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Toward Gospel Community: The Beauty of Relationships with Others Needing Jesus, Too

The Root

The epidemic of loneliness has invaded our culture in a manner that is unprecedented in Western history. While we can simplify this reality and blame cell phones and other amazing innovations of technology, I would suggest that there is something much more sinister, much more deeply rooted to blame. The fact is, I do not want you to know me. I mean, you can say “hello” to me in church or at the grocery, but please do not require of me a real response to the question, “how are you doing?”. I cannot possibly answer that question truthfully and in detail under any equitable time constraint. Even if I could, I am sure that I would not want to begin thinking through all of that stuff out loud.

I have never even taken the time to really inventory all of my life, anyway. I have a 24/7 ministry, a wife, five children, three dogs, baseball, fantasy sports, the Orioles, Cowboys, Capitals, and Wizards, three books that I have only finished half-way, my parents, my brothers and sister, seven nieces, four nephews…I mean, who would expect for me to have an actual assessment of how I am doing, when I have probably left twenty things off of this list? Quite simply, we are neither self-aware or truly willing to be self-aware.

The main and most confrontational piece of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the reality that my silly list, and all of its omissions, are known by a God who, for his own pleasure, loves me enough to know me fully, and still call me his son. He knows that it is his grace that has made me a pastor, so that I might remain in his Word. By his grace I have a wife who respects me, loves me, and challenges me, even when I am cold, distant, or ungiving. Children who are my primary means of happiness as well as my primary means of growth (sanctification). Most importantly, the ways that I abuse my freedom as a believer, the way that I abuse his grace given to me, and the way that I abuse the fellow believers placed around me; each of these is known, even as they nailed my Savior to a cross, and I am still loved.

Amidst all the Ancient Near East creation myths, the biblical account in Genesis 1-2 stands out for one primary reason: The Creator God made people in His image, so that he could love them and be in relationship with them. This is the way that it is supposed to be. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, we are fully known and loved, and we are fully brought into right relationship with our Heavenly Father because the Holy Spirit has revealed to us the person and work of the Father’s Son, Jesus Christ. This is not of our own doing; “it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:9). We are all cut down at the knees as we stand at the foot of the cross. This ought to make us desire to share our vertical relationship with our Father horizontally with his creation, especially other believers.

The Make-Up

In many ways, Southwood generally, and the youth and families ministry specifically, are undergoing an overhaul. The leading edge of this has been our Connect Communities and High-Life Connects. While we all know that “he who began a good work in [us] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6), we often forget that “iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). This is to say, I am perfectly okay with God refining me and bringing me to glorification in Christ, but I refuse to allow that to be at the hands of other believers.

I do not want other people telling me that what I do and do not do might be in violation of biblical mandate. I am a pastor! I have a wife and five children! Do not even think about coming at me with some petty truth that my life proves I ignore. However, when I am sad, please cheer me up. When my family is suffering, please help us. You made a vow to my child and now you stand idly by and let him destroy himself?!!! Gospel community is neither tidy nor neat. It does not have boundaries at which you are allowed to be autonomous from the pack. It does not have safe spaces where you are free from being known. By its definition, Gospel community assumes that we are people desperate for our Savior who are surrounded by others who are desperate for a taste of the grace of King Jesus.

There is no person in the Gospel community who is either exempt from or above the love of God. There is no person in the Gospel community who is either too bad or too sinful to trust our King and exist in our midst. Community is not something that you join; it is something that you shape. Each of us—each of our stories, each of our struggles, each of our sufferings, each of our sacrifices, each of our longings—make up the air that we breathe and the water that we drink.

The Fruit

The odd reality of Gospel community is that many worldly barriers are knocked down inside of it as a necessity. I preached a sermon recently based upon the importance of everything each of us does, every day, and its impact on souls for King Jesus. Afterward, I received a criticism from someone concerning my omission of mothers with young children from the illustration. Interestingly enough, that was originally a part of my illustration, but as I considered the reality of Gospel community, it seemed redundant to mention those mothers, not because of their reality being insignificant, but rather because of their ability to identify with the other examples within the community.

On the surface, Southwood’s Gospel community can look like many things. The reality is that it is comprised of individuals who have been saved into the corporate People of God. While our earthly affiliations are important, significantly important even, our eternal significance rests in our being party to the Bride of Christ. We are his church. He is our King.

Many of my single friends come to mind as I consider this. Sure, I can justify from 1 Corinthians 7 the idea that those who can remain single ought to do so. Functionally, however, single people are, for some reason, often treated as second class citizens. Before you criticize that statement, please seek out two single people from our church and have a conversation based upon that statement. The substance of that conversation might surprise you.

Jesus tells us in John 15 that “greater love has no one than this, that” he gets married and procreates and is superior to his surroundings. Absolutely not! Jesus tells us that, “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus was a single, 33-year-old man when he was crucified. He was never married, yet he found great intimacy from his relationships with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, Peter, James, and John, the apostle whom he loved. Paul found necessary intimacy with each of those whom he specifically mentions in each letter from each church, not to mention Timothy, Titus, Philemon, and Barnabas.

Anecdotally, when matters of significance are at hand, my covenant relationship with my wife fades into the reality of my covenant relationship with my Savior. For instance, I have had the privilege of living in Gospel community with many non-straight people. These are people who understand the supremacy of Christ in all things and yet will never be heterosexual. As my friend Greg puts it, “the gospel doesn’t erase this part of my story so much as it redeems it. My sexual orientation doesn’t define me. It’s not the most important thing about me. It is the backdrop for that, the backdrop for the story of Jesus who rescued me.”

Greg is one of many people I know who has great faith in King Jesus because of the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart. We each bring brokenness into our community. None of us is defined by our proclivity to sin; rather, we are defined by our Savior who was put to death by our sin, so that he could conquer death and also pay for our sin. The reality of Gospel community is that it confronts sin in such a way as to give that darkness no safe harbor in the light of King Jesus. We live, love, and work to push our fellow believers to our Savior.

The Gospel community is a great place for marriage counseling. The Gospel community is a robust singles ministry. The Gospel community is a place where all those who are needy and heavy burdened can come to the Giver of rest. It is a hospital for the wounded, a war room for those preparing for battle, and a school for those seeking to further their education. Please be a part of our Gospel community. We need you. We need you in our Connect Communities. We need you in our small groups. We need you because you need Jesus. That allows us to have more in common than we can ever know.