Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sermon: August 10th, 2008

Today, I had the opportunity to preach at all three services (8,9 and 11). The sermon was a "completion" of a 11-week "push" that are leading to the launching of our care groups at the church.

Our SP, did a seven-part sermon series on the Fruit of the Spirit and then a three-part sermon seires on LOVE ( God, others in church, those outside church ).

Then today, it was tying everything together. The sermon was an "application" sermon. We (I) wanted them to do something. The something that I wanted them to do was join a care group.

The main statement was the folowing: We are called to move into community and Zion Care Groups can provide that for you. I followed the me, you, God, you, we method (or at least I tried).

Overall, I thought that the message was good. If you want to read the message, it is below:


Sermon: August 10, 2008
Care Groups

Sometimes, I find myself wondering if investing in a Zion Care Group will benefit my life.

I have to be honest with you this morning and make a confession to you. Five years ago, I was approached to join a small group. At that time, we were at Discovery in Alabama. When I was approached, I quickly said no. I was hoping and if I were to be 100% honest, I was praying that would be the end of the conversation. However, that would not be the case.

Her name was Becky Mantooth. She hounded me for six months. Yes, six months. Each and every Sunday, I was approached by her. At times, I tried to hide. I tried to run. I tried to act like I was pre-occupied. I entered into conversations. She, however was kind and patient and waited. Sometimes, she waited and waited and waited.

Finally, I said yes to her. Her persistence paid off. However, what she did not realize was that I just said yes, to get her off of my back. I told Stacey that we were headed to “small group” on Tuesday night. We are only going to satisfy the request. We went back week after week after week for two years. The small group became our family and we absolutely treasured their relationships.

Why was I hesitant to say yes? I was very busy. We were a very busy church and our church calendars were filled with church, youth nights, weekly leaders meeting and more. With nothing “special” on the church calendar, we were already gone 4 nights a week. I did not want to be gone a 5th night.

The small group that we were asked to join was an every week commitment. It was a commitment that we are extremely thankful that we decided to take on. We truly experienced what the church can and should be in that group.

We are called to move into community and Zion Care Groups can provide that for you.

I imagine that you have found yourself asking the following question: “Why should I carve out precious time to join a care group?”

Dietrich Bonheffer said, “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”

There is biblical evidence and there is personal experience that can provide evidence to why it is in your best self-interest to embrace small group life.

The biblical record shows that true community offers us four blessings:

1. We get strength for life’s storms

There will come a time when life turns against you and you will need help. The heroes of faith discovered this truth. The heroes of faith survived adversity through faith and community. So can you. But you need to invest in community today, so you can reap the benefits during tomorrow’s season of deprivation and loss. The bible tells us how to invest in community.

(James 2:8) - James referred to God’s command - love your neighbor as yourself. (Galatians 6:2) Paul advised, carry each others burden

2. We receive wisdom for making important decisions.

Our care groups will also provide wisdom when we face important decisions. Proverbs 15:22 explains, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.” The more advisors you have, God says, the more likely you are to make right choices.

3. We experience accountability, which is vital to spiritual growth

Proverbs 27:17 reminds us why we need fellowship for true spiritual growth: “As iron sharpens iron, a friend sharpens a friend.” such sharpening, a rare gift of life change, won’t happen unless we get close to one another. Care groups offer a connection - between Jesus, others and ourselves - that purifies us. As John explains, “but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. (1 John 1:7).

4. We find acceptance that helps us repair our wounds

We need community to achieve lasting transformation. But, during this change, we also need acceptance and care, something that, more than any other institution, the church is uniquely suited to offer.

Though most people have become resigned to isolation, no longer expecting to find true community, the church can offer ultimate friendship. It is the only institution given this mandate from Jesus: “My command is this; Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15;12-13). Jesus really does expect us to lay down whatever we have, however we need to, whenever requested.

We are called to move into community and Zion Care Groups can provide that for you.

The bible teaches us that we should care deeply for one another and care groups at Zion provide that opportunity for you.

Community is both vertical and horizontal - just like the bars on a cross. They meet in the center and true community is born when we experience God and all of His fullness and His people in all of their fullness.

Jesus entire public ministry models what it means to live in community. His patterns show us why community - most particularly, community experience through small group relationships is a necessity, not an option, for those of us who bear his name.

Then, in John 17, Jesus is praying and he prays for his disciples and then for us, listen to these words:

I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.

Jesus says, “I want human beings for example, these men into whom I’ve poured my life to find the kind of oneness we experience in the Trinity. The triune community -that is the first community. The God-head; that is the model of community. Jesus really thinks that this is possible. On his final night, he asks his Heavenly Father for something specific; to grant his community (his followers) the gift of oneness.

Let us take a look at the relationship that they had and the relationship that he is praying that we will have the following six:

1 - They are seen as enjoying one another
2 - They are seen encouraging one another
3 - They are seen supporting one another
4 - They are seen loving one another
5 - They are seen deferring to one another
6 - They are seen glorifying one another

We are called to move into community and Zion Care Groups can provide that for you.

The next time you think that you are too busy to be in a care group, ask the following question: Am I too busy NOT to be in a care group.

When we aren’t in meaningful relationships, we suffer natural consequences, whether we realize it or not. Several relational maladies tend to come our way:

1. Lost Perspective

When we live in isolation, we can easily lose perspective on life. Simple decisions can appear bigger than life and decision making can become more impulsive when we don’t have others to point us back to “truth north”.

2. Fear of Intimacy

People who fear intimacy think that if others really get to know them, they won’t like them.

3. Selfishness

Disconnected people tend to be more selfish. Overtime, a disconnected person becomes self-absorbed.

4. Poor Health

People who live life alone are at much greater risk of sickness and poor health then their connected counterparts. Researchers have found that the most isolated people were three times more likely to die than those with strong relational connections. Strong relationships pay huge dividends, even toward our health.

That is why, from God’s perspective, living life alone is not good. It’s not good because it is not how He created us to live. Alone and isolated were never to be used to describe His children. It is not good because we were created with a deep need for rich and meaningful connection with other people. Without it, we don’t reflect the image of the one who created us. And without it, bad things happen, like lost perspective, fear of intimacy, selfishness and poor health.

We are called to move into community and Zion Care Groups can provide that for you.

In our hectic lives, we need to invest in people and allow people to invest in us. Imagine what would happen at Zion if everyone in the church felt accepted, felt like they belonged and were truly cared for.

In John 17, Jesus actually prayed that real people - this little band of real, live flawed followers - would find an amazing kind of oneness. That it’s even possible for humans to find such relational connection is remarkable. Yet, Jesus says it is available.

Even more stunning, Jesus doesn’t stop by requesting oneness for his inner circle. He shifts his focus to a broader audience: My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will 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 (John 17:20-21). Jesus, on death row for our redemption, prayed a real prayer at a real place at a real time, not just for his followers, but for you. He prayed a prayer that we would find the same kind of oneness that he wanted his followers, oneness that matched His experience in the Trinity.

Gilbert Bilezikian, one of Willow Creek’s founders said the following:

This concern for the survival of the church through the ages, provide the explanation for the anguished tones of Jesus prayer. He knew that if the church should fail to demonstrate community to the world, it would fail to accomplish its mission, because the world would have reason to disbelieve the gospel (vs. 21,23). According to the prayer, the most convincing proof of the truth of the gospel is the perceptible oneness of his followers.

We are called to move into community and Zion Care Groups can provide that for you.

We want our care groups to be safe communities, not unsafe communities. Recently, I was reading an article from Kathy Escobar and she mentioned Townsend’s book “Safe People”. The following is a description:

unsafe people (and communities):

- think they “have it all together” instead of admitting their weaknesses
- are defensive instead of open to feedback
- are self-righteous instead of humble
- only apologize instead of changing their behavior
- avoid working on their problems instead of dealing with them
- demand trust instead of earning it
- blame others instead of take responsibility
- lie instead of tell the truth
- remain stagnant instead of growing
- resist freedom instead of encouraging it (can’t take no for an answer)
- flatter us instead of confronting us
- condemn us instead of forgiving us
- stay in parent/child roles instead of relating to us as equals
- unstable over time instead of being consistent
- gossip instead of keeping secrets

safe people (and communities):

- accept us just like we are
- love us no matter how we are being or what we do
- influence us to develop our ability to love and be responsible
- create love and good works within us
- give us an opportunity to grow & stretch & practice
- help us feel comfortable being “ourselves”, to be on the outside what we are on the inside
- allow us to become the us that God intended
- use their lives to touch ours and leave us better for it
- help us be more like Christ
- help us to like & love others more
- make the relationship more important than opinions
- receive instead of just give
- are humble & willing to say what they need
- are honest, kind & don’t pretend
- work through resistances instead of giving up

We are hoping and praying that you will join a Zion Care Group and help Zion be a church that is known for caring.

Will you be willing to answer the call ?


kathyescobar said...

jeff, great message! i hope that over time some really amazing relationships are formed through some of these groups that will renew & heal & transform them on their spiritual journey. love all of your thoughts, especially the relationship of the trinity, your list of 6, and what that means for us in community with each other, too. peace, kathy

Jeff Greathouse said...


Thanks, I appreciate the words.

I will be looking forward to the next two weeks as I gather names of those who are interested and placing them into groups and then seeing where the groups lead.