THE SPILLING OUT LIFE: [Doing Life Together] When theologian Broughton Knox was serving as a young chaplain in the British navy on a ship preparing for D-day and the invasion of Normandy, he noted that the minds of all hands on board, regardless of rank, were focused on the invasion’s success. No one thought of his own interest, but only on how he could help his shipmates in their commonly shared task. He says, “I remember noting in my mind how I had never been happier.”
After the invasion and return to England, everyone noticed a difference in the atmosphere on ship. It was still friendly because it was a well run ship. But several of the sailors, sensing the difference, asked the young chaplain why things had changed. Knox reflects, “The answer was quite simple. During those months that preceded and followed D-day, our thoughts had a minimum of self-centeredness in them. We gave ourselves to our shared activity and objective. . . Once the undertaking was over we reverted to our own purposes, as we normally do. Knox was, of course reflecting on his ship’s experience of the fellowship that people experience in pursuing a common goal. Human friendship is a wonderful thing, but fellowship goes beyond friendship. Community happens best when friends are in pursuit of a common goal or cause.
Last week we started a series based out of the book of Philippians. We concluded that this letter written by the apostle Paul was without question centered on Christ but it was also the most joyous of Paul’s writings.
Today we move into the opening greeting given by Paul to this church. Listen to these words:
Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:3-8
There is joy in doing life together. This is more than a slogan or a small group’s sales pitch. It is a biblical concept modeled in the New Testament by Jesus and His disciples. There are some who would make the theological case that God models the idea of community in the form of the Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit operate as one in community with each other.
Paul is still writing introductory words in this letter and he is remembering fondly the people in this church that he started years before. He has been a part of their spiritual journey and they have been a part of his. He knows their story and they know his.
From these words we get a look at why community and belonging are important. It is important to understand why every person should be a part of a group. We all need others in our lives. In this teaching we learn what happens when people do life together.
I want to hone in on something today. We need each other for more that just moral support. We need each other for more than “doing life together.” (A phrase that we throw around a lot.) We need each other because if we truly are following Christ there is a cause and a purpose to our lives and no one carries out the purpose of God alone.
You always do God’s work with others or as a team. There are no lone rangers in God’s work and for that matter even the Lone Ranger wasn’t alone.
Let’s examine this greeting and learn from it today.
1.There was an alliance for justice
We are called throughout the Bible to do ministry and to care for others. Paul realized that this church was in partnership with him for doing the will of God. They worked as a team. We are called to bring justice through the church to those who are experiencing injustice. We are called to use the gospel message to create a safe place for those we encounter.
“Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.”
As Paul sits in his jail cell he is thinking about the place called “little Rome” or the pretentious colony called Philippi. He sees the faces of Lydia and her family, the jailer and his family and the others who had been added to the church. This greeting is not that unusual. Paul rarely thanked God for things; he always thanked Him for people.
Everyone in this room needs other people in their life. People who will spur them on to be like Christ. People who will challenge them when they are walking the wrong way or challenge them when they are not acting like Christ.
We have been called to be Christ body on this earth. We have been called to embrace each other’s idiosyncrasies and work as a team to do Christ will.
What about being a part of the body.
12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles,[e] some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.[f]
14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?
18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”
22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, 24 while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.” I Cor. 12:12-26 NLT
We are to come together as an alliance to do the justice of God on earth.
It’s been a while since I explained why we push small groups but some of you will miss a great blessing if you never take a step toward being in a small group or community with other people.
We are a large church. This didn’t happen because we sat around trying to figure out how to be a large church. It happened because apparently God wanted to use this church to touch a lot of people. The larger a church is the smaller it has to become. That doesn’t make a lot of sense at first but we believe that you will care for one another as the Bible instructs us to do when you are in a group. We believe that you will care for others best when you do it as a group. There must be a balance between the large Sunday gatherings and the formation of community groups or opportunities.
The best pastoral care is going to come from within the small group community structure. The idea that you need a “hired gun” to take care of you when you go to the hospital or pray for you when you are in need, is really lame and in fact it is not the best idea. Would you rather have a pastor provide care by showing up, visiting for a few minutes, having prayer and walking out of your life or would it be it be better if there were a team of fellow Christ followers who were thinking about each other and responding to the needs that arise?
It is a myth that you must know everyone in the church in order to feel like a part of a church. The average church member knows 67 people in the congregation, whether the church has 200 or 2,000 attending. A member does not have to know everyone in the church in order to feel like its "my church" but he does have to know some people! All you have to know is the people you have been called to do life with. The people you have linked to make a difference in the world around you.
Are you in an alliance with anyone or a community with anyone or are you walking alone trying to do everything on your own?
Lessons From Geese Fact 1: As each goose flaps its wings it creates an "uplift" for the birds that follow. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone. Lesson 1: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another. Fact 2: When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front of it. Lesson 2: If we have as much common sense as a goose, we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others. Fact 3: When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position. Lesson 3: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each others’ skills, capabilities, and unique arrangements of gifts, talents, or resources. Fact 4: Geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. Lesson 4: We need to make sure our honking is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the production is much greater. The power of encouragement (to stand by one’s heart or core values and encourage the heart and core of others) is the quality of honking we seek. Fact 5: When a goose gets sick, wounded, or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch up with the flock. Lesson 5: If we have as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.
Discipleship occurs only in community. Very few people are expert in anything all by themselves. They need a supporting community. Do you know a good musician who was not trained, nurtured and sustained by the music community? Show me an athlete who achieves excellence all alone, apart from the athletic community. Very few wise men become so without the accumulated wisdom of the centuries as expressed in colleges and universities and libraries. Medical people are more like ensembles and symphonies than soloists. What business tycoon does it all on his own without dedicated experts in finance, engineering, personnel, and marketing? Excellence requires participation in, and support of, a community of like-minded people. Likewise in the church -- a forerunner of the new kingdom. Very few achieve Christian maturity all by themselves. Seldom is the Bible studied diligently without the aid of scholars and teachers. Rarely are people led to generosity by their own impulses.
2.There was an attitude of Joy
“So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News.”
Remember Paul was in prison writing this and possibly facing death. This means that joy is not a result of pleasant circumstances or prosperity or success. Joy for Paul was not an emotion or a mood or a feeling but an attitude. Because of this joy can be controlled whereas an emotion cannot.
The source of joy will always come from the Lord. What Paul does here with this early declaration of joy and the fifteen admonishments to joy later in the letter, is assure his close friends who are burdened and concerned for his welfare, that neither prison nor anything else can rob him of his joy.
Do you have an attitude of joy today? I didn’t ask if everything was okay because you know what there are some hurting people in this room. There will be people sitting in these seats today who will come in this room with unspeakable burdens and concerns but there will be something in the hearts of some of them that will well up with joy as they think about God and the community that they are a part of.
Paul was in jail and under the threat of losing his life. This is serious stuff yet he is overcome with an attitude of joy. The source of joy is “in the Lord.” It can be commanded by those who are “in the Lord.” In this early mention of his joyfulness he is driving home the point to his friends and community that nothing has robbed him of his joy. He is modeling the joy that he is going to instruct them later in the letter to possess.
In his book Living Life on Purpose, Greg Anderson shares the story of one man’s journey to joy: ... his wife had left him and he was completely depressed. He had lost faith in himself, in other people, in God—he found no joy in living. One rainy morning this man went to a small neighbourhood restaurant for breakfast. Although several people were at the diner, no one was speaking to anyone else. Our miserable friend hunched over the counter, stirring his coffee with a spoon. In one of the small booths along the window was a young mother with a little girl. They had just been served their food when the little girl broke the sad silence by almost shouting, "Momma, why don’t we say our prayers here?" The waitress who had just served their breakfast turned around and said, "Sure, honey, we pray here. Will you say the prayer for us?" And she turned and looked at the rest of the people in the restaurant and said, "Bow your heads." Surprisingly, one by one, the heads went down. The little girl then bowed her head, folded her hands, and said, "God is great, God is good, and we thank him for our food. Amen." That prayer changed the entire atmosphere. People began to talk with one another. The waitress said, "We should do that every morning." "All of a sudden," said our friend, "my whole frame of mind started to improve. From that little girl’s example, I started to thank God for all that I did have and stop majoring in all that I didn’t have. I started to choose happiness."
3.They shared the affection of Jesus
“God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus”
Do you have anybody outside of your family that loves you like that? Do you love others with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus?
This kind of love brings focus to our lives and rids us of self centeredness. It leads us away from ourselves and our petty wants and desires.
The Philippians were tied with Paul and Christ. It was a three way alliance not unlike the ultimate model of community in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
They were bound together by the cause of Christ and the sharing of the message. The only way to accomplish this is to be in a loving and caring community of Christ followers who live, love and lead like Jesus.
Max Lucado: "If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, he’ll listen."
We are called to love with the affection of Christ. We are called to focus that on and with one another. Well you will never focus on the whole church it would be impossible so you have to do it with a group of intimate and personal friends.
A man once returned from a mission trip and was so pumped up about the experience. He wished that he could experience that kind of fellowship or partnership at home. Let’s think about this experience for a moment. What he experienced was not unlike the church that Paul was writing to or the model he is encouraging. He experienced working together around a cause and a purpose. It wasn’t just hanging out there was a reason to exist and work together.
People who jump from church to church looking for good fellowship are looking for an illusion. Fellowship over coffee or lunch after a service is good but it is not Christian fellowship. It is fellowship among Christ followers but it is not the kind of fellowship or partnership Paul was celebrating.
Listen carefully. . .there is nothing wrong with getting together and enjoying each others company but there is a level that goes beyond that. If you really want to experience authentic life together center it around serving together.
IF we could ever learn this we would grow much deeper as a church. Recently some of us have served together. Some of us served in helping move the pastor and his family at Real Life. Some of us served together at a kids camp or at the Merge services. Just this week there were people who came together to help out at a funeral. Long before the family showed up in the fellowship hall and long after they were gone there were teams of people there serving together. They talked and shared. They cared together. They laughed and served together. They experienced life together.
Do you know who will have the worst attitude in any church? The people who do everything by themselves. They become little personal martyrs walking around mumbling to themselves. They become critical of others and have little personal pity parties.
We need each other and we need a cause. We need to operate and live our lives in community around the cause and message of Christ.
In 1980, I traveled by small plane to Lake Placid New York for the 1980 Winter Olympics. There were five of us who went there as a team with one purpose in mind. We were there to share the Good News on this world stage. I have often thought about that trip and the historic significance of that Olympics. The miracle on ice happened that year. The United States Hockey team won gold. Eric Hyden became a speed skating phenomenon. The cold war was still very much on and athletes from Communist countries would be shadowed by men in long heavy coats. More than once we handed a bible to an athlete on the street only to have it quickly taken by another person who was tailing them. The most amazing thing to me is that in seven days we never attended a single sporting event. We were offered the chance to go a couple of times but we were there on a mission. I have forgotten the stats of course but tens of thousands of pieces of bible based literature was handed out on the streets of Lake Placid. Hundreds of bibles were given. Free hot chocolate was served.
Not going to the games seemed normal because there was a cause and a purpose. We would attend the award ceremonies on Mirror Lake but it never occurred to me that whole week to do anything but serve together.
It is this kind of community that we are trying to focus on becoming as a church. This is where the heart of this church or the core is going. We are moving to find ways to do life together and to serve together.
TRUE SERVICE Self-righteous service comes through human effort. True service comes from a relationship with the divine Other deep inside. Self-righteous service is impressed with the “big deal.” True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service. Self-righteous service requires external rewards. True service rests contented in hiddenness. Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results. True service is free of the need to calculate results. Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve. True service is indiscriminate in its ministry. Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims. True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need. Self-righteous service is temporary. True service is a lifestyle. Self-righteous service is without sensitivity. It insists on meeting the need even when to do so would be destructive. True service can withhold the service as freely as perform it. Self-righteous service fractures community. True service, on the other hand, builds community. SOURCE: Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, "The Discipline of Service."
An ingenious teenager, tired of reading bedtime stories to his little sister, decided to record several of her favorite stories on tape. He told her, "Now you can hear your stories anytime you want. Isn’t that great?" She looked