Connection

I want to start today by telling you a story.  It’s a story probably most of you know.  It’s the story of Joseph.  The story begins with a man named Jacob, the
son of Isaac, the son of Abraham.  Jacob
had 12 sons himself and the youngest was named Joseph.  Joseph, it was clear, was his father’s
favorite.  He always got the most
privilege and the best stuff.  He even
had a coat with lots of colors on it.
Aside from this he was given a gift that allowed him to interpret
dreams, his own or others’.

It happened that Joseph shared one of his dreams with his
brothers and they didn’t like that very much.
You see, in this dream it was clear that the older brothers would one
day bow before Joseph.  In order to avoid
this, the brothers elected to do something about the situation.  They found a large hole and threw Joseph into
it.  They had originally planned to kill
him, but decided that perhaps they shouldn’t kill their brother.  (Maybe they knew the story of Cain and Abel
and how poorly that worked out for Cain.)

So Joseph is in a hole and his brothers are plotting what to
tell Jacob.  About that time a group of
slave traders showed up.  Thinking
perhaps that they can at least make some coin off their impetuous brother, they
haul Joseph out of the hole and sell him.
Then they go on their way and most contritely tell Jacob that his son
died at the hands of a wild animal.

Meanwhile, Joseph was sold into the house of Potiphar, a
wealthy Egyptian.  Because of his work
ethic and the fact that God was protecting him, Joseph rose quickly in
Potiphar’s house to the level that Potiphar didn’t really have to worry about
anything because Joseph took care of it.
But he was noticed in another way, as well.  Potiphar’s wife took notice of this strapping
young Hebrew man and decided to seduce him.
So she enacted a plan designed to get Joseph into bed.  It got to where Joseph refused even to be in
the house with her alone.

One day, however, Potiphar’s wife arranged so that all the
servants would be out of the house and she confronted Joseph.  Unwilling to sin against God or his master,
Potiphar, Joseph made a move to flee the house.
Reaching out to stop him, Potiphar’s wife grabbed his shirt and it tore
off him as he fled.

What happened next did not go well for Joseph.  He ended up in jail for allegedly assaulting
Potiphar’s wife.  He remained in jail for
some time until Pharaoh had a dream he couldn’t find the answer to.  Then someone remembered that Joseph had an
uncanny ability to interpret dreams.  He
was called up, interpreted the dream correctly, and was given a high place in
Pharaoh’s court, becoming second only to Pharaoh himself.

As if that weren’t enough, there’s more.  The end of this story is what is most
incredible.  Because of a drought
throughout the whole land people from all around had to come to Egypt to get
food.  Joseph’s family was included in
the number that had to come get food.  We
see in a remarkable scene his brothers bowing before him, paying homage to the
Egyptian leader that they might be able to buy grain so they wouldn’t starve.

Why tell you this story as a part of talking about
connection and small groups?  I want to
illustrate a couple of things for you.
All of life is connected.  Every
decision we make, every relationship we start or end, every word we say has
implications.  If you don’t believe that
think about the story you just heard.
Joseph had a dream that his brothers did not want to come true, so they
were going to kill him.  Because they
didn’t kill him they set into motion all the events that led to the dream
actually coming true.

Everything is connected.
We make 100,000 tiny decisions every day that add up to set the course
of our lives.  Imagine if you had never
met that person who is most important in your life right now.  Think if you’d never read that one book that
forever changed your perspective.  There
are a billion decisions that affect who you will become and where your life
will take you.

Think about your appetites right now.  Think about the things that you long
for.  Remove yourself for a moment and
try to imagine the course that your life is taking at this moment.  Where will this particular path lead
you?  I realize that this is impossible because
there are outside forces at work that shape and mold us; but look, if you will,
as far into the future as you can.  Where
are you going?

Let me tell you another brief story with an outcome vastly
different than the one above.  We briefly
mentioned Jacob, the father of Joseph.
We did not, however, talk about his brother, Esau.  Do you know why we didn’t mention Esau?  He was hungry one day.  Though they were twins, Esau was actually the
firstborn.  This meant that the
birthright would pass to him.  He would
get the privilege of being the one through whom the line of Abraham would pass,
but he was hungry.

One day his brother Jacob was preparing stew.  Esau came in from the field and was hungry,
so he asked Jacob for some of what he was cooking.  Jacob said “sure, but you must give me your
birthright.”  Esau, famished as he was,
agreed.  In that moment, he sacrificed
not only his future, but the future of generations to come.

If only we could travel back in time to the point where Esau
took the bowl of stew and tell him that one day a man named Moses would stand
before a burning bush and hear the words “I am the God of your fathers,
Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.”  Perhaps that
would change his story.  But instead,
because of a bowl of soup, we know that Moses heard “I am the God of your
fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
Esau sold his future for a bowl of soup.
Everything is connected.
Everything is important.

Ephesians 4:1-16

We would be remiss in our discussion of connectedness if we
didn’t look the value and even necessity of human connection.  I briefly mentioned last week about my own
journey into relationships and a few of the relationships that have helped to
form me in the deepest ways.

The apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4 that as followers
of Jesus, we are all part of not just the same family, but the same body.  We like to use the family metaphor in church
situations.  We even occasionally call
one another brothers and sisters in Christ.
While this is true and while we have the same Heavenly Father and share
in the lineage with our brother, the King Jesus, Paul emphasizes a different
metaphor.  Since the bodily Christ no
longer walks among us, we are his physical body on earth.  We are called to maintain the unity of the
Spirit because there is only one body.

In fact, in verses 4-6 Paul uses the word “one” no less than
7 times.  “There is one body and one
Spirit—just as you were called to the one
hope that belongs to your call—one
Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and
Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  As we talk specifically about small groups,
it is comforting to know that we are already a part of one body.  We are united together in the body of Christ.

If you’ll look for a moment at the first three verses I want
to raise a couple of points briefly.
Paul urges us to walk worthy of our calling, to make it obvious who we
are.  We are disciples of Jesus.  We are people who live like Jesus lived.  In light of that, we should portray the
qualities he himself had.  Paul reminds
us to be humble and gentle.  Humility is
one of those things that none of us really like and most people who have it
don’t realize they have it.  It’s rather
funny that way.  If you think you are
humble, you’re probably not.  If you
think you aren’t humble, you’re probably right.
True humility is often blind to the fact of its own existence, because
true humility only thinks of others.

Gentleness is one of the fruits of the Spirit that Paul
mentions elsewhere.  If this is one of
the fruits of the Spirit, it means that we’re all supposed to exhibit it.  These are not gifts that God uniquely gives
to us in different combination.  These
are qualities we’re all supposed to have.
Being gentle means that we are careful with how we treat one
another.  We are loving and kind, not
seeking to hurt, but to love.

Next Paul writes of patience and love, two more spiritual
fruits we should all manifest in our lives; two more qualities necessary for
unity.  Being patient and enduring with
those who just make you want to scratch your eyes out.  Being loving to all even when they aren’t
loving back to you.  These are things
necessary in relationships.  Last week we
mentioned that people don’t always like one another.  Paul himself ran into situations where he had
disagreements with another apostle and another faithful believer.  You won’t like everyone.  These verses remind us, however, that in
every relationship, indeed in every situation, we must exhibit humility and
gentleness, patience and love.

But how does this relate to connectedness?

Last week I mentioned how no one is an island.  No one can live this life alone.  We were designed to be in relationship
together.  If the most seemingly
insignificant decisions can affect the outcome of an entire life, shouldn’t we
be conscious about the decisions we’re making?
The course of an entire life was changed for want of a bowl of
soup.  Shouldn’t we begin to take
seriously the decisions we make?  I
think, and I believe Paul argues, that we likely make better decisions in
community with other believers.

What is the purpose?
What is the desired outcome of small groups?  It is easy to say things like “connection”
and “intimacy” and those are certainly desired qualities in specific small
groups, but there is something greater.

Ephesians 4:11-16

This is the design for our lives.  This is the goal of Christ.  Verse 13 says, “…until we all attain to the
unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,
to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”  The goal of any Christian is Christlikenss,
to be mature, to achieve the stature of Christ himself.  This is the goal.  God is shaping and forming us as individuals
to meet the standards of Christ himself.
I think that we understand this intellectually, but we struggle with it
practically.  I think that to us that
means we are trying physically to achieve the same results Jesus did when he
was on earth, perfection.  This is
foolhardy and not at all what Paul is saying here.  Maturity, unity in faith, these are the
things into which we are being shaped.
How is God shaping us, then?

In verses 11-12 Paul lists a group of people.  This is compared with other lists provided in
Romans and Corinthians of Spiritual gifts.
In these verses he says “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the
evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of
ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”
The gifts are the actual people who possess those particular
supernatural abilities.  When combined
with the other spiritual gifts listed elsewhere, we get a more complete picture
of what God is doing in our lives.

God uses other gifted believers to help shape and mold us, all of us.  I am being shaped by those in my life just as
I hope I am perhaps helping to shape your life.
I think we get this idea that this list of people are the only shapers
when, in fact, we all work to shape each other’s lives.

By doing life together we are uniquely able to help mold and
shape others to become who they were created to be.  By living connected lives we are each able to
use our gifts to help shape each other, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith…”  Everything is connected.  Life is not a series of random events and
relationships that you experience and then you die.  Life is a systematic sequence of encounters
that make us who we are.  Knowing that,
then, we are compelled to think differently about life.  Last week I made the comment that if we
believe the Bible is the true word of God, then it should affect the way we
live our lives.  Knowing what we know now
about the connectedness of all things, the decisions we make should be fueled
by this knowledge.  Our appetites should
change accordingly.

By living connected lives with people who can shape us, we
become the people God has designed us to be.
We become more like Christ.

As Paul closes this passage of scripture, he says this, “…so
that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried
about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful
schemes.”  Being connected with others
helps protect us from falsehood.  It
doesn’t mean that we won’t ever again struggle with deceit, but that we are
more protected from it.  Having a forum
in which we can share our frustrations and our struggles in life protects us
from going down a path someone else went down before.

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in
every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body,
joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each
part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in
love.”  Let me say this also.  I think many of us balk at the idea of small
groups because, like me, we don’t want to be vulnerable with others.  We don’t want them to really know us.  If we maintain some anonymity we never have
to let anyone see who we really are and we never have to deal with the sin in
our lives.  If no one gets to know us,
they can’t see the secret things we hide.
They can’t call us out.  They only
see the façade we put up that looks pretty, the veneer that hides our
brokenness.

But that’s not us.  We
don’t hide the fact that we are broken.
We expect people to be messed up.
We invite you into vulnerability.
We invite you into connectedness.
We invite you to get to know others.
Let other people into your life.
Let them walk through life with you.
Let them help you make the decisions that will shape you.  Let others “(speak) the truth in love” to
you, that you may grow to be like Christ, that you may be equipped to fulfill
what God has designed you to do.

1 John 3:14

“We know that we have passed from death into life because we
love the brothers.”  The defining
characteristic of our discipleship is that we love.  Love is what defines us.  This is a beautiful and terrifying statement
at the same time.  If we don’t love
others, it is a pretty good indication that we are not Jesus’ disciples.  Jesus himself told the disciples that “they
will know you are my disciples if you love one another.”  Love is the answer.

As we close today, let me remind you a little of my story,
how the decisions in my life have shaped its outcome so far.

Last week I mentioned that we met some friends while we
lived in Lufkin, but let me tell you about our life since then.  We decided to leave Lufkin thinking we were
going to end up in Shreveport with one of my mentors, Paul Mints.  We didn’t, though, and ended up living in
Marshall for nine months.  During that
transitions time I worked with some men who deeply affected my life.  One was a pastor I hope I never become
like.  He was a brash man who manipulated
scripture for his own benefit and who controlled people through fear.  I was blessed to leave that situation.  The other was a man of grace and compassion
who helped me understand what pastoring meant.

From there we ended up in Kilgore, at Highland Park Baptist
Church.  Because of that church we are
where we are now.  I was able to meet
some key people who have been incredibly gracious to us.  The church as a whole could have made things
difficult for us when we left, but they very kindly allowed us to pursue the
vision we believe God gave us.  Because
of our relationship with Mike and Jennifer Brown we are in this building.  Because of First Baptist Church and David
Hampton we have the chairs you’re sitting in.
Because of people who have worked very hard the building looks the way
it looks now.  Because you allow me to
be, I am in the position I’m in.

Everything is connected.
Everyone is connected.  What you
do affects what happens to others.
Instead allowing random connections to determine the course of our
lives, let us utilize the fact that we all belong to one body anyway.  Let us be vulnerable with one another.  Let us speak the truth in love to each
other.  Let us do life together.

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About Cornerstone Fellowship

Cornerstone Fellowship is a new church that started on September 5th and currently meets Sundays mornings at 10 a.m. Our location is 206 Main Street in the heart of Downtown Kilgore. If you are searching for a church home come check us out!
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