When I met my wife she was a Christian and I was not. I was interested in going to church so God was certainly working in my heart, but I had not yet accepted Christ. She had recently become a Christian. She was pretty on fire for Jesus and when I asked her what she liked to do, she said, “I like to go to church.” Soon after we began hanging out, she gave me Rick Warren’s book, which was pretty new at that time, Purpose Driven Life. We were going to read through it together. I don’t remember how we did in reading it together, but I do know that I finished it. I also know that around the time that I finished it, I had given my life to Jesus. That was almost ten years ago and that was really my last encounter with anything that Rick Warren has written. Furthermore, I had never heard him preach. That was until last week.
If you didn’t know, last week was R13, The Resurgence 2013 conference in Seattle, Washington. I didn’t go to Seattle, but instead was blessed by the opportunity to listen free to the live stream of the conference while I worked. Thank you Resurgence! I wasn’t able to catch all of the sessions live, but have been able to go back and listen to the ones I missed since they have posted them for free on their site. One that I did catch live was Pastor Rick Warren’s session. I am so very thankful that I was able to hear his session.
I was struck by how he just came out and sat down like he was having a conversation with everyone. What followed was definitely from his heart and I believe, from God’s heart. I won’t attempt to summarize all he said, but what stuck out to me the most were the four main points he stressed: integrity, generosity, humility and faith. He said essentially that you can’t have a life and/or ministry blessed by God if you don’t have these (that’s a rather simplistic summary). He talked about how those things can keep you from the three general buckets of sin and temptation: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. Admittedly, when he finished I had to just get by myself a bit to pray and weep because I felt so overcome in the Spirit by encouragement, conviction and mercy.
As I have thought more about what he said later that night and in the last few days, I keep coming back to how community is so essential to doing what he is suggesting. When it comes to integrity, generosity, humility and faith, those things cannot be manifested in us when we are alone. Those things do not come to us naturally. Those things are worked in us by the Holy Spirit, but Philippians 2 definitely comes into play here: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure,” (Philippians 2:12b-13, ESV). God, the Holy Spirit, is working those things into us, but we must be working out what God is working in and the only way to work out what God is working in is by being in community.
Community is such a junk drawer term these days in Christianity. Everybody wants to talk about community. Queue the funny video about the goofy things that Christians say. The reality is that community exists everywhere. When you were without Christ and in sin, you had a community. Every wonder why people always want to get drunk together or get high together? That’s because it feels better and is more encouraging to do whatever it is that you do with other people of the same mind. That’s because we are relational beings. This of course is a perversion of community in God’s eyes, but it is still community. So it isn’t just community that we need. What we need is community in Jesus Christ, which is better known as the Church. Its ok millenials, we can say we need the Church. When we say we need community what we are describing is the Church. We need the Church. We need the Body of Christ. We need fellow believers who are trying to live out the same faith we are and who are trying to live out Philippians 2. After all, Paul wrote to the church in Philippi those words in Philippians 2.
How can we truly be people of integrity, if we don’t have anyone to challenge us when we are too close to the line? How can we truly be generous people, if we don’t have anyone teaching us what that means and holding us accountable? How can we be humble people, if we don’t have people modeling humility for us and again challenging us when we aren’t humble? Finally, how can we be people of faith in Christ, if we don’t have people modeling that for us, praying for us, and teaching us what that looks like? The answer, of course, for all of these questions is that we cannot. We cannot be these things without the Church and without being part of the Church. We have to go to Bonhoeffer to help us best understand how community is the church and vice versa. He said that the Church is, “Christ existing as community,” (Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church). Further on this topic he said, “Community with God exists only through Christ, but Christ is present only in his church-community, and therefore community with God exists only in the church,” (Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church). Along the same lines in another work of his, he said, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ,” (Bonhoeffer, Life Together). We need to be close to God to have integrity, generosity, humility and faith worked in and out of our lives and we are closest to God in His Church and with His people.
Anna and I are now settling into the church that we are grateful to be able to call home. One of the things that I am most excited about is that we will and are already experiencing this community that I pray helps us grow. You can be sure that I will have Pastor Rick Warren’s words on my heart and mind for a very long time and I am thankful that God helped me connect this reminder to the need to be in His Church.