With the beginning of a new year we often pause from the hustle and bustle of busy schedules to reflect on the speedy passage of time. As the years pile on, we increasingly marvel how the past year has flown by with such breakneck speed. We hear in our hearts with increased beckoning the psalmist prayerful words, Lord teach us to number our days that we may apply our heart to wisdom. Seeking to live more wisely in the new year, we may consider priority adjustments that require attention; life pace that needs slowing, more consistent sabbath rests, curiosities that need fostering, or relationships that call for greater deepening. Yet, there is a reflective question that we may overlook, one a life of wisdom requires. What may we have forgotten that we dare not forget?
The Peril of Forgetfulness
We often call them “senior moments,” those frustrating gaps in our memory as we age. It may be someone’s name we just can’t recall, a computer password that simply has vanished from our memory, or an important anniversary date. Forgetting is embarrassing, unpleasant, and even annoying, but it can also prove perilous. A missed deadline can lead to an IRS audit, a doctor’s prescription not taken can lead to hospitalization, a burning candle left lit can burn an entire house to the ground. But perhaps the greatest danger we face is in forgetting God’s manifest presence, his bedrock promises and his great faithfulness to us.
Martyred German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us of the evil one’s temptation strategy to get us to forget God in our daily lives. Bonhoeffer puts it this way in his book Creation and Fall, Temptation, Two Biblical Studies: “At this moment God is quite unreal to us, he loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real; the only reality is the devil. Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God.”
Forgetfulness is not something we take as seriously as we ought, yet it may well be the most perilous obstacle to our spiritual formation in Christlikeness. Just a cursory glance of the Bible reminds us over and over again of the peril of forgetting as well as the crucial importance of remembering. In this new year, as we seek to live an increasingly wise life, perhaps few things are more important than remembering to remember. What do we need to remember to remember? What must we dare not forget?
In a very dark moment in redemptive history, the writer of Lamentations encourages God’s covenant people to remember to remember. “This I call to mind and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:21-23 In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases this text beautifully. “But there is one thing I remember and remembering I keep a grip on hope. God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I got left.”
Remembering God’s Unfailing Love
As we enter a new year, let’s remember to remember God’s unfailing love to us. Others will let us down, disappoint us and fail us, but God will not. His promises are golden. His presence is never in doubt. He is always there for you. He will never leave the room on you. As his son or daughter, he simply, purely, and utterly delights in you. The prophet Zephaniah describes God’s loving presence with sheer delight for his covenant people. “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save, he will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV) What this coming year will bring we do not know, but we can truly know God’s unfailing love will be there for us both as individual apprentices of Jesus as well as a faith community. Nothing, or no one, can ever separate us from God’s unfailing love.
Remembering God’s Past Faithfulness
In this new year, let’s also remember to remember God’s past faithfulness. Few things build more hopeful buoyancy in our hearts and minds than remembering God’s past faithfulness. It is seen in his loving protection of our lives, abundant provision for our needs, his guiding and comforting presence even in the midst of suffering, and the many good things he showers on us simply for our delight and joy. How has God shown his faithfulness to you this past year? When God’s covenant people crossed the Jordan river into the promised land, God instructed them to carry with them twelve memorial stones of remembrance so they would not forget God’s past faithfulness in the forty years of rugged wilderness living. What might be a tangible way you can better remember to remember God’s past faithfulness in your life this year? Where are your stones of remembrance? How will they help you not forget what you dare not forget?
Remembering Christ Together
Remembering to remember is not only an individual endeavor, it is woven into the hopeful and joyful fabric of local church community. When we make weekly corporate worship a high priority, together in the power of the Holy Spirit we are remembering to remember God’s good news to us, Christ’s work for us, his unfailing love for us, his faithfulness to us and his manifest presence with us. When our Lord Jesus instituted Holy Communion for his local gathered church, he placed it in a frame of remembrance. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” This year will you join me and our Christ Community family on Sundays with greater regularity and more joyful expectation of remembering to remember our wonderful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? He is the one who has forgiven us, given us new creation life, and welcomed us into his already, but not fully yet kingdom. If we are going to live a life of increasing wisdom in this new year, let’s remember to remember what we dare not forget.
In the 4th century the city of Caesarea was reeling from war and famine that rendered its citizens and infrastructure vulnerable. The city’s fragility was compounded with a widespread plague that forced many to flee, leaving the poor and sick to fend for themselves. While many evacuated in panic there was one group of people who remained in the city to care for the dying. It was the Christian remnant of Caesarea who risked exposure to illness and death to stay back and care for their indigent neighbors.
The ancient historian Eusebius recorded the events that took place during this time and penned these words:
“All day long some of [the Christians] tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from famine and distributed bread to them all.”
In the face of great sickness, uncertainty, and even death, followers of Jesus risked their own well being to love and care for the most vulnerable in their midst. While many saw these events as an opportunity for self-preservation, apprentices of Jesus saw it as an opportunity for sacrificial love. This has been a hallmark of the church of Jesus Christ from the beginning. And she finds herself presented with another opportunity to be who she has always been.
This is quite an unusual time in our world as we watch the COVID 19 virus spread around the globe. It is unusual to see major sporting events canceled, churches empty on Sundays, and toilet paper in such high demand. If you know where I can score some please hit me up…I have 4 kids.
But these unusual times call for unusual kindness (Acts 28:1-2).
Yes, we need to take precautions to avoid the spread of this virus. Yes, we need to adjust our rhythms and habits to embrace a new normal for the time being.
While many are viewing this time as a reason to panic, the church of Jesus Christ should see it as a reason to persist in neighborly love.
Here are a few suggestions for us to consider as we seek to offer a counter-narrative to the Coronavirus by showing unusual kindness:
1. Check in on the vulnerable
The elderly and the chronically ill are the most susceptible to the virus. Odds are there is someone on your block or in your apartment complex who is living with a heightened and justifiable concern because of their increased risk of contracting the virus. Find ways to contact them to offer prayer, encouragement, and any assistance that is appropriate within the parameters recommended by the CDC and other public health officials. It could be as simple as offering to get groceries for them. If your neighborhood or apartment complex has a social media group or webpage then use it to contact neighbors and encourage others to do the same.
2. Put pen to paper
We may be limited in our face to face contact. What a great opportunity to dust off your ink pen and stationery to write some cards to friends, family members, and neighbors. When you consider our technological age and our impending quarantined lifestyle, receiving a handwritten card in the mail might do wonders for people stuck in isolation.
3. Redeem social media
Can we all agree that social media has been kind of terrible as of late? But it doesn’t have to be. With people more isolated due to the virus, let’s redeem this tool to connect, encourage, pray for, and serve others. Ask people how you can pray for them and just see who responds. Invite people to your church’s online worship service if they are offering one. Share encouraging words of Scripture that will buoy people’s spirits and remind them of God’s presence amidst the chaos.
4. Volunteer (if possible)
This may not be a viable or even permissible option, but if it is within your means to do so you may reach out to offer your time and resources to area food pantries, non-profit groups, hospitals, and nursing homes. We all know that medical professionals will be swamped during this time. We also know that there are many food insecure families who will be in greater need with schools closed for an indefinite period of time. Many families rely on the meals their children receive at school. Consider contacting the principal of your neighborhood school to see if there is any way to help.
5. Share the unusual good news of Jesus
It is during times like these when we are awakened to our need for Jesus. When we discover just how fragile, vulnerable, dependent, and fearful we actually are.
May the church of Jesus Christ be present and ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15) and to show how the unusual message of the cross of Christ is actually our wisdom and power (1 Cor 1:20-25).
This is indeed an unusual time in our history, but it is also a unique opportunity for the church to step up and reach out to our neighbors. As it is said, desperate times call for desperate measures. I think unusual times call for unusual kindness.
These are the harsh words uttered by Ricky Fitts to Angela Hayes in the movie American Beauty. While the word ordinary isn’t going to be bleeped out on the radio or censored on public television, it can still leave a mark on us as much, if not more, than a curse word. Think about it. How would you feel if someone said you were totally ordinary? Even hypothetically thinking about that now makes me want to call my mom and hear her tell me how wonderful I am.
But why do we have such an adverse reaction to the idea of being ordinary or doing ordinary things? Maybe it’s because we have such high expectations placed upon us by our parents, neighbors, coaches, bosses, and even pastors.
I am by no means advocating a lifestyle of mediocrity and laziness. However, I wonder if in all of our talk of being extraordinary and accomplishing extraordinary things we have lost sight of the fact that God does indeed love the ordinary. I think there is something God sees as beautiful and good in the seemingly ordinary parts of our lives. After all, Jesus lived out the majority of His life in the obscurity of ordinary life.
Obviously, we know a lot about the three years of Jesus’ ministry of miracles, healings, and teachings that culminated in His death and resurrection. But do we ever stop and think about the fact that Jesus worked as a humble and faithful carpenter for 18 years? As our lead senior pastor Tom Nelson has said, we move from the cradle to the cross very quickly, but we miss the carpenter’s shop. Jesus’ work as a carpenter wasn’t about waiting around until the “real work” of His ministry began. It wasn’t about killing time until God was ready to use Him for His “true purposes.”
I believe that the seemingly insignificant and shockingly normal years of Jesus’ carpentry work in obscurity teach us something. Namely, that God values, appreciates, and is involved in the ordinary things of our lives. This is good news, because so much of our life is, in fact, overwhelmingly ordinary.
“The new life into which we are baptized is lived out in days, hours, and minutes. God is forming us into a new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of today.”
We all long to live meaningful lives and desire to do things that truly matter. We want our lives to count for something and have something to show for our time on this earth. But that is not mutually exclusive from doing ordinary work, being formed in ordinary ways, and maintaining faithfulness in ordinary things. We all want to live extraordinary lives. But that cannot happen without embracing and even rejoicing in the ordinary things of life. If we fail to see the importance of being faithful and intentional in what we view as ordinary, then we may miss out on what is truly extraordinary about life.
In his book Ordinary, Michael Horton pens these poignant words. He writes, “Our big ideas to ‘change the world’ can become ways of actually avoiding the opportunities we have every day, right where God has placed us, to glorify and enjoy Him and to enrich the lives of others…Sometimes, the best way to change the world is to live extraordinarily in what looks like an ordinary existence—to radically love and serve those around us every day, no matter where we are.”
Yes, we want to live lives of deep devotion and radical faith in Christ. But perhaps we need to start by reminding ourselves to be faithful and intentional in the very ordinary things that God has placed in our lives. I think Jesus was on to something when He said in Luke 16:10, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”
We may have grandiose expectations for our lives and for what we want to accomplish. But is it possible that in fixing our eyes only on extraordinary things we may miss out on the great fruitfulness of being faithful in the countless ordinary things in our Monday life? Is it possible that we have failed to see that the very path toward an extraordinary life is paved with so many beautifully ordinary bricks?
How is God calling you to be faithful and how is He forming you through the ordinary parts of your Monday life?
A wise character once said, “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” The Old Testament reveals to today’s families the truth of God’s character as a loving father and a faithful provider. From the Old Testament to the present, families have had to make, and continue to struggle to make, the choices that are right to grow in God’s character as His image bearers. THE CHOICE Adam and Eve’s choice was obviously wrong, but they picked it (see what I did there?) in the hope that knowing good and evil would make their life easy. Sadly, they were not satisfied with the good, loving, and caring environment God placed them in. Thus, they believed Satan’s temptation would unlock wisdom. Instead, it brought insecurity, confusion, anxiety, and fear.
Today’s parents face the challenge to guide the descendants of Adam not only towards a relationship with God but also through the minefield of temptations culture presents.
THE FRUSTRATION Daily, parents can relate to the heartache, frustration, hurt, and defeat around their children’s choices. These choices often reflect taking the easy path over the right path. Inexplicably, a preschooler will begin lying not to disappoint, an elementary student allows an idol to shape their language and behavior, a middle-school-aged student will bully out of pride, and a high schooler will turn to drugs, alcohol, or self-harming as a release to fit in or mask their differences from others.
God’s story reflects the treacherous path of His children to replace what is right, and perhaps possibly challenging to do, with the facade of easy. This facade leads towards a path of self-reliance, destruction, loneliness, and ends in isolation. Being made for community, isolation is the perfect ending for temptation. At the core of evil, we are isolated and cut off from the truth and the hope that God can rescue us and love us again.
FORGETFULNESS We are a forgetful people, born into a long lineage of forgetful people. Even the Israelite descendants who passed down unbelievable stories of rescue from Egypt, the Red Sea, and the wilderness were doomed to become amnesiac again, reverting to their old ways and emotions.
The covenants and laws reminded God’s children He is the faithful provider, even when they rebelled or became lost in their forgetfulness. Each covenant beautifully builds upon the last from one man, to one family, to one nation, and ending in all people. This narrative, when told from the beginning in Eden to the incredible ending of a new heaven and new earth, represents the faithfulness of God to provide a way. NOT ALONE Parents, you are not alone. You have a perfect parent, God, who knows the cost of raising generations of children who have walked away from a loving environment due to forgetfulness. Our children are daily reminders that we are still growing in doing what is right, even when it is hard. As champions of our children’s spiritual faith, we stand on the front lines constantly repositioning our children to be on a path toward God.
We do not want to be weary parents. We must be strong and courageous, daily strengthened in Christ—looking to Scripture for words of wisdom, humbling ourselves in intercession and prayer, and above all, seeking the will and provision of the Father. God has demonstrated throughout the Old Testament His love as a father and faithfulness as a provider who is always right on time.
When Liz and I arrived in Kansas City to begin Christ Community, we had never served in a pastoral role before, and we had few resources. We felt God had called us to a bold-faith mission, but transparently, there were times failure seem to stare us in the face and everything felt fragile.
From the very start, we believed God was birthing Christ Community to be a quiet catalyst for spiritual awakening. We were to be a church anchored not in pastoral personality or some human vision, but rather in a disciple-making mission. That compelling mission, to be a caring family of multiplying disciples influencing our community and world for Jesus Christ, has remained at the heart of who we are continually becoming and all that we are doing in advancing Christ’s kingdom in the world. Undergirding our mission is an unwavering belief that the local church, as God designed it, is the hope of the world.
As I reflect on the past 30 years, my heart is filled with gratitude to God and to all who have made Christ Community their church home and have invested time, talent, and treasure so generously. God’s miraculous provision, extraordinary favor, and watchful presence have been a constant reality on our journey of faith.
God’s Miraculous Provision
God’s miraculous provision has been evident in so many tangible ways. Christ Community began with no congregation, no financial resources, no land or buildings. In thirty years, God has brought to Christ Community a gifted host of congregants and pastoral staff. We have experienced steady growth in attendance and a growing yearly budget. We have repeatedly seen God’s miraculous provision of land and buildings for our now five campuses.
Allowing us to have a growing impact, God has provided city partners like Christian Fellowship Baptist, Advice and Aid, The Culture House, and many more who are seeking the shalom of our city and furthering the common good. Expanding our global reach, God has also provided church partnerships in Iran, China, Germany, Rwanda and Kenya.
God has provided the financial and leadership resources to launch Made to Flourish, which as an organization is focused on bringing greater whole-life discipleship to pastors and churches across our nation. Made to Flourish is now impacting over 2,500 pastors in 24 cities.
In the last 15 years, Christ Community has become a “teaching hospital” for training young pastors through our pastoral residency program. Our 30th resident just started in January. We have also been equipping post-college students for their various vocational callings through our KC Fellows program.
When we pause to remember God’s good hand of provision, we declare with the Psalmist of old, this is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.
God’s Extraordinary Favor
God’s extraordinary favor has also been evident these past 30 years. It is stunning to think that our obscure, yet vibrant, faith community, located in what many view as a flyover city, has been so blessed.
Many Christian thought leaders have come to Kansas City and invested in our church family. Though I cannot list all the people who have helped equip us for our catalytic mission, let me highlight some of them who have been especially influential in shaping our church culture and refining our disciple-making mission: Dallas Willard, Os Guinness, Ravi Zacharias, Don Carson, Chuck Colson, Bill Bright, Tim Keller, James Hunter, John Lennox, Michael Ramsden, David Miller, Steven Garber, Michael Emerson, Andy Crouch, Brian Fikkert, Elaine Storkey, Dana Harris, John Kilner, Josh Jipp, Constantine Campbell, Thomas McCall, Barbara Haggerty, and Mike Metzger.
Whether it was spiritual formation, theology, apologetics, cultural insight, bioethics, evangelism, vocation, economics, or racial reconciliation, Christ Community has been entrusted with a remarkable stewardship.
This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.
God’s Watchful Protection
We not only remember God’s miraculous provision and extraordinary favor, we also pause to give our Good Shepherd praise for His tender care and watchful protection over us as a growing church family. As apprentices of Jesus, we have followed His instruction to pray faithfully and fervently that our Father in heaven would “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
While we have felt Satan’s hellish fury against the Bride of Christ, Christ Community has experienced divine protection from moral or financial scandal, divisive conflict, mission drift, and doctrinal erosion.
This too is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.
Embracing the Future
Looking back, we remember and give thanks for the Lord’s gracious faithfulness to us. Now as a multisite congregation spread throughout our city, let us embrace the fruitful future our Lord has for us with humility of heart, unity of purpose, fervent prayer, and bold faith.
Throughout 2019, we’ll be hosting events that look back on God’s faithfulness to us. I look forward to sharing these times of celebration, and I am most grateful for the wonderful privilege of sharing this journey with you.
I was a bit intimidated when approached by our Pastor of Children’s Ministries to contribute an article on serving—I fail a lot in serving and in modeling service. Still, we are fortunate that our whole family has generally embraced service. Enough so, that we have been asked, “How do you get your kids to serve?” Simply, if you want kids who serve, you must serve. If principles are caught and not taught, it must be modeled. So what is the model? The ideas below are not comprehensive, but I hope they serve as launching points.
Ever since American churches embraced Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, there has been a widespread movement to find individual purpose, in relationship with God, but also specifically in regard to service. I wholeheartedly agree with the concepts of identifying our spiritual giftedness, personality types, passions, and strengths.
I also wonder if the American church has been inculcated with the concept that unless you find your own true calling, any efforts are wasted or unnecessary. Past experience in service and leadership positions leads me to believe this leaves necessary work undone and even a lack of joy among believers.
Instead, if there is a need, fill it, even if it’s not perceptible as a “true calling.” Again, my experience is that when I’ve set aside my desires and sacrificially served in areas I don’t particularly care for or feel ill-equipped for, God has honored it, ultimately providing both growth and fulfillment.
As an example, my hope for my own kids is that they achieve their highest and best calling, fully utilizing their unique gifts and abilities. There are also times I just want them to take out the trash, do the dishes, scoop dog doo, or any number of everyday tasks. How is it any different as God’s children? Yes, we should seek to fully utilize our gifts, but sometimes there are less self-actualizing things that need doing. I wonder if God also expects His children to pitch in, with good attitudes. When my kids serve well and without complaining, I want to lavish them with praise and good things, including helping them eventually fulfill interests and unique abilities.
Don’t Forget Hospitality
I value my privacy and the feeling that my home is a sanctum—yes, I’m an introvert. Conversely, my wife loves to be with people. She intentionally makes our home a place where everyone feels welcome, from simple things like always having popsicles in the garage freezer for our kids’ neighborhood friends, to more complex issues like happily accommodating dietary restrictions when others come for a meal or sensitivity to vastly different backgrounds or ideologies of our guests.
I’m grateful for a spouse who stretches me to graciously welcome neighbors, our kids’ friends, and fellow church-goers into our home. Doing so is key to the relational connections that are a bedrock of sharing the gospel and encouraging believers. What’s more, it’s been a blessing, even for an introverted curmudgeon like me.
Embrace a Wider Scope of Service
Our daughter, now 17, is in the midst of selecting a college and, as a byproduct, setting a direction for a career path. More immediately, she is searching for a part time job, which she desires in order to have “fun money” but also for additional savings for upcoming college expenses. It will be imperative to impress upon her that such work is not just about the compensation she’ll receive, but more importantly, it is about the contribution she’ll make to glorify God and in service to her fellow man.
Genesis 1-2 shows we are created in the likeness of God and are commanded to be creative and productive (fruitful), just like our Heavenly Father. He created us for work, not as a means of economic remuneration or status, but as an extension of who we are and how we are made to glorify Him, while also providing value for others.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “cultivate,” aboda, in Gen. 2:15 is translated contextually three different ways throughout the Old Testament: work, service, or worship. Even as members of the workforce, we are called to service and worship in our work. Called to faithfully serve God and our neighbors with our abilities, creativity, and fruitfulness, regardless of the role.
How would the church and our communities look if we all served when needed and where needed, regardless of our personal preferences, as an act of love?
How would society and the workplace change if we all viewed our daily work, whether paid or unpaid, through the lens of contribution instead of compensation, as an act of loving service to others and God-honoring worship?
How could we have impact for generations to come if we modeled this attitude of work/service/worship to our children?
Clay Nickel serves on Christ Community’s Elder Leadership Team. He attends the Olathe Campus with his wife, Sarah, and their three children. This article was previously published in HomeFront magazine, September 2018 edition.