Thursday, May 28, 2009

Six Model Communities - Number 2 "The Garden of Eden"

The Garden of Eden is the fifth (actually 2nd if you go in chronolgical order) model community we see in the Bible. Like the New Heaven and Earth, the New Testament Church, the nation/community of Israel and the family, the Garden gives us a glimpse, a foresight if you will, of what God intends for us in regards to community.

According to Genesis 2:8-17, it is eeriely striking how similar the Garden of Eden in Genesis is with the New Heaven and Earth revealed in the book of Revelation. The Garden was created for man and provided with all the things that he would need. There was no pain, sickness, hunger, poverty, etc., in the Garden just like we see in the vision of eternity in Revelation 21 and 22.

In the Garden was placed the tree of life. The only other place we see this tree in the Bible is in the New Heaven and Earth as well. A river flowed down the middle of the Garden such as the one from the throne of God in Revelation. Talk about coming to a full circle!

Man was given dominion in the Garden under the Lordship of the Creator God. God's presence was there and God Himself would walk in the cool of the day with man (Adam) and talk with him in perfect communion. What a great picture of community as it was meant to be!

So, we have discussed 5 model communities thus far. These communities have been in reverse order as they appear in the Bible. Next blog, we'll look at the first model community in the Bible which occurs even before the Garden. And this model is the basis of all that we seek to be as community here on earth and as Kingdom community development workers, it is the foundation for our strategies.

Until then...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Six Model Communities - Number 3 "The Family"

At the beginning of creation, God saw that everything in the world He created had community except for the first man, Adam. No suitable helper was found for him among the other created entities. Therefore, God formed woman from the side of man to which man proclaimed, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman', for she was taken out of man." (Genesis 2:18-25). Thus a man, in due time, will leave his birth family/community and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh and in essence, the beginning of a new community.

And this is not any ordinary community. Biblically, it is to be a community where God is exalted, honored and followed first by the head of the community (the man). In turn, the man is to be the head of the family and the wife. The NT commands us to "Submit to one another out of revernce for Christ" and more specifically for, "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything." (Ephesian 5:22-24)

The husband, being the "head" of this community, finds his inspiration and model in Christ. "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy...In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." (Ephesians 5: 25, 28)

Thus, here you have another model of community as God meant it to be: God, a man and a woman, together in unity, loving one another and raising up a new generation and a new community which they call their family...

So, where are we going with all these models of community and what in the world do they have to do with Kingdom and community development? The new heaven and earth, the church, Israel, the family...

Next blog, model community number 5 (or number 2 going in reverse order as they occur in the Bible)...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Six Model Communities - Number 4 "The Community of Israel"

Continuing with sharing the six model communities that I see in the Bible, number 4 (again in reverse order) is the community of Israel. If you haven't done it lately, go back and read the book of Deuteronomy especially chapters 10 through 26. God calls and sets apart a tiny people, not because of any merit they have, to be His blessing and mouthpiece to all other nations. He starts with "father" Abraham and a promise to make his descendants into a great nation and that "all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Gen 12:2-3). God is to be their God, King and supreme ruler. They are to be His people to declare His praises and glory among the nations.

Isaac, Abraham's son and Jacob, Abraham's grandson, are given basically the same promise that God gave Abraham. Jacob, even with all his faults, is given this honor and given a new name, "Israel", which ironically means "he struggles with God". What a foreshadow of events to come for this nation!

Through a series of shady events that has the makings of a modern soap opera, one of Israel's youngest sons, Joseph, leads his fathers' household down to Egypt. They are 70 in number when they go down. And God uses the Nile valley as a crucible to form His Israel, His beloved people into a nation of over 600,000 men (probably around 3 to 4 million people) in a period of 430 years!

Thus the "community" of Israel comes out of its captivity in Egypt and begins to head towards the promised land, Canaan. Not a small, insignificant tribe but a people of millions. As they went, God, through His servant Moses, gave them His plan for community and said, "If you listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians..." (Exodus 15:26). And the people agreed! They affirmed before Moses and priests and elders of Israel, "Everything the Lord has said we will do." (Exodus 24:3)

Israel was the model community called to be set apart from all other nations. They were to proclaim that the Lord is God and the only one and true God. They were a community called to love God with all their heart, soul strength. They were to be holy and set apart; a blessing to all nations.

Biblical models of community...The New Heaven and New Earth, the New Testament Church, Israel...

Next blog, the Biblical model of community number 3...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Six Model Communities - Number 5 "The Church"

The fifth model (again in reverse order) of community in the Bible is the church. It is the body of Christ, His community on earth. His community is, "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God..." They are called so and set apart in order that they might "declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light."

This community is characterized by devotion to God's teachings, fellowhsip with one another, communion and prayer. They are described as having all things in common and taking care of those who have needs. They meet together daily and praise God with glad and sincere hearts. Christ is the head and they are one in heart and in the Spirit. They are a model of what God desires for his people now and to come. They are also a "contagious" community "praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people." And, they are a growing community as, "...the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." (Acts 2:42-47)

The great power of God was experessed among them. "Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles." (Acts 2:43). Moreover, "with great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all." (Acts 4:33)

There was a caring community. "There was no needy person among them." (Acts 4:34) "All believers were in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." (Acts 2:44-45).

Biblical model of community number 5 - The church as God meant it to be...

Next post, model community number 4 from the Bible. Until then...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Six Model Communities from the Bible - Number 6

There are six (6) models of Kingdom community that I find in the Bible. Maybe there are more but these are the six which jump out at me and give an insight into life as God means it to be. With your permission, I will start with number six and work my way back to number one. This is in reverse order as they occur in the Bible and, again with your permission, I'll explain later as to why I list numbers 6 to 1 instead of starting with number 1.

The first model of community in the Bible (or number six, I should say) is the new heaven and new earth found in Revelation chapters 21 and 22. Other words for this are eternity or simply "heaven." Here we find community as one day it will be. In fact, all of history is moving towards this everlasting and glorious community. It is a community where God dwells with man and He is the supreme ruler and focus of the community. He is theirs and they are his people forever and ever. There will be no death, no mourning, no crying and no pain. There is no need for a temple or even a church, for God is with His people. There is no need for a sun or moon to light the way, for God is the everlasting light. God's glory fills the whole realm!

There is nothing impure or unclean here and there is a river of life, clear and clean, flowing from he throne of God, lined by the tree of life whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. Community doesn't get any better than this for it cannot! This is the final and eternal community of God!

Anybody interested in living here? This is the destination for those who enter into "community" with God here on earth...

Next post...Kingdom community model number 5...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Word "Community" in the Bible...

Even though there are many examples/models of community in the Bible, as far as I can tell there is no one word that actually means "community". The word we use comes from the Latin communitas, which is derived from the root word communis or "common". The closest word in the New Testament stems from the Greek root word koin and its most basic meaning which also means "common".

There are five words in the New Testament that contain the root koin. Two are adjectives, two are verbs and one is the noun, koinonea. And while I have always thought koinonea to mean "fellowship" (which it does), it can mean much more. It is also used to denote communion, communication, contribution and, my favorite, participation.

I think this concept of koinonea/participation is getting close to what is stirring in my heart about community. The fact that we "participate" in the Kingdom of God when we come alongside those who are hungry, suffering, persecuted and oppressed and stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. As in Hebrews 10:33, we choose to stand "side by side" (read "koinonea") with "those so treated." And just as Jesus "participated" in our lives by becoming flesh, the God incarnate, we too are called to "participate" in "the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (2 Peter 1:4). Moreover, this "participation" with His divine nature thrusts us into action, to participate with with a lost and dying world. And this lost and dying world is composed of the lost, the last (unreached) and, don't forget, the least (those overlooked and marginalized by the world).

Well, I promised a couple of posts back to begin talking about the six models of community which I find in the Bible and I will do so beginning with the next post. I will discuss them in reverse order (number 6 to number 1) in which they occur in the Bible. I will save the reason for doing so until later.

Until then...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

On the Contrary...

Someone said, "Wow, you must have been a part of some really bad churches" based on my last blog. However, the opposite is true. I've been blessed to be a member of or attend some wonderful churches in my lifetime! My home church in rural Tennessee was the crucible of my faith. I had an amazing pastor/teacher during my formative spiritual years as well as godly men and women who taught and instructed me along the way in my journey. I also served on staff of a number of great churches, learned from pastors/friends and helped start a number of churches while living in the Philippines. I have seen churches living out Christ's life here on earth and in community. So you may ask, "why the struggle"?

Call it wanderlust. Call it a longing for the eternity God set in my (and your) heart. Maybe even call it a mid-life crises (how can it be mid-life when we're going to live forever?). But there is something in me that says that there is more to this Kingdom thing than what we see in our everyday lives and in most of our churches. Seeing my life and seeing how conformed I've become (or the lack thereof) to the image of the Son, makes me yearn for what Jesus taught His disciples to pray: "...Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven!"

That's what I'm talking about. And that's what I want to talk about with others...

Any takers out there?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Isn't the Kingdom of God on earth the church?...

A friend has asked, "Aren't you talking about the church when you're talking about the Kingdom of God on earth?" And my answer is "yes" and "no". Let me discuss the "yes" briefly and then spend a little more time on the "no" part to the answer.

"Yes" the Kingdom of God expressed here on earth should be the church, the living, vital, functioning body of Christ where His rule and reign is acknowledged, celebrated and followed. But I have to ask myself a serious question regarding the church: "Have I ever seen or been a member of a church like this?"

Unfortunately, most of the churches I have been a part of through the years have been somewhat less of the image of the invisible God in both word and deed. Granted, I'm a part of that problem so I'm not laying the blame anywhere else except squarely on my own shoulders. I remember one time on a "visitation" call to the home of a non-believer, I was privileged to discuss with him matters of salvation and to my joy, he decided during that visit to become a follower of Jesus Christ. During further discussion, I encouraged him to become a member of a local church to help him grow in his new faith and invited him to my group which was just a block away from his house. His whole countenance changed and he said, "Why would I want to go there? I've heard about your church and I've got enough problems of my own."

Another friend of mine once told me that the problem with the church today is that it is supposed to be a perfect institution but is in reality made up of fallen beings. So there's the catch: God's chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God but yet at best, sinners saved by grace.

I know that this may be a bit extreme example/idea, but it also is an all to common happening as well. Yet when I read the Bible and see the model of the New Testament church, my soul wants to scream, "I know that God's Kingdom on earth is supposed to look like God's Kingdom in heaven!" But where is it?

I have found that there are, as far as I can tell, six models of God's plan for His community in the Bible of which His church is one. I would like to discuss these over the next couple of blog posts. Until then....

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Kingdom of God...

Much has been written through the years regarding the Kingdom of God. One of my favorite definitions is from Dallas Willard, who says, "God's own Kingdom or rule is the range of His effective will, where what He wants done is done." My favorite stories describing the Kingdom are from Jesus' parables in the New Testament. I was just reading this morning in Matthew 13, where Jesus compared the Kingdom to 1) a man who went out to sow good seed, 2) a mustard seed, 3) yeast in the dough, 4) a hidden treasure, 5) a pearl of great value and 6) a net let down into the lake to catch all kinds of fish. What I gathered once again from these stories is that God's Kingdom is one of great value to those who find it (the hidden treasure and pearl). Also, His Kingdom is a Kingdom of growth in those who are called to participate in it (the mustard seed and yeast). Furthermore, there is and will be a coming harvest and judgment in relation to where a person stands in regard to the Kingdom (the parable of the weeds and net).

While I was raised in a culture which interprets these parables more along the lines of the individual and his/her personal response, I wonder if Jesus isn't saying as much about communities as He is individuals. I can easily understand what "God's own Kingdom and rule" looks like in my life, but what would it look like in a transformed community? What would a true community of God look like where His effective will is prevalent? What would our community look like if it were a place where what God wants done is done?

Francis Fragipane wrote: "This, my friends, is the glorious mystery of our existence! The Almighty has purposed from eternity to create a race of men, who, though tested in a corrupt and violent world, bear the image and likeness of Christ." Wouldn't that be something to see?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

God's Kingdom in Heaven and on Earth...

I am a community development worker and have been for twenty-plus years. I have worked mainly in Asia in poor, rural communities and have done my work from what I describe as a Biblical perspective or "Kingdom" development. I believe with all my heart that God desires people to have an abundant life, not necessarily in a material sense, but in terms of dignity, relationships and their basic needs such as food, water, clothing, security, adequate housing, etc. Not being a "Pollyanna," I also believe that this abundant life is relatively achievable when people, communities and even possibly nations live in accordance to God's plans and His way.

I would like to take the opportunity of this blog and begin discussing this idea: What would God's Kingdom coming on earth look like? I also will be trying to ask some questions that I hope you will help me with along the way. I would like to recruit a number of like-minded folks to dialogue on emerging thoughts and questions that I have on Kingdom development. My plan is to post regular weekly blogs and grow a number of interested cooperators along the way.