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How to Experience Authentic Community, Part 2

From the series True Spirituality

How do you take a group of imperfect, basically selfish human beings and forge lifelong, godly, “others-centered” relationships? Sound impossible? Chip encourages you that it is possible, and you can have those kind of relationships. Join Chip to find out how!

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Message Transcript

Authentic community doesn’t happen when you do a little nice thing or a little nice thing here and it doesn’t really cost you very much. Authentic community happens when the “real you” shows up. Notice it says devotion – “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” – humility –“giving preference to one another in honor.”

Real needs getting met always involves devotion on our part and humility. The word “devotion” here is strong. He’s saying you need to be committed to one another and lay your lives down for one another like you would for blood relatives. For people that you feel this moral responsibility for. And it says, “Be devoted to one another”– how? In brotherly love. Philadelphia, that’s the word. We named a city in Pennsylvania by that. It’s this commitment of family love, of being there for one another, of doing whatever it takes.

See, at the end of the day, you know what most Christians don’t know? God is real. He’s not a philosophy, He’s not a formula, He’s not a moral code. Jesus is a person and He’s real and He loves you and He made promises and He wants you to stand on them.

And you take risks, which are called faith, and you love one another and people get loved through you, and then He supplies. When the “real you” meets real needs through devotion and also through humility, because at the end of the day, you know what? You have to think more of other people than yourself.

Jot in the corner of your notes: Philippians chapter 2, if you will, verse 3 and 4. The apostle Paul says… think of how all-encompassing this is: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourself.”

Boy, would that change your small group, would that change your family? “Each of you should look not only for your own interests but also the interests of others.” In fact, he goes on to say, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus that although existed in the form of God, He didn’t regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but He humbled Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, becoming obedient even unto death.” Humility. Humility is putting other people, giving preference, where you lift them up.

I had the privilege of working with someone that’s modeled this for me, and there are a number of people that do it, but I just have the longest history with a guy named Greg.

He came out of the Silicon Valley, early days of Palm Pilot, later went to Cisco, project manager, later was a volunteer over in Santa Cruz, and forty or fifty volunteers did lights, sound. Real super-techy guy. When I went to Walk Thru the Bible, he came with me and was just…he’s just a manager of just tremendous ability. And as Living on the Edge went out on its own, he ran all of Living on the Edge, the broadcasting, the money, the finances, the operation, everything.

And we started to grow and there was a guy who came along. He wrote a strategic plan for us. And he had led a huge ministry in the United States, and I’ll never forget. He met with me, he said, “This is really exciting, and I think God’s in it. I’d like to help you fulfill it.”

And a little humility, I said, “Well, I now know what you’ve done in your life and you now know all of our books. I could pay you maybe half of what you’ve ever made. This is an amazing downward mobility opportunity for you.” And he looked at me and he said, “I’ll take it.” And Andrew came, and in the next three and a half years, he tripled the size of everything that happened at Living on the Edge.

But here was the interesting point. Greg is really good into the people and roles and personnel and HR and all that stuff. I’m not. And we sat down, the entire executive team of Living on the Edge: me and Greg. There are two of us, you know? And he said, “If we hire Andrew, you need to know something.” I said, “What’s that?” “In about six months, he needs to lead the whole organization, and I need to be just over broadcasting and just technology, because his gifts and what he’ll bring, he’s far better. He will bring what I don’ t have, and there’s no way the ministry will be what God wants it to be unless he has that role. So I’m just telling you that he needs to become my boss.”

And when’s the last time you ever worked or met anyone who had the power to hire someone that when he hired them he knew: they will become greater, I will become lesser, he will have a higher role, make a higher income, and I will move down because I want to serve you, serve God, and the mission is what matters. You know what that’s called? Giving preference.

See, when you walk into a small group, or when you walk into church, or when you are in your family and sit around at the table, which I hope you do, all of us either have one or two sets of lenses on. One lens is: who asked me a question? Who cares about me? Why didn’t anyone give me a hug? How come everyone seems so happy and no one cared about me? I went to the small group and no one seemed to really listen when I was telling my story, and I’m lonely and I need a friend and what about…? And what about...? And that’s one set of glasses.

And other people go with a set of glasses that say: I’ve got needs and God knows what they are, but I wonder who He wants me to be a conduit of grace in this small group, or when I get home from work, I’m absolutely tired, I don’t want to talk about all that stuff I went through, but I bet my wife or my husband or some of my kids, they’re going to need someone that’s alive and caring, and I want to engage and find out: how can I put them above myself? How do I give them preference?

And here’s the weird part: Those people who do that experience amazing joy, and people flock around them. Because Jesus said, “Give and it’ll be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over back into your lap, for in the same measure that you give…”

And it may include money, but He wasn’t talking about money. “In the same measure that you give, it’ll be given unto you pressed down, shaken together and running back.”

See, that spiritual ceiling, where we get stuck is often the “real you” doesn’t show up.

And if the “real you” doesn’t show up, often we’re not meeting real needs. We’re just meeting convenient or superficial needs.

But then he says not only does the “real you” and me need to show up and meet real needs, but he says you need to do it for the right reason, not to please people. He says, “Not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” Not lagging behind in diligence. Literally the word is “slothfulness.” The literal meaning of it is not being slow.

Fervent in spirit is a picture of water coming to a boil. It has this idea of when the bubbles come up, right, just before the… [indicating], when it’s boiling. This energy, this passion, this focus, fervent in spirit, not obligation, duty, “I guess I got to do this, got to go to this group, and so-and-so has a need, what do you think? I guess we ought to help him, blah, blah, blah.”

That’s not the picture. And notice the focus isn’t: what will I get or will people think better of me? I’m not going to be slow about the promptings that God gives me. I’m going to be filled with enthusiasm that comes from God, and I’m going to do it not even just for them but to serve Him.

How many of you have ever been talking with a close friend or been in a small group, especially a Bible study, and someone in the Bible study said, “Hey, would you all pray for me? I’m lazy and I need help with my laziness.” Can I see those hands?

See, most people, especially Americans, none of us think we’re lazy. But part of it is we have a warped view of what laziness is. We think laziness are people who watch seven hours of TV, play four hours of video games, and eat chocolate bonbons on the couch for days on end. They’re lazy.

Biblical definition of laziness is not doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done. A lot of – we mask our laziness with good things. God speaks to your heart and He says, “You need to apologize to so-and-so.” And so you think, Oh, wow, I think I’ll go read a chapter in the Bible or pray. Guess what. It’s not God’s will to pray or read a chapter in the Bible when He says, “Go apologize to so-and-so.” See, laziness is refusing to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. And we have all kinds of denial and avoidance. And he says, in your motives, don’t be slothful. Be enthusiastic. Notice at the bottom of your notes. Genuine service to God is characterized by diligence, excellence in what we do and how we do it, and enthusiasm... passion to serve God and love people, not please people or impress people.

My dad was an alcoholic, a great guy in general, but just... one of the roles in an alcoholic family is making peace and fixing things. Well, once I came to Christ, I didn’t realize it. It took me a while to get going spiritually, and when I finally got going, what I found out was, I was still trying to fix things and work out my dysfunctional issues now in the body of Christ.

And what I found is this group of people who call themselves Christians, and I was genuinely transformed and lots of great things were happening. But I found if you memorized a lot of verses, and you served people, and if you said the right things and you just kind of went off the charts in your performance orientation to, quote, what looked like loving people, you got a lot of strokes and affirmation.

And so after a slow start, I went nuts. I memorized hundreds of verses. I was in this Bible study, led this Bible study, was in this group, did this. I was just like a maniac. I was such a maniac that there were times I thought, I make myself sick.

And I had this opportunity, you know, if you were a leader on this campus, you could go to this special thing in the summer that only a few people could go to and you memorize these verses, and everyone would go to the city and you’d get a job, and then there’d be, like a hundred or two hundred, and you’d be on teams of five. You would have a team leader and four people and they would help you grow, and you got a job and you did evangelism. It was like a hothouse for spiritual growth. It was really, really beneficial.

But this particular group had a very structured approach to sanctification or how you grow spiritually. And their approach combined with my warped personality and background was like the perfect storm to create a Pharisee. And so I really thought by the end of that summer: you need to do this, you need to do the Bible study, you need to share your faith, and you need to do this. By the end of that Bible study, you go to the end and your team leader would meet with you individually and give you an evaluation and say, “As you go back to your campus, here’s something to think about to really help you grow your campus ministry.”

And, some of the people were talking and they were a little uptight like, Wow, this might be very threatening. I’m thinking this is going to be great. Because in my private world, I’m thinking I’m more disciplined than anybody here. If they were going to give an all-star, most-valuable-Christian award…you know?

So I’m supposed to have this meeting with John, my team leader, and I literally can’t wait. I’m thinking I’m finally going to get some pats on the back that I really deserve. And he’s going to tell me just…it’s probably you, Hudson Taylor, Dawson Trotman, Martin Luther, you know. You and the boys are going to make a big impact someday…it was so sick.

And let me pick up the story because it’s too embarrassing to tell.

“John was quiet. He’s my team leader and had a very understated approach to his leadership. I was honestly looking forward to the meeting, and I secretly hoped that he had noticed the discipline and what I modeled for the other members of my team, the servanthood that I had demonstrated in our relationships, and the knowledge and faith that were rapidly developing in my life. I had worked hard and was ready for that good pat on the back.

“Our meeting didn’t go as I expected. Although I was full of zeal and performed well throughout the summer, John’s evaluation stunned me. His assessment of my spiritual growth was far different than my own. With very few words, he said he appreciated getting to know me throughout the summer and that God had revealed three verses on his heart that he wanted to share with me. He handed me the note cards and said, ‘I pray God really speaks to you as you go back to your campus.’ Anticlimactic.

“So I’ve got these three, 3x5 cards with verses that he had handwritten out. The first one said, ‘For am I now seeking the favor of men or of God, or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ,’ Galatians 1:10. And I thought, Hmm, that’s an interesting verse.

“Second verse, John 5:44: ‘How can you believe when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?’ There may be a message here. All doubt was removed by the last verse, Luke 16:15: ‘And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your heart. That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”’”

See, the “real you” can show up and you can meet real needs and you can do it to serve you, like I did, to get affirmation, to get strokes, to play a game inside the Christian community where you appear loving. But what you really do is you end up using all the verses that you know and all the good deeds that you have to create a little world where you just send a different hologram of a fake and phony person that’s working out your own dysfunctions to get people to accept you rather than say, “I am accepted in Jesus.”

And the acid test of your motives is always when you get treated like a servant, when no one notices, when they don’t say thank you, when you’re not rewarded, when you feel like the only one that sees what I’m doing is God. The only one that really seems to care is God.

And in your heart of hearts, if you can say, “Oh, yeah, that’s right, I’m serving an audience of one.” People’s response, people’s strokes, people’s affirmation. God, when it comes or if it doesn’t come, that’s not why I do what I do. It’s the “real you” meeting real needs for the right reason.

And finally, it’s in the right way. Authentic community is always going to be played out in the context of pain and difficulty and challenge. In a fallen world, it’s really, really hard to make the time for authentic community. It’s really hard to be honest when you’re bombarded.

And so in the right way is not in your own strength, not in what you can do, not in the power of your personality, not as Jesus as some sort of ideal model, “I’m going to work hard and I can love people and I can be real and I can do this and this is how much money I have.” No, no, no. He says your focus – the right way – is there’s an upward focus and there’s an outward focus. And it says you need to rejoice in hope. That’s a mindset. Not rejoice in circumstances or people’s response.

He says, what do you need to do? Persevere in tribulation. In other words, in the midst of when it’s difficult, you refuse to give up because you’re going to do life with this group of people, and it’s hard and everything in you wants to give up, but you refuse to. And you’re going to help people make it through. And your resource is going to be devoted to prayer.

You’re going to have multiple times where… “I don’t know how I’m going to pay my rent, I don’t know how I’m going to solve this problem, I don’t know how I’m going to heal this marriage, I don’t know how I can break this addiction. But God, I’m asking for Your help, and I’m going to share my life openly, in authenticity with a group of people that are safe and we’re going to go through this together.”

And there’s an upward focus. It’s not your resources. The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in every child of God. You have all the power you will ever need, but that power gets accessed through His Word and through the community of God’s people, and that power gets accessed as you pray.

One of the greatest evidences of genuine humility and dependency is your prayer life. And I’ve been there. You know what? When your life basically is like you get up, you grab a cup of coffee, you get in the car, you run, you’re going, there’s a big meeting, got to do this with your kids, got to make a big decision, and you do all that, and you’re not on your knees saying, God, I don’t know what to do; God, I don’t have the wisdom; God, I don’t know how to do this with one of my kids; God, I need…please.

When you’re not doing that, what you’re saying to God is, I know You created the world, I know You’re all-wise, I know You know everything that’s happening today, tomorrow, and forever, but I really don’t need that kind of help. I think that’s the definition of arrogance, isn’t it? Our prayerlessness basically says, I got this one. You just keep that world spinning. I’ll handle this one. And God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. That’s tapping His supernatural resources.

And so there’s an upward focus, and then it’s followed by an outward focus. An outward focus says…notice what it says. It says, “Contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing or pursuing hospitality.” It’s where he says there’s an outward focus. The resources are…there are times where God’s going to ask you to contribute.

The real meaning of contribute is contribute, like give money away to people in need, give time away, give things away to someone that doesn’t have what you have that’s a brother or sister in Christ, contribute to the needs of the saints – fellow believers. And when you do, it’s like, what about me? God says, “I got that one covered.”

And then it says: “pursuing hospitality.” Literally the phrase is “pursuing strangers.” See, you can get into authentic community. I think this is added at the very end for a very important reason. “It can be us four and no more. We got the greatest Bible study, we’re really close, we’re so authentic, we’re open, we can share anything, we’re super-supportive, we’ve been doing this for twenty-five years with just us.” Wow. Goody for you. I wonder if there’s anybody else in the church that might have needed this in the last twenty-four or five years.

Who are the people that are unlovely? Who are the people that are lonely? Who are the people that need you to pursue and open your home and open your heart and invite them to a meal? Who are the people that need you to be the presence of Jesus? See, this is what breaks the ceiling. This is how you get unstuck. The seed of God’s Word in a good and honest heart ­– the soil – in the environment of authentic community. The “real you” meeting real needs for the right reason in the right way is where supernatural transformation occurs.

It mattered so much to Jesus. Notice how He closed His last prayer recorded in Scripture. He says, “My prayer, Father, is not for them alone,” His disciples, “I pray also for those that will believe in Me through their message,” that’s us, “that all of them,” notice, “may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You, may they also be in Us.”

The Trinity has authentic community. And Jesus is praying to the Father that we could experience what They experience and then we could experience with Them. And then look at the purpose clause, “so that.” This is why this is so important. “So that they may believe You sent Me.” The greatest apologetic on the face of the earth is when you love authentically, brothers and sisters, with the “real you” meeting real needs for the right reason in the right way, those outside of Christ will understand and believe that Jesus could be their Savior, too.