Self-governance in local communities

“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

Community Nourishment


lp

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.

Parenting Videos

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.

For other videos we publish, take a look at our YouTube channel.

Alec & Joanie Brooks (and Lisa)

Welcome Thomas

Sam and Kelcy welcomed the newest addition to their family, Thomas John, on May 5, 2012. Thomas, healthy at 7 pounds 14 ounces and 20 3/4 inches, is a delight to family and friends!

thomas1

thomas2

thomas3

thomas4

The Locus of Our Trust

Christ in the Storm

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Ludolf Backbuysen, 1695
Public Domain

What allows one person to sail smoothly through the vicissitudes of life while others seem to be battered to and fro by these same storms? I have often wondered how the apostle Paul kept an even keel through his numerous trials, including actual shipwrecks (2 Cor. 11:25). In each case, an anchor seems to hold the person’s life in place when circumstances would threaten to capsize them. The anchor symbolizes where the locus of our trust is placed. If chosen well, this center of trust stabilizes us regardless of what we might have to face.

Our Ultimate Place of Trust

Our locus of trust is where we put our confidence in life. It is what we ultimately rely upon for our sense of well-being and safety. This place where we pin our hopes will either be a source of strength to us or a liability when confronted with adversity. If it can be easily threatened, we will be thrown into confusion, panic and anxiety during the ups and downs of life. On the other hand, if it is a place of rock solid reliability, we can rest secure and enjoy peace even when all around us is chaotic. Therefore, choosing where to place our locus of trust is critical for a happy, holy and flourishing life.

Christ our Example

Whenever we want to understand the ideal for mankind it behooves us to look to Christ. As the second Adam, He is the one who is the true human, the exemplar of humanity. Where did He put the locus of His trust? What enabled Him to fulfill His vocation as the savior and teacher of a world that despised and persecuted Him? I would like to start this inquiry by looking at where He couldn’t (and didn’t) place the focus of His trust.

Christ’s family heritage certainly didn’t provide a place of confidence. Born a bastard  in a lowly manger to poor parents of a despised race, what little pride He could take in His background was ripped away as His own nation rejected Him at the cross. He never lived down His illegitimacy (John 8:41), and His blunt honesty made Him an enemy of most of the people (John 7:7).  He wasn’t an honored son of His hometown, as if that would be worth anything (John 1:46). They were skeptical of Him and even tried to push Him off a cliff (Luke 4:16-30; Mark 6:3-6).

Nothing about His personal life allowed Him to take confidence. He wasn’t one of the beautiful people (Isa. 53:2). He wasn’t educated (John 7:14-15). He was poor. His only possession at His death was the shirt on His back, and what little wealth He had during His ministry was plundered by Judas (John 12:6).

His hope wasn’t dependent on a comfortable life. He gave up His career and the financial security associated with it. He was itinerate and couldn’t call any place home (Luke 9:58). He had to work at getting privacy. He was mingling a lot with sick people and in Gethsemane the stress got so bad He sweated blood (Luke 22:44). On top of all this, He was causing all kind of animosity toward Himself with His preaching and was constantly in danger of being killed (John 7:1, 25, 44).

James Joseph Jacques Tissot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

None of His good works offered Him any security. Healing people was full of controversy and led to plots on His life (Matt. 12:10-14; Luke 14:1-4; Luke 13:10-16). He often had to defend His good deeds through the telling of parables. Those He ministered to were rarely grateful (Luke 17:17). After helping someone with a particularly difficult problem the people told him to go away (Mark 5:14-17). His generosity toward the outcasts of society only gave Him a bad reputation (Mark 2:16). Far from being thought pious, they said He had a demon and was considered smitten of God (John 8:48; Isa. 53:4). On the cross, they said with contempt, “Let God save Him.”

The crowds were only following Him for the bread and fish, and when He told them like it is they couldn’t take it and left (John 6:66). One minute the crowds were crying, “Hosanna,” and the next, “Crucify Him!” His brothers were not believing in him (John 7:2-7). And when He became popular they tried to get in on the limelight, which He had to correct (Matt. 12:46-49). John the Baptist doubted if He was the One at a certain point (Luke 7:19-20).

José Joaquim da Rocha [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

His disciples were ambitious and didn’t get the message, even wanting to call fire down on those who didn’t believe (Luke 9:46; Matt. 20:20-28; Luke 9:54-56). His main leaders couldn’t stay up to pray with Him at His darkest hour. Judas betrayed Him. Peter denied Him. Thomas doubted Him. And finally, He had to intervene with divine power when He was arrested because of Peter’s fleshly impulsiveness (Luke 22:50-51). Then they all fled, leaving Him alone. Clearly, He wasn’t going to find personal authentication in His mentoring legacy.

His trust in the justice system would be futile since they didn’t hesitate to break their own rules in trying a capital case by night and suborning perjury. Through all this, Christ’s trust was completely in the Father and His goodness. Yet, on the cross all evidence of even that was taken away from Him which led to His anguished cry, “Father, Father why have You forsaken me?” Though not abandoned by the Father, the apparent triumph of pain, shame and evil stripped Him of all outward assurances.

With a Loud Voice

In the face of no evidence and apparent absolute defeat, He entrusted Himself to the Father. “And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,’” (Luke 23:46). I find it interesting that it says that He cried out in a loud voice. His faith was bold and sure even in the face of hideous opposition and a total absence of encouragement. Truly, the locus of His trust was in God.

By Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

1 Peter 2:21-23 says, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in his mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” He didn’t sin, resort to deceit, revile or threaten when He suffered. Suffering happens because we experience a loss. And if the locus of our trust is in that thing we lose, we are tempted to sin, deceive, revile and threaten. Jesus entrusted Himself to the Father. His authority was not in His strength, but in His weakness. It wasn’t in His resources, but in His commitment to a Person – God. He placed His entire life in the Father’s hands.

Hands Off Trust

Our ultimate trust can’t lie in our talents, wits, riches, health or piety. These areas are under our control (or we think they are) and our temptation to place in these things our locus of trust stems from a lust for certainty. But these are as reliable as sinking sand and can never bear that kind of pressure. Neither can our trust rest in people: our parents, children, friends, church, leaders or country. Indeed, there is no certainty with people. Both freewill and the tenuousness of life teach us that.

When your locus of trust is in things or people, you are led around like one with a ring in his nose. Every disturbance throws you off balance and causes insecurity. You are being led from fear to fear. We need a hands off trust, a place of trust that is reliable and which is outside of our control. Like Jesus, the locus of our of trust must be in God. The old hymn, The Solid Rock, captures this eternal truth most beautifully:

The Solid Rock

My hope is built on nothing less, Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace; In every high and stormy gale, My anchor holds within the veil. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, and blood, Support me in the whelming flood; When every earthly prop gives way, He then is all my Hope and Stay. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound, Oh, may I then in Him be found, Clothed in His righteousness alone, Faultless to stand before the throne! On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.

—Edward Mote (1797-1874)

Witnessing God’s Goodness in India

india1

Tenkasi, Tamil Nadu, India

February 9, 2012

As our microbus left the hectic, crowded street and neared the gates of St. John’s Matriculation School; the varied sounds of hand clapping, drums and singing filled our ears.  The seven of us cast bewildering looks around, and in discordant voices asked one other, “What’s going on?” and other similar queries.  Our microbus lurched to a halt just inside the gates of the school and we all filed out the side door.  A lady in a red sari bid us to follow her, and soon all our questions were answered.  Lining the path into the school grounds, eight hundred students of all ages had come out to greet us with fanfare, song, bouquets of flowers and gifts.  Needless to say, we were all somewhat flabbergasted with the attention showered on us by the staff and students of the school.  After some introductions, Shanti- the lady in the red sari and the Principal of the school- ushered us into her office so we could plan the day’s activities.  So began our whirlwind ministry in southern India.  How did we get here?

Mission- Seeking Opportunities to Serve

For the last couple of years, our Fellowship has prayed and sought for opportunities in which we could be of help and service in other areas of the world.  Last year we were able to bring a van load of wheel chairs to an orphanage in Mexico.   As we sought God about what we could do this year, St. John’s Matriculation School came to our attention.   Awhile back we had learned about the work of Dr. Thirumalai and St. John’s school through Alec Brooks and Charis International.  At that time we heard of Dr. Thirumalai’s desire to set up a sewing school at St. John’s and we gave towards that project.  Late last fall we learned that Dr. Thirumalai has been wanting a team to come to the school and teach conversational English, basic computer and possibly help out with some new construction.  After much prayer and conference, we decided to send five of us from the Fellowship to meet up with Alec and Joni Brooks in Delhi, India. From there we would proceed to Tenkasi where the school is located.

india2

St. John’s Matriculation School

St. John’s Matriculation School began as the vision of Dr. Madasamy Thirumalai and his wife Swarna.  Their desire was to see a school established that could provide an education for those too poor to afford what was currently offered at the average school in India.   Sixteen years ago, the school began in some rented rooms in downtown Tenkasi- the town where Dr. Thirumalai grew up. The school first served Lower Kindergarten and Kindergarten students. Over the years, through Dr. Thirumalai’s and Swarna’s, perseverance and hard work as well as the Lord’s provision- the school has expanded to provide schooling for all the elementary grade levels as well as the first couple of upper level grades- up to 10th standard. The school is now on its own property (through the sacrificial giving of Dr. Thirumalai and his wife and others), has three buildings housing the classrooms for 850 students and employs approximately 20 teachers. The students are all receiving an excellent education in math, history, reading, Tamil, science, social studies and English. Students also receive training in living a disciplined life, relating respectfully to others and how to work diligently and with excellence. For a majority of the students, none of this would be possible if it were not for the low tuition at which the schooling is offered. I learned that as well as providing a very good education for far below the average rate in India- 250 students are receiving scholarships which allows them to attend even though their families could not afford the tuition.

india3

What we saw

On a typical day our team broke up in teams of two and cover three classes in the morning. Matthew and I worked with the computer classes, Tim and Jordan conversational English, and Betty and Joni would teach English songs. The caliber of the students we taught thoroughly impressed us. They had an enthusiasm for learning, were always excited and ready to get to work. Their respect, discipline and warmth towards one another and us will always be remembered. I had to remind myself that the majority of these students came from some of the poorest situations in Tenkasi. Their behavior never let on that this was so. These children were flourishing at St. John’s school. That is what we saw- children flourishing in the love of God that has come to them through the dedication and care that began with Dr. Thirumalai and Swarna sixteen years ago.

Apprentice Guidance

apprentice

I’ve been blogging about divine guidance. I suggested that there are three basic views Christians have: blueprint guidance, breadcrumb guidance, and apprentice guidance. Blueprint guidance sees God’s will for us as an exact plan to be followed. Breadcrumb guidance understands the will of God as a goal, instead of a plan, and the way to that goal doesn’t necessarily follow a predetermined path. In both of these views, however, it is thought that God has a specific and particular outcome in mind for our lives. Apprentice guidance differs from these in that it teaches us that God’s will for us is less about particulars, like who we marry and where we live, and more about what kind of person we become.

Apprentice guidance uses the metaphor of a master and apprentice to understand divine guidance. An apprentice learns under a master the ways and skills of a vocation. The master aims at training the apprentice in such a way that he will be able to participate in the vocation as a fully capable workman. Likewise, a teacher trains her student not to simply parrot her lessons or mindlessly carry out her instructions, but to integrate the learning into his life. In both cases, the goal is the formation of the learner. Divine guidance is God’s formative instruction enabling us to live as He does, that is, in love (Eph 5:1-2).

Becoming Capable of Communion

From the Garden of Eden to the creation of the church, God’s intention has been to create family. It’s the communion of the Trinity that God has been trying to enlarge. Humanity is God’s beloved creation, made in His image to be able to reason, choose, and enjoy relationships. Our destiny is to become partners with God and one another in loving friendship. “God’s will is for community in which power and love are shared, where love and not compulsion reigns,” says Clark Pinnock. From this we understand that one purpose of divine guidance is  to enable us to become capable of communion.

Learning the Dance

God, as master teacher, uses a variety of methods to instruct us in the way of love. The hope is that we develop virtue and wisdom so that we can participate in relationships of love, which is the key to human flourishing. This guidance comes primarily through the Spirit of God, the Word of God, and the People of God. Through these avenues God speaks to us, cultivating habits of heart and mind that shape us to be fully human, able to share life with others in reverence and happiness. His will isn’t for us to act out some script in a play, but to learn the steps in a dance of love with Him and one another.

Repelling Death

Additionally, our apprenticeship under God will explicitly teach us to not look to circumstances and life’s events to discern His will. The Bible shows us that since the Fall things are not as they should be. Creation and history are open and remain unfinished. Our job is to partner with God to resist the effects of the Fall and not passively accept situations and events as His will. The beauty of being made in God’s image is that we have the ability of initiative. We can bring something new to the world and by it, in the words of Udo Middleman, “repel death in any of its ugly manners.”

Divine Guidance has been often misunderstood by Christians. Ideas have consequences. Passivity, egotism, and even cruelty can result from a faulty understanding of God’s will. The apprentice model offers a concept of divine guidance that does justice to our created nature and gives us practical understanding of how to live our lives. It treats us as creative, responsible partners with God, working in the world to push back evil and create community.