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The Life You've Always Wanted #5--Life Together

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February 4, 2007

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

Part 5: Life Together: the Practice of Community

Introduction: God does much of His work in our lives through personal relationships. 

Genesis 1:26, 2:18, Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 3:14, John 13:34-35, 17, Acts 2:42-47, Hebrews 10:24-25

1. How does community change us?

          A. It helps us __________________________________________________.

Ephesians 3:17-19

          B. It helps us __________________________________________________.

Proverbs 27:17, Ephesians 4:11-16

          C. It helps us __________________________________________________.

Exodus 17:8-16, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

2. How do you build community?

          A. It takes ______________________________: _____________________.

          B. It takes ____________________________________________________.

          C. It takes ____________________________________________________.

3. Who are your “happy few”?

February 4, 2007

The Life You’ve Always Wanted

Part 5: Life Together: the Practice of Community


          Two weeks ago I spent a day with one of my best friends.  He flew into town just to hang out with me—very kind.  One of the things we talked about was the nature of friendship.  He said, “Almost all of my friendships revolve around my work as a pastor.  They are really working relationships.  My wife and I are concerned that when I’m no longer the senior pastor of my church, those relationships will end and we’ll have no friends.  We realize that we spend all our time working.  We need to change that and try to build some friendships outside of work—friends who like me for being me, not just for being their pastor or their boss.” 

          It made me think about my friends…and it made me happy that I have true friends, people that I love and do life with…and will even when my role changes. 

          Do you have true friends?  Do you have people you love with whom you are doing life together?  God does much of His work in our lives through personal relationships.  Today we’re going to talk about the practice of community.

Greeting: Find someone with your middle name, or a middle name that starts with same letter as yours.  Then find out two more things about them. 

Offering and announcements:        

Life Group sign ups today.

Forming a new Life Group?  Basic Training for leaders next Sunday.

Spring retreats—set aside these dates!

        Women:  March 16 – 19

        Men:  April 20 - 21




Introduction: God does much of His work in our lives through personal relationships. 

This series, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, is about life transformation through spiritual disciplines. 

ILL: Several guys played racketball yesterday; we started with a lesson from Kelly King.  Kelly began with conditioning.  Now I jog six days a weeks, so I’m in great shape…for jogging, but not for racketball.  It’s a

different set of muscles and movements.  So we started with racketball conditioning—and I’m feeling it today, baby!  And then Kelly taught us the basics: how to grip the racket, footwork, and court positioning.  I’ve been playing racketball for 35 years, and this was my first lesson…and I learned a ton!  Kelly gave us things to work on, to practice—and if I practice, I’ll get better!  I’ll change.

The same thing is true spiritually.  If we want to grow, to change, there are some practices—spiritual disciplines—that will help us connect with God. And when we connect with God, we change.  What are these spiritual disciplines, these time-tested practices that help us connect with God?  So far we’ve talked about

·        the practice of slowing to have an unhurried life,

·        the practice of Scripture to have an equipped life,

·        the practice of prayer to have a life with God,

·        and the practice of reflection to have a life without regrets. 

Today, we’re talking about life together, the practice of community.  If you want to change, you can’t do it alone.  You need friends.  You need community.  Christianity is all about relationships. 

Matthew 22:36-38 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.  39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Jesus said that the most important thing is loving God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself.  Love God and love people—that’s first.  Christianity is all about relationships: first with God, then with people.  Everything else God asks of us—all the rest of His law—hangs on these two things: loving God and loving people.  Do this and you’ll do everything He wants you to do.

          There are some folks who are ok with the loving God part, but aren’t so happy about loving people.  “I love God; it’s people I can’t stand!”

ILL: They have said to me, “I could be a great Christian if it weren’t for other people.  Just put me on a deserted island with my Bible and I could really love God, really be a strong Christian.” 

Not true.  You would be like a plane trying to fly with one wing.  It takes two wings to fly—you need God and people.  You can’t be a strong Christian without other people.  God made you a spiritual person: you need Him.  And God made you a social person: you need other people.

          Genesis 1-2 describes God creating the world.  What did God say about everything He created?  “It is good.”  At the end of every creative cycle, God surveyed what He had created and said, “It is good.  It is good.  It is good.”  Until Genesis 2:18, where God says, “It is not good.”  What wasn’t good?

Genesis 2:18 “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

What wasn’t good?  For the man to be alone.  “But,” you say, “he wasn’t alone!  He was with God.”  The first man enjoyed face-to-face fellowship with God.  What could be better?  Answer: enjoying face to fellowship with God and with another person!

          God made us spiritual creatures, to love Him.  He also made us social creatures, to love each other.  The first man was in fellowship with God; he was spiritually complete.  But God said, “It’s not good,” because the man was not in fellowship with any other human beings.  He was not socially complete.  He was loving God, but had no one else to love.  And that, God said, is not good.

          Perhaps you have heard Blaise Pascal’s famous quote that we all have a God-shaped void within us that only God can fill.  But have you ever considered that you have a human-shaped void within you that even God cannot fill?   John Ortberg says, “No substitute will fill this need in you for human relationship.  Not money.  Not achievement.  Not busyness.  Not books.  Not even God Himself.  Even though this man was in a state of sinless perfection, (and was with God), he was alone.  And it was not good.” 

You were created to love God.  And you were created to love each other.  And Jesus said that everything else hangs on these two things. 

So Christianity is relational—it’s all about loving God and loving people.  And you are a relational creature—you need God and people.  Christianity is a team sport.  We do it best together, not alone.  Real change, the life you’ve always wanted, happens when you are in community, in relationship with other people.   I want to think about three questions with you. 

·        How does community change us? 

·        How do you build community? 

·        Who are your “happy few”?  With whom are you in community?

1. How does community change us? 

          A. It helps us know God.

We need other people to know God fully.  Pick a subject—WSU basketball..  How many of you know lots about this?  How many of you know very little?  Together, all of us here know more about this than any one of us does individually.  No matter how much you know about it, there are some people here who know things you don’t.  We know more together than any one of us does individually—and that’s true of any subject. 

It’s especially true of people.  Together we know more about a person than anyone of us does individually.

ILL: Laina knows me as her husband, my kids know me as their dad, you know me as your pastor, our staff knows me as their boss.  Each knows me differently. 

          How many parents have sent your kid to spend the night at someone’s house, and when you pick him up, the parents there say, “Your child is so polite and well-behaved.”  Excuse me?  You’re talking about my child?  They see something you don’t at home…and vice-versa.

We know more together about a person than any of us do individually.

And it’s also true of God.  Together, we know more of God than any one us does individually, and we learn from each other. 

Ephesians 3:17-19 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

How will we know the love of Christ in its full dimensions—how wide and long and high and deep?  Together with all the saints.  I know that God loves me—but I think I’m a pretty loveable guy!  Then I hang out with Bill who’s kind of strange, or I get to know Betty who’s always screwing up, and I think, “Wow!  God loves them!  God’s love is wide and deep and long and high!”  Isn’t this true?  We all think of ourselves as normal—of course God would love us.  But when we get close to people who are different from us, and we realize that God loves them as much as us, we begin to know God’s love in a new way.  That’s how we get to know the full measure of God’s love—we do it together, in community. 

          We know God better together than any of us could alone.  We need each other to know God truly.

          B. It helps us grow up.

Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  How do you sharpen iron?  Friction!  You rub iron against iron, or iron against a sharpening stone, and the friction sharpens the iron.  How can you be sharpened spiritually?  Same way: friction!  Contact with people who rub you the wrong way!  I don’t grow when I’m in my own insulated cocoon.  I grow when I’m with you, getting my rough edges knocked off.  Are you close enough to other Christians that they rub you the wrong way and sharpen you?

          Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14, and Ephesians 4 all liken the church to a human body, and each of us are parts or members of it.  When you become a Christian, you are a part of the Body of Christ.  How do the parts of a body grow?  Together—only together.  If you whack a hand off, you may survive and grow, but the hand won’t.  It will wither and die.  The hand can only grow if it’s attached to the body.  You will never grow to your full potential by yourself.  You are part of a body and you need to stay connected to keep growing.  There are no Lone Rangers in God’s family.  You need to be connected with other people to grow spiritually.

The Bible is clear that each of us has something to offer the others, and when we’re together, we use our gifts to help each other grow and change. 

Ephesians 4:11-16 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Notice several things.

          First, notice who does what.  This says that the job of church leaders—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers—is not to do all the works of service (ministry), but to prepare and train God’s people to do them.  How many of you are ministers?  Ordained ministers?  Full-time ministers?  I grew up a church where we called the pastor “the minister”.  He did “the ministry”.  But the word “minister” means “servant” and the word “ministry” means “service”.  And the Bible is clear that all of us are ministers and all of us are in the ministry.  All God’s people do the work of ministry.  We are all ordained—that means chosen.  We are all full time for God.  So let me ask again: How many of you are ministers?  My job as a pastor is not to do all of the ministry; it’s to prepare you to do it.  That’s who does what.

Second, notice why we do it.  “So that the body of Christ may be built up.”  And what are we building towards?  “Until we become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  There’s the goal: spiritual maturity that is defined by Jesus—becoming like Jesus.  This is what “ministry” is about: helping people become more like Jesus, helping them grow and become all that God wants.  We’re all to help each other live the life God wants us to live—and isn’t that the life you’ve always wanted?

So the goal is spiritual maturity, and every one of us are working toward that goal, helping each other.  He says it again in verse 16.  “The whole body…grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”  It’s not just my job as pastor to make you spiritually mature; it’s our job.  All of us together, helping each other, “as each part does its work.”  That’s ministry, and how many of you are ministers? 

And where does that happen?  Anywhere and anytime that two or more of us are together.  That’s the purpose of Life Groups: small groups of people who team up for friendship and spiritual growth.  We pray for each other, encourage each other, teach each other, challenge each other, and love each other—and we grow together.

          You will not grow to your full potential alone—you must be connected to others.

          C. It helps us stay strong.

We need other people to stay strong.  Sometimes life is hard and your own strength fails—you need strong people around you to hold you up. 

ILL: Carl Connor wrote this observation:

A few winters ago, heavy snows hit North Carolina. It was interesting to see the effect along Interstate 40.  Next to the highway stood several large groves of tall, young pine trees. The branches were bowed down with the heavy snow--so low that branches from one tree were often leaning against the trunk or branches of another.

Where trees stood alone, however, the effect of the heavy snow was different. The branches had become heavier and heavier, and since there were no other trees to lean against, the branches snapped. They lay on the ground, dark and alone in the cold snow.

It’s a good picture.  When the storms of life hit, we need to be standing close to each other. The closer we stand, the more we will be able to hold up. 

ILL:  There’s a great story in the Old Testament.  It’s in Exodus 17.  As the Israelites are escaping Egypt, they are attacked by the Amalekites.  Joshua led the counter-attack, while Moses went up on a hill to pray.  It says:

“As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.”

          Sometimes in the midst of the battle, we get tired.  Our hands drop.  We stop praying.  And the battle turns against us.  We need an Aaron and Hur, fellow-soldiers to stand beside us and hold us up.

Are you part of a band of brothers?  Are you a fellow soldier to someone who’s in the thick of the battle?  You need close relationships to stay strong.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: 10 If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Two are better than one.  The military knows this.  They never send men into battle alone.   You are part of a band of brothers, a platoon.  But even inside the platoon, every man has a buddy.  Do you?  We need each other to stay strong.

          Do you want to know God better?  Grow up spiritually?  Stay strong?  Get connected.  Get in a Life Group.

2. How do you build community?

          Here are three things that are essential to building true community.

          A. It takes time: lingering.

ILL: Gordon MacDonald tells about having breakfast with his adult daughter, Kristy.  They were talking about a backyard party on Friday night with several dozen people in their neighborhood.  It’s a diverse group of people who have grown comfortable with each other over time.  Many of the women participate in a food-buying co-op.  Their children play together.  The men help each other with projects.  Some of them have become Christians over the years as they’ve hung out together, and now do Bible studies.  On that Friday evening, they spent several hours together laughing, talking, eating, playing…just enjoying each other.  Everyone seems to genuinely like each other.

          “What’s the secret behind such a laid-back fellowship?” Gordon asked his daughter. 

          “Lingering,” she said. It was a word Gordon hadn’t heard Kristy use before.  “We linger.  No one is in a hurry.  We like being together.  We really care about each other.  No one is in a hurry to get somewhere else.  We just…linger.”

Does that sound good?  Would you like to be part of a group like that?  It takes time.  You can’t be in a hurry.  You have to linger. 

In the first message in this series, on slowing, I said that hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.  We suffer from hurry sickness.  And hurry, or busyness is the archenemy of community.  Hurry keeps us from building close relationships.  It takes time to build deep friendships.  The biggest reason people are lonely is that they are too busy.  They don’t make time for friendships.  They are too busy working, too busy achieving, too busy doing other things, and relationships take a back seat.  It takes time to build deep friendships.  As the pace of life in our culture continues to accelerate, we are becoming more and more alienated and alone.  At this point, Christians have to become counter-cultural; we have to say no to some of the other busyness so we can say yes to building deep friendships.  It takes time—you have to linger.

          Let me make two practical suggestions.  First, linger at church. 

·        When I go to a movie, I get there while the previews are going—I try to get there just as the movie starts.  And I get up and leave while they play the credits.  I don’t linger.  Why?  I’m just watching a movie with a bunch of strangers. 

·        When I go to my family reunion, I get there early and I stay late.  I spend as much time with my family as I can.  I linger.  Why?  It’s my family! 

So here’s the question for you: is church more like a movie or a family reunion?  Do you get in and get out as fast as you can?  Or do you linger?  You might be thinking, “I don’t know anybody.”  Well, you sure won’t get to know them doing the movie deal!  You’ve got to linger.  Hang out and meet someone.  Strike up a conversation and get acquainted.  Linger.

          Second, linger at your Life Group.  Don’t be in a hurry…linger.  If you want your relationships to get close and deep, you’ve got to linger.  It takes time.

          B. It takes transparency.

          An Arab proverb says, “Ah, the beauty of being at peace with another, neither having to weigh thoughts or measure words, but spilling them out just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away.”  The best friendships are like that—you can be honest, be transparent, and know that you’ll be loved.  And the kind of trust that allows transparency takes time to build.

ILL: This week I was with a group of dear friends, a dozen pastors.  We see each other several times a year, but for the last 4 or 5 years we have done a 24 hour, noon-to-noon retreat together.  Each year we start off with the same question: how are you?  Before we get into talking about our work as pastors, we start with community.  At first, we were all a little guarded, but over time, as our trust has grown, so has our transparency and our friendships.

          This week, we opened up with the “how are you” question, and the first guy paused, his eyes filled up with tears, and he said, “Poopy” (although he used a different word which I won’t say here).  I told him that my mother said that word is not a swear word, just an earthy term.  He said that he liked my mother.  He went on to explain, with more tears, what was going on in his life.  We listened, and we prayed with him.  He apologized for getting us started on such a downer note, but we all assured him it was fine…because this is what friends do.  When you spill it all, chaff and grain together, friends keep the good and blow the rest away.  Friends love you for being honest.

It’s taken us several years to build the kind of trust where that kind of transparency can happen, where a pastor can tell other pastors that he’s poopy.  Do you have relationships like that, where you can be transparent, honest, take off the mask and stop pretending, just be yourself?  It takes time to build that kind of community, and it takes transparency.


          C. It takes practice.

          Would you please turn your outline over?  On the back side you’ll see “The One Another Commands”, a dozen commands that Christians are to practice with one another.  This is how we treat each other.

·        Love one another.

·        Honor one another.

·        Live in harmony with one another.

·        Accept one another.

·        Instruct one another.

·        Serve one another.

·        Forgive one another.

·        Submit to one another.

·        Encourage one another.

·        Offer hospitality to one another.

·        Be kind and compassionate to one another.

·        Greet one another.

That’s a lot of one another stuff we’re supposed to be doing!  How do we do it?  We spend time together…we linger…but what do we do?  We practice.  We practice the one another commands.  This is what we do together, and as we love each other, honor each other, accept each other, instruct each other, and so on, we build deep, close relationships.

          How do you build community?  It takes time—you’ve got to linger.  It takes transparency—you’ve got to be open and honest.  It takes practice—practice the one another commands.  One last question.

3. Who are your “happy few”?

          There’s a famous line in Shakespeare’s The Life of King Henry V.  “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”  King Henry said it trying to rally his troops before battle, telling his men that those back home would always wish that they had been there, and been part of “we happy few, we band of brothers.” 

          Who are your happy few?  Who is your band of brothers?          

          Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, The Tipping Point, says that research indicates we can know, really know, about 150 people.  That’s the number of people that you know well enough that if you bumped into them at Starbucks, you’d join them uninvited for a drink.  About 150…friends.

          But then Gladwell identifies another group within that 150, a group of 10-15 people that he calls a “sympathy group”.  Who is this “sympathy group?”  “Make a list”, Gladwell says, “of all the people you know whose death would leave you truly devastated.”  You would be at their graveside not as a spectator, but as a deeply involved mourner.  These would people with whom you lingered. These are your closest friends, the happy few. 

          Who are your happy few?  Do you have these kinds of relationships with believers who will love you, challenge you, and help you grow?

          This is what Life Groups are about.  A Life Group is a group of people who spend time together for friendship and spiritual growth.  They linger.  They are a happy few, a band of brothers that stand beside you in the battle.  If you’ve got these kinds of relationships, you are blessed.  If you don’t, let’s get started now.

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