The Path to Greatness: Connection
ATTENTION: TOGETHER THEY RUN - SERMON SPICE
My favorite line in that little clip is where it says, “Without ____________, _________ couldn’t run. “Without ____________, _________ wouldn’t run Together they run: one has the strength, the other has the heart.”
That is a picture of one of my favorite words: “Synergy.” The official definition of the word “synergy” is “the working together of two things to produce an effect greater than the sum of their individual effects. Synergy happens when a team works together well. While the word “great” may not describe their individual talent, when you put them all together, greatness is achieved.
You really see it in the church. When God’s people come together, through His Spirit, the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts. The connection that happens in the family of God creates an impact unrivaled in other relationships. You might sum it up like this: Greatness is all about having the right kind of “connection.”
Now when I start talking about “connection,” the “Lone Rangers” among us fidget. They’re into going it alone. They resist the costly connections and they resist them for any number of reasons.
Some chafe at the humility connection requires. Face it: if two people are involved in any endeavor, one will usually be the leader and another will follow. Connection requires mutual submission and there are many who must have it their way or hit the highway. But you’ll never find “go-it-aloners” who achieve greatness. Real greatness is a team sport and teams work best when everyone’s ego serves their ultimate objective. Connection demands humility.
Some don’t connect because it requires humility and others resist connection because it requires patience. You know, its just a whole lot easier and faster for you to do things your way without having to explain it to anyone else or listen to their hairbrained suggestions. For that reason, Lone Rangers prefer to work solo. They just don’t have the patience to listen to anyone else.
Some reject connection because of the humility and the patience it requires. Others don’t like it because of the perseverance it requires. Only determined persistence unites people who quickly tire of the slow pace of unity. That’s why unity is so rare. It is difficult to forge and so easy to abandon. Yet it is the connected believer who achieves greatness. Lone Rangers only do it in theaters.
Am I describing anyone here? Are you here and, if you’d be honest about it, you qualify as a “lone ranger.” You’ve been duped into thinking that greatness in Christianity can be achieved alone. Well if you do, you’d find yourself at odds with the Paul, the Apostle. He writes in Phil 3:12
12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.
Great believers are well connected. First,
DIV 1: A GREAT BELIEVER IS PROPERLY CONNECTED TO GOD
Now, I realize when anyone starts talking about being “connected” to God some become uncomfortable. For one thing it’s a very inexact thing. Just what does it mean to be connected to God? How do you know if you are or if you aren’t. For another thing it’s just a little “spooky.” People who talk about being “connected” to God may seem a little weird at first glance. Is this “God-connection” really legitimate?
Well, I think you see it right here in these verses. Notice what Paul says in v 15. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Notice carefully what Paul says here. He’s talking to the Philippians who were, for some reason, having trouble agreeing. He is urging them to unite around a common goal of knowing Jesus and he says that, if they are determined to unite like this that, if in the process they get off base, God will reveal even this to you. In other words, in some way, whether through their conscience, or through His word, or through the insight of a brother in Christ, God will make it clear to them how they need to change. It will be revealed to them.
And notice as well the prerequisites for this revelation: It requires a mindset. He says . . . let us, as many as are mature, have this mind. The mindset that he is talking about is the Christ-centered ambition he spoke of back in v 10 where he told them that he wanted to “know Christ.” If I am to experience the revelation of God, I must have my mind centered on knowing Christ.
And there’s more. Not only must I have this mindset, I must also be maturing in my faith. He says, Let us, as many as are mature, have this mind. The reason many don’t hear from God is because they don’t have their minds set on Jesus and they are not maturing in their faith. People often complain that God’s not speaking to them. They say, “I wish I had the relationship with God that so-and-so has. I wish God spoke to me the way He seems to speak to them.” Hey, if that thought ever flits across the screen of your mind, would you ask yourself two questions? First, “Where’s my head? What am I focused on? Who is at the center of my life? What is it that occupies my waking thoughts?
Second ask yourself: “What am I pursuing? Am I closer to Christ than I was yesterday? Do I really want to grow in Him and am I making that growth a reality with the habits I’m pursuing?”
You see revelation is the result of a God-connection that flows from what I think about and the goal I pursue.
And here’s the point: Excellence in the Christian life is directly proportionate to my ability to listen to God. Great Christians have that sixth sense of the God’s presence that sets them apart from other believers. They know His voice. He speaks to them.
Have you heard about the cell phone ringtone that junior high and high school kids are using to keep teachers from discovering that they are using their cell phones in school? The pitch of this ringtone, called the "mosquito tone," is too high for people over 25 to hear. So the kids can still send and receive text messages during class without the teacher knowing. I’m going to have the guys in the soundbooth to play it right now. Did you hear that? Amazing isn’t it?
The mosquito tone was first developed in Great Britain to irritate teenagers who were loitering around convenience stores and keeping customers away by their loud and obnoxious behavior…
Some kid simply figured out how to use that sound as his cell phone's ringtone and—voilà—kids are downloading it by the millions.
How does the mosquito tone go undetected by adults older than 25?
Inside our ears we have tiny microscopic hairs that move with the impulses of incoming sound waves, and those hair movements send electrical signals to our brain. As we age, those hairs get worn down, actually damaged, so our hearing becomes less sensitive. We first lose the ability to detect the sounds of high frequencies. People over 25 can't hear sounds above 16 kilohertz. (The highest note on a piano is 4 Khz; the mosquito tone is 17 Khz.)
Here’s the point: Believers who have their minds set on Christ and who are pursuing maturity in Christ grow “spiritual ear hair” so to speak. They can sense the voice of God as He speaks to them and I want you to know that this ability is crucial to going from good to great as a believer.
You might be thinking, “All this talk of ‘spiritual ear hair’ doesn’t really help me know what I need to do to hear from God. Help me out, here. What exactly do I do?”
Well in the first place, you can think biblically. God’s voice is most often heard in God’s Word. I’ve said it many times: If you don’t know the word of God, the Holy Spirit has no vocabulary with which to speak to you. God most often speaks to us by helping us to recall a passage of Scripture that we have studied or memorized. How did Jesus defeat tempation, after all? That’s right, He quoted scripture. The first thing you can do to hear from God is to study His word. Think Biblically.
And, secondly, you can pursue maturity. Fire insurance Christianity may have defined your past, but it doesn’t have to define your future. Make up your mind that, by God’s grace, you are going to grow! Pursue maturity.
Then, learn to listen carefully. God is always speaking. The Spirit has something to speak into your life constantly, but listening is your job. Sometimes you have to spend a long while alone before you even begin to connect with God. Listening carefully is a skill that takes time to develop, but it is worth the effort. Why? Because only believers who learn to listen are the ones who hear from God, and only believers who hear from God are great believers.
A great Christian is properly conected to God. But also
DIVISION 2: A GREAT BELIEVER IS PROPERLY CONNECTED TO OTHERS
Now the thing that may be a little startling to some of us is this whole notion of being connected to others. We tend to think of being connected to God in a kind of “Lone Ranger” way. You know, when we hear of really getting to know God we picture the brown-robed monk sitting silently in a cave somewhere with a long beard and an angelic look in his eye. That picture is not biblical!
Notice what Paul says again in these verses. 15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.
The first thing that jumps out at me are the pronouns: Therefore let us . . . Nevertheless to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule. Being a great believer is a community achievement. We’re not playing solo, we’re on a team. We’re interconnected.
This becomes even more evident when you look at the phrases in v.16: There the Philippians are told by Paul to walk by the same rule and to be of the same mind. The word “walk” is translated from a Greek military term meaning “to march in line.” Now don’t miss the significance of what Paul is saying. He is telling them that the maturity that they have already gained, they should stay in line with and keep moving forward towards maturity together.
It’s like you’re in a platoon that’s been called into a hot firefight. All the soldiers are at different levels in their courage and even in their physical ability. Their survival doesn’t depend on whether the strongest can run faster than the rest of the group and escape. Their survival, and their victory depends on all of them standing together, fighting together, and advancing to victory together.
Why is this so important? Well, if you take what Paul is saying in its context, you see its value. Right after Paul writes this, he warns the Philippians about other so-called “believers” who would seek lead them astray. Disconnected believers are easy prey for such false teachers. I never get from good to great by going at it alone. Excellence in the Christian life is directly proportionate to your ability to work within the church community. Beleivers who abandon that connection sacrifice greatness. The church community is the gym of the soul.
That’s what Sylvester Stallone said in 2006. While promoting his last (one can only hope) Rocky film, Stallone shocked Christian fans with the revelation that his faith in Jesus Christ not only impacted the writing of the first Rocky film, but his decision to created yet another sequel was inspired by his renewed affiliation with Christianity.
In an interview with Citizenlink.com he said "I was raised in a Catholic home, a Christian home," he said. "And I went to Catholic schools and I was taught the faith and went as far as I could with it. Until one day, I got out into the so-called real world, and I was presented with temptation. I kinda, like, lost my way and made a lot of bad choices."
But, Stallone added, those bad choices ultimately left him unsatisfied, especially his decision to place fame and career ahead of his family. As a result, Stallone was increasingly pulled back into his Christian heritage. "The more I go to church," he said, "and the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus and listening to his Word and having him guide my hand, I feel as though the pressure is off me now."
As part of this transformation, Stallone realized another poor choice that had guided his previous life: self-reliance. "You need to have the expertise and the guidance of someone else," he said. "You cannot train yourself. I feel the same way about Christianity and about what the church is: The church is the gym of the soul."
If that’s true, just how does this “soul-gym” work? Well, quite imperfectly, I assure you! And that’s exactly why so few believers “work out.” They get all caught up in the imperfections of others. One person who experienced this told his story.
I had been serving in the church high school ministry for just over a year. I loved it! It had become my passion. Though I was still a senior in high school, I had been asked to be a campus leader and was doing some teaching under the mentorship of our youth pastor. I knew in my heart that this was training for a lifetime in ministry. I could feel the Holy Spirit working through me. I was having the time of my life.
One of the key leaders of the ministry called to see if I could meet with him. I was so excited. What new area of responsibility or challenge might I be facing? What affirmation might I hear for my passionate and faithful sacrifice of close to twenty hours of volunteer service each week?
We sat on the grass by the church administration offices. I looked at this godly leader whom I respected so much. He was high energy, articulate about his faith, a leader of leaders, and he had the biggest afro I had ever seen on a white guy. What wasn't there to respect? I was ready to receive Yoda-like insight from this great leader.
He looked me in the eye and said, "Kevin, you have a problem with pride. We are going to remove you from your ministry position so you can work on this weak point in your character."
I got fired! That's right, I got released from a volunteer job. It's bad enough to get fired from a real paying job, but this was just plain humiliating.
My appreciation for and awe of this man melted away instantly. I thought to myself (and I'll give you the PG-rated version), "Are you firing me? I'm a volunteer! Who are you to talk about my having a pride problem; you are one of the cockiest guys I have ever met! You can take your advice and this volunteer ministry position and…." Suffice it to say, I was angry.
My mind was reeling, but thankfully I had the restraint to keep my mouth shut. I listened. I pondered his words. Sure, I was outraged, but as I sat there in stunned silence, the truth sank in. Waves of emotion hit me: first was rage, then shock, then defensiveness, then a strange and peaceful calm.
He was right!
As I looked at this bearer of bad news, his monstrous afro swaying in the breeze, I was certain he had a very similar pattern of pride in his life. But the Holy Spirit hit me over the head with a simple, painful, and deeply needed word. I had a problem, and it was making me ineffective in ministry. Pride was ruling my heart. God helped me look past the messenger and listen to the message.
And that is why we need to be connected. As imperfect as we all are, God has put us together to make us great believers. We’ll never get there alone. We must have each other.
And I can hear what some may be saying: “Well, I’ll never do that. That sounds like a fancy plan for me to just give up my freedom. Why should I let anyone else stick their big fat nose in my business. Is that even biblical?”
James 5:16 says: Confess your faults one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed. This is one of the major reasons we have begun to put so much emphasis on one-on-one discipleship around here. It’s only in that kind of a context can we most effectively practice this command.
Now I didn’t say it was easy. There are all kinds of false ideas that keep us from this connection. For one thing we have bought into an unscriptural privacy. We believe ourselves to be entitled to have secrets and hold others out. Listen to me! Privacy can be another word for sin. It is an unscriptural privacy that allows the pornography addict to paint a pious grin on a lecherous heart. It is an unscriptural privacy that allows an alcoholic to nip in the dark what he may decry in the daylight. It is an unscriptural privacy that allows the teenager to lie to his parents face and live like the devil behind their backs. Listen to me Christians, you gave up your privacy when you became a believer. Confess your faults to one another and see the power of sin break in your life!
Unscriptural privacy compromises our connection but so does unchecked pride. You see we seek privacy because we do not want to be embarrassed. Do you know that most of the time the embarrassment we fear is constructed in our minds by our enemy. The devil tells you that if you confess the truth about what is going on in your life that you will never live it down and that we will think you to be a bad person. Guess what? We already know you’re a bad person! The Bible says you’re a sinner on your way to hell apart from the grace of God. Stop listening to the enemy and just admit who you are.
Unscriptural privacy and unchecked pride destroy our ability to become great Christians. But there’s one more roadblock to our growth. An unspiritual priority. Here’s what I mean. Transparent and open relationships require time and so many of us just don’t think we’ve got any. Here’s the deal. If you want to grow, you’re going to have to take the time for it. If you want to become a great believer, you’re going to have to take the time to connect. It may make you lose sleep. There are at least a couple of men I meet at 5:30 a.m. at McDonalds to talk about their spiritual growth because that’s the only time we both can get together. Listen. If you grow, you have to prioritize it.
But don’t look at any so called sacrifice you have to make. I want you to know that the power of connecting with others in your quest to grow will be worth every investment you make.
I still remember my first discipleship relationship. I was in Junior High. Like every red-blooded adolescent, driven by raging hormones, I had only one thing on my mind most of the time. I knew that the sexual thoughts I was having were not pleasing to God. I felt so guilty and overcome that I began to think that I would never be able to live the Christian life. I wanted to talk to someone, but I didn’t know whom to turn to. AT that point in my life, going to my dad was very difficult. I didn’t want to be so embarrassed and I didn’t know what he would say. So I lived a guilty, fearfilled life.
Until Patrick came along. Now Patrick wasn’t the best guy in the world, to be honest. He was pretty rough around the edges, but he really loved the Lord and he believed in absolute honesty. He took an interest in me and, though I still don’t know what gave me the courage to tell him about my “problem,” I did. It was amazing: He didn’t scold me. He didn’t tell me what a bad person I was. Neither did he minimize my sin. He showed me the love and compassion of Christ, reassured me that I was not alone, reinforced the forgiveness of God, and made me believe that victory was actually possible. I cannot even describe to you how strategic he was in giving me hope and lifting the burden of guilt I was carrying around. He literally removed the walls that were imprisoning me.
Here’s the point. That freedom came because of a connection. I would have never gotten there by myself. Who knows? I might not even be here today had it not been for that spiritual connection that came along at just the right time.
You see, God never intended that we grow alone. His prarie has no room for Lone Rangers. We’ll only go from good to great when we connect to Him and we connect to one another.