Last weekend at Gateway, John Burke shared at the Northwest Campus (McNeil), and I shared at the South Campus. Here are the thoughts we shared:
“There’s not a single person who doesn’t long to be deeply seen, known, accepted, loved, valued, supported, and encouraged, yet we’re also terrified of it. In addition, we are aren’t very good at giving it to others.
To say you follow Jesus, and are a part of His church, yet remain isolated from spiritual friendships is to miss completely what God’s doing; or if you have spiritual friendships–have found connection–but don’t care about helping others come out of isolation—you’re again missing what God cares about most! One of the main things God wants to do through people is bring us out of isolation, caused by a world at war, and make us into people who bring others out of isolation too.
We say ‘Come As You Are’ which comes from the value of grace. God accepts us ‘as is.’ That’s where He starts with us.
Grace does not equal tolerance. Tolerance is our culture’s cheap substitute for a lack of grace. God says, ‘There are things you do that I don’t like, they hurt you and others, but I’m going to pay your debt to forgive those things, and I’m going to draw near to you in the closest imaginable relationship, and walk with you to become more and more of the person you know you were meant to be.’ Grace is all about a relationship that draws near despite what we don’t like. It’s central to what it means to follow Jesus—not only that we receive his free gift of grace, but we become dispensers of it to others.
‘We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up…Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God’. – Romans 15:1, 2, 7
If you follow God’s Spirit, he will lead you to accept others and build them up.
This does not come naturally to us because we’ve grown up in a very relationally broken society.
So grace-giving acceptance sounds good. We all think we should be accepted ‘as is’ so we get into a small group, but without a commitment to anyone but me. As soon as people don’t do what’s best for me, or what I want, or when they do things that I don’t like (that require me showing grace) I bail. That’s what culture’s trained me to do—look out for me. Princeton’s Robert Wuthnow has found that small groups mainly ‘provide occasions for individuals to focus on themselves in the presence of others’.
If you claim to follow Jesus, you can’t stay isolated. It’s completely contrary to God’s purpose for grace.
What matters is not just talking about God, but being drawn up into a relationship with Him so that we begin to restore and repair our isolated, relationally broken world. For that to happen, we must die to self! Grace-giving friendships take commitment to others above ourselves because they really will hurt you, and you them. So there really will be conflict and tensions and misunderstandings to work through. If not, we really wouldn’t need God’s grace! This is exactly why God infuses us with His spiritual life. We are born not just biologically, but born again spiritually when we decide to stop playing God, let go of self at the center, and learn to let God’s love steer us in new ways of relating.
If you claim to follow Jesus, but remain isolated from others in His church and don’t work hard to help others come out of isolation, you’re not actually following Jesus because this IS what He was doing.
We can all learn to come out of isolation, form deep spiritual friendships that heal what’s wrong with humanity, but we must die to those self-centered ways. We must commit to God’s ways with one another, and that takes time and effort. We will make mistakes, but we will have to push through failures and misses. We must learn to rely on a power outside of us to push past what bothers me, or hurts me, or what’s easiest for me, but it’s worth it.”
To watch or listen to this message from the Northwest campus, go to www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.