Posts Tagged ‘community’

Hope and patience are partners. They are the ones who sit with us when we are waiting for the change to come. Hope implies change.

Romans 8:24-25
For in [this] hope we were saved. But hope [the object of] which is seen is not hope. For how can one hope for what he already sees? But if we hope for what is still unseen by us, we wait for it with patience and composure.

Chapter 8 of Romans is really quite mystical as Paul deliberates on all of creation waiting for the ultimate redemption when humans become like Jesus, when humans become complete and our own triune natures become truly One. How else would it be possible for the lion to eat with the lamb and “. . . they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” [Isaiah 11:9]

How else can we wait but in patience? We cannot make this happen. We can only do our small part in this age of transformation: give ourselves fully to the hope and walk today in faith.

In the Cursillo communities, they say our Christian walk is supported by a three-legged stool: piety (prayer), study (word), and action (works). I believe this too. But before, these three can take root, one must be sure that three other legs are in place: faith, hope, and love.

Piety, study, and action are disciplines and should be natural outgrowths of our faith and love. Our strength to persevere comes from our hope. It’s active waiting.

I choose to walk and wait in hope this day. Keep me mindful. Keep me in the moment.

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There’s probably not a pastor or Christian fund raiser who hasn’t used the phrase, “it is more blessed to give than receive,” but it seems everyone has focused on the monetary piece of this and missed some other crucial possibilities. Giving is not limited to dollars and cents.

Acts 20:35
In everything I [Paul] did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ “

To be honest, I can’t even find a place where Jesus actually said this phrase in the gospels. That’s a bit problematic for me but for argument’s sake, let’s assume Paul wouldn’t make that part up.

But what else is he saying? I hear him emphasize the importance of hard work and how he and his followers met their own needs and still had enough to also meet some of the needs of others.

Paul gave what he had and in this case, I’m thinking it was his strength, his knowledge, his dauntless faith, as well as the fruit of his labors. As a former Pharisee, he was probably a good student. He knew what it meant to study and then to teach. He was smart. He was committed. He was zealous. When he became a follower of Jesus, he practiced and worked as a tent maker. He worked.

In Paul’s time, some people could not work. Some people were sick (both physically & mentally) and could not help themselves. Widows and orphans were alone in the world and needed support. People were caught in the cycle and web of poverty and despair. Any different from today?

Paul believed that those who can work, must work and share with those who cannot. But, again, it’s not just the money, it’s the work itself… the labor, the strength to do what must be done.

I am a high energy person. I know this. I can usually get a lot done in a day. My parents, my mother in particular, brought me up with a strong work ethic. I have worked at some kind of a paying job since I was fourteen when I lied about my age and washed test tubes and urine bottles in a medical lab (back in the day). Since then, I have been a candy salesman, a waitress (several times over), a bookkeeper, a bartender, a filing clerk, an office temp, a secretary, an administrative assistant, a toy salesman, a Realtor, a teacher, an actress, a model, a spokesperson, a mascot, a director, a playwright, a magazine writer, a director of a nonprofit agency, a manager of a dance company, a manager of a theater company, a speaker, a trainer, a photographer, an entrepreneur, a web master, a librarian, and a branch manager.

But work is not just physical labor, there is also the work of my mind and my spirit. Writing is work. Speaking is work. Thinking is work. Planning is work. Problem solving is work.

And then there are other non-paying jobs like washing dishes, mowing a lawn, cleaning a house, photographing an event, planting a garden, driving a car, cooking a meal, and raising children.

If I am capable of doing any of this work, then I am capable of giving from the fruit of this work (money) or I can give the work itself. There is even more power in giving my self and my time. I can be present. My spirit, my time, my strength, and my energy are probably my most precious commodities… even more so than the dollars I make with my knowledge and labor.

Yes, it is more blessed to give… of oneself… that to receive… of another. Here I am Lord, send me [Isaiah 6:8].

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Acts 19:9a
But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way…

“The Way” is an old term that appears several times in the New Testament referring to following Jesus (way of Truth, way of righteousness, etc.). It’s a simple phrase that speaks powerfully of direction. If someone says to me, “here’s the way,” I understand it’s a type of revelation or discovery of the path that will lead me to the right end point. Either this “way” has to be clearly marked (like a trail in the woods) or a leader needs to show the way. And if I come to a fork in the road, I must determine or decide, “which way” is best or shorter or more scenic or safer.

Some of the post-moderns and emergents have adopted this term, describing their faith as “the way of Jesus.” This, they use, as an alternative to “Christian,” which now seems to carry a lot of extra baggage that is not necessarily related to following Jesus alone, e.g. political, economic, and social assumptions.

I also like the phrase because it reminds me that I am on a journey. Following the Christ is a process, a way of living, a string of encounters and learning. I think some Christians do a disservice to new believers by putting so much emphasis on the destination (heaven) and not enough emphasis on the path itself.

Being on the Way with Jesus is an adventure. I have never appreciated that truth as much as I have in the last few years. It makes so much more sense to invite people to join me on this exploration, to walk with me and run with me and discover with me what it means and what it takes to stay on the path together. And if there are “lions and tigers and bears” along the way, we can do battle side by side. And if one grows weary and falls, the other can lift her up. And if one becomes ill, the other can stay alongside until help comes. And if one is blind, the other can see. And if one becomes discouraged and tries to turn back or take another path, the other can say, “Come, this Way.”

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Act 4:32
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.

This line makes a lot of people uncomfortable. They go to a lot of trouble to explain it away (that was then, this is now). Others go off and start communes and do their best to live in community. In some cases, these communities are successful, but most are not. There has been a resurgence of interest in communal living through the growth of the emergent movement and the next generation of believers.

In any event, it is clear that in New Testament time, that time after Jesus’ resurrection, living and sharing and being of one heart and mind was the norm. This is what people wanted to do. I don’t believe it was mandated, it just happened. It evolved from that moment in their lives. The message of the time was simple: Jesus Christ, the son of God, died on the cross and was raised up. They expected him to return soon as well.

But, in the same way that Jesus was not the Messiah everyone expected, he didn’t return within anyone’s timeline either. At this point in the story, there were upwards to 5,000 believers. What did that look like? How did they really operate in one heart and mind? How did they really live “in community?”

Being in one heart and mind is not easy. There must be trust, sacrifice, compromise, flexibility, cooperation, and love. There must be a rallying point… something everyone can agree upon.

I think it’s our first priority in any relationship: find the parallel. Look for the sphere of agreement, the commonality before addressing any of the differences. With every relationship, there will always be at least one congruence. Let’s start there.

Shakespeare’s Shylock said it most ably:

I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die?

Perhaps the person is saying: I am a Muslim. I am an African. I am poor. I am gay. I am physically challenged. I am old. I am alone.

Today, I seek oneness in heart and mind.

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John 18:12a; 15a
From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar…” …they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

Once you get a crowd started, it’s pretty hard to change its direction. Once it gets hold of a picture or a phrase, it’s next to impossible to replace with another. The phrase or picture becomes some kind of mantra and repetition breeds crowd think.

Even if Pilate had released Jesus (which he thought he could control [see vs 10]), the crowd would have carried out their judgment in one way or another. Jesus became, for the crowd, a scapegoat.

This kind of crowd think is still happening today. There are influential people who can get a crowd going with just a few buzz words or volatile images. This week, there was a huge brouhaha over the education speech President Obama offered to all schools around the country as a live feed. The reaction to this proposal was fueled by words like “brainwashing” and “socialism.” Once those words were out there, the crowd (particularly the virtual one) could not be turned.

Crowds can be manipulated for good or for evil. It just depends who gets hold of them first. In previous generations, this work was done in person: a charismatic leader would speak and arouse a crowd’s sentiments. Today, this kindling of emotions is done on the Internet and by email. It’s a stampede of messages.

Once a crowd is on the “march,” it’s only violence or time that can break through the din. This kind of crowd cannot hear logic or respond to pleading. Either the pushback is of equal intensity (think of demonstrations) or the intensity peters out because it cannot sustain itself over time.

I imagine there were a lot of people who regretted their participation in the crowd think that called for the crucifixion of Jesus. We should also take care that we aren’t getting caught up in crowd think.

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Psalm 24:1; John 17:6a
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it…
“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me…” [Jesus]

This “belonging” business is not easy for those of us from a contemporary culture. First of all, there’s the negative side of belonging advanced by slavery and other human trafficking. That idea doesn’t sit well with us: someone owning another person. Nor is there any appeal for being treated as a trading card, traded up or down. Actually, most teen angst is centered around belonging … or rather, not belonging to a particular group or clique.

Fortunately, there’s the nicer side of belonging, like belonging to a family, a club, a church, a neighborhood, a team, or a community. Then, we may feel a lot cozier and comfortable with the notion. Or talk to any two young lovers and they’ll happily embrace the idea of belonging to one another.

The concept of belonging or not belonging can be powerful stuff.

But I’m thinking these verses from John 17 are more inclusive, particularly when combined with Psalm 24. Everything and everyone belongs to God who gave this kingdom to Jesus with the mandate of bringing the people of Earth back to God. Earlier in the chapter [vs 4], Jesus said he accomplished this task. The transfer of power has been completed. The turnabout began back then. The next part of the story is ours… receiving what Jesus offers and integrating the truth of Jesus into our lives.

In verse 10, Jesus says again that everything that God has is His and everything that Jesus has is God’s. But the same is true for us. Everything that Jesus has can be ours and vice versa. We belong to Him already.

To resist Jesus is like saying we don’t want to be human anymore. But we belong to each other too. Let’s start acting like it.

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John 14:18
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”

I suppose, since my husband and I adopted our three children and we are engaged with the orphan care ministries in our church (where the body supports at least two orphanages in Africa and more than 70 families have adopted children both domestically and internationally), I am particularly sensitized to the term ‘orphan’ whenever it appears in scripture.

In James 1:27, he emphasizes the importance of caring for orphans and widows. They are a special lot who require our attention and care. In ancient times, orphans and widows were classless since they were totally dependent on the “kindness of strangers” or extended family. And really, have things changed so very much?

Orphaned children continue to be a tragedy in our culture today. In some parts of the world, the numbers are staggering. In Sub-Saharan Africa where community and the family are the norm, children are not just orphaned by parents, but also by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The adults in their lives are dying every day.

Jesus promises his disciples (and ultimately us) that He will not leave us as orphans: it is a huge promise. He is promising a relationship that will meet our needs… physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Either he lied or He’s doing that today.

But we’re missing it. The orphans of our world have not been able to depend on us. As a result, they learn to “fend for themselves.” They learn it is not safe to trust those around them. They learn to manipulate the system.

On some days, I can see myself in this self-sustaining orphan attitude. I have judged my adoptive parent, Jesus, as lacking somehow, not giving me what I want or when I want it. Forgive me.

I will rest today in the arms of my “family,” adopted, not just be Jesus, but the community of Jesus.

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