The Gift of Community

by Morris Ruddick on April 25, 2016


(c) Morris E. Ruddick


In a world where the perception is the reality, with terrorism and corruption poised to challenge Community4516honorable opportunity and the innocent, there is a need for safe places.

The issue is power and a culture designed to preserve the righteous. Since God has had a people, the struggle of the righteous was never designed as a retreat. Good and evil do not blend. While this conflict has often involved a remnant operating against overwhelming odds, the equalizer in the equation has been God. It is within this context that God has given His people a gift to help them not only to overcome, but to thrive. That gift is community.

In late 2004 there occurred a massive earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean that impacted the surrounding nations. The devastation was awful. Nothing was the same for those affected. Parts of Indonesia were in the direct path of the turbulent tsunami. What took place that never was reported by the media is a dramatic illustration of this amazing gift tied to God as the equalizer for communities of His people.

We’ve been talking about Jewish business secrets. We’ve noted that over the centuries at the crux of Jewish business success is the model. This is the model that began with the father of the Jewish people, Abraham. Abraham operated a God-centered, entrepreneurial community. God gives a variety of gifts to men. Among the most far-reaching of those gifts is the gift of community.

While Abraham’s community was designed to be self-sustaining, it also evoked the respect of the more dominant societies around them. This community was a safe place. It is written that: “When they wandered from one nation to another, God rebuked kings for their sake, saying ‘Do not touch my anointed ones and do my prophets no harm.'” Even Abraham’s nephew Lot came under this protection after he had separated himself from the community, with Abraham mounting a rescue mission. It is likewise written that the powerful ruler Abimelich visited Abraham with the commander of his army to make a treaty.

The God-Centered Community Dynamic
The psalmist captures the substance and reality of this conflict, while spelling out the criteria for this gift of community to operate. This psalm begins by describing a people, who are wandering in the wilderness, aimless and vulnerable. Yet, when they cry out to God, the Lord first brings them together in community. The psalmist then notes that it is within community that the longing of their souls will be satisfied. So, the first step in this gift of community is the establishment of community.

Nevertheless, the psalmist is describing a progression that takes place that reflects the way that people bond together and respond to both God and those around them. These ancient writings then depict a point at which these people, who had been delivered from the dangers of their isolation and given the first step of forming a community, found themselves dealing with spiritual darkness and the shadow of death. They were bound up in the throes of what had resulted from them becoming self-satisfied and not only ignoring, but rebelling against God. When they finally came to their senses, they sorrowfully cried out to God who broke the bondages of their afflictions.

The establishment of this gift of community has a standard. That standard conforms to the righteous nature of the One who, as creator, made it possible. It reflects the principles given by Moses generations before that outlined the way that a community of God’s people should live, work and prosper together.

Yet, once the community’s standards began being adhered to, there came another hurdle. It involved those members of the community the psalmist refers to as fools. Fools generally are not those low on the IQ scale, but rather people who deceive and outsmart themselves. They are ones who compromise, transgress, who lived in deceit. Because they pollute the spiritual climate of a community, the spiritual attacks against the community manifest with physical afflictions. Some even die as a result.

Once again, when this community faced what was happening, they humbled themselves and cried out to the Lord. God’s response was to send His word of healing and deliverance.

So, first the Lord establishes community. Then He sets up His standard by which the community operates. Then to ward off the spiritual infiltration of the dark side into the community, He brings about the supernatural with the wisdom needed to maintain not just the standard, but the spiritual balance intended when God’s people live in community.

There is still another dimension. This particular passage of Jewish writings has been describing a fishing community. It involves those whose means to feed their families and build the community is in mastering the skills of the business of catching and selling fish. Yet, such things involve surmounting the challenges of their trade, as well as achieving the dominion over the elements in order to succeed.

The story of this ancient community reveals at times the almost overwhelming challenge these fishermen had in subduing the sea in order to survive. It describes a storm they encountered at sea. It portrays a small boat mounting up on huge waves, then crashing down as the waves break. It depicts the instability and uncertainty of being on a small craft as they “reel to and fro and stagger like drunken men.” I’ve been in small boats during storms at sea. It can be terrifying, even when you know what you’re doing.

Yet, for those who know their God, crying out to Him, is the natural response when recognizing that we too often operate in situations that are beyond our control. So it was for these fishermen that they cried out to the Lord in their distress and He answered. He calmed the storm. Then they were able to return to their port with their catch of fish.

This segment of this passage deals with how God intervenes. God helps in controlling the elements, as the community perseveres to achieve sufficient domination to bring the necessary increase to feed and house the individuals and families of the community.

Each of these factors are a part of God’s gift of community: establishing community; setting a righteous standard; reaching for the supernatural to ward off evil infiltrations; and providing the dominion necessary to subdue the elements in order to bring increase and blessing to the community.

The Story Behind the Indonesian Tsunami
This psalm illustrates the story behind the story of the Indonesian tsunami. This report represents a very apt example of this gift of God of community described by the psalmist. It illustrates the ancient struggle between good and evil, between righteous power and corrupt power that extends into our day. Having set the stage with his portrayal of how maturity in a community should operate, the psalmist goes on to describe the realities that take place in the setting surrounding the community.

It says that when wickedness manifests against God’s people, that the Lord will turn rivers into wilderness and fruitful land into barrenness. Simultaneously He will turn wilderness into fertile lands for the sake of the righteous, so they may sow fields and plant vineyards and yield a fruitful harvest.

Yet, when God’s people are unrighteously oppressed and afflicted, there comes a time when God pours out His wrath on the oppressors with a result that can be devastating. The result then separates the poor from their oppressors and stops the devouring path of iniquity. The context for what was happening on certain islands in Indonesia was a horrific persecution of Christians by local warlords. There were instances in which churches were boarded up while parishioners were in them and then set on fire, killing them all.

The brunt of the tsunami hit these very areas of persecution. Uniquely, in a series of reports, the believers were on high ground when the tsunami hit. Some were having picnics. Others were there because that is where they had settled. Our Indonesian brethren will tell you that everything changed, in terms of the persecution, after the tsunami. The move of God within Indonesia since that time has been one of the greatest of any nation on the planet. When those who are known by His Name come together in community a dimension is added, which attests to the way Jews have leveraged this gift of community over the centuries.

Community is a gift. Operated in the way God intended sets the stage for a safe place. This gift is also a commitment and a responsibility. With God at the center it is the group setting sharing a common purpose that nurtures the diversity of the individual gifts among its members. It is an assembly of God’s people operating beyond the ordinary as they enable one another in their respective spheres. It is a light shining in the darkness.

Achievement Defying the Odds
A few years ago, we paid a visit to a community in Eastern Europe. This group of families had expressed an interest in our entrepreneurial program. What we encountered was not only more than what we expected, it was amazing. What we found were brethren who had come together with a common purpose a little over a decade prior. That purpose was to start the first private Christian school in their nation.

As a former Eastern Bloc nation, their national school system bearing the approval authority for this venture was comprised largely of former totalitarian adherents, who for the most part, had little use for people of faith. So it was, when this small community came together with the avowed purpose of starting the first faith-based private school in their nation, even their friends told them not to waste their time, as such a thing would be impossible.

Nevertheless, they were convinced they had heard from God. They were people who prayed together. So they prayerfully and meticulously put their plan together. They did their homework and among their group were people with experience in private education. They then submitted their application. It was disapproved.

They reviewed and improved their plan. They prayed even more and consulted with people who understood the realities of what they were doing. Again, they made application simply for a private, faith-based kindergarten. This application was also disapproved as was the third and fourth applications.

Jesus told a parable about a judge who almost never ruled righteously, whose life was a reflection of wrong values. He was swayed only by the wrong kind of people. Then there came a woman who simply refused to give up. Despite this judge refusing her requests, she came back to him again and again with her petition until this judge, in exasperation, finally relented to give her what she wanted, as her continual requests were driving him crazy.

So it was with our friends in this Eastern Bloc country. Their fifth application was approved.

They put together a program with the best teachers. They found a building in a good neighborhood in a central part of their city. The national education system of their country was as a whole substandard. So it wasn’t long until this community of believers running this kindergarten was achieving an excellence that far exceeded the government-run schools. Their reputation became widely known. Even people of other faiths and non-believers wanted to send their children to this school. The demand was so great, there was a waiting list. The children loved attending this school and told their friends about it. The program they offered reflected excellence and the students did well in the next grades.

In just a few years, the school had their own building. Then those running the school began preparing an application to open the first faith-based private primary school. It was approved and almost immediately they had a waiting list of community members who wanted their children to attend. Word had gotten around and people of all faiths were sending their children to this faith-based program because of its excellence.

Twelve years after first opening their private kindergarten Carol and I visited them. They had just gotten approval to open a new private secondary school. They now owned the three buildings housing the kindergarten, the primary school and the secondary school. The respect and influence they had came from every sector of the city and its leadership.

Additionally, one year prior to our visit, with profits from running their school, this group of brethren in this Eastern Block nation had purchased and began successfully operating a mobile phone franchise. Between their private schools and the franchise they had 65 employees, which amazingly was almost the size of their small community which had banded together and employed this gift of community through God to do something meaningful for their city.

The Dynamic that Overcomes
This community is an excellent example of how God’s gift of community is designed to operate. God is at the center with people of prayer who have made Him their Senior Partner. This gift of community is like a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, which has the potential to grow into a tree. It is like the yeast which a woman kneads into dough, producing something that grows into a whole lot more than at the start. It reflects both the standard and the supernatural operating in the fishing community we previously spoke of that were described by the psalmist. It reflects the model operated by the father of the Jews, Abraham. It is a community that is God-centered and entrepreneurial.

We’ve been taking a closer look at and unveiling the dynamics incorporated in Jewish business secrets. In this illustration from this Eastern Bloc Christian community we can recognize some very specific factors that combined to overcome the adversities and bring them success. What transpired with the establishment of their school reflects the spiritual authority to overcome which was evident in the psalmist’s fishing community.

These combined factors are drawn from the source and foundation of the Christian faith, which is Judaism. The steps these Eastern Bloc brethren took involved some very Jewish mind-sets. With close associations with Israel, this group of believers understood the roots to their faith. The standard for success from a Jewish perspective involves a different way of thinking. This different way of thinking will map out a sometimes unexpected path and set of priorities. It is a way of thinking engrained in the Jewish culture and an important part of our discussion of Jewish business secrets.

Achievement from a Jewish perspective involves dominion and faith. It is written that without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith is a two-fold response. It is our response to who He is, but also what He instructs in terms of our pathway in life. It will progressively involve the bridging of reality in the natural with the reality in the spiritual.

Abraham’s response to what God revealed to him is the foundation of what made him the father of the Jewish people. He considered that which was not as though it were, because God had told him. Faith is when we bridge the seen and unseen worlds, through God and become participators in the creative process God intends for our destinies.

Operating with faith in this way entails an authority that can only come from God. We have shared the story of Joseph in a previous session. Joseph operated with a remarkable spiritual authority that changed the spiritual climate in each setting in which he worked in Egypt. Not only did it change the spiritual climate, but it reshaped the future and destiny for not only Joseph, but for Egypt and the destiny of Joseph’s family.

The spiritual authority it employed resulted in what scripture refers to as dominion. We’ll be talking more about dominion in a future session, but for now, let me illustrate with contrasting examples

There is a dominion based on being conquered. Historically for centuries, Japan has been a conquering nation. Following the outcome of WWII, the Harvard Business Review had articles concluding that the amazing post-WWII economic recovery of Japan was culturally the result of this conquering spirit being redirected toward the economic arena.

This view doesn’t negate the many positive contributions technologically and economically that have resulted around the globe due to the indomitable spirit of the Japanese. What is pertinent is the openness to competition. Some Asian nations operate big businesses through economic advantages based on largely nationalized economies. Dr. Fukuyama describes this dynamic in his book “Trust, Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity.” The government advantage is one that in civil standards represents the form of dominion achieved by means of, if not a conquering, then at least a controlling spirit.

However, the God-advantaged form of dominion operates by means of trust.

This benevolent form of dominion is engrained in the Jewish outlook on life. Dominion in scripture is the use of God’s authority in a fashion reflecting greater freedom and trust, an authority given by God for the ultimate good of a community and society. The example of Joseph reflects how when Joseph was but a slave, he had great influence, but a trusted influence because of the recognition of the mantle he bore to be blessed to be a blessing.

I’ve previously mentioned the issue of power and a nurturing culture designed as a safe place. A society that encourages private ownership is a very Jewish concept. Trust societies began with the Jews. Trust societies foster a middle class.

Free enterprise does not have its origins in the West, but rather with the Jews. It is written that one will put a thousand to flight and two ten thousand. Moses wrote that God’s people would be the head and not the tail, that they would be above all the other societies of the earth. This gives insight into the disproportionate achievement of Jews being awarded 27 percent of the Nobel prizes since 1950, despite being only one-quarter of one percent of the world’s population.

We’ve been talking about Jewish business secrets, the factors that for centuries have made Jews to be known as the people of business. Dr. Fukuyama points to the cultural foundations of enduring economies. The Jews have long understood this, defying the odds as a culture within the cultures of which they have been a part. They have embraced this gift of community not only for their own benefit, but as a means by which they have become a blessing to those around them. We’re going to be talking more about community in this series, specifically about community strategies and secrets that have been employed to aid Jews in being successful in business over the ages. We’re also going to be talking about an important dynamic at the core of our entrepreneurial program, which we refer to as community-building. However, in our next session, we will discuss still another important aspect engrained in Jewish thinking: stewardship.

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