I wanted to share with you some stories of people living sent. Here’s the hope – that you will be inspired to live sent while being encouraged at how simple it really can be. Take a look at these storied of living letters:
Catalina actually first discovered our local church family at a 4th of July picnic in the community center in 2004. She was still living in Ft. Lauderdale at the time, but her brother had just moved into the community where the party was. Living in Orlando wasn’t even a thought in her mind at the time. She didn’t personally connect with any of the people from our church family that day, but she remembers an announcement about a church that gathered in the community center there. Something about what she saw and heard that day sparked an interest deep down inside of her, but she dismissed it since she didn’t even live in Orlando. That was our first connection.
Quite unexpectedly, as God would have it, seven months later, she ended up getting a promotion and transferring to a bank branch near where our church family gathered. It happened to be the bank where we would soon open our accounts. She moved in with her brother until she could find a place of her own.
We met Catalina when we officially opened an account there at that bank. She remembered the 4th of July picnic and connected us with that church family she had heard about there. We invited her to our Sunday gathering, but in her words, “It took me a while to build up the courage to go, because I was by myself.” Her boyfriend had not moved up to be with her yet. Catalina lived within walking distance of the community center.
About a month later, she showed up to “try” our Sunday gathering. She says the main thing that she took away that day was how genuinely loving and interested in getting to know her everyone seemed to be. She told me she had never felt anything like that “in a church” before. That was a second connection.
At that gathering that morning, one of our ladies invited Catalina to come to be a part of a ladies group that actually got together in one of the homes there in the community. That invitation was later given again at the bank, when we went in to make a deposit. Catalina was longing for friendship, being new to Orlando, so she decided to go. Finally when she did go, she loved the way the ladies made her feel, like she belonged even though they hardly knew her. That was the third connection. And fourth and fifth and so on, because she connected with more than one woman that night.
She recalls it this way: “I felt the way I did when I went to the first gathering. I say all of this to show how consistent you ALL were at planting seeds & watering them, without ever imposing.”
She walked with that group for a while. Over time, she began to do more than spectate. She began to participate. And the conversations she participated in and the times that they would discuss the Bible and the life they did together stirred something up in her heart. She had been exposed to forms of Christian religion growing up, but in this group of ladies she saw the love of Jesus alive and radiant.
She was involved in something in her personal life that certain “church-goers” would have been uncomfortable with. No one scolded her. Those ladies loved on her, accepted her right where she was, and without compromising anything allowed God’s Spirit to speak to her heart. And He did. She was reading His letters of love in the lives of those ladies who loved her and who included her and who were living sent right before her eyes.
She started coming to our gathering. I guess it started to make more sense than the time before. She stayed faithful, doing life with those ladies. And then one night, she came over to the house for dessert with my wife and me. She said that she was appreciative of how our church family made her feel like she belonged. This wasn’t about the pastor and his wife. It was about all of these people living sent together. The church alive 168 hours of the week. She said she had seen Jesus’ love and was following Him now, in a relationship with Him like never before. She said that she felt in her heart that what she was involved with in her personal life was not what God wanted for her. She knew it would not be easy, but she wanted to make a change. She wanted God to be the love of her life and change her from the inside out and sustain her. Imagine that. We didn’t judge her. We loved her. And God’s Spirit spoke into her life and transformed her.
She got to read God’s letter at the bank and in her neighborhood among those ladies. It took time. Like over fifteen months. She saw His kindness and His message firsthand. Now she’s a letter, too, living sent to her neighbors and in the marketplace.
“I’ve tried every religious flavor you can try. And there’s something different here. It’s just right. I’ve never understood Jesus this way before,” said Malcolm.
He is a middle aged man who said he had seen it all, pretty much. He’d tried all the options. Sought different angles on truth. Tested the waters in various spiritual expressions. But what he saw among the people of our church family – the genuine love they had for one another, the kindness from his neighbor, the way the men weren’t afraid to hug and express love, how laid back people were and confident in this God who loves us. He tasted it over the course of several months and was hooked.
God’s letter had never read this way before. This near. This loving. This real. Malcolm said he began to read the Bible, more to know God and be able to recognize His voice better everyday rather than out of some religious obligation. He shared it with His son, who also began to read the Bible and encourage his dad and ask questions.
Malcolm is a gourmet cook. Several ladies I know covet certain recipes. He began to see that as a way to live sent to people around him. When they would be sick or have needs, he would cook them a meal (the Guinness Beef Pot Pie is out if this world). He saw friendship as something to be given, whereas before it was something to be avoided in fear of disappointment.
He is trusting again. All because he read God’s letters.
Fiona is five and three quarters years old (that three quarters is a really big deal). You probably remember when it was, too. She is from Scotland. Her family vacations in Central Florida about sixteen weeks per year. Her dad’s job allows them to travel like that.
One of her friends she goes to school with doesn’t follow Jesus, and neither do her parents. They have been real close since pre-K. Fiona and her parents don’t see Jesus as a religious alternative, but as the giver of abundant life. Who wouldn’t want that? Fiona is not afraid to share about God’s goodness and love. And she has peaked the curiosity of her schoolmate.
So much so that her schoolmate’s parents asked about it. When out to dinner with Fiona’s parents one night, they spoke of a recent event their daughters had been a part of together. In the Magic Kingdom park at Walt Disney World, the two girls got a makeover like little princesses at the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique. Afterward, Fiona’s friend declared to her parents in extremely cute fashion, “I have achieved everything in my life, perhaps except seeing God.” She is six.
Fiona’s parents assumed their daughter’s friend had picked this God thought up at school in Scotland where both the girls attend. It is a school where a Christ-centered example is still set.
A great conversation ensued. Fiona’s dad, curious about what provoked the interest, asked where this remark about seeing God had come from. Fiona’s schoolmate’s parents responded, “It is Fiona. She’s been talking about it with our daughter, who then asked us about it. So, we wanted to ask you.”
All along, Fiona’s parents, who love these people very much, had been trying to find their “moment” and the right words to share about the abundant life they have found in Jesus. And here it was. All because of Fiona.
A six year old (nearly – a quarter away). A letter from God. Alive and delivering an intriguing message with her actions and her words. Did I mention that she’s nearly six?
Joel and Michelle
Joel and Michelle are a beautiful, young couple who lives in our community and do life with our church family. They are a lot of fun to me. Their candid, raw faith and love are refreshing. Joel, like me, is tired of self-absorbed religious expressions and is passionate about giving himself away like Jesus.
He and Michelle have walked with some friends for a while now. They have done a lot of life together – dates, vacations, stuff with their kids. They are close. Joel and Michelle have loved them and lived sent as God’s letter to them for a while.
Their friends have “church” experiences in their background, but like Joel and Michelle are a bit dissatisfied with the normal “church” experience and have longed for something more.
They have also had their share of marital struggle. Their hurt and pain have not helped their belief in the common expressions of “church” or the common expressions of those who call themselves “Christians.” Unfortunately, that’s an all too common story. But something dropped them to the end of their rope, and the letters that had been living before them (Joel and Michelle) became much more meaningful in their lives.
Their friends, like many of us, are still on a journey learning and living the ways Jesus, but the message that Joel and Michelle delivered into their lives has changed their lives. And their love. And how the husband deals with anger. And how the wife deals with forgiveness.
Their friends now live sent, too.