Rethinking Community: 3 Truths on What It Is & What It’s Not

Written 9/28/2016; revised 10/11/2020

I’ll be honest: Sometimes, I don’t [fully] understand “community”.

I mean…I know we were made for it. I know God ultimately is it. But I guess I just don’t know how to live it the way we were intended.

Granted, my perspective is a tad crusty, dare I say, cynical due to former friends fading away and misplaced support voids.

But skepticism aside, I do wonder if part of the confusion is tied to the increasingly blurred line between perceived “community” and proximity.

For instance, with proximity, you’re generally around people who are apathetic in knowing you. I’ve seen this with former employers. If you’re ‘different’¹, then people are indifferent. If you don’t fit in, you can’t stand out. As a result, unhealthy cliques form, outskirts are treated as outcasts, and communications are compromised.

Contrarily, with community, you’re around people who are open to the idea of seeking relationships and in some cases, building koinonia. I’ve seen this at my current job as well as select churches in my area. When a new person enters, he/she’s not only taken in, but walked with until they’re communally integrated (or at least have a clearer understanding on direction). Accordingly, life begets life, sincerity abounds, and gratitude becomes the hallmark of interaction.

Now, before I continue, let me clarify: I’m not saying nearness and/or involuntary forms of togetherness are wrong. If you know me, then you know I’m a huge advocate regarding the ministry of availability. What I am saying is if we desire to be fishers of men, to be influential stewards in the marketplace, we must discern the difference between proximity and community. Especially in a year like 2020, if you’re feeling discouraged trying to make sense of veiled social circles and structures , permit me to share some empowering thoughts…

1) Whether or not we desire community, it must be a priority in our lives.

While this point may seem straight-forward, the nuance is worth noting. After all, part of our uniqueness boils down to weighted values as filtered through personality, wirings, and spiritual gifts. As many wise men have said, loving yourself should not come at the cost of loving and serving others. Even if it’s quality time or encouragement at an inconvenient moment, the ripple effect can be profound; for who knows the exact words and gestures God has prepared for us at any given point.

Think of this way: If we want to be love, we must desire intimacy with God.; however, to desire intimacy with God, we must understand walking in stride with Him often means doing likewise with others. While this may seem overwhelming, by cultivating a sensitive heart of worship, we can learn to rely on God in relational situations knowing…

  1. God, as part of the Trinity, has been a relational reality for eternity.
  2. God has entrusted us to be intentional in our approach to unity.
  3. God has given us what we need to effortlessly abide in community.

Bottom line: To live as Christ is to live as one with one another.

2) Community isn’t just a good idea but one of the greatest mandates in Scripture.

So random question: How many of you like chocolate milk? Remember Ovaltine back in the day? As a kid, I used to love buying the Chocolate Malt container and stirring some scoops into a icy cold glass of milk before bedtime.

If you can relate, you likely know chocolate milk isn’t really chocolate milk unless the chocolate is stirred in. I mean, have you tried tasting unstirred chocolate milk? No bueno! Basically just milk with a subtle hint of cocoa residue.

Visual secured, I submit community is like a chilled glass of chocolate milk². If we don’t allow the Spirit to stir us through genuine relationship, if we’re so easily satisfied by fenced-off fellowship, then the flavor of whatever community we’re experiencing is going to be compromised.

Therefore, if we truly want to live out Hebrews 10:24-25 we must be willing to allow the Spirit to stir us up so people can taste the sweetness of God’s presence through our interaction.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts…” ~ Acts 2:42-47

Bottom line: Just as God is love, He is community. When our lives are tasting and seeing that God is good, no question our corporate devotion to do likewise will strengthen.

3) Community starts by drawing near to One.

Here’s a question: In terms of relationship, if there are walls or barbed wires involved, can we honestly say what we’re experiencing is real? Not to suggest ‘real’ and ‘complete’ are synonymous or that there can’t be camaraderie behind closed doors or in passing. Certainly, obedience and courage can help us embrace empathy and the missional aspects of community.

But as for intentional brotherly devotion, for ‘everything in common’ life, while it’s okay to accept scraps in dry seasons, we must remember…

True community can only be experienced by a group of people willing to love without agenda and encourage without fear.

When we talk about how this looks in the church, we note community isn’t a vehicle to do life together, but God’s life together since the church is a reflection of the Godhead.

Similarly, in the marketplace, community can be seen as the relational modeling of work as worship and the God community with respect to business.

While I’ll aim to unpack this in my next post (given both sides are essential to our ‘Kingdom influencer identity), for now, know regardless of your situation/setting, if we’re content on not loving past our relational defaults and resentments, then our community will be nothing more than a shadow of God’s origin intent. 

Take it from one who occasionally feels disoriented by what he’s not experiencing. Whenever I’m wrestling with relational voids, I’m reminded to draw near to God, resist fear, and pour out my anxieties upon Him. By doing this, I allow the Spirit to stir up a desire to encourage others with the good news that Jesus is near (proximity) and eager to abide with us (community).

Bottom line: Love is not contingent on acceptance but is calibrated by humility seeking the interest of others, making kindness evident, and proclaiming the goodness of fellowship’s Creator (Philippians 2:4 + Romans 12:10 + 1 Peter 2:9).

As such, my encouragement to you is to ask the Lord to fill you with passion and compassion for His people, to not only move you to physical presence but to the inner courts of the Spirit’s presence.

Selah.

Footnotes

1) By ‘different’, I mean anything from calling and character profile to age and race

2) Props to Steve Garrett for the inspiration given during the August 28 Pursuit Service @ The Gate Community Church

Photo Creds: a2ua.com

Can You Dig It: A SOAP Study on James 1:19-21

Scripture: “Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.” ~ James 1:19-21 (MSG)

 “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” ~ James 1:19-21 (ESV)

Observations/Applications: Before we analyze these verses, we must first note the context of James 1. In this letter, Peter is discussing two things:

  1. How believers should persevere during trials.
  2. How to receive wisdom from God.

After converging these points in the intro, Peter provides a powerful series: Lead by listening, be slow to speak to ensure discernment, and be slower to anger so peace may abound.

Essentially, Peter pulls inspiration from the Proverbs and converts it into an endurance tutorial.  

Are you weary and weak? Be still and know He is God.

Are you experiencing pain? Let God bridge your hurt and emotion.

Do you find your faith tested? Again, be still, listen, and know God is for you.

After all, faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). 

As for our listening, Peter isn’t saying we automatically replace speaking with hearing. Rather, He is channeling a similar vibe from Ephesians 4:29-30

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” 

Often times, we perceive this passage through the lens of St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel use words if necessary.” However, we must remember while the man meant well, his words aren’t Scripture. We don’t determine what’s necessary through free will but through what is good and true as God defines; hence, why engagement in God’s Word is critical for growth and the life that results.

‘Cause truth is: There are many times at work or in house when we must communicate. Especially in certain professionals, we can’t always afford to be silent or plow behind the comfort of a screen. As such, it’s important we as Kingdom influencers speak life when we speak up or out. Again, it’s not about what we have to say but rather what needs to be said. If our aim is to make God’s love known through truth, we must remember timely stillness, not perpetual quietude, is the road to this reality. 

Now, before I continue, let me be clear. I’m not saying St. Francis of Assisi was wrong; I’m not saying those who advocate the phrase are wrong. Rather I am cautioning us to consider what ‘if necessary’ means as we reference God in the moment, on the clock, etc. Obviously, don’t be silent when you’re supposed to speak and call it ‘wisdom’. Instead know the purpose of your perseverance, in silence or in speech, comes down to aligning to God’s love in faith and His will in prayer.  Remember the ‘how’ bows to the who; not the other way around. As great as our execution can be when given the green light, God’s light is all the greater.

I love how the ESV and MSG translations dance in v. 21:

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.”

Like the implied soil, the imagery here is rich. As Lord of all creation, God by proxy is the master gardener of our hearts given His Word is designed to root and yield fruit. Yet, while we know the way we live should reflect what we belief, in the minutiae of work, it’s not always easy. Crazy clients, detached supervisors, secondary natter…the challenge of our character’s consistency never stops.

Thankfully, Peter gives us a straight-forward example of how we can engage space for faith to mature. As we turn from pride and abandon fear, we can receive God’s Word with meekness knowing it’s already been planted in our hearts. This doesn’t mean God is one-and-done with what He sows; contrarily, it means when we come to faith in Christ, God never stops pursuing more room in our hearts to hide His Word. From there, God by His Spirit stirs us closer to His heart by encouraging us to His Word.

Now, here’s where it gets fun. First off, why would Peter conclude his point with an earthy metaphor? Or better put, how can we receive something from God that’s already been buried?

To answer this, let’s review Philippians 4:8 (AMP):

Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart.

This leads me to a key point:

Just as God is faithful to plant His Word, we likewise must be faithful to implant it.

For many who believe Jesus is Lord and Savior can the accept the idea God sows truth by His Spirit. The question is when push comes to shove in our darkest days, when the chaos of enterprise is sapping our strength, are we focusing on what is perfect, pure, and honorable? Or are we setting before us the way of surviving and striving? 

Think of this way: If God entrusts us with His trust, then we can implant what He plants. What He sows, He renews, and what He renews we can reap in confidence. My encouragement to you, my friends, is to not separate your daily work from your daily walk. Let gratitude pave the way for humility and let humility mark the efforts of your heart and mind. Care for each other with sincerity knowing what you do is secondary to who and how God has made you. And as you reference God, know you approach Him as more than a conqueror. As you resist fear and anxiety, as you cast your cares on the Lord, understand you’re giving Him room to landscape your heart with inspired truth and perspective straight from His Word. Don’t just think about things that are good, but let God cultivate His good into a harvest shared with those around you. Whatever you do, whatever you say…let your work be a testimony of God’s Word continually renewed in you. By committing to these soul goals, these divine purposes, not only will you ‘fertile’ your heart but discover the seeds you’re meant to sow back as a co-gardener unto the Lord.

Selah.

Prayer: Lord, in times like these, what can we do but thank you? To stand in awe of your goodness and faithfulness despite our frailties and fragilities? As we digest this Word, we’re reminded of your master plan as created by master hands. Of anything that made new, we know it comes for you. As such, help us to treasure your Word as daily bread, as branches clinging to the vine. Plant new words, ideas, and visions into our hearts today. Teach us how to be faithful stewards of the rich seed you give us. May they take root for your glory so we, as humble, fearless workers, can tell your story. Landscape our ‘now’  so we may calibrate to your ‘wow’. We ask this in Jesus’ mighty, precious name. 

Cover photo creds: experteasy.com

In The Name of [G]love

I love to play fantasy football.

Really all fantasy sports: Football, baseball, basketball, even hockey. With all major sports currently coinciding due to COVID-19, no question it’s been a busy month on the hobby-front. Yet, of all the ups and downs (mostly ups), perhaps my favorite moment came last week for one of my baseball teams.

Here’s the stage: After starting the season 7-12-1, my team goes on a heater finishing up the regular season with a league-best 30-16-4 to finish at 37-28-5. Heading into the last week of the regular season, my team’s playoff probability was <5% as I needed two teams ahead of me to go 3-6-1 or worse while I had to go 8-1-1 or better just to qualify for a tiebreaker. Well wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly what I happened: My team goes 8-1-1, the other teams go 3-6-1, and against all odds, all three teams finish tied at 37-28-5.

Now, for most leagues, tiebreakers are decided by head-to-head matchups during the regular season; to me, this makes sense given the practice considers past performance and is adopted by most major league sports. However, for this league, the Commissioner had set it up in a unique way: Rather than award head-to-head record, the team who finished the final week with the best record would win the tiebreaker and the seeding advantage. A moot point in most circumstances, but a critical one in this case since the tiebreaker decided the last playoff berth.

All things considered, you can image my elation to have clinched a playoff berth having been left for dead at 7.5 games back with two weeks ago.

There was only one problem: I forgot to pay my league entry fee.

This probably deserves an unwind. For custom leagues, a payment deadline is generally enforced by the fantasy network provider. If even one of the managers forgets to pay on time, the league is stripped of its cash status and becomes a free league with no payout.

Initially, I had paid on time; however, that was before another manager missed the deadline costing our league its cash league status. After receiving a refund, I carried about my business assuming this league would be re-classified with no cash prizes. But as I learned following my playoff berth, the managers had decided to handle payments ‘off-grid’ six weeks prior, a memo I missed based on my fantasy app’s messaging settings. Why no one contacted me is beyond me. Perhaps they thought my team was weak and wasn’t a threat. Whatever the reason, my team overachieving into the playoffs was suddenly a legit problem for the managers who had paid and lost the tiebreaker.

As I continued discerning the dilemma, the choice became clear: I needed to own my mistake (even though I knew it wasn’t the only mistake in this situation) and inquire next steps in our next live chat. So that’s what I did. At soonest convenience, I logged in, acknowledged the error, and told the managers I’d happily pay the fee after-the-fact. Unfortunately, this pitch (pun intended) was not unanimously received given the cheap convenience involved. As one manager said, of course I would pay now; after all, I had new skin in the game.

But that’s when I made an easy call: Instead of defending my position, I surrendered my playoff spot to the runner-up manager.

Upon announcing this, the live chat blew up. Apparently, the other managers were prepping for a vote on whether or not I should remain qualified as a playoff team. For some managers, they understood the loop holes involved; for others, they were more concerned about league rules being followed to the bitter end. Yet, once I laid down my team, the other managers were floored. They couldn’t believe after all my hard work, I’d just casually offer my playoff bid to another manager. In response, I explained how it didn’t make sense for me to win a cash prize in a league I didn’t pay an entry fee for. Granted, it would have been nice if someone said something so I could have paid a second time…on time. Alas, that’s not what happened.

What did happen is while I lost a chance to earn $120, I won souls in how I handled the disappointment. For as the chat session continued, the encouraging comments poured in – most applauding my integrity, some even asking me if I would return to the league again. At first, I was like, ‘Calm down. It’s not that big a deal’, but upon second thought, I saw where they were coming from.

‘Cause truth is: Integrity isn’t only realized when a decision is hard, but also when a decision is obvious. Applying Proverbs 11:30 (ESV), while a challenging circumstance can impact integrity, or lack thereof, ultimately how it’s handled is what wins soul. For instance, a basic ethical response can diffuse conflict when it advances corporate virtue ahead of an individual goal. Additionally, it can inspire others to do likewise when selflessly expressed in sincerity. Put another way…

…doing the right thing doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s not contingent on the extraordinary but is often maximized in the ordinary.

Sometimes, we undermine the value of humility when its exercise is plain. Even when there’s a cost, when the path to goodness is clear-cut, we can shrug it off as we walk it in fear of being self-centered.

But that’s why I’m sharing this story – to remind us to embrace the power of practical integrity and cherish the simple ways character can influence. Who knows? By buying that meal, being transparent, or extending grace, you may just win an opportunity to lead someone to Jesus because you were willing to be like him in the first place.

Selah.

Photo creds: ArtsyCanvas.com

Let It Count: A Word for Client Care Specialists

Shared at the Foundation Group Sales Meeting on 9/9/20

We give our all.
We’re one for all.
But that doesn’t mean we win them all.

For us, it’s a unique reality – a cost of being on the frontlines where we secure commitments, verbal and financial, with intentionality and integrity.

It’s a badge of honor, an appointed duty to which we empty ourselves to pour into a wide array of leads and potentials.

Still, it’s hard when you can sense the beginning of the end with a client. As we can attest, ‘There will be more clients’ isn’t always enough to mitigate disappointment in the moment. In the heat of a ‘closed-won turned loss’, it’s human nature to seek a scapegoat or accept false ownership when we can’t figure out what went wrong.

To be honest, I do this more than I care to admit since I think the emotional component will preserve any lessons learned. But I’m happy to say I’m not going to play that hand anymore. Because at the end of the day, I’d rather have a heart won than a closed won.

Again, the scope of this topic is central to Sales. Sometimes, people will say ‘No, this isn’t a good fit’ upfront and we carry on; however, for the CSM’s (Client Success Manager), the tune can iterate to some form of, ‘Just kidding; I’m a ‘no’ after all’. In those cases, the emotional sting often finds itself between whiplash and good riddance. So says the devil on my shoulder anyway. But says the angel…

How your journey with clients from intake to specialist…from first to last call..it may feel like an awkward audition…you may think you’re the spark behind their doubt…but what matters is treasuring them for the treasure they are and valuing them for the value they’re sowing.

For all of us, this is where our character can shine through. For we know, as the gatekeepers, as the alpha and omega of the client experience: Love loves on the way in and love loves on the way out. By proxy, we can be assured that how we outboard is just as significant as how we onboard. Regardless of service cost, the last taste of Foundation Group we give clients is priceless and worth discussion given that’s the bite they remember most. Accordingly, let’s not discount the client’s personhood by the way they exit stage-left; rather let your servanthood and stewardship be the legacy they take with them. Even if we have to lose the initial transaction, we can take pride knowing we abided within an eternal transaction. Let that count for something.

Bottom line: How you rebound whether or not it’s your fault is near the core of who we are as people and what makes this team worth teaming with. When we lose a client, remember there’s unity in community when things go south. Don’t shrug frustration off at the cost of downplaying the pleasure it was to serve them. Instead, take heart and know more often than not, even the most irritating clients recognize gratitude even when it’s not reciprocated on their end. Again, let that count for something.

Selah.

Photo creds: sleeklens.com

3 Ways to Overcome Labeling at Work

Labels.

They can be tough to handle. As one who has endured his fair share, my heart is sensitive to those wrestling with identity, to those struggling in the shadow of slander and prejudice. While some people know the truth of who you are, the fact is many are in the dark to what makes them unique. And if we’re to mature in wisdom and influence within our communal arenas, how we stand firm when assailed by this demographic is worth discussion.

Regardless of what we do or where we’re at, whenever vulnerability strikes, having a game-plan is vital in our quest to be more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). Accordingly, here are three ways we can bust the boxes people put us in and prevent their labels from becoming our tags.

1. Anchor Your Belief

Before we take any action, the best way to deal with backbiting is to resist fear through the Scriptures. While how we respond as follow-through is important, how we react in the moment is just as, if not more, crucial. Here’s a check-down of some verses I quote when I sense typecasting, favoritism, or neglect:

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity or cowardice or fear, but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of sound judgment and personal discipline [abilities that result in a calm, well-balanced mind and self-control].” ~ 1 Timothy 2:7 (AMP)

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” ~ 1 John 4:18-19 (ESV)

I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.” ~ Psalm 34:4 (ESV)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” ~ Philippians 4:6 (ESV)

Note how this is merely a shortlist; obviously, you can customize your ‘fear resistant’ prayer guide however you please. Just be advised when you’re on the clock in real-time, our tendency to misread and misjudge what we observe is constantly tested; hence, why it’s important not only to know what you believe but also how to take captive what doesn’t align.

Bottom line: When you suspect attitudinal shifts, be slow to believe what you perceive. Don’t be afraid to resist unnecessary judgments, labels, and deceptions. Even if all you can do initially is defer, defer in faith with the hope of casting all anxieties on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7)

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2. Pray into the Offense

When we suspect people are labeling us, it’s hard not to take offense. Even if we can’t prove a typecast, the temptation to rationalize what we’re sensing is real, sometimes tantalizing. I know for me, when I perceive a relational distancing from colleagues or co-workers, I start to crave reconciliation before it’s necessary. On one level, I feel a surge of self-perseveration desperate to find a reason why; on another, I’m frustrated to have to own anything in the first place. It’s like a winless tug-of-war: I want to be heard, understood, and not given up on, but in case those fears verify, I want to, at least, be the next best thing…to be right. Not exactly a sustainable formula if community is to be a pure pursuit.

For those wondering why the transparency: I have no problem being vulnerable because I know I’m not alone. The fact is in most cases, insecurity fuels our offenses and if we don’t acknowledge and repent of them, they can pollute our view of relationships, identity, place and purpose, etc.

So what then? If people are nice one day and suddenly stop acknowledging our existence the next, we’re supposed to keep our mouth shut and be okay with it? Well, no, I’m not saying we neglect the opportunities to bridge divides. Conversely, I’m saying if grudges or walls emerge, we must first lean on God’s understanding to accurately see the situation. From there, we can take rest knowing we’re proactively sowing peace as opposed to reactively striving for peace. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. Through Him, we can persevere in prayer and thanksgiving that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-5).

Bottom line: Seek correction before direction. Let God be the space between your hurts and emotions. Release the want to control, manipulate, and be a victim. All the while, pray into the offense and don’t be overcome by the absence of good. Rather be the good in the voids you sense, real or imagined.

3. Turn the Cheek…and the Tide

For most of us, we’re familiar with Matthew 5:38-40:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is . But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.

While the general meaning of this passage is to approach evil in the opposite spirit, the concept of turning the other cheek can still be confusing. Is Jesus suggesting we tolerate the presence of malice, gossip, passive-aggressiveness, even silos in our workplaces? Is he hinting we embrace suffering and survivalism as socially acceptable? Not at all. Au contraire, he’s implying we encourage all people through a double portion of his nature.

For instance, if we encounter a void of good, when people are intentionally forsaking us, don’t respond by doing the same. Why lower your standards and behaviors to a level outside your faith? Instead, know your power source and abide in the current of his grace. In this way, you defuse offense, inspire virtue as a contagious overflow, and preserve what needs to be said in a spirit of love.

Bottom line: In the presence of evil, in the absence good, you can’t turn the tide if you don’t turn the cheek. Don’t live in defeat in a moment’s heat but be true to what is right as you stir others to do the same.

Selah.

Stay tuned next time when I’ll dive back into my ‘Trinity as Structure‘ series to discuss the Trinity’s influence on teamwork. For now, I bid you adieu with an inspiring video from New Hope Church:

Cover photo creds: https://medium.com