Spring retreat for RCCCCG (Asheboro, NC)
Sunday AM @ Mar 17, 2002
By DJ Chuang
Illus: Theme song from Cheers (what I watched; today you might watch Friends)
your way in the world today
Takes ev'rything you've got
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot
Wouldn't you like to get away
Sometimes you wanna go:
ev'rybody knows your name
And they're always glad you came
You wanna be where you can see
People are all the same
You wanna be where ev'rybody knows your name
This weekend weíve surveyed several vital areas to help you connect the spiritual world to the real world; spiritual life to real life. That is the vitality you and I need, to be motivated for a life that is full and satisfying, and will fulfill our purpose in the world.
To achieve the retreatís goal of reaching people with the love of God in Jesus Christ, normal people need the real life evidence. People are not as concerned with the afterlife as they are this life. They are looking at Christians to see if their faith really works in real life, and if it really makes a difference. While people have always been attracted to Jesus Christ, the same cannot be said of Christians.
The Scriptures speak of something that takes place among Christians that will make people take notice.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
When Christians genuinely and deeply love each other, and build an authentic spiritual community, three things will happen: (1) people will take notice, acknowledging you are Christís disciples; (2) you fully live out your calling; and (3) the Spiritís power is most clearly seen.
1 The Spirit builds a spiritual community (ch.4)
The lifeline that God gives us is the Holy Spirit, which we put our full confidence in Jesus Christ. This lifeline gives us the grace and wisdom to live. This divine connection gives us the spiritual foundation for life. That connection gives us grace, which is God accomplishing in us what we cannot do on our own. And when we live by Godís grace, we need a context to live, and that is a spiritual community. It is in community that our spiritual vitality is expressed. Each one of us has a connection and a context. A spiritual community is a group of believers connected to the Spirit and to each other. For Christians to connect with one another is more than being in the same room, doing worship or prayer or Bible study. The passage in Ephesians 4-5 gives us some of the characteristics of a spirit-filled community.
Ephesians 4:1-3, 32::
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
First, as Christians, we are called to live this life. Because God has given us everything in Christ, and Heís given us the Spirit, the response to that call is a worthy life. The passage gives us a list of characteristics to build a spiritual community:
Be completely humble and gentle: to be truthful with the gifts we have to use and to give, and not boastful nor putting others down. As people and even as Christians, there is a tendency for us to compare ourselves, whether prestige, pedigree, or personality. In Godís eye, every person is valuable, called, and has intrinsic worth. That is also how we as Christians must see each other.
Related to this is being transparent and honest with each other. I donít know how often youíve noticed, but people make themselves out to be more than they really are. You know what Iím talking about- the persona of having it all together. In reality, every person is human, having struggles, questions, and doubts. Every person puts his or her pants on one leg at a time. Letís knock it off with the charades, comparisons, and pretense.
Be patient, bearing with one another in love: there are many differences among Christians, and to bear with one another requires patience, and this demonstrates love. If someone is slower than you, be patient with them to catch up. If someone needs help to understand, take time to teach. If someone takes more time to make a decision, donít rush them. Help them with the abilities that you have when they are open to receive it.
Keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace: be intentional and diligent about making peace, that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are responsible for each other, we are connected to each other, and we look out for the best interest of each other. Thereís no room for bitterness, unforgiveness, grudges, nor animosity. Be united and come together in what you decide God wants you to do together.
Be kind and compassionate to one another: there is to be a kinder and gentler environment that welcomes people in a spiritual community. This type of community is to be safe and accepting, and when people share their failures and pains, the community comes along side to offer comfort and service. And especially when people share their struggles and sin, they will not be met with judgment and condemnation; rather theyíll be restored and encouraged to receive Godís grace and start afresh.
Forgiving each other: This is perhaps one of the most difficult things for people to do, both Christians and non-Christians alike. When we are wronged personally and painfully, itís only natural to seek revenge. But Godís Word exhorts us to forgive, to love our enemies, to let God enact His justice. Only in a spiritual community can you find the resources to deal with conflict, and to forgive to restore relationships. When you consider how much Christ has forgiven you, so comprehensively and completely, what someone might do to you is small in comparison. Thatís how youíre able to have the grace of God and His strength to forgive.
Illus: Forgiveness and reconciliation in my own life has gained me a stronger relationship than I could build on my own. When I had offended someone by not observing protocols, even though my intentions were not to offend, I was just plain ignorant, I confessed my offense (Matthew 5:24), and sought genuine forgiveness so that our relationship could be restored. Having a spiritual community was essential, and by the grace of God, I was able to experience forgiveness, and grow in my sensitivity to bear with anotherís protocols.
2 The Spirit gives love within a community (ch.5)
As relationships are formed in a spiritual community, love in action naturally overflows.
EPH 5:1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
You are imitators of God. As a person created in Godís image, and connected to Godís grace, you act on behalf of God. Godís calling on your life is to join Him in what He desires to do in this world, to restore it towards perfection. And as we look upon the life of Christ, he set the perfect example of how we too can live a life of love. We have a direct connection to Godís grace to do what is best for others.
Love is a loaded term in our times, practically losing its meaning. Itís most often used of fleeting romance and a lustful desire to satisfy oneís own needs.
From Godís perspective, love is seeking the best for the object of love. So when God loves mankind, He seeks the best for mankind, and meets His most desperate needóthe need for a Savior, and the need for grace. Human problems donít have human solutions. The Spirit of God gives us what we deeply need in Christ. And because Heís loved each of us so, we are to love each other. Christians are the means and conduits for Godís love to flow in a real way in real life.
If love is to seek the best for another person, what does it look like? In a spiritual community, where we are able to be ourselves, in safety and acceptance, then people get to know us personally. We stop hiding from each other. We talk honestly and transparently with each other. Some of the best conversations happen in the parking lot after 11:00pm, when weíre too tired to play games and wear masks. Then we can earnestly pray for each other, because we know each other.
We make progress in knowing others, to cheer them on as they pursue their calling (dream and vision), to help them up when they fail, and to call out their full potential. Sometimes we all need people to believe in us when we donít believe in ourselves. Thatís what a spiritual community must be. A spiritual community is people coming together not because they have to, but because they want to.
EPH 5:18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
ďbe filled with the SpiritĒ- Being filled with the Spirit is not so much for your personal spiritual life, as it is for the spiritual community. As weíve looked at select verses in Ephesians 4-5, we see how it constantly talks about being together with one another, and how to build an authentic community.
When this spiritual community is together, they make beautiful music together. Every person doing their part, using their gifts and sharing their gifts with each other. The best music happens when people enjoy being together. Itís more than a technical or performance thing, music comes from the heart. When weíre sharing from a heart filled with the Spirit, it overflows to the spiritual community, and to the broader community who is outside and watching.
ďSubmit to one anotherĒ And there is mutual submission to one another, because the members of this spiritual community realize that they need each other. Youíve got gifts that I need, and Iíve got gifts that you need.
Illus: Larry Crabb (The Safest Place on Earth) observed retired people in Florida, how everything theyíve lived for has came to thisósitting on a porch of neatly aligned chairs, with no conversations nor relationships. People stared blankly straight ahead, as if they were numbed. Instead, we can turn our chairs, face each other, wash each others feet, worship together, know each other, and dialogue. When we talk with each other, itís not to make conversation, but to make a difference. This is a kind of oneness and unity that helps one another to be more than we could be than by ourselves. This stirs a flame into a fire. (Hebrews 10:24 -- And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.) This is a spiritual community, where we relate with one another in a way that manifests the Spirit.