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I have a friend who is working with the International Justice Mission (IJM) this summer. She brought to my attention that IJM has been selcted as a finalist in a national competition of non-profit organizations. This is a great organization that stands in the gap for victims of oppression around the world who are left without an advocate. The $100,000 rewarded to the non-profit that receives the most votes would go a long way for the thousands of victims IJM advocates for.

Help IJM by casting a vote. Go to www.rezoom.com/abetterworld, create an account, and then log in every day until August 10th to cast votes for IJM.

Also, be sure to read Jeff Robinson’s post below.

The conversation continues

This post was written by guest blogger Jeff Robinson… 

People are inherently communal. This is non-negotiable. Wherever people are, they’re trying to do things with other people. And for the most part, isolation is seen as either punishment or as a fool’s idea of independence. The question for those of us wrestling with our humanness in what theologians call the “already but not yet” age, a time in which brokenness is prevalent and redemption is imminent, is how do we “be” (act out) community in such a way that bows only to the King who is coming.

Community happens, and it generally happens among people with a common set of presuppositions. We generally surround ourselves with people like us, and often (sometimes without intention) distance ourselves from those not like us. I’m sure we can all come up with ways we have done this or seen this happen. The ways our presuppositions affect us and our communities aren’t all bad, however I’ve found that true community has to call them into question.

As I’ve been reading the Bible and thinking about community over the past few years, certain passages have stuck out to me. Passages like James 3:13-18 which contrast the wisdom which is common to man and wisdom which is from God. The passage shows the “earthly wisdom” (that which is common to man, sort of like a human default position) to be divisive and self-centered. It also paints the wisdom from above as seeking peace and full of mercy and uses a number of other words which help us see that it is other-focused. As in all wisdom literature, the underlying question is always which way shall you live?

Colossians 3:1-17 is another place where the contrast between the human default and the way things should be is laid out clearly. Paul, the author, is calling the early church to live like those who have been united to Jesus and to imitate him in their interactions with people. There’s a clear command to put to death the broken and sinful, self-centered human default way of living, and a clear command to put on a new way of living. A way that is focused on forgiveness and loving one another as Christ loves us and which sees all of life to be lived to honor God.

In my college years I had opportunity to see community done well and community done not so well. Like I said, people are communal, so when you stick 22 guys on a floor in the dorm, some sort of community will form. After a few months of living with the same guys my junior year, I found that our floor community basically consisted of watching movies, eating junk food, making fun of each other, and procrastinating as much as possible. It took me a while to realize it, but that wasn’t a very healthy community. All of our interactions served our desires to ignore our work and make ourselves feel more important than someone else. I don’t think anyone really felt a strong commitment to the others, and we certainly didn’t go about finding ways to love and forgive each other. While everyone talked about how much they loved the community on our floor, I found myself longing for everything our community lacked.

In the times that I have seen community done well, it has always been intentional and focused. The next year, I found myself among a group of guys that all felt the need for our community to be something more. We were just as broken and sinful as any other group of guys on campus, but we made a point to set our minds on Christ (as Col. 3:1-4) as a group, and walked alongside each other as we wrestled with what it means to put on the new self, and to become more like Jesus. It was really a struggle. None of those things described in Col. 3:10-17 are easily done.

It may seem like a simple lesson, but I keep finding it to be relevant in my life. There are two ways for us to go about living in community in our world. We can either keep to what’s comfortable, the self-centered way that is ultimately unsatisfying, or we can bind ourselves to each other as we seek to be renewed in the image of the Creator-God who bound himself to us. Community must force us to wrestle with our common understandings of how things are in our world and our understanding of who we are. We must confront our past and see what has shaped the way we commune. If we are under a new Lord, if we are part of his new creation, then our community must confront us with these realities and help us to live in them.

The conversation continues… (next week, when I get back from Mexico)

If a guy named Jeff Robinson writes something here on the provocations blog next week, don’t be alarmed.

I gave him permission!

I’m leaving for vacation tomorrow morning. I’ll be back blogging in a week or so. See you then.

The conversation continues…

If sharing life together is foundational to what it means to be human, why is it such a struggle for us? The underlying assumption here is that casual social involvement with one another isn’t the same thing as authentic community. Simply being together – whether with friends at a coffee shop or family members in a home, doesn’t guarantee that true community is happening. We all know what it’s like to participate superficially in community. We gather with others, we spend time with them, but our interaction is shallow. We don’t really know them, and they don’t really know us. Our tendency to build walls that keep others out of our lives seems to contradict our inbuilt desire to do life together. Something has gone wrong. Our ability to participate in community has been compromised. If you ask me, we’re up against something powerful when it comes to forming substantial relationships.

The second act (The Fall) of the biblical drama sheds light on what this something is. Genesis 3 tells the story of the human race falling away from God in rebellion. At this point, life ceases to operate the way it was intended. We enter into a post-Eden world marked by the not the way it’s supposed-to-be-ness of life. Immediately after Adam and Eve rebel against God they turn against each other. We catch a glimpse of this through their practice of blame-shifting. Neither accepts responsibility for what they’ve done. The principle at work here is that a fractured relationship with God results in broken relationships with others. After the Fall, human history is filled with envy, deceit, gossip, disloyalty, distrust, sabotage, murder etc. It might surprise you to learn that all of these vices are found on the pages of the Bible. This is why the biblical story often reads like a soap opera in case you’ve ever wondered. Not that I’ve ever watched a soap opera, but anyway…

The entrance of sin (rebellion against God and his good ways) into the world changes everything. Sin shatters the good thing God had going in creation. A catastrophe has occurred and we find ourselves in the middle of a mess. Ever since the tragic events of the Fall, humans have (consciously and unconsciously) been trying to find the way back to Eden. The following lines from Mo Leverett’s song, Autumn Rain, captures this well:

We are, but exiles from Eden, abandoned.
Banished in Babylon, lost and cold.
Wandering remnants of this ruined race,
Startled and still staring in Adam’s face.

We’re all trying to “cope” with life this side of Eden. We’re trying to figure out what the heck has happened. How do we make sense of our yearning for real community, but also of our deep-seeded resistance towards it? It’s quite the paradox, isn’t it? It’s a paradox, though, if considered in light of the biblical story, points us to the truth of human existence. We’re up against personal bentness as well as the general brokenness of life – a combination that has serious ramifications for our participation in community. This is why I believe the not the way it’s supposed-to-be-ness of life caused by the Fall accounts for why we humans struggle at sharing life together. What do you think?

The conversation continues

“I think it’s because people need to get together.”

This was the explanation given by someone in a local newspaper as to why the crowds grow larger each year at the annual Italian Festival here in Wilmington. It makes sense, doesn’t it? People get together because they need to get together. Living in isolation from others has never been viewed as ideal by most. Someone who is lonely or alienated from others is typically someone we feel sorry for. We humans have always valued being together. We’ve always needed to be part of community somewhere. But why? Why do people need to get together? Is it because we have been conditioned by our environment to live in community with others? Are we simply living out what we have been trained to do all our lives?

I don’t find these explanations very satisfying. My personal need for community runs deeper than what a purely naturalistic explanation can account for. There seems to be an ache or yearning in my inner person to be connected to others. I have an inbuilt desire to do life with others. As human beings, I believe we are compelled to share life together. Our longing to be together flows from our identity as humans. It is part and parcel to who we are.

The biblical drama makes sense of this. We learn in the first act of the drama (Creation) in Genesis 1 that we were made by Community. This brings us in on a remarkable reality: God himself is a community of persons. He is three in one (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). This accounts for why Christians use theological lingo such as triune, trinity, trinitarian, etc. Don’t ask me to diagram or explain what God as three in one means with any sort of precision. The Bible just doesn’t go there. And we shouldn’t be surprised that there are truths about God that boggle our minds. In fact, I would be a bit skeptical if this wasn’t the case. It seems logical to me that since God is God, since He is bigger than us and distinct from us, there should be some mystery involved in knowing Him. The Bible avoids presenting the Trinity as some abstraction we are to figure out. What the biblical story is apparently trying to tell us is that we should devote less time to analysis and speculation and more time to experiencing and knowing the Trinity. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “the thing that matters most is being actually drawn into that three-personal life.”

Among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit there is an other focus – a constant giving of themselves as each person of the Trinity is out to make much of the others. The Trinity is a community of divine love and delight. This assures us that God did not create the world because he needed something, but rather because He wanted to share and spread the wealth. Think about your own life, for example. Have you ever experienced something so meaningful that the joy you felt was virtually uncontainable, compelling you to share it with someone else? This gives us insight into why God made the world. He wanted to bring us in on what He experienced. The creation of the world was an overflow of the Trinitarian community. God desired for us to experience that community through knowing Him and living with and for others.

We also discover in the first act of the drama that humans are made in the image of this triune God. Since God is a community of persons, it would follow that one significant way we image Him is by being in community ourselves. We can’t help but to gravitate towards others because we were made by Community for community. Our “being together” is a reflection of our being made in the image of God. We are inescapably community-oriented. This is why Adam by himself was not enough. God declared in Genesis 2, “It is not good for man to be alone.” So He made Eve to compliment Adam. We are made for relationship with others. It is in our DNA. This means I’m not myself by myself. I’m incomplete when I live independent of others. I need community to live a fully human life.

I believe the biblical story explains why we need to get together. We were made by Community for community. What do you think?

The conversation continues…

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