This came from one of my Facebook posts, but I thought that others could use it here:
Anyone who knows my family situation knows that my youngest child doesn't like me much. You might think I'm joking, but it is true. He screams bloody murder every time I have to change him or put him to bed especially when Angela is home.
Well, tonight was no different. I decided to try to sing to him to calm him down but to no avail. So, after getting him all squared away, I held him close while he wriggled and screamed. I kept singing.
I held him with that kind of hold that said to him that no matter how much he fought and screamed I wasn't going to let him go.
A few minutes in, he stopped screaming and snuggled in. Every time I would come to a pause in the song, he would stir. I'd start back up and he'd snuggle in closer.
Finally, the song was over. As I laid him down, his eyes met mine and his mouth got really wide. His face said, "I see who you are now."
As I played this scene over and over in my head, I remembered the third song of our worship service today, Just Be Held. When we allow ourselves to be held in the comfort of believing in the unknowable, we find that we actually widen our eyes in recognition of something greater than ourselves. Just like Tony looked at me seeing me for the first time, when we stop fighting against love, we are able to see God clearer.
When you fight against love, you cannot offer it. When you cannot offer love, life becomes meaningless. Thank you, Tony, for reminding me that there is always the potential to stop fighting, to start loving, and to see God and others more clearly. - Shane Russo
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf "of those" who will believe in me through their word; John 17:20.
A few years ago we were studying the week leading up to the crucifixion and part of my reading for that lesson was John 17. Richard Brunton told me that Steve Brown, a pastor, motivational speaker and founder of the Key Life Network, calls this passage the real Lord's Prayer. It is a beautifully written passage, with the words of Jesus as he prays to his Father, mind you, almost immediately before he is taken by the Jews. There is so much in this chapter that can be studied, discussed and have sermons written about from now until the end of time. However, after I finished reading John 17, caught my breath and my heart quit racing, verse 20 jumped out at me. And ever since that day, I had a whole new outlook on the bible. On if the words from 2,000 years ago are relevant to today's world and even more so, relevant to me. You see, I believe all of us, at one time or another, have a hard time seeing how God's word, written 2,000 years ago applies to our lives. Well for me, after reading John 17:20, I never really felt like that again.
Jesus was offering this prayer to his Father on behalf of the apostles, his friends. In the hours prior to being subjected to a suffering he knew would be extremely painful and torturous, Jesus took the time to pray for his friends. And every time I read that passage, it just warms my heart. You can feel the love he has for them and the genuine concern he has for them when they have to fend for themselves in the world. I can see why Mr. Brown calls this the real Lord's prayer. And in the midst of praying for his friends, Jesus prays verse 20. And in that verse, believe it or not, Jesus prayed for you, for me and for all of us.
How did you first come to Jesus or to God's word? Maybe it was via a Christian upbringing. Maybe through a church you attended or attend right now. Maybe through your parents, or another family member or close friend. Maybe a Sunday School teacher or pastor. However it happened, I would say for most of us, it was through the works of another person of faith. And how do you think it happened for them? Probably through one of those same channels. So when Jesus prayed not only for his disciples, but for those who will believe in him through their word, he in essence was praying for all of us. The words of the apostles were delivered to others of faith, who delivered those words to the next group of believers and so on and so on, until those words made it to the person or vessel that brought Jesus to you and to me. So yes, the words of 2,000 years ago are for you and for me, as was a part of this amazing prayer.
And finally, what's really great about being brought to Jesus is that it's not a one time thing, like if you miss it, you don't get another shot. In fact, you might have even got it and then lost it, but he's still there, he's still waiting for you to come to him for the first time, or to come back to him. And short of divine intervention, guess how that happens? Usually through the good works of those doing God's bidding on this earth. My first introductions to Christ were most definitely through my Catholic upbringing. However, I had those dark spiritual years as a teen and 20 something where making it to church was about my only contact with Jesus. And then over the next 30 years or so, I rode the spiritual roller coaster, through the highs and lows of my faith, often being brought back up by one "of those".
You see, Jesus prayed for us way back when he walked this earth. It's right there in John 17:20 and I know that he is praying for you and for me every day, 2,000 years later. My prayer for you is that you have many "of those" in your life and that you are one "of those" to others.
Pastor Vicky's first ever vlog! Go Big or Go Home. Are you trying to tweak a problem that needs a larger solution? Try trusting God make a major difference. Hear our story about how God did exactly that with iFire.
We had a great celebration for iFire's first birthday! But amidst the cake and balloons, I pray that something doesn't get missed. What is that? I hope you don't miss how miraculous this event truly is, and how absolutely wonderful God has been in this entire process.
There aren't many churches who choose to do whatever is necessary to reach their children and community. So many stop short of the great things God has for them because they wait too long to take action, or give a half-hearted attempt to change. Change is difficult, which is why many won't follow God's direction. Change is necessary and unavoidable - changing for the better, however is not.
I am so grateful that we as a church came together to follow God's call, even when we weren't sure of the future, and not all of our friends made the journey with us. We stepped out in faith, and found a future better than anyone expected. To the praise of God's glory.
~ Pastor Vicky
In the first post in this series, I concluded that we need to first define “our culture” before we can decide what living counter-culturally is. Then, in the second post, I listed five ways in which I believe the many subcultures in America overlap to make “American culture.” Here is a recap of those five areas:
1. Embrace Community
Since we are wildly independent and individualistic, embracing a community might possibly be the most counter-cultural thing we can do. Independence and individualism are inward-focused qualities. They center more on me and what I want/need. They also isolate us from quality relationships. If I want to counter isolation and look outward, the way to do it is by entering fully into a community. This means that I am going to have to give up some of my personal space. I need to allow others to get close to me physically and personally. I need to stop concentrating on how I am different from others and start seeing how we are alike.
2. Change Your Choices
Freedom of choice is foundational to the human life. So, I would never tell you to give up your right to choose. But, with an outward-thinking and community-driven mentality, the choices I might make are going to look a lot different. When I am not focusing solely on myself, when I am thinking about the lives and situations of others around me, then I am more likely to make choices that reflect how those decisions will impact them. If I am thinking about my wife (or church for that matter), the way I choose to spend some of my free time will reflect the fact that they both need some of it. That is not to say that I should not have my own time. It does mean that all of my time should not be self-serving.
3. Be More Transparent
We all want to be different, but most of us don’t like it when people point out those differences. It is almost like we want a certain amount of secrecy or mystique to accompany our egos. I know that is true for me.
For example, I was very resistant to telling people I had gastric bypass surgery for a few months after the procedure. I must have lost 70 lbs. in the first three months, but I didn’t want people to know how it happened. I was not embarrassed. I simply wanted the mystery to surround me. It wasn’t until I started telling people about it that I realized that there were many people in my life struggling with the decision themselves. I found that being open about my past could benefit others.
Did transparency make it easier for me to be a target? Sure. Once people learned that I had surgery to lose weight, I got the obligatory, “Did you ever try exercising?” lectures. I have even had people very loudly exclaim that I took the “easy way out.” However, for every one of those folks, there have been ten that have needed to hear my story. I am certain that there are people in your communities that need to hear your stories too. So, don’t be afraid to tell them.
4. Accept What Other People Can Give
The people most willing to help others are most often the least willing to accept help themselves. Deep down, this is a way to try to control the situation. Being controlling might seems counter to the helpful nature of the giver. But, when a helper refuses to be helped, that is exactly what is happening. It all goes back to wanting to be independent. Our independence gets in the way of the reciprocating nature of authentic relationships.
Just like transparency, accepting assistance from others makes us more vulnerable. I’m getting the image of prayer in my head as I write this: heads bowed. Some people believe we bow our heads out of respect, and that is part of the reason. The major reason we bow our heads when we pray is that is displays submission to something greater than ourselves. Submission makes us vulnerable. We submit to God when we trust God. We trust that God will not hurt us, and so we open ourselves up to receiving whatever God gives us. While people are not God, the relational aspects of accepting what others can give through submission and trust still hold true. Such aspects are certainly counter-cultural.
There you have it. Living counter-culturally as Christians should mean being more outward-focused, transparent, and submissive. It should also mean making more choices with others in mind. If all of that sounds crazy or impossible, that is because living truly counter to culture is one of the hardest endeavors we can undertake. Jesus lived counter to his culture. It cost him dearly. However, that price paid created and ripple effect that forever changed our history and futures.
What would the world look like if we all chose to live counter-culturally?
In part one of this series on counter-cultural Christianity, I claimed that how we define our culture is the starting point in any attempt to live counter-culturally. I also mentioned that culture is nebulous and not easily categorized. In the melting pot of cultures that make up the United States, is it even possible to identify an overarching American culture? Are there any values or parts of our lifestyles that cross racial, ethnic, and economic barriers? I think so. So, here are five characteristics that I believe define American culture*.
1. Americans are extremely independent, individualistic, and like to be different from each other.
Individualism is number one on my list because it is the most defining characteristic of American culture in my book. I submit that there are very few of us that want to be "just like everyone else." From a very early age, we are taught that being like everyone else is some kind of failure. As a youngster growing up, I started viewing people more as objects and tools to be used in my quest to be unique. Why should I have cared about them? I needed to be different, so what did it matter to me what they thought or needed?
2. Americans believe in freedom of choice.
Oh boy! Almost equal to our need to be individuals is our need to choose. In fact, they play off of each other a bit. It is my ability to choose what I want to my life that allows me to be the individual I wish to become. No one can tell me what to do. I choose for me. I say what goes in my life. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying the freedom to choose is bad. I would hate to live in a place that did not allow choices. That said, we Americans also tend to think that our freedom of choice somehow comes with freedom from consequences.
3. Americans like personal space around them.
I know this to be true of myself and just about every person I know. In fact, my wife and I just bought a house because we couldn't possibly have raised three children in a house with only 1000 square feet. Every one of our kids needs his own room. When I stand in line, I make sure there is at LEAST a foot of space between the next person and me. I hate people being all up on me. When sitting at a red light, I get irritated when the car behind me creeps ever closer in an effort to gain a little extra time. In short, I like my personal space. I know you do too. Americans love things to be as big and spacious as possible.
4. While we like to carve out our path and make our unique mark on the world, Americans often get offended when asked direct questions about those points of divergence.
Think about this. Most of us at least partially define ourselves by the money we make, the clothes we wear, how we look, and our religion (or lack thereof). But, when was the last time I felt overjoyed when someone commented on or directly asked me about my religion, age, money, salary, weight, or clothing choice?
5. As a result of being fiercely independent, most of us do not like to be thought of as needing to be helped.
So, Be careful when you offer your seat on the bus to an older or a physically challenged person. Oddly enough, what might seem like an honest to goodness act of kindness in your mind might be seen as degrading or offensive to the intended recipient.
I want to be clear here. These are elements of American culture that I believe transcend race and economics. My language above may sound a bit cynical at times. That is only because I find these traits to be growing areas within myself. It is with that mindset that I will close out this series in the next post. In that post, I will detail what I believe being a counter-cultural Christian is really all about.
Do you agree or disagree with this list? Do you think something is missing? Leave a comment below!
Various members share their thoughts as God guides our journey together.