Welcoming and Inclusion

In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Quite an expansive statement of inclusion from one of the most militant excluders ever, which we operationalize thus:

We place no restrictions on church participation at any level based on race, national origin, sex, class, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Before meeting Christ, the apostle Paul knew that only people with the right religious and ethnic identity, who also obeyed the rules, could join the community of faith. Letting the wrong people in would taint everyone, displease God, and make a mess of the whole religious enterprise. Paul chiefly deplored Christians, violently opposing their attempted subversion of his rules.

After meeting Christ, however, Paul sang a different tune: Wow, he now proclaimed, God welcomes anyone who comes to him through friendship with Christ! ANYONE! Identity and obedience matter not at all.

Paul had realized that Christ, through the cross, had destroyed the big obstacles standing between us and God of sin, death, and the authority of rules. Christ then also neutralized anything of culture or identity that could be used to exclude—autonomy (slave versus free), ethnicity (Jewish versus not), money (wealthy versus poor), religiousness (circumcised or not, obeying food rules or not, resting on the Sabbath or not), moral standing (sinner versus “righteous”), gender—the list goes on.

“Come to me,” says Jesus, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Not many qualifiers there. We can all freely access the goodness of God through our faith in His grace. He joyfully unites the full spectrum of our diversity through the person of Jesus into a brilliant faith community that shines its light into the world.

Community

Good! Good! Good! Good! Good! Good! Very Good!!!

Six Goods and a Very Good—not bad for your first week on the job. Of course, God was his own critic, and even though he’d never made a universe before (that we know of), he was, after all, God. So everything is perfect—light and dark; water and land; trees, birds, animals, fish; a garden and a human. But then, just as the universe starts to relax and enjoy itself, comes an impossible statement provoking a cosmic shudder, shaking creation to its core:

“The LORD God said:

‘It is not good . . . [think Jim Lovell--"Houston, we have a problem"] . . . for the man to be alone. ‘”

Well, I think, that’s obvious—how could God have missed it? I was once alone, and I clearly needed help. What person doesn’t? And Adam had it rough—be fruitful and multiply (alone?), subdue the animals, tend the garden, work it and take care of it, all without modern farming implements. Of course he needed help!

But God, I think, was on to something deeper. The core trait that most profoundly characterizes him and from which he derives joy and pleasure is community: the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three distinct identities perfected in their unity and harmony with each other. So from the original human he creates two novel humans so that as they come together they might experience a micro-cosmic version of divine community.

The church expands that community infinitely. Jesus, before leaving earth, prayed that his followers would be one just as he and his Father were one. He knew that unity more than anything else—more than power, goodness, or success—would convince the world that the church was divine and not just another human social institution.

He also knew that we’d be unable to make it alone. It’s difficult enough to get to the end of life without completely messing up and falling apart. But the life of faith turns normal life on its head! The life of faith is confusing and frustrating and difficult and awkward and unnatural. We must band together with others who have similar goals to have any hope of making it.

We are therefore committed here to pursuing God together in community. We provide as many structures and contexts as we can to foster real relational connections—Bible studies, mom’s groups, college groups, singles groups, family groups, recovery groups—and we’ll use any excuse to throw a party, have a picnic, or just hang out longer together after church. And in those contexts, we relate. We talk, laugh, cry, grieve, celebrate, repent, forgive, and in growing to love each other, we are drawn into God’s community and find something that is Very Good.

Relevance

Dylan sang, “The times, they are a’ changin. ‘” David Byrne, riding the same wave, said, “You may ask yourself, 'How did I get here?‘” We all surf it, the wave of cultural change, rushing ahead faster and faster, its pace and intensity surging with each generation, threatening to wash us out and leave us behind. In the blink of an eye, or of a decade, the prevailing sensibilities, values and vocabulary can so diverge that those looking forward at the ones looking back (and vice versa) become unrecognizable to each other. And so each generation must revisit the puzzle: Who am I? How did I get here? Where do I start?

Isaiah, anticipating Dylan and David, wrote, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” God himself is the only thing in this perpetual motion machine of a universe that never changes. He is a touchstone and a starting place. In his permanence, immutability, steadfastness, and infinity, he is eternally relevant. His truth always applies to every sensibility, value, and vocabulary.

The challenge, then, is to have the church speak for God to the world around it using the indigenous dialect, with language, music, symbols, and ideas that are current and understandable. Fortunately, while long ago the best efforts of men produced only Babel, God is a master of lucidity and translation. When he rained down the Holy Spirit on that group of disciples worshiping and praying, what caught everyone’s attention, more than the wind and fire, was relevance:

A crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them (the disciples) speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they (the people) asked: Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?

God wants to speak to you in your native language. He knows the words, symbols, music, and ideas that you will understand. Jesus, in all his interactions, related to people as individuals, avoiding stereotypes, generalizations, and formulas. We want this church to reflect that value, to communicate God’s timeless message of love with a relevance rooted firmly in the here and now.
Reality

One night my son came down into the kitchen, turned on the light, and caught me. It was 11:30, and I was alone. With ice cream.

“Do you do this often, Dad?” he asked me.

I licked my spoon. “Do what?”

We all have things we like to hide. Embarrassing behaviors and unsightly blemishes–we recoil from our own brokenness, just as we expect others to. Shame, our primal negative emotion, lurks in the dark shadows of our souls, waiting to pounce on us when we are the least bit exposed. And the urge to hide, to act, to “prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet,”(1) seems to intensify as we approach God. Adam and Eve hid. And Peter, when he first understood, really understood, who Jesus was, said, “Go away from me Lord! I am an unclean man.” The pressure in all of life, but especially in the church, is to pretend–to pretend that we’re better, happier, healthier–that we are someone other than who we really are.

But Jesus did not come for Someone Other. He came for You–the Real You (the one who needs help). When scorned by religious leaders for the disreputable company he kept, Jesus said, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Pretense shuts him out, but truth is beautiful, a superhighway for him straight to your heart. He exists 100% in reality, and in reality there is no shame. In reality there is brokenness, sin, blemishes, and too much ice cream. And in reality there is hope, healing, friendship, and a scoop for my son.

The Apostle John wrote, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” We hope you find this a place of light, where we are truthful about who we are and where you can feel free to be the same.

1 T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Spirit

If God is a rock, his Spirit is the wind. If God is immovable, his Spirit is irresistible. If God is predictable and ordered, so that his invisible qualities can be clearly seen and understood from what he has made, his Spirit is inherently unconstrained and infinitely unpredictable. And if God, for whom a thousand years seems only a day, is slow to move, his Spirit is quick and burns with passion.

God’s Spirit is fire, wind, and rain. He is a dove descending from heaven. Yet he is also a person, one of the three persons of God, distinct from but unified with God the Father and Jesus his Son. He is that person of God whom Jesus, when he returned to heaven, sent to be with us so that we would not be alone as we carry on his mission and await the consummation of all things. He communicates God’s deepest thoughts and releases his limitless power to us here and now. He is a Teacher, a Counselor, a Friend, and a Protector.

We believe that God’s Holy Spirit is alive today and interacts with us in tangible ways. It is the Presence of this Spirit that distinguishes us, that fills us with life, and that takes our ideas, values, and philosophies and makes them something transcendent. We believe that his Spirit can inform our thinking, giving us divine insight into ourselves and the world around us.

We believe that his Spirit can illuminate the Bible, making it relevant to ourselves and the world around us. And we believe that he can touch and heal our physical infirmities and our broken hearts, and that he can speak to us to encourage us and direct our lives. It is, ultimately, the presence of his Spirit that distinguishes his church from all other people on the face of the earth.