A profound conversation with my son sparked a fascinating exploration into the intrinsic value of relationships and community in our spiritual lives. He wisely reminded me that the company we keep is, undeniably, one of the most critical life decisions we make. Do you find yourself drawn to the comfort of solitude? Or perhaps you've been scarred by misplaced trust, leaving you hesitant to let anyone in? Regardless of your reasons, this episode compels you to reconsider the value of companionship on your spiritual journey, debunking the notion that spirituality is a solitary pursuit.
Let's get real - genuine, authentic connections are a lifeline. They provide us with a sense of clarity, a support system, and a sense of belonging. Remember that time in college when you were overwhelmed with decisions and doubts? That's when your 'clearness committee' stepped in - your trusted group of friends who helped you navigate through the storm. We all need a clearness committee, a sanctuary where honesty, authenticity, and mutual respect thrive.
Lastly, we address the sacred power that communities possess. Picture those moments when you're drowning in life's trials, and a helping hand reaches out. That's the power of community. We are hard-wired for it. There's something divine about genuine connections – when two or three gather, magic happens. The potential for transformation, healing, direction, and freedom is boundless. So, let's ask ourselves, are we harnessing the sacred power of community? Are we experiencing the profound connections that can anchor our lives? Tune in to our insightful journey and discover the transformative power of community and relationships in your own life.
Well, this Wednesday I was excited because I was able to bring my oldest son, kiyama, back to college. He's a sophomore at North Park University, just outside of Chicago. And he said, dad, I need your help, I need your muscles. And I thought, well, you're looking to the wrong guy, but I need you to bring me to school on Wednesday. And so we packed up my car more than that car should ever be packed up we went to Target and several hundred dollars later short-term loan later we were back in the car. We were headed to a school, we were joking along the way, we were listening to a Packers podcast, because, even though we live in Illinois, we have not betrayed our true love, the Green Bay Packers. And we got there, everything was great. And then we drove up to his dorm and there was no parking, because it's college and they don't apparently believe in parking. And so we drove around, for finally, after about 20 minutes of driving around, I got a spot. It was a little ways away from the dorm, but I thought no big deal, we'll just bring this stuff into the lobby. There'll be an elevator, no big deal. And then I asked Kiyama about it. I said so, where's the elevator? And he said, well, there's no elevator. And then I said, well, what floor are you on? And he said I'm on the top floor, eight flights of stairs up. I thought, great, thank you, jesus. And so you know, we were going, and, and then I got out of the car and I forgot that it was the hottest day of the year 104 degrees. As we walked outside the car and I realized I was actually in hell, and it was in that moment I, we were grabbing this nearly full size refrigerator. Going up these stairs is about on the fifth flight of stairs, as I was praying yeah, lord, even though I climbed through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. That I said just take me now, god, because if you ever have those moments you're like it would actually be better if my life ended right here, and that was that moment for me. But we made it to the top and an hour later I got everything up and down and I was dripping sweat, couldn't even see through my eyes and as I was in his very hot room with the fans that we had unpacked blowing on me, he started to open up about life and he started to ask about what he should be thinking about for the future, about women. I said good luck, and I, and, and then finally he said this. He said, dad, you know what? The lesson I learned the most last year was this that who you spend your time around is the most important decision you'll ever make. That the people you decide to have in your life is the most important decision you will make. As I sat there listening to the wisdom of my 19 year old son, I thought you know what this is almost worth it today to go up those stairs to be out of breath, just to hear him say that, because that's the truth who you surround yourself with is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. That's what Madison Church has believed and talked about for the last nine years that this thing called Christianity is not a solo act, it's not a lone ranger type of thing. No, it is a hand in hand, life, together journey. And so we've sat in here time and time again, being each other's lives. Join a group and I know that's scary, but we have opportunities for you to join groups this fall. Don't just show up here on Sunday mornings. That's a start, but it's just the start. Allow people into your life and, if we're honest, we'll nod at that on the outside. But inside there's a part of us that will say you know, I'm not so sure I know there is for me. And there's many reasons we say that. Some of us say that because we say you know what? I've been taught to keep my spiritual stuff in. In other words, my spiritual life is important, but I was told growing up that's between me and God, no one else I've been taught to keep it in. But others of us say you know what? I'm just not wired to be around people. And if you fall into that category you just think, yeah, relationships are good, group stuff is good for other people they're not me. I like to be by myself. I don't really like to connect with people. You're not wired that way. Maybe, like me, you're an introvert. See, I'm actually an introvert. I've been forced to look like an extrovert my whole life, but I'm actually an introvert. The other day I found this on the internet. It's a poster I want to put up in my introverts unite separately in your own homes. And maybe that's how you want to join a group separately in your own home. Or maybe this you're thinking of a costume for Halloween that you don't need one. You're actually staying home alone. Just quick show of hands. How many of you are introverts? Yeah, the rest of you, you're probably not, because those are probably the extroverts wanting to join the crowd. But no, yeah, I mean there's a lot of us who are that wired that way and we just don't want to be around people all the time. They're just annoying. Some of us say you know what? I'm not into this relationship thing because it's just too messy. I mean, I've got my mess and it's my mess, and you've got your mess and it's your mess. I don't want your mess, you shouldn't have my mess. So let's just keep our messes to ourselves. And those of us say something a little more serious. We said you know what? I've tried the relationship thing. I've tried the group thing at church. I've been hurt. You're like a friend of mine who stopped going to church and I asked him why. I said are you, you know, just pulling away from a different belief system? Are you just thinking that this isn't for you anymore? He said no, I love Jesus more than I ever. I still think his way is the best way. It just got hurt. You asked me to join a group. I joined a group and then they decided to tear me apart. They said I couldn't have the political views that I had. They said I couldn't believe what I believed if I was truly a Christian. I don't want a part of that, so I'm just going to do this thing on my own. I think Sheldon Bonacun is right when he says this the best argument for Christianity is Christians. They're joy, they're certainty, they're completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians when they are somber and joyless, when they are self-righteous and smug and complacent. Consecration, when they are narrow and repressive. And then he says this then Christianity dies a thousand deaths. And I've seen that time and time again, unfortunately, because we've pushed people away saying you don't look like us, you don't think like us, you don't believe like me, you don't have the same political views as me, and Christianity dies a thousand deaths. And that's your case. I'm so sorry you've had that. I was going to say you know what? I don't want to do this relationship thing. I don't want to do the group thing because I'm not spiritual enough. I mean, everybody else here can quote everything from the Bible. I don't even know what a Bible is. The fact of the matter is most of us don't know as much as we let on. And while we all have our reasons for moving not moving into community, for thinking that your spiritual journey should be a solo act let me just ask you what's yours? For the last nine years at Madison Church, we have been adamant about destroying this myth that your spiritual journey is a solo journey. And we say this knowing all the objections people have. We know some of you are more introverted and that's okay. We celebrate that. We're not asking you to be somebody you're not but you still need relationships, at least one relationship. And we know relationships are messy, but we're not afraid of the mess. And we know some of you've been hurt by other Christians and we're sorry that has happened, but maybe we can help you find some healing. And we know many of you feel nervous because you don't feel like you know how much about the Bible or about spirituality. Well, welcome to the club. From the beginning of Madison Church, we have said that we need each other, that the faith journey never has been and never will be a solo act. I love how Andy Stanley puts it. He says this. He says circles are better than rows. Circles are better than rows. You see, each week you show up here and you sit in a row, and while that's good, it's an important thing that we do In fact the Bible says that we have to keep doing this it's not enough, because when you come here on Sunday morning, whoever's up here is the only one speaking. It's a one way conversation. It's not fully the picture that you get of the church in Acts. See, god's power had moved in a mighty way on his people and 3,000 people and, in what we call the day of Pentecost, had come to faith in Jesus. But then what happens next is phenomenal. A contagious community is formed. And I want to bring you back to the passage that Stephen started with last week, because we could actually spend all year here. It's that powerful. It gives the picture of what God intended the church to look like. It's in Acts, chapter 2, beginning in verse 42. It says this they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone is filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day, they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together, with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. You see, at its heart, the church was rooted in relationships. They didn't just sit and rose, they circled up, they got engaged with each other. It wasn't about a place or great programs, it was about people. People doing life together, sharing everything together, being connected together, going after God together. They said my house is your house, my stuff is your stuff, my fridge is your fridge, my kids are your kids. Actually, can you take them for a while, please Like and don't give them back. They live with the mantra we do this together. And everyone around them saw it and became contagious. And so the question is will you do the same? But if we're ever going to say yes to that, we have to know why, because it's easy for me to say hey, yeah, be involved with each other and join groups and do all this connection. But why? Well, I think there are many reasons. Let me just mention a few today. First of all, we're wired for relationships. God hardwired us for relationships. He actually physically wired us with the need for each other. According to the Journal of American Medical Association, 276 volunteers were infected with a virus that causes the common cold, and the study found that those with strong relational connections now don't miss this did four times better fighting off illness than those who were more isolated. They were less acceptable to colds, had less virus and produced significantly less mucus than those who were relationally isolated. This led John Orberg to say this. It shows that the old adage is true that unfriendly people are a lot snottier than friendly people. But it's even more serious than that. A study done by Harvard researchers on 7,000 people over nine years found that the most isolated people were three times more likely to die than those who had relational connections. Robert Putnam, harvard professor and author of Bowling the Loan, a landmark study in the issue of isolation and loneliness, says this If you belong to no groups and decide to join just one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year and a half. This has led me to propose a new slogan to Stephen for our group ministry here, and it's this join a small group or die. I think that will catch on. You see the sorry, you're just getting it. You see, the reason we are physically wired this way is actually scriptural, because the Bible says that we are made in the image of God. Genesis says that, but God himself is a community. It's this mysterious, strange thing that we call the Trinity God the Father, god the Son, god the Holy Spirit one person, yet in three forms. God himself is not a solo act and we don't fully understand it. We don't know everything, but we do know that there's this incredible community going on between the members of the Trinity, where God the Father says look at my son, and God the Son says no, look at my father. And God the Holy Spirit says no, look at them both. They're playing off each other. And God says that we're made in his image and his image is a relational community where one person points to the other. That's why God said when he created Adam it's not good for man to be alone, because I made him in my image and I'm a community. That's why Jesus would pray this prayer. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. In other words, we're a community. See, jesus number one prayer for his people is that they would be one, that they'd be connected. So why community? Well, we're wired for it. But why do we need these types of relationships? Well, the second reason is so we don't have to hide. So we don't have to hide, see, when it comes to our lives, and especially our spiritual lives, we want to look good. We want people to say you know what? I've got my act together. And so we hide that our relationships are on the ropes. Again, we hide the fact that we lost our job. Again we hide the fact that we're struggling with a depression that we can't seem to understand. We hide addictions, we hide struggles. We hide everything because we've been taught just to look good. The picture of the church in Acts two is actually just the opposite. See, as they're in each other's homes. Look at what it says in verse 46. It says that they ate together with glad and sincere hearts. And that word sincere is a fascinating word. There's an old story about its origin. The word sincere is actually made up of two Latin words sin, which means without, and seer, which means wax, so it means without wax. See now, the Romans loved ancient Greek statues, but oftentimes these old century statues would have been cracked or chipped, and the merchants selling these statues what they would do to fill in the cracks is they would take wax to cover up the cracks in the statues, and if you bought one of those later and realized that it was covered up, you were disappointed. It was insincere. But if the statue was the real deal, it was authentic, it showed the cracks, it was sincere, without wax. And this is what was going on here in the Jerusalem church. They said to each other each day as they're having a meal together are you sincere, are you showing me the cracks or have you covered them up with the wax? I'll never forget the first person I was able to be sincere with. His name was Shay. I met Shay in college. He was a 6'6" manly man, captain of the swim team. Just like his body was just like chiseled out of a rock, and I wasn't that, and so I was a little intimidated. When I first got to know him, he was a couple of years older and we were just starting to hang out. We were involved in a campus ministry together, and within the first few minutes of hanging out, he started to ask me all these probing questions, and I thought it was kind of strange, it creeped me out a bit. He started to ask me what my struggles were, what my hopes were, what my dreams were, what the greatest failures of my life were. Like dude, it's a little personal right now, but soon started to open up a little bit more to Shay. And then one day we were actually in charge of planning a camping trip for our campus group and we got up to the campsite a day early before everybody else because we needed to set everything up and we were gonna get everything ready, but then it just started to thunderstorm and so our only option was to stay in the car. And in the car for several hours Shay just kept asking me question after question about life, and the more I opened up and shared struggles with, the more I shared more than I'd ever had before. I talked to him about how I just wanted to be perfect, or at least look perfect. And then he said is that why you wear the double-breasted green suit to church every week with a tie, while the rest of us wear jeans. I said yeah. He said lose the suit, it looks stupid. And I told him I'm scared to tell people these things. What are they gonna think about me if they think I'm messed up? And he said you know what we already know you're messed up, you don't need to worry about that, because you're more than your issues. If you wanna live the life, jason, that God has for you, you have to just be authentic, be real, none of this fake stuff anymore. And for the first time in my life, I was sincere with somebody. Since then, people have replaced Shay, because he moved on and he lives far away and people like your pastor, stephen, are now people I can be sincere with. Even this week he called me multiple times because I was ignoring his calls, as I often do, and he kept asking me probing questions about life and I'm like just so annoying, but it's sincere. It's because he cares, because he knows that life is supposed to be lived, exposing the cracks so that we can find true healing. Let me ask you where have you been hiding? Where have you been putting wax over your life so that you cover up those cracks? We know they're there. Would you enter into relationships that are sincere with each other. Without wax you can hide everything. It's just going to wear you out. I can tell you that from years of doing that. So why do you need communities? So you don't have to hide anymore. But why do you need communities? Because sometimes we just need some clarity. Sometimes we need some clarity. Let me ask you when you have a big decision on the table, how do you make it? Because a lot of us we just make it on our own, and so we just kind of we get out of spreadsheet, we put the pros and the cons and then we kind of make a good decision. Sometimes it works out, but a lot of times it doesn't. So sometimes we're stuck, not knowing what to do because we can't see clearly. Or we make a bad decision because we have blind spots. Or, even worse, we ask people that aren't wise to ask about what we should do. The people that the Bible says are fools, and they give us bad advice again and again and again, and you know who those people are in your life. So one of the reasons God says get into deep relationships with other people is that so when you have those tough decisions in life, you can have a wise counsel so you can gain some clarity. The wisest man, solomon, whoever lived, wrote this. He says the heart of the discerning acquires knowledge. For the ears of the wise, seek it out. So you need to seek out wisdom from other people. Parker Palmer, in his book Let your Life Speak, talks about how we all need to have what he calls a clearness committee, in other words, a committee of people, just a few people in your life, where you go to, when you have these decisions, to ask what to do or what not to do. It's not people who are going to come and bash you, but it's also not people who are going to just kind of tickle your ears and say what you want to hear. They're people who are going to, based upon what they know about you, give you wise advice. Palmer says that one time during his life he was trying to decide whether or not he should take a job as the president of a prestigious university. So he asked his clearness committee and one person who knew his tendency to just want accolades and titles said well, why do you really want this job? I mean, what's the thing that would bring you most joy in this job? And for the first time, parker said he thought about it and he said I realized that the reason I want this job is to just see on the nameplate next to my office, president Palmer. And so he didn't take the job. He had a clear in this community committee. It's not just for the big decisions that we need is for the everyday Jesus, jesus following stuff that we needed. For that's why the writer of Hebrews says this and let us consider how we spur one another on towards love and good deeds, because sometimes we go a little off course. We just need people to steer us back and say hey, I see you're getting off course. Can you come back, you? Sometimes we need some clarity. But another reason we need community is this sometimes we need to be carried. Sometimes we need to be carried. Ecclesiastes says this two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. If they fall down, they can help each other up. But pity those who fall and have no one to help them. See, there's gonna be times in your life where you will fall down and guarantee it. If you haven't, you will. You'll get the diagnosis You'll lose the job, he will walk out on you. The thing that you had dreamt about won't happen, and it's in those moment, when we're flat on our face, that the Bible says we're gonna need people to carry us. I Love what Ed Dobson, a pastor in Michigan who was diagnosed with alos alos years ago. He's since passed on. He was wrestling with the effects of being diagnosed with ALS and the fact that it robbed him of what he loved to do most speaking. And as he was in that depression he said this said all I needed people to do for me was show up and shut up, and For some of us that's all we need, which need people to show up. Sometimes we need them to shut up. That's what Job's friends did. Life crashed down on them and the Bible says his friends just came and sat with him for seven days. It's the Jewish tradition of called what we call sitting Shiva. Shiva means seven, but they're just there, and sometimes you just need people to be there. Nearly 12 years ago is in the middle of the night when my phone rang and my phone never rings in the middle of the night and so I knew something was off, and I Saw that it was my dad and I answered that phone. I said what in the world's happening? He said well, your mom just had a brain aneurysm burst and she's being airlifted to the University of Michigan Hospital right now. I need you to get in the car and come. I Loved in Milwaukee at the time and so it was a bit of a drive, and so as I was driving, I was thinking about how I may never see my mother again. As I was getting past Chicago and towards the Michigan Indiana border, I decided to call a mentor of mine and a friend of my parents. His name is Don and I said Don, this just happened to my mom. And he said I'm actually teeing off on the third hole of golf course right now. I'm putting my clubs away. I will be there at the hospital. I Got there a couple hours later. Don had been there actually already for two hours and for 15 hours that day. He just sat with us. He didn't say much, he didn't do much. He just sat with us In the moment when we couldn't carry ourselves. His presence was carrying us. Thankfully, my mom survived and is doing doing well now, but sometimes we just can't carry ourselves. The reason I'm standing here right now it's because five years ago, when my life crashed in on me, there was people like your pastor, people like my friend Brody, people in my life like Andy and Craig and others who carried me. I Wouldn't be alive without them, who around you right now would carry you if you fell down and who around you right now needs you to carry them. Paul says this carry each other's burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. This is what it means to follow. Jesus is that when life comes crashing down, when you feel like you're walking through hell, other people walk through hell with you and they carry you when you need to be carried. So here's what happens when, when you realize you're wired for community because God made you in his image, when you realize that, that you can find clarity when you don't have it in community, when you realize that you don't have to hide, you can show the cracks and you can be sincere with other people and realize that you can carry other People at times when they need it and they can carry you. When all that comes together, you realize the final thing about community, or why we need it, is because something sacred happens there, something very supernatural happens there, something very holy happens there. It's what acts to church experience when they said this there, they were in awe of the signs and wonders being performed by the apostles, that miracles were happening. Lonely people found relationships. People who are hurting found real healing. People who are directionless found real direction. People who are hooked to addictions found freedom and sobriety. People who are searching for something bigger found Jesus. Something sacred, something holy took place. I just wonder are you experiencing that? But you give it a try. We have groups here. They're not perfect, but there are. Attempt at creating an environment where it is possible this might happen. Would you take that risk? Would you take the risk of just connecting with somebody here, just going out of your way to introduce yourself? Or do you take the risk of going out for coffee with somebody who's on the same spiritual journey and say let's, let's just do this together, because when you do, the Bible says we're two or three are gathered. He is there, and when he is there, his power comes and and transformation can happen.