Life Shape: IN
Pastor Terry Inman
Last week we introduced the shape of things to come at Harbor Light. Life Shape is not some new program or ministry. It is a simple trio of life giving relationships that Jesus modeled for us. This triangle will help us stay balanced in our relationship with God, our church peeps, and reach out to our pre-Christian world. Our small groups will use this as a tool.
UP is our relationship with God. IN is our relationship with those near and dear to us--our family, and circle of close Christian friends. Now Jesus wasn’t married and he didn’t hang out much with his family and he sure didn’t have 20 grandkids. But he had a small group. That was his family.
One day Jesus was talking to a huge crowd. Somebody came to him and said, hey Jesus your mother and your brothers are out here and they want to talk to you. He said something that to us doesn’t sound very nice. “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” Luke 8.21(NIV) At the time some of his brother’s thought he was a little crazy and were coming to get him.
Some of our families think we are a little crazy. So some of us are closer to our church family. Our IN relationships are what Jesus described as the people close to us trying to hear God’s word and put it into practice.
So we are going to talk more about IN. The inward dimension of our life is building community and doing life together as God’s family.
We are created to live in community. “It’s not good for man to live alone”.
“Aloneness” is at the root of most sinfulness. When Adam sinned he hid. Something bad got passed on. The first sibling rivalry ended in murder. It was a horrific sin against relationship. Relationships can be very challenging. Some of us have poor relationships or we opt out altogether.
God created community. God is a community. The Father the Son and the Holy Spirit. It’s a divine imperative that human beings will naturally gravitate to one another. If you just leave people alone they generally cluster into groups of races, religions, nations, tribes, clans, families, teams and even gangs. We humans just need to belong.
My generation worked really hard to build the American dream: A house, two kids, two cars, and two chickens in every pot. We are success driven. The guy with the most stuff wins. But that dream comes at a huge cost. This generation was brought up with stuff but not very healthy families.
So the younger generation is looking for belonging but not necessarily at home. Their families weren’t all that loving or some case not even safe. Many in this generation are children of divorce. They are looking for family but not necessarily the traditional one. They are finding it with friends.
We used to be entertained by family sit-coms like “Leave it to Beaver” but now it’s “Friends” and “Seinfeld” or “Two and a Half Men”! We have shifted from a communal family culture to an independent “me” culture.
We have I-Phones, and I-Pads and it’s all about “me” and “my” life.
We are a nation of strangers. We are hiding in front of our flat-screens lap-tops and mobile devises. We are broken, hurting and lonely because we fear the challenges of authentic community. Facebook is a huge success because it doesn’t require any real face time to connect. I was just crushed the other day because someone didn’t “like” me in fact they defriended me. How insensitive is that. My self-worth has been destroyed!
Now being alone refreshes some introverts life me. That’s OK but it’s not healthy to live in isolation. We now have special lanes on freeway where two or more passengers can travel faster but most people drive alone.
God did not create us to do life’s journey alone. It is unnatural and dysfunctional to live isolated and independent. We were not designed that that way. We are made for relationship with God and each other.
The bible says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Eccl. 4.9-12 (NIV)
According to this, authentic relationships “work” they make us more productive and profitable. “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. We call this teamwork! Jesus had a team.
As I mentioned last week Jesus gathered a small group around him to share life and to help him do his work. “He appointed twelve—designating them apostles—that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.” Mark 3.14 (NIV)
He did his UP-IN-OUT with this band of brothers and he got more bang for his buck! You see healthy groups like cells tend to multiply. Went we team “up” and “in” and “out” we get a better return on life! That is how the New Testament church grew so rapidly. Groups grew new groups!
We need relationships because we are “weak”. We need someone to help us up. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Rom. 15.1 (NIV)
Sometimes we are strong sometimes we are weak. That’s why we need our brothers and our sisters. The bible says, Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Gal. 6.2 (NIV) If you support other people you will never be alone.
Friday night there was a large gathering here to support Zach and Amanda and JD and Lana who lost their little Blake Ryan at birth. I shared with them the verse of the day on my I-Phone app. “Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” Romans 12:15 (NIV)
What captured my attention was the word “with”. The reason there were so many friends at this memorial is because the Eshelman family know how to be “with” others. We need to be part of a small group doing life together especially when we mourn.
I was taking to Judy Burhans who just lost her husband Les. His memorial service was also full of supporters. He met everyone with a smile every day in the parking lot of Fremont Christian School. Judy told me she is in three groups. A grief support group, (not grief recovery but support)
She is a women’s small group studying a book on James titled “Mercy Triumphs” and she goes to the Wednesday night Up-Lift group. She said, that’s where I get a lot of love and hugs. I really get lifted UP!
The apostle Paul says mutual support actually fulfills the law, “the law of Christ.” So what is the law of Christ? Jesus told his small group of disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13.34 (NIV)
We don’t have the capacity to love unconditionally and unselfishly without daily experiencing the love of Christ. You can’t give away what you don’t have. Because Jesus carries us in our weakness we can carry each other when needed.
This week I was sitting in on the executive staff meeting of our school leadership. They were praying for each other. There were a lot of supportive tears, vulnerability and encouragement. I heard more than one of them preface their prayer with the familiar expression. “Lord I lift up” Tricia, Michael or whoever was being prayed for. Eccl says, “pity the man who has no one to help him UP!”
Relationships also keep us warm. “If two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?” We are warmed not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. Who isn’t starving for some appropriate kind-heartedness? Small groups provide some warmth.
Affirmation and even healthy confrontation turns up the temperature on casual and emotionless community. The bible says, “speak the truth in love”. The “truth” without love is cold. Love without truth is superficial.
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” 1Peter 1.22 (NIV) Heartwarming love is genuine and growing.
Real community is camaraderie. Foxhole friends “war” together. They are brothers and fighters. They don’t shoot each other. They defend each other. “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
When God’s people were trying to re-build the walls of Jerusalem, they were threatened by an enemy attack. Nehemiah told them. “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” Nehemiah 4.14 (NIV) They finished with a tool and a weapon.
“I’ve got your back” is more than fighting off demonic bullies. It is warning and protecting each other from the enemy’s tactics. Paul said, He warned everyone, and taught everyone, so he could present everyone complete in Christ. Col. 1.28 (NIV)
Isolationism is creeping into the church. We can now watch the best preachers in America anytime by pod-cast. I’m sure it’s informative and even inspiring but it’s not community. It’s not church its Christian theater.
We should attend Sunday morning services; its live worship and instruction! At least we get to hear someone next to us praying or singing, we may even shake a few hands but if we are not really connecting with the “church” we are not living out community.
“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10.24 (NIV)
Spur one another is an interesting expression. We rub off on each other like pebbles in the sea that are rounded by cleansing and collision.
Relationships are built on trust. Openness, authenticity and vulnerability increase our trust. When we genuinely trust each other we are willing to engage in productive conflict. Healthy unfiltered conflict isn’t personal. It’s a respectful scrimmage over viewpoints and ideas.
Matthew 18: 20 says, “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” This verse is the conclusion of a discussion on how to resolve conflicts in the church. You talk to your brother, if that solves the issue, great. If not, invite another to hear you both out. If that resolve it take the issue to your small group.
Much of what we call harmony or unity looks calm on the surface but underneath there are strong and dangerous undercurrents. We all look for support so we talk to everybody except the right person. That destroys unity. Some of us avoid conflict others do it naturally but not always sensitively. You are probably married to one or the other.
If we do productive conflict with both affirmation and confrontation we will break though to a new level of commitment. People, who are committed to community, demonstrate accountability. They are faithful!
Paul wrote a letter on spiritual leadership. He addressed it to one of his close companions named Timothy. “The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2.2 (NIV)
Faithful people are committed in marriage, family, work and church. Commitment results in productivity. Faithful people attract faithful people. I will take faithful people over talented people anytime.
So trust is built by openness. Trust enables us to engage in productive conflict. This results in deeper levels of commitment. Commitment leads to greater accountability and accountability brings productivity. You might call it teamwork! “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. This is how we do IN.
I have a confession to make. I am pretty private especially when it comes to emotions. I’m a little introverted. I know you can’t imagine that but its true. For some reason I am a little afraid of getting too close.
I can do UP with God. I love my wife and family. I love my friends but sometimes I struggle doing UP with my IN people. I pray better in private.
I am learning to pray with my wife, my kids, my grandkids and my friends.
We need to have intimate alone times with God but Jesus didn’t give us the private faith option when it comes to life. In John 15 he expanded on his new command.
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15.12-15 (NIV)
Jesus shared his relationship with his father, he shared his life with his small group of friends. He laid his life down for his friends. Now that’s IN!