by - Dana Hicks
Here is some of the material that I had to cut out of last Sunday's message because I didn't have time to cover it all:
A community is a group of individuals that have been bonded in to a body through an intense common experience.” If you have a more intense the experience, the tighter the bond. That is why there may be no tighter bond than among war veterans. “We have been through life and death together. And that is more important than being republican or democrat, white collar or blue collar, Bronco or Vandal or anything else.”
Everybody has identity factors – male/female, black/white, where you grew up, where you went to school, the things that you have achieved, the kind of family you came from. Your identity is your self-worth and self-image. Some of those things define you more than others. Some are the foundation of who you are. The deeper the experience, the more it shapes who you are. It is the bond that makes all the other factors inconsequential.
You see this principle played out in the movies a lot. In fact, there is a whole genre of movies devoted to this idea – the buddy movie. The buddy film is a film genre in which two people of the same gender (historically men) are put together. The two often contrast in personality and do not get along very well. The contrast is sometimes accentuated by an ethnic difference between the two. But throughout the film, through a common experience, they bond and become close friends. For example: Men in Black – two men of different age and different race bonding to save the world from renegade aliens. Rush Hour – two men of different races and backgrounds coming together to fight organized crime. Tommy Boy – two men of very different personalities and backgrounds coming together to sell auto parts and save the family business.
Through the film, they go through an experience that bonds them and brings them together in spite of their differences. That is what makes community – it’s not similarity, it’s common experience.
So Paul could write these words: “But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)… [he ends the chapter with this thought] So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:4-5, 19-21; NLT)
It’s not like adding something or getting a shot in the arm. It is a life/death kind of experience. When you begin to understand the gospel, you think things like, “I am feeding my soul on things that are going to kill me. I am running away from my shepherd. But I’m not just infinitely lost, I’m infinitely valuable. Infinitely loved. One of this treasure – one of his coins. Valuable enough to take a lavish risk to come and search for me – a lost sheep.”
These stories aren’t just about being lost but about being valuable. When you begin to let this seep in to your soul, it blows your old identity out of the water. It becomes the experience that shapes more than any other experience. This is a story about our identity. Every identity factor gives you a joy: I went to a great school, I raised a great family, I am moral and upright citizen.
In every case, it is a joy that makes you feel superior to people who do not have that factor. You feel better than other people who didn’t make it in to school. Why? Because you feel good about the fact that you did. You automatically feel better than people whose families are a mess or who do not live moral and upright lives. You get a joy but it is a joy that excludes tax collectors and sinners.
And this is why religion can be so unhealthy – For some people this is their identity – they feel joy because they have something that other people do not. And they feel good about that. This is why Jesus is creating a new community that the world has never seen before: If the joy you have is from being a lost person who is infinitely valuable and saved by a lavish love, it is a joy that will not make you feel superior to those on the outside. It is a community that keeps you from looking down your nose at others.
But it is also the kind of joy that creates a bond like no other with those on the inside – those who have experienced the life and death of repentance and faith. For example – Ephesians 2 – starts with, “we are saved by grace” and ends with, “Together, we are his house…we fit together…” We are a community of people who are drawn together not because we agree on everything, not because we went to the same school, or are in the same life stages – but because we have this life-defining encounter with God’s grace.
Brennan Manning wrote these words:
“Jesus not only talks with these people, but dines with them - fully aware that His table fellowship with sinners will raise the eyebrows of religious bureaucrats who hold up the robes and insignia of authority to justify their condemnation of the truth and their rejection of the gospel of grace.
This passage should be read, reread, and memorized. Every Christian generation tries to dim the blinding brightness of its meaning because the gospel seems too good to be true. We think salvation belongs to the proper and the pious, to those who stand at a safe distance from the back alleys of life, clucking their judgments at those who have been soiled by life.
It is startling that the men and women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their imperfect existence. I do not have to apply spiritual cosmetics to make myself presentable to God! I can accept ownership of my poverty and powerlessness and neediness … So, to you ragamuffins, filled with regrets, and feeling unworthy to approach God, I say; "YOU are the very person Jesus came for. He not only came to talk to you, but to dine and fellowship with you. So draw near to Him with boldness, and soak a while in the glory of His love and grace.”
You can watch the entire service including the parts of the message that didn't get edited out by CLICKING HERE.