Better Together

One person could be overpowered. But two people can stand up for themselves. And a rope made out of three cords isn’t easily broken.”

Ecclesiastes 4:12

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of unity and community. As people, we are intrinsically tied to others. We have a craving for human interaction and seek it out in different avenues. Even for introverts like myself, it’s great to have alone time, but having coffee with a friend is so life giving. We need each other, we crave being connected to others around us, but something is wrong. We begin to fight two struggles, we lack community and unity. We push people away because we’re afraid of them hurting us or us hurting them. We live in a world where people are divided based on perpetrated stereotypes of race. We believe we are better than others or think others are better than us. We are in a fight. We are in a fight for our connection to others, and we fight it because we have an enemy that doesn’t want us to live in freedom.

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For Our Neighbors

It’s here! Christmas time is among us (Though for many of you it began as soon as your Jack-o-lantern went out). I really love this season, not simply for all the cold air and the smell of cinnamon that seemingly is everywhere (how does that even happen?). I love it because it’s a season of caring, at least for me it always has been. Christmas has never been a specific day for me. My family was in Wisconsin so we would celebrate several Christmas days, but what I learned is that Christmas is so much more than the day (or about a creepy man who reverse robs you), it was about giving back. Reaching out and being intentional with others. I really love giving gifts, not big expensive and crazy things, simply things that are meaningful. Last year though, my mom executed this perfectly. She gave my dad, sister, my brother-in-law, Danielle, and myself gifts that really spoke to me. They weren’t insane or wild, simply intentional gifts that poured into us. That got me thinking about this Christmas season, and what I want to do this month. I want to talk about intentionality. I want to talk about being purposeful with the people around us, because we are called to love our neighbors.

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Misfit Culture

“But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

1 Corinthians 12:24-26

I’ve been thinking a lot about people recently. Not in a sense of, oh yeah there are other people around me, but more of the fact that there are so many different people all around me. We live in a world where we can have many hobbies, come from different walks of life, and lived through all kinds of events. We are different people that crave community. No one likes to be alone, and no one likes to feel pushed away, yet recently in the climate of our culture we grow secluded and push others based on stupid differences. I have been wanting to write about misfits in community since I did the Misfit series a couple months back, but I couldn’t quite figure out how to say it. Then this past week, a couple of events sparked the words and God spoke to me about some things that are vital in the upcoming season for all of us.

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Misfit: Live in Community

I’ve really loved doing this series the past few weeks. I felt like God wanted me to speak to the misfits like me, people who feel like they don’t fit in, but have been made with purpose unlike anything else. I started writing it when I was dealing with my own fears and thoughts about feeling like I didn’t fit in with people. During this time, I felt like God wanted me to start reading through the first couple of books in the new testament, primarily focusing on the misfits that surrounded Jesus. What I saw was how people who never fit in were used, and they ushered in the church and spreading the gospel. It is quite an amazing thing to see, and it culminated in this last post which I am writing now. I want to talk about being a misfit in community with other misfits. The thing that’s hard about feeling like you don’t fit in, is the fact that many of us stop there and begin to believe there’s no place for us. The truth is, we can come together as misfits and be in community together, because when we do this, we become the church.

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It’s Dangerous to Go Alone

Well, the season has finally come. Fall is here! That means sweaters and hoodies, new TV shows are back, my birthday (shouts out to October 7th, yo), and Halloween to kick off the holiday season. I love this time of the year, maybe it’s due to the break of the heat, or maybe it’s something else. I often get a sense of spiritual refreshment during this season, new ideas and new adventures to undertake. Last year I did a series that related to classic b-movie themes to celebrate the Halloween spirit and reveal spiritual truths in silly movies. I want to do the same this year, but I want to be more focused. You see, recently I have been feeling spiritual attack. The enemy has been throwing storms my way, and through some difficult decisions I’ve made, I’ve had to persevere through some hurtful words. I think we all experience this kind of attack, often it means we are moving in the direction that God is calling us towards. We have an enemy, a very real enemy, not just a little red devil we see in cartoons. His plan is to steal, kill, and destroy us; which makes it hard for us to pursue God when we are attacked. We need a plan, a battle plan, one that we can turn to in moments of spiritual attack. This month I want to have a series based on this, each week giving a new piece to the battle plan for your life. So join me as we create our plan of attack.

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Renewable Energy

We’re tired. Running around all the time, not standing still longer than a three minute video on your Facebook feed, and spending so much time pouring into others that we forget to fill ourselves. You see we all get tired. As leaders this can be dangerous, we have a duty, a responsibility towards those we lead to guide them. In your personal life, physical rest is vital to simply functioning as normal people. In our social lives it can make us not enjoy the moments in front of us. So, what do we do? The past two weeks I have been tired, but I found a source of renewable energy. Now before I continue, yes the title of this post may be a little deceiving. So if you came here thinking this was about the hot topic issue of finding renewable resources, hehe, I’m talking today about renewed energy that comes from Christ. The past two weeks I have been on a high school camp one week, and the next on an Elementary camp. After the camps I took a journey up to Virginia to see my brother-in-law graduate, and then participate on serve day with our church. It was a lot, I’m still catching up on sleep (ish). The past two weeks have been incredible and God has taught me so much in the midst of physical tiredness. In that mindset of needing energy each day, I had to come each morning and ask God to give me all that I need for that day to lead and serve others the way he wants me to. You see, God gives us all that we need when we abide in him, he is the source of our renewable energy.

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Family Factor

We are not made to be alone. This is a truth that God said about us in the very beginning. “It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18a).” That’s pretty straight forward, something I love about the teachings within the bible, simple ideas that radically change lives. I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, the idea that we are not made to be alone, and because of that, God gives us a family. This then lead me to think about what exactly a family is. Sure one way to view it could be your direct biological family, but I think there is more to it than that. One of the best definitions of family that I found while researching this idea was simply this, a person or people related to one and so to be treated with a special loyalty or intimacy. To be treated with special loyalty or intimacy. How powerful is that? Family is a factor that each of us needs in our lives, a community that is loyal to each other and can be there for us in times of need. The traditional idea of what a family is has changed. I used to think of the Norman Rockwell Freedom from Want painting, the one of the turkey dinner, all the family gathered around with big smiles. This simply isn’t the same, family goes through hard times. Families aren’t all white picket fence home owners, we are unique and different. We have families of divorce, children who have been victims of abuse, families that have experienced the death of a spouse, homes being combined after parents re-marry, and countless other looks of family. My family has stayed together, but we have seen what addiction can cause within the family and the death of grandparents. In these hard times of family it can be hard to see the essential factor in family, but family is so much more, and there is always hope when God is a centerpiece in your life.

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Altered State of Mind

Last week I talked about making a very important choice, a choice that will affect the rest of your life, but what happens afterwards? How do I go about living my life? So often we are able to make the choice, but we continue to live our lives as they were. This isn’t me saying we should all become hermit people only reading the bible every moment of the day, not a bad thing just basically impossible if you have to drive and interact with people, what I am saying is that we become changed people. A relationship with God isn’t some checklist to complete, that isn’t a relationship. We are in relationship with so many people, friends, family, co-workers; but the most important relationship we have is with our creator. When we spend time with these people in our life, we make an effort to connect with them, that’s what God wants for us. When we make the effort to connect with him, our outlook is altered.

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We Are Never Alone

This past Sunday evening, and student from my small group gave a message on the idea that we are not alone because God is always with us. I loved this topic because it’s such a true statement and an idea that I have faced and I think many have faced as well. This feeling of loneliness that plagues so many. It’s not the idea of being alone, because we can’t be around everyone all the time, the closest to that you can get is having a spouse, but that’s not what this idea is about. It’s an empty feeling, one that makes it seem like there is no one around to talk to, no way to open up about what we are feeling. It’s not only a horrible feeling, but a dangerous trap. Isolation is the word that best describes this lonely feeling because it encompasses the problems that can arise. Isolation leads to a blocking out of outsides voices trying to guide you. What happens is we fall into a downward spiral of chaos and cause us to sin, and be trapped with no way of escaping. This is a pretty heavy idea, but it’s one that needs to be brought to light for those who are feeling alone or have fallen into complete isolation, and it needs to be brought to light for one simple idea and that is that we are never alone.

Joshua 1:9 says, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” This I a simple statement from the Lord to Joshua, because Joshua felt alone. He was a man tasked with a job of leading the people of Israel after Moses passed away. He was left to guide hundreds of people, to lead them through the dessert as well as guide them in actions that were pleasing to the Lord. He was scared, he felt like he could not make it, yet God spoke to him and said that He was with Joshua wherever he went and through whatever he did. This passage in scripture has been a comforting piece for me especially. There have been many times where I have felt unable to keep going, when life gets hard and I feel alone, I want to quit. Yet over and over I am reminded of the fact that I am never alone. I struggle with this loneliness, I understand feeling like there is no one around you to help, but this myth is a lie from the enemy. When I feel this creep up around me, I turn to the one I put my trust in. It didn’t begin this way, it took me a long time to realize the importance of knowing that God is always there and that we need to seek out community. Today I’d like to share three of those discoveries that I have come to that have helped me overcome isolation.

God is with us in the darkness.

In all situations God is with us, this is the message my student Chris spoke about on Sunday. It is the key to begin this journey out of a life of isolation. When we feel like no one is with us, we don’t see the point in moving towards community with others, the darkness in our life begins to consume all that we are. Once we realize that we have an all-powerful God in our corner, we can rise up out of the darkness and fight back. It gives us the confidence to say that we can make it. When Joshua realized that God was with him, he rose up and knew that he could lead the people. Not by his strength alone, but with the strength of God.

We were not made to be alone.

God is always with us, but at the same time we cannot stay in that place. Back in high school I knew that God was with me, but I didn’t want to make any effort into looking for a community. I had been made fun of and that made it hard for me to want to get close to anyone else, I was still isolated. One of the best things for me, and I’ve talked about this before, my High school small group allowed me to be with others who were like me and who were willing to be open about their lives. I was no longer afraid of what people would say because I had a group that could guide me. They helped me to no longer fear what anyone would say. I knew that God was with me and I had a community of guys that helped me take on whatever was thrown at me.

We are better together.  

As you may know by the name of my blog, I love comic books, and one of the biggest life lessons that I have learned by reading comic books is the fact that we are better together. So many stories have a hero who finds themselves with a great power and learns how to use it to help others. They have a mentor and a close cycle of people they trust and rely on to be accountable and get better. Then they face an evil that is too big to defeat on their own, then they find a team, whether it’s the avengers, x-men, or any other team, they unite and win. I just described every superhero story ever to you, and guess what? It’s not just a story. In life we find a passion that we pursue, we seek a mentor who is wise and helps us. Then we cling to a community of like-minded people to grow together and encourage one another. A problem that happens is that we forget to take that final leap, and when we run into a bigger struggle, we fall away, when all we need to do is run to that team of skilled people. Once I joined Daystar I felt as if I had just joined a mission that was bigger than me, but still wanted me because they saw that not only I but everyone is important to the body of Christ. I began to serve, I helped others that were new to the Church, and we become a stronger force when come together. My struggle with isolation diminished, because I had a community that would love and help me no matter what I faced.

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I hope today you have realized that not only are you never alone, but you have a bigger purpose than to be trapped in isolation. It may seem like there is nowhere to go, believe me when I say that I understand, know that there is a way to be free. Just like God told Joshua that he was with him, God is with you. Find community, build a trust with them, and realize you are made for more in this world. I have seen the effects of isolation, and I have seen friends that were close to me never break free, believe me when I say this. No matter what is happening in your life, you can find freedom, you just need to grab hold of it.

Thanks for reading, where do you find life giving community? I’d love to hear from those who are reading these. Feel free to comment and share your thoughts.

-Joshua Thomas

The Value of Community

Life is hard. We go through some of the toughest trials imaginable, whether it be a loss of someone close to us, heart ache from the hurt others have done to us, a lack of vision over our lives; we have all been through these. Sometimes it is hard to understand how to get through it all. This caused me to think about one important element in my own life and walk with the Lord, community. As humans, we are built to crave community, without it, we physically and emotionally cannot grow. This then led me to ask myself, why is community such an important element to not only our physical well-being, but also to our spiritual walk? To be honest, I have never really looked at the reasons why it is so beneficial, I only knew that I like to be in community with others. Sounds funny right? How can I enjoy community and not know the reason why we need it. As I was thinking about this, I searched for scripture that deals with this idea. Two verses kept coming back and was a perfect of picture of what community is. Hebrews 10: 24- 25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” As well as Proverbs 27:17, which says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” While praying over these verses, I believe there are three reasons why community is so vital to our journey in Christ.

Community increases our individual growth.

In my walk with Christ, small groups played an enormous role in my life. Back in my ninth grade, I felt outcast. My old church was not a healthy growth place for me, and yet I did not seek to change. When my parents first went to Daystar, I wanted nothing to do with any of it, I was done with youth groups. One day my mom told me that a youth small group was going to be at my house, and that I would be at it. I didn’t want to be there, but I was forced (I know, forced to be at a small group that would change my life, oh woe is me). The first night was incredible, it was the first time I had been able to talk to people that were real in their faith, they didn’t wear masks to save face, they were open and honest about their struggles. I was changed forever. After that evening I kept going, got involved with serving, made friends who I will love for the rest of my life. I now serve with the next generation in elementary and high school, I intern with the youth ministry, and I truly own my faith. I say all of this to show how that community was the catalyst for my spiritual growth, and without it, I don’t even know where I would be. That line in Hebrews says how we spur each other on, I am now able to help others grow in their walks and create life change. I am so thankful for community.

Community increases encouragement.

For myself, and most likely many of you, I need encouragement. As I said earlier, life gets hard, and people say words that can cut us to our core. Whether it is said as a joke, a sarcastic comment, or a purely malice deed, words hurt us. People don’t realize the power of the tongue, and people act carelessly with that power. This is why we need a community that gives encouragement. I am so thankful for my family, they have always supported me through the toughest times in my life. My parents will always listen and speak life giving advice and encouragement that helps me grow and be wise in my walk. I am so thankful for that, I love them for their words. I have been around “friends” that just speak death, and maybe you have these people in your life and are thinking of them now. My advice on that is, get rid of them. Show these people love, but don’t invest in them if all you receive is hurt and pain. Surround yourself with a community that provides support and encouragement. Trust me, you will live with so much more joy. This is the importance of the last line in Hebrews, find people that you can receive encouragement from.

Community gives wisdom that you can give to others.

I want to state the verse in Proverbs again, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” That verse sums up the final aspect of community. As you grow and receive encouragement, which is the sharpening of iron. The second, states that so one person sharpens another. That person is you. That person is me. We aren’t made to just receive and receive over and over, we are to give back to those in community around us! Our human nature is to be selfish, but Christ tells us to live selfless lives. Share with those around you, speak to those you care about. Earlier I talked about how I was in a small group that changed my life forever, and now as time has passed and I have graduated, I lead a small group. I want my students to see how valuable they are in life, how they should run after their dreams, and pursue Christ in everything they do. I do this because I was told these same things, and I am so grateful for that! Speak life to those around you, I always try to encourage my family because they continually encourage me. I want to be careful with my tongue because I know what it feels like to be told by others that you aren’t worth it, or that you will never reach your dreams. Those are lies, the truth is that we are children of the one true God, and we should act like that towards everyone. Sharpen others just as you have been sharpened.

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This is the picture of that first small group that I was in, some weren’t in this picture, but these were the people who first taught me about community. I hope you see just how vital community plays a role in our lives. Not only do we need it in order to grow in our own spiritual journey, but we need to be intentional about those who we are in community with. We shouldn’t just receive, but give because we have been poured into so much. A simple conversation could change a person for the rest of their life. That is the value of community, community is the place where people are loved, where people find peace in their trials, and where people find wisdom from the people that care about them. Be intentional about your community, speak life to those around you, encourage one another, and sharpen those around you.

-Joshua Thomas