Monday, February 1, 2016

What We Can Learn About Christian Community from Compost

Part 3:
 The Ingredients Must Be Transformed by Something Beyond Themselves


Compost is more than the sum of its parts, but that doesn’t happen just because the inputs are put together. More is needed; water, various microbes, and other organisms transform the ingredients into something beyond themselves. Even the best inputs are insufficient in of themselves.

The same thing is true of us Christians. We cannot effectively deliver the goodness God desires us to deliver without His adding something to our lives, regardless of our native abilities. Solomon—a man with immense natural talents and great positional advantages—recognized that he was inadequate to deliver all the graces God wanted delivered without God’s help. He perceived that would not possess sufficient wisdom unless God gave it to him. See  1 Kings 3:4-14; Wisdom 8:19-9-18. Jesus told Peter, a man who for all his foibles was a natural leader, that he could not lead His church unless he accepted God’s help. John 3:18. Jesus summarized that well in John 15:4:"Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me."

         The same is true on a collective level. We see that in Acts 1:4-7, 13-14  and  2:1-17, 40-47. Consider the setting. Here were a group of folks who were uniquely positioned to do the work God called them to; they had been in intimate relationship with Jesus for three years, they had been personally taught by Him, and they had witnessed, and even taken part in, great miracles. If anyone was ever prepared to serve God it was these folks. But what did Jesus tell them? That they needed the Holy Spirit. And once they received the Spirit, powerful things began to happen, things far more beneficial than anything they could have done on their own.

Ok, so what do we do with this, how should it impact the way we try to serve God? Three things come to mind.

The first is humility. Solomon had it, Peter needed some, and we probably do too (I know I do). We have to accept the fact that we cannot deliver all the good that God wants us to deliver in our own strength. We therefore have to be humble enough to accept that and accept His help. Check out Proverbs 15:33,  Proverbs 18:12, Proverbs 29:23, and Romans 12:3.    

The second is prayer. What did the apostles do when Jesus told them they’d need the Holy Spirit?  They   "all joined constantly in prayer."   What did Solomon do when he realized that he was incapable of delivering all the good that God wanted him to deliver? He “prayed to the Lord and entreated him…with all [his] heart.” Wisdom 8:21 (New Jerusalem Bible)(other translations here).

The third is community. The apostles didn't retreat to their individual prayer closets, they "joined ... in prayer." God frequently supplies what we lack through fellow believers, and He has expressly told us that joint prayer is very powerful. Matthew 18:19. We therefore ought to seek each others' help and join each other in seeking God's help. 


So, to return to my original point of departure, we have to let God add what we lack if we are to be transformed from basic "greens and browns" into the rich compost God wants to make with us.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

What We Can Learn about Christian Community from Compost

 Part 2: 
Great Things Come from Humble Ingredients

Compost is made from things most folks think have little value.  Fallen leaves, pulled weeds, and other yard waste is taken to the curb to be hauled away. Kitchen scraps and coffee grounds are put in the trash. But combined in a properly built pile, those humble ingredients produce something that provides great benefits to individual gardens and the general environment. 

That is a lot like the way God blesses humanity; He consistently uses people the world discounts to execute his loving, redemptive, plan. A walk through the scriptures shows that over and over again.

God started by choosing a small, vagrant, and highly dysfunctional family to form a people that would lay the groundwork for universal salvation. See generally Genesis 12-50 and Deuteronomy 7:6-8.   

Once God started down that path He repeatedly chose weak and disadvantaged folks to execute important parts of His plan. He chose little brother Jacob over Esau the first born.  He chose the the least liked of Jacob's sons to be the vehicle for preserving His people (and the broader society) from a devastating famine, and did so in spite of the fact that the son had been reduced to the status of a  prisoner.  He used Gideon, a weak and doubting peasant, to deliver his people from powerful oppressors.  He used Hannah, a barren and wrongfully scorned second wife, to birth Samuel, a great prophet who would deliver His people from from decadent spiritual and political leaders. He used David, the youngest and least respected member of his family, to provide much better leadership.

That pattern continued as God’s plan moved out into the broader world through Jesus, the universal messiah. Jesus was born to a a poor couple who were effectively homeless. God had earlier chosen an aging and previously barren couple to conceive and raise  the prophet who would announce the beginning of Jesus ministry,  a prophet who himself was scorned by social elites.

   Jesus himself was not a person that the world would naturally embrace. He “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” See generally Isaiah 52:13-53:12. And Jesus himself told us that it is those on the margins of society, the poor is spirit, the meek, the persecuted, that become salt and light to an otherwise putrid and dark world. Matthew 5:1-12.  

         God’s plan continued to unfold through people the world had little regard for.  His disciples were uneducated.  The religious leaders of their day did not hide their contempt for His followers.  Even regular folks were dismissive.

         But God used those humble folks powerfully. Indeed, the fact that  the church continues 2,000 years later and reaches around the world is powerful proof that “God chose[] the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom,” James 2:9, Saint Paul put it well:

God chose those who by human standards are fools to shame the wise; he chose those who by human standards are weak to shame the strong,  those who by human standards are common and contemptible -- indeed those who count for nothing -- to reduce to nothing all those that do count for something, so that no human being might feel boastful before God.” 1 Corinthians 1:19-20,25-29.

         So how do we respond to that undeniable dynamic? How we are to live, as individuals, and as parts of Christ’s body? Our original compost analogy helps with that.


Just as a wise gardener does not share the world’s dismissive attitude towards the humble things that make great compost, we shouldn’t buy into society’s dismissive attitude towards those on its margins. We should not "conform...to the standards of this world," but should follow God’s more perceptive, more merciful--and ultimately far more fruitful--approach. See Sirach 11:1-6, Isaiah 55,  Isaiah 58:6-14, Matthew 25:31-46, James 2:1-8.