Thursday, November 6, 2008

Irresistible Invitation by Maxie Dunham - Day 31

Irresistible Invitation:  Responding to the Extravagant Heart of God                   

Day 31: What Defines Christian Community?


Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. 

1 John 4:7


What is it that makes a home be home for us? 


Maxie Dunnam, on Day 31 quotes poet Robert Frost: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  So it is in our Christian churches, our families of faith.  We’ve already talked about church as being a home of grace, the place where wonder dwells.  The only requirement for joining a church is that you are not worthy to be a member.


God is gracious, in spite of our faults, and we have all been assigned a place in God’s family with a room in God’s home.  It’s been God’s plan all along, for we need to be together receiving God’s grace.  Once we are home, in our community, we find that we begin to trust people who are different from us.  Maxie likens this to the dynamic that occurs at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.  “In that setting, you’ll find people from many different ethnic groups: Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, Caucasians.  There will be rich and poor folks, men and women, young and old.  All have one thing in common: they are battling an addiction.  The primary dynamic of the meeting is humility and trust, expressed in statements like, “Hi, I’m Tom, and I’m an alcoholic.”  That beginning point of humility and trust breaks the grip of alcoholism.  If grace can happen in an arena like AA, it can certainly happen with the church, as well.”


Maxie goes on to talk about God Addiction.  He asks what it takes to become a true Christian community.  His answer: “First, I believe, is a complete obsession with God.  If we are not completely obsessed with God, we fall short of what should define us.”  Maxie knows some people will not appreciate that language, but he clarifies that “God should be so real to us that we pulsate with the unshakable conviction that in God we live and move and have our being; that in God lies all truth, love, goodness, and beauty. 


In talking about the prophet Jeremiah, Maxie wrote that he was so “God-driven that he couldn’t break his fixation even when he wanted to.”  Here is a verse from Jeremiah chapter 20: “But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones.  I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot (v. 9).


In addition to being obsessed with God, Maxie writes that he also thinks a Christian community should be happy and holy.  And holiness is not about rules and regulations.  “Holiness that centers on rigid rules and regulations turns us into ‘sour saints,’ .. constantly stressed out in seeking to keep the law.  Sour saints ain’t no saints at all.”


For holiness to be happy, it must be connected with the Holy Spirit.  Our strength comes from the Holy Spirit, and that holiness bring us happiness. 


Holiness should also be contagious, like C.S. Lewis’ phrase: “the good infection.”  Lewis used the phrase in his book Mere Christianity in talking about the Holy Spirit.  We should have a sense of the dance of the trinity, a dance that we participate in with them.


When we come together as church, as Christian community, the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that the early Christians saw themselves as already part of a new creation.  Maxie says that “by coming together, they were shaping a new pattern for the human community, a pattern of love and sharing which reflected the very life of the Trinity.”


In his book Christian Wholeness, Tom Langford expressed it this way:


“Our strength, as Christians, comes from our relation to God and to the people of God.  We are directly related to God, and in that relationship we find our ability to move to action and to live for others.  Indirectly we receive the strength of God through sharing in Christian community.  This is a sharing which empowers, guides, corrects, and renews our ability to be and to serve.

Emphasis upon Christian strength is often neglected for fear of abuse, and the strength given by community is often neglected because it is so meagerly realized in contemporary experience.  Yet the church is the Body of Christ; it is the special embodiment of the Holy Spirit.  The church is the community graciously given by God to persons who need and who intensely seek community.  Into our solitary, isolated style of living there comes a concrete community of persons who are willing to bear one another’s burdens, enhance one another’s living, to be together in joy and in sorrow, in hope and in hurt, at ordinary moments and in critical junctures of human experience.

In the context of the church, strength comes from lives which are bound together.  The chief binding is not that of a desperate clinging to one another in a dangerous and frightening world. … The deeper truth, however, is that person in Christian community are bound together by a common love, by a common worship, and by a common mission.  The church is the community of persons who are in community with Jesus Christ.  It is a community of persons precisely because there is a common center for their lives.”


 The Heart of the Matter

-         On a scale of one to ten (ten being the highest), how “addicted’ would you say you are to God?  Why is that?

-         In what ways could holiness be contagious?  What about joy?

-         Is your congregation bound by common love, common worship and common mission?  In what ways can you individually improve – or detract from – the situation?