Thursday, March 03, 2005

Get Real, Part 2

Making It Happen

Nick asked a really good question after reading the post “Get Real” below: “How can we fight the easy but disappointing tendency to keep to ourselves?” I thought a lot about it, wrote out ¾ of my answer a couple days later, and then tucked it away with all my other unfinished posts. Until now…

How can we fight for community? My answer falls into two parts, a two-directional approach that targets our own heart first and then our approach to relationships second.

In our original created state, complete openness extended all the way to our physical forms: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Gen 2:25) The point here is not nudity; it’s community. They had absolutely nothing to hide. Total openness, nothing concealed. But obviously that state of perfect community didn’t last beyond the first recorded human meal. The first two things they did after their dinner of forbidden fruit were to get dressed and to hide from God. The lesson is pretty clear: sin destroys community.

This realization is a pretty important part of the answer in and of itself, because we don’t usually fear sin for what it will do to our relationships with others. Typically we fear sin because we like a clean conscience or we want to stay out of jail or we want to keep up our image in the eyes of other people. Rarely do we fear sin because we love being so close to people and we know sin will pull us apart. But the simple realization that sin ruins relationships—even sin that is not inherently related to the relationship itself—this awareness heightens the stakes considerably. Temptation loses lots of luster when I realize that even my secret sins or my little problems like greed and pride and laziness ruin the intimacy in my marriage, my friendships, and my community.

So the first way to fight for community is to fight sin in our own lives. My own sin is the biggest obstacle to intimacy in any of my relationships. Peter makes this point when he writes: “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.” (1 Pt 1:22) In other words, we can’t connect when we’re covered with crud. It’s like trying to hook up a trailer that’s been sitting with its hitch in the mud: the connection isn’t possible until you get the gook out.

The second way to fight for community is to develop a cross-centered approach to our relationships. Put most simply, a cross-centered mindset works like this: “I’m completely forgiven and accepted by God because of Jesus. So how does that impact this friendship?”

For example, genuine community demands openness: no secrets, no façade, no desire to impress. False pretenses make pretend friendships. The alternative, of course, is to be who we really are, but yikes! What if we open up and we get rejected? Ouch! What a risk!

Enter the gospel… The cross minimizes risk in a couple ways. First, since the most important Person in the universe accepts us, it matters a lot less if other people don’t. Second, the cross means that the crud people might see when we let them in isn’t our permanent crud. We’re actually a guest on God’s “Complete Makeover: Soul Edition.” People are a lot more forgiving when they realize there’s a transformation going on, like when they see those “Please Excuse Our Mess” signs at the mall when they’re remodeling a store.

The need to be cross-centered is pretty obvious, if we think about it. After all, the cross fixed what the Fall ruined. If we understand that the Fall ruined community, we can intuit that the cross restores it.

One of clearest examples of people living in really close community, sharing their stuff, and enjoying intimate relationships is the Jerusalem church. “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” (Acts 4:32) Where did that kind of community come from? The very next verse says, “And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” I take that to mean, among other things, that this was a group profoundly centered on the gospel. The gospel is the garden where real community grows.

So, that’s my answer. The first step is directed inward; the second is outward. Fight sin in your own life; live the gospel with others. There’s probably a whole lot more to it that these two things, but I am pretty sure that these two are at the very heart of the matter.

One more thing… I think we’re going to need some very powerful motivation if we’re going to break out of our comfortable but uninspiring habits and pursue community like this. We need more than technique; we need inspiration. So how about this…

John takes up the theme of community in his first letter, and he hits it pretty hard. He’s arguing with all his might for close fellowship, extolling our love for each other, commending forgiveness, going on and on. But just a couple verses into the subject, he gives us his motive for writing: “we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (1 Jn 1:4). Catch it? He’s stirring them up to pursue community so that his joy and theirs will be full, perfect, complete. So there you go…

Want to be fully, perfectly, completely happy? Get real.


Anonymous said...

The tough thing is when people choose to not be real, to not develop community. The damage that those kind of people cause is huge.

Josh said...

Yeah, you're right. I guess my hope would be that the rest of us would get it together to such an extent that those sorts would see what they're missing and change.

Anonymous said...

First of all I want to say thanks for this blog. I appreciate the time you put into it because I know that for the most part you do it for our benefit. I don't think I would have made the connection about Sin ruining our relationships without having read this, and I agree.
I also want to say that I think you are right on about the motivation! That is what I think I struggle with the most and when one does not have the motivation to act on truths learned, it doesn't matter how much we know.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully they would see what they are missing and change... But if they don't, I think that God has a way of "eliminating" them so that they will not "contaminate" the rest of the community. I think that ultimately this is what Church discipline is all about.