This past Sunday I shared on our core value “Live Connected” at Gateway Church in Austin. Here’s some of what I shared:
“In this series, Made for This, we are looking at a letter to the local church in Ephesus. In chapter one and up to the tenth verse in chapter 2, we see all that God has done for us. We find new life and a new identity in Christ. If we don’t grow in Grace, we won’t be a Grace-giving people. We become His Masterpiece as we live out this New Identity – restored and restoring others.
We love this idea! God loves us?!?! We can come as we are to Him?!? He sees us as a masterpiece just needing His help to emerge from the mud?!?
But here’s the catch: to become all we were created to be requires allowing other people into our lives.
We love chapter one of Ephesus – God’s grace! In Christ, you are a masterpiece! At Gateway, we express this core value as: “Come as you are!”
But let’s be honest we do not really care much for chapter two. Chapter two in Ephesians deals with community. God is bringing peace and reconciliation where there were hostilities—teaching us a New Way to be Human as we function as One family with a new Father. That sounds great in theory, but you’re thinking: “I’ve tried “family” and it doesn’t really work for me.”
Listen to what Paul writes the local church in Ephesus in chapter 2:
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. – (Ephesians 2:11-16 NIV)
To fully understand this passage, we have to understand the relationship between the Gentiles and Israel.
God chose Abraham to become a great nation and through Him all nations would be blessed. This is important. By choosing one person, God was choosing all of us. You may have heard that God’s love doesn’t extend to all peoples, but from the very beginning God actively chose all nations.
Unfortunately, there was a separation and event hostility between the nation of Israel and the Gentiles, but Jesus changed everything. Gentiles and Israel could know God personally through Jesus, but the catch was they also had to now know each other personally.
Jesus gave a new message about a new, spiritual, and invisible Kingdom. A Kingdom not advanced by wars but by peace and love. A Kingdom not divided by politics or ethnicity – the most inclusive community on the planet.
We love the idea of diversity, but to live in a diverse community is actually hard. You have to learn to love people who have different socio-economic, spiritual, moral, and cultural backgrounds and even different personalities. That’s hard! It is far easier to love people who are just like us!
Well, it gets worse, Paul keeps writing more good news almost ruined by the bad news:
He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household… – (Ephesians 2:19-20 NIV)
You may be thinking: ‘I like the idea of finding peace and access with the Creator of the Universe, but do I have to be a fellow citizen with the rest of God’s people? Do I have to be part of the same household? Why would God force this on us?!’
It’s like an arranged marriage with the village idiot!
At Gateway we have expressed this value in different ways over the years: “No One Stands Alone!” or “No Perfect People Allowed” or now with this simple yet difficult to live out phrase: “Live Connected.”
These phrases are more than cliches. We really do strive to live them out!
Some of you, Gateway is where you first experienced community in a life-changing way! For the first time you felt others accepted you, loved you, and even cared enough to have hard conversations with you to help you in your journey. Some of you have discovered that God can use you as an encouragement in the life others. You’ve found community as you’ve served others with others!
But let’s be honest: some of you are here today in spite of “the community” you’ve had around you. In other words, you’ve been hurt by others before you ever came to Gateway and some of you have been hurt here.
You started coming to Gateway and you had such high hopes! Even though we warned you and tried to lower your expectations by reminding you that “No Perfect People Allowed,” you still hoped for more and even longed for more. Maybe you went through an amazing season of community but then those you were closest to moved away from Austin or the church grew bigger than when you arrived and you don’t see people you know as often as you used to back when we met at the Bull Creek synagogue.
When people move so much and people hurt us so much, is it even worth trying?
Some of us do not even know what healthy community even looks like, or you may even feel so broken or jaded that you are afraid to live connected because whatever healthy community you find will be ruined once you get there.
For others of us, we avoid living connected because of the pain we’ve felt in community in the past. Maybe you deeply long for meaningful friendships. You genuinely want to have a community where you can “come as you are,” but you aren’t so sure that you want a community that is also willing to help you “not stay the way you are.” Growing spiritually, emotionally, and relationally will require change. Growth requires doing things differently, and you do not have any desire for that.
Some of us don’t want community because we really don’t want to know others or to be known by others. That sounds unnecessary and uncomfortable.
Finally, some of us have caught a glimpse of living connected – being known and knowing others, but life has changed. Living connected was easier before you started the company or before you got married and had kids. You have lived connected in the past and even enjoyed doing so, but you are so busy now. You have no idea how to even move forward.
For God to rescue us and put us into a new family like this, there must be something bigger going on. Paul explains in Eph. 2:
“In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” – Ephesians 3:4-6
In other words, God has revealed Himself in ways He has never revealed before! You and I have the opportunity to experience something the prophets longed to experience. God is reconciling humanity to Himself and humanity with each other! We can experience peace with God and peace with those around us! This new version of humanity, a diverse community united in their love for God and love for others is quite miraculous!
Paul continues with the punchline:
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” – Ephesians 3:10-12
God is showing the whole Universe the wisdom of His loving ways through His Church! This is why the Church matters to Him. This is why relational division and disunity is so opposite to what He’s trying to do. He created us to live connected to His love and to experience that love together through each other, but we can’t do it on our own power or resources. We must stay Connected (abiding) in His Love so that we experience TOGETHER how wide, deep, high, and long this love really is.
God is showing off his magnificent wisdom. The spiritual realm – angels and demons – see the brokenness of the world and the fracturing of relationships. The evil forces feel they have won and will always win, yet in the midst of the conflict all around us, God is creating a new family that is united and that overcomes the temptation to stay divided and remain in conflict. Just as God offers us grace, peace, and forgiveness to us, we are extending grace, peace, and forgiveness to each other.
Our love for each other in the Church communicates to the spiritual world that God is good!
You and I cannot truly love God unless we also love people, and let’s be honest, you and I cannot truly love people without God’s help because people can be hard to love.
Three Main Reasons We Don’t Live Connected:
1. I Don’t Know How To Live Connected (Too Uncertain)
Too often, we desperately need and even want a friend but we don’t know how to be one for others.
At its basic level, to “live connected” means to know others and to be known by others. But there’s some intentionality there as well.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:24-25
You see a loving community is both inclusive and willing to have the hard conversations. Come as you are, and let’s help each other not stay that way. We should not stop meeting together but instead encourage each other and spur each other on.
Every one us needs a transparent community. By transparent community we mean confessional community where people truly know what is going on in our lives. Our goal is to help you move from being “Strangers” to “Acquaintances” to “Friends” to “Transparent Community.” This takes time and commitment to get there, but transparent community (living connected) will change your life, and you will get to see the lives of others changed.
Throughout Ephesians and the New Testament the word “church” is used. The actual word means “gathering” or “assembly.” The word “church” is used two ways in the New Testament – The Church is made up of all who follow Christ. This is the Universal Church. The word is also used to describe a specific local group of Christ-followers. This is the local church.
We often use the word “church” incorrectly. Church is not a building. Church is not a service. We don’t go to church. When we become Christ-followers we are part of the Universal Church.
For those of us who are Christ-followers, we are also to find a local church where we can connect, grow, and serve.
Coming to our Sunday inspire service is a great step, but really this is just one thing we do. There are so many ways to connect, grow, and serve throughout the week!
Do a quick personal assessment: Who knows you? Who do you really know? Who is encouraging or spurring you on? Who are you encouraging and spurring on?
Some of you may be here thinking: I just got here. I am not ready for anything more than checking things out on Sunday. That is certainly ok. The Scriptures do talk about creating a space for people who are not yet Christ-followers. 1 Corinthians 14 gives instructions on how to create a Sunday gathering where people who are not Christ-followers are welcome. They can come as they are. Let me encourage you though, when you are ready (and it may be sooner than you think) we are here to help you.
Here’s the amazing part. When we live connected we get to experience what Jesus said: when we lose our lives in serving, that is when we find our lives. You and I need community now – even if we don’t feel like it. There are other times in life, when our need for community is obvious. We shouldn’t just plan to find some community when we are desperate. We need to make decisions to make progress in our lives now and to be preventative.
Not sure where to start? Just start serving others with others! Just find a life group or network near you. Be patient with yourself and with those you meet. In our culture when people move from house to house, city to city, job to job, and church to church, we cannot expect to have the same level of intimacy in a relationship after 1 week as we do in our previous home where we lived for 10 years. Be patient and don’t be afraid to start again.
Living connected means knowing others, being known by others, encouraging and spurring on others, and being encouraged and spurred on by others. That certainly sounds easy, but it is much harder than that. This leads to the second main reason we resist the very thing we were created for and what we need.
2. I Don’t Want To Live Connected (Too Hurt)
We were designed to experience meaningful, healthy, and life-giving relationships with God and with others, but we’ve allowed the inadvertent mistakes and the evil choices of others to keep this from happening.
We’re not just victims. We have also hurt others – sometimes on accident but too often we’ve done so intentionally. In either case, we’ve created walls as a result of our painful moments, our pride, and our prejudice. Our society loves to blame others, but blaming others and even blaming ourselves is not productive.
We need to recognize: living connected will be hard. We will hurt others. We will be hurt by others. But that is all part of the process. We need to learn to extend the same grace God gives to us. We need to learn to forgive others, just as God offers to forgive us. We want different standards for how we are treated by God and how we treat others, but we become the best version of ourselves as we stay connected to others and work through conflict and even learn to avoid bitterness, gossip, and slander.
Peter walked with Jesus and learned the secret to healthy relationships. He wrote:
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins….” – 1 Peter 4:8
Love is not a feeling but a commitment to care for someone even when they hurt us emotionally, betray us, or treat us poorly.
As a quick aside: Of course, I am not talking about enduring physical abuse or even putting your kids at risk of abuse. If that is you, let us help you get the help you need.
Some of you are not in dangerous situations, but you are in an incredibly difficult and toxic relationship. If you aren’t married to the person, ending the relationship may be the best move. Another option rather than cutting off the person could be setting healthy boundaries.
Some of us may find ourselves in a relationship that is strained, cold or contentious. If that is you, then see this as your opportunity to grow in your ability to love even when you don’t feel like it. More than likely, you will grow as a person in the midst of the trial. There is probably something you can do to improve the situation just in changing how you treat the other person or in how you respond to the other’s bad behavior.
When we believe that “It’s all their fault” we remove our opportunity to do something about the problem at hand. You do not have to remain the victim. There is something you can do to bring healing in your strained relationships. Even if it just starts with praying for wisdom and even if it includes forgiving someone whether or not they ask for forgiveness.
Our tendency is to try to protect ourselves sooner than we need to do so and to forgive later than we should.
A couple of years ago, my daughter Trevi and I were once talking about a friend of hers who seemed to keep taking shots at her. She was tired of forgiving her and was ready to move on. So I reminded her of the time when Jesus had a similar conversation with Peter. I asked her: do you know how many times Jesus said we should forgive those who hurt us? She said: “I know. I know. To infinity and beyond.”
Actually that was Buzz Lightyear rather than Jesus. Here’s the actual conversation:
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. – Matthew 18:21-22”
Some people hurt us repeatedly. We need to forgive and forgive again. Others have hurt us deeply enough, that just a reminder of what happened brings back the pain. We need to forgive and then forgive again.
As a newlywed years ago, I heard something that really helped me. The goal of a healthy couple is not to avoid fights. A healthy couple learns to fight fairly. What was meant by that is this: we need to learn to work through our differences and come to an agreement without hurting each other or harboring bitterness. Some of us have carried broken relationships and painful moments from relationship to relationship, from church to church, from job to job, and from city to city
“As long as we hang onto bitterness against anyone, it affects others close to us who had nothing to do with the pain.” – Neil Anderson
When you find yourself in the midst of conflict: move the conversations to face to face. Over the phone, texting, and email are not good ways to communicate. It is amazing how sitting down with another person changes everything. All of the assumptions we’ve made about them and their motives are seen to be far from accurate.
In all of our relationships, when in doubt, we need to assume the best.
Too often, we run away when people get close to us. We run away from the very thing we need
Commitment is the context for growth.
There are levels of relationship in which we commit. In each level, we are learning to live connected – with our family, with our friends, with our local church, as part of the Universal Church, and we represent Jesus to our neighbors, where we work, and in our city.
3. I Don’t Have Time to Live Connected (Too Busy)
Aren’t sure if you are too busy? When someone asks you to come over for dinner, does it make you excited or does it just sound like another “ask.” When things you would normally enjoy start to sound like a burden, you are too busy. When things you signed up to do start sounding like a chore, you are too busy.
Certainly there are times when we need to exercise faithfulness – keep doing the right thing no matter how small it is and even if we don’t feel like it.
At the same time, we need to let every new day, every new week, and every new season be a time where we take our calendar and lay it at God’s feet and ask Him to guide us to know how to fill it up and maximize our time.
When we fail to do that, we can find ourselves overwhelmed and too busy to do the very things we need to do – the very things that give us life. When we don’t have a full tank to draw upon, we will become cynical, disillusioned, and burnout.
We will actually gain more time in life when we recalibrate our priorities to live connected.
Literally, scientists and sociologists have indicated you live longer when you have meaningful relationships. Relationships make us healthier!
In his book Everyone seems normal till you get to know them, John Ortberg shared the results of the Alameda County Study on Relationships. This study tracked 7,000 people over the course of 9 years. Here were some of their findings:
The most isolated people were 3x more likely to die than the more relational people.When someone had bad health habits but strong relational connections, they lived significantly longer than those who had great health habits but were isolated.
Ortberg summarizes the finding this way: “It’s better to eat twinkies with good friends than to eat broccoli alone.”
When we consider the best moments in life, someone else is either with us or help us get there.
As God works in us, He can work so much more powerfully through us. For the next 24 hours, move slower, listen more carefully to God and to each other, sit quietly with God, and unplug.
We need to reduce our busyness to create room for spontaneous adventures with others. We need to look for those who need a hug. We need to turn off our televisions and spend time in coffee shops. Ultimately, we need to reorient our lives so that we begin to invest in the people we already know and start investing in people who need a friend.
Some of us are so exhausted doing things we have to get done or even doing good things that we are missing out on the best things God has for us.
Let me encourage you to try something if you have found yourself to busy. Some time today, take out your calendar and organize your life with the things you know God wants you to do.
I like to think of it like tithing your time. Let’s say you work 40 to 50 hours per week, take 10% of that and dedicate that many hours to your spouse. That would be one really great date night – 4 to 5 hours of uninterrupted time with your spouse. Take another 10% (4 to 5 hours) for uninterrupted (cell phone free) time with your children. Then take another 4 to 5 hours for investing in your neighbors and friends. Then take another 4 to 5 hours to invest in your spiritual growth and the spiritual growth of others through your local church. That is enough time to participate on Sundays, serve as part of a team or network, and discipling others and being discipled with running partners and/or a life group.
Just like giving 10% of our income is just a baseline, 4 to 5 hours with your wife and kids and friends should be the minimum. I don’t mean just watching TV together, but truly intentional time together. Start at 4 to 5 hours and grow the time from there.
You will be surprised at how much time we actually have in the day that we waste on TV, video games, or the internet.
I imagine Paul’s friends at the local church in Ephesus found themselves overwhelmed with the challenge of following Christ and living connected. As a result, he prayed this prayer, a prayer I want to pray for you.
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:4-6, 10-21 NIV)
Consider the many options happening as part of our community at Gateway as tools in your toolbox. You should not be involved with so many things that you aren’t deeply involved in one or two things.
Here are some ideas:
- Join a serving team
- Find a life group
- Connect to a Network
- Commit to a running partner
Running partners are easy to find if you have a friend already connected at Gateway or you can find one when you connect to a life group, network, or serve team. Go to the Connect Spot for ideas!