Destroyers of Community

Series: Preacher: Date: September 27, 2015 Scripture Reference: Acts 2:43-47

43 – Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.

44 – And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;

45 – and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.

46 – Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,

47 – praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.

A few months ago a friend gave me a great book—Boys in the Boat. It’s the true story of the 1936 University of Washington crew team, which went from backwater obscurity to worldwide fame by winning a gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Crew—or rowing—is a sport that carries the aristocratic pedigree of schools like Yale, Harvard, and Princeton—so no one imagined that a crew from Washington, of all places, could be competitive. But they were. They built a team from kids raised on farms, in logging towns, and near shipyards. This unlikely “crew” from an unlikely school blew away their Californian rivals. Then they bested the cream of New England’s Ivy League schools to become the American Olympic Team. And, as I said, in Berlin they won the gold—the same year Jessie Owens won—and Louis Zamperini made his amazing finish.

Well, how did this team from nowhere manage to do that? Author Daniel James Brown explains it in one word—TEAMWORK. Brown writes: “The greatest paradox of this sport—ROWING—has to do with the psychological makeup of the people who pull the oars. Great oarsmen and oarswomen are necessarily made of conflicting stuff. For example, on the one hand, they must possess enormous self-confidence, strong egos, and titanic willpower. Nobody who does not believe deeply in himself or herself—in his or her ability to endure hardship and to prevail over adversity—is likely even to attempt something as audacious as competitive rowing at the highest levels. The sport offers so many opportunities for suffering and so few opportunities for glory that only the most tenaciously self-reliant and self-motivated are likely to succeed at it. And yet, at the same time—and this is key—no other sport demands and rewards the complete ABANDONMENT of the self the way that rowing does.  Great crews may have men or women of exceptional talent or strength; they may have outstanding coxswains or stroke oars or bowmen; but they have no stars. The team effort—the perfectly synchronized flow of muscle, oars, boat, and water; the single, whole, UNIFIED, and beautiful symphony that a crew in motion becomes—is all that matters. Not the individual, not the self.”

When I read this I couldn’t help but think of another amazing “team” and I’m referring to a local church like ours because we are an UNLIKELY “crew” of uniquely talented people—people who work together as a team to do amazing things. Plus—a “winning” church is one that is full—not of SELF-centered but OTHER-centered—people. A church like that with healthy oneness—vibrant community—is a POWERFUL thing. When we respect one another as young and old, male and female, working as a team, great things can happen—exciting things.  Lives get changed! The Kingdom of God grows right before our eyes.

Now—one thing you may remember that I pointed out in the first sermon in this series is that back in the Garden of Eden satan made it his goal to attack and destroy oneness—destroy the community between Adam and Eve and God—and Satan was successful. He brought hostility between male and female.  Their sin also separated them from our Creator. Well, the fact is, the devil is still at it. His goal is to attack healthy community in churches like ours. He doesn’t want us to respect the giftedness God put in each of us. He doesn’t want us to obey God and honor one another in spite of our differences. He doesn’t want us to be a winning team.

Relying on the sources I’ve already cited—especially Ortberg’s Bible studies from 1999, to help us deal with these attacks, this morning I want to take a close look at THREE of our adversary’s main tactics so that, so that with God’s help, we can be ready to combat them. Okay—what are the things Satan uses to threaten our unity?

(1) First, he tempts us to focus on DOMINANCE instead of SERVANTHOOD.

And this isn’t just seen in MEN dominating women but in WOMEN seeking to dominate men—something we see a lot of in our culture. I’m thinking of popular TV sitcoms where thanks to rampant feminism men are always pictured as silly fools and women are pictured as the wise spouses who maintain stability in the family—in spite of their husbands’ immaturity. For example, my favorite sitcom was Everybody Loves Raymond.  It was hilarious—but poor Raymond was always pictured as the idiot.  In fact, that was his wife’s favorite name for him. She was always calling him IDIOT under her breath—and I’m sure many viewers “amened” her comment. We see it in movies too—and it shows that our culture has gone from Father Knows Best to Father is a Fool.

My point is there is both MALE dominance—and FEMALE dominance in the world. Well both of these extreme attitudes are contrary to what God’s book teaches. Struggling for power destroys the kind of community He intends. The Bible says that both men and women are to live in a community of not dominance but SERVANTHOOD. Look at Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. In chapter 2 he says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look, not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

That one statement right there would revolutionize relationships between genders if we really took it seriously. It’s that simple. I mean, think of the power of all the giftedness that that God put in the membership here at Redland!   What if we DIDN’T respect the people who used their giftedness so selflessly to serve the body. For example,

  • What if we DIDN’T respect the labors of Bob Michael in leading mission trips—and in teaching the Bible?
  • What if we DIDN’T respect Dorlene Harper’s gifts in making sure our welcome desk was manned?
  • What if we DIDN’T respect the labors of Buddy Young in the sound booth all these years?
  • What if we DIDN’T respect all Wendy Calahan does to keep the UPWARD ministry going?
  • What if we DIDN’T respect the way AMY PRICE reaches out to parents of young children through RUMPUS every Thursday?
  • Where would we be without the leadership gifts of JOHN and NANCY PORTER who lead our ministry at Manna Food Bank—not to mention JOHN’s work in the prisons?
  • Where would our shut-ins be without the ministry of Kathy Laios and her team?

I could go on and on and on. The fact is without those gifts and talents of men AND women who selflessly serve us all Redland would be a much weaker church! With that in mind, let me stop at this point and pose a few questions as a little self-assessment. Ask yourself these questions and be honest in your answer.

  • Am I threatened by, or envious of, the gifts of someone in ministry here at Redland?
  • Am I threatened by, or envious of, the gifts of someone that I work with?
  • Am I worried about trying to promote my own gifts, my own advancement, my own trajectory, or do I really seek to build up the women and the men around me?
  • Would people of the opposite sex that I’m in close contact with describe me a servant— as their servant?

Listen—our Lord consistently described greatness and power in terms of servanthood. Remember? When the disciples argued about who was the greatest. Jesus said, “Whoever serves the most.” This is one reason why questions about who’s going to be in control of the church, or who’s in charge of the church are misplaced. The church was not intended by God to be the kind of community where people are struggling to be the one on top. It’s not supposed to be that kind of place. We are first and foremost SERVANTS. Any leadership is SERVANT-leadership.

I want to deal with a little sidebar issue here, and it relates to the issue of church governance. Turn in your Bibles to 1st Timothy 3 where Paul talks about “overseers.”  In verses 1-4 he writes,

“Now the overseer, must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness—not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.”

There are a number of different offices in the church written about in different books of the New Testament and “overseer” is one of them. In the Greed it is pronounced, “episkopos.” It is translated, “bishop.” I think that in the beginning, most likely the “overseers” at Ephesus were men. This would be not unexpected because of the levels of education and their experience and so on. Paul is saying here is that if a BISHOP is a married man, he must live his married life and his family life with integrity. Now—some say that because of the way that Paul has worded this passage, women cannot serve as BISHOPS or church leaders at all. They say that Paul is restricting it to only someone who fits exactly this category, this description. But there are some pretty obvious problems with that interpretation.

  • For example, if we understand it that way, divorced men could never be restored and serve here as overseers or leaders.
  • A widower who gets remarried could never serve as an overseer.
  • No single men could serve as an overseer because Paul says you must be the husband of one wife with children who obey you.

One reason I don’t buy into this men only interpretation of Paul’s words is because in 1st Corinthians 1:7-8 he says “It is good for those who are unmarried to remain single, AS I AM—so they could have a greater capacity to serve.” I mean, with that interpretation, Paul himself would not be eligible to serve as a leader. Jesus couldn’t have either.

Okay—let’s read on. In verse 4, Paul says, “See that his children obey him with proper respect.”  Does that mean if a man has rebellious children, he could not serve as an elder? And—who defines “proper respect?” My point is this. I believe Paul is not restricting single men from being leaders nor is he doing it for women. No—I think Paul’s point is that if a bishop or elder—if a leader in the church is a married man—which again would have been normal given that society and education levels at that time—then he must not be an adulterer, he must not practice polygamy, and he must be a responsible family man who practices appropriate discipline with his children. I think that’s the most likely interpretation of this passage. Okay, end of “sidebar.”

Let me just say again under this first point about struggling for power that we protect community when we don’t make the church into the kind of place where people are domineering each other. Instead, we recognize that God’s plan in human beings—male and female—is that they live in a community of servanthood. That’s how we defeat Satan’s plans when it comes to this first threat to our community—our fellowship—our oneness as a church.

(2) The second tactic he uses to threaten our community is when instead of KNOWING and being known he temps us to resort to STEREOTYPING.

When we were in IRELAND one of the coolest places we went was THE GIANT’S CAUSEWAY.  It’s a place filled with thousands of hexagonal shaped columns. As you can see they go right out into the ocean. Well, after exploring the causeway, Sue, Bob, Hugh, and I decided to climb the 180+ stairs to the top of the cliff and hike up there a wee bit. We thought that would be great CRACK—crack means FUN in Ireland. Well as we were huffing and puffing our way up all those steep steps—we encountered a young family. I could hear Hugh a few steps above me talking with the mom. As she struggled up the steps she said, “When I exercise like this I always tell myself, ‘It’s all about the keg!’” When I heard her say that I thought, “She’s a drunk.  This mom—she doesn’t care about her kids—her family—all she cares about is her beer.” Then I heard her say, “I also tell myself it’s all about the food—I can enjoy a big bowl of shepherd’s pie and not worry about the calories thanks to this climb.” When I heard that I thought, “Not only is she a drunkard—she’s a glutton as well!” Then when we got to the top of the cliff and could talk more, I learned that she and her husband are evangelical Christians. They were really neat people. In fact the husband is a pastor and they are starting a new church in VERY catholic Southern Ireland.  They were not gluttons. They just love good food—like I obviously do. And they were not drunks. They just love a little beer—which all Irelanders do.

Well in my stereotyping—I was disrespecting this Godly couple—and their giftedness—and passion to tell others about Jesus. We became friends as we continued our wee little walk—and covenanted to pray for one another.

Friendship—community—is always threatened by stereotyping like I did that day. You see, when I stereotype someone, I place arbitrary limits on them based on my own preconceived expectations. When I stereotype, I fail to take seriously the fact that another individual was uniquely created in the image of God. I don’t honor their giftedness. And let me be real clear about this. To fight stereotyping does not mean to pretend that there are no differences between men and women.  Of course there ARE differences and I’m not just referring to physical ones. God created us different in several ways.

Deborah Tannen, one of the teachers at the University of California, wrote a book called You Just Don’t Understand. It’s all about differences in the COMMUNICATION STYLES that tend to be common between genders. Has anybody here ever noticed the differences in communication styles between men and women? Well part of a healthy church fellowship is our learning acknowledge that kind of thing. Tannen writes, “Often in communication men seek to preserve independence and to avoid failure. Their concern is where things stack up status-wise. Whereas women in communication tend to be more geared to preserving intimacy and avoiding isolation, and their concern is more to remain connected.”

Here’s an example of how that might flesh out. When two guys are in the men’s locker room if they DON’T know each other they usually say NOTHING. But if they DO know each other one of them might say to the other one, “You know, that’s quite a gut you’ve got there, buddy. You ought to give that gut its own name.” Men will say things like that to each other before they head out to play racquetball or basketball—something where they can keep score and know who won. And they mean it in an endearing way.

I’m told that conversation in a women’s locker room is very different. Of course, I’ve never experienced it firsthand.  But—I’m told—a woman in that setting might say something like this to a friend, “Gosh, my thighs just look like tree trunks!” And no other woman would ever agree with that! Men would. They would say to another man, “You got that right! In fact they look like redwood tree trunks!”  But not women. A woman would tend to say something like, “No, no, your legs look great. Besides you have gorgeous hair. My hair is so thin. I’d kill for hair like yours.”

Here’s another example. When we were in Ireland I never dialed Bob or Hugh’s room number and said,“I’m trying to decide which pair of pants I should wear to tomorrow. I’m thinking about wearing my black cords, but they make me look kind of heavy. What do you think?” I don’t care what Bob or Hugh wears—and could care less about my outfit.  Women are different in that they do care about that kind of thing.

This makes me think of a joke I heard once about what it would have been like if the wise MEN had been wise WOMEN.

  • They would have asked for directions.
  • They would have made it to Bethlehem on time.
  • They would have helped to deliver the baby.
  • They would have cleaned up the stables,
  • They would have made a casserole
  • and they would have brought some practical gifts.

All kidding aside, men and women ARE different—but constant stereotyping about our differences is not a good thing. You see—we often slip into sin by taking it too far. When we do—we get to the point that we think we know everything about each other. We put each other in a box so to speak. We put a limit on each other’s potential. We deny each other certain opportunities based on gender. That caliber of stereotyping damages church fellowship. It distorts truth. I mean, stereotyping goes too far when it leads us to use statements with “always” and “never” — like, “Men are always more logical. Women are always more emotional.” “All men ever think about is sex.” “All women think about is shopping.” Here’s my point. Stereotypes are dangerous. They threaten community. Stereotyping leads to sin when it denies the reality of the image of God in human beings.  The only “stereotypical things” we can rightly say about us are things like this:

  • Every human being, male and female, was created in the image of God.
  • Every human being, male and female, was given co-regency, co-dominion, over creation by God.
  • Every human being is FALLEN. We all sin.
  • But every human being, male and female, is the object of God’s redemptive love, of Christ’s sacrificial life and death and resurrection.
  • Every human being who is a Christian, male and female, has received the Holy Spirit that is a child of God.
  • Every Christian is a child of God is spiritually gifted, and spiritual gifts talked about in passages of Scripture make no reference to distinctions between male and female.
  • Every Christian, male and female, is going to reign with Christ one day; every one of us.

We protect community, friends, when we say by attitude, word, and behavior, “You man, you woman, you are unique. You uniquely bear the image of God. You are uniquely gifted by the Holy Spirit. You’re part of the priesthood of all believers, male and female.” When we stereotype, we often deny this fundamental principle. Ortberg tells about a women he’d known for over 30 years. Her dad was a pastor, and she loved the church, grew up in the church, wanted to devote herself to the church. So she went to seminary. She loved to study God’s Word and gave herself to that. She loved to teach in evangelism and bring people to Christ. But because she was a woman, her dad assumed that she could not do that, and he discouraged her from trying because she was a woman. In her denomination, there was no place for a woman to do that. Interestingly, they would let her go overseas. She could plant churches and teach and evangelize and baptize new converts overseas. Her denomination would not allow her to do that for white American males in the states. But she could do it for non-white males in third world countries. And—if a man were to do that, they would stipulate in this denomination that he would have to be ordained by the denomination first to do those things. They said they would let her do it, but only if she would agree not to be ordained. Here’s the most painful part to her. She had four siblings—all brothers, all boys—all of whom went into church work. When her dad would speak of his family, he would say, “I am so proud of my family. I have four sons and they all went into the ministry.” Do you see the painful effects of stereotyping in this woman’s life? Do you see how ridiculous it is?

Friends, every human being who has been redeemed by Christ is called into His ministry, every one.  Every human being who has been redeemed by Christ has received this precious gifting of His Holy Spirit to do His work on this earth—every one, male and female.  And, community is protected and guarded when the contribution of every individual is honored and prized. This is what was so remarkable about Jesus. He took every individual—women as well as men—seriously.  As I said a couple weeks back, He startled His disciples by sitting down and talking with a Samaritan woman. They couldn’t believe a rabbi would do that. He took her seriously; He had a theological conversation with her about worship. He also allowed a woman to touch Him—remember the sinful woman in Luke 7 who loosed her hair and anointed His feet with her tears. He received her love like that of a sister. Jesus allowed Mary to assume the posture of a disciple and sit at His feet.  Not only that, he told Martha that He was affirming not what she was doing—things people would expect a woman to do, but Mary who was living as a disciple. Our Lord even had women be the first witnesses of His resurrection.

Dorothy Sayers, who was a great Christian thinker and writer in an earlier part of this century, wrote these words. She said,  “Perhaps it is no wonder that women were first at the cradle and last at the cross. They had never known a man like this. There had never been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, who never flattered or coaxed or patronized them, who never urged them to be feminine—or jeered at them for being female, who had no axe to grind, and no uneasy male dignity to defend, who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. No wonder that women were first at the cradle and last at the cross. There had never been a man like this—never had.”

Then when Jesus started a new community—the church—there’d never been a community like that. With that in mind, here’s a few questions for us all to consider.  “Do you treat the opposite sex the way that Jesus would? Do you take the gifts and potential of the men or the women in your life seriously and encourage their development? Or do you communicate by jokes or by off-handed remarks a level of hostility? Do you treat every individual as the unique creation and object of the redemptive love of God?”

We must remember that our community—our precious fellowship—the sweet, sweet Spirit we enjoy here—is threatened when human beings, male and female, engage in a struggle for power. Community is threatened when instead of seeing each other as individuals, we stereotype.

(3) And then finally, Satan threatens our community by tempting us to mishandle SEXUALITY.

Now—sexuality is a wonderful gift—when we handle it wisely and cherish it. But our community is threatened when we mishandle it. So I want to ask you to make a very, very, very important commitment this morning. I want to make this as clear as I know how—about as serious as I ever have. I want to ask you to make a commitment before God to live in sexual purity with one another as brothers and sisters. I want to ask you to take that commitment to each other and to God very seriously because I’ve seen too many marriages and families destroyed—too many ministries rocked by people who yield to Satan’s temptation and DON’T do this.  I’ve seen too many lives destroyed by individuals who yielded to temptation and sinned sexually. I’ve seen too many spouses broken because of the betrayal of a husband or wife. I’ve seen too many kids struggle trying to understand what happened to their family when a mom or dad sinned sexually. I’ve seen too many churches have trust shattered by pastors or church leaders who did this.

We experienced this kind of shattered community in a church I served in years ago.  In fact we FIRST experienced it at our very FIRST church appearance. We moved in on a Tuesday and our first time to go to the church was at their Wednesday meal. As the new staff member and his family we expected a warm welcome—but no one said anything to us. As time went by we continued to get the cold shoulder but we soon found out why.  We learned that three prior staff members had sinned sexually. They’d run off with the organist so to speak. This is why they were so unwelcoming. This is why they were so very hesitant to trust me. You see when you are hurt by people you don’t want to be hurt again—so you put up walls—you don’t welcome people into fellowship. It was a long time before we felt welcomed. That church’s fellowship was horribly damaged. I mean, they didn’t trust each other either.

So I have a charge for everyone in this room, every Christ-follower in this room—especially those of you who are involved in leadership. I’m asking that you commit that you will not put yourself or the health of this community at risk by yielding to this tactic of Satan. And, remember, God’s boundary for sex is very clear—it is for one man and one woman MARRIED—committed to each other for the rest of their life. I charge you NOT to violate that boundary. If you have, pray to God. Confess your sin and ask for His forgiveness. If there’s a pattern of sin that you need help with, if there’s something you need to confess and have accountability with somebody, get some help. Come to me. But, will you make that commitment today? Will you pledge to honor and protect this gift that God has given to us? Can I get a show of hands? I appreciate your pledge and I want to talk a minute about HOW to keep it.

That’s important because many avoid this problem in ways that HURT the community we all need. This is what might be called a strategy of SEPARATION. And this was common in Jesus’ day. Remember the people that were called the bruised and bleeding rabbis who wouldn’t even look at a woman so they’d never be tempted by her? That was not Jesus’ way for a real good reason. That kind of strategy of fear and distance would involve the loss of the very community between men and women that God made us for.  If Jesus would have done that, women could never have received His friendship or His teaching or His training. A strategy of fear and distance doesn’t work. It doesn’t protect communities and it prevents our working together. There is a better way. Turn to 1st Timothy 5:1 where Paul writes, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” — with absolute purity.

So in closing, I want to give for us three tests today—tests Ortberg gives — just real, practical things. I just ask that you keep them in mind—that you use them as a kind of a grid to assess your behavior with any contact you have between men and women who are not married to each other.This works for dating relationships too. The first test is what might be called the SPOUSE TEST and it’s for those of us who are married. Here it is. Would I be comfortable, as I’m relating to someone of the opposite sex, if my spouse were here and knew about this interaction?

You know I remember a few weeks ago I saw a woman walking across our parking lot and I thought, “That is an attractive woman.” Then I looked again and realized it was Sue. And I thanked God for my wife’s beauty. Here’s my point. Recognizing someone as attractive is not sinful. That’s part of being human. It’s part of what it means to be created male and female.

But when we begin to cross lines by sending messages in the way that we talk or touch that indicate interest, that’s something else. That’s crossing the line. If we entertain lustful thoughts about a person other than our spouse that’s sin. If we have secrets with a person of the opposite sex that we’re keeping our spouse that is crossing the line as well. That’s all included in the SPOUSE test. Would I be comfortable if my wife knew about this?

A second test is what might be called the PLATFORM TEST. In other words, would I be willing to have my behavior put on video and shown to all of Redland? Would I be willing to have it shown in the light of day?  If your answer is NO you’ve crossed the line.

The third one is what might just be called the SIBLING TEST. The question here is, “Is this an interaction that I’d have with my sister or with my brother?” In the 1st Timothy passage Paul describes the church as a family.  Paul says, “We’re children of God, and that means that we’re brothers and sisters with one another.” You think about that. How many of you growing up had a brother or a sister of the opposite sex? How many of you made it to adulthood without killing that person?  My guess is, for most of us who had that experience, we’ve tasted something of the kind of relationships that Paul was talking about.  God wants us to be brothers and sisters—to share loyalty and affection and warmth and understanding and challenge and truth—in a way the best of biological brothers and sisters can’t even really approach outside of the connection that Christ gives us. We are to be friends that stick CLOSER than a brother. That’s what God wants for us. Who doesn’t want to be part of a community like that, where men and women relate that way?

So let’s just agree together that we’re going to cherish and guard and protect the community. Instead of struggling for power, we’re going to be servants for each other, male and female. Instead of stereotyping, we’re going to recognize God’s unique expression of his image in each one of us; Instead of mishandling sexuality, we’re going to live together in joy and intimacy as brothers and sisters. I don’t think there’s anybody in the world who wouldn’t knock down the doors to get into a community like that.


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