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How Do You Cultivate a Resilient Relationship?

How Do You Cultivate a Resilient Relationship?

In every relationship there is one constant. Whether it be friends, coworkers, neighbors, parents, one’s spouse or children, at some point in time, one will fail the other. It may be intentional or unintentional. It may be big or small. But you will fail someone close to you, and someone close to you will fail you. 

Right here, in the face of an inevitable failure, is when relationships have the highest likelihood of coming to an end. Often all it takes is a single offense to undo years of intimacy. Friend groups dismantle. Marriages dissolve. Collaborative partnerships come unhinged. Failure happens in every relationship, and all too often it means the relationship is over.

Forgiveness isn’t the goal

Where does one go from that place? I used to think failed relationships could be mended if people merely learned to forgive each other, but I was wrong. Forgiveness alone can’t fix a relationship. 

To be clear, forgiveness is necessary. Jesus calls every one of His followers to model a lifestyle of forgiveness. Christians who cannot forgive others should check whether they have experienced forgiveness from God (Matthew 6:14-15). On top of that, we are called to forgive not just here and there, but with such regularity that we lose count (Matthew 18:22). We are to have open hands with offenses and let go of wrongs with diligence. And yet, as difficult as forgiveness may be, it is not enough to repair a relationship. 

The problem with making forgiveness the goal of healing strained relationships is that it makes confession the only means. Confession is certainly an essential part of mending relational fallout. Confession is a way for the one who has committed an offense (or is a member of a group or corporation that has committed an offense) to own their failure by “naming ownership of the thing” that brought fissure. Ownership is essential for the offender to name and for the offended to witness. 

But when forgiveness is the goal and confession the only means, then relational mending is a one time transaction that can make the offender feel absolution has been achieved while the offended is still emotionally (and possibly physically) wrestling through the pain of the original offense. This sort of forgiveness may very well be the grounds for a sense of freedom from the offense for the offender, but it will not necessarily restore the relationship for both parties.

In a culture of hyper-individualism, relational immaturity and an underlying expectation that everything we want should come with the click of a button, this can be hard to accept.  

While both parties may share a common perspective over what created the distance between them, it will not necessarily reestablish their former relationship. In some circumstances such efforts can actually create more relational distance when this dynamic isn’t acknowledged. 

As a pastor, I’ve seen this take place with a husband who has cheated on his wife, and having confessed to the affair and apologized, becomes enraged and wonders why she can’t “just treat him normal” from now on. “I said I was sorry, ok?! Why can’t you let it go?!” His failure to acknowledge how his previous sin continues to cause pain — even when she has extended forgiveness — actually may cultivate a sense of insecurity leading her to fear that her husband may commit the same sin again: “Was he just saying sorry so we don’t have to talk about it anymore, or is he really sorry and wants to change?”

As a pastor in our city, I’ve seen the same dynamic in conversations regarding race relations and the history of racial injustice in the United States. When historic injustices that have lingering effects are brought up, a common trope from some is “Why can’t they just move on?! That took place so many years ago!” This kind of response communicates a lack of genuineness in remorse and an unwillingness to listen. Is it any wonder that our city and nation are still so separated? 

Forgiveness is necessary, but it neither shuts off the valve of pain nor completes the work of restoration. Confession is necessary, but it is not sufficient. 

Resilience needs more

So how can we cultivate relationships that press through failure? What is the path to cultivating resilient relationships?

Every relationship that endures through failure requires an additional step: the important move through confession to repentance. While confession owns one’s guilt over a past action, repentance works toward actions of life for the other. Confession longs to receive absolution. Repentance longs to engage in the long-suffering work of repair. Confession can be perceived as a one and done transaction. Repentance accepts that a cyclical and ongoing journey is necessary.  

In some relationships, the most we can hope for in the short term is forgiveness. Much like Paul and John Mark (Acts 15:36-39), we end a relationship with an empty ledger of offenses but choose not to continue on in the relationship. For those relationships we long to see last, we need to go beyond absolution and do the enduring work of restoration. And for that, we need more than confession and forgiveness. We need repentance and repair for both parties. 

A well worn path

Examples of this are seen throughout the biblical storyline. It’s etched into the Old Testament law given to Israel to guide them into communal flourishing (e.g. Exodus 22, Isaiah 58). It was practiced by leaders like King David who had a heart like God’s in navigating national injustices (2 Samuel 21). It’s what John the Baptist proclaims to prepare the way for Jesus (Luke 3:1-6). Zacchaeus lives this out in establishing a radical financial repayment plan after which Jesus says, “Salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:1-10).

This was also carried out in the early church. In the early African church, we find the Canon of Hippolytus (4th Century A.D.), a book on church order as believers sought to live out the teaching of the Apostles. There were certain vocations that were not accepted in the early church because of how they maligned or abused neighbors. In some cases baptism was forbidden unless it could be established that they had left such vocations by the testimony of three witnesses.

If it was found that they had returned to a destructive line of work, they were barred from the church community. Injustice was simply not tolerated. It was not a place where you could just live life any which way and still remain in the fellowship. And when were they allowed to return to membership in good standing? It wasn’t after education, confession and forgiveness. Rather “they are to be excluded from the church until they repent with tears, fasting, and alms.” Repentance and repair revealed in everyday life.


In Work and Worship: Reconnecting our Labor and our Liturgy, Matthew Kaemingk and Cory Wilson comment on this early church practice. They write, “…the worker’s road to redemption runs primarily through liturgical practices—not theological education. Through the liturgical practices of tears, fasting, and alms, the worker is ultimately restored to the worshipping community.” 

Too much?

This response may seem outlandish or over the top. Frankly, most of the biblical characters and writings seem absurd to a world that downplays evil and so downplays the long suffering necessity of restoring and cultivating resilient relationships. We want what Bonhoeffer warns against as cheap grace or an easy believism that erroneously justifies doing anything we want to do with the assurance of absolution (Romans 6:1-2). 

Rather, Christians are to have a robust appreciation for the complexity of sin and the pervasiveness of evil within relationships and cultures, so we don’t approach God and others transactionally. We don’t come just wanting to get absolution, but actually seek reconciliation through the road of costly repentance. All of this has us humbly crying out for “more grace” (James 4:6).

So what about you? Me? Is it too much to ask of us?

If you want to cultivate resilient relationships, don’t just come with confession looking for absolution. Come with a posture of repentance ready to repair and go down the long road of rebuilding. It takes longer than we often want to give, but what you get are restored relationships, enduring community and genuine intimacy.

And for that we should be willing to give everything. Again. And again. 

Why We Need the Visual Arts in Our Formation

Why We Need the Visual Arts in Our Formation

What can get 50 men and women from across the metro to come together midweek for three hours after working all day? Two words: Ecclesiastes and art. 

Let me explain. 

Ecclesiastes Came to Life

On Wednesday, August 11, some 50 people came together to explore the complex themes of the book of Ecclesiastes through the lens of the art exhibit, Geheimnis, created by our Four Chapter Gallery curator, Kelly Kruse. 

During the time together, we feasted on food and artwork. Kelly spent time teaching Ecclesiastes and sharing her creative process, and then we engaged with her work through small and large group discussions. 

Equipped with a journal, each person was invited to process the artwork through guided questions corresponding to the themes of Ecclesiastes and their visual representation in Kelly’s work. The questions invited us to contemplate our mortality, compare texts within Scripture, and share our experiences of her work. The whole night was a deeply personal experience with the biblical text and ideas of Ecclesiastes illuminated in vibrant color. 

Art as a Catalyst

While this isn’t the first time the arts have been a catalyst in my faith, it highlighted afresh three ways the visual arts can be a catalyst for spiritual formation within the church.  

  1. The visual arts invite stillness

We can listen to our podcasts twice as fast. Our highway speed limits are merely suggestions often ignored. New movies are available on-demand for at-home release. Everything is fast, immediate, and hurried. This may sound cliché, but this fact seems even more clear now: we’re addicted to hurrying. It’s astounding how even a global shutdown seems to have been more like a bump in the road rather than a change in pace. This state of affairs is worrisome because we cannot become like Jesus in a hurry. 

What is helpful about good art is that it invites stillness. Artwork invites you to stop in your tracks, stay awhile, and even stare. Everything slows down. Some studies show that engaging in particular kinds of art can even decrease stress and lower blood pressure. 

We need more spaces of stillness if the Spirit is to do the slow deep work of forming us into Christlikeness. The visual arts can help. 

  1. The visual arts demand contemplation.

So often our faith formation paradigms revolve around getting information merely to regurgitate it later. While that is helpful at certain stages of development (especially catechesis for children), it is not sufficient for spiritual maturity. Otherwise, when the questions change due to the changing pressure points of culture, we will find ourselves ill-equipped to converse thoughtfully with our neighbors.

In the stillness of engaging visual art, we are able to be present. We are able to pay attention to one thing instead of being distracted by a thousand things. We can even pay attention to what we’re paying attention to. We can do more than ask “what am I noticing?” We may even lean into asking “why?” This kind of critical thinking in contemplation is a skill in itself to help in our journey of growth.

The visual arts demand contemplation. You cannot merely memorize the answer. You must marinate in the images, the colors, the textures, and shapes. It can be frustrating in its own right when all you want is to “know what it means” so you can move on. But art doesn’t want you to move on. Art invites you to experience what it means so you can move in.

This practice shapes us into the kind of people who can also engage the Scriptures better. If we merely come to the text looking for a proof text (a quick answer to a big problem), we may misrepresent what God is saying in that particular text. Hurried minds often lead to mindless hurry. Instead, Scripture invites us to study and meditate allowing the Spirit of God to illuminate God’s timeless truth in our specific lives. God doesn’t want us to move on but to move in with Him over time. 

We need more spaces that demand we contemplate rather than just consume. The visual arts demand contemplation.

  1. The visual arts extend the joy of discovery

As we sit in stillness and contemplate the work before us, over time we are extended the joy of discovery. Like an archeologist carefully digging for weeks on end, when the discovery is revealed, the joy is that much sweeter. So too with the visual arts and our study of Scripture! 

On that August night, I watched as people shared their experience of the themes of Ecclesiastes through the artwork with tears in their eyes. I heard exclamations of wonder as people sat in one particular work until it came alive to their imaginations. As Christians of various vocations have engaged with this art show throughout the summer, I have heard story after story of truly fascinating experiences that will stick with me for a lifetime. The joy of discovery after the contemplation was palpable and personal.  

Still Growing

Now, I say all this as a pastor. I was taught to love the Word of God, to teach with clarity, to communicate for change in the listener. I still believe all that is true. Simultaneously I’m growing in my experiential understanding that the arts are crucial to our discipleship today. In a world that may distrust what’s true, be disgusted by the good, often there is still a hunger for the beautiful. 

Even when not explicitly religious in themes – the visual arts are a catalyst for the kinds of rhythms necessary for our growth in Christ. When the visual arts are married to biblical ideas or even explicit texts and given intentional structure for conversation, it is a dynamic experience that shapes while it informs. 

How You Can Engage

If you want to experience this in your formation, here are three ways to engage.

1) Engage the artwork around you. It’s honestly astounding how much artwork is in our city. As you happen upon a local artist’s work, stop and stay. If you have other items on your list to do, then set your alarm for five minutes. Sit in the stillness. Contemplate and see what you discover! 

2) Join us at the Four Chapter Gallery. We would love to have you join us on any of our First Fridays, or better yet, come for one of our open gallery hours throughout the month. We often seek to create space for stillness so that you can contemplate the work outside of the activity of First Friday. 

3) Gather with others who want to do the same. If you want to go even further, curator Kelly Kruse is gathering a group of artists to meet twice a month starting in September to explore themes of art and faith. You can join the mailing list as well as communicate your desire to join in at hello@fourchapter.gallery

Our creative God is working. He’s working through His Word expressed and illuminated in the arts. Come and see for yourself.  

How to Discover Who We Are Meant to Be

How to Discover Who We Are Meant to Be

 

“Did you know we have ancestors from France?” 

Before I could say anything in response, my family member was on Google earth exploring the countryside of France pondering what this means for her and our family. 

She was searching, but for what?

Searching for who we are

Maybe you or a relative has gone through this process. In a world filled with uncertainty, we long for rootedness. We long for history. We long to belong. This is partly why DNA and ancestry services are exploding. Our anxious world is seeking to know who we are

But like a mirage, when facts and figures land in our hands, it still doesn’t fulfill that deep thirst. This is because we don’t just want to know our history and get the nuts and bolts of the where/when/what. We want to hear stories about our people and find out something specific about why we are who we are today

We want to learn, grow and not feel so alone. But to do that, we need to go further back than a few centuries. We need to go back a few millennia to the stories of our faith family in Scripture. 

As Christians, we come to the Scriptures with the belief that God is telling a story that is true and relevant to life today although it is anchored in history. This informs why we come to Scripture looking for answers. We come seeking guidance, but what we may miss is that it is here that we also find belonging. 

The role of storied memory

Imagine an oral culture, which is the primary context when Scripture was recorded, and the primary mode of communication is story. In a collective society, it is these stories of God’s people that shaped not only their understanding but also their identity. Under the stars around the fire Grandma or Grandpa, the keeper of the stories, would tell of Joseph and his envious brothers, Moses parting the Red Sea, or David being anointed by Samuel. 

In these stories, generation upon generation not only learned about their ancestors, but they learned about who they were. They would understand “this is how we do things as God’s people,” and simultaneously embody hatred of practices that went against “who they were.” The stories of God working through their ancestors helped them make sense of what God was doing among them as His people in the present. 

Remembering is NOT an option

This is why the most common command in all of scripture is NOT: “fear not” or “love your neighbor.” While both are crucial, the most common command is to “remember,” because in these stories recorded and passed down for generations, we find belonging and behavior that is in accordance with being God’s people. 

Since all of Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for our growth and maturity (2 Timothy 3:16-17), that means when we forget our family — or when the stories of God’s people throughout Scripture escape our imagination — we forget a portion of ourselves. We forget who we are supposed to be today. 

Therefore what we need on our journey toward wholeness is less akin to a baby shower or a birthday where both celebrations have their eyes set forward. Rather we need something more akin to Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday, that looks back and remembers our ancestors of the faith to see how their stories continue to speak into who we are, and connect with us today. 

Rewards of remembering

In our Forgotten Family series, we’ll explore overlooked stories in Scripture. But this isn’t just for Bible knowledge. Studying some of the forgotten stories of our faith family will provide at least three assurances: 

  1. We’re not the first. When we hear stories of our faith family who have gone before us, we rest assured that we aren’t the “first” of God’s people to face challenges in our faith (1 Corinthians 10:11). The Christian life is a path worn by many who have walked before us. 
  2. We’re not alone. As we remember stories of forgotten family, it’s a reminder that we are not “alone” in our battles. There is a beautiful mystery of those who have lived, died and are with Christ, who also make up this great cloud of witnesses cheering us on in our faith (Hebrews 12:1). We aren’t the first to walk this way, and we aren’t alone. 
  3. We’re not without guidance. By listening to stories of our faith family with God’s commentary in Scripture, we gain clarity in understanding “who we are” and thus greater understanding of how we as “God’s people live out who we are in various circumstances.” 

The more we learn about those who went before us, the more we understand how our family history is a window into who we are today. When we forget our roots, we are less equipped to bring our whole selves to the opportunities and challenges of our lives. 

Join us!

We long to have a more secure identity in our good God, and for that we need to remember who we are as God’s people on a deeper level. Our hope is that you don’t just join us as we remember what God has done before, but that in remembering, we better understand together who we are and join in how He is continuing to work through us today! 

 

Five Ways to Wisely Re-Engage a Re-Opening World

Five Ways to Wisely Re-Engage a Re-Opening World

My wife and I had the strangest experience the other day. We looked at our calendars and realized that the next two weeks were booked solid. We knew then and there that we needed to make some decisions.

As vaccines have become more readily available, the positivity rate has decreased, people have made safe practices a part of their social gatherings, and more and more people are slowly re-engaging life in public. 

And that means one thing: busyness is eager to take over again. 

Whether it’s playdates, sports, dinner with friends, Bible studies, grocery shopping, and the like, as the weather warms up and the world reopens, busyness is ready to fill the void. Before COVID hit, the most common response from people when you asked them how they were doing was, “Busy.” That is one form of normal I’m not eager to re-engage. 

Here’s the good news: we don’t have to return to that life. 

As Christians we are to be a people of work and rest, (Genesis 1-2) redeeming the time (Ephesians 5:16) as good stewards. While having a full calendar isn’t wrong, we are encouraged to leverage the time with which we’ve been entrusted to further Jesus’ purposes with healthy, humanizing rhythms. This is how God designed us, and therefore, it’s part of God’s plan for our flourishing.

Here are five tips to wisely re-engage a reopening world. 

1. Schedule Quarantine Favorites

You don’t have to say “yes” to everything that was before. One of the gifts of this last year is the opportunity to make significant adjustments to how you fill your calendar and the values that shape your life. 

Two quarantine favorites for me were grace blocks and dates in our backyard. 

A grace block is a pocket of time in each day where you schedule nothing. Yes, nothing. It’s a space that allows other projects you’d underestimated to spill over, and so give yourself grace in the form of margin to finish out without stressing out. For me, I block about an hour a day for a grace block. It’s so helpful to recognize I can’t foresee everything, but I can predict my finitude and need for grace. Grace blocks are something I’m holding onto in my calendar.

Next, my wife Allie and I discovered we love date nights in the backyard. Before we used to stress about trying to get out of the house, organize a babysitter, and get back before too late. Now, we can put our kids to bed and sit under the stars in the city in our backyard with a glass of wine and talk for hours. Who knew date night was so easy? 

I know for some of you these seem rudimentary, but that’s the point. What are 2-3 good things that have made it onto your calendar during COVID and quarantine that you want to keep? Schedule your quarantine favorites going forward. 

2. Keep Going Deep with a Few

In a world of endless Facebook friends and Twitter followers, one of the greatest insights I received in college was the encouragement to cultivate a few close friendships. This became a necessity as our COVID circles grew smaller and our relationships with a few folks went deeper. 

As everything opens up again, you don’t have to sacrifice the newfound depth you’ve found in the relationships around you. You don’t have to say “yes” to everyone, but be sure you have reserved the time and space for those relationships that are especially meaningful and life-giving. 

I have absolutely LOVED the amount of family time I’ve been able to have with my wife and kids this last year. We’ve locked down some rhythms that are high points in my week, and I have them on my calendar now so I keep time reserved for these very important people.

Now, as things open, if you want to still go deep but also expand your relational horizons, it wouldn’t hurt to add just one more chair to a deep group of friends. Who says you can’t have it all? A new friend and deep ongoing relationships. Add one more person at a time to the social circle, and who knows what could happen? 

3. Continue the Creativity

You don’t have to follow the predetermined path laid out by our consumerist culture before the pandemic. I’m all about going out to eat at local restaurants and traveling the continental United States, but you don’t have to spend a ton to continue to connect with others and have fun. 

Find hiking trails with family and friends, go on picnics at one of our city’s green spaces, or pull out those board games for an afternoon in the park. These are exceptional avenues for fun. 

My family is excited about Parkopalooza. Now I did not make this up, I’m stealing it. But the idea is that you spend an afternoon visiting parks across our city. 

Here’s how: 

  • Do a little research. You can drive around to various parks or look online. Are there some with hidden playgrounds or unique fun setups? 
  • Map it out. Plan how much time you have to spend and how much time you want to spend at each park. 
  • Hit it hard. Run, slide, jump and swing at the planned park for the allotted time. Then, no matter how much fun you’re having, go to the next. It’s an adventure after all! Part of the fun is just exploring the new parks. 

Parkpalooza is just one example of creative fun in the sun. Keep exploring and trying new ideas. 

4. Remain Adaptable 

As much as Zoom calls may wane from their prominence, flexibility, patience, and empathy aren’t going anywhere. If anything, as all of our tanks are running low after a year of high adaptability, these Christlike traits are going to be more important than ever. 

So as the travel bug or the desire to re-engage in the world creeps in, remain adaptable. As Christians, we of all people know that we are to hold our plans loosely. God is in control, not us, and so whenever we make plans, we entrust them to the Lord (James 4:15). This posture keeps us patient and flexible. 

As I dream about the faithful presence of the church in the coming years, one of my hopes and desires is that we make adaptability and patience a part of the forever new normal for us! The posture of patience, grace and gentleness is the Christian calling, not a COVID pastime. 

5. Prioritize Giving of Yourself with Others

Andy Crouch, Christian author and speaker who has brilliantly been spot-on throughout the pandemic, has been looking back to help us look forward. What does he notice? After the Spanish Flu of 1918, we had the roaring twenties. People were tired of being cooped up. They just wanted to party already, and frankly, that wasn’t a high point for the church. 

I think Andy Crouch is on to something in that one of the greatest temptations that awaits us in these next couple of years is to get out and LIVE life to the fullest! By that I mean, we may be tempted to indulge our desires, give in to our every whim, and let our appetites and wants guide our lives now that we’ve been unleashed. 

Nothing could be further from what we see in Jesus and our calling to follow Him. 

Rather, what would it look like to GIVE life to its fullest? 

What would it look like if as restrictions decrease, we leveraged that empowerment to take on the posture of servants? The basin and towel has always been a marker of the follower of Jesus, and maybe as things reopen we should prioritize giving of ourselves rather than treating ourselves. 

That may mean a different posture at work, an area of repentance at home, continued patience with your church, engaging in a blood drive in your community, serving at your church (which means returning to your church in person), or donating time toward serving with a ministry partner (find our list here). While the what is unique to you, this calling isn’t. 

Don’t let life grow like a weed, or it will take over. Redeem the time and be intentional, and decide ahead of time how you will re-engage a reopening world. 

Who knows how this year will impact the next season of your life? Be wise. Be a good steward. It’s not just your calendar. It’s your life. And remember it actually is His.

The Many Sides of Prayer

The Many Sides of Prayer

We’ve Only Just Begun

If you haven’t heard yet, across all five campuses, we are on a formational journey toward deeper Christlike being and doing. One of our newest resources to help us learn from God’s word in God’s ways with God’s people is theFormed.life

 In the first 10 weeks of theFormed.life, we’ve had over 1100 people on this shared journey toward a more intentionally formed Christlike life. 

 And we’ve only just begun. 

 We are continuing to refine theFormed.life to make it more accessible, and if you haven’t signed up yet, Sunday, April 11 is the perfect time. As we begin a new sermon series, theFormed.life will zero in on the discipline of prayer for the next 10 weeks. 

 As we explore prayer, we’ll engage in a seven day rhythm that is anchored in the sermon series and includes various practices and habits in prayer that will expand our framework for this central discipline. 

 Watch below to learn how you can join your church family in this journey!

An Intro to “Why” the Discipline of Prayer

It doesn’t take but a cursory reading of the Gospel accounts to see that one of the critical practices of Jesus was prayer. Throughout His life Jesus goes looking for places to pray away from the crowds, at times spends all night praying with others, and constantly urges His followers to pray. 

 Throughout his letters to various early churches, the apostle Paul modeled and encouraged followers of Jesus to grow in the area of prayer. We also have room to grow in this crucial Christian habit. 

 

An Improved Companion Journal

The companion journal is a great place to gather your thoughts, keep your sermon notes, work on your memory verse and more. While the journal does not REPLACE theFormed.life online, it contains journaling prompts that connect with Sunday sermons and online materials. It can be used alone or as a supplement to what is happening online. It’s a great tool to keep with you and even bring to your community group or small group gatherings.

Get yours at your campus any Sunday this April! You can also
DOWNLOAD THE PDF

We hope you join us along the way, because — to be sure — we are all being formed by someone or something. Whether it’s by your choice of media, news, daily rhythms, or relationships, all have a part to play in who we are becoming. Our perspective, posture and practices are all being tweaked by our cultural location. If we are not intentionally setting our sights on the practices and precepts of Christ daily, we may find ourselves deformed in alarming ways only after we’ve experienced the damage in our lives. 

Let’s take that next step together. Let’s put the “formed” back in biblically informed.