The Healing Power of Community

The Roseto Mystery (Introduction) in Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers is a ‘must-read’ for all Christians who believe in the importance of the community of believers relating on a daily basis as part of the Body of Christ, and the influence of the Church as a major healing force in this world.

Roseto Mystery

In the late 1800 early 1900’s, the people from Roseto Valfortore, Italy immigrated to the United States in search of a better life. A couple of thousand settled in the eastern hills of Pennsylvania and named their city Roseto. In the late 1950’s, Stewart Wolf, a physician from Oklahoma, discovered something amazing about the people. At the time, heart attacks were an epidemic throughout the United States and the leading cause of death for men under the age of sixty-five. This was before cholesterol-lowering drugs and aggressive measures to treat this disease. For the men of Roseto, Wolf found no heart disease for those under sixty-five years of age. For men over sixty-five, the death rate from heart disease was roughly half that of the rest of the country. The death rate from all causes in Roseto was “30 to 35 percent lower than expected.” Furthermore, “there was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime.” For the most part, the people of Roseto “were dying of old age.”

Several Possibilities

Wolf first examined their diet. Instead of the healthier Mediterranean foods from the old country, they cooked with lard and ate more sweets. “Forty-one percent of their calories came from fat.” Despite battling obesity, heart disease was conspicuously absent. Next, he examined genetics by comparing them to their ‘cousins’ from the old world who settled in other parts of the United States. This proved to be a dead-end. And finally, he considered their location, that maybe something in the water or soil insulated them from disease. But after comparing Rosetans to immigrants in towns nearby, this didn’t provide the answer either.

The Power of Community

One day, in search of an explanation, Wolf strolled through the town and observed Rosetans visiting with one another, stopping to talk on the streets or to chat on front porches. He noticed the “unifying and calming effect” of the church and its central role along with the “extended family clans that underlay the town’s social structure.” Most households had three generations living under the same roof with grandparents highly respected. The “egalitarian ethos of the community” discouraged those with wealth from openly displaying it while the failures of those less successful were covered. “The Rosetans had created a powerful, protective social structure capable of insulating them from the pressures of the modern world.” At the time, the medical community thought of health in terms of genetics or choices about diet and exercise. “No one was used to thinking about health in terms of community.”

The New Testament Church

When I read this story, I’m reminded of the early church (Acts 2:42-47) where believers met daily both in the temple and in homes, devoting themselves to teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer, sharing all things in common and praising God. They lived in community, committed to one another in all areas of life. Contrast this with the church at Corinth, a divided church filled with quarrels and jealousy, bickering over doctrine, among other issues. Things had gotten so bad that Paul had to remind them of the correct way to observe the Lord’s Supper (I Corinthians 11). He chastised them for celebrating individually, without waiting on one another. At one point, he says, “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgement on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep (or died).” (I Corinthians 11:29-30 NIV) “Recognizing the body of the Lord” is not only about being in right relationship with God. It is also about being in right relationship with one another. When Christ said, “Do this in remembrance of me”, He asked us to remember Him, not as individuals, but as part of a community of believers in right relationship with one another.

The Healing Power of Your Community

So, before you take communion the next time, don’t stop with only examining your relationship with God. Spend some time looking at your relationship with others. Do you need to go to someone and repent? Ask forgiveness? Mend fences? If so, go do it before you partake of the Lord’s Supper. Your health may depend on it.

 

The Tough Questions

“Peter, do you love me?”

Talk about a tough question that puts you on the spot, especially after having denied Christ three times when it mattered most. Jesus never asked a question to which He didn’t already know the answer. So why ask? Reason–there was something Peter needed to know about himself, about his heart, and asking the tough question was the only way for him to discover the truth. For Jesus, community mattered. He cared enough about Peter to ask the tough questions.

Beginning of the Story

This story really began when Jesus told Peter, “You will disown me three times.” It wasn’t a harsh  or condemning statement. Jesus was for Peter. He was on Peter’s side. In fact, immediately after telling him what would happen, Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. (John 14:1, NIV)”  But instead of asking Jesus what He saw in him that would lead him to deny knowing Christ,  Peter refused to examine his heart, insisting instead that even if the others left he would never do so. And he meant it at the time. Peter thought he knew his own heart–that he truly loved (agaped) Christ enough to make the hard choices in difficult times. “I won’t fail you. I’ll be faithful. I’ll be there for you even if the others aren’t.” Unfortunately, Peter too quickly dismissed Christ’s ‘feedback‘ because he couldn’t see into the blind spots of his heart.

Blind Spots

The fact is none of us can see into our own blind spots. That’s part of the reason God placed us within the community of believers we call the Church. We need others to walk along side and to speak truth into our lives with love. The problem is, within the Church, we rarely teach how to give and receive feedback from one another nor do we provide the opportunity for this to happen. You can’t ask the tough questions without some face-to-face time in a community where you feel safe enough to be open and honest.

Who Is In Your Community?

So, who in your community asks you the tough questions? For me, it’s Aaron, my best friend. Many times I don’t like the questions but I know he loves me and that God placed him in my life. The following video shows a great example of asking the tough questions. In it, Mark Driscoll and Joshua Harris question Francis Chan about why he’s leaving Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, CA. At one point, in an effort to force Francis to examine his true motives for leaving, Mark asks, “Is this a discontentedness in your soul that won’t ever be satisfied?” All of us, at times, need feedback–someone to speak truthfully into our lives, into those blind spots that hinder our growth in Christ. So think for a moment. Are you part of a community? And if so, who within your community of believers, your circle of friends, your church–who do you trust enough to ask you the tough questions?

Francis Chan Interviewed by Mark Driscoll and Joshua Harris

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He is Risen – Let His Children Celebrate

He is not Here

The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” (Matthew 28:5-6, NIV) This is the season to rejoice in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior. The tomb is empty. He’s not here. While this is the Good News, sometimes it leaves me feeling all alone without the flesh and blood body of Christ standing in front of me. But Jesus didn’t leave me alone. Not only did he send the Comforter (Acts 2:4), but he placed me in relationships within a community of believers, the Church. Sometimes I forget that I have a large family that spans the world. Sometimes, I need a reminder.

Celebrate the Resurrection

Easter Sunday 2010, over 1300 of our brothers and sisters in Hungary celebrated the Resurrection in a unique way, they danced before the Lord in the public square, a square that not long ago lay under Soviet rule. They are part of my family, a community of believers whose lives have been radically changed by the Resurrection of Christ Jesus. Enjoy this reminder that you’re not alone.

Resurrection Sunday Dance, Budapest, Hungary

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Celebration 2011

Tomorrow, many groups around the world will celebrate the Resurrection in a similar fashion in their public square. Organized by Up To Faith, thousands of believers in places like the Ukraine, Austria, Barcelona, Hong Kong, Romania, Indonesia, Slovakia, and Budapest have been practicing months for tomorrow’s celebration. Click on Up To Faith to see their practices. Videos of tomorrow’s celebration will be posted at a later date.

Up To Faith Global Dance 2011 – Trailer

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The last thing Jesus said in the gospel of Matthew was, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (vs. 28:20, NIV) With Christ in my heart, the Comforter with me, and a community of believers at my side, I’m not alone and neither are you.


Out of the Heart the Mouth Speaks

This past month, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling in favor of Westboro Baptist Church‘s right to protest at a soldier’s funeral. Over the past several years, I’ve seen videos and news articles of this group’s hate-speech, sign-waving demonstrations primarily directed towards homosexuals and cringed each time, wondering what’s behind this method of presenting the gospel. This can’t be what Christ intended when He said, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News…” (Mark 16:15) And they’re not the only group or individual I’ve seen act in a similar fashion: That is, focus almost exclusively on a particular sin while condemning those committing that sin. When I compare the life of Christ to their actions, something just doesn’t add up.

Out of the Overflow of the Heart the Mouth Speaks

When an individual or church only focuses on one particular sin AND their emotional responses around that sin are consistently filled with anger, outrage and/or hate, this says more about the condition of the person’s heart (Luke 6:45) rather than the severity of the sin they’re attacking. Most of the time, Jesus responded to the lost with compassion (Matthew 9:35-38), not anger. Christ reserved the rough stuff for the religious leaders. There are many in the Church who feel called to speak out against specific sins such as abortion, alcoholism, or domestic violence. But they express a variety of emotions with compassion often leading the way. I’m not concerned with them, only with those who can’t let go of their anger towards a particular sin. This almost always is a red flag that something’s not right with their heart.

What’s Beneath the Anger?

Howard Olsen, a professional counselor with CrossWays Ministries, states that we only experience three negative primary emotions:  Pain, Shame, and Fear and that Anger, along with other emotions normally considered negative, is really a secondary emotion. Generally, we become aware of our anger long before other negative feelings as a means to help us regain control of the situation. With pain, shame, and fear, we feel vulnerable and exposed, unable to protect ourselves. Thus with anger, it’s always important to ask the question: What’s beneath the anger? What are the issues (wounds) and emotions I’m trying to avoid by hanging on to my anger? Matthew 7:3 gives us a clue where to start. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own…?”

What Wounds Am I Avoiding?

For example, if I consistently rage against homosexuality, hatefully attacking those committing that sin, maybe what’s simmering beneath the surface is a fear of my own homosexual impulses. Or maybe it’s the shame of past homosexual sins or the painful memories of a molestation at a young age by someone of the same sex. Maybe the homosexuality reminds me of a painful wound that I desperately want to avoid. And instead of pouring out my heart to God like King David did after he sinned,  and confessing my faults to those in the Body of Christ, I hide my wounded heart by pointing to the failures of others. I control my behavior by attempting to control yours. And when I do, my wound never heals.

Search Me O God

An unhealed wound blinds us to the condition of our heart and makes it easy to deceive ourselves into believing that we’ve moved past the sin or the traumatic event, past the pain-filled, shameful memories that defile our lives in so many areas. David knew this about himself when he prayed in Psalm 139:23-24 (English Standard Version), “Search me, O God! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous  way in me…” He knew that only God saw the truth of what was really inside his heart. So the next time I see a Westboro Baptist Church or other individuals rage against the sins of others, instead of cringing and shaking my head, irritated at the speck in their eyes, I’ll take the opportunity to have a ‘David moment’ and pray, ‘Search me O God and show me my heart and any unhealed wounds hidden inside.’

So How Did We Get Here?

This past weekend I attended the Texas Psychological Association annual convention and listened to seven ministers speak on the following topic:  Ethical Standards, Psychological Research on Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, and Transgendered (GLBT) Issues, and the Church. It sounds pretty dry, I know, however it was anything but. The panel included an Episcopal priest, a Presbyterian pastor, a Methodist minister, a seminary professor, a Lutheran pastor, a Baptist minister, and a Reformed Jewish rabbi, each of whom spoke in support of homosexuality. (An interesting side-note: Several of the ministers remarked that in those denominations holding to their view, the membership numbers were declining.)

Painful Struggle

I was moved when a young lady in her early thirties stood and shared the pain of growing up a lesbian without the support of a father who happened to be a Presbyterian minister. She had clearly struggled for years to find love and to love herself. My heart went out to her. Several passages flashed through my mind of instances when Christ, too, was touched by the pain in others.

A Different Kind of Homosexuality

One of the ministers commented that homosexuality in the Bible is not the same homosexuality we see today. That when the Bible refers to same-sex sexual behavior, it does so out of a “thorough ignorance” of what is now known about sexuality and its complexities,  suggesting that science, not the Scriptures, is the absolute final authority on what is truth. I mulled over what might happen to the absolute final authority of science if, in the next month’s research journal on human sexuality, a study came out that completely contradicted last month’s research. Science is forever discovering new things that invalidate what we proclaimed to be true yesterday. In the 80’s, for example, science declared that eggs were bad for you. And yet, based on current studies, the Diet Channel suggests that this not the case. Who knows, maybe in another thirty years eggs will be bad for you again.

What Has Driven This Change?

When I think of how our culture has changed in the past sixty years on issues such as abortion, prayer in school, attempting to legalize marijuana (as we recently saw in California), and homosexuality, I struggle to understand how we got here? What changed in the moral fabric of our society to the point that we rationalize away the Scriptures to bring Christianity more in line with the present culture? And what has been the driving force behind this push?

Steady Gradual Change

This change didn’t happen over night, though many predicted this day would come. One such individual was Dr. Francis Schaeffer who in 1982 spoke of the impact of secular humanism on the culture in America and the deafening silence of “Bible believing Christians” in speaking out against its influence creeping into the Church. He stated that “secular humanism has displaced the Judeo-Christian consensus that once defined our nation’s moral boundaries.”  While you may not agree with everything Dr. Schaeffer says, his words seem eerily prophetic for the day in which we live.

A Christian Manifesto

In A Christian Manifesto, Dr. Schaeffer speaks of the role the courts played in advancing this humanistic agenda. “The whole law has shifted,” he states. “Law is arbitrarily decided by a few people on what they think is good for society at that given moment and it can be changed.” Though these words were spoken almost three decades ago, they are as current as your most recent Twitter Tweet.

A Christian Manifesto – Part 1 of 3

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