The Power of Persistent Presence

The summer is almost over. This sad reality may evoke a sigh from deep within you. At the time of this writing it is 75 degrees outside, the sky is blue, and there is a light breeze blowing. Days like these are an absolute gift. But, I fully recognize that with the imminent changing of the seasons there will also be a change in the ebb and flow of everyday life. The kids will be back in school, the pace will pick up a bit at work, Community Groups are about to kick off again, and things will generally move more quickly all around. With these things approaching, it is good to decide where to get the most return on the investment of your time. My aim in writing this is to convince you that Community Group should be one of your top priorities going into this Fall. You see, I believe that there is power in persistent presence at Community Group.

Things that Prevent Presence

There are many things that can prevent us from being present. I think sheer exhaustion is one of the major culprits. I cannot tell you how many people have told me that there are weeks when they feel too exhausted or too busy for Community Group, but they go anyway. They admit that it ends up being the best thing for them. I have felt the same way many times.

We host a group at our house so it’s hard to duck out when we are tired. But it seems that our persistence in attending group has done nothing but bring us closer to God and closer to our brothers and sisters in Christ. For that very reason, we fight to be at Community Group every week. It means saying “no” to a ton of things, but there is power in persistent presence at Community Group.

Mental busyness is another thing that can keep you from being “present” at Community Group. You may be physically there, but mentally you are 100 different places at once. Preventing this mental busyness is increasingly difficult in our modern world but is not at all impossible. I would urge you to fight to be mentally present at Community Group as well. 

The Payoff of Presence

God’s Word is powerful. Believers cannot encounter it and engage with it and still remain unphased. At Community Group, you encounter the Word of God, you discuss the Word of God, you pray in light of the Word of God. That is a life-giving pattern that helps grow us as believers. The payoff of presence is a payoff of growth in our Christian lives.  

So, as you begin to plan for this season, make a plan for growth. God works in his people through his Word taught and life caught. Community Group is the perfect place to hear the word taught and see life caught. If you are already in a group…dig in deeply. If you are not in a group, join one right away. We have Grouplink this Friday and you can jump into a group right away here.

Randy Titus (Clifton Campus Director/Community Groups Director)

Change What You Love, Change Who You Are

On Sunday, Pastor Andrew began our series Prophets and Kings about the life of Samuel and discussed that who or what we worship determines how we will react to certain circumstances. I want to look at this from a different angle and explore more of this terrain. This topic is central to discipleship and sanctification.

I’ve recently been struck by the love that parents have for their newborn children. It’s an odd thing if you think about it. Here’s a little person that wasn’t around at all in the daily dynamics of the home previously, and yet you hear almost all parents, after their newborn has entered the picture, say that they never realized that they could love anyone so much. But what has this child done? They can barely see objects, they can’t talk; their talents are vastly enumerated as 1) screaming, 2) drinking milk, 3) soiling a diaper, and 4) sleeping.

But parental love is genuine and usually, unconditional. Even before their child has much of a personality and even when the only thing the child can do is take away sleep and require constant attention, the parent is smitten. Parents will change much of their behavior to accommodate their baby. They often devote a room in the house even before the child is born, a business woman who was once a workaholic will take a few months of maternity leave, a large portion of a parent’s finances goes toward their child, etc. I think this is a fantastic picture of the title of James K. A. Smith’s book You Are What You Love.

What we love drives us. It causes us to reorient our lives in ways that are specifically pointed to running toward what we love, it causes us to generously (and often unwisely) spend our money, it causes us to obey. But the funny thing about love is, it causes us to do all of this with joy.

The rest of this post is about how love changes us. Let’s use it as a resource to reflect on our lives and discover what it is we truly love. Do we truly love what we say and think we love?

Love Seeks to Know

Parents pride themselves on being able to tell the difference between a pity cry, a full diaper cry, a hurt cry, and a hungry cry. This is because their love drives them to know everything there is to know about their child. New romantic love is often the same way, hours of time are often spent discussing favorite foods and movies. We often care about what our family is doing even if it’s dreadfully boring because we love them.

When we love God, we seek to know him. We have a hunger and a thirst for reading the Bible, not because it’s our duty, but it is our joy to learn about him. The Bible is where he has spoken to us about himself. Also, we ever desire to pray to him because we know that he wants to hear from us. And just like every relationship, sometimes it’s going to seem routine. Pastor Tim Keller says that that is no reason to stop, because just like our earthly relationships, “We need to spend quantity time, in order to get quality time.”

We must remember though, that we can only know God because he has sought to know us. Indeed, anyone who has a love for God, is known by God (1 Cor. 8:3). He has known us fully by sending his Son to experience life as we see it, even death. God not only knows us in his omnipotence, he knows us in feeling, experience, and emotion because of the human/divine nature of his Son.

Love Seeks to Sacrifice

How often do parents spend way too much money on their children during Christmas, or men on their dates, or a hunter on guns and camo, or a driven lawyer on suits? What does our bank statement say about what we love? How much time have we sacrificially spent on others we care about? Altruistic generosity is born out of love. Intentional sacrifice without love does not exist (even if that love be honor, self, etc.)

What does our generosity say about our love for God? His kingdom mission continues all over the world and honestly, it takes money to send and support missionaries. How much of our pride and fears are we conquering by sharing the gospel with those who are lost? We know that God’s heart is for the lost and if we love him, we share his heart. How much time are we willing to spend serving God’s church, meeting with hurting brothers and sisters in Christ, or in the word and prayer? What does where we spend our resources tell us about what or who we love?

But we know that God loves us because he has sacrificed for us. Jesus says that sacrifice of oneself is the highest form of love. “No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Yes, “This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).

Love Seeks to Obey

This is perhaps the overarching principle of this whole post. What are parents and romantics really doing when they respond to every whim that their loves express? They are obeying their love’s desires, and they are doing it with joy. We obey our loves, and over time, we embody the desires of what we love. We truly are what we love.

What are you obeying? What does your obedience to God say about your love for him? Jesus put it plainly: “The one who has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me” (John 14:23). Jesus himself loved the Father and he loved his people so much that he was obedient to God even to the point of crucifixion (Phil. 2:8). Jesus died for those who hate God so that we might love him and obey him.

Pastor Andrew ended last week’s sermon by asking us to identify and repent of the idols in our lives. Another way to say that is that we should acknowledge what we love, repent of wrongly ordered loves, and seek to love God over all, so much so that we seek to know him, sacrifice for him, and obey him. And since God is the source of love (1 John 4:19), let us pray desperately that he will grow our affections for him, and let us read the word expectant that he will do so.

Alex Nolette (Community Groups/Equip Coordinator)