listen.  And, in this case, jot a few notes down. When you stumble across ‘kairos’ moments – where you sense there’s something more going on — take time to:

State briefly your experience. It need not be long. Just 1-3 sentences.

Examine. Jesus invites to draw near by examine our heart and mind. Is it turning from something or perhaps turning toward? You might pray, journal, ask questions, or find scripture. Try and answer the question, What is God saying?  

Respond. What is a belief without an action. What is needed? Is it a nudge to confess, invite, help, give, apologize, go, serve, stop? Try and answer the question, What do I do?

A key to spiritual growth is our awareness of the presence of God. As a community, we can encourage each other with how we see and notice God at work. It’s how we share a living faith, together. I encourage each of you to try this and see if it doesn’t affect your perspective and sense that God is near.

Looking forward to our next ‘opportunity’ to be together & seeing how God shows up!