Have you ever used a pinhole camera? The pinhole camera is one of the most basic cameras you can construct with only a few materials. This simple camera works on a basic principle of light and dark, how a small amount of light shining into a dark box through a hole made by a pin can create an image, an image of something much larger. The pinhole acts as a lens similar to that of a regular camera only on a much smaller scale.
The book of Lamentations is not an easy read. It is filled with passionate expressions of grief and sorrow. The author of Lamentations voices his deep concern and disappointment for the sinful acts committed by the people of Jerusalem. Their direct and open acts of disobedience to God’s word has unleashed the promised destruction of their city. God brings the gavel down and serves the people with his mighty hand of justice. The author records the destruction of the temple and the suffering of the people, “The enemy laid hands on all her treasures; she saw pagan nations enter her sanctuary” (the Babylonians ransacked the temple before burning it down). “In fierce anger he has cut off every horn (power) of Israel. He has withdrawn his right hand (his presence, power and protection) at the approach of the enemy. There was a darkness and feeling of torment that fell over all of those who disobeyed God.
Lamentations 3:22-24 reveals the “pinhole” that casts a light of hope into the darkness of the fervent laments of the author. In the middle of his discourse he changes his perspective by focusing on the hope that he still has in the Lord. “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.” Through the “pinhole of light” we have the picture of God’s everlasting promise of goodness and compassion. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed for his compassions never fail.” (3:22). This pinhole of light (salvation) comes from God. As hard as it is to read through the deserved sorrow and despair of those before us, we can learn from their actions and suffering. Today, with the same hope (because we serve the same God), we have to wait patiently through our own suffering and expectantly look forward to the salvation that we have been promised in Christ.
In life there are times that we use some pretty strong words (phrases) to convey a message. They can come from a place of anger or frustration, “I hate…” is commonly used and can conjure up hurt feelings or convey a dislike of particular foods like, “I hate peanut butter”. The contrasting phrase would be “I love”, which is also strong and holds some powerful and beautiful nuances (except when it comes to peanut butter of course).
I was feeling a little discouraged this past week as I read through the book of Job. I was looking for patterns of biblical community and how they might help me understand and better live in community with others. Forty-two chapters later I didn’t have much to go on. Then, as I re-read through different passages, I stumbled on chapter 16 and found a powerful example of what community is not. Job uses some strong words in response to his friend’s attempts to comfort him, “You miserable comforters, all of you… Will your long-winded speeches never end?” (Job 16:2&3) Earlier in chapter 13:4 he calls them “worthless physicians”. I believe that Job’s friends came with good intentions, they left from their homes to “go and sympathize with him and comfort him” (2:11). So what happened? Jobs friends seemed to only bring more pain to the situation, they thought they had all the answers. Rather than brining comfort, they openly criticized him, assuming they knew why he was suffering.
What lessons can we learn about living in community from this exchange? Comfort (love, encouragement, sympathy, support, reassurance) is the cornerstone of community. Job clearly explains that what he was getting from his friends was far from comfort. Living in community we must have the presence of mind to stop and listen, encourage, listen, pray, listen (I think you get the point). The function of community is to build each other up not tear each other down, to live in unity. Job’s story, his life, helps us to see that our faith must stay true to our heavenly father no matter the circumstances. Easy to say, hard to comprehend and seemingly impossible to live in hard times. True community with others and God is born out of love for one another.
This week I will be having an oil change done on one of my vehicles, it is something that we all know has to be done on a regular basis. But why? Well, I am no mechanic but I know that oil provides cooling, cleaning and has a bunch of other jobs to keep our engines working smoothly. When our oil is low, it becomes hotter and hotter and begins to break down, leaving our engine susceptible to internal damaged that can be very costly to fix.
In some ways I see the Apostle Paul as a bit of a mechanic. When we read his letter to the Corinthian church we can see that there is some friction among the community of believers that has the potential to harm the advancement of the Gospel message. There are divisions and quarrels over which leader to follow, some followed Paul, others Apollos, Cephas and others Jesus. Paul sets out to help the leaders understand where they have fallen short, why there is friction and why the community seems to be breaking down. We are reminded in the introduction to chapter 3 of 1 Corinthians that the influence of the world is wearing the people thin, “Are you acting like mere humans?” say Paul. The message of 1 Corinthians is kind of like that of an oil change, it is delivered to refresh the minds of the leaders and people whose tempers may be getting hot or whose relationships are being broken down by false teachings and human desires. It takes the people back to the foundations of their relationship with Jesus Christ whom everything is to be built on.
Psalm 133:1 says “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” When we lose sight of keeping God the center of our community there is a breakdown in our relationships because our focus changes, (we begin to wear thin and get a little hot under the collar). We lose sight of the unity that is critical to function as a community so that we can fulfill the mission God has set before us. As believers we need a “spiritual oil change” at times. The best part is that our “oil change” is free, it has already been paid for through Christ. All we need to do is make an “appointment” and exchange the bad for the good (confession and forgiveness). I often miss the mark on getting my oil changed done on time despite the sticker on my window, What about you? When was the last time you had a “spiritual oil change?”
The English language offers up some great idioms, an idiom is “a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words” We use them all the time, phrases like: “Piece of Cake”, “Costs an arm and a leg”, Break a leg”, “Let the cat out of the bag” and “Bite off more than you can chew.” Today the idiom, “Two sides of the same coin” (different but closely related characteristics of one idea) best describes my thoughts as I reflect on the idea of biblical community in the book of 2 Samuel.
In my last blog entry, I highlighted the story of David and Mephibosheth and how it reminds us of the compassion, kindness and love that community should be built on (one side of the coin). The flip-side or contrast to this story is found only a few short chapters away, the account of David’s actions with Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Samuel 11). This short account conveys the effects of a sinful human nature, a self-serving desire and its devastating consequences to the true nature of biblical community (love, kindness and compassion vs. lust, deceit, and hostility). David, a sinful man by nature, was also a man dedicated to living a life pleasing to the Lord. Yet he falls, he commits adultery and murder to ultimately get what he wants (Bathsheba). David destroys our earlier perception of his desire to rule as a one who sets an example of living in community. In chapter 12 of 2 Samuel, Nathan makes his way into the narrative with a story of his own, a tale that points the finger of shame and disappointment on the actions of the King, David had become blind to his own actions. This destructive behaviour is the work of the Satan in our lives, he finds great satisfaction in breaking down our heart, soul and mind.
God never moves from the center of community, His desire is to be the one that binds everything together. It is us who shifts to “left field” once and a while. There is a beautiful component to living in community with God and other believers, and that is the powerful words that come through confession and forgiveness. David’s realization and confession of his sins, brings him back into the center of relationship with God. We too have this amazing privilege. David’s life changed from that day forward (things happen that were beyond his control even as a king) as it does for us. When I think of the two sided coin, I hope and pray that my actions reflect the life I live in Christ rather than the flip-side.
Have you ever felt convicted to do something? On 13 September 2008, Christopher Irmscher set the Guinness World Record for the fastest 100 metre hurdles wearing swim fins. Christopher felt convicted to do something unique to get his name into the record books, his accomplishment so far stands undefeated as no one else has felt the calling or conviction to beat his time. (I wonder why?).
Searching through 2 Samuel and reflecting on the nature and function of biblical community seemed like a stretch when the majority of the book primarily details the many battles and life of David as King. Nestled between the accounts of David’s many victories in battle and the scandalous story of his indiscretions with Bathsheba we find the story of David and Mephibosheth. A story that reminds us of the compassion, kindness and love that community is built on. David, true to his covenant promise to Jonathan does right by showing his “unfailing kindness” (1 Sam 20:14) to the last of Jonathan’s family through the inclusion of Mephibosheth (Jonathan’s son) into his house as if he was his own son. David’s kindness, his compassion, extends from his relationship with Jonathan and ultimately from his relationship with a gracious God who had provided for Him.
Biblical community is found when God is the center of our relationships. The nature of our relationship with God is built on love; His unconditional love for us and at our best (often failing), our hearts desire to love Him back unconditionally. David felt convicted to reach out to Mephibosheth, I believe that God was using Him to be an example to others, an example of how to show compassion and kindness when it might be hard. God’s love for us, the conviction that he lays on our hearts comes through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. David, known as a man after God’s own heart lived a life obedient to God, he failed at times like all of us do. It is what he did with that failure that we need to recognize as we live in true biblical community. David acknowledged his failures, he confessed his sins before the Lord seeking forgiveness so that with a pure heart he could continue living a life pleasing to God.
There is something fascinating about an echo. I remember a time when we would drive through the “cow tunnel”, a car sized round culvert under the highway. I remember how when passing through, the blast of the horn would bounce around the interior walls of the tunnel sounding louder and longer than normal. There were times we would stop and shout into the tunnel only to hear our voices call back at us.
As I read through the book of 1 Samuel it “echoed” some very familiar ideas, feelings and events that I would say “sound” like much of what is happening in our culture today. 1 Samuel draws us into the story of Saul, David and Johnathan, a story of family, jealousy, hatred, love, betrayal and most importantly the greatness of God’s promises that were never to be broken. Living in biblical community is defined by the love and kindness that we should have for one another, the same love that God has for us. Much the same, our culture today and the stories we read in 1 Samuel echo each other. The people wanted an earthly king, someone who would lead them forward, giving them what they wanted. The people wanted someone who in the end made them promises that could not be kept. Today in many ways we still do the same thing in our own way, we just don’t call them kings anymore. Here and now, like then, God is often removed from the picture, and this is the one place we truly need to put our faith and trust.
The nature and function of biblical community has been overshadowed by the wants and expectations of people’s hearts, which have been influenced by worldly things. The true nature of biblical community is love, a sacrificial other-serving love, it is love in action. The primary function of biblical community is worship; it is recognizing that God is our Father. It is knowing and living according to His will so that He is honoured and glorified. David was flawed and often failed in the eyes of the Lord because of sin, but he was described as a man after God’s own heart. He was a man living in a loving relationship with his Heavenly Father and experienced the true meaning of community.