Three aspects of healthy community

city

 

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.

The matters of giving and receiving.

Two Sides

13For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. 14Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.  Philippians 4:13-14

So many Christians have memorized Philippians 4:13. Especially in the West we seem to love this verse. It gives us hope. It calls us to persevere through difficulty with Jesus. And that is exactly what Paul has to say. Much of our obedience to Jesus as Christian leaders requires us to enter periods of plenty or periods of hardship with a sense that it is “me and Jesus.”

But this verse is not meant to be a triumphal declaration for individualistic Christianity. I’m afraid we may use the verse to condition a hyper-individualistic expression of the motto, “Its just me and Jesus.” Paul is actually setting his struggle in the context of community. He knows Jesus is sufficient. Paul also knows Jesus calls His people into a life of service to each other to share in the troubles of others. The NIV translates verse 14 this way, “Yet, it was good of you to share in my troubles.”

Our experience of pain is truly our own. Pain is subjective. However, while our experience of troubles may at times seem to be just about “me and Jesus,” we are still meant to be a person in community. Paul knows the Philippian congregation cares about him. In fact, he accounts in verses 15-16 that they were the first to support him financially when he set out to Macedonia. Support through difficulty can be received when you are a person in community. Paul describes it as the matters of “giving and receiving.” The exchange the Spirit of God brings to the community of Jesus is not just of money, but is also of encouragement, a listening ear, exhortation, prayer, prophetic words, comfort, songs, Scripture, and sacrificial service.

Are you taking the time to make connections in your church?
Are you entering into the graceful exchange of giving and receiving?

Now we believe too. Authentic Fellowship, Part 1

IMG_7047

39Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”  John 4:39-42

What makes us think it, “These folks are so fake?”

What makes us feel it? “These people are so fake!”

Welcome to the realm of what its like to be the only one being real. Ha! Anytime we drop in on a group that knows each other and seems to have its own language, we can only make judgments. The critical spirit is easy and cheap. In my experience its mostly about me not knowing the stories and therefore the values of this crowd. They seem so different and unavailable to me.

That’s when I’m busy making assumptions about the levels of emotion being or not being expressed in their language and bodies.

So, what’s authentic fellowship?

The church has been endowed with this funny word that we typically don’t use in public conversations. Fellowship. Its the Greek word, koinonia, “the share that one has in anything, participation; contact, fellowship, intimacy” (Thayers Greek Lexicon).

For the Christian koinonia, begins with Jesus bringing us into the communion of God through the grace of forgiveness and the common confession, “Jesus is Lord.” Now through the Spirit of God we are connected and have a share in Him and His Kingdom. We have been summoned into a life together in which we are being changed by Him.

This is why our stories are so important. In most large public gatherings of Jesus’ “church” we are not getting to hear the story of our neighbour. They may look pretty good, cleaned up, and having it all together at that hour. They may look like someone who never really needed Jesus. But you don’t know… till you know their story. Authentic churches keep making spaces where people can share their story of being touched by Jesus.

Your story breeds authentic fellowship.

“It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:42

Community that heals

IMG_7572 - Version 2

11Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, 12and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, 13so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.   1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

I’m impressed at how Paul and his friends longed to be with the churches of Jesus. Paul’s prayer here shows Christian community is not a natural affection or brotherhood. Rather it is a gift of the Gospel through Jesus. As our hearts are turned towards Him, as our hearts are healed and brought into real holiness before God, we are drawn forward into His character together.

Many of us long for community but are unwilling to do what it actually takes. Adjusting is painful and requires honesty, forgiveness, rootedness, servanthood,

and time.

Bastille, sings, of the longing for healing in community:

When all of your flaws and all of my flaws

Are laid out one by one

A wonderful part of the mess that we made

We pick ourselves undone

All of your flaws and all of my flaws

They lie there hand in hand

Ones we’ve inherited, ones that we learned

They pass from man to man

There’s a hole in my soul

I can’t fill it I can’t fill it

There’s a hole in my soul

Can you fill it? Can you fill it?

Jesus is filling our souls and healing us. The mystery is that He has also chosen to bring much of that healing in community and not just in a solitary walk.

Listen to Bastille.

Consuming Community

IMG_3088

 

14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh…

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

 

How is your family (organizational) culture today?

Fussy? Filled with fights?

Does jealousy lurk just below the surface?

Do your structures promote pride and leverage selfish ambition?

Community that consumes is common.

 

Such dysfunction abounds when fear, shame, and guilt have their way among us.

 

In Christ Jesus we have been given another way.

 

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Galatian churches, is concerned. He knows what happens when we our old nature runs into the old nature of another person. Unchecked by the Spirit of God, the old natures rises up and shows its conceit, its ungodly joy at provocation, and its festering envy over another’s good fortune. This kind of community is the kind that devours people and spits them out. Its always looking for the top of the pile. Its a consuming community.

The community that consumes has nothing to do with the Spirit of God and the fruit that is borne of a community surrendered to Jesus. Spiritual leadership in Jesus’ name will yearn for and create the environments that seek maturity that displays Jesus’ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Then we will catch glorious glimpses of The Communing Community of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit.