Our strings ensemble is very busy this time of year. We have several performances planned in hospitals, churches, a nursing home, and the rescue mission. We also have a full-fledged Christmas concert scheduled on December 21, 2012 at 7:00 pm at the community. If you can make it we would love to have you!
One of our concerts at a hospital was cancelled at the last minute this past Tuesday. We’ve been praying for weeks about all our concerts and we just didn’t feel it was right to simply head home, so one of the musicians suggested we go to the Goodwill store to see if they would like a concert.
Thanks to Jared’s nice presentation the store manager was excited to have us. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for the employees, customers and us. It was an amazing thing to see an ordinary shopping environment transformed into something sacred. The experience was reflective of how our magnificent God came to earth in the most humble of circumstances and continues to dwell among us in our common everyday life.
By Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Most Christians are familiar with the passage in Isaiah 53:5, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” As a young Christian I heard this passage used almost as a charm to claim physical healing from God. It is striking to me that a passage that so clearly describes self-giving love could be turned into a tool for self gain.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be healed of our infirmaries, and God cares deeply about our suffering, but the lesson in this passage is that love takes the loss so that others can be lifted up. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). God’s life is characterized by self-giving love. He takes the “stripes” so that we might be healed.
We, as beloved children, are to imitate our Father and likewise take the “stripes” so that others may be healed (Eph. 5:1-2). We’re to forgive, serve, and love without recognition so that others can find wholeness. Those stripes can come as demands on our time, money and resources. They might take the form of bearing insults with grace or being rebuffed when trying to love and serve someone. Whatever the case, when we lose our life for others we are following in the footsteps of God.
God takes the first step of love so that we might be made whole. Our mission is to learn to be like our Father and be willing to suffer so that others won’t. Freely we have received, so freely we give. And then we’ll be called children of God.
In a recent post I used material from Watchman Nee to discuss the nature and necessity of being part of a local body of believers. In summary, community provides essential functions (covering, restraint and supply) necessary for human flourishing. Being a member of a local fellowship of Christians who love each other is the only way we can embody the gospel and reveal the Triune God.
Interestingly, in reading Robert Nisbet’s seminal work, The Quest for Community, I’ve gained a deeper understanding, from a sociological point of view, of why we need community and what happens when we don’t find it in local, concrete relationships.
Nisbet explains that since the Enlightenment and the dismantling of medieval society, there has been a gradual move towards radical individualism and a concomitant centralizing of power and importance of the State. This has led to, among other things, the disintegration of smaller social groups (PTA, churches, clubs, etc.) and a general emptiness and longing for connectedness. Robert Putman calls it, “Bowling Alone.”
At the recent Democratic National Convention they ran a video which contained the line, “The government is the only thing we all belong to.” This seems to me a striking example of this atomizing tendency in society. George Weigel has an interesting article comparing the issues in this election with the philosophies of Edmund Burke and Thomas Hobbes. Burke and Hobbes represent two general views about which community people should be primarily related to (Hobbes – the State; Burke – small civil associations).
If we don’t consciously choose to relate to a local body of believers, in a way that really matters, the societal current will wash us up on the shores of individualism and we’ll find ourselves making the State our primary community. We’ll be forced to find our covering, restraint and supply from a distant, bureaucratic government and lose the relational nourishment necessary to become whole persons. God is a community of love and we find wholeness by embodying community with others nearest to us.
“We can either elect a future of self-limitation born of the practice and experience of self-governance in local communities, or we can back slowly but inexorably into a future in which extreme license invites extreme oppression.” Patrick J. Deneen
In his book, The Body of Christ: A Reality, Watchman Nee teaches about three functions the church provides for its members: covering, restraint and supply. These functions are not unique to a church, however, but are essential “services” people need from any community in which they relate. The inherent social dimension of humans makes participation in a community vital to one’s happiness and well-being. No one can live as a radical individual. Covering, restraint and supply coming from one’s primary community provides the essential help to live and grow as a person.
Since the Fall, a perennial lie that often beguiles people is the notion that we do not need others to be whole. The ultimate aim of sinful rebellion is to be one’s own god. The irony of this idea is that even God isn’t a radical individual, but as Trinity He has His being in community. Being made in God’s image means that we too must find our wholeness in relationship. In fact, communion with others is what defines us as a person. This impulse to be self-sufficient is what robs people of their God intended destiny to flourish.
The problem with thinking that we can be sufficient apart from others is that it is impossible to actually achieve. Even if we could find a deserted island to live on, from birth through childhood we are indelibly shaped by the matrix of relationships we are part of. Feral children, who have had little to no interaction with others, can never develop into mature persons even when integrated back into society. If one is not part of a human community as a child, he or she simply will never know what it is to be a true person. If we are self-aware persons that means we have been born into and lived in community. Being a self-sufficient, radical individual simply isn’t possible for persons.
Community, as Watchman Nee says, provides the social nutrients necessary for human life and growth. These nutrients (covering, restraint, and supply) give us knowledge, protection, direction, purpose and a host of other things. Without them we can’t function. But the community we choose to make primary will largely decide the character of these essentials. We will choose a community, and by extension its provisions, because as humans we must. If it isn’t the community of family, church, neighborhood or other “little platoons,” it will be the state. Whatever the case, our primary community will nourish and shape us.
Next post I’ll explain why not consciously choosing a community to find covering, restraint and supply will mean that we’ve chosen the state as our primary community by default.
Alec Brooks, our friend from Charis International, has graciously given us permission to publish a number of videos from Bethany Fellowship. Alec was president of Bethany for a number of years and his wife, Joanie, is Ted Hegre’s daughter (Ted was one of the founders of Bethany). Alec teaches here at Life Mission regularly and his material on parenting has been a great help to us. I think you’ll find his series, “Raising Godly Children In An Ungodly Culture,” a tremendous blessing.