“How can we live this way?
Five Principles of Faith Based Community” by Chris Rice
As followers of Jesus Christ we believe that He did not come to establish a new religion, so that in believing certain things good members of society could feel better about themselves in a troubled world. Neither is the Christian faith some attempt simply to reckon with our mortality. To follow Jesus and partake in the Spirit of God is to be transformed completely for the purpose of knowing and doing the will of God. That will of God involves doing what Jesus said, expecting that if the powers persecuted and killed Jesus and his disciples, we ourselves must face opposition, misunderstanding, and hatred. We consider ourselves blessed in such circumstances. But how do we live this way? How do we make a life for ourselves and our families? How do we disciple others when we encounter such opposition and endure privation?
A friend of mine left the ministry recently, and she left a note in the form of a prayer. In it she related that she felt like there must be a way that we can live together under better circumstances, so that people would not mistake us for the homeless. Surely God doesn’t want his children mistaken for social rejects, does he? That’s a good question. And I believe the answer lies in God’s Word. I want to teach today on Five Principles of Living in a Faith Based Community. We live in an age where people are constantly on the move. And many Christian faith communities endure regular transitions in their membership. I am often teaching a new set of people, as the others travel to our other NLEC outreach locations. But even more people feel that after a short period of time, they don’t want to live in this faith based community anymore.
In introducing these principles I want to inform you who are new about what you will encounter in seeking to live your life for Jesus in close proximity to other believers. New Life Evangelistic Center is different from many other churches in that we are a residential program. Most of our staff are people who serve as full time volunteers, receiving room and board, relying on daily donations of money, food and clothing to meet their needs. NLEC is also an evangelistic nonprofit that relies solely on individual donations for income. It owns and operates TV stations, radio stations, and websites to spread the message of the gospel and educate about the Christian life. We operate a small renewable energy business and teach how to live sustainably through Missouri Renewable Energy. We pray and advocate for prisoners and those on death row. For us the Christian life is about being present for others. It is about creatively and spontaneously sharing as any have need. But truthfully, we ourselves are ever in need.
Sometimes I have people walk in off the street and assure me, “Rev. Rice, don’t you worry. I’m about to get millions of dollars, and as soon as I do I’m going to write you a check so that you’ll never have to ask for money again.” But they don’t understand that for us, to be alive is to glorify God, not to witness to wealth. Glorifying God means finding new ways to share with people in need, so to spell this out: even if God pays all our bills off miraculously tonight, it means he’s going to open up new areas of ministry tomorrow.
The first principle of living like we do is faith in Jesus Christ. It all begins with a Calling from God to follow Jesus. Faith is only as great as what it is placed in. We are faithful only by being true to Jesus. We are faithless when we trust anyone or anything else instead of him. Jesus is the object, Author and Perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2) We must not assume that our faith is too weak or too strong, too small or too big. Jesus says, “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20).
This faith is great because of who our faith is in, who we are faithful to. If you are feeling powerless, don’t blame your faith, turn to Jesus. Center yourself on who He is and what he is doing. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV)
The second principle is precarity. What do I mean by precarity? It means a condition of existence without predictability or security. It can mean intermittent employment or underemployment, having barely enough or just enough of everything. Another example of precarity is having to live with difficult people. Here at 1411 Locust the women staff live together on the same floor with the guests who come in off the street. They share the same bathroom and shower facilities. They eat the same meals. They often wear the same clothes they picked out of the free store. The guys here also wear donated clothes. Sometimes we laugh and point knowingly at each other’s shirts because a big donation of those just came in.
Now the only way this life can be beautiful in the long term is if we have a point of reference. Who is our reference point? Say it out loud: Jesus Christ. Jesus is himself the bread of heaven, the true meat and drink given for the life of the world. In Numbers 11:1-23 we get a picture of the kind of striving Moses endured in trying to live in tents with lots of people and provide for their needs. He spoke his mind to God: “The people I am with number six hundred thousand on foot; and you say, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month’! Are there enough flocks and herds to slaughter for them? Are there enough fish in the sea to catch for them?” The LORD said to Moses, “Is the LORD’s power limited? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”
Here at NLEC our paid employees who have their own bills to pay, have learned like the volunteers, that faith based ministry is about precarity. We all get on our knees and pray for daily bread, and payroll finally gets made. Faith based living involves precarity. It is the now and the not yet. It is the posture of gratitude with the expectation of deliverance. The refusal to bow followed by the flames of fire and resignation to the will of God. We come to understand that God knows our needs before we ask, but he wants us to ask and not assume we know where the money comes from.
Dorothy Day was a Christian woman who lived as a full time volunteer in the Catholic Worker community. She lived in old farm houses and run down tenements in the slums with other volunteers. She did this for around five decades. She left with us writings from herself and others that demonstrate what we’re trying to live. She wrote: “True poverty is rare,” a saintly priest writes to us from Martinique. “Nowadays communities are good, I am sure, but they are mistaken about poverty. They accept, admit on principle, poverty, but everything must be good and strong, buildings must be fireproof, Precarity is rejected everywhere, and precarity is an essential element of poverty. That has been forgotten. Here we want precarity in everything except the church. (…) Precarity enables us to help very much the poor. When a community is always building, and enlarging, and embellishing, which is good in itself, there is nothing left over for the poor. We have no right to do this as long as there are slums and breadlines somewhere. (“Poverty and Precarity” by Dorothy Day, The Catholic Worker, May 1952)
In a precarious faith based life I learn these things too:
1. I am much more than what I possess.
2. Money does not make leisure. I don’t have to spend money in order to have fun.
3. Learning to serve lets me receive love and be loved.
4. When the heat is on I learn what I am made of.
5. I choose in the moment whether to believe God or fear the worst. God is enough, fear says run or fight.
The third principle of faith based living is trust. Whenever you become part of a group of people the first thing you should expect is to not know what is really going on, and secondly expect that it will take time to learn to trust. The inverse is true also. If someone new joins the group, don’t think you really know them, and allow them time to get to know you. All of us get hurt. We are vulnerable. Being alone is more comfortable than sharing yourself, know that about yourself and others.
When Jesus said, “What ever you desire men should do to you, do this for them” I believe he understood that trust is fostered over time. Trust can be destroyed very quickly, but it takes time to be won. Working with the homeless and poor, you come to understand that many people have so many wounds inside that they cannot bring themselves to trust another person. The question for you is not whether others will trust you, but whether you will trust that God can use you.
I have had a unique life, in that I grew up in this faith based community and then spent fourteen formative years growing up as an adult in another one as well. I am learning that when my trust in another person is violated, my faith in Christ lets me continue to serve in community. It’s a beautiful fairy tale that no one gets hurt emotionally and spiritually in church. The beauty is in the reality that God forgives and heals the very same people if they will stick around. But ours is the age of mental and physical banishment. We break off from each other over the silliest little things. In Christ we develop the courage to live together and establish trust.
The fourth principle is Submission. The idea of submission is nearly always felt to be subjection/punishment. Biblical submission is to Christ and then mutually to each other. Submission liberates me from the tyranny of always needing my own way. In faith based community leaders know they too submit. Taking responsibility for wronging another and confessing one’s sins, regardless of the response, is a powerful example of submission.
One of the first acts of submission a person endures in faith based living is telling their story. To give away my story to you, in complete honesty, can be a harrowing experience. You might take part of what I tell you and use it against me. But in following Jesus, no matter what we’ve been through or have done, we now have a common story. Our new story is that we’ve been redeemed by Christ, and that we are now completely set free from the power of sin, the devil, hell and death. The act of telling that story is more powerful than any other kind of story. But it is only the beginning of sharing our lives together.
By submitting I learn that my way is not the only way of doing things. I also learn that my way is open to question. I might work on something for a very long time and you might come along and question it and it might hurt my feelings for a while. But if we are both submitted to Jesus Christ and are committed to one another, the project itself doesn’t belong to me or to you but to Jesus, and however it turns out, Jesus gets the glory.
The fifth principle is Acceptance. To remain in community you must come to accept yourself and find peace. Peace is found in trusting Jesus over your own fear. Accepting life as it is, not as you would have it. Believing that God is doing in you what you cannot do alone. The Grace of God is here now, in the chaos of the world as I perceive it. Many people learn a version of the serenity prayer in recovery circles. Reinhold Niebuhr penned this extended version:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will.
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.”
The Apostle Paul wrote the Church at Philippi, “ I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” In a faith based ministry, where we live off of donations, we too can lose the true value of gifts given and received. If we forget that all things are from God, even life itself and all of our abilities, we can get angry at God and become very self-centered. It is not just rich people who struggle with greed.
No matter what you have, without acceptance you will never feel secure. The desert fathers and mothers teach us that even deserts and caves, in isolation from the multitudes in cities, fear is very present and demonic temptations are ever present. No matter what you possess or lack, where you reside or where you wish you lived, unless you are convinced that Christ is Lord of all in your life, you will never find peace.
I hope that something I’ve said today will offer hope and courage on your journey of faith. I believe that living this way is a biblical and healthy expression of faith. It is an encouragement to thousands of souls on a monthly basis. NLEC is known as a staging area for newly homeless individuals from through out the metropolitan area. If only for a short time, as a family of faith we can make strangers feel welcome. We do this not because of how great we are, but because of the awesome Grace of God in Jesus Christ.
In review, the only way to live together and help people with contentment is through Faith in Jesus Christ. Precarity is simply a part of our faith commitment. Everything we have belongs to Jesus and he always provides just enough. Trust is essential, and wherever trust is broken we should pay attention and take the matter to God. Submission, like all the other principles, is something we wrestle with, but laying down my will is necessary to getting along with others. Acceptance is a principle that leads us right back to faith. We are ever finding and needing acceptance at the same time. For today I can accept that God is doing immeasurable more than I can see, ask for, or imagine. When we live by these principles we can be ever demonstrating the love of Jesus to everyone we encounter.