Last week Paul kicked off our three week series, “Stonebrook 101” and did an excellent job of contrasting the competing visions of life: one aimed at pleasing ourselves, and one aimed at pleasing God.
SELFIE VISION VS. JESUS VISION
He called the life aimed at pleasing ourselves and making ourselves famous the selfie vision (and here’s a picture of him pretending to take a selfie…, and to be fair here’s a selfie I took recently. This is me with a cat on my head.)
He called the life aimed at pleasing God the Jesus vision: a life aimed at bringing Glory to God and making Him famous. And the only thing I might want to add to what he said last week, is that a life aimed at pleasing God and making Him famous is actually the route to making ourselves truly happy as well! We were designed for this purpose, and when we live according to that design, we find what Jesus called “fullness of life” and “fullness of joy.”
Paul’s message was sort of the 10,000 foot view on our mission and vision here at Stonebrook, and I want to bring this down a little closer to the ground this week, and Brad will “land the plane” next week and get into some details.
Last week we were talking about a personal vision for life, and this week I want to talk about a vision for life in community. Because I think it is possible to have a “Christian Selfie” vision, which is just as bad as the selfie vision.
CHRISTIAN SELFIE VISION
If your idea of the Christian life is primarily about you: your growth, your personal spiritual health, your individual well-being, your self-development, your personal understanding, you are missing the Christian life.
For many of us, being part of the church is primarily about what we personally get out of it. We talk about our “personal relationship with Jesus” and we talk about growing in “our own spiritual walk”. We come on Sunday morning primarily concerned about how well we are fed. We critique what happened on Sunday morning based on whether we personally liked it or not.
Don’t get me wrong, we are to have a personal relationship with Jesus. We ought to be concerned about our spiritual health. BUT God designed us for community. He designed us to have our needs met, as we go about meeting the needs of others.
You must realize that your life is created and designed to benefit the community, your gifts are designed to build it, your resources are designed to fuel it. If we miss this, if we do not understand that our selves are designed to be spent for others, we will never experience the fullness of life and joy that is promised by Jesus.
Stonebrook Mission & Vision
Stonebrook’s Mission and Goals Statement:
Our passion is to love God and all people by living, proclaiming, and teaching the Gospel of Jesus, God’s Messiah.
We seek to glorify God by seeing many hundreds of Ames area residents become devoted followers of Jesus Christ, and many thousands hear the Gospel message.
This vision isn’t something we just cooked up out of our heads. If you are familiar with The Bible you’ll notice that it essentially is a restatement of what the Bible calls “The Great Commandment” as well as “The Great Commission” a term that has been given to one of Jesus final commands, found in Matthew 28 to “Go and make disciples of all the nations…”
We created this mission and goals statement based on these things, and taking a look at who we are as a church, namely where we are located, and the scope of ministry we’re able to carry out with the resources we have.
It is the “becoming fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ” I’d like to flesh out a bit in this message. Turn with me to Ephesians 4.
Ephesians 4:11–16 (ESV)
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Equip The Saints for the work
Every Joint and Ligament
Body Builds Itself
This passage deals with two of our core values as a church:
GCC Core Values: Every Member a minister
Stonebrook Core Value: Committed to Biblical Community. It is this second area, Biblical community that I want to primarily focus on. Commitment to Biblical community is the antidote to the Christian Selfie life.
The Cosmic Importance of a Vision for Community:
To show you what is at stake in this area of Biblical community, I’d like to zoom out and do a quick walk-through of the whole letter.
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, gives us a fascinating look into the cosmic, spiritual realm, and shows us what is going on. We see that:
- God has a master plan to unite all things in heaven and on Earth in Christ (1:9-10)
- This plan succeeded and is currently working (1:20-22)
- There are spiritual forces of evil, led by The Devil that oppose this plan (6:12)
- All mankind is, by nature, enslaved to The Devil (2:2)
- The church, all believers, have been freed from this slavery and given victory over The Devil, through Jesus’s death, resurrection, and current reign. (2:4-9)
- The Church, having been freed from this slavery, and having been unified with each other in Christ, serve as the primary evidence that God’s plan is being successfully executed, and as witness to the enemy powers that their defeat remains sure (3:6-10).
- This victory and unity needs to be worked out in practical ways in the day-to-day interaction of believers with each other and the unbelieving world (Ch. 4-6).
The way we live our life, interact with one another, and with the world, in our moment-by-moment, mundane decision by mundane decision, is our critical part in the spiritual war. Nothing less is at stake than the spiritual forces of darkness being able to see God’s wisdom and plan, and that their defeat is complete and certain.
This sounds like a sci-fi novel, doesn’t it? But brothers and sisters, this is reality. These are not metaphorical ways of illustrating some philosophy or way of thinking. All around you, right now, there is a reality going on that we cannot see. There are angels, demons, cosmic rulers and authorities waiting, influencing, listening, and suggesting. God’s ministering angels are helping us, and Satan’s army are opposing us.
CREATED FOR COMMUNITY
Designed by God to be part of an organism, an ecosystem, the Bible uses the image of a body. We are to see ourselves as one small part of a whole, a link in a chain, a member of the team, who is created for the purpose of serving the whole. Our gifts, talents, resources, our very selves, are created for the benefit of the community.
CUT OFF FROM COMMUNITY
Sin turns us in on ourselves. We seek our good, not the body’s good. We desire to be first, not to put others ahead of ourselves. We hoard our resources, rather than freely give them. We leverage our gifts for our own glory and our own prestige, rather than for the good of the community to the Glory of God.
REDEEMED INTO COMMUNITY
We were rescued by a savior, Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, the second member of the Trinity, God Himself, who gave Himself up for our sake (Philippians 2). He gave His life so that others might live. And those He saves all those whose trust is in Him: His life, teaching, death, and resurrection, as the perfect representation of a Godly life, and as the perfect and final payment for our debt of sin, He bands together into His Church, the gathering of His people.
MADE WHOLE IN COMMUNITY
It is in this community that He makes us whole, that He restores us to His image, the one that was shattered when we rebelled against him. This community is now the context for our sanctification, our spiritual growth.
In community our sin is highlighted, our weaknesses shown. As we interact, we are going to offend each other. Our pride, our lack of humility, our lack of empathy, our naïveté, our bad or weak theology, our short sightedness, our biases, our stubbornness are going to get us in trouble. This is to be expected.
It is here that God shows us where He desires to work with us. It is here that we are confronted with our sin and are then offered the opportunity to repent and lean on Jesus, and so be restored. This isn’t about “working on our issues”. This is not a self-improvement program. This isn’t about dealing with your personal issues. We are talking about adherence to the command of Jesus to “Love one another as we have been loved”, and when we fail, when we sin, we are to repent, to grieve our sin, to reject it and turn from it. We are not to go into some sort of therapy to try to somehow strengthen our weakness. Failure to love one another isn’t simply making a mistake, or a bad decision, it is sinning against that person and against the God of the Universe.
And this God offers us not a self-improvement program, He offers us Grace and mercy. He offers the opportunity to be forgiven, to start over, leaning on the grace of God through faith in Jesus’s work on the Cross, recognizing that when He died for you on that cross 2000 years ago, he already knew you were going to sin in that way. He already knew were going to sin by failing to live up to His command to love one another, and He died for you anyway.
So we need to recognize the depth of our offenses. And we need to marvel at the immeasurable magnitude of His mercy.
We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. Jesus said “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone.” We are to forgive as we have been forgiven: completely, unilaterally, and in spite of our lack of deserving it.
It is in this that we can also say that this community is the context for mission and evangelism. It is as people see the community of Christ followers, broken, sinful as they are, loving one another, serving one another, forgiving and receiving forgiveness, that they see what it is they truly need. HERE ALONE in the church community they see God on Earth (the body of Christ!) They see the Gospel in action, NOT in our clever programs and engaging activities, but when we, the family of God, obey our savior’s command to LOVE AS WE HAVE BEEN LOVED, FORGIVE AS WE HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN.
COMMITTED TO BIBLICAL COMMUNITY
This family, as with all of God’s family, is constantly under attack from the devil and his army, and constantly in danger from us and our sinful tendency toward self-centeredness, bickering amongst ourselves, giving in to unforgiveness, and division and factions, and going along with the world’s way of doing things.
Do not lose this battle.
There is a temptation to pursue the exercise of our gifts in the church, or personal devotion, at the expense of fellowship in the church, which is the ultimate irony.
There is a temptation to focus too much on our individual families and our individual activities and hobbies. Strong families that spend quality time growing together are absolutely crucial, but not to the neglect of the body of Christ.
I have heard multiple and growing reports of disbanding life groups. Hurry to reform and find that smaller community where we can share life together. If our typical model for some reason hasn’t been working for you and those around you, let us know and we can help figure out something that does work.
Our fellowship ministries (The Rock, International Students, Youth Group, Young Professionals, and all the rest) are always at risk of growing insular, and segmenting the church into little closed silos, where we cut ourselves off from the greater wisdom and wider expression of the gifts available within the larger community. We must maintain fellowship across the boundaries!
We as a church have had a history of, and are constantly fighting against isolationism within the Christian community in Ames, and the wider body nationwide and world-wide. We as the church leadership must make concerted efforts to remain connected with our brothers and sisters from other denominations and networks.
I fear that we are on the edge of succumbing to the world’s system of busy-ness and our American self-sufficiency and independence at the expense of fellowship with one another.
This church has a long history of deep connectivity with each other. This community, this family feel, the way we have loved and served one another as large and small groups, is the thing that drew me to Stonebrook, and has kept me here for 15 years. You have become my family. I think of most of you as close as brothers and sisters. When I use that term, I am not using spiritual jargon.
Do not let this go.
I realized the other night, that being up on stage frequently for music over the last 15 years, I have had a perspective that not many of you get to have. I have gotten to look each of you in the eye most Sunday mornings, and see you looking back at me. I’d like to try something a little awkward perhaps here this morning.
I’d like you to stand up and face each other toward the center. Look each other in the eye.
LOVE ONE ANOTHER
This is, or could be, your family. These are your brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. Love one another. Some of you in this room don’t like each other. Some of you currently are holding grudges and grievances against each other.
1 John 4:7–12 (ESV)
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
Ephesians 4:30–5:2 (ESV)
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Join in the life of the church! Join us in living out Ephesians 4.
Let us follow Jesus who gave up His life that others might live.
John 12:23–26 (ESV)
23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.