Hello everyone! I had planned to send out this newsletter at the end of January as a special ‘double issue’ covering the end of last year (December) and the beginning of this year (January). Unfortunately, several unexpected things (including praying and seeking money for Perspectives early this month) set me back a bit! I will still send out February’s newsletter near the end of February, but I will likely make it shorter since this one is so long! I apologize for the delay, and I thank you for your continued prayers for me as a missionary and for Unite as a ministry!
God seems to often work through the unexpected. As those of you in Northwestern Kansas know, this New Year’s Eve day brought in a LOT of snow—more than had originally been expected. My girlfriend, Tella, and I were going to head up to Plainville with some friends to bring in the New Year. With several inches of snow on the ground and more falling, we had to change plans and stay in Hays.
While we were running out to get some supplies at Wal-Mart, we passed someone walking down Main Street. Tella recognized the person as Martha, one of the women from our Monday morning small group this last semester. The snow was too deep to turn around directly, so we looped around a block and pulled up next to her and offered her a ride. As it turned out, she was on her way to a special evening mass at her church; we were able to give her a ride to her service and time our shopping so that we could pick her up, too. When we picked her up, she surprised us by inviting us in for dinner.
We were a little unsure whether or not to accept—we had some plans for later that evening and didn’t know when everything was going to happen, but we felt like we had enough time, so we went in and joined her for supper. While she was heating up food, I headed outside and started shoveling off her driveway. As I was shoveling, I began to reflect about how well that evening was working out from entirely unplanned and unexpected events; even though everything came up by surprise, we each had something that could serve the other well. Tella and I had an already-warmed up car, and we were already driving around. We were able to use that as a blessing to Martha. She had spare warm food and time for conversation. That was a blessing to us. I had the time while the ladies talked to take care of her driveway, and Martha had experience and wisdom to share when we talked over supper later. It just seemed to jump out at me that God really did build all of us so that we could be blessed and bless one another in turn. All we have to do is seek to genuinely love one another in whatever situation arises, and we can experience much of the community that scripture indicates God built us for.
As the night wore on, we ate our food and began a series of very enjoyable discussions. One of the more intriguing was over an old Volga German tradition that Martha could remember that she said was called ‘winching’ (probably a form of a German word ‘Wunschen’). Apparently, when she was little, it was common custom to go out on New Year’s Day and every day for the next week or so and ‘wunsch’. This involved knocking on the door of close friends and family and giving them a traditional blessing in German to have a good New Year. In response, the friend or family member would thank those ‘wunsching’ and give them alcohol (usually beer or spirits), unless the person giving the blessing was younger, in which case they would be given money. This wasn’t meant to be completed in one night, but was done over the course of the first week of the New Year until a person had greeted and blessed all of their family, friends, and loved ones in the region.
I was immediately enamored with this tradition for a few reasons. One was simply that it was cool—I had never heard of such a tradition, and I tend to find history and traditions to be somewhat fascinating. It also just sounded like a fun thing to do—kind of like Halloween without the costumes but with blessings instead of tricks and with better gifts than just candy. More importantly though, I thought that it was really impressive how this and many other traditions (such as Christmas caroling) that are more common to the older generations were truly designed to form and reinforce a broader sense of community. Each one of these traditions made people think more about extended family and friends, spend more time with them, and even bless them during holiday times.
It seems to me that at times my generation’s society works against genuine community—especially broad, genuine community; we often have small groups of friends but find it hard to be a legitimate part of a bigger community. While there are many factors that lead to this, it often boils down to my generation just being ‘too busy’ in our minds for broad community. I can tell you from scheduling my ministry’s small groups and leadership meetings that it is NOT easy to find times that fit everyone’s schedule—between work, school, family, obligations, and other priorities most schedules are pretty packed. Often when we do gather for things like ‘small group’, it initially takes a fair amount of time for us to quiet down from our crazy days enough to listen to others and to God. I am not speaking as one who is not overly busy himself—I speak as one who is often himself too busy. With everything going on it is just so easy to do. The reason that I bring this up, though, is not to simply condemn busy-ness or exhort us all to open up our schedules more (though that could be a good idea for some of us, including me), but to point out that in today’s society we have to make community—especially broad, encompassing, and loving community—a high priority if it is ever to happen at all. It is very easy to underestimate the importance of community to our health and spiritual lives, but we all should look very closely at scripture and especially at Christ’s words before we dismiss community as not very important.
To truly see the importance of community, I think we have to look at God’s heart and his plan from the beginning. In Genesis 1:26-27 we see that we are created in God’s image--it says male and female they created us. In their image, they created us (some translations of the Bible say He created them, but the Hebrew word ‘Elohim’ used for God is plural, not singular). This is interesting—that the trinity would create us (plural) in their (plural) image. This makes sense on several levels. Love is only fully existent with at least two—a person loving and a person to receive love. A person who loves but doesn’t have a person to receive their love is not able to fully express love. Also, a person to be loved who does not have anyone to love them is not a full expression of love. Only when one person can love another is love fully expressed (and it is even more fully expressed when it is mutual). The Bible teaches that God is love (1 John 4:8). We just mentioned that love doesn’t fully exist with just one—and God isn’t just one! There are three—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Well that makes sense then that they together in community are God, since God is love. It also makes sense that they created us (male and female) in their image—plural. We were meant to be in loving community from the very beginning, and since love (and God is love) is part of that, we were meant to be in community with God from the very beginning. Once we sinned, we were unable to fully receive God’s love (as evidenced when Adam and Eve ran away and hid from God). Our guilt and shame kept us from receiving it as we once did, and community was broken in part. At that time, God began a plan to restore us to Him and to the love and community that we were built for. In Genesis 12:1-3 it states that
Abraham and his family were blessed to be a blessing and that ultimately the whole earth would be blessed through them. This came to fruition when Christ, descendant of Abraham, came and dealt with our sin and its separating guilt and shame in full on the cross, so that we could again freely receive God’s love and be in community with Him and others. This isn’t just abstract theology. Let me say that again, Jesus came so that we could be rectified with the Father and live again in community with God and with others! If His very purpose was to restore us to community with God and others, then how high an emphasis should broad, loving community be in our real lives? Does this reality translate into how we live as Christians and how highly we emphasize living as a loving community to all others?
Jesus highlights ways to really love others and live in community in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-8), and He reinforces its importance when He says that all the law and the prophets can be summed up in ‘love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37-39). He even teaches the disciples how to do this—washing their feet and commanding them to love one another as He has loved them right before He went to the cross (John 13). His last fully recorded prayer on earth is that all believers might be one as He and the Father are one (John 17). If that isn’t a mind-blowing concept, I don’t know what is! That Jesus would pray that we have the same unity and oneness that God the Father and Jesus the Son share! Wow. All of this is later followed by a bunch of New Testament letters that constantly exhort believers to love one another, to not give up the habit of meeting, to seek to be one in the Spirit and one in love. Again and again it emphasizes ideas of unity, loving one another, and loving others who are not believers. We are repeatedly told as a community to care for widows, orphans, and the foreigner among us. Everywhere a loving, broad, Bible-following community is emphasized. In sharp contrast to how Christianity is often presented in our era (as a religion centered on helping individuals in their separate, private lives ‘not sin’ and do good things), the Bible shows that Christianity is centered on God’s heart as He passionately does what is necessary to save those He loves and restore them to loving community with Him and others. We then, as a community, are challenged to reach out and love all others—from those whom society does not care for to even our enemies. In this love, we are challenged to become one with God and with others. What a high calling! What a high emphasis broad, loving community should have in our lives!
This leads me to my New Year’s challenge (and it is still early in the New Year, so feel free to take it up even though we are in February)! I challenge myself, and I invite you to join me by challenging yourselves, to seek to live actively for Christ and the Kingdom this year NOT by first emphasizing moral purity (not that I am saying I WON’T seek to be morally pure—just saying that I don’t want ‘not sinning’ to be my primary focus), but instead by emphasizing looking for opportunities to love others genuinely and to be in community with others genuinely. May this generation take a lesson from the older generation in building broad, loving community! May we UNITE this year in the Spirit and in Love by actively seeking to go out of our way to love and bless others! Let’s pray Jesus’ final prayer for us and seek to be one with the One who came to restore community!
Note: Below we have information on various outreach projects along with ways that you can pray for Biblical community in them. You are also welcome to become involved in them directly! Please keep us in your prayers, and PLEASE feel free to send me prayer requests, too!
More information about all of these outreach projects is available at www.UniteHays.com.
Unite Game Night and Common Grounds Coffee House
Pray that our barista team can pray and be Biblical peacemakers whenever it is necessary. Pray that the churches would send out more people to get to know the college students and befriend them.
Get Plugged In
Pray that more churches get involved in this day in a bigger way. Each church is invited to campus this day to greet the incoming Fort Hays State University students in love and to care for them. Some have in past given care packages, food, coffee, and more; may God use this to reach out to campus!
Pray that God use the trip to help those who go from various churches to bond in the Spirit and in Love.
Unite Small Groups
Pray that we can open up and share and that God help us see Him as we study His Word. Pray that more Christians would join these small groups to interact with college students.
Juarez Mission Trip
Pray that God help those who go from various churches to bond in the Spirit and in love; pray that we bond with those in Juarez, Oklahoma City, and Hays. May we see more opportunities to reach out in love in our home communities!
May God help those who plan and help with [alt] to bond as believers as we reach out to provide an alternative event to the post-Oktoberfest partying in Hays, Kansas.