A Real Community (You Belong Here Series)

At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued 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.

Bonus Reading: from Not Like Me: Learning to Love, Serve, and Influence Our Divided World – Chapters 2-3


Real 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


The first 7 minutes are an interview with Jon Eng’s life group…


Last week we talked about God’s Ideal Community which pointed out the following:

  • loving and accepting, vulnerable and transparent, growing together because we create the soil of Grace
  • we don’t fix or change each other but we help each other go to God who grows us up to be more like Himself.
  • We grow into a caring community, made up of a diversity of people—cause as we saw, God’s end-game is people from every nation, tribe, language, and ethnic group united in His love as His new family.

If that’s God’s goal, then how do we see “God’s Kingdom come will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” as Jesus taught us to pray?

Well, it’s not that easy.  There’s God’s Ideal, and then there’s the Real—forming Ideal Community in the midst of Real Struggle.

That’s what I want us to think about today, because Real Community is never easy, but it’s good. It’s right. It’s what we all long for, but unfortunately, most are not equipped to do what it takes to push through the messiness of Real Community to move toward the Ideal. But it’s worth it—it’s what we all want—and it’s worth getting our hands dirty to get there.

I saw a study done by 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 winner, number one happiest country in the world, was Vanuatu, population 300,000.
  • The spokesperson for [Van-oo-watu] 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.”
  • I did a little more research and discovered it’s ridiculously diverse, 150 different languages, it’s the most diverse place on earth, yet the happiest?
  • I also found out 83% of Vanuatu is Christian—but not the American/European Colonial version—90% of church leadership are indigenous, native born leaders—apparently following the relational way of Jesus.

Very interesting!  Maybe the American Myth of Independence is not getting us what we really want. But of course, that’s what God’s been trying to tell us all along—we were created for community—with God and others.

And that’s what church is supposed to be about. But there’s a form Christian religiosity that can work against that.

Churchianity sees the church as an organization run by professional clergy who are paid to feed and meet the spiritual needs of all the people who come – to marry and to bury. It’s kind of an HEB Supermarket of Spiritual Goods and Services.
Church happens once a week on Sunday in a service.
Your role is primarily to sit, worship, learn (grade the service at lunch), give, and try to not do anything bad all week based on what you got from the service that Sunday.
And if you perceive the service is not good enough to keep you fed, motivated, pumped up, or if anyone does anything that rubs your wrong or doesn’t meet your expectations – then just like with any consumer would—you go to the Randall’s instead to get your needs met. It’s Me-Church.

This does not in fact come from the Bible, but it comes from our western, affluent, me-centered, non-committal, feel good culture!

Sounds harsh, but it’s true and it’s crippling the American Church.

We misunderstand how Jesus designed the Church.

The Church is not a service on Sunday.
The Church is not a building.
The Church is the people who follow Jesus.

Jesus does not invite us to follow Him for what we can get, but for what we can give.

Because when we lose our lives serving that is how we find our lives.
Because Jesus knew our hearts are bent towards selfishness.
Serving is the antidote to being self-focused and the path to relationship

In his book, An Unstoppable Force: Becoming the Church God Had in Mind, my friend and mentor Erwin McManus said:

“The church is not here to meet our needs.
We are the church, here to meet the needs of the world.”

God’s church is community—it’s relationship—it’s you, me, us and how we do life together.

And that’s not easy—it’s not always a feel-good-fest.
It takes pushing through lots of barriers and hurdles.
But it’s the path to deep, loving, transforming community that is what we all want.

Now, if you came Super Bull weekend, you may be confused about now. How do all the shenanigans and crazy-entertainment style hoopla we did (or all these lights, bands, creativity)—how does that fit with church=relationship?  It’s a legit question.  Because we can easily be misunderstood. We’re trying to do in our culture what Jesus was doing in His. Let me explain:

Jesus taught 1000s (our Inspire Service). He went to where people lived and taught 1000s in this Come as you are environment—it says Prostitutes, Partying Tax Collectors, Religious Pharisees, ordinary Fishermen would gather on the hillside, and he would use stories and parables (the cultural norm of that day) to help them see the goodness of God and His will.  The cultural norms of our day are music and movies and creativity, but the message is the same message Jesus delivered.

Jesus sent 70 to serve (our Networks). But Jesus also mobilized medium size groups to go into the villages to serve, heal, care and show and tell what God’s Kingdom is like. When we say “Get Connected—serve others with others”. That’s our Serve Networks of 20-100 people who may serve kids or students or people coming on Sunday, other Networks may serve Dripping Springs, Circle C, Business Leaders, the Homeless.  It’s a first step into community—where we get into each other’s lives.  And in our serving Networks, we have Spiritual Coaches who help us get to know each other and form community.

Jesus discipled 12 (our Life Groups). Jesus spent most of his time with a smaller group, teaching them more of God’s Word, and equipping them to minister and develop others.  That happens in our Life Groups, where we find closer community, and where we get intentional about spiritual growth together.

And Jesus entrusted more to 3 (our Spiritual Running Partners). Peter, James, and John were those Jesus let in even closer—to see his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, to see his anguish in the Garden of Gethsamene.  For us Spiritual Running Partners are 1-2 people we choose to trust with our deepest struggles, secrets, highs and lows—we run the race of life, supporting each other like those training to run a marathon do. They may be people you find in a Network serving, or your Life Group, or elsewhere.

  • So that’s why you’ll always hear us saying:
    “When you’re ready to come out of anonymity into community—go to Starting Gate, get connected serving, get in a Life Group.”
  • And now is the perfect time to do that. Because that’s where God’s church, His Ideal Community can form.
  • But, the reason so many stay on the sidelines, is because Real Community isn’t so easy.
  • And if we’re not honest about what’s difficult, we will never learn to get to the other side where we experience more of Heaven on earth–Vanautu style.

So let’s talk about what we might experience when we come out of anonymity and move toward community—and then what can we do about it? You may find…

People are hurtful and untrustworthy – Last week we talked about how God intended our families of origin to model His Ideal Community, but none did it perfectly.

  • All humans sin—we seek our will and ways more than God’s will and ways—the result is that we all get hurt along the path of life, some more than others, but none come out unscathed and perfect.
  • And hurt people hurt people.
  • And if you truly follow God’s Spirit, He will lead you toward community with hurt people, and they will hurt you.
  • And guess what—you will hurt them.
  • They will say things, do things, often unintentional like so often we’re shocked if we hurt or offend because we didn’t intend it—sometimes out of callousness or their hurt—but they will hurt you, and you will hurt them.

Listen to Jesus with his own, chosen, beloved disciples whom he did life with intimately for 3.5 years:

“A time is coming [when] You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.” John 16:32

Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him…66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. John 6:64-67.

Can you hear the hurt in his voice? They let him down again and again. In the garden of Gethsemene,

“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Mark 14:34

They fell asleep—three times.  Peter declared:

“Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same. Mark 14:31

Peter denied him 3 times that night, all the others disowned him and ran in fear.
But then to be lied about, falsely convicted, mocked, tortured, nailed to a cross by the people you love—who would say as they nailed his hands and feet “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing—that’s who you follow if you follow Jesus.

Jesus didn’t run from community even though it hurt him severely.

Sound twisted? God’s ways are twisted compared to the way of the world.

  • And let me just say, what we’re talking about, you can’t do.
  • You can’t overcome hate with love, cursing with blessing, being wronged and hurt by pursuing restoration and healing—you can’t do it in your own power—you need God’s power.
  • That’s how Jesus did it as the perfect human.
  • But with his power, we can do what he did and we can overcome the divisive ways evil tries to move us.
  • So in community, hurt will happen.
  • But it’s also where we can grow and learn what God’s Love really does. How?

Matthew 6:12And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. – Jesus teaching the disciples how to pray.

Ephesians 4:32 – Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Colossians 3:13 – Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

The Scriptures expect us to hurt or let down one another at some point. But instead of running or retaliating, we are to forgive, just as God has forgiven you.

Now, forgiveness doesn’t mean to brush it under the rug. True community, true love, comes through the healing of hurts—and that’s how we learn and grow together.

We cooperate with God to be the solution rather than compounding the hurt and division.

Sara talks about how ever since childhood, she would go out into life expecting rejection. She said:

“And usually, I got just what I expected.  Now I’m discovering a new way of life.  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.  And now I’m amazed at the way God loves me through people I had previously expected to reject me.”

When hurt or offended, will you lean into God’s love and Grace that keeps forgiving you for all your wrongs, so we can offer Grace and love and reconciliation to one another? Not with the goal of continuing to wrong each other, just like the goal of God’s forgiveness is not freedom to keep wronging him, but so we can learn, heal, and grow closer as brothers and sisters of a New Father.

And just like Sarah said, it helps when people hurt you to realize, there’s probably some hurt in them driving this—how can I be an agent of healing for them, Lord?\

Scottish theologian Ian Maclaren said something that’s a perspective game changer if you can do it.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
– Ian Maclaren

Steven Covey writes about sitting on subway, when a father with three young kids get on the subway, and the kids are running crazy, really bothering Covey – Covey confessed he was thinking what a horrible father this guy is…and he was just about to confront him when the father leans over and says, “I know I really should get these kids under control, but we just came from the hospital, their mom just died, and now I’m headed home to an empty house—and I don’t know what I’m going to do.”  That completed shifted Covey’s frame of reference from irritated an bothered to having empathy.

Too often, we are often too busy to show empathy.

Too often, we are too self-involved to see the needs of others.

Here’s what I have discovered in life – when you love others enough to serve them, God opens the way to influence others.”

I’ve found that almost everyone who has hurt me is hurting.

  • Often when I hear their story, it changes my reference from one of hurt and being offended, to one of compassion and empathy.
  • I realize their hurtful behavior was not about me at all.
  • Pray for them—they’re hurting.
  • When we follow Jesus to offer forgiveness and compassion when we are hurt—it heals the world and leads to the Ideal Community God’s building.
  • We become the answer to Jesus’ last prayer.

Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. – John 17:11.

So don’t let evil win—when you’re hurt, go to reconcile and forgive in God’s power.

If you get close to people, you’ll also find the following:

People are selfish and arrogant.

Or at least, it will seem that way with some people. In Not Like Me: Learning to Love, Serve, and Influence Our Divided World, Eric wrote about how:

Many times conflict results from arrogance. We think or feel we deserve better treatment, or we’re convinced that we have it all together while others do not. Yet the Bible declares that we are to walk humbly before God and with others. We are all interconnected, which reminds us of our need for each other.

Listen to more from Jesus’ last prayer with his disciples:

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. John 17:20-21 

God’s desire is that we see and consider one another that we unite to consider one another, not just ourselves.

The truth is, most of us fight self-centeredness rather than being God-centered and others-centered.

We are created to be dependent on one another.  None of us live truly independent of others.

The apostle Paul challenges the Romans to think differently, bathing his words with humility:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment…. Romans 12:3

People are self-centered and arrogant—I’m the worst. Well, maybe not the worst, your worse, but I’m pretty bad [that was a joke in case you missed it].

Actually, Our Campus Pastors and Executive Team just read a book together called Leadership and Self Deception.  Brilliant book, not written by Christians as far as we know but very true to what Jesus taught. Basically, we’re all self-deceived, we all struggle. Think about it, we all judge others based on what they say or do, but we judge ourselves on our motives—which are always good—and…we expect others to withhold judgement on our words or actions until they understand how pure and right our motives are.  But we don’t give others the same consideration.

They give an example of a couple sleeping, when the baby starts crying.

  • Neither one gets up to care for the baby, both are faking sleep to try to hold out on the other.
  • Tom, the father, feels that nudge in his conscience “Just get up and care for the baby so Nancy can sleep.”
  • But even though he knows that would be the kind thing to do, he doesn’t do it.
  • So he betrays his sense of what’s loving and kind, and then what happens?
  • See if you haven’t done the same thing—he starts justifying his less than loving actions. “I work hard. I have to get up and go to work. I have important meetings, I can’t be up all night. Besides, I coach soccer for the older kids, I do the lawn, take out the trash. I help with the baby when I can.”
  • You start to build your case—you justify your choice to keep sleeping.
  • But it gets worse than that, not only do you see yourself as Justified and more deserving of sleep, you start to say, “This is Nancy’s responsibility. She doesn’t have the intense Job I do. I know she’s faking sleep—why is she so selfish. All she does is stay home and care for the kids. Doesn’t she appreciate how hard I work?”
  • Before you know it, you see her as lazy, inconsiderate, unappreciative, a faker, a lousy mom, lousy wife. And she might be doing the same in her head.
  • We start to see the other, not as a person, but as an object in the way of what we want or need.
  • As soon as we start blaming, accusing the other person in our head, and then justifying our own case—no matter what it is—this is a clue we are probably self-deceived.
  • And yes, the other person is too. In fact, one’s self-deceived actions provokes another acting the same way.

Like James and John, after 3.5 years with Jesus, start jockeying for power and position, thinking of themselves first, they ask Jesus:

  • “Hey, promises us the positions of greatest authority when you rule in your Kingdom.”
  • They totally missed how God’s Kingdom operates, which caused the other 10 to get resentful at the one-ups-manship, and they start doing the same.
  • “Hey, why do James and John deserve the best positions—why not me.”
  • Jesus couldn’t believe the infighting and power-mongering and “me-first” self-deceived, self-centered behavior.

So he says,

“You want to be great in God’s kingdom, become a servant.” 

Greatness in God’s eyes are those who serve others and think of others, even to the point of self-sacrifice (Jesus laid down his very life for you).

So when you move toward others in community, this will happen: people will be self-deceived, and they will do “me-first” behavior, and it will provoke you to start doing the same.

When this happens, we’re not following Jesus, we’re following the way of deception.

So what do we do?  Jesus said,

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged… 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:1, 12. 

 Know that God alone knows the motives of your heart—so don’t worry about justifying yourself, or blaming, instead ask God to give you the power to do the right thing, treat them as you would want to be treated—this breaks self-deception and self-centered actions as it models the way of Christ.

That was the early church community: – Just like when there’s a scarcity of food and one starts grabbing and hoarding, and soon there’s a rush to grab and hoard, yet if one does the opposite—here, you can have mine…soon others are thinking of others and there’s enough for all.

The early believers were like this, and we can be too:

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need…praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” Acts 2:44-47

Getting involved brings drama and conflict. 

Without a doubt, it’s easier to isolate.

  • Because if you get into the lives of people, there will be drama, there will be conflict. And some of us just say “I don’t need that, I don’t want that.”
  • But listen carefully, you’re not being the solution, you’re provoking the problem that keeps us isolated, lonely, hurting, and unhealed—using each other as objects, rather than treating each other as God does.
  • But whether it’s serving together, or trying to grow together in a Life Group, there will be conflict.

But here’s what we need to see: Conflict is not bad.

It’s actually the path to true, loving community.

  • a loving community is both inclusive and willing to have the hard conversations.
  • It’s not just live and let live but it’s a community of Truth and love!

Why would I say that?

Because we are all different, and we only truly know and love each other when we work through our differences or our misunderstandings—that’s real community.

When we avoid conflict, we settle for Pseudo community—it’s pretending to be close, but in reality, we are not willing to love each other enough to work through real differences, or real struggles, to grow in love.

This is a normal part of moving toward God’s Ideal Community, so don’t run from it.  The New Testament is full of examples of drama and conflict, but not running from it, moving in to resolve it so that we end up relationally stronger.

Jesus taught us what to do when there’s conflict or someone sins against you:

“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. Matthew 18:15

We teach this all the time, but I’m amazed at how quickly we take the self-justifying route instead of Jesus courageous way of reconciliation.

Notice a few important points: “Go privately” – don’t Go public on Facebook, don’t ask a few trusted friends to justify yourself, don’t go gossip…Go directly to that person. Point out what happened, and do it to Win the friendship back.  If you don’t address it, you lose some of that friendship, don’t you?

It is more important to make things right than to be right.

Sometimes it may be you. You may sense that other person you’re in community with acting different toward you, what do you do?

Jesus said:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:8.

Paul learned the hard way:

18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18 

In my book, I write about overcoming conflict. You see, daily we face the opportunity to create conflict, prolong conflict, or end conflict. Too often we allow the actions of others to control us. We treat others in the same shoddy way they treated us unless we resolve in our minds, “No matter what happens to me, I’m going to bless those who persecute me. I’m going to love those who hurt me. I’m going to do everything in my power, as far is it depends on me, to live at peace with everyone.” Finally, if you move toward community you may feel like:

People are not like me! And that’s not right!

 We’re going to spend a whole week on this one, because it’s so critical to understand. What do you do when you get into a Network or Life Group and become friends, and then find out:

  • “Oh, they voted for Trump.” Or
  • “What, you’re a democrat?” Or
  • What if you get in a group, and people from South America or Africa or Singapore or China are in that group, and you start to realize—they don’t think like me at all. Or
  • What if you’re a white person in a group with more people of color than whites—and you start to realize—they’re not like me? Or
  • What do you do then? Or
  • Do you do everything you can to avoid being in any of those situations?
  • Well, this is the challenge of building God’s Kingdom, God’s church, God’s new family made out of all nations, languages, races, cultures.

But it’s God’s end-game. In Heaven, John hears them singing a new song:

you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:9-10

Jesus died to see us overcome our differences, united as priests (God’s mediators, reconcilers, that’s what priests back then did) to bring reconciliation to earth—not by trying to make everyone just like me and my race, my culture, my national-identity—but by allowing God’s Kingdom culture and identity to teach us to respect and value differences that align with God’s Kingdom ways.



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