Our focus this month is on “Relationships.” A culture can go toxic; and when it does, the only things that bring it back to reality are relationships. Forming, building and nurturing relationships are key to our survival.
In this day and age the world can be a cold and lonely place, using up people and sucking the life right out of them. Jesus told us that he came to give us life and that life in Him is abundant. In His abundance also springs forth a warmth and desire to connect in relational living. There is nothing that will light us up and warm our hearts like building our relationship with others. It really brings us face to face with the “Great Commandment,” Matthew 22:37-39…And He said to him, "'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.'…" (NASB)
Building Relationships With Those Who Need Christ
Searching for Community-Building Friendship at the Anime Expo
by Katie Sallee, Intern and Storytelling Volunteer
The Anime Expo is a place that welcomes people who don’t necessarily fit in with the status quo. If you attend the expo, you’ll see attendees wearing Keep Austin Weird shirts, green-caped devils with orange corn-cob horns, and skinny Spartans in loin-cloths and tan-colored capes tied around their necks. But what’s more interesting than the outlandish outfits is the way attendees come to the expo searching for friendship and a sense of belonging.
At this year’s expo, a shy girl with black-rimmed glasses talked to a boy with a wide smirk and smile lines. They had just met, but she was already telling him about her boyfriend’s disappointment in her and her difficulty in talking to new people.
“I’m just not a social person,” she told him. “I can’t just walk up to people and be friends, so it’s only in places like this that I really feel like I belong.” He agreed with her, saying, “I’ve had to learn to be a social person.”
The vulnerability between strangers is amazing and heart-breaking, but this is the culture of anime enthusiasts. It doesn’t matter how you dress, or act, or which fandom you are a part of—everyone belongs. Expo attendees make friendships easily and quickly, but they will abandon them just as swiftly. For those attenders who only come once a year, community is virtually suspended for a year at a time.
And that’s why Saddleback’s Jesus Otaku ministry was created—to bring lasting relationships and hope to this community. Cecilia Amo, the ministry’s founder and board member for the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, noted the lack of lasting relationships. After meeting several other anime lovers at a Saddleback’s PEACE event, they decided to come together to reach out to people attending the LA anime conference. Since that time God has blessed their ministry by providing opportunities to visit other anime conferences both locally and globally.
“Fans of this unique media come together at anime Conventions looking for community and connection,” says Amo. “Jesus Otaku is a place of acceptance where fears of being an outcast are forgotten.” Jesus Otaku addresses this gap by modeling healthy community and communicating God’s love at conventions and pursuing the relationships throughout the year. Their purpose is to creatively model the love of Jesus in order to bring otaku, or anime fans, and the church together.
“Thousands of anime fans are seeking the community that the church offers, they just don’t know where to find it. That’s what we’re here for.” Jesus Otaku is a growing organization within the anime community. To learn more about this unique ministry visit jesusotaku.com.
Building Our Relationship With God
Why We Must Pray
By Mike Bickle
We begin our journey of growing in prayer by acknowledging that prayer is not only for beginners but also for mature believers. Otherwise there would be no point in trying to grow in it!
The Lord calls every believer to a life of prayer—no matter how long he has been saved or how experienced he is in this discipline. The best thing all of us can do to improve ourselves, our lives and our relationships is to grow in prayer.
Prayer is a means of connecting with the Holy Spirit, who energizes us to love God. Our love for God then causes us to overflow in love for others. Jesus made an absolute statement about our inability to walk in the fullness of our destinies in God without growing in prayer. He said that unless we abide in Him, we can do nothing related to bearing fruit or maturing in our spiritual lives: "He who remains in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit. For without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
Because we are not the source of spiritual life ourselves, we cannot generate it, nor can we receive it unless we abide in Christ. Just as it is impossible for us to jump a hundred feet even if we push ourselves, it is impossible for us to generate spiritual life. It is not an issue of practice; we were not created to be able to jump a hundred feet! And neither were we created to have Spirit-life while living independently of the Spirit. We must abide in Christ and grow in prayer to make our lives work.
The Holy Spirit will move in a new and powerful way in your heart and life as you take time to grow in prayer. The change may not happen overnight, but it will most certainly happen. The discipline of prayer will eventually become delight in prayer. Dryness in prayer will gradually be replaced by a vibrant dialogue with God that will change your life and result in many answered prayers.
I invite you to begin the next stage of your journey in prayer right now. There is no better time than today. Do not wait for a special spiritual experience to begin to grow in prayer. We grow in prayer by actually praying. Beginners in prayer mature by praying more. It is the same principle we embrace when learning to play a musical instrument—we become better the more we practice.
From Duty to Delight
In my younger days I loved Jesus, but I dreaded spending time in prayer. I saw prayer as a necessary duty that I had to endure if I wanted to receive more blessing.
To be successful, I needed a new perspective on prayer: I needed to know what prayer is and why the Lord insists on it. As I discovered answers to these questions, I began to see prayer as so much more than a religious duty to endure. I learned that it is a place of encounter, a way to receive blessing, an act of partnership with God, and much more.
A Place of Encounter
The call to prayer is a call to participate in the love that has forever burned in God's heart. The primary factor in the Father's relationships, both within the Godhead and with His people, is wholehearted love. This love is the foundational reality of the kingdom of God. It is this very reality that we participate in as we grow in prayer, and it is what prayer is mostly about—that is, participating in the family dynamics of the Godhead. We do this by receiving God's love and responding to the Lord and people in His love.
We were created to receive and express the burning love that originates in God's heart. God created the human race to share His love. Why? Simply because "God is love" (1 John 4:16). He created us in His image, for love—to receive His love, reflect it back to Him, and share it with others. Love is at the core of our relationship with God, the essence of salvation, and the foundation for understanding prayer.
Building Relationships With Our Peers
Simple Ways You Can Stop Hiding And Start Building Others Up
By Guest contributor, Bryan Stoudt
There it was, in plain sight. Another candy wrapper. Well, not quite in plain sight. It was ‘hidden’ behind one of my kids’ pillows, but let’s just say this was not the work of a master thief. When I asked her about it, the denials were prolific and amazingly creative.
I found myself getting annoyed and self-righteous. The truth is, though, that I am just like her. And you are, too. In reality we’re all a mess. We just don’t want anyone else to know about it.
The Tremendous Power Of Confession And Vulnerability
The cost of our cover-up is incredibly high. Like Adam and Eve long ago, when we hide our sin, we become isolated from God, each other, and everything that’s good. But God has given us some powerful - if painful - alternatives. James 5:16 lays out an important principle for us. ‘Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed’.
Of course, God alone can ultimately heal and forgive. James reminds us, though, that God is at work when we confess our sins to other believers. But we should also let others in on our weaknesses, not just our sins. In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Paul tells the Corinthians about some sort of physical weakness, a ‘thorn in the flesh’, that God gave him to keep him humble. He hadn’t done anything wrong, but he let those in the church in on this challenge.
Ways You Can Make It Practical Today
So, here are practical ways we can come out of hiding and fear to experience the freedom and confidence of the gospel.
Opening up and being gracious toward others doesn’t come naturally. But as we do, people experience God’s grace through us and we’ll get to a depth of relationship that we’ve never experienced before.
- Admit it when we make a mistake or sin. Instead of hoping others won’t find out, we can go and admit it up front.
- Share a real-time weakness or struggle. It’s easy to talk about something we’ve conquered, but sharing a current struggle shows others you need grace right now.
- Include confession in your prayer times. It’s fine to request prayer for your next exam or your Aunt Matilda’s hangnail. But confessing your failures, then praying about them, lets others in where you really need support.
- Seek out mentors and other resources. When we find mentors, read books and seek others’ input, we’re quietly admitting we need help. (Bonus: share what you’re learning).
- Invite questions and accountability. We can proactively ask others how we’re doing and invite their feedback and accountability.
- Be gracious toward others - and yourself. When we don’t get worked-up about others’ - and our own - failures , we demonstrate we believe God can overcome them. And people will be more honest with us instead of hiding.
- Compliment others. When you sing others’ praises, you show that you’re secure enough to learn from them and build them up.
Relationships Between Subjective Experience and Objective Truth
If I see Blue, and You See White, Why Does It Matter?
by Karen Swallow Prior
For a few hours, all our other divisions seemed suspended—progressive vs. conservative, Coke vs. Pepsi, Cowboys vs. Redskins—as the world became diverted by debate over a little blue (or is it white?) dress. It began Thursday when a woman posted a picture on Tumblr and asked what color the dress was. Some of her friends saw it as black and blue, some as white and gold, and within hours the question about #TheDress was discussed in social media feeds and living rooms across the globe.
Just as quickly, a moral debate erupted: in a world wracked by terrorism, rising ocean levels, crippling storms, how dare we waste so much passion and existential angst over the color of a dress?
Yet #TheDress was far more than a meaningless meme. The online debate offered a fascinating science lesson, united people in a respite of harmless fun, and provided powerful insights into the relationship between subjective experience and objective reality.
Outcries that whole fuss was a waste of time are nonsense, unless, I suppose, objectors contend that as long as evil and injustice exist, there can be no more laughing and no more fun (a position as silly as it is inhumane).
The entire hullabaloo serves also to illustrate something about the nature of reality. Subjective experience—such as how colors appear to us—is powerful and can seem irrefutable. The fact that some can only see the dress as blue and black while the people next to them only see white and gold is disorienting.
Amid abstractions of politics, religion, values, and beliefs, concrete reality seems to anchor and unite us more than ever. It’s why everyone talks about the weather. Color would seem to have been another topic over which there could be no disagreement. When something as concrete and universal as color leads us to diverge, it’s tempting to question objective reality altogether. Is color in the eye of the beholder? Even more significantly, is perception the only reality?
Not at all.
The science that explains #TheDress reveals that while our visual systems process the colors of an object subjectively, this does not negate the fact that things have objective properties that determine how they reflect light. These properties do not change as a result of our experience of them... Yet, “things themselves” exist regardless of how imperfectly or incompletely we sense them.
#TheDress... can teach us greater humility through recognizing that objective reality cannot necessarily be measured by our sense of certainty about our subjective experience. Furthermore, to embrace epistemological humility about ourselves as the measure of all things is not to weaken our faith in the existence of objective truth. Indeed, it only strengthens that recognition.
The relationship between subjective experience and objective truth is illustrated in the nature of our relationship with God through Christ. Through Christ, we experience God subjectively, relationally, and personally. But the means of that relationship is in the objective truth that Christ was born, Christ died, Christ rose again, and lives today. This truth does not depend on anyone’s subjective experience of it, but it is a truth made real when we become subject to it.
Back to the dress: as writer Preston Yancey pointed out, at least we can all agree that it’s ugly. Or can we? The company that makes it reported that within days the dress’s sales were up 347 percent. Perhaps there is no accounting for subjective taste. But objective truth? That’s another matter.
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