Monday, May 30, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: The Blessings of a Unified Family


Almost every time this word is used in our culture, the intent is to portray an overwhelmingly positive picture of warmth, openness, acceptance, and love.

But let's be honest.  More than a few in our world have had experiences with family that were anything but the way that word is described.  Additionally, even those of us who come from "healthy families" have to admit that few moments in our lives resemble a Norman Rockwell painting.  For most of us, "family" includes times of hassle, drama, conflict and dysfunction.

Likewise, when we speak of a "church family," we are speaking of a group of people related to each other by our common faith in Jesus, but who are often very different from each other.  And sometimes, those differences come out in ways that make us look less like  Norman Rockwell painting, and more like a scene from a National Lampoon movie.

But the danger in moments like that is to treat church as something less than a family.  Too many in our culture do this today, "hopping" from church to church when they finally grow weary of something about their present faith family that they don't like.  The result is "trendy" churches that last for a decade or so, and then fizzle out when the people in that church get tired of each other.

Anybody remember "one hit wonders?"  That term emerged in the 1980s to describe rock bands whose single made it to the top of the charts, only to leave the band who performed it without a sequel.  Now, more than 30 years later, "one hit wonder" describes a band or performer you have never heard of, but a song everybody has heard of!

Yesterday, we finished out study of Paul's letter to the Philippians.  He has taught us about joy, contentment, release from anxiety, and effectiveness in our mission, and he has continually tied all of these things to unity--living, thinking, and acting as one body (hence, the title of our message series).  The big idea is this:  Your church family is not a means to an end.  Its not a place to find the latest, hottest "Christian trends."  Its not a way for you to build power and influence, or find a job (though sometimes relationships with other church members may be beneficial to you).  Your "family" is the reason you are part of a church!    For those who get this and stay faithful to a church, there are multiple blessings to be found.  The people of Philippi understood this, and through their example, Paul concludes his letter describing the blessings, as well as the requirements for those blessings to continue.

They are committed to each other.  "I can do all things through Christ who gives me the strength."  That verse looks great on a coffee cup, but it has a context that we need to understand.  The "all things" Paul refers to here is related to the idea of being content in all circumstances.  This stands in contrast to Prosperity Theology, which teaches us that God always wants us healthy and wealthy, and Poverty Theology, which teaches that it is a sin to be rich.  Apparently, Paul in his life had been both super rich, and broke!  And neither affected his walk with God or the power of his ministry.

Do your circumstances affect your commitment to Jesus and His church?  Right now, things are pretty exciting around Covenant.  But it won't always be this way.  We need to ask ourselves if our commitment to our church changes because of financial stress, internal conflict, or decisions we don't like.  One of the blessings of a unified church family is that they are committed to each other.

They invest in each other.  Paul describes a synergistic fellowship with Philippi--a deep partnership of multiple people who are all headed in the same direction.  And the primary way this was expressed by the Philippians church was by their financial support of Paul.  "No one else came to my aid like you did," he says, specifically mentioning Thessalonica, where his work caused a great uproar and he ultimately had to leave the city.  No matter what he faced, the Philippians were there with him.

The point is that Jesus' people are a giving people, and their giving isn't conditioned on whether times are good or bad.  They invest in each other regardless!  Yesterday, we talked about how this principle applies to us.  We owe $800,000 on our facility.  If you understand what it means to be one body, then you understand that this debt belongs to all of us!  I wasn't the pastor when this debt was incurred, but that doesn't matter.  The moment my family and I joined Covenant Church a few weeks ago, that debt became my debt.  If you are a member of our church family, its your debt too!  Once we all understand this, it will be much easier, not only to pay that debt, but to do anything else we are called to do together.

No, not everyone will be able to give the same amount, or even the same percentage.  And no, God never calls you to give Him what you don't have.  But your bank account is a statement of your values.  Anyone who truly loves their church family expresses that value, at least in part, by investing in their family.

They glorify God together.  "Just as you have provided for me, God will provide for you," Paul says.  Think about what that means--Paul's provision wasn't just monetary.  It was also the capacity to complete God's mission for him even when he was lacking in physical and monetary resources!

God has given us--in each other--that very same capacity!  God bountifully blesses people who give to each other.  And all the riches in Christ that we need, we already have!  We have it in each other!  And if we are truly committed to each other, the result of all we do together brings God the glory He deserves!

They build a family together.  The closing verses of this letter reveal that there were a lot of people in the room as Paul finishes writing.  As he prepares to hand this letter off to Epaphroditus for delivery to the church, he identifies a number of "brothers" in the room with him--including "those of Caesar's household," civil servants now part of the larger body of Christ.

Remember the sociological context of Philippi.  This is a highly diverse region, and Paul writes this letter mostly to address how the church should get along with each other in the face of all those social, political, and cultural differences.  I find it encouraging that Paul concludes the letter with his own very diverse crowd--men from a variety of different backgrounds, but united in their support of the Gospel.

God's family is diverse.  We won't always see eye to eye on everything.  We won't always view everything the same way.  And when there are moments of conflict, we will handle it much better if we realize that at the end of the day we aren't ultimately just building an organization.  We are building a family--God's family!

Too many churches treat the church like a shopping mall.  They come to get religious goods and services, going where they want, and avoiding what they don't want.  And when really cool, new stores open up across town, they are gone.

But true churches aren't shopping malls.  They are families.  I long to see that at Covenant.  One day, I want to see a retired, black executive showing a white single mom how to make ends meet with her budget, because race isn't what defines us.  I want to see one of our custodial staff discipling a wealthy investment manager who isn't as far along in her faith, because socio-economics isn't what defines us.  I want to see our youth included as substantive participants in corporate worship, and learning more from our senior adults, because age isn't what defines us.

This is what families do.  This is how families behave.  And with God as our Father, and Jesus as our elder brother, we have everything we need to commit to each other, and change the world together!

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