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Thriving in Tough Times Part 8

May 13th, 2009 · No Comments

Living in Community

“If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:10)

When I left home on Friday morning the grass needed cutting; when I returned home that night it was cut. It’s my job to cut the grass … unless Elaine does it. But Elaine didn’t do it this time; Angie did. Angie is our neighbor (also our daughter) she borrowed our lawnmower to cut her grass; on the way home (or on the way back) she cut ours. That was nice.

I started up the Suburban a few weeks back and it sputtered and shook and a warning light came on. I’m afraid of warning lights – I know they’re trying to tell me something, but I’m not sure what it is they’re saying. Wes knows all about warning lights; he’s a mechanical savant. I took the car to Wes; he connected a computer to something under the dash, told me I had an injector problem, looked under the hood, found a wire that had been chewed in half (squirrels), patched it together and presto – no sputter, no shake, no light.

While I was there I told Wes’s wife Sherry (also our daughter) and their two boys that I’d be back on Saturday to till their garden. Wes knows a lot about cars, but not much about gardens, and I’m the guy with the tiller.

Billy came up yesterday (no relation, just a neighbor). Stripey bugs were eating his potato plants. I told Billy that they were Colorado Potato Beetles and how to get rid of them. This is his first year growing potatoes; he just needed a little advice. Billy keeps an eye on the neighborhood while we’re gone, and he’s not shy about inquiring into the business of a stranger cruising through.

Things like that happen around here. We look out for one another. It’s not a formal system – more of a natural outcome of relationship. Some of us are family, but some of us aren’t. We don’t call it anything, but if we did, we’d call it community.

There was another word for it among believers in the early church – it was ‘fellowship’. Well, it wasn’t ‘fellowship’; that’s an English word. They called it ‘koinonia’; we call ‘koinonia’ ‘fellowship’.

But ‘fellowship’ in our affluent American Christianity has been watered down. It’s more reminiscent of doughnuts and coffee before church than it is of the true meaning of ‘koinonia’ – ‘sharing of life through relationship’.

I’m guessing that the watering down of koinonia came from our lack of desire to really share our lives with others, and it came from our lack of need. We are, without a doubt, the most affluent society in the history of man. And with that affluence comes a sense of independence, privacy and insulation. We don’t need to ‘share our life through relationship.’ We’re fine on our own. If the grass needs cutting, hire a landscaper. Send the car to the mechanic – better yet, buy a new one. And why bother with a garden anyway? Shop at Whole Foods and spend your Saturdays on the golf course or at the mall.

And ‘sharing of life through relationship’ can get sticky. With people come messes … and messes need cleaning up. It’s a lot easier to complain about your neighbor’s grass than to go cut it. And, most of the time, when a neighbor shows up with something that requires ‘sharing of life through relationship’, it’s in the middle of your schedule. You have to put your agenda on hold to help him. That’s not convenient.

It’s more convenient for me to mind my own business and you mind yours. You keep your grass cut and I’ll keep mine cut. Don’t let your life spill over into mine and I won’t let mine spill over into yours. That’s the convenience affluence buys.

The problem with that kind of convenience is that one day someone else’s life will spill over into yours, or your life will spill over into theirs.

*****

Remember the story of the traveler who was robbed and left half-dead in the ditch? A priest came by but quickly moved on. A Levite came by next, but he moved on too. Both of these guys were upstanding citizens – both supposedly involved in service to God and man.

It was a pity about the poor man in the ditch, but involving themselves in his problem could be, well … problematic. Besides, helping him meant ruining their schedules, and it could be dangerous. The man shouldn’t have let himself get into that fix in the first place. Justifying not allowing themselves to get involved in that man’s life was easy – easier than involving themselves.

A Samaritan came by, someone without standing, even disdained, in the community; but he stopped to help the man in the ditch, bound his wounds and paid for a safe place for him to recover. Funny, that the one least regarded in the community was the first to help … but that’s a story for another day.

*****

Community, fellowship, koinonia is about ‘sharing of life through relationship’. If you wait until you’re lying bleeding in a ditch to start thinking about it, you may be too late.

Affluence suffocates community – it’s not ‘convenient.’ Tough times remind us that we’re not all that independent or self-sufficient and that ‘one’ can be a pretty lonely number. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

Community provides a hand up when you fall down. And being a part of community, being the one who provides the hand up when another falls down, is a meaningful part of life.

Whenever I ponder what we should be or how we should act as the Body of Christ, I go back to see how the first church acted. When it came to community, those guys had it down.

“Now all the believers were together and had everything in common. So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. And every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47)

Well … let’s just start where we can. I’d better go check on Billy’s potatoes.

Until next week,

Steve Spillman

Tags: community · Thriving in Tough Times

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