Partnership

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

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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.

ONE Culture (Part 3)

I think many of us have had one of those moments in life when we asked the question, “now what?” You lost a business or a job and the question on your mind is “now what?” How do I provide? Or you lost a spouse and you’re wondering now what? How do I move forward? You get a diagnosis that will change your life and your future – now what? But the other side of the question is just a challenging. I just met the man or woman of my dreams – now what? I just got the best promotion I could ever hope for – now what?

oneFor a lot of us we asked now what when your kids were born. Right? I remember this like yesterday even though it was almost seventeen years ago. Our son was about to be born. Melissa says “it’s time.” We rush to the hospital. The hospital takes such good care of you; they make you so comfortable; it’s so easy – especially for the guys! Caleb was born and they take great care of him. He’s bathed, fed, kept in the room with mom. There’s great instruction about caring for him. The staff is there to teach us. Finally the day comes to go home. I pull the car around to the hospital entrance. The nurse brings Melissa and Caleb down to the entrance. Melissa gets in the car and the nurse hands me Caleb. And I look at her; like what do you expect me to do with him? You’ve taken care of him. Can you help me put him in the car? Why are you handing him to me I don’t know what I’m doing? And she says this is as far as I go; it’s up to you now. And I’m left with this sense of now what?

Have you been there? What do we do next? Now what? I think this is also a very fair question to ask when it comes to following Jesus. Now what? What do I do now? I’ve said yes to following Jesus; I’m going to church – but now what? What comes next? Is it just about showing up and sitting in a row or putting some money in the offering plate? Is it just about religion and ritual? What’s next? What should I do? Important questions.

When we start to read the NT we very quickly see that God has an answer the question, what now? The NT’s answer is a word called “maturity.” Read Ephesians 4:11-13.

Maturity is about growing in an intimate and passionate relationship with Jesus. Growth is a part of life. Things that are healthy will always grow. I don’t need to make my kids grow in size – I have no control over that – if they are healthy they will grow. And we watch kids grow through stages right? Newborn – sit up or crawl or eat solid foods – potty trained – walking – riding the bike – puberty – boyfriends and girlfriends – driving – leaving for college, marriage. We watch growth happen in front of our eyes every day. Healthy things will grow.

Just after Thanksgiving I joined the gym and hired a trainer. I was growing but in all the wrong places! I’ve joined gyms before – but always quit. I’ve never hired a trainer – and she won’t let me quit. She pushes me to grow. So I tell you what, most days of the week I hurt; I’m sore. But what’s happening? My muscles are growing; my endurance is growing – I’m becoming healthier and growing.

Growth (maturity) is a natural part of life. Even in our relationship with Jesus. But here’s something we don’t often think about –to become mature requires engaging in an intentional process of discipleship. A mature, healthy relationship will not happen by accident. Growth in relationship will happen when we’re intentional about it. My marriage will be stronger when Melissa and I are intentional about doing the things that make it stronger. The same is true is our relationship with Jesus.

Let me give you a definition of what maturity looks like. Hold onto this definition – it’s what we will use to see if growth is happening or not. A disciple is a follower of Jesus whose life is centering on loving God and loving others.

A spiritually mature person is someone who lives as if God is who he says he is and will do all he has promised to do.

What now? The answer to what now as least as far as our relationship with God is – maturity – intentional discipleship- a life that centering on loving God and loving others.

We will be intentional about creating a culture of discipleship; a environment where maturity is expected and can happen in positive ways.

So what does this mean? What will maturity look like? How will we know we’re growing in our relationship with Jesus? Paul has a vision of this. His vision was to birth, cultivate and mobilize disciples. So let’s see what Scripture says about maturity and growth.

So here’s the first fill in the blank when we talk about maturity and being a disciple of Jesus – Bring. That seems strange. What does “bring” have to do with maturity and being a disciple? Well, let’s see what Paul means – Read 4:12.

There’s a couple of things really important about this verse. “To equip his people for the work of ministry…” Maturity is about being equipped for something – this work of ministry. Well what is the “work of ministry?” In what we call the Great Commission Jesus said – here is what the people of God do and nothing else – make disciples. So the work of ministry is to invite people who don’t know Jesus to follow him and become his disciples, too, just like you are. What’s the rest of that sentence? “So that the body of Christ may be built up.”

Building up pictures a building under construction, but Paul uses it here with the body of Christ, where the analogy would be physical growth. This includes both adding new members to the body and seeing all of the members growing spiritually as they come to know God and His Word in deeper ways. We read in the early chapters of READ Acts how “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (2:47).

So when we talk about maturity and about being a disciple – a significant part of being a mature disciple means brining or inviting those who don’t know Jesus yet into an environment where they can begin to follow Jesus, too. It’s about invitation to come and see. Come and see who Jesus is and how Jesus transforms our living.

I wish all of you could have been at the church family meeting last Sunday. I’m very proud and appreciate the leadership of your church council. Your leaders have a pretty clear picture of where we’re going as a church in this community. One of the things that we talked about was our position in the portion of Millcreek Township. Did you know that there are 91,000 people within 5 miles around this building who are disconnected from God? So because we understand that a part of being a mature disciple of Jesus is bringing/inviting people into a relationship with Jesus, where asking ourselves the question, “how is God calling us to reconnect with this community in a new way that helps a portion of 91,000 get to know Jesus and follow him?” How can we bring/invite someone else to follow Jesus?

I love the heart of God. I was 16 years old when someone took the time to invite me to follow Jesus. That moment changed my life. And Jesus welcomed me into a relationship with himself. A 16 year old kid who did not have it figured out; who felt every far from God; who was looking for purpose and life. And Jesus stepped into my life and invited me to follow him. What would have happened if I was never invited to come and see and determine for myself is I should follow Jesus?

Who invited you to follow Jesus? Who invited you to come and see? That person changed your life. When we talk about being a mature disciple – we must include a very real conversation about what it means to be a church that intentionally, systematically and cheerfully creates an atmosphere to bring/invite.

Here’s the second word – Grow. This is word that’s easier for many of you to understand, because you are all about personal growth. And growth is critical for being a mature disciple. When we talk about growing we talk about it in language that connects head and heart. Paul says it this way – read 4:13. Unity of the faith is about doctrine and truth- it has to do with head. Disciples will understand basic Christian doctrine and a Biblical worldview. We’ll be unified on the basics of Christian theology. But then Paul goes deeper – knowledge of Son of God. When the Bible uses this word “knowing” or “knowledge” it’s not head knowledge – it’s heart knowledge – it’s intimacy. Not knowing about Jesus but knowing him personally and intimately.

So growing as a disciple and moving to maturity is certainly about head knowledge – we should be learning deeply and be able to communicate who God is. But growth never ends at head knowledge. Head knowledge must change a disciple’s heart. Read Colossians. The more deeply we know God, the more deeply we are transformed. Our lives line up with God. We become just like Jesus.

So when we talk about discipleship and maturity we’re beginning to see that it includes bringing/inviting people to come and see Jesus and to intellectually engage with Jesus and the Bible in a safe place and allow Jesus to get to our hearts. I believe that the local church has the potential to a seminary – a training place for disciples of Jesus. I believe this so much that we’ve created a school of discipleship for us to participate in and take those next right steps of discipleship/maturity which includes discovering our mission. Spiritual maturity, our ministry and our mission. We’ve added a thorough class called Invitation which equips us to see what God is doing through the Bible.

Here’s the final fill in: Send. Read 4:13. Maturity is not an end to itself. Discipleship/maturity occurs so that a disciple is empowered for mission and ministry in Millcreek township; Erie county; PA and the world. A disciple is empowered/trained to “go and tell.” To change the world for Jesus.

Paul talks about this using the language “the fullness of Christ.” To be growing to allow Jesus to fully live in our lives. The church in the world is Jesus in the world; because the church is the fullness of his incarnate body.

So as disciples we are sent as missionaries of Jesus into our jobs, our neighborhood, our family, our favorite restaurant or circle of influence. Maturing, growing disciples are missionaries. In any place we find ourselves we reflect Jesus and invite someone else to get to know Jesus, too.

So now what? When we talk about having ONE Culture – we have choices. We can have a culture where we come and sit in rows and engage in ritual/religion and feel good together. Or we can have a culture in which as the family of God we’re inviting our community to come and get to know Jesus, grow in a knowledge and intimacy of Jesus and be sent into our community to invite more people to follow Jesus.

So here’s our take away this week. I want you to know that you don’t need to be a Bible scholar, the best person in the world, the best parent in the world; but I can invite someone. I can say, come and see. Something special happens when people who are far from God, get together with people who are following Jesus, something special happens. Some of you get this because you’re here because someone invited you.

Let’s practice this; “You should come to my church this Sunday.” Just invite. You’re over hearing a conversation. – You should come to my church this Sunday.

We have no idea how important an invitation could be for someone. You have no idea what hangs in the balance. You have the power to change the trajectory of someone’s life. Simply by inviting.

One Vision (Part 2)

Have you ever had someone in your life and you really, really wanted a deeper relationship with them? You wanted to take that relationship a level deeper and they just wouldn’t go there with you? Maybe back in high school or college and there was this person and you were really falling for them and they were not falling for you. You keep trying to get the relationship to go to a deeper place and they just won’t cooperate. They’re polite and kind about it but they’re distant.one

Or maybe you have adult children and you made some mistakes with them in the past and now you’re trying to reconnect with them. And you don’t just want to have Christmas and Easter with them or just send cards occasionally – you want to have this deeper connection where you’re friends and transparent and you’ve got a deep relationship. And no matter how hard you try, they’re just not going to let you in. They’re not going to let the relationship go to where you want it to go. Or perhaps it’s the other way around and you’re trying to connect with your parents. Maybe your parents were divorced and you grew up with mom or dad and now you’re trying to have a deeper relationship with your other parent and they want nothing to do with it. Everybody is kind and everybody is polite but everybody is a little distant.

You want so badly for the relationship to go somewhere else but there’s just nothing you can do to get it there. Maybe it’s your marriage. That’s the toughest one. Things used to be great. Things used to be intimate – you were like best friends hanging out. And over time something happened and you want that kind of relationship with your husband or wife but it’s kind of like they just checked out. They’re polite. They’re kind. But distant. And you get so frustrated and you try everything you know how to do to bring them into that intimacy that you want. But they just won’t go there.

Have you ever been in any kind of relationship where you wanted to go deeper than it actually ever goes? Isn’t it frustrating because there’s nothing you can do to force somebody to go with you to that level of relationship where it is so comfortable and you are so transparent and you relax and you enjoy being with them?

Now this might be hard for you to believe; it might take a long time for this to get to your heart; and as I’ve lived in some of these sorts of relationships; and as I prepared for today, the prayer I have for myself is God, help this get from here to here.

Believe it not, throughout the whole Bible we are presented with God as one who desires with all of his heart to have an intimate relationship with his creation but time and time again creation stiff arms him and is polite and generally and casually respectful but refuses to go the level of relationship that God desires and has paved the way for us to have. God is pictured in the Bible as a father who wants to have relationship with his son and his son says “I’m going to go do my own thing” and it’s the story of the Prodigal Son and the father waits and waits and waits because he loves his son so much and the son says “no I’m going to do my own thing” and the father never gives up.

He’s presented as a shepherd who loves the sheep but the sheep decide they’re just going to go do their own thing and it breaks the shepherd’s heart.

We see him in the Garden of Eden, the creator God whose creation has turned their back on him. And we see a God who wonders around the garden calling out for his creation – the relationships been broken and he longs for it to be the way it used to be.

From cover to cover the Bible shows us that your heavenly father desires a relationship with you that is not casual and is not distant and isn’t just respectful and isn’t based around a holiday or an environment where you just show up and sit in a row. Throughout Scripture your heavenly Father desires a relationship that is characterized with intimacy. And yet, for reasons we’ll talk about in a few minutes, we treat him respectfully but casually not intimately.

If you have your Bibles, or use your message notes; I want to read a few verse with you. They’re found in Revelation. The book of Revelation was written by John. John was one of Jesus’ first disciples – they hung out together. In the beginning of the book of Revelation, John communicates by writing seven short little letters to some churches. And these letters are essentially God’s word to each of these churches as God wants to say some specific things. So these words were written to a specific church/area called Laodicea. They were written to Christian people in a Christian church yet they reflect the fact that you can be very religious and you can be a believer in God yet have developed a perspective that keeps God at arm’s length. You’re going to be respectful, because after all, it’s God. But you’re not going to let him go with you to a level of relationship that he wants. Read Revelation 3:15. Things aren’t as well as you think they are. Read Revelation 3:20. You’ve got some stuff going on – but here I am. I know you’re busy and you’ve got programs and committees and Bible studies but here I am. But I stand outside the door and knock.

But you’d think like he’d huff and puff and blow the house down if you’re God – what are you doing knocking? Just go in and have your way with them. Jesus says, no I’m just going to knock.

All of sudden we’re introduced to a concept – this thing that sets Christianity apart from every other religion, that our God who invites us to call him Father says this: “with all my power and with all my ability, there is one thing that I cannot do. And it is the one thing I desire the most. I can make you obey me. I can make you fear me. But I cannot make you love me.”

I can threaten you. I can take your children. I can take your finances. I can take your health. I can take things from you. I can give things to you. But I cannot make you love me. Throughout Scripture we see God searching for the very thing he paid such a high price for. He’s searching for the relationship that he had at the beginning. It’s a relationship characterized by the word “intimacy.” But because he can’t force you to love him, he’s standing on the outside saying, “I want in.” I don’t want in like talk about me, believe in me. I want in like a relationship that only you can allow me to have with you. Because I can’t force you to love me. So sometimes as Christians, we have opted for something second. Instead of relationship characterized by intimacy we’ve opted for religion.

Religion is a response to God that allows us to treat God respectfully but not intimately. As some of us have learned, religion is a very empty thing but it’s a substitute for what God ultimately wants. And when you’re committed to religion as opposed to the real thing, God becomes a formula. And you all know the formula – go to church (check), read your Bible (check), say your prayers (check), pray at the meal (check) and if you sin you pray “dear lord please forgive me of my sins in Jesus name, amen.” And then God gets out his eraser and erases all the sin and then zaps his memory so that he can’t remember them anymore. And then I go out and sin a whole bunch more and repeat the formula and the angels whisper ssh, God’s forgotten that. Kind of like an old guy who can’t remember anything.

So in the formula we can be respectful of God but there’s no intimacy. It’s a relationship of ritual and you know what happens eventually to religious people, God becomes someone who just does stuff for me and I become very self-centered; religious people are very self-centered; it’s not about God it’s really about me. It’s about finding the right combination of how I can get God to do for me what I want God to do for me. How do I throw God a bone every once in a while so I can get God to do my bidding? And I would never say that because that would be disrespectful and I don’t want to be disrespectful but I don’t want this whole thing to get too close.

That’s religion. It’s a formula. It’s a way to get God in on my deal and eventually you become judgmental. You become judgmental because you decide that God likes certain things and doesn’t like certain things and when you see people doing things you’ve decided God doesn’t like, then you don’t like them because they’re ungodly.

Sometimes you want to do the things they’re doing so you just hate them. If you weren’t religious you get to do some of that stuff too. So if I’m religious that just doesn’t work – I’m empty and if I’m not religious then I just have guilt and no place to go with my guilt. What am I to do?

Religion is not about love, religion is about harnessing the power of God for me. It’s trying to get God to do something for me. Here’s what Jesus said about some religious people. Read John 16. Jesus says this is where religion goes. This is why it is so dangerous. They will do such things because they have not known the father or me. Not believed but have not known.

There’s no relationship. There’s all kinds of general belief. All kinds of respect. But you don’t know the father. That means the father is a stranger to you. And over time you become a stranger to his ways. And then when things don’t do the way you think they ought to go if there was a God then you get all upset with God who you never knew anyway. Because if there were really a God the way I think there were a God then everything would’ve gone my way.

And when things fall apart you wonder why wasn’t God there and God’s like – you didn’t know me because if you knew me you wouldn’t have done that – you would have never asked her; if you’d have known me you never would have gone; if you had known me you never would have signed; don’t blame me, you don’t even know me. You’re respectful but you don’t know me.

If you don’t know God you’re a stranger to his ways. And if you stranger to God guess what else you’re a stranger too – you become a stranger to God’s love. And when you’re a stranger to God’s love here’s how you view God – God wants me to perform my way into his good graces. And God’s really excited when I sit in a row and put up with a 40 minute sermon. He’s so excited about that. You become a stranger to God’s love and you think the whole thing is about performing your way into his good graces and perhaps performing your way into heaven and you hope you’re a good person. You know why you think that? You are a stranger to God’s love.

Years ago the priority of Christ church was established that said we want intimacy with God – not religion but intimacy. A passionate connection with God. That’s what we stand for – that’s what we would die for – that’s what we want so desperately to have not just for ourselves but for everyone.

We don’t want to become a religious institution. We want to be men and women not on a religious pursuit but one a passionate pursuit to connect with God at the level he’s invited us to connect with him on – intimacy. You know what that means? Intimacy with God is lot like intimacy with a person.

There are several things that happen: it takes time. Unrushed, unstructured, I’m just hanging out sitting with you, time. Some of you here that was your story – when I got alone with God, when I opened God’s word, when I would pray, it was like a breath of fresh air. God was no stranger. There was intimacy. Then things got busy and now I just go to church. And instead of intimacy, I just serve. And instead of this being personal, it’s gotten kind of corporate. And there’s no intimacy. Because I quit giving God time. You can’t have an intimate relationship with anybody where there is no time.

It will also take transparency. This might be new for you. You see if you and I are going to have a real deep relationship we’ve got to be connected. We can’t talk to each other in formulas. It means we’ll have to stop being so polite with God. Honesty. God already knows. Where’s there’s transparency, there’s intimacy. You get the good, the bad and the ugly. And if you accept that from the other person you’ve got a relationship that enviable. Prayer some R-rated prayers, pour out your heart. Listen, he sent his son to die for you so that you could have intimacy with him. How dishonoring is it to keep him at arm’s length and be respectful but no intimate. That leads to third thing for intimacy to happen and this is why we run away from it and towards religion.

There’s got to be submission. This may be the take away for you. Submission is the most powerful relationship dynamic in the world. Mutual submission. I’m going to harness all of my abilities and talents for your best interest. And you’re going to harness all of your abilities and talents for my best interest. And you put two people together or a person and God and you have intimacy. When both parties are committed to mutual submission you go deep. But the idea of submitting to God scares us to death is because we do not know the Father. And we run to religion to keep him at arm’s length.

Mutual submission makes all the difference. And here’s the thing, God has already made the first step. When Jesus died on the cross for you; before you were born; before you said your first prayer; before you did anything – your savior died for you. And in doing so here’s what God said, “I’m going first and submit myself to you. I’m going to put you ahead of me. I’m going to be more concerned about your sin than my glory. I’m going to be more concerned about your sin, your life and your eternity, than I am about my comfort. I’m going to submit to you as an invitation for you to submit to me.”

When we submit ourselves to that kind of relationship something will happen that will take you far outside of ritual and religion.

What are we so afraid of? I’m with you. I’m learning. If I surrender to God, he’s going to huff and puff…no, no, no. Listen God (knocks) I want you to love me. I don’t want you to just be respectful and polite. I want you to love me. I just don’t want you to show up and sit in a row; or perform your way to me; I want intimacy. We don’t need to fear that because God has already surrendered to us. That’s way different than religion but it is what God desires and he cannot and will not force that. He’ll stand at the door and knock.

You know what I want from my children? I don’t want them to use me. I don’t want to be the bank. I can tell when my kids are playing me. I can tell when they want something. But you what really lights me up? When they say, “dad can I talk to you about something?” or “dad can I have a hug?”

If I can tell when my kids are playing me, do you not think that your heavenly father knows when you are playing him? But he wants you to love him and he cannot force that but he has done everything in the world to pave the way for that kind of relationship.

Listen to how John finishes this little letter to these folks in Laodicea. Read Revelation 3:20. (beat the living daylights out of you for making me stand out here so long!) That’s what we fear. It’s not because he can’t get in. It’s because he wants something more than to be in. He wants you to invite him in.

So Jesus says, “Here I am.” Your move! Here I am. Not religion. Your move. I want intimacy with you. It’ll change your life.

ONE Church (Part 1)

I thought we’d start off this new year on a good foundation – the foundation of what it means to be the church. To be part of a covenant community. When we talk about church, invariably what happens is that everyone has opinions about church. Those opinions are usually based on what a church does or doesn’t do. I like this/I don’t like that. Or, can you believe what that preacher did! I want to suggest to you that those are not appropriate conversations about church. Those conversations start from “me” instead of from Jesus. So what we’re going to do is build a strong ecclesiology. Ecclesiology is the study of the church. Who is the church and why does the church exist? We’re going to start deep this year. We’re not playing the shallow end. We’re jumping off the diving board into the deep end.

Contextone

In Ephesians 1-3 the Apostle Paul has described what God has done in bringing believing Jews and Gentile into one body in Jesus Christ, he says in 2:14 – that Jesus has made two groups of people one; and that in chapters 4-6 he’s now going to tell us how we ought to live in that one body – that oneness; so that the first three chapters of Ephesians are about what God has done and who we in fact are in Jesus Christ and the second three chapters, chapters 4-6, are about what we ought to do because we are God’s people in Jesus Christ.

Now, in Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul gets radical and says that we are to preserve the unity that the Spirit has given us, so that the Apostle is calling on us in the life of the church to preserve and to cultivate a unity, a communion with one another, that the Spirit has already given us.  And it’s an amazing statement. He says you have a unity that has been given you by the Spirit. If you’re a follower of Jesus, you have been given a spiritual unity with every other follower of Jesus, and that spiritual unity is especially expressed in the local body of believers, in the local church.  Do you know what God’s favorite word is? God’s favorite word is: ONE. Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear O, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  This is foundational to what we believe. There is one God and only one God. Almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing, holy and ever present. There is none like Him. God is set apart.

Before Jesus ascended back into heaven he gave his disciples a statement commonly called the Great Commission: Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God does not live in isolation. Because God exists as three in one. He lives in perfect unity. As something that is commonly called “The Trinity.”

Now Paul has all of this going on in his head when he writes 4:1. Live worthy of my calling.

Specifically, to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit. We live unworthily when we disregard unity. God is one and the calling of God’s people is to be one – in purpose, in fellowship, in thought.

Alexander the Great, one of the greatest military generals who ever lived, conquered almost the entire known world with his vast army. One night during a campaign, he couldn’t sleep and left his tent to walk around the campgrounds.

As he was walking he came across a soldier asleep on guard duty – serious offense. The penalty for falling asleep on guard duty was, in some cases, instant death; the commanding officer sometimes poured kerosene on the sleeping soldier and lit it.

The soldier began to wake up as Alexander the Great approached him. Recognizing who was standing in front of him, the young man fear for his life. “Do you know what the penalty is for falling asleep on guard duty?” Alexander the Great asked the soldier.

“Yes, sir,” the soldier responded in a quivering voice.

“Soldier, what’s your name?” demanded the general.

“Alexander, sir.”

Alexander the Great repeated the question: “What is your name?”

“My name is Alexander, sir” the soldier repeated.

A third time and more loudly Alexander the Great asked, “What is your name?”

A third time the soldier meekly said, “My name is Alexander, sir.”

Alexander the Great then looked the young soldier straight in the eye. “Soldier,” he said with intensity, “either change your name or change your conduct.”

The phrase “live a life worthy” has the idea of living a life in such a way that it measures up to something. Think about a set of scales. If I have ten pounds on one side of the scale, I need ten pounds to put on the other side so it will balance. If I put 10.5 on the other side, it would be out of balance. If I put 11, it would be out of balance. I need ten on one side and I need ten on the other.

The word “worthy” takes us even a second step. The word for “worthy” is the word axios. It refers to the intrinsic value of something. So there is value in oneness. Being one defines the church. We are called to be one because God is one. When we are aligned with God we are aligned with each other; and when we are aligned with each other, we are aligned with God.

Tradition claims that Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher is built over the cave where Christ was buried. Several years back in 2002, the church became the scene of ugly fighting between the monks who run it. It turns out that Ethiopian and Coptic monks have been arguing over the rooftop of the church for centuries. In 1752 the Ottoman Sultan issued an edict declaring which parts of the church belong to each of six different Christian groups.

The rooftop had been controlled by the Ethiopians, but they lost control to the Coptic monks when they were hit by a disease epidemic in the 1800’s. Then in the 1970’s the Ethiopians regained control when the Coptic monks were absent for a short period. The Ethiopians have been squatting there ever since with at least one monk always remaining on the roof to assert their rights. But in response to this, a Coptic monk has also been living on the roof to maintain the Coptic claim to the church’s roof.

In July 2002, when the Coptic monk on the roof moved his chair into the shade where the Ethiopian monk was sitting, harsh words led to pushing and shoving and then to an all-out brawl. Eleven monks were injured, including one who was taken to the hospital unconscious. Amazingly, all this took place in a church that is supposedly built on the same location of Jesus’ tomb.

When the church is divided it produces some very tragic results. On the other hand, when the church is one it unleashes a power that can hardly be stopped. ONE – being in the same mind, purpose, desire.

For my church to be one, I will make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. (Read 4:2-3).  In verse 2 he communicates the character traits that will preserve the unity: humility, gentleness, patience, and love. If you are humble you will be gentle, if you are patient you will be enduring, if you’re gentle and patient you will be a peacemaker.

There is strength in humility that says, “I am not the center, Jesus is the center and I will submit to him and go where he leads. I am not the king, God is the king. Our unity is based on the objective unity outside of ourselves. There is one body and one Spirit.

Notice Paul’s words: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” By our peace with one another, expressed in our relationships in this local congregation, we are preserving a unity that has been given to us by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit brought us together, different as we are, into one family, into one body. But the unity that we experience doesn’t just happen. It takes work, just like a good marriage takes work. A good marriage doesn’t just happen. There are things that have to be done for a good marriage to flourish, and those have to be cultivated for that marriage to be what God intends it to be.

God has given us a unity in the body of Christ, but we must make every effort to preserve that unity which God has given us and to see it expressed in peace.

Let’s go a little further – let’s make this practical. Read 4:4-6.

Now what does all of this have to do with our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? The reason we are one is so that together we can move in one, same direction. For my church to be one, I will be a team player.

Since there is only one God, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism and only one body – there is one purpose. Since there is only one God – this one God has created a way for the whole earth to be reconciled to him (Acts 4:12)

The issue in the church at Ephesus was whether the Gentiles could belong to the body of Christ in the same way the Jews did. The answer was that Jesus reconciled both in one body to God in the cross. Both have access to the Father. Those who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ and made one. So the issue of unity/oneness for Paul is created by the mission of the church to those who were far off – the gentiles, the nations.

In other words, Jesus is the foundation for our mission. If there were many gods and many saviors and many valid faiths and many baptismal entrances – there would be no need for our mission to make disciples of Jesus. But there is only one God and one Lord and one faith and one baptism. And so this truth must be revealed. (Romans 10)

So the truth that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism is the foundation for our existence. This requires a diligence to maintain a oneness of purpose under the lordship of Jesus. We are one in mission, all headed in the same direction together. This is expressed in our vision – that dream of the future.

Football, around here is a pretty big deal. One of the greatest football coaches in history was Bear Bryant – Alabama. Bear Bryant used to say this about his football team: “I’m just a plow hand from Arkansas, but I have learned how to hold a team together. How to lift some men up, how to calm others down, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat, together, a team.” One heartbeat! That’s what Paul is communicating here. A team – a single unit composed of individual components for the purpose of accomplishing a common goal. One body, one Spirit, one Lord, one baptism. We are many, yet we are one. Our team is defined by our relationship to Jesus. We are perfect together! We are healthy together! When we play as a team, we fulfill the God-given vision for his church.

One is critical to being the church. That doesn’t mean that we become mindless robots (or worse, zombies) without identity, personal creativity or beautiful uniqueness. Being one means that we take all of our diversity and giftedness and personality and education and funnel it all in the same direction to glorify God and to invite people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus to begin following him.