An Ideal Community (You Belong Here Series)

At Gateway Church in Austin, we kicked off our series called You Belong Here.

We were created to be in relationship with one another. Many of us struggle with this, however, because we have all been wounded and hurt. But God’s table is set for all—we are all welcome. Are you ready to sit at God’s table and be part of a community that is loving, accepting, authentic, growing, caring, and encouraging?

The You Belong Here series includes the following messages:

Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

With your family, roommates, or life group, work through the Message Next Steps:

Ideal Community Next Steps

Bonus Reading: from Not Like Me: Learning to Love, Serve, and Influence Our Divided World – Forewords by Erwin McManus and John Burke, Introduction, and Chapter 1

Listen to the message I shared at Gateway in South Austin:

Here are the notes from the message by John Burke:

Everyone wants what that song is talking about—but how do we actually get there?

  • That’s what we’re gonna be exploring the next 4 weeks as we talk about You Belong Here.
  • And I’m not just saying that as the title—that’s true—you, whoever you are, whatever your cultural or religious background, whatever you’ve done or failed to do—you belong here.
  • I hope you realize that by the end of this series, because it’s what God wants, and I’m convinced it’s what we all want—Ideal Community.
  • That place where we are fully known, warts and all, fully accepted, fully loved, by friends who know our junk, we know their junk too, but we encourage each other in God’s way.
  • There’s no fear of rejection, there’s support to risk, try, grow;
  • and you’re never alone through the highs or lows of life—you have your community, your people, celebrating each other’s victories, and in the fight of life, we’ve got each other’s back.
  • A community of great friends who laugh a lot, play, enjoy life together—people who grow together to be all God intended—to become the best version of ourselves.

We all want that—I’m convinced.

But There are a lot of people in Austin that feel the opposite– alone, isolated, unknown, unloved, stuck, uncared for—maybe you feel that way.

You may not feel you belong – anywhere in your life or maybe you’ve started feeling that way in the midst of the last couple of years. Or maybe you’ve felt unwelcome in other places – maybe even in other churches… but Jesus came break through the barriers so that you know that you belong!

Remarkably what God is doing among us can make a big city like Austin feel like a small town again as we become God’s Ideal Community.

So this week, I want to talk about what that looks like, and next week we’ll talk about reality—what makes that so difficult.

  • God created us for relationship with himself and with others, but isolated from God, we keep wounding and warring with each other, then moving farther and farther away into isolation to protect ourselves from being hurt more.
  • But eventually, the safety we seek by pulling away becomes a prison we lock ourselves in.

But God has a restoration plan for all of that—but it involves you and your wounds.

The Only Move You Need to Know

A 10-year-old boy decided to study judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident.  He began lessons with an his judo master. He was doing well, despite missing one arm, yet after three months of training, the master had taught him only one move.  “Sensei,” the boy finally said, “shouldn’t I be learning more moves?”

  • “This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you’ll ever need to know.” – the master replied.
  • Not quite understanding, but trusting in his teacher, the boy kept training.
  • Several months later, the master took the boy to his first tournament.
  • Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches.
  • The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy deftly used his one move to win the match.
  • The boy continued winning until he reached the finals. This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced. For a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched.  The referee called a time out, wanting to stop the match before the boy got hurt.
  • No, the sensei insisted, let him continue.
  • Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his one move.  He won the match and was crowned the champion!
  • On the way home, the boy and the Master reviewed every move in each match, but something was bothering the boy.
  • “Sensei, how did I win the championship with only one move?”
  • “You won for two reasons.” – the sensei answered. “First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm.”
  • The boy’s wound had become his biggest strength for overcoming his opponents.

We’ve all been wounded, by our families, friends, enemies, and maybe even experiences with other churches and left to ourselves, we deny the hurt and pain, anger and shame, but it doesn’t go away—it’s still in us until we seek God’s healing—so we do the same to others, all the while denying that we’re wounded.

This is why community is so difficult.

But God has a new plan. God’s plan is to take our sins, our wounds, forgive them and heal them, and then teach us to use them to heal others and thus undermine the evils of this world. We can throw a Judo move where our biggest wounds, weaknesses, struggles, become our biggest asset in helping God overthrow the isolating, wounding effects of a sinful, broken world.

But to do so, we must learn to master one move – how to truly Love like God.

God’s creating a new family. That’s how God overcomes the isolating, alienating affects of sin and evil– through a new, willing, family. It’s what Jesus came to do:

He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:12-13 

Like we talked about several weeks ago, faith or trust in God, is all He needs to adopt us as His own Children. He just needs your willingness, because Love can’t be forced, and then he can begin to grow us up to be like God as his new spiritual family.  We’re trying to grow up to more like our Heavenly Father.

And this is the problem—we learned from our families, who were not always in line with God’s ideal.

God’s plan was that our families model for us God’s ideal Community, but people seek their ways more than God’s ways—so no one had the ideal, perfect family. No one came out unscarred. If you think you did—if you think your family or upbringing was perfect, and you have no wounds that need healing—ask the people you live with. They’ll tell you the truth.

God’s new family is not like any old family.  God’s building a new family out of every race, ethnicity, and culture among humanity—and He’s bringing together what the evils of this world keep trying to drive apart.

All the Nations

Did you know that the very first church was formed out of many nations and cultures?

Did you know that the Bible is the only sacred text that is not focused on a region of the world but actually mentions “the nations and people groups” 500 times?

For many, religion has been a place to find others who are all the same as we are – they look and believe the same – even a way to protect us from outsiders.

We were catching a glimpse of how the church began 2000 years ago!

Many of our life groups will be reading along with Not Like Me: Learning to Love, Serve and Influence Our Divided World during this series. We have them for you at a discount on Sunday mornings or you get it on Kindle.

It was written to challenge people of faith to be more like the Church as Jesus described and not the angry, hypocritical, judgmental version of churchianity some of us have experienced that have turned friends and family away from faith.

So how did Jesus start the Church?

After the crucifixion, Jesus specifically said to his closest followers—wait.

After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days…[and] he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised.” Acts 1:3-4

Wait for it, wait for that day the Spirit of God comes.  God knew what he was doing because 40 days after Passover, when Jesus was crucified, comes Pentecost—a celebration where God-followers from many nations and languages came to Jerusalem.

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. (Acts 2:1–8)

God was birthing a new family, where Paul would say:  

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

We’ll talk more about this Diverse Community in week 3—don’t miss it, we all need to hear God’s heart in this racially divided world.

It’s incredibly exciting at Gateway, because it’s not something we can do without God’s help – a church that has 65 nations, different races, different political beliefs represented, diverse socio-economic backgrounds, yet an amazing community of love—that’s what we are becoming—only because God’s doing it. But we have to cooperate with God’s Spirit.

The reason we’ve always said: “Get connected with others—in a Serving Network getting into each other’s lives, or in a Life Group of 8-15 people, meeting in homes to grow together, or with 2-3 Spiritual Running Partners to help each other run this race of faith because ideal community happens best with 10-15 people.

For 20 years our goal has been to get people into community, knowing and being known, because that’s where God does his real work—turning our wounds into our strength to overcome evil’s divisive ways. And it’s so life giving.

So Let’s talk about the ideal Community God wants.
And ask yourself “Am I helping create the ideal Community God wants?”

Because here’s the hard truth—if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.
But today is the day to decide to follow God and become part of the solution.  God wants…

A Loving Accepting Community

Scripture says:  

May God, who gives this patience and encouragement, help you live in complete harmony with each other… accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory. Romans 15:5-7.

Imagine having a Network of people you serve with, or a Life Group of 10 people who love and accept you, as is? That’s how God accepts us in Christ—as is.  Right?

That’s what God’s Grace is all about—you and I have sinned, rebelled, gone our own way, done things that are destructive, yet even still God loves us so much, He sent Jesus to take our place—to pay the debts we owed—to clear our account…so Relationship with God is possible.

“God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:8

God wants to teach us to treat others like He treats us.
To show His Grace-giving Acceptance and Love to one another.

But what does that look like, how do you actually do that? Because let’s be honest, it’s super easy to see the things that bother us about each other, or the things that are different, what we don’t like—and it’s uncomfortable, so we move away rather than toward each other.

But when we respond out of our wounds and fears or discomforts, we become part of the problem.

So here’s how you can be a solution, creating the community God wants.  Ephesians 2 says

God saved you [set you right with himself] by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:8-10

If you’ve been around, you’ve heard this analogy, but it’s worth repeating for those of you who are new, and it’s worth asking “Do I really do this?”

If you found Rembrandt’s Masterpiece Painting, the Return of the Prodigal Son worth millions of dollars, but it was covered in mud, stained and torn and in a dumpster, would you treat it like trash?
Or would you realize, it’s still worth millions because underneath all the mud and damage is a one of a kind Masterpiece?
We’d all be wise enough to treat it like a valuable masterpiece and take it to a Master who could restore it to its original value.

Well, if we can see the Masterpiece under the mud of a painting, can we see the Masterpiece of God under the mud of a human?

God gives us Grace—forgiveness and restored relationship—showing what you and I and every person He Created is worth, the most a human can pay.

So when you lock eyes with another person here on Sunday, or serving together in a network, or in your Life Group and they start to bother you—and they will, or you find out the mud of their lives is messy, or you don’t like their politics or choices—what do you focus on?

Do you focus on the Mud and dismiss them like trash (you’re not worth my time, not worth knowing, not worth valuing),
or do you focus on the Masterpiece (created in God’s image) and call that out in them?

That’s what it means to create a Community of Grace-giving Acceptance. To see and call out the Masterpiece. And we all want that—for ourselves at least.

But it takes all of us, deciding to move toward each other, taking the risk to Accept and Love one another like God, especially if you’re not like me.

Will you do that—will you let God parent you and grow you to create that kind of community?

Here’s the hard reality—we’re either helping create that kind of community, or we’re undermining it—even by our refusal to get involved and take the risk, we work against God, because if everyone does that, no one experiences God’s ideal community.

So will you take the risk?
During this series—join a Network serving on Sunday or serving in the city or get in a Life Group? Network Dinners or go to gatewaychurch.com/south to find a place to connect.

God also wants…

An Authentic Community

An authentic, vulnerable community is a place where you risk letting people in, letting people really know you, but that’s scary because when you really let people know you is when people can really hurt you—right!?

And this is the push-pull of fighting for God’s ideal in a broken, sinful, evil world.  We’ve all gotten hurt by families, communities, friends, enemies, lovers, companies, church people, maybe even pastors—no one comes out unscarred.

We’re all hurt people. And hurt people…hurt people. Evil keeps dividing us by using our hurts and fears to react against each other.

So the challenge is letting God break the cycle of hurt people hurting people, and let God heal and even use our struggles and past wounds to overcome evil. How?

Well, it has to start with Grace.

Not just knowing, but experiencing Grace-giving Acceptance—from God and One another. Because only then will we be vulnerable to show our sins, our struggles, our addictions, our weaknesses.

This is why we say No Perfect People Allowed.

  • Because most people put up fronts. We hide our undesirable traits, or hide our sin-struggles, or deny our past wounds.
  • But when we pretend we have no sins, no struggles, no weaknesses—we just stay stuck, alone, unknown and unmoved.
  • We don’t grow, we stagnate.
  • We add to the problem, unknowingly.

So God’s ideal community is honest, authentic. God accepts us as is, and we accept each other as is, so in that soil God says:

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16-17

We can be honest about our struggles, not to fix each other, we can’t fix each other—but to support and pray for each other. To remind each other to trust God and follow His guidance. And notice, this is how God heals us.

Confess… so that you may be healed” James 5:16

All the fears and wounds of families, the racism, the trauma gets healed as we do this.

That’s why in Recovery—in the 12 Steps–Step 4 is taking a complete moral inventory of all your wrongs, and then Step 5 is confessing them to God and at least one trusted person. The Recovery community rediscovered this truth – God heals us through authentic, confessing community.

If you have some secret sin, struggle, or fear, and you never let anyone really know that about you, you’ll never really feel fully accepted or loved—in the back of your mind will always be the question: “Yeah, but what if they learn the truth about me.”

But…

God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6

That’s the kind of community God wants us to create. As brothers and sisters of the same Father, we are to help each other know that there’s no reason to fear, even when you’re struggling or wounded.

In the family of God, “We don’t leave our wounded.”  There is no fear in the family of God.

A little later in Romans, it says:

“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgement…We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.”  Romans 14:1, 15:1

Perhaps it was because the church of your childhood did not live this out that you have been stalled in your faith.

We are all adopted sons and daughters who are to stick together, help each other along, and never leave our wounded behind. Now some may be concerned that people will just stay stuck in their sin-patterns.

But God’s ideal is also a…

A Growing Community

We’ve always said “Come as you are…but don’t stay that way! Grow!”

Because if it’s true that No One is Perfect, then it’s also true that no one has fully arrived. We all need to grow. We’re all works of art in progress.  The question is—and it’s an important one. How do humans grow spiritually?

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers….” 1 Corinthians 3:6-9.

This is really important to understand. You and I cannot grow, fix, or change anyone. Whose job is that? It’s God’s! God alone grows people.

But we are God’s co-workers it says. And what’s our job?

The Soil – planting, watering, tilling the right environment, the right ideal community so that God can grow us.

I can’t grow flowers. But I can create good soil to plant seeds in, and the best soil is messy and smells like manure at times.

And same is true with ideal community, but we cannot change each other, we cannot even change ourselves into the Masterpiece God intended. What we can do is create the soil that encourages us all to trust God and stay connected to His Spirit and He grows us. Jesus said, 

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5

Spiritual Growth is actually really simple. We create the soil of Grace-giving Acceptance, Vulnerability and confession, praying for each other and reminding each other to Trust God more.

“if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently…Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1-2

That’s it—and God causes the growth–we grow into a…

A Caring Serving Community

The community God is trying to create is like a personal team of cheerleaders for all of us:

10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves…Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Romans 12:10-16

All the “One Another” statements of the New Testament form this awesome picture of the ideal environment—where you have people to celebrate your wins, and you do the same for them.

  • When you’re suffering or mourning loss, you’re not alone. You’re devoted to each other—you do the same for them.
  • You can’t do this for everyone, but if everyone has that community of 8-15 who choose to be devoted, nobody stands alone.
  • That’s what we’re doing in Networks serving together, in Life Groups.
  • You honor each other, encourage each other, bless each other, when anyone has a need, you do all you can to help them.
  • No one’s too good for another.

That’s what I love about our church! I hear story after story of this happening! We are not without failures or struggles, and we’ll address those next week, but it’s evidence that God is at work among us and through us.The Scriptures also make it clear that you cannot grow to become who God created you to be without serving others. And we will discuss the more in the last two weeks of this series, but that’s why we are always pointing towards starting gate – to get connected and to grow spiritually – serve others with others.

Lonely? Need a friend? Then be a friend to others!

  • Give up one night of Netflix to get to know your neighbors and serve them.
  • Make one meal a week a chance to get to know your co-workers and serve them.
  • Give up 2 hours of your week to get to know others in your church family and serve them and serve with them.

Jesus said: by losing your life serving others, that is how you will find your life!

If you go to a life group and all 10 people came to have their needs met, how many needs would be met? None!

But if all 10 people came to have their needs met AND looking to meet the needs of one other person, that group could meet the needs in the group and have room to serve even more.

What if every Sunday you came asking God:

“God would you speak to me today? Show me something you want me to apply to my life and show me one person I can serve. Show me one way I can express your love and kindness to someone when we gather together on Sunday.”

In other words:

“God show me what you have for me and what you want from me!”

We talked about this two weeks ago, but some of us will find freedom from the anxiety within by focusing on meeting the needs of others.

We are so caught up in thinking about ourselves that we are missing the path to peace which we can find in community – hope’s community – a loving and accepting community, an authentic community, a growing community, and a caring and serving community.

Because ideal Community is where we’re headed. John, Jesus’ disciple, was shown a vision of what’s to come in Heaven – singing and shouting praise to God as one.

and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before [Jesus] the Lamb. Revelation 7:9.

When we sing together we are declaring our unity in the midst of our diversity. We are united as people created in the image of God.

So As we sing, look around, and thank God for all the people He’s uniting to show our world His solution.

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