Troubled Community? Try These Four Things

several pairs of shoes
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/2001899627/">D Sharon Pruitt</a>

1 John 1:1-4

We announce the origin of things to you. What we heard. What we witnessed with our own eyes. What we examined and touched with our own hands. It’s about life. Life that was revealed, that we’ve seen. We swear to it, and we tell you that life forever with the father was made known to us. And we’re telling you what we’ve seen and heard so you, too, can be together with us. Surely, we’re together with the father and with his son, Jesus. We’re writing this so our joy may be complete.

Here is yet another Christmas story. Another account of how it all started.

Like all the Christmas stories, it was written quite a while later, and the people writing it down weren’t actually there. The eyewitness is metaphorical. But the story provides the basis upon which the community that tells it is built. And in that sense, it’s not about the community’s past, but about its present. What is essential to the community’s value system. What is essential to pass on to the next generation for the community to continue to exist.

With that in mind, here are four observations we can glean from these lines about this early community of Christians.

  1. Their central value is life.
  2. Their core principle is togetherness.
  3. Their posture is invitation.
  4. And their prime movement is toward joy.

Whether you agree with their specific theology or not, a community affirmation of life, togetherness, invitation, and joy sounds like a pretty awesome thing. Just about any community would do well to emulate that.

Yes, but Do You Care?

Joyful face
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/backpackphotography/1234259576/">Backpack Photography</a>

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Be joyful. Pray. Be grateful. God wants you to be grateful. Don’t be a wet blanket on the fires of enthusiasm for God, but check everything carefully, keeping the good, rejecting the evil.

May the God of peace personally make you 100% dedicated to the cause. May you remain whole, body, soul, and spirit. And may you be blameless in the end.

Indeed, God who calls you will do this.

[See also, previous comments on 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23-28.]

Last month, writing on this chapter, I wrote, “…you can’t command respect, let alone love. You can only earn it.”

Which, I believe is true. But there is something more. You can also give it. It’s called being gracious.

And you can give it – joy, love, respect, grace – even when it’s unearned.

Mostly, you give it by not being a wet blanket on the fires of enthusiasm. Whether that enthusiasm is for God, or for anything else. Nobody likes it when you rain on their parade. So, you think it’s crazy, or stupid, or you’re not really that interested in what someone is really excited about. So what! Most of the time, it’s not going to hurt anything to be gracious about it. Be happy for them.

You can also give it by giving what you do to the world around you. Do cook? Do you write? Do you clean? Do you sculpt? Do you teach? Do you make widgets? Whatever it is the difference between joy and drudgery comes down to this one question: Do you care? Even when nobody else is looking, are you 100% dedicated to the cause?

The whole gospel as Jesus presented it can be wrapped up in one simple idea: Jesus cared. And if you were to ask Jesus what he believed about God, he likely would have said: the only God worth believing in is the God who cares.

Or, as Paul says, “The God who calls you will do this.”

Baptism Redefined

enlightenmentMark 1:9-11

That was when Jesus came. He arrived from Nazareth and John dunked him in the Jordan River. As he emerged from the water he saw the universe as it really is, and he felt it resonate to his core: that he was God’s precious child, and God was joy.

Baptism is the moment when you connect with the universe and know who you are. It’s the moment when you experience every atom in your body resonating with the vibrations of the air all around you, and you simply know without anyone having to tell you.

We talk about baptism as if it were something that happens in church, as a rite of initiation, as an affirmation of faith, as a symbolic action. But its not. It’s an experience that will happen in its own way according to who you are. Call it enlightenment. Call it alignment. Call it self-awareness. Whatever you call it, it is the joyful, awesome moment when you know in your bones that you are in sync with the world. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with holy water or church.

Remember that moment. That’s the moment on which the meaning of your life turns. Stay true to that moment and, come what may, all will be well.

Don’t Stress Out!

Philippians 4:4-7

Let Jesus make you into joyful people. Rejoice, I say! Be gentle with people. Jesus is right there, so don’t stress out! Bring what’s on your mind, along with your gratitude, to prayer. When you do – it’s beyond explaining how it happens – your mind and heart will be at peace, in touch with Jesus and with the eternal.

My mother used to say you get more flies with honey than with vinegar. Behind all the excuses people give for not wanting any part of Christianity may well be that so many Christians tend to be dour, pessimistic folk. Sometimes its the feeling that you have to watch your step or someone will get upset with you. Other times it’s all the talk about how hard it is to keep the church up and running. “Maintenance mode.” Nobody wants to sign on for that!

Dour Christians and stuck churches are not what Paul had in mind. Despite his reputation, Paul, like Jesus, wanted people to enjoy life. And it’s hard to enjoy life when people are so rough on each other and so stressed out about so many things. In this regard, prayer helps. For one thing, it can help balance what we need with what we already have. And, though prayer is not a substitute for actually dealing with the problems that face us or for doing the work that needs done, regular meditation provides a space to expand our vision, explore new approaches, and gather strength for the tasks at hand.

Stop. Don’t take it out on someone else. Don’t freak out!
Clear your mind. Relax. Breathe. Be grateful.