Tag Archives: Community

For the Good of the Whole

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done….'”
Numbers 5:5-7 (NIV)

Many of the client offices in which I’ve worked over the years are cramped quarters. Numerous people work in confined spaces with little barrier between desks. During the winter months it is quite common to hear stories of entire departments decimated by the flu or other viruses that spread quickly with little or no warning. Over the years when I’ve found myself with a nasty bug I have felt compelled to call clients and explain, “You don’t want me visiting you right now.” I can’t remember a single client who wasn’t grateful for me being considerate of their operation and team members.

When reading through the ancient marching orders for the Hebrew nation in the book of Numbers it’s easy to for me to find myself perplexed in the simple reading of the text. It is so easy to read it from a 21st century American perspective and scratch my head. There is little connection between me (the modern, western technological age reader) and a nomadic nation of semitic people in Arabia around 3500 years ago.

Stepping back and looking at today’s chapter as a whole, the rules prescribed through Moses had to do with things that were threats to their community, starting with that which was physical and easy to see and ending with that which was relational and much harder to judge.

It begins with that which was physical and quite easy to diagnose. In that time period infectious disease could wipe out an entire people in little or no time. While my cold virus might wreak havoc on my client’s workforce and productivity, in the days of Moses a nasty virus could bring death and plague to the entire nation. So, those who showed clear physical sign of what might be a disease were to be quarantined outside the camp. Next came the broad category of “wronging” another member of the community. I think of this as the type of neighborly disputes that might end up in small claims court at my local courthouse. Finally, the bulk of the chapter deals with the most intimate and difficult things to know or to judge: marital infidelity.

It’s easy as a modern reader to get mired in the struggle to understand rules made for an ancient, middle-eastern culture. Wendy and I had a fascinating discussion over coffee last week about the historical and cultural contexts of these rules. Still, I walk away from today’s chapter reminded that all cultures need laws, rules, and regulations that protect the good of the community.  Infectious disease, personal disputes, and the breakdown of marriage all have consequences that  radiate throughout the community. God through Moses prescribed very specific ways to determine and deal with them for the good of the whole.

This morning I’m thankful to live in a community with a strong system of law that protects our community, state, and nation as a whole. I’m also reminded this morning of my individual responsibility to be considerate of my community as a whole. In fact, I report for jury duty in two weeks.

That Which I am Gifted and Meant to Do

So Moses, Aaron and the leaders of Israel counted all the Levites by their clans and families. All the men from thirty to fifty years of age who came to do the work of serving and carrying the tent of meeting numbered 8,580.
Numbers 4:46-48 (NIV)

Along life’s journey I’ve come to understand that the organization of human beings to accomplish a particular task (or tasks) is an art form in and of itself. Anyone who has had to lead any kind of large scale endeavor understands this. There are numerous models and theories for doing so.

In this morning’s chapter we find the Hebrew clan of Levites were dedicated to the care, maintenance and moving of their nation’s mobile temple and all its furnishings. They alone of all the Hebrew clans set it up, took it down, carried it on the march, and did the work of the Temple while encamped. If you were born into the Levite clan you would not be a warrior, you would work be assigned religious duties the rest of your life.

Throughout history this paradigm has also been followed by many societies. A father is apprenticed into a trade by his father, and teaches the trade to his son. You were born into your occupation just as sure as you might be given the surname of that occupation: Miller, Thatcher, Farmer, and Doctor.

Had things still been done this way, I might be a carpenter today, just as my great-grandfather was apprenticed to be before he came to America as a young man. Anyone who has experienced my carpentry skills knows that this would be a tragedy. While I am capable to do some basic projects, you definitely don’t want me building your house!

In today’s paradigm, we are taught as young people that we “can be anything we want” and this is somewhat true. In our culture we are free to pursue any trade or occupation. I have noticed, however, that just because you desire to pursue an occupation doesn’t mean that you are gifted at that occupation. I have witnessed for years those who desired to pursue certain ministry tasks or roles within the local church only to frustrate the entire congregation by their lack of skill or giftedness. I’ve known preachers who can’t preach their way out of a paper bag, singers who can’t carry a tune with a handle on it, and directors of worship who are consistently lost and unable to capably give direction to anyone.

Just as the generational paradigm had its weaknesses, so also does the “you can do whatever you want” paradigm. Desiring an area of giftedness does not necessarily make you good at it.

This morning I’m thinking about my experiences in leadership with business, church, community organizations, and even the project management required of producing or directing a show. I’ve come to believe that one of a leader’s critical tasks is helping people find their areas of giftedness and helping them both embrace and develop those areas. Sometimes there is a journey of acceptance required to bring us to a waypoint of understanding that I ultimately find joy when I am doing what I am gifted and meant to do.

From Spiritual Mountain Top to Relational Valley

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.
1 John 2:9 (NIV)

A topic of much conversation in our home and circles of friends of late has been that of community. It’s a topic our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been pushing into. In short, we’re talking about how we all do life together and related to one another. It doesn’t take long for the conversation to bring out three common observations:

  • “It is messy.”
  • “It is hard.”
  • “It is complicated.”

Yes. It always has been, and it always will be living East of Eden.

Along this life journey I often encounter those who love the description of believers in the heady first days of the Jesus’ movement as described by Dr. Luke in his book The Acts of the Apostles:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

This is often held as an ideal to which all of us should strive and aspire. Striving for unity, sharing, and love in life with others is a worthy goal. I have actually had experiences that feel a lot like what Luke describes.

This idyllic experience usually happens at a camp or some kind of retreat environment. It’s that long weekend or week with other like-minded individuals in beautiful natural surroundings. I often hear it described as a “mountain-top experience.” You want to stay there. You want to bottle it up so you can can continue to consume the experience over and over and over again. When you’re at camp having a mountain-top experience you don’t want to leave and go back to “real life.” You’d love to “stay here forever.”

But, that doesn’t happen.

It didn’t happen long-term for the believers in Jerusalem, either. Jesus’ twelve disciples were scattered across the known world sharing the Message. Most of them endured violent ends. Despite the mountain-top experience of that early period of time, history tells us that the believers in Jerusalem eventually faced persecution, conflict, disagreements, strained relationships, and struggle.

Most of the books of what we call the New Testament were originally letters. The letters were by-and-large addressed to individuals or small “communities” of Jesus’ followers. What motivated the authors of the letters was typically problems that were being experienced in community. There were disagreements, relational struggles, theological controversies, moral controversies, personal controversies, persecutions, attacks from outside the community, and attacks from within the community. Leaders such as John, Peter, Paul and Timothy took up their stylus and papyrus to address these problems.

The letter of 1 John is exactly that. A philosophical movement known as gnosticism had sprung up both outside and inside the community of believers teaching things contrary to what John, the other disciples, and the leaders of the community had originally taught about Jesus and his teachings. John was writing to directly address some of these issues. Breaking down today’s chapter, I find John addressing several of them in and between the lines of almost every sentence.

What struck me this morning, however, was John’s bold claim that anyone who claimed to be in “the light” but hated someone in the community, that person was clearly not in the light, but in darkness. In other words, if you are part of Jesus, the “Light of the World” then your life will be marked by love. Jesus taught that we were to love both our friends and our enemies. John is reminding us of the utter foundation of all Jesus’ teaching. Love God. Love others. Everything else is built on these two commands. We have to get that right before anything else.

This morning I’m thinking about some of the disagreements, controversies, relational strife, strains, and struggles I know in my own life, relationships, and community. I experience the “mountain-top” for a moment or a period of time, but eventually I find myself back in the valley of relationship. Community is messy. Community is hard. Community is complicated. John’s reminder is apt.

As a follower of Jesus, I have to accept that there is no exemption from the command to love. If I’m not ceaselessly, actively working to get that right every day with every relationship, I’m not sure anything else really matters.

 

A Matter of Respect

Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
1 Peter 2:17 (NIV)

A few weeks ago I ran into a person whom I’d not seen in quite a while. I confess that I don’t particularly get along with this person, and this person has made it very clear that they  don’t like me. I’m glad you are not privy to the spiteful thoughts and vengeful desires that welled up inside me when I  ran into them. The actions  of this person that I’ve witnessed over the years have been deceptive and have stirred up trouble in ways that have been destructive to community and relationships that I care about. The words of this person have been false and deceitful. The foolish behavior of this person has been mischievous and self-seeking.

Nevertheless, when I ran into this person in a public place amidst a crowd of people I smiled and addressed them respectfully. We had a brief interchange and I chose to keep my affect respectfully positive and my conversation respectfully benign.

I observe that the polarization of political and cultural thought in America has led to what I deem a general erosion of respect. I remember a time when  politicians, even bitter rivals, continued to treat one another with respect. Now I witness politicians who choose to be publicly disrespectful, malicious, and insulting to their opponents in order to maintain the support of extreme factions within their respective parties. I grew up being taught that freedom of thought, education, speech, religion, and the press came with the societal expectation of respectful public debate and discourse. Now I observe university campuses reduced to destructive chaos and physical assault on those who do not march lock-step with their particular beliefs and opinions.

Perhaps that’s why Peter’s simple command jumped off the page at me this morning: “Show proper respect to everyone.”

I believe I need to treat others with respect because we are all members of the human family descended from the same mother.

I believe I need to treat others with respect because we are all imperfect people in need of forgiveness and grace.

I believe I need to treat people with respect because I am constantly growing and needing the grace of others. I have to extend grace to others who are in process as well.

I believe I need to treat people with respect because it affords the best opportunity for strained relationships to find some kind of mutual understanding, reconciliation and redemption.

I believe I need to treat people with respect because the path of disrespect is harmful both to myself, other individuals, community, and humanity.

I believe I need to treat people with respect because it’s the way of Jesus, and as a follower I’m compelled to adopt His teaching and example.

This morning I’m thinking about the simple act of being respectful to others. A few weeks ago when I respectfully addressed my deceptive and foolish acquaintance I knew that I couldn’t control their reaction to me in the moment nor their continued words or actions. I can’t control others. I can’t control our current culture. I can only control myself.

I’m going to continue to pursue the path of being respectful. Who knows. Perhaps it will go viral.

Community Spirit

The rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten of them to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns.
Nehemiah 11:1 (NIV)

Last night was a beautiful summer evening. Wendy and I shuffled across the street at the invitation of our neighbors Kevin and Linda. We sat in their front yard and sipped cold drinks as the sun set and the stars came out on a cloudless sky. As always, the conversation with our friends meandered into diverse topics. One of the topics was that of community support.

We live in a thriving small town in Iowa. Our little town is a hoppin’ place. When you go to “the square” during the day you’re often going to hunt for a good parking spot. Housing is in short supply compared to the demand of those moving in (another topic of our conversation). Many rural towns our size would love to have such a problems.

There are a number of reasons for our town’s success, but one of them is simply community support. “Buy local” aren’t just buzzwords here. There is a true spirit among residents of supporting local businesses. You feel the expectation, and you generally feel good when you’re a part of making the community successful. Our conversation with Kevin and Linda last night meandered into the sticky wicket that residents face in discerning when to bite the bullet and pay higher prices to support local and when/if it becomes fiscally foolish to do so.

In today’s chapter, the Israelites around Jerusalem were facing similar dilemma of community support. They had restored the broken down walls and gates of Jerusalem. They had resurrected worship at the temple. But, their efforts would be in vain if people didn’t actually live inside the city wall and support the local urban renewal project. So, they cast lots (the ancient version of drawing straws) and chose ten percent of the families from among the tribes. These families were to “support local” and move themselves within the city walls and do their part for the community. The fact that they had to draw lots makes me wonder just how excited those families were about moving into the rubble.

This morning I’m thinking about community. I’m thinking about the support that is required to make communities, small businesses, and community organizations run. Without a spirit of community among the individual members, the whole suffers. Jesus’ teachings of washing each other’s feet and loving others more than we love ourselves is woven into the spirit of community. We need each other.

 

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Flexibly Staying the Course

And Joshua said to them, “Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous; for thus the Lord will do to all the enemies against whom you fight.”
Joshua 10:25 (NRSV)

Just the other night Wendy and I were with some friends and we recounted a period of time when we all worshiped together in the same church service. During this particular period of time the leaders loved having a catch phrase or motto that would be touted as the theme of whatever new initiative happened to spring into the leaders’ heads. There would be banners and bookmarks and an official launch of the great new theme. And, it would last for a mere few weeks until the next great theme came a long. There was a lot of laughter around the table as we recounted a number of themes and catch phrases that had been raised and then abandoned shortly thereafter when the next “it” theme came along.

In today’s chapter, I found it fascinating to find Joshua still clinging to the word God had given him back in the first chapter. “Be strong and courageous. Don’t be afraid or discouraged.” We’re ten chapters and several battles (both won and lost) into the story. Joshua’s theme, however, has not changed with the winds of war or shifting sands of the landscape. In fact, Joshua makes a point of ensuring that  the theme is not forgotten. He takes the opportunity of victory to call the nation together and remind them to keep focused on that which God had said to him from the beginning.

Today I’m thinking about the challenge of staying the course amidst a culture of social media, news media, web content and trending topics that reduce our attention spans to mere moments. As a leader in family, business, church and community I’m thinking about my role in helping groups and individuals remain focused on vision, values, goals, and objectives. Like Joshua, I want to hold course to the vision, even while I remain flexible in adapting to ever-changing circumstances around me.

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Confession of a Spiritual Brick Layer

 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.
Romans 10:12 (NIV)

Six years ago Wendy and I were in London and had the pleasure of attending the National Theatre. The production that night was a fascinating play about the different waves of modern immigrants who flooded into London over the past few hundred years. The play was set in one low rent tenement building that became home to all of these various ethnic groups, and in the pub on the street below.

When the French Huguenots moved in the poor Brits in the pub grumbled about the “F*#@ing French!

When the Indians moved in the assimilated French Huguenots in the pub grumbled about the “F*#@ing Indians!

When the Irish moved in during the Great Famine the assimilated Indians in the pub grumbled about the “F*#@ing Irish!

When the Russian Jews moved in during the Russian pogroms the assimilated Irish in the pub grumbled about the “F*#@ing Jews!

You get the picture. We are such a homogenous and exclusionary society. Even in the “great melting pot” of the United States, which over the past 250 years may have easily become the most racially and culturally diverse society in the history of the earth, we still grumble about the next wave of immigrants. We feel suspicious about people who aren’t “American” and don’t speak English.  We talk about building giant walls to keep people out.

I have observed that followers of Jesus are not immune to this phenomenon. As children we are taught to sing:

“red and yellow, black and white,
they are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

What our Sunday School teachers left out was the bit about these children not being particularly precious in our sight. They didn’t teach us the qualification about these children being “precious in His sight in their own country of origin.”

In today’s chapter, Paul announces to those following Jesus in Rome that the walls the people of Israel had built up in their hearts to exclude non-Jews (known as Gentiles) had been toppled once and for all by Jesus. Beyond that, read the Jesus story and you discover Him toppling walls between genders, walls between social strata, and walls between political camps. Wherever those walls still exist today (and they exist all over the place), it’s because we who have followed Jesus have exerted ourselves to rebuild those walls in our hearts, lives, homes, churches, and communities.

Today I’m reading my own post and examining my own heart. As usual, as I point my finger at others there are three pointing back at me. I live in an incredibly homogenous community comfortable in its lack of diversity. I must confess to you: evidence suggest that I am quite an accomplished spiritual brick layer myself.

God, will you lend me your sledgehammer?

Thanks.

Step back, please.

 

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