God’s Plan – Building a Holy Community!
BELIEVE God’s Plan — Build a Holy Community
One of the biggest challenges we face – individually and with the over 7 billion other people on our planet – is figuring out how to live together. We know that God has told us it’s not good for us to live alone. We also know that it’s not easy to figure out how to live together without killing each other.
We all want to live together in peace and harmony – but it is really, really hard. We look back over human history – and see that from the beginning of time there have been arguments and wars happening almost all the time. We want peace and harmony – but we seem to be a lot better at fighting with each other.
We see the horrific fighting in Syria, ISIS, the Taliban. Closer to home – we see how hard it is for the leaders of our own country to figure out how to work together so that we don’t have to shut our entire government down. Another step closer to home – right here in our church – we see how many disagreements we have over theology and the right way to have a worship service or study class. Getting right into our homes – we see how many arguments we have between husbands and wives and then we add in children.
Everyone wants to live together in peace and harmony – but we know that it takes a lot of hard work to get there and a lot more work to stay there and keep it growing.
How can we work together to build the Holy Community that God wants for us? God says that it starts by getting a clear picture of the goal we are aiming at. If we really want to reach God’s plan – we need to start by taking a careful look at what God’s plan looks like when it’s working the way that it should be.
God’s Plan — LIVE TOGETHER In UNITY
Can you remember your first job? To the best of my recollection, my first job was working as a delivery boy for the Daily Pilot weekly newsletter in Fountain Valley, California. Similar to the Canandaigua Pennysaver. They started me off by showing me as clearly as they could – the picture of the goal they wanted me to achieve. Here is what a happy customer looks like. They get their paper on time. It’s not wet or dirty. It’s on their doorstep in a dry, secure place.
They didn’t start me off by telling me about all of the complaints and problems I would run into – we talked about that later. They got me started by showing me as clearly as they could – this is what the goal looks like.
God does the same thing for us. Let Me get you started on building a Holy Community by showing you the goal. We’ll have time to talk about the problems and how to handle them later. To help you make progress in your life – I want to show you as clearly as I can the target that I want you to aim your life, your marriage and family, and your society at. God says – let Me show you the goal I want you to aim at:
Psalm 133:1 (NLT/NCV) God declares: How wonderful it is! How pleasant it is! When people live together in peace and harmony!
God says to all of us – here’s the goal. I know we’re not there yet. But it’s crucial that you start your journey by seeing the target clearly that I want you to aim at and stay focused on.
When Jesus came, He offered some additional pieces to the picture of God’s goal. Jesus said, here is another way of seeing what it looks like when people live together in peace and harmony – they love each other the same way that I love you. Jesus said if you want to boil down My 3 years of ministry – and everything I came to teach you – you can boil it all down to one sentence. Love one another.
John 13:34-35 (MSG) Jesus said, Let Me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are My disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.
Jesus encourages us to take a careful look at how He loved people. He didn’t give up on people when they made mistakes – He reached out to them to show them that God wanted to forgive them and help them to build a healthy future. Jesus didn’t come to take as much as He could from other people. Jesus came to give as much as He could to build all people up. Jesus laughed, He embraced children – even with all of their rowdiness, and Jesus was patient, helping people to learn His life lessons, even after they messed up a couple of dozen times.
Jesus said – let Me make the target clear and simple for you. Love each other, the same way that I loved you, and then other people will see what it means to be My disciple and building the Holy Community God wants for all people.
Jesus kept focusing His followers on the target – all the way to the end. Right before He went to the Cross – Jesus shared His final prayer for His followers. He asked God the Father – to keep them united. Jesus knew that our enemy, the Devil, would relentlessly look for ways to divide people. So Jesus shared one last vision of the goal in His prayer. Heavenly Father – help to keep the team united and working together.
John 17:21 (MSG) Jesus said, I pray that My followers will be united in one heart and mind — Just as You and I Father, are united. May they be of one heart and mind with Us. Then the world will believe that You, in fact, sent Me.
God helps us in our journey to build a Holy Community – by showing us the goal. Here is what the target looks like
- See how beautiful it is when people live together in peace and harmony.
- Love each other the way that Jesus loves us.
- Stay focused on unity. Problems are going to come. Keep working together.
We all need a very clear picture in our minds – because even though God’s goal of a Holy Community that lives together in peace and harmony, that loves each other the way Jesus loves us, and keeps working on staying united – it is indeed a great goal. And as we all know it’s not an easy goal.
God’s Plan Looks Easy — For A LITTLE WHILE!
One of the big challenges to building the Holy Community that God wants for us – is the false idea that it’s going to be easy. We like the idea of a fairy tale life. The beautiful princess meets the handsome prince. They fall madly in love. They get married – and they ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after.
We have these wonderful moments at the beginning of our relationships – and we would like for them to last forever.
I remember how beautiful it was when Penny and I had our wedding almost 34 years ago on May 19, 1984. It was great – all of our family and friends were there. The church was magnificent. We looked deep into each other’s eyes as we promised to commit the rest of our lives to each other. It was a perfect moment – and everything would have been really easy – if we could have stopped right there.
I can remember how perfect the ceremony and the reception were. I can also remember how fast the easy part disappeared – and the work began. In less than ten minutes after we got in the car to drive off to our honeymoon – we had our first married argument over how to drive. So much for riding off into the sunset and living happily ever after!
Building the Holy Community that God wants for us – is easy for a very little while. Weddings are beautiful – building marriages is hard work. Holding a new born child is a miracle – but changing a few thousand diapers and surviving adolescence is a never ending job. Joining a new church feels so good – until you realize that everyone in the church is a sinner just like you who is still in process of being redeemed and transformed to be more like Jesus.
The Bible shows us the power of great beginnings in Genesis 2 and Acts 2 – to help us celebrate how wonderful those perfect moments are of new beginnings – and to remind us that God’s plan for a holy community is not a fairy tale. There are beautiful moments that we need to celebrate – and we also need to be prepared for the hard work that is required to build a lasting community.
Genesis 2:18-23 (TLB) God said, “It isn’t good for man to be alone; I will make a companion for him, a helper suited to his needs.” …The LORD God made a woman from Adam’s rib, and God brought her to the man. “At last!” the man exclaimed. “This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.’
Acts 2:44-47 (NCV) All the believers were together and shared everything. …The believers met together in the Temple every day. They ate together, happy to share their food with joyful hearts. They praised God and were liked by all the people. Every day the Lord added those who were being saved to the group of believers.
Everything was beautiful when God first brought Eve to Adam. Everything seemed perfect when over 3,000 people were saved on the Day of Pentecost and the Christian church was officially started. God wants to help us celebrate great new beginnings – but don’t mistake them for a fairy tale of everyone riding off into the sunset and living happily ever after. Great beginnings are important – because they prepare us for the hard work that will be required to make the goal, the vision, the plan – a living and growing reality.
Building LASTING COMMUNITY Is Never Easy
As I mentioned – it only took Penny and me about 10 minutes to have the first argument of our marriage. I would like to be able to tell you that was the only argument we ever had in our marriage – but the truth is that we have had plenty more challenges and difficulties. The key is not that you never have any arguments. The key is understanding how to work through your problems and arguments – so that you can build relationships that last.
Penny and I have had plenty of arguments in our nearly 34 years of marriage. The important issue is not how many arguments we have had – but how has God helped us to work through those arguments so that we could build a lasting marriage and family.
The big key that God offers to help us work through our problems – is to see what are some of the biggest culprits that cause our relationships to break down?
One of the biggest culprits is not being willing to take responsibility and trying to shift the blame to someone else.
When Adam and Eve got into trouble. What was the first thing they both said? Adam said – it’s not my fault. Eve said – it’s not my fault. Adam said: The problem is with that woman and let me remind You that You are the One Who gave her to me. Eve said: The problem is that darned snake. He tricked me. You should have never let him into the garden.
Genesis 3:11-12 God asked Adam. Did you disobey Me? …Adam replied, “It’s not my fault. It was the woman You gave me.”
God reminds us that Holy Community breaks down when people aren’t willing to take responsibility and they try to shift the blame to someone else.
Jesus shows us another Holy Community destroyer is selfishness. James and John made up their minds – that the only way to get ahead in life is to look out for number one. They were so determined – they even got their mama involved. They were determined to use all the leverage they could to get ahead of everyone else. Jesus reminded them that the way to really get ahead in life – is not to only think about yourself and how you can beat everyone else. There’s plenty of love and resources in God’s kingdom for everyone. The real way to get ahead – is by giving your very best – not seeing how much you can take away from others.
Matthew 20:24 (MSG) When the ten other apostles heard that James and John had tried to claim the top spots in God’s kingdom, they lost their tempers. They were thoroughly disgusted with them.
Another big Holy Community destroyer is pride and deception. Ananias and his wife Sapphira saw how popular Barnabas was when he made a big donation to the church. They wanted to be popular – but they didn’t want to have to give everything. So they decided – a little lie wouldn’t do too much damage.
Acts 5:1-5 (TLB) Ananias and his wife Sapphira decided together to deceive the community. …Peter said, “Ananias… How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us, but to God.”
It’s hard to build a lasting community – because there are plenty of times that all of us face the same problems that Adam and Eve, James and John, and Ananias and Sapphira did. We all struggle with
- Taking responsibility. Being willing to say – it is my fault – and I need to change.
- Overcoming selfishness. Trusting that God really does have enough for all of us.
- Letting go of pride. Refusing to lie – even a little lie that doesn’t seem so bad.
Building the lasting holy community that God wants for us is hard. Fortunately, it’s not impossible. We need to know that we can do it.
YOU CAN Build God’s Community in a Broken World
As I shared with you, Penny and I have had plenty of arguments. Thankfully, we have also had plenty of God’s grace to help us work through those arguments. We had plenty of sleepless nights getting our 3 sons through their early infant years and then we had a whole lot more sleepless nights getting them through their teenage years. Building the lasting holy community God wants for us – has required a lot of hard work – and we know the work is not over yet. Fortunately, it has all been worth the effort – to grow together in our marriage and to see our sons grow into healthy responsible adults building their own careers, marriages, and families.
What makes it worth the effort? What makes it possible to build the lasting holy community that God wants for us – in a difficult and broken world? I want to close today’s message, by sharing some of the great lessons that the Apostle Paul shared with the first Christians in Ephesus almost 2,000 years ago.
It is tough to build the lasting holy Community God wants for us in the 21st century. It is also important for you to see a little bit of how hard it was for Christians in the first century to build lasting holy community.
We know that it is hard to build lasting marriages and families in an era of easy divorce. It might help a little to know that divorce was even easier in Paul’s time. There were Rabbis who taught that a man could divorce his wife for something as small as burning his toast. And he didn’t have to go to court. All he had to do was to walk out into the public square and say three times – I divorce you. I divorce you. I divorce you. And then he could put all of her belongings out on the curb and turn his back on her.
We struggle a lot with sexual immorality in our society. Temptations are everywhere, constantly trying to break apart marriages and families. It is important to be aware that there were also plenty of sexual temptations in Paul’s time also. Ephesus was the second largest city in the Roman empire, right behind Rome. It had a theatre that could seat over 50,000 people. Ephesus also had the biggest temple to Diana, a fertility goddess in the world. It was over a hundred yards long and built mainly out of marble.
The temple to Diana was huge and it was dedicated to fertility. It had a statue in front of the temple that we would consider pornographic – right out on public display to remind everyone that they needed to do their part for society to have more sex so that they could be making more babies.
Paul had a tough job – just like we have a tough job 2,000 years later – to convince people who lived in a society that said divorce is no big deal and the more sex you have the better – to convince them that God’s plan for lasting holy community really is a better plan.
Paul said to the people of Ephesus. Look – I know it’s hard to follow Jesus. I’m in jail because of my commitment to follow Jesus. I want you to remember that it’s not easy – but it is worth the effort. Fight for your relationships. Put in the work to make them last. Take the first step by remembering to be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other. Not because you feel like it – but because you love each other.
Ephesians 4:1-2 (NLT) Paul said, I am in prison for serving the Lord. I beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other… because of your love.
Paul went on to help them see the difference between the way that society lives – and the way that God wants us to live. Paul is honest, I know that society is living like children throwing away people whenever they feel like and having sex with whoever consents to have sex with you. They are living like children – but remember God has a better plan for you. Instead of throwing people away and seeing how much sex you can have – focus on speaking the truth in love to each other. Help each other to keep growing to be more and more like Jesus.
Ephesians 4:15 (NLT) Instead of living as immature children, we will speak the truth in love, to help each other grow to be more and more like Christ, Who is the head of His Body, the Church.
The last lesson that Paul shares with the Christians in Ephesus to help them build the holy community that God wants – is to take responsibility for the words that come out of your mouth.
- I know that the rest of society uses profanity and thinks it’s funny to put other people down. God has a better plan for you – Choose your words carefully. Don’t blurt out the first thought that comes to your mind.
- Be intentional about what you say. Make your words – words of encouragement that bring out the best in others, not the worst.
- Don’t let your emotions control you. Bring your anger under God’s control.
- Replace your anger with kindness. Forgive each other. Remember how Jesus forgave you – so that you can find the strength you need to forgive others.
Ephesians 4:29-32 (NLT) Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. …Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Building the holy community that God wants for us – is hard work, but it is possible. People are still able to build loving marriages that last for 50 years and even longer. People are still able to build loving families that keep on encouraging each other. Churches are still able to help people to keep growing in building kindness and forgiveness by connecting people to the presence and power of Jesus Christ the Risen Savior.
Maybe that is Paul’s most important lesson. Building lasting holy community is not a DIY do it yourself job. None of us can do it alone. We need Jesus’ power – and we need the support and encouragement of a church team.
This morning as we close our service and pray that God will help all of us to make the choice to keep growing in building the lasting holy community God wants for us – I would like to ask you to pray for the men we have been ministering to in the Jail. For the past two months, we have been teaching from a lesson series by a Pastor named Chip Ingram. The lesson series is Love, Sex, and Lasting Relationships. The focus is on understanding and implementing God’s tools to build the lasting relationships that God wants for all of us. There is a lot of pain and brokenness that the men have to overcome – like all of us. The Good News is that they are seeing it really is possible to build a better future.
So this morning, I want to ask you to pray for the men in Jail and for all of us – to be able to grow in achieving God’s plan for building lasting relationships
We can’t change the whole world – but we can change our small part of it. Pray that God will help our church and help each one of us to be leaders in our Marriages; our Families; our Work places; and in our Neighborhoods – to keep growing in loving each other the way that Jesus loves us.