The Importance of Community for the Church

Why is community so important to the church? And why do we too often neglect it?

I was reminded earlier this week of one of my favorite parts of the Cormac McCarthy novel, The Road. It’s where the father is trying to impart some encouragement to his son, as they journey through the bleakness of the post-apocalyptic wasteland of the United States,

road-cormac-fs-aug-03

F: You have to carry the fire.
S: I don’t know how to.
F: Yes, you do.
S: Is the fire real? The fire?
F: Yes it is.
S: Where is it? I don’t know where it is.
F: Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.

Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Many have speculated about the significance of “the fire” to which McCarthy refers. Is it a reference to Prometheus’ gift of knowledge to humanity in Greek mythology? Or perhaps a reference to God Himself, and the importance of faith and religion in making us human in an inhuman world? Is it simply the life that is still existent in the love of the son and his father contrasted with the death and chaos around them? These would certainly fit the narrative of The Road.

But what I find interesting is that this particular exchange shows us how community – or, fellowship – functions.

There is a goal, or mission, and a very real struggle. What sustains us through the struggle is having someone be in it with us. What helps us when we cannot see something is to have someone else see for us. What keeps us from quitting or falling into despair is the presence and performance of another.

In other words, life is too hard to go it alone; we need others. We need others to not only accomplish the work, task, mission we have been given to do, but also to make it through any given day.

And yet we so often miss out on the presence of others in our lives due to so many reasons. Busyness. Work. Play. An “always-on-and-available-except-to-the-people-that-matter-most-to-us” mentality. Living in a constant age of distraction and disruption.

What would happen if we chose to disrupt the disruption? What could happen if we gave time, energy, and attention to the relationships that need it most? What if we as a church collectively regained our sense of purpose in “carrying the fire” – the light of the world – out of our buried baskets and frazzled lives and out into the world that’s desperately dying from not having it?

Might we just see that fire spread to others? Could we perhaps get a glimpse of what it looks like when the world starts to be healed, redeemed, restored, and renewed and brought back into life and alignment with God? Would we not see the knowledge of the glory of God cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)?

Could we perhaps get a glimpse of what it looks like when the world starts to be healed, redeemed, restored, and renewed and brought back into life and alignment with God? Would we not see the knowledge of the glory of God cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)?

Would we not see the knowledge of the glory of God cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)?

“Our collective holiness is a witness to our Holy God. How we live, then, not only expresses our calling but also narrates a story to the world. It tells others something about who Jesus is and what he is doing in the world. If our life together is focused on fulfillment from “one another,” we will quickly devolve into a dysfunctional community marked by disillusionment, silent record-keeping, or unrealistic demands. We are called into community but not for community. We exist for Christ and in Christ. He is our all in all. If this is true, we will live together in a gracious, forbearing, truthful way. This way of living is a counter-cultural witness of Christ to the world. Our community becomes part of God’s greater mission for us. We are not only conceived in the church, but also called into God’s mission—to redeem social ill, make good culture, and share a whole gospel. We are sent together, called to carry the good news to people and into cultures.”

– Jonathan Dodson and Brad Watson,

Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities

 

 

 

 

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Can You Hear Jimi?

I hate myself.

Yeah, I said it.  I hate myself.

I came across this epiphany while sitting in my newfound favorite spot for self-loathing; Starbucks.  As I sit here, I witness business people collaborating on projects, soccer moms just coming back from their grueling morning walk, and dudes (young and old) that have better fashion sense and physical health then myself.

Me.  I look like I will be that guy who will be 50 years old trying to dress like he did in his late teens to early 20’s, without much sense or purpose.  No pressing, important or urgent activity, but to come to a coffee-shop and sip on his drink, because, well, I look like I did when I was irresponsible, haphazard and sloppy.

I hate myself because I can’t fit into the clothes I own, let alone the ones I would like to own.  I shop at Old Navy, occasionally the Gap.  These are the Banana Republic for “bigger” people.

The clothes make the man.  This is what Starbucks, indirectly, tells me.

I hate myself because I have let myself go too far down the road I’m on and I don’t know if I can make my way back to a healthy place.   I’ve always been on the heavier side.  In high school I weighed as much as a Freshman as I would later come to weigh in college – 190lbs.  In college this was healthy.  I was active, hitting the gym several times a week.  I also was on the Rowing team and on weekends would play flag football.  I could run 4-5 miles with no problem.

In high school I lost the weight by not eating for a summer.  Sure I worked out (a ton) and played basketball (religiously for hours a day, ever day, 7 days a week), but the real difference maker was refusing food.  The food I would eat was bad, not even healthy.  I subsisted on 1 meal a day for the better part of a summer.  After that, I would eat lunch and dinner, ocassionaly skipping one of those meals.

Now, I eat.

I eat alot.

I eat regular meals, and sometimes I squeeze in an extra snack or two.  Or three.  Call it stress, call it middle age, call it metabolic slow down.  I call it pathetic.  I don’t monitor what I eat, let alone how much.  And I know better!

Now, I weigh 252 lbs.  This is 20 lbs. less than what it was 2 months ago.

Progress, right?  So why do I still hate myself?

Because its not enough.  I want to weight a healthy weight.  I want to look attractive, especially to my wife.  Not only has she had to put with me (a feat in and of itself) but she’s had to put up with a fat me.  Not cool.

I want to buy clothes that fit, and are from Banana Republic, without having to go into emotional meltdown each time I try to put a shirt on and stuff down the feelings of insecurity that well up inside like a tsunami, with no forewarned reverberations from the earthquake that is getting dressed in the morning.

I want to like me.  Instead I hate the me that I have become.

And I have become what I have eaten.

In a backwards way, the old yarn about “You are what you eat” is actually a stones throw away from a theological truth – “you become what you worship.”  This is idolatry.  It wasn’t necessarily that it was wrong to fashion something out of wood, to have it in ones home or even to sell it to a neighbor.  What was wrong was that you looked to it to satisfy you.

When the bible talks in cryptic language about “hearing, but not understanding” or “seeing but not perceiving” (Luke 8:10; cf. Isaiah 6:9), it isn’t merely providing one of the better dialogues between Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson in White Men Can’t Jump. Its pointing to the ultimate and sad reality that, “What you revere you resemble, whether for your ruin or your restoration.” (G.K. Beale, You Become What You Worship).

“Oh I can hear Jimi, you say?”  No, you’re just listening.  You’re not hearing.

Self-fulfilment through personal effort is self-destruction.  This is the insatiable law of human life.  We all are seeking to carve out the life we think we want.  But in the end it turns around the carving knife we’re fashioning our idol out of   and chips away at us until there’s nothing left.

We are destroyed by the work of our own hands.

Why do I launch into a discussion on idolatry after having cathartically cleansed my consciousness of self-loathing thoughts of angst against myself and expressions of envy towards others?

Because if I’m not careful, I’ll just trade one idolatry of comfort, ease, emotional security and gluttony through food, for another one of status, discipline, arrogance and pride through “the culture of cool.”

This is how sin works.  It promises us something, and we work to fashion something in our life to provide meaning, satisfaction and fulfillment, and before we know it, we’re “seeing, but not perceiving”, “hearing but not understanding”, “eating, but not being satisfied.”  “Living life, but hating the life you’re living.”

What’s funny is this is how Paul the Apostle felt too.  In a weird way, he may have been able to write this little blog post (of course, he would have different details), but he said something very similar to my own opening line.

“Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ!” (Romans 7:24-25)

That’s who!

The answer to the problem of my self-destructive behavior is not to jump out of  my Starbucks-pot of self-loathing only to land in the fire of the “culture of cool”.  The answer is found in someone who lived the life I should have lived (but didn’t) and who died the death I should have died (but won’t – now).

Can you hear Jimi now?  Or are you just listening?