The Pillars of Community XVI: Accepted by God & Community
April 26, 2009
· Read my journal
· Sermon 61, 57, 58
Scripture Reading: Romans 8:31-39
A couple months ago, I quoted from Bonheoffer:
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community.”
He saw speaking of time with God, but that statement is true in another sense: Healthy community requires that the members of the community are healthy. It is very much like marriage:
· “Marry two half people and shouldn’t one make the other whole?” (Steve Taylor)
A person is probably not ready to be married until they can be happy alone, because they will look to the other person for something the other cannot provide.
Similarly, if a person is empty and looks to the community to fill them, they can suck the life out of the community, and leave as empty as before, because emptiness can only be filled by God. All community has done is helped them ignore their need.
· The irony is that none of us are healthy, any more than any of us entered marriage whole.
· The best place to find God’s love and acceptance is in community – it’s not just “me and God.”
How can we be a healthy community that helps each other know and understand God’s love and acceptance without being a crutch that enables us to avoid diving into God? That is the question.
Our deepest and most fundamental need is to be loved, a need that must be filled by you before we truly love others. This may pry into some insecurities, so help us.
In one of the first sermons on community, I said that community is a place where we belong and are accepted. The problem is that if we don’t truly believe we are accepted by God, we cannot feel like we are accepted by other, even our community.
As I said in the intro, we will look to others and either feel betrayed by them or else feel like an even bigger failure. Even though this church is an incredibly loving and accepting community, I promise that we will fail you from time to time.
· Healthy community requires you be healthy and whole, your identity resting in God’s love for you. Here is a self-test:
Q Are you completely confident in God’s love for you, regardless of what you do? Do you feel his love as well as believe in it?
Q Do you believe that you are a good person, or are you plagued by shame and guilt?
Q When you walk into any group, are you confident and comfortable just being yourself?
Q Are you as comfortable with people knowing your flaws and failings as your strengths and successes?
Very few folks can answer these all “yes,” yet so often we believe we are the only ones. This is part of the enemy’s “divide and conquer” plan.
· Often, the ones who are act like they have it all together are the most insecure.
These four questions actually address four key elements that we need to believe that we are okay, healthy and whole. Here are the four things we need: A sense of...
1. Unconditional love: Does God really love me?
2. Worthiness: Am I good person?
3. Belonging: Am I accepted by others?
4. Competence: Am I doing what I am supposed to do?
Before we look at these in greater depth there is something important to note: The first two are mainly God-directed, the third human-directed, and the forth is both.
There is both a vertical and horizontal element to knowing that we are okay. I reject the notion that it’s just “God and me.” He has designed us to need each other, just look at how vital good parents are to wellbeing.
· We each have a “human-shaped” void that God will not fill.
We’ll first look at what God has to say about these areas before we talk about what to do about it. We needed to know and internalize God’s truth before we can change how we think.
· “A good theology is indispensible to a good psychology.”
The problem is not behavior – it is the beliefs about God and ourselves driving the behavior.
We first need to believe that God loves us – that’s easy!
John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The problem is truly believing he loves me. There’s a t-shirt: “Jesus loves you – then again, he loves everybody!”
The challenge for many people is to own the truth that God is loves them. Our ability to believe this is greatly impacted by how your parents loved you.
God is crazy about you. You are his kid and he loves you more than you can imagine. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have done, he loves you.
Rather than one out of several billion, you were made in God’s image, and you reflect God in a way that no one else can. You are a unique image-bearer of God, loved by him simply because you are his, not for anything you do.
· “There nothing you could so to make God love you more and there is nothing you could do to make him love you less.”
Romans 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ä But notice that last part, “that is in Christ Jesus.” While God loves all of his children, outside of Christ there is something that can separate us from God’s love: Sin.
The next thing we need to know is if we are a good person. The answer is no, not entirely. We know at our core that we fail frequently, and we are plagued shame and guilt.
· A lot of modern psychology tries to explain away the guilt.
So we respond in one of two ways: 1) Try to get the good to outweigh the bad, or 2) stop trying.
Some people think they can succeed in being good enough, but that just means they don’t understand the standard.
But for many people, they see all too clearly their failures and hence believe that they are failures. This is made worse by the fact that our world bases our value on what we do.
· Because we feel like failures, we can’t imagine God loving us, yet Scripture is clear that his love is not performance-based.
Romans 5:1-8 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. 6 ¶ You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The bottom line: we have all failed, and sin separates us from God, but God has forgiven us and given us his righteousness.
2 Corinthians 5:21 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
If you are a Christian, meaning you sought God’s forgiveness and now call Jesus Lord and Savior, then you are holy, God holds no sin against you.
Ä We now transition out of the God-focused elements of being whole to the others-focused.
This next piece is a sense of belonging, of being accepted by others. This one is the most interesting to me.
I have always been very secure in God’s love for me and that my worth was not based in what I did – God loves me no matter what. But I have really used to struggle to feel like I belong.
· I’ve tried to figure out how I was both secure and insecure; in writing this sermon I understood – we need God and others.
I have always been a nerd, home schooling for 7-10th didn’t help, and I am (Cecil’s words) quirky. Social awkwardness has made it hard for me to integrate.
I worked really hard to be accepted, trying to get along with everyone. I would watch people to try to guess how they wanted me to respond to them. It was exhausting!
Through a variety of things, God (in his time) dealt with that about a year before I became pastor here. One way was through a conversation with Cecil where he said he didn’t worry what folks thought of him, rather how he could help them be at ease.
· Insecurity is profoundly selfish and self-focused!
· “Most of what we call love is the need to be loved.”
Gaining a sense of belonging, even with my quirkiness, has been one of the most freeing things God has ever done for me. Make no mistake, it was very painful to work on it, to face my failures, but it was so worth it. I never want to go back to that hell.
Those who need it fight it
This sermon started as a vague observation: Those who need community the most have the hardest time with it. Think about that, does that ring true?
Some folks are aggressive and want it so bad they scare away folks by getting too close too quick, they try too hard.
Some folks are passive and avoid genuine community, for fear of rejection. They always keeping thing on the surface for fear that they will be rejected if people really knew them.
· These are just two of the many ways that demonstrate that we don’t truly believe we are accepted as we are.
Some folks (like me) may be insufferable know-it-alls. Some can never apologize and admit they are wrong because if you make a mistake, it means you are a mistake.
It’s evident that to feel we belong requires first being secure in God, but then begins the hard work of letting God work in us and facing our fears of inadequacy and rejection.
· The church should be the best, safest place to grow:
Colossians 3:11 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, [cool or uncool, organic or fast food, old or young, geek or jock] but Christ is all, and is in all.
This is a very accepting community, and our goal is to help each other grow into wholeness in Christ, but you have to do your part of embracing the pain of growth.
The last and least is “competency,” which means what we do. How we act, living righteously, contributing to the community, is very important, but it has to come last.
· God has made us with a purpose, he has things he wants us to do, but it has to flow from love, acceptance and belonging.
Again, our world reverses this order. But our value flows from who we are, then we find great joy and health is doing what we are meant to do:
Ephesians 2:8-10 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Again notice the order: We’re saved by grace, not by what we do, but now we are free to do what God means for us to do, both in the sense of living rightly, and contributing to his plans.
Healing the damage
Now to put it all into practice: I met with John Birk (His Place) because all this is really his passion – especially as someone who has had to grow through these things himself.
I asked him how to become whole, since he has walked many people through these issues:
1. Begin to wrap your heart and mind around the fact that you are a unique, image-bearing child of God, just for who you are, at your best and at your worst.
This is an ongoing work – years of lies, especially encoded by parents or abusive relationships, will not just disappear.
· “Name and claim” God’s love!
On the website, I will post a link to about 30 statements, with Scriptures, that may be helpful for you to meditate on.
2. Embrace God’s grace and mercy and that you are therefore accepted by him, regardless of what you do.
There is a cyclical nature to these two: As we believe we that God loves us, we can believe that accepts us, which allows us to believe he loves us. You can start at either point.
3. Practice relationship and intimacy with God.
Having God alongside us helps us face all of the challenges of “belonging” and “competency.”
4. Now you can pursue “doing,” because you are accepted, not in order to be.
Helping each other along
This just leaves the issue of how this all works in community, and the answer is twofold.
1. Our community can help us walk through the above.
The deeper our false beliefs that God does not really accept us, the more help we will need internalize the truth.
Hearing sound preaching, experiencing God in worship and communion, being part of a community group, building close relationship are all God’s gifts for change.
2. Community is where we experience and practice belonging.
“Experience” means in this accepting community you have the best shot belonging, but it’s not magic or automatic:
· You may have unrealistic expectations so what feels like rejection is just the normal ups and downs of relationships.
· You may have habits that make it hard for us to break through to you (but the good news is we know and love you anyway).
· All of us will fail to give love as we should.
· You may be focusing far too much on being accepted, and not enough at accepting others (which is vital to being accepted).
On that note, by “practice” I mean bringing people in so they belong. This also takes a lot of work:
· God may call us to hang out with folks we normally wouldn’t.
· Don’t rush ahead of the Spirit’s schedule to help them:
Sometimes a person’s feeling of inadequacy comes out in very annoying ways, such as arrogance. There is the temptation to “burst their bubble” or “put them in their place,” but that seldom accomplishes God’s agenda.
A long process
None of this is a quick fix: Read these verses, follow this program and you will know that you are accepted by God and others. Years of programming may take years of work to rewrite.
Q & A
During worship, think through these four items: unconditional love, worthiness, belonging, and competency. Where do you feel “unwhole.” Ask God to heal you at that point.
· And think of who God might have you help heal.
End of service
The “Unconditional Love” part is for all his children, but the “Accepted” part can only happen for those who accept his forgiveness.