Last month, on January 6, 2015, my dad died peacefully in his sleep after a seven year struggle with dementia. His was a life well lived, in service to the King of Kings and His Kingdom.
This is a blog I first wrote a couple of years ago about my parents. I am re-posting it as my tribute to him and the legacy he leaves behind.
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The last several years have been a wonderful journey of seeing folks come to the Lord and fellowships emerge in highly improbable places. In my own life, the roots for this go back to my dad and mom, Bob and Mary Jane Wright.
In the 1970s and 80’s, the Lord used them as pioneers in what we’d now call simple “organic” church – before that term became popular (even though today, unfortunately, it can mean nearly anything).
Forty years ago, they helped birth a regional network of open, participatory fellowships in Maryland, where people could find and express the vibrant life of Christ in dynamic gatherings as everyone ministered one to another – rather than having directed, scripted meetings.
Often, we gathered in living rooms, shared meals as we shared Christ with each other, and sat in circles to encourage and minister one to another. We didn’t worry about being led by a “worship band” or some “professional clergy”, as anyone could start a song, pray, share a teaching, give a testimony, ask a question, or otherwise participate as part of the whole Body of Christ – just like we are told to do in the New Testament.
Rather than being directed pew sitters in a scripted “service”, we learned to let the vibrant life of Christ flow through us – each and every one.
We didn’t “go to church” to encounter Christ, but were the church as we expressed Christ one to another and to a waiting world. And by so doing, many became strong in the Lord and made a difference in each others’ lives and in the lives of our surrounding communities.
From my parents, we learned the importance of letting Christ transform each of us into His vibrantly diverse image, rather than trying to conform Christ (or each other) to my image – my traditions, my needs, my will and my biases.
By so doing, they taught us – slowly but surely – that Christ in me is the foundation for expressing Christ among us so that we then can outwardly express Christ through us to a needy, waiting world.
They also showed me that you can’t successfully introduce folks on the fringes of society to a Jesus who looks just like you – especially when you’re a middle class suburbanite like me!
Rather, we have to step outside our comfort zones as we go and encounter people in their messy lives and mixed up world – rather than insist that they “come” and met us in our world.
Yet many Christians only know a Jesus who looks like them – and attend churches that want everyone to come find a Jesus just like them – because a Jesus created in their own image validates their own wants, needs, hurts and insecurities.
I learned from my parents, however, that Jesus in us – when He is the real Jesus – breaks out of our comfort zones to shine forth and draw others through us to Himself.
We then can touch the lives of people we never would have reached before, because Jesus – when authentic – allows us to affirm our shared common humanity while also embracing the diversity between us.
Understand this, and there’s no need for church programs, grand visions and finely-honed methods – because evangelism, discipleship and fellowship just naturally sort of happen.
If they aren’t happening among you, then your church likely doesn’t have the authentic Jesus.
I learned this, too, from my parents.
My parents weren’t hip. They were white, middle class, suburban Republicans. My dad was a highly decorated naval commander and pilot, who flew and lost friends in Vietnam. My mom was a supportive, stay-at-home wife.
But they loved Jesus, and they were willing to step outside their comfort zones – time and time again.
When I was growing up, Christ in them – expressed as unconditional love and transforming truth – was always attracting hardship cases who’d come live with us while putting their lives back together.
Often, I’d wake up in the morning having no idea who’d be sharing the bathroom with me. Frequently, it was someone they took in the night before, recovering from drugs, abuse, the street or a broken family.
Because of my parents, many of those hardship cases are now pillars of the faith who are serving the Lord – and continuing to step outside their comfort zones – literally around the world.
It took decades to fully appreciate how revolutionary my parents were, and to truly understand the price they willingly paid for laying aside their lives, and their comfort zones, to birth many into the Kingdom of God.
Likewise, much of what God’s been doing among our small, understated and often unseen fellowships here in Virginia also springs from those roots.
Maryland seems like a distant memory, and my parents now are in their seventies. But they are part of our fellowships and the Lord is still using them.
My mom in particular (my dad now has dementia, but is finding grace as he is lovingly embraced by those in our fellowships) is quietly reproducing Christ in the lives of a new generation of men and women – in powerful but self-sacrificing ways.
Because of my parents, many lives are still being redeemed.
Christ in us, among us and through us.
Our roots run deep.
~ Jim Wright