Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4
This is the simple truth that was overshadowed in Genesis 3. God’s goodness and truth were traded for moral autonomy – the chance for man to be his own god. The serpent undermined Eve’s view of God, leading her to question God’s loving boundaries. The cost of moral autonomy was and is great. Banishment from the garden and the Tree of Life, physical and spiritual death, toil and pain continue to this day.
As Americans, we talk a lot about freedom, but we rarely pause to give any definition to the word itself. What do we mean by freedom? Is freedom the just rule of law, or the lack of all rules?
Adam and Eve had freedom in the Garden to eat of every tree except one. They had the freedom of trusting in a loving God who had created them to enjoy His presence. Instead, they chose freedom from God and His rule – both His sovereign rule and His single command. They wrongly saw freedom in moral autonomy. Instead, they subjected themselves to the serpent – an animal over which Adam had been commanded to rule. The power structures of the world were turned upside-down (God>Man>Serpent became Serpent>Man>God).
This is where we find ourselves today. Our hearts (yours and mine) long for moral autonomy – the right to make our own rules. We want to be like gods. We desperately believe that we will only find true joy when we rid ourselves of the rule makers in our lives, especially if they disagree with our moral vision. This is the very heart of sin. It is a rebellion against God’s right as our Creator to rule our lives. We have declared our own sovereignty within His territory, making us His enemies. And for this, He has every right and obligation to punish us as traitors.
We are traitors and fugitives. There is no freedom for traitors and fugitives. Traitors and fugitives live in the shadows. They don’t show their face in public. They fear being exposed, and often strike out violently against those who threaten to blow their cover. Does this sound like your heart? In your search for freedom, have you found hopelessness instead?
This is where the good news comes in, and it’s free. On the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for our rebellion. He stood in our place, so that we could stand before God in his place. God’s justice and wrath were poured out on Jesus in place of all who give up their rebellion and see that he is their only hope. His resurrection guarantees the verdict, and grants freedom to rebel captives. Do you want freedom and true joy? This is the only place you will find it! Confess your rebellion and look to the Savior! Delight yourself in the Lord!
I hear so many people talk about community in the church. We want to develop community. We want to foster community. We want to use the word as many times as we can so everyone knows we value community. But there is a danger in all this talk of community becoming little more than a buzz word that we use to identify ourselves, especially over and against those other churches, who don’t have such great community as we do (or so we tell ourselves).
I read a book about self-deception for one of my seminary classes called I Told Me So. One of the arguments in it that stuck out to me the most is that the things we value most often become the areas where we are most easily self-deceived and least likely to listen to correction. When we value things more than we should, they become untouchable. We find it nearly impossible to reassess the priorities closest to our hearts. What does this have to do with community?
In the church, it is easy to talk about valuing community without getting into the nitty gritty of putting it into practice. Sure you may say you value community, but do those around you feel like they belong? Are there outsiders in your church? People who don’t quite fit in? When they speak up about their frustrations, do you even hear them? Have you become so enamored with the successes of your community-shaping endeavor, that you don’t understand when someone feels like they aren’t a part of your super awesome close-knit tight community?
In all our talk about community, it’s easy to miss the fact that community is not an end in itself. Community itself is an elusive goal. The goal instead should be love and unity in truth, the natural result of which is community. If you are shooting for community, but not seeking love and truth, you will never find it. If you are not actively loving people, speaking the truth, and hearing people when they speak the truth to you, there can be no community.
So let’s talk about community. But let’s recognize the priority of love and truth. Let’s be open to the truth that our community may not be the best thing since sliced bread. We may just be insiders (and who doesn’t love having a good group of friends?). But the outsiders disagree with our assessment of how super sweet our community is. Are we listening?
There’s a line from this song that keeps running through my head when it comes to dealing with poverty (see previous post “Grace and Trust in a Fallen World”). A homeless man receives donations from people, but says, “I’d give it all right back to just be looked at like a man” (2:20). Those words were echoing in my mind as I talked with Rick last night. Beyond just giving him money for food, I wanted to give him my attention and treat him with love. God, give me eyes to see.