Eugene Cho: Uncommon Fellowship and Samaria (Notes from Catalyst)

Eugene Cho (aka NOT Francis Chan) was amazing. Founding and Lead Pastor at Quest Church as well as the founder of One Days Wages, this is a man on fire for God and people. He started his time with us in John 4:1-10:

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

He highlighted the fact that it said, “Now he had to go through Samaria.” First, let us remember that Jesus didn’t have to do anything. It’s also important to understand that there was a long and complicated history had led the Jewish people and the Samaritans to this point in time, at which they were completely divided. That meant that while it took 3-4x longer to travel around Samaria rather than just pass through it, concerns around cleanliness and safety practically make it a requirement for a faithful Jew.

In fact, we can get a feel for the sentiment when we consider the most common prayer of gratitude prayed by Pharisee’s in public at that time. They would give thanks to God that they were made Jew and not Gentile, free and not slave, man and not woman. We can see this prayer specifically addressed in a revolutionary way through Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Eugene Cho talked about how we, as a church love to TALK about our “Samaria” but that it is a totally different thing to walk through Samaria. He used the example of exercise. The idea of exercise is engaging and we can read and talk about it to such an extent that we can become very knowledgeable in the topic. But it’s a very different thing to know how to run a marathon well, what you need, etc. than to actually train and run for a marathon. Must people don’t want to do that. When it comes to us and our Samaria, we need to not just talk about it, but live with it in the very core of our very being, resting in the truth that all people are created in the image of God. If God’s grace is sufficient for you then you must believe that it is sufficient for the Other.

In truth, some of the most difficult people to lead to Christ are actually Christians. In the story of the Samaritan woman, as well as many other stories of miracles and healing, Jesus stops. He looks in their eyes. He shows them he sees them. Consider the story in Luke 8:43-48:

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

Jesus, as Eugene Cho pointed out, didn’t need to ask who had touched him. He knew. But this is where he shows us that he is a King who stops and looks into the eyes of his people and meets their needs. His people were the rejected, the sick, the poor, the oppressed and the suffering, and his ministry was impactful because he didn’t draw lines to divide people; he crossed them to build community.

If the Church fails to be like Christ, it loses it’s impact. In our current times where communities, cities and countries exist in such divisive states the Church oftentimes remains homogenous and therefore ineffective. This is hardly surprising. We don’t become a different person on Sunday; it’s a reflection of who we are and the relationships we have Monday through Saturday. Consider the following infograph that he referenced:

black-friends-white-friends

From the perspective of the white person we see that they, statistically speaking, create an environment were the “Other” is generally not truly included or understood. It would certainly be challenging for the friend who is the only black friend to feel truly comfortable being their authentic self. It is also challenging to gain a true depth of knowledge regarding the complexities of race through the perspective of so few minority individuals. The end result of these homogenous environments is an inability to see or recognize the systemic issues that are faced by people who aren’t white.

But there’s an even bigger problem. Sometimes in those environments the idea of systemic racism is called into question. Isn’t it, they say, really a sin issue? And Eugene Cho’s response to this question is, “Of course.” BUT when sinful people gather together, they will create a culture that eventually includes systems and structures that are relevant to them and which benefit them. This is why racism is and continues to be systemic; we continue to operate in lives that are largely segregated and hardly reflect the uncommon fellowship that Jesus calls us to and models.

So what do we do? We confess to one another. We confront the places where we aren’t reflecting the Gospel. We speak Truth, we dismantle systems of oppression and segregation, we reconcile ourselves as individuals and communities. This will be a testimony to the power of the Gospel and it’s ability to transform us today. As we consider what this looks like for each of us in our lives, I want to return, as Eugene Cho did, to the story of the Samaritan woman. In this account we see what can happen when we pause, see another and meet them where they are. In this story, her encounter led her to join missio dei:

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” John 4:39-42

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Craig Groeschel (Notes from Catalyst)

Craig Groeschel was the first speaker at the Catalyst conference that focused on Uncommon Fellowship. As the pastor of the largest church in the United States which spans 8 states and has 26 sites, he has quite a bit of wisdom around what it takes to build a community, and in particular, the uncommon community we find in the new testament.

He spoke about how most things that are uncommon are uncommon because they are uncomfortable. We, as a nation, worship the comfortable, and yet growth and comfort do not co-exist. We share a common enemy who wants to steal the unity that can exist in the body of Christ, an enemy who wants to keep us in the comfortable so that we can’t know the beauty and hope found in unity. Jesus prays a lot in the bible but his specific prayers are rarely documented. However, in John 17 we get the words that Jesus prayed for all believers to experience this special unity:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” John 17:21-26

Jesus prays that we would know the unity that the triune God knows and experiences through their relationship with one another. Craig Groeschel then provides 4 key points around how to build and develop the unity Jesus prays for.

  1. We desperately need each other. UNITY IS NOT UNIFORMITY. The diversity of our stories, our pasts, our denominations and methods for ministry is a powerful tool for expanding the kingdom of God. As it says in Romans 12:5: “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
  2. We err on the side of being FOR, not AGAINST. Instead of building yourself up on what you see as a weakness, build the case for your church or organization on your strengths. There is no value in tearing another down when we all have the same mission.
  3. We are going to give everything we can to strengthen others. We support each others ministries, we support each others churches. We celebrate when another congregation is growing because it means that the body of Christ is growing. Responding with generosity instead of jealousy, we can come closer to what we read about in Acts 4:32-35 “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.”
  4. We love like Jesus loved. WE CAN’T ALL BE RIGHT, BUT WE CAN ALL BE LOVING. We need to love people who need love and grace. People of this world are tired of hearing about the love of Christ, they want to see him. It’s about less of the gospel being preached and more of it being lived. Matthew 5:44 tells us, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and Luke 6:28 says, “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” And perhaps most importantly, remembering that Jesus was pretty specific about how people would recognize us as disciples of him: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Blessings From Woman Camp

This past weekend at Woman Camp I realized I got to live out “The Great Commission” through my friendship with a woman who was the first person that I purposefully discipled and then was able to baptize. Over our time together I’ve watched her transform, taking steps of faith that deepen her relationship with God and inspire others to do the same. Now she disciples others too, and our friendship fills my heart with joy.

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”” Matthew 28:18-20

Sunday morning at camp, I went to the lake early to clear my mind and fill myself with His Spirit. To pray that He use this experience to speak into her heart about His relationship with her and who He is. Women began to gather for baptisms and we eventually found each other. Before we stepped into the water, three of us laid hands on her and prayed for her. As we stepped into the lake the sun was bright and reflecting off of the water. We were surrounded by the colors of fall in the trees and a bright blue sky dotted with clouds. All around us were the voices of hundreds and hundreds of women singing their worship to God; praising Him and celebrating her baptism.

I was stunned by the sensory experience of it all. I wanted to look at her and Laura (the other friend baptizing her) and encourage them to feel God’s presence in the moment, although I’m sure they did. I was overpowered. I forgot the words (and was reminded). And so we baptized her, immersing her fully in the pond. Afterwards, around the fire people hugged her and encouraged her and I felt like I should tell her anointed. I felt like it had to be tied to a verse so when I got home I sent her the verse I found that resonated most with what I was feeling in that moment:

“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” 2 Corinthians 1:21-22

There were many other blessings that came out my time at Woman Camp but I wanted to write this one down. This journey with her was scary at times, it was a major investment that required sacrifice and sometimes made me question if I was capable of what was being asked of me. But my relationship with God grew from my relationship with her and I am so excited at the number of people I know who will be impacted by her testimony and discipleship.

 

Bravery or Courage?

Bravery is defined as feeling or showing no feeling; being fearless. But courage? Courage is defined as having the strength to act in the face of pain or grief, to do something even when you are fearful. So while they sound similar, courage certainly seems like the more preferable attribute.

If I had to choose, I’d pick courage over bravery every time, although there is certainly a time and place for bravery.  However, at some point or another we will all reach a place where we are overwhelmed by what appears to be insurmountable grief, or one of the myriads of pains that mankind is plagued with. It is in those moments where “fearlessness” stops being applicable. We can be debilitated or conquered by our emotions, our minds, our bodies, or we can be courageous, moving beyond ourselves.

It makes me think of the Romans verses in which the Greek equivalent of “hyper-conqueror” is used, but it’s usually translated as “overwhelmingly conquer.” This verse makes me think not of how FEARLESS they must have been, but how courageous. Even in the face of pain and grief their faith gave them courage; they would not be separated from their love of God which was anchored in Jesus Christ.

Romans 8:36-39 “Just as it is written, “For Your sake we were being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Discipleship Is Hard

This is not an easy thing. I suppose it should never be an easy thing, one way or the other. If you are leading someone and not struggling at some points, I would wonder if it doesn’t mean the responsibility is being taken too lightly? And if it is not a struggle to be someone’s disciple, I wonder how much challenge really exists in the relationship? How much growth is being experienced?

Luke 8:22-25 “One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”

We have no idea what tone Jesus used when he asked the disciples, “Where is your faith?” But their response of fear, to marvel, to question… it is clear that they are being challenged by their relationship with Jesus.

Luke 9:49-56“Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.

Here you can see Jesus experiencing again and again the challenge of discipleship. While he has repeatedly taught about the Kingdom and the new covenant he was bringing to God’s people (and the disciples have spent a great amount of time with him hearing about it), he has to continue to tell them the most basic things, like those doing work in his name were for them and not against them, and that they should not in fact rain fire down from heaven on a village (on the scale of unloving to totally loving your neighbor, that falls a bit short).

Galatians 5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. “

Paul, a standard setter of fathering followers of Christ and creating a community of believers reproducing believers, struggled with this even more.  He reminded, warned, praised, prayed for, lamented and chastised those he lead. He struggled deeply with them though, speaking harshly and threatening discipline. He took the responsibility seriously and wanted all followers coming through him to understand the reality of their salvation and necessity of their relationship with Christ.

Mark 12:24-27 “Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”

This was the final example I reflected on when I was considering this repeating idea that discipleship is hard. Jesus, when talking to the Sadducees, emphasized the importance of knowing the Scriptures. He didn’t come to abolish it but to fulfill it. He referenced it all of the time and I don’t think it was just because people of that time understood it. It is our story with our Father, our God. It is clear in his words that it isn’t just about knowledge of Scripture, but knowing the power of God. This too must be something we strive to grow in as leaders and challenge growth in for those we lead.

As hard as discipleship is, of course I cannot shake the simultaneous image of the bearing of fruit. The purpose is for deeper relationship with Christ, with God, with the Spirit. And as we receive the Spirit and do the work to which we are called we bear fruit. To Paul, the sacrifice was sweet in that in brought us closer to Christ and the fruit it bore was in the ways God provided and could then be boasted in to others, so that they might also come to know Christ.

Matthew 7:16-20 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

So yes, Abba, I see this is hard. But I see the fruit for your Kingdom that comes through it.