The First Five (Part I)

Having arrived in New Jersey just over five months ago, I’ve been reflecting on things I’ve learned during this transition. And while there is much I’ve learned by asking questions (e.g. What’s a pork roll? Who’s “Bruce”? A jug what?), what I’d like to share are those things I’ve learned not by asking questions but through my personal experience over these past five months. These reflections will be broken up into two blog posts. Here is part one.

God is faithful.

Okay, I admit it. This is exactly what you’d expect a pastor to say. But just because something is predictable doesn’t make it less true. My family’s calling to Park Church was the result of a long, emotional roller-coaster of a discernment process. God, where are you calling us? What’s your plan? These were prayers uttered with regularity by my wife and me – often in exasperation. We trusted he was preparing us for something; we just couldn’t see what. But not seeing the future doesn’t mean God is unfaithful or uninterested; it just means our vision is limited. For my wife and me this meant trusting that God is faithful, that he hasn’t forgotten about us, and that he would reveal his plan when his timing is right. I’ve been told that those within Park Church who have been around the past few years can relate.

Living between promise and fulfillment is difficult, yet it’s so often where we live. Rocky marriage? Lonely and frustrated? Financial hardship? Loss of a loved one? Rebellious child? Burned by religion? Unpleasant job? No job? Failing health? These are all bad things. Yet God promises that good will come to “those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). We’re not told how or when God will bring good out of our pain. Tomorrow? In five years? At the new creation? We don’t know. But our task isn’t to know how or when. It’s simply to take the next step in following Jesus while trusting that God is faithful.

Our call to Park was a reminder that God is faithful.

The church is family.

One of the ways God has been faithful to my family since our arrival has been the outpouring of support we have received from within Park. This includes (but is not limited to) help with moving, cards, meals, help with moving (again), help with cleaning a new house, local guidance, countless invitations, kind and encouraging words … I could go on. In other words, Park Church has welcomed us as if we were family. This experience has been a gift and has reminded me of a deep spiritual truth: all those who are in Christ are family and therefore should live like it.

I’m not sure what feelings arise when you hear the word family. Maybe pleasant. Maybe painful. Perhaps a bit of both. Whatever your family experience has been, one thing remains true or all of us: we all have a deep desire to belong to a healthy family who has love as its center. We instinctively long to know and be known, love and be loved, forgive and be forgiven. It should be no surprise then that family is the most common metaphor the New Testament writings use to describe the people of God (e.g. Galatians 3:26-29). Part of what it means to be the church is to live as God’s family, spiritual brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, grandparents and grandchildren, aunts and uncles (yes, including that weird uncle) – not united by our blood but by his. The church is to be a welcoming family where there’s always room for more at the table. Like all families, every church develops its own patterns of dysfunction. But the vision is clear. And when a church gets a taste of this and begins to live like family, it’s powerful. My experience at Park Church over these last five months has reminded me of this.