Three aspects of healthy community

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15The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—17except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” Genesis 2:15-17

Before the man in the Garden had fully experienced the joy and delight of human community, God set out for him the necessary framework for healthy community: vocation, permission, and prohibition. I appreciate Walter Brueggeman’s identification of these from God’s instructions to Adam.

Vocation: The Lord God placed the man in the Garden to tend and watch over it.

Permission: You may eat freely of every tree in the garden…

Prohibition: Except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

Healthy, life-giving community responds to God by keeping all three of these in tension.

Vocation is meaningful work and purpose. From our rest and relationship with God we discover and live into the callings of work, stewardship, service and contributing.

Permission is freedom, choice, and preference. We give freedom and permission for people and ourselves to discover and partake in the community and this world without condemnation.

Prohibition is the divine establishment of God’s “no” for our good. We maintain a moral boundary to our lives and relationships in which we restrain ourselves and our power in acknowledgement and love of God.

 

Consider these perversions of community

Vocation without permission becomes slavery and legalism.

Permission without prohibition becomes slavery and license.

Prohibition without vocation and permission becomes bondage and despair.

These contraptions of community are toxic and abusive, lacking God’s grace and truth. Each hollows out the soul of a person. Today we live with varying degrees of these depending on the common response to God’s grace and the human conscience. However, in the first human community pictured in the Genesis Two narrative, all three aspects where present for the man and the woman — and in their relationships they were without shame. For a time they lived fully in the gift of God’s “Yes” and “No.”

 

Life outside The Garden with Christ Jesus

Now, we live outside the garden and it seems to take tremendous effort to reestablish vocation, permission and prohibition in our communities. Although I believe the human condition is longing for the fulness of communion with God and each other we are often reluctant and even  resistant to the pathway of love and holiness set before us by Jesus. He is calling us to Himself so we may receive these good gifts through His Spirit today and participate in the redemption of all things. The Gospel changes everything including our response to the needs we posses by design for vocation, permission, and prohibition.

Ephesians 4:17-31 NLT

17With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Mysteries abound when kids are secretaries.

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Yet when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. 7No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. 8But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. 9That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined

what God has prepared for those who love him.”

10But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. 11No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. 12And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.  1 Corinthians 2:6-12
Have you ever had the following experience upon arriving home?

One of the kids says, “Somebody called for you.”

Parent: Who called?

Kid: I’m not sure.

Parent: What’d they say?

Kid: I think, that you should call them back.

Parent: What’s the number?

Kid: I don’t remember.

Parent: Did you write it down?

Kid: No.

Parent: When did they want me to call back?

Kid: I don’t know.

Well maybe you don’t have kids. It could have been a roommate! Before the advent of caller ID and everybody having a personal phone attached to them this was a dead-end conversation. Dead-end conversations — that’s sometimes how people see the journey of getting to know God. But that’s not how the Apostle Paul sees it. He believes the messaging of the Gospel specifically dispels the fog regarding God and His intentions. God hasn’t called on you with the Gospel in order to create confusion. No, God has called on you with the Gospel of Jesus in order to dispel some mysteries and to transform your loves.

The Gospel message is much clearer than our secretarial kids.

Who called? God.

What’d He say? The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is His plan for including people in a relationship of love and and in His long-term plan to redeem Creation.
What do I need to do next? Receive Jesus by faith; He gives His Holy Spirit to help you know the wonderful things He has freely given us.

When? Now.

The Gospel has a very specific view of the work of God. The cross of Jesus stood upon terraferma in a specific period of history in order to reveal and make a way for people into the King’s mission. The Gospel is the message and Jesus’ people are now the agents of His message: God is doing something good on your behalf; he is preparing something good for you who love Him. The journey now with the Holy Spirit is to live from and into the good He is giving us.

Ah, Dear world, here’s the challenge for me and even for the church: sometimes I still feel like a kid trying to convey the message. I may not be clear. My lack of skills and the imperfections of my life may create confusion. I’m just a kid secretary, still growing up! And sometimes I struggle to find the words to describe the love, joy, peace, change and hope I have found in Him. But I’m trying. So I go back to the Gospel message. And I know its not all up to me. Its a good thing God is giving His Holy Spirit to help you… and to help me! Of this I’m sure: ’till Jesus Christ returns, God is going to keep calling on people through His Gospel and His Spirit!

The wisdom of weakness when it comes to winning hearts to Jesus.

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1When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. 2For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. 3I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. 4And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. 5I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.  1 Corinthians 2:1-5

To be sure the Apostle Paul was not a pushover. Nor was he easily swayed from the King’s mission. Paul was trained in the rhetorical conventions of his day and he was capable of entering into the fray without paralyzing fear regarding the emotional discomfort of others. So why did Paul intentionally enter the arenas of Corinth’s intellectual and social conversation with weakness?

The Gospel of Jesus creates a counter-cultural impulse. While the best and most noble virtues of a society may bend people toward the Gospel, there are also prized postures toward life that run counter to the Gospel, create a false gospel, and might be confused with the Gospel. I think Paul choose weakness because he was responding to to the counter-cultural impulse of Jesus as he brought the Gospel to the people of Corinth.

They valued strength. They valued flowery speech. They loved their big personalities and the opportunity to take sides. Those were the trappings of their human wisdom. Paul was capable of delivering all three… and it would not have honoured Christ and the Gospel.

So Paul made himself smaller that Christ could be greater. He came with weakness — timid and trembling. He talked with them plainly. He was very conscious of relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to move the hearts of people. He was looking for the power of God to inspire trust in God. He would not use fear or a form of personalized competition with other voices or logisticians to bring people to “his side.” Instead,  Paul chose dependency on God trusting that He would show up through the grace, truth, and power of the Gospel. This choice shaped his attitude and posture toward the people of Corinth.

Would the Lord have you choose weakness as the pathway to people’s hearts in your community?

If so, what does that look like for you? What adjustments in demeanour are required?

 

Digesting Disappointment

 

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Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Ephesians 4:1-2

When people disappoint us we enter a danger zone for relationships. It’s tempting to turn our disappointed expectations into a blanket statement regarding the person or persons. Here’s how I’ve seen disappointment poison relationships: instead of digesting my own feelings of disappointment, I can label the other person as a disappointment and make them the cause of my pain, totally ignoring the reality of my own expectations as the major player here. That’s a danger zone!

When we view a person as a disappointment we are in danger of loosing love to the grim reaper called pride. We will invoke shame as a weapon and turn to violence of speech or action in order to vindicate ourselves and try to get the other person to make us happy — or go away.

Healthy relationships do have expectations. The Apostle Paul has expectations of the church. He hopes for them to live up to and into the calling they have had from God through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:1). Like him, we do look for each other to live up to the callings of our relationships by keeping commitments and demonstrating value for the person. However if we demand perfection to our expectations will restrict ourselves from love; we will not be able to accept each other in our weakness, warts, and all!

So when I’m disappointed here’s what helps:

1. First admit I’m disappointed and keep it to myself first.

2. Humbly examine my expectations with the Lord. Its here that I have to figure out what story I’m making up about the situation and the person.

3. Resolve to treat the other gently, not as an object for my happiness, but as a person who is deeply loved and valued by God.

4. Explore what kind of adjustments, allowances, or space, I can make for the faults (weaknesses) of the other. As Brene Brown’s husband Steve says in, Rising Strong, “All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.”

Having said that, even in disappointment I can and must determine the scope of my boundaries and gently and firmly reaffirm them. What the Apostle Paul encourages here in verse 2 is that we make allowances for other person’s faults because we love them.

5. And then if need be, discuss the situation with the other person without condemnation, truthing in love. This is the difficult but crucial conversation that must be waded into. But I think the health of our lives and relationships depends on our courage to do so. Digesting disappointment guards the heart against resentment and the many disorders of the soul that accompany such festering pain. Digesting disappointment creates space for us to grow in love.

When it comes to digesting disappointment, what have you found helpful?

Holy Spirit recall.

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Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket.  Proverbs 25:11
I love it when the Holy Spirit brings to mind God’s Word in the moment when I needed it. When I needed encouragement or correction, guidance or wisdom, God’s Word was brought to the front of my mind by the Holy Spirit. It’s a golden word for me, of immense value, and life-giving.

Spiritual formation takes place over time. The formatting of my mind by the Gospel is a work of the Spirit to which we are called. In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul exhorts his listeners to cooperate with the Spirit of God:

1And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  2Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.  Romans 12:1-2

 

You can be a part of the Holy Spirit’s work by memorizing and meditating on Scripture . Psalm 119 is a celebration of God’s gift of His Word and there the Psalmist joyfully declares, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Holy Spirit recall occurs when you have His Word in your mind available for the right, apt, moment.

Want to get started on memorizing Scripture?

Here’s a set of verses organized around the acrostic, G.L.O.R.I.F.Y.T.H.E.L.O.R.D., to help you get started.