Living Large in Lean Times

The Creation of Community

December 13, 2009

 

Opening

  • Hi Everybody.
  • 40 years ago the Rolling Stones recorded a song that could serve as a theme for the series we’re in: Living Large in Lean Times.
  • “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you…NEED.”
  • If you completed those lyrics we know how old you are.
  • Well, last week, Pastor Joe introduced a concept that hit close to home for many of us.
  • He said that as Americans we are too accustomed to getting what we want when we want it, and that when we don’t get our way, we get frustrated.  
  • We want we what we want, and we want it now!
  • But if you’re anything like me, then you’re discovering what I’m discovering during this season, and this series: That not getting what we want, is surprisingly beneficial.
  • In other words, I’m learning that not getting what I want might actually be good for me.
  • See, no one asked for a recession. No one wanted the economy to tank, for loans to freeze up, the housing market to slump, or for jobs to disappear.
  • But in the middle of not getting what we want we’re discovering some amazing things. We’re discovering what we really needed, what matters.
  • In the middle of this mess, we’re discovering a generosity in this church like we’ve never seen before; we’re experiencing the grace of gratitude, we’re learning to trust, and, we’re coming to terms with the idea that we have enough.
  • And now, today, we’re going to take it one step further, and see how living large in lean times leads us to another challenging surprise, the creation of community.
  • Before we go there, let’s pray.

 

Message

  • I listen to the same radio station everyday, as I drive to the office. 
  • And it seems like every day, although I’m sure it’s just every month, but it seems like every day, I hear an update on the number of people applying for unemployment benefits because they’d lost their jobs.
  • One morning, I heard this wonderful report. That the number from one month to the next month had actually gone down. It decreased.
  • Great news right?
  • But before I could celebrate they gave the number of folks who had applied for benefits, and it was still in the hundreds of thousands.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people who, like the couple we just watched, are selling a house, giving a car back to the bank, moving in with family, and searching every nook and cranny for a quarter.
  • I don’t know about you, but when I see this, when I hear this, I immediately want it fixed.
  • I want somebody to do something about this, right? (pause)
  • But do you know what I almost never do?
  • I almost never try to fix it myself.
  • What can I do, right? I’ve got a six person, two pet household that I’m responsible for. That’s eight mouths to feed; eight mouths, every day.  Annualize that, and I’m responsible providing 7,300 meals every year.
  • Oh, and by the way, of those six humans living in my house, five are female humans.
  • You can dress an army of men, for the cost of clothing five females.
  • And this is just the beginning of the list.
  • So when I hear about people losing their jobs; when here about people getting laid off, or losing a house, or not being able to pay their bills, I do what many of you probably do.
  • I ache. I feel really really really bad. And I say, “Man, somebody’s got to fix this. But it’s not me. What can I do?” (Pause)
  • You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?
  • You’re situation isn’t that unlike mine. You’ve got bills to pay just like me.  You’re cutting back on lattes, just like everyone else, right?
  • Or, maybe you’ve gone from being a two-income household to a one-income household but you still have the two-income bills.
  • Or the raise you were counting on this fall didn’t come, so the relief isn’t there.
  • Some of you are trying to figure out how to pay for that child sponsorship you grabbed a few weeks back.
  • You’re living in lean times, and you don’t have extra anything right now, right?
  • And then that friend gets laid off, or that family member loses their job, or that neighbor who gets a pay cut.
  • “Somebody ought to fix this. But that somebody couldn’t be me? It’s not me, is it? You don’t really expect…? Wait a second, we didn’t ask for this; we didn’t want this.” (Pause)
  • Remember when I said that some of the best things for us are the things we aren’t asking for.
  • I know that when you were thinking about living large in lean times, the idea of you being the one to solve these problems wasn’t on your radar.
  • I understand that, because I feel the same way.  How is this even possible?
  • But, here’s the deal, here’s the principle.
  1. 1.     Living large in lean times means creating a community where we are the primary source of need meeting. 
  • If you really want to live large in lean times, then that means living in a community where the primary need meeter is you? And the primary need meeter is me?
  • And I know that doesn’t make sense, and that it’s not what you want, and yet that’s exactly what the Christian community has done for centuries.
  • In fact, no group of people has lived larger than the early church, the first century, first followers of Christ.
  • And they lived this out in radical ways.
  • I want to give you a peek at what this community was like by looking at the biography, the history of their life together.
  • The history of the first century church is found in the book of Acts, and in Acts chapter two, there’s a compelling description of their life together. Check this out. Little snapshot.
  • Acts 2:42-43
  • 42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
  • Ok, so check this out.  This is all, really really good stuff for people who are following Jesus to do, and, it’s pretty easy for us to understand.
  • Basically, what this is saying is that they studied the Bible, they hung out together in Life Groups, they took communion and shared meals together, and they prayed together.
  • Not only that, but then it says that some pretty cool stuff was happening around there.  People had this sense, had this feeling, that God was up to something. You know what I mean?  Really cool stuff going on.
  • And when I read it, it feels a lot like our community of faith, here, which I think is a pretty cool thing, you know, cause we do these things, and we experience this great moments when God is up to something.
  • So there’s the first part of this description of the first church, and it looks and feels a lot like our church. And that’s cool.
  • Now, let’s look at the second part.
  • Acts 2:44-45
  • 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
  • Wait a minute.  Did you catch what this said? It says that in the middle of looking like a church like ours, they did something that doesn’t look like any church I’ve ever seen. 
  • It says they sold their possessions, sold their goods, the stuff they spent years accumulating, the stuff they worked hard for, the stuff that there parents and grandparents worked hard for. They took that anniversary watch, they took that classic muscle car, they took those diamond earrings, they took that Kate Spade handbag, and when they heard that someone had a need, they sold that stuff that they worked hard for, and they took the proceeds from the sale of those things they worked hard for, and they gave that money to the people in their community that needed it.
  • Whoa. (pause)
  • First part of the description? I’m great with that. I love being that church.
  • Second part of that description? That’s crazy, right?
  • See, if you’re like me, and my guess is that you are, then there’s a little part of this that sounds good to you, it sounds really cool.
  • People taking care of each others needs; you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. We’ll make sure everyone gets taken care of.
  • But on a practical level, on the level where we really stop to think about this, we know there’s no way it would ever work, right?
  • See, the way I figure it, I’d be the guy who would join late in the game, like the last guy to get in on the pyramid scheme.
  • I’d shove all my chips in, sell my stuff, start helping out, and the whole thing goes belly up and I get stuck with the short end of the stick.
  • See, we’re fairly convinced, that living in our culture today, it won’t get reciprocated. We’re convinced that that people either won’t do for us what we do for them, or we’re convinced that there won’t be enough to go around, and so we say, “I’m ok with the first part of the description of this first church; but let’s figure out a way to do this, without the second part. I keepin’ my stuff.”
  • And the problem with that is this, and let me just remind you of our first principle: Living large in lean times means creating a community where we are the primary source of need meeting. 
  • See, if we miss the second part, if we only live the first part, then we miss out. And I don’t want to miss out, and neither do you.
  • So what do we do? (Pause)
  • Let me share something with you that I’ve discovered.
  • Most of the time, not all of the time, but most of the time, when I read something like this in the Bible, where what people are doing, or what God is asking people do is so different from my life, or it’s such a different way of thinking than the way I’m thinking, most of the time, it’s an information problem.
  • If there’s something they they get, that I’m not getting it usually means that they have information I don’t have.
  • Cheri and I were traveling oversees about a month ago, and at one point, we found ourselves standing in a line, and I really don’t enjoy lines, some people seem to be ok with it, they must have a hidden cattle gene that I lack, but I really don’t like lines. It’s like a major spiritual discipline for me. My character erodes really quickly, the longer I stand in a line.
  • So we’re in this line, in the Amsterdam airport, that had more people in it that all of us in this room combined.
  • We could have played one serious game of crack the whip.
  • But I start wanting to crack the whip when I see people just trucking on by me, and disappearing on the horizon. Where are they going? (pause) Cutters.
  • Where are these people going? What do they know that I don’t? More importantly, what do these signs above me, written in a foreign language that I can’t understand, actually say? Because maybe I’m standing in a line I don’t have to stand in.
  • See, usually it’s an information problem.
  • So what did this first community of faith know that we don’t know? What information did they have that we don’t have?
  • So now, I want to look at a teaching of Jesus that these people had received, something Jesus had told them, that gave them specific information that allowed them to live differently. 
  • This is what they knew, that we don’t know.
  • Jesus is talking to a group of people who felt a lot like we feel.
  • They didn’t feel like they had anything extra to give. They had just as many mouths to feed, just as many bills to pay, just as many taxes to pay, as we do.
  • They were living in lean times, like us.
  • And yet Jesus has the audacity to say to them, you have to change how you view, how you understand, how you manage, your stuff.
  • I want you to look at Luke chapter 12, we’re going to start in verse 16, and while you’re turning there I just want to set this up for you.
  • Jesus is teaching to the crowd and he makes one of those statements that only Jesus can make. You know, he says something, and then, he explains it with a parable, and everyone walks away wondering if he was talking about them.
  • Jesus makes this statement in verse 15, he says,
  • Luke 12:15b
  • A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.
  • Life is not about what you own.
  • My life, your life, is not equivalent to, it’s not the same as, the abundance of your possessions.
  • Now, you hear that and you say, my life is not about what I own, “I know that. I know there’s more to life than stuff. Why would you even bother saying that. Who in their right mind thinks that their life consists of the abundance of their possessions?”
  • But you know recently, we’ve heard about some people, people who have lost more money than we’ll ever make in a lifetime, who take their own lives over the devastation of what they’ve lost.
  • And you think, “What happened?”
  • They thought their life consisted of the abundance of what they owned and when their stuff went away they didn’t feel like they had anything to live for.
  • Jesus teaches something, this is so subtle, Jesus teaches us that we have the ability, even though we know life isn’t about stuff, we run the risk of living our lives, practically, like it is.
  • When we start talking about living large, the first place our mind has a tendency to go, is to our stuff.
  • Like everything that comes your way is a need. You need, you need you need, and so you either consume it now, or you set it aside to be consumed later.
  • And that’s a dangerous place to live, so he continues with a parable.
  • Luke 12:16  
  • 16And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.
  • So the guy’s already rich, and now he’s adding to what he already has.
  • Luke 12:17
  • 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
  • What am I going to do? I have extra. I have extra stuff and I don’t know what to do with it. My basement is full, my attic is full, my closets are full, my storage shed and the little rental place down the road is full.
  • What do I do with all this stuff?
  • Luke 12:18
  •  18“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.
  • 19And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘
  • Isn’t this a great plan? If you can build barns big enough to hold all your extra stuff, then, you’re set for life.
  • After all, isn’t the point of having extra, didn’t God give you extra, so that you could take care of yourself, and your children, and your grandchildren?
  • I’m gonna build some bigger barns.
  • Luke 12:20
  •  20“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.
  • You are out of time, even though you are not out of money.
  • Most of us who live in America, will run out of time, before we run out of money. It’s a simple fact. Most of us, most people living here today, will have not run out of necessary resources before you run out of time.
  • So Jesus asks a question.  
  • Luke 12:20
  • Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
  • You have assumed that all this stuff was for you, and you stored it all up, now, who is going to get it it?
  • Somebody else, right? But not because he was generous. But because he was…dead.
  • Luke 12:21
  •  21“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
  • Jesus is not teaching against preparing for the future financially, we know that.
  • What he is saying is that this is how it will be for anyone who thinks that everything that comes their way, is for themselves to consume and forgets to be rich towards God.
  • That forgets that everything that comes our way isn’t for us.
  • Here’s the first part of the information we’re missing. There’s an adjustment that needs to be made. He’s saying, I don’t want you to just be rich towards you; I want you to be rich toward God.
  • But what in the world does it mean to be rich towards God? (Pause)
  • A few verses later he defines that in way that is absolutely clear.
  • Verse 33, let’s skip down.
  • Luke 12:33
  • 33Sell your possessions
  • All of them? Nope. We know that because of how Jesus lived. Not all of them. Sell some possessions. Sell some of that stuff that you really don’t need, the stuff you’re keeping because it’s convenient…
  • Luke 12:33
  • 33Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven
  • Somehow in God’s economy, when I take what I have, and I make sure that I give it to those who are in need, when I take from what I have, to make sure that someone else has enough, that’s treasure in heaven.
  • That’s what it means. To be rich towards God.
  • When I am rich toward the people that are important to God, in that way I’ve been rich towards God. (Pause)
  • So now you might say, that’s good information. I now know that life isn’t about my stuff, and I know that being rich toward God means I need to give to others; I want to make sure I store up treasure in heaven; that’s good information, and it helps me understand why that early church did what they did, but I don’t know HOW they did it!
  • Because knowing that you need to do it, and actually doing it are two totally different things. 
  • If that wasn’t true, then every gym in North America would packed like a football stadium. 
  • Knowing you need to do something, and actually doing it are two different things.
  • So how? How do I get from a place where I know I need to be rich toward God to a place where I actually can be? (Pause)
  • Well, sandwiched between the parable and the description of ‘rich toward God’ is the information that changes everything.
  • Luke 12:22-24
  •  22Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!
  • See, as much as you think you’re in control, as much as you think that what you have is the product of what you’ve done, it’s not.
  • God takes care of you.  He’ll makes sure you have what you need.
  • Here’s the principle; here’s the principle that unlocks this whole deal and sets your heart free from the desire to build bigger barns and live rich toward God.
  • Here’s the one thing, that if you don’t remember anything else I’ve said today, if there’s one thing that will transform you life, it’s this one principle.
  1. 2.     God takes full responsibility for the life that’s lived richly toward him.
  • God takes full responsibility for the life that’s lived richly toward him. (repeat)
  • He takes care of the ravens, right? Dirty birds.
  • Think about how much he loves you.
  • Certainly he’s going to take care of you. 
  • You can live rich toward God because God takes full responsibility for the life that’s lived richly toward him.
  • And I know you’re worried, and you feel like you’re strapped. But that worry comes because all you think it won’t be reciprocated; the community won’t return the favor.
  • But it’s not the community who gives back to you. It’s God.
  • Full responsibility.  He’s got it. You don’t have to build bigger barns. He’s got you covered.  All you need to do is live richly toward God, by living richly toward others and he’ll take care of the rest.
  • Living large, by creating a community where you are the primary source of need meeting, isn’t just possible, it’s incredibly rewarding. That’s why it’s livin’ large.
  • It’s has an unexpected, unanticipated, wonderful outcome that you can only understand when you’ve done it.
  • So, Here’re some ideas you put on the take away, doggy bag portion of your outline.
  • A few suggestions, for next steps, for creating this kind of community. First,
  • Be aware of your extra
  • I want talk for minute about all the extra resources you have. I want to talk about your extra money. You know what I mean by extra money?
  • How many of you have extra money just laying around? (pause)
  • Brad, I think you’ve got the wrong crowd. Not only do you have the wrong crowd, but this is the wrong time, because there is no extra money.
  • Remember the landowner in the story? Remember what it said about him? About how it was the land of a certain ‘rich’ man, that produced a good crop?
  • Guess whose rich in our story?
  • I know we’ve beat this horse to death over the past several months, but if you’re living indoors, if you’re eating, if you have more than one pair of shoes, you’re rich. You have extra.
  • If you have a car, if you went to a movie in the past few weeks, if you have a coffee habit, like I do, then you’ve got a little extra.
  • Now, I’m not telling you what to do or not do with your extra.
  • I’m simply pointing out, that if you want to create a community, where you are meeting needs, and solving problems, then you need to recognize, you need to be aware of, your extra.
  • If you want to live rich toward God, then you need to see that he’s already been rich toward you, and you have more than enough. Then,
  • Be willing to give and receive
  • If you want to live in this kind of community, you need to be willing to give, and, you need to be willing to receive.
  • That means that when you look at your extra, when you tally up how much you spend on latte’s every month, or how much you spend on cable, or Netflix, or whatever, that when you see that extra, you say to yourself, “If someone needs this, they can have it.”
  • You’ve got to be willing to give, which means you might also have to sacrifice some of the extra you do, but remember, it’s WORTH it, it’s better, it’s more rewarding. 
  • You’ll be more satisfied from upgrading your generosity toward others than you will be by upgrading your television.
  • Now, the other side of this whole thing is that you also have to be willing to receive, and for some of us, receiving is more difficult that giving.
  • A few years ago, I found myself in some complicated circumstances.
  • We were moving, as a family, back to Spokane from New York, and we were out of cash. We’d given everything we had, spent every dime we’d saved, planting a church.
  • We didn’t have change for a coke.  
  • And I’ll never forget going to the mailbox, and finding a note from a far away friend and a check to help with moving expenses that had way too many zeros on it.
  • And I struggled with accepting it. It wasn’t that I didn’t need it. I just had a hard time receiving it, until I realized that if I failed to receive, he would have missed out on the blessing of giving.
  • I’d be robbing him of the opportunity to be rich toward God.
  • We have to be willing to give, and receive. (pause)
  • You have enough, and you’ll never experience that feeling of ‘enough’ more than when you give your extra away.
  • Be aware of your extra, be willing to give and receive, and…
  • Be open to the full spectrum of needs
  • Not every need is met with money. In fact, some of the greatest needs, and the most rewarding ways of helping others, don’t have a price tag on them.
  • Your skills, your extra hands, your comforting words, or partnering prayers may be exactly what someone needs.
  • When I was a kid, my family got into a feud of sorts, with another family.
  • It was a Hatfield and McCoy’s kind of feud, battling back and forth.
  • We got into a feud, where each family would secretly attempt acts of service to surprise the other family.
  • It was simply the joy of helping others that motivated us.  
  • And some of the most fun I’ve had with friends is when I’m helping them accomplish a task or get something done, where they needed help.
  • Meeting needs doesn’t always mean spending money. There’s a broad spectrum of needs that you can meet.
  • In fact, right now, Life Center is working with an organization called Communities in Schools, which coordinated us adopting Sheridan elementary school.  
  • Our big picture plan in adopting a school is to effect the dropout rate and quality of life for the students in that school.
  • Right now, 1 in 3 drop out in Spokane and never graduate high school.
  • By the second grade it is evident which students are at risk for dropping out due to lack of family support/involvement.
  • We want people to mentor a student for the rest of the school year.  We will train them and place them with a student who they can have lunch with, play a board game with, sit next to in class, or help with homework.
  • And the ‘extra’ that it requires is one visit, each week, with their student.
  • We will have an information meeting in the first part of January for anyone interested in being a mentor, and we’d love to see these kids futures changed because of our involvement.
  • The need doesn’t get any greater, and it doesn’t get any easier to meet.
  • You don’t have to have a pile of cash lying around to live rich toward God. (pause)
  • You just need to remember God takes full responsibility for the life that’s lived richly toward him. That’s it.
  • If you get that, then taking the step of living large, by meeting needs, is yours to experience.
  • God takes full responsibility for the life that’s lived richly toward him.
  • Let’s Pray