Refrigerator Rights: What’s That Smell? by John Burke

At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series called “Refrigerator Rights.” This series is designed to develop healthy relationships in the context of a network of support.

John Burke shared at the McNeil campus, and I spoke at the South Campus. Here are some of the ideas we shared:

“Who has refrigerator rights in your life? Refrigerator Rights can tell us a lot about our relational health. It’s not just about the food in your fridge, is it? It’s about more than that.

Sociologically, belonging is complex. We have different relational and sociological needs that a one-size-fits-all gathering can’t meet.  Jesus operated in these four social spaces as well:

  • Public Space (large gatherings like the Sermon on the Mount)
  • Social Space (20-70 people – the 70 – a network)
  • Personal Space (Family space – life group – the 12 disciples)
  • Intimate Space (1-3 people who know everything – Running Partners – Peter, James, and John).

Social Spaces

A British think-tank that put together the Happy Planet Index, which combines life satisfaction, life expectancy and the resources required. The United States came in almost last-150 out of 172 countries. The number one happiest country was Vanuatu population 200,000. The spokesperson for said, “People are generally happy here because they are very satisfied with very little.
This is not a consumer-driven society. Life here is about community and family and goodwill to other people.” The country is quite diverse with over 150 different languages spoken. 83% of Vanuatu are Christ-followers following the relational way of

Maybe the American Myth of independence is not getting us what we really want. We were created for community—with God and others.

People were never intended to live Independent of God or one another. Since we were created for community, why do we try so hard to live independent and on our own pretending we don’t need anyone? Sniff–It’s because of that SMELL. We all have at least a few Tupperware dishes of old, nasty-smelling food in our fridge. That smell is like the pain festering from relational wounds or the shame over things done to us or things we’ve done. We’d rather not deal with it or let other’s see it. We’ve all been wounded by community gone astray.

The story in Genesis goes reveals that once people turned away from God and His will, it separated us from God and each other. The first impact of separation from God is alienation from self.

“They sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God….” Genesis 3:7-8

They felt shame and become self-conscious – no longer One with God or each other. They ran and hid from God trying to pretend
nothing happened.

Once confronted, Adam shifted to blame. “[God] said, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me….” Genesis 3:11-12

We run and hide from God then keep doing things against His will trying to feel secure, loved, important, but we hurt each other, then we deny, we blame and shame and isolate ourselves to avoid more hurt. This is the story of the human race.

When we blame others rather than take personal responsibility, we are robbing ourselves of the opportunity to make the changes we have the power to make! We don’t have to be victims. We have the power to choose our own path forward!

What if God wanted to change the rules?

God’s new set of rules are designed to wipe out the affects of our turning away from God. What if we as a community decided live according to God’s new way? Amazing things would happen!  Here are the new ways we should live our lives:

  • Rule #1 – There’s no condemnation from me.
  • Rule #2 – No more hiding and pretending.
  • Rule #3 – Walk together with God and one another to grow, together, we can all grow up to be more of what God intended.

If we made this shift from the world’s ways to God’s ways, we’d experience a love, a security, a peace and a strength and growth like we’ve never known before.

This is what I hope all of you find at this church, but we must all create it for each other. This is what we’re trying to do—give full refrigerator rights to at least 1-3 Spiritual Running Partners, hopefully some Refrigerator Rights to a small group of 8-12 eventually.

Rule #1 – There’s no condemnation.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus, and because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you….” Romans 8:1-2

In God’s New Family, He wants us to help each other experience a life-giving freedom from knowing that God does not condemn us—despite all our sins, all our mistakes, all our character defects and nasty Tupperware toxicity. If we can help each other experience this, then we can stop denying the smell and actually deal with it. This is why we need to connect in a small group or with a few trust Spiritual Running Partners.

The world’s ways keep us alone and stuck. We are told we must be independent and prove ourselves worthy, not needing anyone. Through His New Family we receive help to wash away the lies. We are to speak His truth in love to one another, build each other up, and share one another’s burdens.

John, one of Jesus’ closest followers put it this way:

We begin to experience Gods love and it pushes out fear: We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 19 We love each other because he loved us first. 1 John 4:16-19

When we understand what God’s done for us through Christ – that He’s forgiven us and restored us and we don’t need to fear punishment by God, then you don’t need to fear anyone or anything! That’s when you are truly living in Grace—when God’s love for you drives out all your fear of what others might or might not think of you. Instead of constantly focusing on myself and my
fears, I focus on Christ. He is my hope for my deepest needs getting met, even through others. This allows me to see people who have hurt me as the hurting people they are. This helps me face my fears of moving closer to them, and as I lean into the acceptance of the Lord, I have something to offer them.

Rule #2 – No more hiding and pretending. From the beginning of Gateway, we’ve said, “No Perfect People Allowed” because THERE ARE NO PERFECT PEOPLE!

For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. Romans 3:23-24

God’s dream is of a place where we learn to fully be ourselves, the good with the bad, uninhibited, confident, and courageous.

There’s strength in vulnerability. The world says: “real men don’t show weaknesses.” That’s not strength, that’s weakness hiding behind a mask. True strength is when we are so full of God’s security that we can be honest with our strengths and weaknesses, our victories and failures, our faith and our sins — not be so self-concious, but others-concious.

When we find a few in God’s New Family of Grace that we’re willing to be vulnerable with, it can heal us and make us internally strong. James says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. James 5:16

There’s something healing God does when we stop deceiving ourselves, and we get honest with one or two people we really trust.

Rule #3 – Walk together with God and one another to grow. We all long to be in a place where we can be honest about our good parts and our bad without fear of judgment. “Come as you are, but don’t stay that way.” There’s so much more we can be, and God wants us to support and encourage and prompt each other toward love and good deeds so that we become more loving, life-giving people. We’ve got to seek out a small group of people (or life group) that’s trying to do this together, but our job is not to fix or change each other because we can’t. Our job is to encourage each other to trust God more. As we do, He does things inside us we couldn’t do for ourselves.

Don’t let jerks from the past haunt your present and keep you from a better future! They don’t deserve that kind of power in your life! Create a better future by living according to God’s ways. It is worth the risk!

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