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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Holey, Wholly, Holy - Community

2013-02-10 Holey, Wholly, Holy - Part 4 (Conclusion): Community

Psalm 139
Community is inescapable

139 Lord, you have searched me and known me.


2 You know when I sit down and when I stand up.

   Even from far away, you comprehend my plans.

3 You study my traveling and resting.

   You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways.

4 There isn't a word on my tongue, Lord,

   that you don't already know completely.

5 You surround me—front and back.

   You put your hand on me.

6 That kind of knowledge is too much for me;

   it's so high above me that I can't fathom it.

7 Where could I go to get away from your spirit?

   Where could I go to escape your presence?

8 If I went up to heaven, you would be there.

   If I went down to the grave,[a] you would be there too!

9 If I could fly on the wings of dawn,

   stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean—

10         even there your hand would guide me;

       even there your strong hand would hold me tight!

11 If I said, "The darkness will definitely hide me;

       the light will become night around me,"

12     even then the darkness isn't too dark for you!

       Nighttime would shine bright as day,

       because darkness is the same as light to you!

Romans 14:1-11 (CEV)

14 Welcome all the Lord's followers, even those whose faith is weak. Don't criticize them for having beliefs that are different from yours. 2 Some think it is all right to eat anything, while those whose faith [differs] will eat only vegetables. 3 But you should not criticize others for eating or for not eating. After all, God welcomes everyone. 4 What right do you have to criticize someone else's servants? Only their Lord can decide if they are doing right, and the Lord will make sure that they do right.

5 Some of the Lord's followers think one day is more important than another. Others think all days are the same. But each of you should make up your own mind. 6 Any followers who count one day more important than another day do it to honor their Lord. And any followers who eat meat give thanks to God, just like the ones who don't eat meat.

7 Whether we live or die, it must be for God, rather than for ourselves. 8 Whether we live or die, it must be for the Lord. Alive or dead, we still belong to the Lord. 9 This is because Christ died and rose to life, so that he would be the Lord of the dead and of the living. 10 Why do you criticize other followers of the Lord? Why do you look down on them? The day is coming when God will judge all of us. 11 In the Scriptures God says,

"I swear by my very life

that everyone will kneel down

   and praise my name!"


Psalm 139: 7 Where could I go to get away from your spirit?

   Where could I go to escape your presence?

Romans 14: 7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.

Over the past weeks, we've been doing this series of messages called, "Holey, Wholly, Holy" - note the different spellings - about how we can move from being a hole-y mess, to being more wholly the people we are called to be, in the holiness of God.

We've based the messages very loosely on John Ortberg's book, The Me I Want to Be. And we've talked about being. Expanding our sense of being. Being present with God in Time, being present with God in Spirit, in Mind, and in Relationships. Today we're talking about being present with God in community.

And here's the cool part. You came on a really good Sunday. Because the sermon part of the message is going to be kind of short. I'm disappointed, too. Those of you who were hoping for a really long sermon, please accept my deepest sympathies.

See, the church has this message about community that goes far, far beyond any talk. We call it Communion, or its more formal name - the Lord's Supper. Communion not only sounds like community, it's one of the sacred, sacramental signs of Christian community.

So, not only do you get to hear about community, you get to involve all 5 senses in it. You get to taste it, touch it, smell it, see it - you get to be IN community as part of this service of worship today.


Community is a hot word. It's trending high. It's viral. People have virtual communities. Online communities. Global communities. There's a show on TV called, "Community." I've never seen it. I hear it's very good. But odd. Which, if it involves humans, is par for the course. Because human community is always a little off-kilter. That's just the way we're made.

In the very beginning of the Bible, in the Book of Genesis, God looks at Adam and says, "It is not good for that boy to be alone." And that pretty much set the tone for human beings ever since. We're created to be in community. It's in our G-O-D DNA. We're created to be in community. With God. With other people. With creation. With the magnificent infinity of the universe.

Now, maybe you're kind of introverted, and that's putting too much pressure on you. Don't go crawling under the pew yet. You extraverts are going, "Yes!! I knew it!" Well, don't rub it in just yet, either. Because there's more to community than "not being alone."


Is it even possible to be alone?
Can a human being ever be truly outside of community?

Here's something interesting. And kind of gross.

We know there are germs on our bodies. Sorry, it's true. But did you know that in and on your body, foreign microorganisms outnumber your own cells 10 to 1.# Every one of us is literally crawling with microbes, and bacteria, and really icky little creepy things. Yeah. Makes you look a little sideways at who's sitting next to you. A 200-pound man carries 2 to 6 pounds of undocumented alien microbes.# Ew. They're on us, they're in us. We're walking ecosystems for 10 times as many creatures as ourselves. Most of them are good. We couldn't live without them.

Now, if you're not too grossed out, apply that to what God says way back in Genesis. "It is not good for him [or for her] to be... alone." We can't be alone, even if we want to. Not only are we created for community, heck, we ARE communities. We're walking Farmvilles. And we don't even know it. Community's gone viral.

But it's not just the teeny-tiny stuff that can't escape from. It's the really, really infinitely big.

In Psalm 139, verse 7 the writer sings to God, "Where could I go to escape your spirit? Where could I go to escape your presence?"

Does this person want to escape God? I don't know. It sounds more like a person who's been trying to run away from God, but finally reaches the point of giving up. There's no place a creation can be without the creator. There's no place a creation can live without the one who gives it a place to live.

We've gotta be less than microbes in God's eyes. And yet God is with us when we lie down and when we rise up. God is with us when we're silent and when we speak. God's presence surrounds us, hems us in before and behind, before we're born and after we die.

It's almost too much to take in. It's knowledge more wonderful than we can handle.

That's the community of God.


Communities of people are always a little off-kilter. Maybe it's the microbes. The Apostle Paul, one of the first preachers in the first churches, begged with these newborn communities to get over their petty differences.

Some of them - because of God's commandments and family tradition - only ate Kosher. Others of them came from different faith and family communities; they were vegetarians. (If this was present day, there'd be another group. Some of them would only eat what had been deep-fried. Like, deep-fried chicken, and pickles, and Twinkies.) The little church was getting into miniscule, picky fights and missing that they were big-picked - by God - to be the church. They were big-hand-picked to be the church for the big, big world that held them. These folks were called by God to be little, living cells of hope in a system that hardly knew they were there, and sometimes - fairly often - tried to wipe them out.

Paul says to the church in Rome, "Stop fighting and just EAT together." Stop fussing and just BE together. Paul knew that IF we're created by God, then WE ARE created for community. He knew that if we want to find God instead of trying to run away from God's presence... Paul knew that if we want to find God, the number one thing we have to do, is... open our eyes. Open our eyes to the fact - the undeniable fact that you can NOT exist outside community. It's in your head, it's on your body, it's of your spirit. There is nowhere outside community you can ever be.

Without community, you can't be the me you want to be, because without community there is no you.

Like it or not, you are inextricably, irrevocably, inter-twine-dedly knit together, bound together, glued together, from your deepest, tinest cells, in community. God made you that way. God made us that way.

Whether that's good news or bad news, it's true news. And there's no escaping it. You are not only made for community, you are community in a very physical and very spiritual way.

So if you want to know God - and please hear this because it's so critical, so basic to anything in faith - you have to stop trying to get away. You have to start every day, trying to get along, trying to build up community because that's all there is. This is it.

We share the same air. We share the same earth. We share the same microbes. Who knew? We share the same spirit, the same indelible imprint of our maker.

So let us share the same song. Let us share the same prayers. And let us share the community. Pass it around. And live.

Sunday, February 03, 2013


Holey, Wholly, Holy - Relationships

Phi 2:1-6
1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like- minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

Phi 4:4-8
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again:Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.


So, the current message series is called, "Holey, Wholly, Holy," - note the different spellings - and it's about how we can move - yes, we can - from being a hol-ey mess to being more whole in our lives, and even to approach the holiness of God.

Today we're talking about relationships.


OK. I know that simply by saying, "Relationships," I've lost 50% of you.

There are two kinds of people in the world.
Those who like talking about relationships...
and those who are men.

Those who enjoy taking magazine relationship quizzes...
and the men who fail them.

I know even bringing up the subject of relationships makes a lot of guys start looking for the exits.
"Maybe I can fake a coughing fit."
"Maybe I can fake a heart attack."
"Maybe I can have a heart attack."

Hang with me, guys. I understand. We're sort of chromosomally challenged. Especially on Super Bowl Sunday. When even the Harbaugh Brothers try to forget they're related.

I don't want to stereotype. Even when it's true. The truth is nobody - man, woman or child - nobody is as relationship smart, or relationship comfortable, or as relationship savvy as we want to be. Nobody - man, woman, or (God help you) teenager - is as talented, or as charismatic, or charming as we wish, or even as we think. Nobody gets 100% at relationships.

And maybe you're fine with that. Maybe you don't like people in general and, you're good. Even so, hang in there for a few minutes because maybe this'll help you figure out why everybody else is so annoying. Especially the people who like talking about relationships.

The truth is, relationship discussions are not - are not - the exclusive domain of women's magazines and Dr. Phil. In point of fact, the Bible - yes, the Bible - is filled with stuff about relationships. ("Oh, great. Another reason not to come to church.") Really, when you think about it, the Bible is about nothing BUT relationships. Relationships with your spouse. Relationships with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Relationships with your friends. Relationships with the people you don't like. Relationships with the people you downright hate.

But, most of all, most important, the Bible's about relationships with God. Through Jesus. In the Holy Spirit. Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit: God IS a relationship.

Man, woman, teenager, or child - if you read the Bible, there's no escaping it. God is all about relationships. The Bible is about all our relationships. So those of you who like that, great. Those of you who don't, take a deep breath, and hang on.


The Bible is about relationships. From start to finish.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. You can't have one without the other. Perfect, cosmic relationship. And then it goes straight downhill.

God created a man and a woman who didn't have the best relationship at all. She kept trying to get him to eat stuff he'd never tried before. He just wanted to be fruitful and multiply. They got evicted from their home for not paying the landlord his due, and had to leave town. They had beautiful baby boys. John and Jim. No, Cain and Able. And one of them grew up to murder the other, just because he was able.

The Bible starts with relationships, is about relationships. But if you read the Bible looking for examples of healthy, Christian relationships, you find that - for the most part - it starts out bad and it doesn't get any better.

That doesn't mean God gives up. God intervenes. God makes a covenant - a MARRIAGE covenant - with the people. And that lasts about as long as it takes to build a golden calf.

Even the bright spots, even, say, King David isn't much brighter. He's a great warrior king. He's also a philanderer and a murderer. His son, King Solomon is the wisest man in the world. But he's also an arms dealer, a womanizer, a sorry failure in [wait for it] relationships.

If you're not comfortable talking about relationships there's good reason. The Bible - even the Bible - has way more examples of bad ones than good ones. Good relationships are hard to come by.

Relationships are hard.

So, what does the Bible say? What does God do?

After century after century of bad and broken relationships, God finally sends the Only Son, Jesus Christ, to teach people, to show people, to live so people can see what good relationships are all about. And the people think this is so great. And as soon as they finish praising him and worshipping him, they arrest him, and torture him, and betray him, and leave him on a cross to die.

Yes, the Bible's filled with stories of relationships.
But not so many good ones.
If you're looking for a long list of examples of what NOT to do in your relationships, don't buy a supermarket tabloid. Just steal a Bible from the pew. Start with Genesis and keep right on reading. Us Weekly pales in comparison. The Bible's filled with examples of what not to do.

In fact, that's why a lot of people don't like the Bible (and church) in the first place. They think it's just a big list of things not to do, especially in relationships.

Don't drink, or smoke, or dance, or chew.
Don't go out with boys that do.
Don't, don't, don't, sayeth the Lord.

Well, you can look around and see how well all those "Don'ts" have worked. Not so well.

So, God switches to Plan B.


Plan B. The anti-don't to bad relationships.

Now, don't get me wrong. Don'ts are great technology. I'm a dad, so I'm always going to keep a ready supply of them. Don'ts are really good for short term safety.
"Don't stick your fingers in the light socket."
"Don't drink the stuff under the sink."
Don'ts are really good when you're afraid for someone.
Don'ts are really good for when you don't have the time or the words to explain why-not. Or when the person you're don'ting can't handle a long explanation.

Don'ts work. But, every don't has its limitations.

Anyone see the movie, "Inception," about planting ideas in people's heads? If you saw the movie, you heard Leo DeCaprio explain this.

Don't think about a white bear.
What's the first thing you thought about? A white bear.

Don't think about Chili's Awesome Blossom fried onion appetizer. Really, don't. It's a heart attack on a plate. Don't try to order one after church today. Because you can't. They don't exist. Chili's took them off the menu because they weren't cost-effective. But now you're thinking about one. You're imagining something you can never have.

True story. A friend's father was dropping her off at high school one day. Looking at the kids, he said, "You can date any boy in the school you want. Except that one."

30 years later, they have 3 kids and are blissfully happy. Would she have thought of that boy if her father hadn't planted the idea in a Don't? (Or was her dad smarter than she ever imagined? Hmmm.)

It's called Ironic Process Theory. IPT. You can't tell someone "Don't" without planting the idea in their head. That's the limitation of the Don't. The don't becomes a brain virus. It's why the Bible switches to Plan B, the relationship anti-don't.


Jesus is the new beginning of a new relationship. Jesus is the start of a new covenant relationship, a New Testament from God. God sends Jesus to turn the Bible's don'ts upside down.

In the old marriage covenant with people, God had a relationship based on restraint. Don't, don't, don't. In the new covenant relationship through Jesus, God sets us free. Jesus liberates us. Jesus frees us to live positively - positively in relationship with God, positively in relationship with our families, in relationship with our loves, even in relationship with the people we hate.

Instead of, "Don't associate with bad people," Jesus says radical, amazing, crazy things like,
Love your enemies.
Turn the other cheek.
Go the extra mile.
Pray for those who persecute you.

Which leads us to today's scripture, in which the Apostle Paul says, (quote) "In your relationships [note that: relationships] with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus...." (unquote)

Be of the mind of Christ.

Ladies and gentlemen: Plan B.


To really appreciate the radical nature of Paul's short letter to the Philippians, it helps to know a couple of things.

First, the letter was written to the church in Philippi, around the year 60AD. So this is a completely new enterprise.

Second, Philippi was a city in Greece. Not a city in Israel. Not a city with a Jewish background. Not a group of people who knew very much at all about the history of the "Old" Testament.

So, the church in Philippi was totally new to this kind of thing. In fact, they were so new, they didn't even know they were Christians. They knew they were followers of Jesus. But the fancy name, "Christians," hadn't even been invented yet.

God bless 'em, they didn't even know if they were Presbyterian, or Baptist, or Primitive Apostolic Pentecostals.

So, if you were, say, a parent, or a teacher, or a leader in a church organization, like, say, an Apostle -
and if you didn't want these sweet little baby people who didn't even know what they were yet to get off on the wrong foot, you'd probably want to give them a very protective list of Don'ts. For their own good. Don'ts that would guard their relationships.

But that's not Paul's style. Paul sends them the anti-don't. He tells them not to guard their relationships, but to guide them in the mind and spirit of Christ. And these are words that even fancy, grown-up church experts like us need to remember.

Paul says,

Therefore - if you have any encouragement from being united [that is, in relationship] with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded...

Now, sometimes people, especially people in church, stop reading right there. They say, "See? The Bible says we're supposed to be like-minded." And the subtext is always something like, "So stop being such a pain in MY neck."

But not just in church. You know people who are only happy if everyone agrees with them on everything. Maybe that's the way you roll. Good luck with that. Good luck with that if you choose to have relationships with real, live people. Forced lockstep mind control rarely plays well with others.

Paul says,

make my joy complete, by being like-minded...
[in that]
your relationships with one another have the same mindset as Christ Jesus....

Not the same thinking as each other. Not the same implanted thoughts. But instead, the same guidance of mind, the same direction of thoughts, the same flow of feeling as Jesus.

Instead of saying, guard your relationships with don'ts, Pauls says, guide your relationships by the measure of Christ Jesus. It's a whole new direction, it's a whole new plan, it's a whole new kind of covenant.


Which brings us back to where we started:
Your relationships.
Your mindset
when YOU engage people in your circles.
Are your relationships commanded by Don'ts?
Are your relationships restricted by the fear the people will get out of line?
Are they ordered by Don'ts which, ironically, even God knows don't work that well in the long-term?

Or are you open to Plan B?

Let's put it this way. If someone were making a covenant with you, which way would you prefer?
The Don'ts?
Or the Anti-don'ts?

Seriously - aren't relationships hard enough already? (Even the good ones?) Aren't relationships hard enough already? Without the burden? And without the fear, of yesterday's, old, broken covenants?

Jesus, in his relationship, as he goes to the cross, doesn't command anybody to do anything. Jesus, in his relationship, with you, as he goes to the cross, doesn't stand up and yell, "Don't you do this to me!"
He tells his followers, "Do this, in remembrance of me."
And do this, in remembrance of me.
And, do this, if you want people to remember me.
That's the kind of relationship Jesus wants to have with you.
That's the kind of relationship Jesus wants you to have with everyone around you.
Not just the nice people.
But all.


Paul ends his brief letter to a little church of people doing their best to keep covenant with each other and with God by saying this:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. [Be guided by them.]

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.