The 5 Big Misconceptions About Community

Last spring, my husband and I were touring elementary schools in our area’s magnet district. I asked one mom in particular what she loved about her daughter’s school. “Easy,” she said, “it’s the sense of community.”

I wasn’t surprised at her answer, but to be honest, it felt like taking the easy way out. Like saying, “try the ice cream, it’s delicious.” Of course it is. Almost everyone loves community, and almost everyone loves ice cream. Community has become such a buzzword, it can hardly be used as a selling point anymore.

And yet, I use it all the time. When people ask me about our church plant, I’m quick to say something like, “it’s a really special community.” Because while “community” is a total buzzword, it’s also a unifying ideal. No matter what we believe, we know we want it.

The difficulty comes when we want the ideal without the process it requires. As I’ve watched our church and our friends grow and stretch in this area, I’ve noticed that most of us have to push through the desire for immediate, plug and play community in order to settle in for the journey it takes to actually build community with one another.

Building community takes hard work. It’s a slow process, and slow isn’t exactly popular these days.

But it’s worth it.

As we’ve pushed through the building process with our church plant, I’ve noticed these five misconceptions most of us have realized and work through as we come together in community:

Misconception 1: It’s Easy

Because community is such an attractive, necessary ideal, we sometimes act like it doesn’t really take work. We really want things that are right to also be easy.

Unfortunately, what comes easily to most of us is making things about ourselves. The other day, someone mentioned that small groups are often just an opportunity for people to be self-centered with others. Showing up is the easy part (and even that can be tough). Turning to each other, being others-centered is hard. It takes mindfulness, and it has to come from an overflow of the heart.

Misconception 2: It’s Natural

“I just want something that develops organically,” we say.

Few things evoke a more dramatic sigh from my church-planting heart. I mean, yes, sometimes friendships do develop fairly naturally, and that’s great. But generally, anything bigger than you and your best friend is going to take more work.

When my family moved to Asheville, I joined a moms group. I found that I’d already crossed paths with many of the women naturally, but it wasn’t until we all came together with the understanding that we now belonged to each other that we actually invested in each other. I didn’t learn anything about them until we planned stuff and showed up and sat on the floor with scones, coffee, little metal cars and plastic shopping carts all around us.

Intentionality is necessary for community, and sometimes that doesn’t feel as organic as we’d like.

Misconception 3: It Will Come to You

Oh, how I loved high school and college ministries. I loved the games, I loved the drama, I loved the camps. I especially loved the way the campus ministry team chased me down to take me out to lunch.

Christianity after college can be very confusing, because all of a sudden, you leave school and, as long as you wait, no pastor comes knocking at your door.

Instead, you have to go to them. You have to find a church. You have to actually go to church. You have to join groups. You know what’s cool about that? It becomes about more than you. That local church needs you; their community isn’t complete without you, and you can’t find real community until you commit to them.

In adulthood, autonomy skyrockets and it takes a while to figure out how to handle that. But one thing is for sure: You have to show up and step up if you want community. It is unlikely to land at your feet.

Misconception 4: It’s Convenient

Real community can be super annoying, because it just won’t leave you the alone. You have to start rearranging your life for people. Some of that well-earned autonomy starts to slip away a little bit, which is hard but ultimately good.

Whether it’s committing to a weekly meeting or showing up when someone needs help, company or advice—community requires you to step outside the you-bubble and into someone else’s bubble. What’s harder—it requires you to invite other people into your own. That can be physically, temporally, emotionally and spiritually inconvenient, but it’s the best thing for us.

Misconception 5: It’s Optional

We simply aren’t meant to be alone. Look at Genesis: God creates Adam and almost immediately acknowledges the need for a life mate. Look at the triune God Himself—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are made in His image!

We see it in the way God calls His people group—not just individual people but the whole group. He says, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” And we see it in the way Jesus died and rose and instructed us to carry on. The new Israel is the Church, and He gave His life for it. We are meant to be in close, close community with others. We reflect God Himself when we do that, and we are most satisfied when we are living His best for us.

Through our church plant, I’ve had a new opportunity to watch a community come together to dream, execute, rework, sacrifice, share, pray and live together. I’m seeing firsthand what happens when a group commits to each other and to God, and it is so, so good.

So, what do I love about our church? Easy. It’s the sense of community.
Source: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/5-big-misconceptions-about-community

Why You Should Stop Searching for ‘The One’

Turn on any rom-com, listen to a sappy love song or watch most sitcoms, and you’ll likely encounter the same message: The key to finding love is committing to finding “the one.”

Pastor and author Andy Stanley, however, thinks that message is backward.

In his new book, The New Rules for Love, Sex & Dating Stanley talks about why, in order to find the person we’re going to spend the rest of our lives with, we should focus on being the person that our future spouse is looking for, as well.

We recently spoke with Stanley about dating, why preparation trumps the idea of commitment and the proper view of premarital sex.

What’s the thesis of your new book, The New Rules For Love, Sex & Dating?

The theme of the book is We should become the person that the person we’re looking for is looking for. Are you the person you’re looking for is looking for?

The reason that’s important is because, in every area of life, we understand that preparation is the key to success, but when it comes to relationships, we think that, no, commitment is the key to success: I don’t need to prepare for a relationship, I just need to meet the right person and commit to that person.

In the book I talk about “the right person myth.” The “right person myth” is When I meet the right person, everything will be all right. But every single married person, every single divorced person knows that’s not the case, because 99 percent of the people who are married, when they stood at the altar and made their commitment or vows, thought they were making a vow to the right person.

We should become the person that the person we’re looking for is looking for.

Preparation trumps commitment every single time. The whole notion that “Once I meet the right person everything will turn out alright,” is predicated upon this lie that, “Hey, relational preparation is irrelevant, I just gotta meet the right person.”

You include a chapter in the book curiously called “designer sex.” Can you tell us what it’s about?

Designer sex is the old-fashioned approach to sex, that says, “Relationships are more important than sex. Build a relationship before you get involved sexually.” In the book, I kind of do twist on this, because our churches are designed for unchurched people. So I’ve written this book with the assumption not that every person is going to assume everything in the Bible is true.

So I’ve tried to back way up and ask some tough questions. For example, when people break up—whether it’s dating couple that breaks up, somebody who’s been living together that breaks up or a marriage that breaks up—people do not break up for sexual reasons; people break up because of relationship problems.

In the book, I argue that it makes sense that if there’s a God who loves and there’s a God who created sex—which is an interesting idea in of itself—that what God has to say about this topic is important, and common sense actually supports the New Testament as it relates to sex.

Sexually compatibility is easy, relational compatibility is not. So it just makes sense if you’re thinking in terms of a long-term relationship, we need to load up on the relational aspects of the relationship rather than sexual.

What I’m saying in this book is look, you don’t need a chapter and verse for this; you don’t need to be a church person for this; here’s what we know experientially: That the relationship is the key to happiness, and getting involved sexually on the front end of a relationship masks unhealthy relationships and ultimately undermines sexual satisfaction. Because every married couple and every couple that’s been together 15 or 20 years who has a healthy sexual relationship would tell you that it’s the relationship that drives the sex, not the other way around.
In the book, you talk about a Q&A event where a man asked what’s so wrong with sexual promiscuity. Can you describe that interaction?

This guy was probably 40 years old. He raised his hand—there were about 200 people—and he said, “Look, Andy, I’ll be honest. I’ve been married. I’m divorced. I’m dating. I don’t want to ever get remarried. Why in the world should I adhere to a New Testament approach to sexuality? Why should I not have sex?”

I said, “Well, there’s really no reason for you not to.” I pushed back on him. I said, “Gosh, if all there is to this life is life, you should have sex with whoever you want to, as many times as you want to.” And, of course, everyone in the room got a little uncomfortable.

I said, “If all there is to this life is life, then you’re biology, so just go with your biology. And you’ll have a string of hurt people behind you. Women will become a commodity. You will be disrespectful to women. That’s just what’s going to happen if we’re just biology.” I said to him, “If there’s more to you than biology, and if there’s more to this life than this life, then it’s a really big deal.”

Your worldview should determine how you manage your sexuality and the way your approach sexuality. If there’s a God who loves you and a God that has invited you to address in His heavenly father, that means that every single woman you meet is a daughter to your heavenly father. That should determine how you approach sex, and it should determine how you treat women.

Source: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/relationships/why-you-should-stop-searching–one

No, Everything Does Not Happen for a Reason

We don’t have to figure out the purpose for our pain, but we do follow a God who meets us in it.

We’ve all received that phrase “everything happens for a reason” personally gift-wrapped by well-meaning friends, caring loved ones and kind strangers. It usually comes delivered with the most beautiful of intentions, a buffer of hope raised in the face of the unimaginably painful things we sometimes experience in this life.

It’s a close, desperate lifeline thrown out to us when all other words fail.

I’ve never had a tremendous amount of peace with the sentiment. I think it gives the terrible stuff too much power, too much poetry; as if there must be nobility and purpose within the brutal devastation we may find ourselves sitting in.

In our profound distress, this idea forces us to run down dark, twisted rabbit trails, looking for the specific part of the greater plan that this suffering all fits into.

It serves as an emotional distraction, one that cheats us out of the full measure of our real-time grief and outrage. We stutter and stop to try and find the whys of all of the suffering, instead of just letting ourselves admit that perhaps this all simply sucks on a grand scale.

Even if somewhere beneath all of it; far below all the dizzying trauma that we experience here there is a fixed, redemptive reason for it all, it’s one that will likely remain well beyond our understanding so long as we inhabit flesh and blood.

Deep within the background operating system of my faith, there’s a buried, fiercely protected trust in a God who is good and an existence that matters. But this core truth doesn’t come with the assumption that all things, (including all the horrors we might encounter), have a purpose. It doesn’t come with a hidden silver lining always knitted into the fabric somewhere, if only we can uncover it.

It’s exhausting enough to endure the dark hours here and not lose our religion, without the addition of a Maker who also makes us bleed. Instead, I prefer to understand God as One who bleeds along with us; Who sits with us in our agony and weeps, not causing us our distress but providing a steady, holy presence in it. This still leaves me with the nagging question of why this God can’t or won’t always remove these burdens from me, but it does allow me to better see the open opportunity provided in tragedy.

There’s an oft-misused excerpt from Scripture, where the apostle Paul writes:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

This isn’t a heavenly insurance policy paid with faith and exempting us from anything unpleasant, but the promise that if we choose to respond to all things from a place of love and goodness; that we—not necessarily our circumstances—will be better for it.

In this way, I believe in suffering as a sacred space.

It’s not a supernatural cause-and-effect experiment from the sky, specifically designed to do something to us or in us, but it is a time and place where we can respond and as we do, we are altered. Our pain does not have a predetermined purpose, (otherwise we would be straddled with the terribly complicated task of figuring it out in a billion small decisions every single day), but that pain will always yield valuable fruit.

Source: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/no-everything-does-not-happen-reason

5 Things to Do While You Wait on God

Your life may not yet look like you’d hoped, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t still at work.

I may not know you, but I know this one thing: You’re waiting on something. And sometimes, the struggle of waiting for the unknown can feel overwhelming.

I myself am currently in a stage of waiting—asking God for direction, looking for answers, and expecting some upcoming changes. The hardest part is that they are things that are completely out of my control. For control freaks like me, that’s not always an easy pill to swallow. Waiting on God can be really hard.

There have been many different times of waiting in my life. I look back at my twenties as an entire decade of “waiting.” It’s a time of looking ahead at finding the right college, choosing the right major and dreaming of the right spouse. Then comes finding the right job, the right community and the right church. Waiting on God seemed to be intertwined with every single milestone of my life.

But I’ve always found it hard to know what it practically means to wait on God. Do you just sit around twiddling your thumbs?

At certain points in my life, I was so caught up in trying to get to the destination, that I missed the journey. Now that I’m older (and praying to be wiser), I see that the process of waiting in my life has been just as important as the end result. I look back at the times of waiting, and I see that God was using the waiting to prepare me, to change me and to use me. Rather than twiddle my thumbs, I wish I would have taken a more active approach during the way.

While I can’t change my past, here are some things I’m trying to do differently while I wait:

Remember What God Has Done in the Past

I worried a lot during the times of waiting—worried things wouldn’t work out, that I would be alone forever or that God wouldn’t come through.

As my life has unfolded, I see that God’s hand has been in every single step, and that His plans were so much better than I even expected. Now, while I wait, I’m learning to deepen my trust in Him, and to remind myself of His faithfulness. If I could know what He knows–I would choose His plan every single time.

The bottom line is that worry equals a lack of trust in God. Do I really trust Him? I want my mind to say yes, even when my heart says no. If God is God, He can be trusted. I want to move in that direction during my times of waiting.

Deepen Your Prayer Life

I want the waiting to bring me closer to Him, rather than fill me with bitterness and resentment. And it’s my choice which route I will take.

Why worry when you can pray? We’ve all heard that one before. But how true is that? Why over-analyze my future, when I have the opportunity to impact my future by calling on the supernatural, most-high God?

God is so big, I want to learn to connect with Him , to communicate with Him, and to spend time with Him while I wait—because no matter the end result, deepening my intimacy with Him will always be worth the wait. I want the waiting to bring me closer to Him, rather than fill me with bitterness and resentment. And it’s my choice which route I will take.

Deal With Your Baggage

I think the period of waiting can be a huge time of healing and growth. For example, during my time as a single, I often felt like I was waiting for nothing. What I didn’t realize is that through that time, God was bringing so much healing to my life, my heart and my perspective. He was working out my sin, refining my heart and fanning the flame of His Spirit inside of my life.

Now that I’m waiting again on something different, I want to ask God to reveal to me the areas of my life that need work and prepare me for what’s to come. I don’t want to waste this time anymore.

Dream Big

I am my own worst enemy when it comes to God working in my life, because I am the only one that limits myself. I don’t always believe I can do it, or that God can do it through me. I don’t always dream big or expect great things.

But I want to see this time of waiting as a time to ask God to take me where He wants me to go—and to believe for big things that I know I can’t accomplish on my own. One of my favorite quotes says, “If you’ve yet to accomplish something in your life that you couldn’t have done without God—then you’ve yet to accomplish something.” I want to trust Him to do everything that I can’t do. I want to dream big.

Spend Time in Worship

This is the part where I have the most regrets. I often worship God when He “blesses” me—failing to realize that He is deserving of my worship no matter what is going on in my life.

We often treat our life with God like a football game, cheering for God when we score or when good things happen. But life isn’t about waiting for the victory—for the marriage, for the job, for the success, for the family—it’s about realizing that over every moment in our lives, He is already victorious.

Right now—through the struggle, through the pain, through the loneliness, through the chaos, through the wait—He has already won, and He’s moving us in that glorious direction. No matter where I am, I want a life that’s marked not by waiting, but by worshiping. He deserves that and so much more.

Whoever you are, and no matter what you’re waiting for, remember that life is about so much more than waiting—it’s about living. Don’t waste your life away in the wait. Instead, ask God to reveal to you how to live your life in a way that honors Him, by taking big risks and dreaming big dreams.

Because life is not just about getting to the final destination, it’s about learning to enjoy the ride.

Source: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/5-things-do-while-you-wait-god

Spirit of Gratitude

Gratitude has been described as the healthiest of all human emotions. Think about it: if you live with a grateful heart, if you live with praise and thanksgiving to God, it counteracts any toxic, negative emotions in your life. It elevates your spirit!

Any time I start feeling down, depleted, and tired, do you know what I do? I start praising Jesus! I start rejoicing in Jesus, that my sins are forgiven, that He’s given me His Word and His truth to guide me, that I have a future and a hope with Him.

When I use prayer to express my gratefulness to God, He begins lifting my spirits, because His joy becomes my strength. And His strength allows me to stand strong in the power of His might!

Even when you can’t physically stand, the joy of the Lord can be your strength. In spite of your suffering, and even in your pain, God gives you a reason to be grateful.

Sometimes we just need a change of perspective. And that’s why God says that we should begin thinking and praying with thanksgiving in our hearts. A prayerful life allows us to rest and reflect upon the goodness of God.

Don’t stop celebrating what Christ has done for you. Rejoice in the Lord! Pray with gratitude! Pray with thanksgiving! Because I’m telling you even if you die, it’s only going to get better!

Every breath you breathe and every beat of your heart is a gift from God. Pray today for the joy of the Lord to fill your heart so that you can see your life with new perspective. Ask God to help you see the many reasons you have to be grateful.

Source: Daily Devotion of YOU version bible, 30 Day Prayer Challenge

Why Christian Women Need to Stop Waiting on Men

Churches should encourage both men and women to take responsibility for their relationships.

I recently did a dating Q&A online, and out of the hundreds of questions submitted, I started noticing a theme that made me sad.

Question after question, I was hearing from women with similar concerns. Questions like:

Why do men expect so much but give so little?

How do you attract men, not boys?

Why is it so difficult to meet godly men, who don’t just profess their beliefs but actually run after God?

As a Christian woman, does it set a poor precedent to be the one initiating a relationship?

Stop simply complaining about the “jerks” in your life and instead do something about it. Invest your time in the good ones.

We’ve been friends for years, how do I know if he likes me?

What do men think of a girl pursuing them?

The easy answer to the above questions would be to write more and more articles to these types of men telling them to give more, to ask more, to get healthier, to become stronger, to be godlier … and on and on and on. And there may be some truth in those sort of answers. But I think by answering the above questions in that way, we’re missing something pretty big:

It seems to me that in some Christian circles, we have created a culture that tells single women that they must wait on men to make the first move, that they should give the brunt of responsibility in relationships to the man.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a man to take some initiative in a relationship, but women also need to take responsibility for their relationships. This can look different depending on the person and situation, but here are a few places to start:

Start Spending Time With Better Guys. They’re Out There!

I always get questions from women disappointed in the men in their lives. Lying, cheating, passive, arrogant, rude, selfish—the list goes on and on.

Some women have a hard time believing there are still good guys out there, so they settle for men who treat them poorly. But what I would say to these women is to stop simply complaining about the “jerks” in your life and instead do something about it. Invest your time in the good ones. I know they’re out there, because I interact with them every single day through my blog and through the churches, colleges and conferences I visit.

Take responsibility for your relationships by investing your time in people who value you.

Stop Being OK With Giving So Much and Receiving so Little

Another thing that comes up again and again is the idea of women who feel that they give too much and men who, they feel, give too little. But partly, I think this is also a representation of the kind of relationships some women allow themselves to engage in.

There are plenty of times in the Christian life that we are called to invest and pour ourselves into others without expecting anything in return, but the outset of a romantic relationship is not one of those times. If someone is giving too little, why waste another moment trying to convince them to give more? If this is the kind of dating relationship you’re in, imagine how terrible it will be to carry that kind of interaction into marriage.

Take responsibility for your relationships by saying no to one-sided relationships.

Stop Waiting Around and Start Living

I recently read a Christian article that encouraged women to “wait on the men.” I’ll be honest, I totally yelled at my computer screen at some point during that article. I’m was pretty sure Scripture encouraged us to wait on God, not men.

It seems to me that some churches have encouraged Christian women to just wait around, letting the men in their lives “lead the way.” Sometimes, the way this plays out is women passively following along in an ambiguous, awkward, who-knows-what-this-is kind of relationship where they have no idea if the guy is interested in them or just sees them as their “sister in Christ.”

Some awkwardness and misunderstanding is inevitable in relationships, but sometimes, Christian women get so bogged down by the concept of men being “leaders” that we fail to recognize that God only calls us into this kind of “leading” relationship within the walls of a loving, respect-filled, and mutually submissive marriage.

Christian woman get so bogged down by the concept of men being “leaders” that we fail to recognize that God only calls us into this kind of “leading” relationship within the walls of a loving, respect-filled, and mutually submissive marriage.

Single women need to take responsibility for relationships by making sure to catch themselves when they start moving into “ambiguous territory.” When your relationship with a man starts getting exclusive, emotionally intimate, physical or starts to resemble a dating relationship in some way—don’t wait around for the next few months (or even years) wondering what’s going on in his head.

Protect your heart by either taking a few steps back and giving him room to actually pursue you, or going ahead and asking him what’s up. “Our friendship is starting to look more like dating. What are your intentions here?” Churches should encourage women not to just blindly follow, but instead to take responsibility for their relationships by protecting their hearts and minds from the zone of ambiguity, because it’s right there in the twilight zone of relationships that the most heartbreak and confusion actually occurs.

God calls us to guard our hearts, and that means taking responsibility for our lives and relationships, not just “waiting on men.” Because ladies, anything valuable is worth protecting—and each and every one of you is extremely valuable.

Source: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/relationships/why-christian-women-need-stop-waiting-men

Make Prayer A Priority

I’ve heard it said that the first 10 or 15 minutes of each day really determine how the rest of your day will go. And if you begin your day in prayer, acknowledging God as first in your life, you are making a wise choice.

Too often, rather than putting Jesus Christ first in our lives, we allow many other thoughts and “things” to consume us. But Scripture reminds us that anything we love more, serve more, or worship more than Jesus Himself is idolatry, plain and simple! Jesus will not share His place of Lordship in our lives. So before you pray, before you start asking, make sure that you’re practicing the principle of putting God first.

I know life can be busy. I know obligations must be met. I’m just suggesting that before we tend to our responsibilities, we should devote ourselves to God in prayer. I need that, and so do you.

Each of us needs a set-aside, set-apart encounter with the living God at key moments throughout our day in order to navigate this thing called life. There can be no answered prayers until we’re willing to spend time kneeling before God to receive what He delights and desires to give. Keeping our focus on God through prayer reaps great rewards.

Are you making prayer a priority in your life? Do you give Jesus the first thoughts of your day? Tomorrow, before your feet hit the floor, lift your heart up to God in adoration and praise, thanking Him for the light of a new day.

Find peace, purpose and strength with Jesus in prayer.

Source : Bible Youversion Devotion