Authentic Relationships

Spiritual maturity happens in the context of relationships.

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During Lent we’ve been studying several of the foundational habits and practices of disciples.  Through our Sunday teaching and our Foundations book we’ve discovered that one of the most important practices we undertake in discipleship is relationship building.  Relationships are at the heart of following Jesus and, in fact, the disciple of Jesus has three relationships we tend to: our relationship with God, our relationship with the church family, and our relationship with those who don’t know Jesus, yet.  Each is vital and each must be given the appropriate attention.

I’ve spent this morning reading and reflecting on 1John.  I didn’t intend to read the whole book, but my devotions led me to one confusing verse and I needed to put it in context.  And as I read through the entire book I was reminded of the high value of relationship among church family.  In fact, John equates spiritual maturity – living as Jesus did – to the depth of our love for one another (2:9; 2:6).  The way we love one another in the church family provides the evidence that we are walking in the light.  Conversely, “anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister (God’s family) is still in the darkness” (2:9).

Since spiritual maturity happens in the context of relationships, I thought it would be helpful to list the ways John evidences as the fruit of church family love.

How do I live as Jesus did among my brothers and sisters in Christ?

  • Practice sincere love for one another. In 1John 2:10, the author uses a variation of the word “agape” to propose godly love for one another.  This is the kind of love God has shown the world in Jesus and the type of love he calls us to in the Great Commandment (Matthew 22).  The love we express to one another in the Body of Christ reflects the exact love that God expresses to each person and to the entire world.
  • Speak well of the church family. In chapter 3, John reminds us that the love of God has been lavished on us and we are God’s children.  There was a time when we did not belong to God.  In fact, we were under God’s wrath.  But through Jesus we have been adopted into God’s family.  In his grace, God has lavished us with his love.  So since we are each recipients of this love, let it be expressed in community.  As we treat one another well; show respect even in disagreement; recognize that Jesus died and rose for each of us – we express unity.  When you or I abuse one member of the family, we are abusing the whole.
  • Pay attention to the real enemy! We are not the enemy.  The enemy is personified three ways by John: the antichrists, the world, and human nature. The antichrists (2:18) are those who don’t really belong to the church family and tend to stir up trouble.  They lie, propagate unsound doctrine, and sow confusion.  Secondly, the enemy of the family of God is the world and the viewpoint of the world as it relates to God (4:5).  Thirdly, is the potential for our human nature to have sway over our relationships (2:15-17).  Our human nature left unchecked and unchanged by Jesus is ruled by our lust and pride and their selfish desires which separate.  Pay attention to the things that separate us from each other; pray for each other; and keep each other accountable (5:16).
  • Sacrifice for one another. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (3:16).  This verse, often associated with patriotism, has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with how the church family expresses love for each other. John is teaching the church how to be the church and be different from the world.  And, in this context, it’s about sacrificing for each other – “if anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister (church family) in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” (3:17)

Loving one another like this is not natural.  We are accustomed to individualism.  Love like this is also risky.  It pushes us to invest deeply in each other.  John, aware of these challenges, writes, “Perfect love drives out fear” (4:18).  If I love you, I am not afraid of you.  If I’m not afraid of you, I can take risk in expressing my love to you.

Lent is a season of soul searching and reflection.  It is also a season of growth.  As you reflect on your relationship with your church family challenge yourself to ask, “Where am I growing?”  Are you loving one another greater than you did last year, or even yesterday?  Are you speaking well, even in disagreements?  Are you working hard at keeping the enemy at the gates?  Where have you noticed God inviting you to live sacrificially for the benefit of another disciple?

While it is indeed challenging to live in community, we have help.  We are each filled with the Holy Spirit and it is he who spreads the love of God in our hearts and connects us together as the church.  And everyone will know we are Christians by our love for each other.

Ugly Expectations

What would happen in your life and ministry if you looked beyond what is expected of you and into the eyes of Jesus who is calling you out of the boat?

Have you ever had one of those experiences where life is just going really good for a little while, only to get slapped in the face by cold, hard reality?  I have.  Many times.  In my case, I’m usually enjoying some deep, meaningful moments with God.  I’m wrapped up in worship, dreaming of what could be only to be interrupted from that dream like state by the blaring alarm clock-like, tyrannical voice of the urgent. The dreams and hopes of what could be are slain by stupid things which masquerade as urgently critical to the foundations of life.  (Spoiler: They never are!)

If you have, Jesus knows how you feel.

In a moment of sheer delight, as he watches his disciples finally seem to get it; when they feed 5000 people and Peter walks on water – Jesus is hopeful that he’s turned a corner and prepared his followers for their future (Matthew 14).  Then, within what appears to be a painfully short amount of time, this mountain top experience gives way and brings Jesus and the disciples crashing back down into the throes of negativity.

“Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem…” (Matthew 15).  The Pharisees and teachers of the law have an agenda and they’re seeking Jesus to let him know they do indeed have an agenda.  “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?  They don’t they wash their hands before they eat.”

Why do I still hear my mother’s voice in that sentence?  “Go wash your hands.  Dinner’s ready.”

Nonetheless, the Pharisees meant something entirely different.  They didn’t really care about dirty hands.  They were, though, overwhelmingly concerned about doing things right.  And not just because washing your hands is right and polite.  Instead, they were invested in making sure that everyone was measuring up to their expectations.  They used expectations to control people.  “Follow all the rituals and religious expectations so you measure up to us!  Wash your hands so we know you belong with us.  Follow the rules.  Don’t diverge.  Don’t have your own ideas.  Don’t take risks.  Tow the line.”

Have you heard any of those statements before?  Words and attitudes like that can be devastating.  There is no room for possibility.  There is no room for faith.  With that kind of attitude 5000 people don’t get fed and Peter doesn’t walk on water.

I’m grateful Jesus handled this situation with expertise.  He sets the Pharisee straight about their misinformed worldview.  And in the end Jesus directs them and us to a heart issue.  “…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart…” (Matthew 15:18).  What comes from the heart can either bring pain and suffering or can bring life and possibilities.

Compare what came from the heart of the Pharisees (measure up, tow the line) to what came from the heart of the disciples and Peter.  What came from the disciple’s hearts as they took their small resources, blessed by Jesus, and fed the crowd, was faith.  The disciples stepped beyond the boundaries of what seemed possible and into the place of anticipation.  Peter shows us what comes out of his heart when he steps out of the boat.  He’s counting on Jesus to do what only Jesus can do.  I’m pretty certain that in both of these experiences the disciples weren’t worried about following the rules.  I’ve never seen a rule book about walking on water!

Christian leaders, I really want you to hear this – our experience is often filled with an abundance of people and systems telling us to abide by the rules, tow the line, do what you’re supposed to do.  These words and attitudes are opposed to Jesus.  Instead of being free to risk, we are controlled into status quo; drugged into sleepiness.

What would happen in your life and ministry if you looked beyond what is expected of you and into the eyes of Jesus who is calling you out of the boat?

This interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees is bookended.  On the front side is the story of Peter on the water.  On the backside is the story of a Canaanite woman.  The Pharisees had some rules about Canaanites, too.  They were defiled.  They didn’t belong.  They didn’t measure up either.

And this woman breaks some glass ceilings.  Out of her heart comes words of life and possibility: “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (Matthew 15:21-28).  She wasn’t about to be controlled by the unwarranted rules and rituals which kept her excluded from God’s life.  Out of her mouth comes faith, hope, and deep trust in what God could do.

Where do you want to live?  Do you want to live in the prison of other people’s expectations and control or do you want to live in the freedom to follow Jesus into miraculous experiences?

Surrendered Leadership

How bad do you need to be for history to classify you as a scoundrel?  Paul Martin, in a Huffington Post article, cites some of the worst historical scoundrels like Daniel Drew, the Fox sisters, and Hetty Green.  These folks, and others like them, lived unscrupulously at the expense of others.

Now, how bad do you need to be for the Bible to identify you as a scoundrel?  That’s a whole new level.  But that’s exactly how Phinehas and Hophni are described (1Samuel 2).  They consistently robbed people; slept with whoever they wanted; disregarded authority; and ignored God.  Their story may not raise many eyebrows until you know that these two men were leaders.  They were part of a family that had been committed to serving God and God’s people.  But nothing they did reflected their position as leaders.

Leadership is hard.  If you lead, you get this.  As a country we’re tough on our leaders – from the government to the church and everywhere in between.  We certainly expect our leaders to be people of character and integrity, and we should.  But we also have the propensity to knock leaders down.  We want them to be the best, but we quickly look for their flaws and cheer when those flaws are well known.  Leadership is not for the faint of heart.

And that’s precisely why those who are leaders – especially spiritual leaders – need to pay attention to the details.  While Hophni and Phinehas were disregarding their character and position, God was raising up another leader to replace them.  Samuel was still a young boy but God was shaping him into the kind of leader both God and the people needed.  God gives us a hint of the kind of leader Samuel could be – “those who honor me I will honor but those who despise me I will disdain…I will raise up a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind” (1Samuel 2:30-35).

When it comes to spiritual leadership God looks for a particular kind of person – one that wants what God wants.  Wanting what God wants has a way of shaping our character and increasing our integrity. When temptations challenge our moral fiber, leaders after God’s heart trust God’s strength.  When moral failure happens, leaders after God’s own heart seek forgiveness and restoration.  Spiritual leaders don’t ignore or dismiss their actions they come to terms with the call and grace of God.  God raised up Samuel to do what was on God’s heart and mind.

Whether you are a Christian leader at work, in your home, with you kids, or at your church – God is inviting you to do what is on his heart and mind.  Phinehas and Hophni reveal the destruction unsurrendered leadership creates.  Don’t be a scoundrel!  Seek the heart and mind of God, surrender yourself to God’s purposes and lead well.

Abundant Life is Found Out on the Water

Bread and water are the often joked about references to the food of the incarcerated.  But bread and water are two elements Jesus uses to show Peter the secret to a full and abundant life.

The story begins in Matthew 14.  The crowds have followed Jesus into a remote place.  The sun’s going down and everyone’s getting hungry.  The disciples want to send the crowds into town for dinner.  Jesus has another idea – “you give them something to eat.”  The reaction of the disciples is one that we would share if we were in their shoes, “We don’t have enough…”

  When faced with obvious need, “we don’t have enough…” is our usual response.  I’ve been guilty of that.  We don’t have enough time, money, people, money, time…you get the idea.  We’ve all been there and we’ve all uttered the same thing.  But I love what Jesus does in light of their scarcity.  Jesus says, “Bring them here to me.”  Bring me your resources.  Bring me what you do have.  Then Jesus does what only he can do.  He takes our limits and stretches them to meet the need.

This story is immediately followed by Peter walking on the water.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Peter and the other disciples are in a boat struggling against the storm and waves.  They’re trying to get the other side of the lake to meet Jesus, but they’re stuck.  So Jesus comes to them, walking on the water.  Peter sees Jesus and wants to be where he is – out on the water.  But Peter let his water walking certification lapse.  So he says, “Jesus, if that’s you tell me to come to you on the water.”  If I were Peter, I’d want Jesus to respond with something like, “No. Don’t worry about it. Stay in the boat and I’ll come to you.  No need to get your feet wet.”  But he doesn’t.  Jesus’ response to Peter’s longing is simply – “Come.”

Now Peter has never walked on water but here’s what he has done: he has stepped out of a boat before.  He was a fisherman, after all.  He knows how to lift a leg over the side, set it down, and walk.  So Peter does what he knows how to do.  He gives Jesus what he already knows how to do.  And Jesus does, in those moments, what only Jesus can do.

I’m convinced that this is a life truth.  We give Jesus what we know how to do and Jesus takes it and does what only he can do!

Following Jesus is about being stretched.  Left to ourselves, we usually see what we can’t accomplish.  And that always limits the abundant life Jesus promises.  Jesus stretches our faith when he says, “Give me what you do have” and I’ll take it and do an amazing thing.  Abundant life is found out on the water – when we give Jesus what we know how to do and let him do with it what only he can do.

Last night I attended an event hosted by The Asservo Project (theasservoproject.org).  The Asservo Project, based out of Pittsburgh, exists to combat global human trafficking.  They are a David facing a Goliath.  Human trafficking is currently one of the world’s most profitable criminal enterprises.  There are 40 million victims globally.  At $150 billion annually, this criminal enterprise makes more money than Google, Apple, Yahoo, and Netflix combined.  Since 2010, human trafficking has grown 850%.  Trafficking and sexual slavery is real.  Open your eyes and it becomes so obvious.

This reality is so staggering I couldn’t help but think, “Jesus, we don’t have enough…”  That’s all I could think about on the way home.  How do you even make a dent?  And I kept going back to this story.  Jesus says, give me what you have/what you know how to do and I’ll do what only I can do.

So that’s my current next step.  But what about you?  You may not be passionate about ending human trafficking (I hope you will be) but there is something that you are passionate about.  There is something that God is calling you to and you’re first response is “I don’t have enough…time, education, money, fill in the blank.”

But here’s the spiritual truth.  The only way disciples grow is when they are stretched.  When they say, “Jesus, I hear you, and I don’t know how I will accomplish this but I will give you what I know how to do and I’ll let you do what only you can do.”

Abundant life is found out on the water…so get out of the boat.

Stand up!

There are seasons of life where we come to the end of our ability. Hopefully these are the very seasons that drive us to a deeper place of surrender.

…Hannah stood up.

I’ve never really seen this phrase before.  It seems to come out of nowhere, yet Hannah’s action is a consequence of years of provocation.

Let’s remember the story.  Hannah was the wife of Elkanah.  But she wasn’t his only wife.  In a context unlike our own, Hannah was a product of polygamy.  She shared Elkanah with another woman – Peninnah.  Furthermore, in a culture that placed wealth, privilege, life, and success on a person’s number of children, Hannah was losing.  She had given Elkanah no children, while Peninnah seemed to be very fertile.

Not only was Hannah seeming to suffer from the depression and frustration of a “closed womb,” she was constantly provoked by Peninnah.  This troublesome relationship went on year after year until Hannah was so depressed and broken down that she couldn’t eat and constantly wept about her painful reality (1Samuel 1:1-20)

This was Hannah’s reality until she stood up.  She had enough and stood up.  She was tired of her pain and she stood up.  She was done being provoked and ridiculed.  She stood up!  She was done with the depression.  She was done feeling sorry for herself.  She stood up…and went straight to her knees. Hannah came to the end of herself and to the beginning of God.

There are seasons of life where we come to the end of our ability.  Hopefully these are the very seasons that drive us to a deeper place of surrender.  I cannot…but God can.  Often these seasons arrive after long periods of frustration, pain, brokenness, and maybe even some ridicule.  The time before we come to a place of surrender may find us filled with self-doubt and devastated self-worth.

Hannah offers a beautiful portrait of strength.  She is tired of her present reality.  She wants change – not just for herself but for the people she loves.  I also suspect she wants God to be honored with her future.

Hannah comes to the end of herself and to the beginning of what God can do.  This is a remarkable picture of maturity.  Hannah speaks to me about moving from a life of brokenness into the full and abundant life of God.  And the one act that separates the two realities happens when Hannah stands up and say’s “enough is enough!”  I am tired of existing in my current status.  I want a better future.  So she stands up and goes straight to her knees believing that God is the one who changes our story.

Where do you need to stand up today?  What are you tired of living with?  What are you tired of permitting?  What are the habits or cycles that you’re done with for the last time?  Where have you reached the limits of your abilities?  Remember the definition of insanity – if we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we always got.  Stand up!  And go straight to your knees.

In chapter 2, Hannah offers a prayer of thanksgiving for what God has done to change her reality.  In that pray she pronounces a new path, “My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my [strength] is lifted high…there is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no rock like our God.”

Stand up today and surrender your current reality to God’s best future for you.  Remember what Jesus said, “the thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy.  I have come that you may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Revive: Living God’s Abundant Life

indexI hope the start of 2018 has been good for you!  I’m excited to see what this new year brings. This is my time of year.  I like to plan, dream, and be hopeful about the open days in front of me.  I like to think that life can be full of hope and promise.

So help me out.  How would you finish this sentence?  Life is ___________?  Forrest Gump would say, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.”  Some might say that life is a rat race; a bowl of cherries, a series of choices, a paycheck, a party.  We have a habit of trying to reduce the size of our life.

And I’d like to help us think about life differently at the beginning of 2018.  So today and for the next 5 Sundays I want to teach us how to live God’s abundant life.  Does that sound good?  Would you like to know how to live an abundant life? One that is full of hope and dreams and anticipation.  An abundant life instead of a mediocre life; a full life instead of a life robbed of hope and meaning?

Late last fall I spent a lot of time praying about God’s direction for this year and where he wants to take us as a church.  The word that I kept hearing and seeing is a word that oozes life.  It’s the word revive.  I like that word.  Do you know what revive means?  Revive means to restore to life; give new energy or strength!  To revive is all about giving life.  That’s what Jesus does.  He gives life.

Our primary Scripture for the next 5 weeks is from John 10:10.  READ.  There are two things happening in this sentence. There’s a thief who steals, kills, and destroys.  Then there’s Jesus who says that he comes to give you life.  And not just life – the kind where we just live and muddle through the day.  He brings life that is full or abundant.

Here’s my hope for this teaching and for 2018.  If you are the kind of person who feels like you’ve got the short end of the stick on life; or if you’re just getting through – life dealt you a bad hand and things are happening that you’ve never asked for – I want you to hear this word and live into something new.  If you’re just caught up in the routine – I want you to let Jesus bring you a full and abundant purpose this year.  If you’re comfortable and you’re thinking – life’s pretty good – no worries, no challenges, no surprises – I hope God shakes you up a little bit and pushes you to a place where you’re hungry for more purpose and deeper significance.

Now because we want God’s word to inform and transform us, we need to understand the context here of what Jesus means when he says the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that you may have life; and have it the full.

Just prior to all of this, Jesus heals a blind man. The man was taken to the Pharisees, who investigated the healing but refused to acknowledge Jesus as the healer; in fact, they mocked the healed man for trusting Jesus. When Jesus heard what happened, He went to the previously blind man, revealed Himself as savior, and accepted the man’s worship of Him.

Then Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (John 9:39). Some Pharisees overheard this and, taking offense, asked, “What? Are we blind too?” (John 9:40). Jesus replied, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep” (John 9:41—10:2).

Jesus continued talking about the gatekeeper and how the shepherd calls out his sheep and how the sheep will only follow the shepherd whom they know (John 10:3–5). Jesus then interpreted His words: “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:7–10). With these words, Jesus declares that He is the only way to salvation and the fullness of life. But who is the thief? And what does it mean that the thief “comes only to steal and kill and destroy”?

The Greek word for “thief” used in John 10:10 means “one who steals.”  Anyone who claimed a way of salvation other than Jesus was “robbing” the people of truth.

Let’s think about the patterns and habits right now which in a very real way, rob you of a full life with Jesus.  These are the habits and experiences that work real hard to replace Jesus.

Pleasure.  If I just find the things that make me feel good or be comfortable – I’ll have a full life.  If I could just take a cruise, retire in luxury, or have my fantasies fulfilled – that’s life.  Problem is that those are moving targets.  We move from thing to thing believing that the next one will make me happy.  The next car, the next marriage, the next house, the next drink.  Each time takes a bigger thrill, or bigger event to bring another high.  But it never lasts.

Performance.  I need to confess that this the one that steals full life from me the most.  Always trying to do more to make someone else happier.  Have you lived there?  If I just do more, they’ll love me.  If I’m a better husband, wife, parent, child, employee – I’ll feel full, loved and satisfied.  And we live in the myth that success produces life.

Possessions.  If I just get one more thing I’ll feel like I have a full life.  Abundance is not what we think.  So before we get tricked into thinking that more is better, we need to think about what Jesus says about abundant life.  Wealth, position, power are not God’s priorities for us.  If this were the case, Jesus would be the wealthiest person, ever.  But the opposite is true, Jesus said this about himself, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the son of man has no place to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20)

Pursuits.  The delusion that if we just stay busy enough and if the pace of life remains at an intense level we will discover life.

These thieves masquerade as givers of life, but actually all they end of bringing is pain, frustration, heart-ache, and death, spiritually and physically.  Rather than being agents of revival these habits and patterns steal the fullness of life.

I’m convinced that we want more than this.  That we want more than mere life.  Because mere life isn’t working.  We want our lives to count for something.  As a follower of Jesus, your inheritance is a full, abundant life. And the source of abundant life is Jesus. Jesus says time and again that he is the giver of life, the author of life.  READ John 11; 14.  But the most powerful statement Jesus made was “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly.”  Full life happens through Jesus.

Now some people may say, “Wait a minute, don’t I already have life? Aren’t I breathing? Isn’t my heart pumping blood?”

I would answer, “Yes, but . . . not the life Jesus is referring to.” The life that Jesus gives is infinitely and eternally different than the life one possesses now. Maybe a little lesson in Greek vocabulary would be helpful in discerning what the significance of this life he offers is. As with most of the Greek language, it employed several different words to communicate concepts and thoughts that in English only one word is available. Such is true with this concept of life. They had six different words to clarify its meaning. But two words are important for us.

The first word is bios, in which the English word biology is derived.  It refers to the duration of life – one’s life span, the time between one’s birth date and one’s death date; or it refers to the necessities of life – one’s food, shelter, and clothing.

The second word is zoe.  It refers to life as God has it. The life that belongs to God that becomes ours when we cross the doorway of Jesus and enter into a relationship with God. It is not a possession but rather an infilling – God once again breathing his life into us.

When we were born we were given bios life, when we are born again we are given zoe life. Until we cross the doorway of Jesus and enter into a relationship with God through Jesus we may be physically alive but spiritually we are dead.

To be a follower of Jesus, to know who he is and what he means, is to have a superabundance of life. There is a new vitality, a new meaning, a new energy, a new purpose, a new significance, a new outlook, a new hope, a new joy, a new life.

Our family would travel a lot. And sometimes we would need  to rent a car.  This is always stressful for me. I don’t like to spend money on those kinds of things. When we were younger, Melissa and I would travel to Florida often.  So when we got there I’d have reserved the cheapest care possible – like a Fort escort.  It gets good gas mileage.  It runs fine.  It gets you to where you need to go.  And it’s cheap.  So once we have one of those kinds of cars held at the rental company. When we arrive, they’ve got bad news.  They’re all out of Ford Escorts.  I don’t know why, we had it reserved.  It should be there!  So the attendant behind the counter asks if I’d mind an upgrade.  Would I mind?  I’d love an upgrade – at the same price as the Escort.  The only car they had available was a convertible Chrysler Sebring.  This the perfect Florida car.

We were driving in style.  Does this car get you to your destination any faster?  No, but you get there in more comfort. You feel better about yourself.  When you get out at the hotel – you’re not embarrassed to let the valet take over.

Now I’m having fun with this – to teach us this – What was God up too when he sent his son, Jesus?  God is about upgrading life.  Through Jesus, we are offered a life that is not just okay; not just muddled through; but full – full of vitality and meaning; of purpose and significance.

That’s what this year and every year going forward can be about.  And we can choose to endure where we are, or we can say, Jesus, I want a life that full and meaningful and purposeful.  A life that does more than exist.

We tend to think of the word, salvation, as the forgiveness of sins or the escape from punishment.  But it actually has a deeper meaning. The simple and best word for salvation is “life.”  I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly.

“Thrive” is a word for life.  Thriving is what life was intended to do, like a flower stubbornly pushing up through a crack in the sidewalk.  Thriving is what God saw when he made life and saw that it was good.

Ironically, the only way to have this kind of life – one that thrives and is abundant – is by surrendering.  Saying, Jesus, I need the abundant life, because the one I’ve got isn’t working out real well.

Partnership

Membership says “what’s in it for me?” Partnership says, “how can I be a part of this?”

Being a Partner is all about being connected. There is a big difference between membership and partnership. Let me explain it like this. It is possible to be a member of a gym, but only go there once a year, correct? But when you are a Partner you are connected, there is a connecting and a joining that takes place. You have a vested interest in everything that happens.  It is so much more than just being a member.

The same thing is true when it comes to be a partner in a church.  It’s not the fact that you visit that place, it’s all about that ministry – being a part of who you are and you are a part of what that ministry is. There is a connection, a joining and a communion that takes place in that. The purpose of this ministry is to bring you to the place where you fulfil the call of God on your life.

Think about it this way:  membership says “what’s in it for me?”  Partnership says, “how can I be a part of this?”

This letter of Paul’s to the Philippians is often referred to as the letter of joy. We can certainly understand why it would be called that hearing some of the phrases that Paul uses:

“I thank my God…”

“I’m thankful for all of you”

“it’s always a prayer full of joy”

“I’m glad…”

“I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.”

“I’m glad…and I’ll continue to be glad.”

 

He sounds pretty joyful for someone writing a letter from jail. But it’s not necessarily that he’s joyful because of his circumstances. But more than that – I think he’s so joyful because of the way in which the Philippians, the people of the church, have partnered with him, have taken care of him, and have been working in the ministry of the gospel with him

And so, as I was reading this passage, I kept being drawn to these two verses about partnership: Verse 5: I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now.  And verse 7: I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel.

Now, when we think about partners…we probably have different responses. Perhaps some of you have partners who you work with professionally, and those may be good relationships, but it’s possible that some of them are strained.

And I don’t know about you, but when I was in school I would cringe a bit whenever a professor informed us that we’d be working in groups for a certain project. I didn’t necessarily always want partners – sometimes it would have been a whole lot easier if I could have just taken care of something on my own and did it myself.

Perhaps it’s because of the very individualistic society that we live in, but I’m sure that many of us would admit, if pressed, that we often prefer to be lone rangers…taking care of things by ourselves, rather than having the help of others.

But the thing is…we can’t do it alone. Sure maybe I could have knocked out a project quicker by myself…but when we are talking about the stuff of life, when we are talking about the work that God has called us to participate in, in the world…that’s not something that is easily done as lone rangers.

And we’ve known this from the very beginning. As we look back to the creation story in Genesis…after God had created Adam, God said, “It’s not good that the man is alone. I will make a helper that is perfect for him.” We were not meant to be alone…and we were not meant to do this work alone…

We need partners. Here in Philippians, Paul is profusely thanking the Philippians for being partners in the ministry of the gospel. They supported Paul during his ministry with them, and continued to support him while he was in prison…most likely that was made manifest by the Philippians providing Paul with food and other necessities that he wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

For us, this morning, one of the questions we need to ask ourselves is how are we being partners in ministry with God and to each other? How are we supporting what God is doing in this church and in our world? This work of the ministry of the gospel is not something that I do…it’s not something that only the church council does…this is work that we all participate in.

We all need to partner together to accomplish the values and dreams that we have set before ourselves. We will become just like Jesus:

  1. We will create an atmosphere which welcomes and connects people to the Body of Christ.
  2. We were made to worship. So we will create an atmosphere where worship is the centerpiece of our lives.  We will create an atmosphere where people can experience the presence of God.
  3. We will create disciples who are increasing in their love of God and neighbor.
  4. We will create a culture of the call; an atmosphere where every partner takes the step into serving and ministry and transforms the world.
  5. We will create an atmosphere and expectation of extravagant generosity. We will live our whole lives for God and God’s purposes.

This isn’t going to be something that we do alone. But it’s not just that we’re partnering with each other and with this church…we’re actually partnering with God, our creator, redeemer and sustainer.

God invites you and me to partner with him so that we can all be actively pursuing, and participating in, ushering in God’s kingdom…the ushering in of God’s hopes and dreams for our lives and for this world.  So that we can become just like Jesus.

I want to share with you a story called “Does God Have a Big Toe: Stories about Stories in the Bible.” It’s written by Marc Gellman. This story is called “Partners.”

 Before there was anything, there was God, a few angels, and a huge swirling glob of rocks and water with no place to go. The angels asked God, “Why don’t you clean up this mess?”  So God collected rocks from the huge swirling glob and put them together in clumps and said, “Some of these clumps of rocks will be planets, and some will be stars, and some of these rocks will be…just rocks.”

Then God collected water from the huge swirling glob and put it together in pools of water and said, “Some of these pools of water will be oceans, and some will become clouds, and some of this water will be…just water.”

Then the angels said, “Well God, it’s neater now, but is it finished?” And God answered…“NOPE!”

On some of the rocks God placed growing things, and creeping things, and things that only God knows what they are, and when God had done all this, the angels asked God, “Is the world finished now?” and God answered…“NOPE!”

God made a man and a woman from some of the water and dust and said to them, “I am tired now. Please finish up the world for me…really it’s almost done.” But the man and woman said, “We can’t finish the world alone! You have the plans and we are too little.”

“You are big enough,” God answered them. “But I agree to this. If you keep trying to finish the world, I will be your partner.”

The man and the woman asked, “What’s a partner?” and God answered, “A partner is someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means that you can never give up, because your partner is depending on you. On the days you think I am not doing enough and on the days I think you are not doing enough, even on THOSE days we are still partners and we must not stop trying to finish the world. That’s the deal.” And they all agreed to that deal.

Then the angels asked God, “Is the world finished yet?” and God answered, “I don’t know. Go ask my partners.”

So we not only partner with one another to participate in this ministry of the gospel, but we partner with God.  We are working with God, so that God’s kingdom may come. We can read the news, glance at our Facebook News Feed, or even just look all around us, and see the ways in which this world is clearly unfinished…and not as God would have it.

Children all around the world die every day from lack of clean water, food and shelter. Single moms work long hours at multiple jobs, and can barely earn enough money to put food on the table for their kids. We hear about mass shootings, and are shocked and saddened for a few days, and then move on with our lives, not taking the necessary steps to prevent future tragedies.

We live in a world where cyber-bullying continues to be a huge problem for young people, so much so that many have decided it was not worth living anymore and have taken their lives.  Is the world finished yet?  “NOPE.”

Teresa of Avila, the 16th century mystic, wrote the following:

Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours; yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.”  Is the world finished yet?  “NOPE.”

Since we all have different gifts and talents …partnering with God is going to look a little different for each person here.

There’s no end to the possible ways that we can partner with God.

But perhaps the most significant thing that we all can do is to simply reframe how we view ourselves in relation to God.

If we think that God is the one who just… does it all, that’s going to form and shape how we live in the world, how we engage with others throughout our day, how we treat other people.

But if we think of ourselves as God’s partners…if we realize that God works through you…that changes everything. That changes the way we view ourselves, the way we view God, and the way we view our place in the world.

When we realize that we are God’s partners, we know that we can’t just sit around and wait, expecting God to be the one to bring about change in the world.

As followers in the way of Jesus, we have been called to partner with God to embody and bring about the Kingdom of God in the here-and-now; the Kingdom of God on earth, as it is in Heaven.