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Spiritual Formation

A New Normal: A human(e) Response to the Resurrection.

Now that Easter’s been properly celebrated, what does the promise of new life mean for our daily lives? Easter reminded us that we can begin again. Being spiritually "born again" isn’t supposed to happen once, but regularly and often. It’s a continual process of renewal.  II Corinthians 4:16 in The Message says, “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace."

Our world is so full of needs, injustice, and abuse that it appears as if our only hope is to survive. Certainly, not thrive. Honestly, it’s hard to let ourselves be too affected by the plight of others YET – at the same time – we’re mindful of God’s unfolding grace in our own lives. Because of the resurrection, new life is promised but it's not automatic either. 

We often look around at our lives and this world wondering, “where’s God…?” or “how could he let that happen?”  We feel like God should be more active.  But, I'm suspicious that a large part of what we feel about injustice, greed, scarcity, abuse, wealth, accomplishment is supposed to help us see what God sees?  I think our emotions are supposed to help us experience something, something that God already sees and wants to remedy.  Perhaps what we see and feel is God’s invitation is to be a part of a solution.

So, what if — as a part of God’s plan for us — is to use the need and brokenness in this world to keep us spiritually alive? 

New life means re-sensitizing our hearts. With a little effort and encouragement, I want to suggest a “faith experiment” to help us see needs, opportunities, and our own resources differently. It's a chance to recondition our hearts.

For most of us, in order to experience New Life we need to create a New Normal? What if we experiment with small sacrificial acts and gestures of compassion believing that God can use us AND wants to give us New Life? 

Over the next month, we’re going to explore the Rhythm of Compassion. And we’ll do it together so we’re not alone in our effort. The idea is simple: One week where each of us sees what we can do without — We trade Starbucks for office brew. We plan a menu and forgo the Drive-thru. We pack a lunch in lieu of eating out. We pass on going to the movies and rent at home. There’s lots of normal activities we choose to bypass for a week. And, with the money saved, we pool it together. The money saved then becomes a way for us to practice compassion – meeting simple needs as they arise in your neighborhood, at the gas pump, the grocery store, at your kids school, downtown, in the park, or on the news. We’re not trying to solve any one issue. We’re simply trying to be part of God’s response AND allow our hearts to be re-sensitized as part of our everyday lives. That feels like the makings of a New Normal.

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.

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.