My grandmother was born in 1923 and grew up during the Great Depression. She told me that during that difficult time, people wandered door to door with their children, asking for food scraps. People quickly found out that my grandmother’s parents were generous people. Anyone who came to the door received food if there was any to give. After a while so many people were coming to their house that they wondered how news of their generosity had spread. One day my great-grandfather inquired, and he was told, “Because of the X.” On the side of the house, someone had scratched a large X that signaled to people walking by that this house was a place you could get your needs met.
If you want to grow in your faith, my advice to you is the same: find some people in your church and mark each other with an X. Look each other in the eye and say, “We’re going to live in community with one another. We don’t know exactly what that looks like right now, but we’re making a commitment today to live as followers of Jesus together and find out.” This could be a small group, a class, a ministry team, or simply two or three friends with a similar interest. How it starts and how it is organized isn’t as important as why it exists.
The purpose for your group should be pretty simple: to obey everything Jesus commanded, together. Jesus said in Matthew 28:20 that the whole goal of being his followers is to obey his teachings, so that’s your mission. Figure out how to obey them together, in your neighborhood, in the twenty-first century, with your own combination of personality types, genders, interests, gifts, and backgrounds. Meet as frequently as you can. Try to humbly live out the Christian faith, one day at a time. I know it seems like it should be much more complicated than that, but it really isn’t. Christian community is nothing more than inviting Jesus to be in the center of our relationships and spending time with one another worshipping God and reading, discussing, praying about, and obeying Jesus’ teachings. That’s Christian community.
As you stick with it, over time you’ll discover something amazing. Your experience will go beyond simple friendships and fun outings to sharing things you never dreamed you’d share with another living person. You’ll find yourself taking risks you never dreamed you would take. Fears will be challenged. Sins will be confronted. Tears, healing, and forgiveness will become your constant companions, and it’s all because Jesus promised in Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Live in his presence. Do what he commanded. Obey his teachings. Love God. Love people. Be authentic. Hold nothing back. Over time you’ll never want to leave each other’s presence.
A few years ago another pastor and I traveled to Orlando to attend a church conference. One afternoon we had a break, so we decided to take a “field trip” to Disney World and experience the park from a leadership perspective, asking ourselves what makes the park “the happiest place on earth” as Disney parks are known. We interviewed anyone who would talk to us and learned unforgettable lessons. The signage was amazing. The attention to detail was spectacular. Everything was done to create “just the perfect moment” for people all over the world.
The thing that stuck with me the most was what happened in the parking lot as we arrived. As we boarded the tram, I noticed a car off in the distance with all four of its doors open wide and security guards rummaging through it. I leaned over to the tram driver and said, “Terrorists?”
“No, tourists,” he replied. “They left their car running, doors wide open, and ran for the entrance.”
I said, “That has to be the most hysterical thing I’ve ever heard. Has it ever happened before?”
He looked at me over his shoulder and said, “About five or six times a day!”
Over the years I’ve been to Disney World a few times, and I’ve been in a few groups committed to living out Jesus’ message. I have to say that my initial excitement for Disney blew away my initial interest in being a part of my groups. When we first met in homes or at the church, it was more than a little awkward. It took time to get to know one another and to trust each other. We had to navigate through the initial stages of personality conflicts and power struggles. We had to say good-bye to a few people who found out they really weren’t interested in doing life Jesus’ way. Yet over time, as we stuck with it, a simple mystery began to unfold: Jesus showed up.
On occasion we’d sense his presence and then it would be gone. Over time, the deeper we shared, the harder we prayed, and the more we encouraged each other to obey, the more he seemed to leave his footprints in the carpet of the room. Those times together created a thirst unlike anything I had ever experienced. On those days I had to make sure I turned my car off and shut my car doors; I was that excited about being together with my friends. The only difference between those times and the few times I walked onto Main Street, U.S.A.® in Orlando was that my experience with my Christian friends was real.
Yours will be too.
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