This is the third and the final week of our series called ONE. This series has set us up for our official launch here at the school next Sunday. And the reason it has set us up for our launch is because we’ve been listening as God has reminded us who we are and what we’re all about as a church.
The month of November hasn’t just been a month where we’ve learned about our new facility. It’s been a month where we’ve learned about ourselves. We’ve learned about who we are in Christ and who we are as a church.
And who we are is one. We are one. We are unified in our vision, mission, and purpose. And when a church comes together as one, that’s when God goes to work.
And that’s what we’re going to see in the last week of this series. We’ve been exploring two verses from Philippians 1 through this series. And we’re going back to them one more time today.
In Philippians 1, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.” (Philippians 1:27-28a, NIV)
So far in this series, we’ve seen that we are called to one mission. And Paul told us what that mission is. It’s the gospel. And he also told us that we are one family that is pursuing that one mission together.
Today as we wrap up this series, we’re going to see that we are united together by one Spirit.
Let’s pray and we’ll jump in.
Look again at what Paul says to the church in these verses. He said that we “stand firm in the one Spirit.”
That is a reference to the Holy Spirit. A lot of Christians and churches have a lot of very different ideas about the Holy Spirit. But here at Connect, all we want to do is follow what we see in Scripture. And here’s what Paul says about the Holy Spirit.
When we stand firm in the Holy Spirit, it eliminates fear from the equation.
Paul wrote that we “stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.”
The Holy Spirit cancels out fear. The Holy Spirit is why we can stand firm. He is why we can’t be swayed from our vision and our mission as a church. And He is why we are not afraid of anything and anyone who might try to oppose us. The Holy Spirit cancels out fear.
That’s exactly what Paul wrote in another book of the Bible. In 2 Timothy, Paul wrote, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power…” (2 Timothy 1:7a, NIV)
There are two things that we really need to key in on here. And if we get these two things, it has the power to change every other thing. This changes everything in our lives. It changes everything in our church.
Here’s the first thing. Paul said that God gave us the Holy Spirit.
When someone is in Christ, God gives them the Holy Spirit. That means that if you follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit is present in you. He is present in your life right now. And that’s a game changer.
God is present. That is so simple. That seems so basic. But if we really understood that, it would change everything.
This is one of my favorite times of year. But not for the reasons you might think. Yeah, I love the holidays. Thanksgiving is awesome. And now the Christmas season is starting, and it’s awesome too. But one of the reasons that I really love this time of year is because the McRib is back.
I had a McRib a couple of weeks ago and I posted this picture on Facebook, and I got absolutely lit up! Man, there are some seriously strong opinions about this sandwich. How many of you are on my side and think the McRib is awesome? How many of you think the McRib is about the most disgusting thing ever?
Now, I will tell you that I never go to McDonalds. Ever. I don’t go because I know it’s not good for me, and most of it really doesn’t taste that good, either. So I just don’t go…except when it’s McRib season. Then I just have to go, because it really is the most wonderful time of the year.
But anyway, here’s the thing about the McRib. Its presence is short-lived. It comes around this time of year. It’s here for a short while. And then it’s gone again. It’s a limited time engagement. Its presence is not permanent.
Here’s the problem that some of us have. We believe God operates in the same way. You hear this truth that God is present. He is present in your life. But in your mind, you put qualifiers…you put stipulations…you put conditions on this statement.
“He’s present in my life, as long as I do the right things.”
“He’s present in my life, until I mess things up.”
“He’s present in my life, until He no longer believes that I measure up.”
“He’s present in my life until I fall into a big sin.”
“He’s present in my life until ___________________.”
Some of us have become convinced that God’s presence in our lives is conditional. It’s based on what we do or what we don’t do. God will only stick around if we can continue to toe the line, keep all the rules, and stay squeaky clean.
The problem with that line of thinking is that it’s impossible. None of us can do that. Like we talked about last week, we’re all jacked up. We’re all sinners. None of us can ever live lives of perfection. But that doesn’t mean that God jumps ship.
God’s presence is not based on my perfection. Some of us need to own that truth today. God’s presence is not based on my perfection.
Some of you believe that God has left you because of what you’ve done. There’s no way that God would stick around in your life after you did that. You’re sure that He abandoned you, and to be honest, you don’t even blame Him. Not after what you’ve done.
There’s no way God is still with you after your abortion.
God left you after you had sex with your boyfriend or your girlfriend.
There’s no way that God is going to stick around after the way you hurt the people closest to you.
You are such a screw up, you are such an epic failure, that God just washed His hands of you.
Some of us walked in here today believing that. You need to lean into the truth today. You’ve got to get this.
God has not left you. God has not abandoned you. God’s presence is not based on your perfection.
And here’s how we know that. God left Jesus so He would never have to leave us.
Jesus died on the cross as the payment for all our sin. ALL our sin. Including that one that you just can’t get over. The one that still haunts you. The one that still makes you feel totally guilty and ashamed. The price for that sin has been paid through the death of Jesus on the cross.
And look at what happened while Jesus was hanging on the cross. In his gospel, Mark tells us, “Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mark 15:34, NLT)
Jesus was the Son of God. But when He was on the cross, Jesus was transformed. He became our sin. God’s Son became our sin. And our sin was so dark, so black, so utterly evil, that God the Father turned His back on His Son. God the Father abandoned God the Son.
That’s the high price that had to be paid for our sin. But because of His great love for us, God paid that price. And that means that our sin is now covered. It is forgiven. It is removed. It is forgotten.
And that means that God’s presence in our lives is not based on our perfection. The sin in our lives doesn’t drive Him away because the price of that sin has been paid.
God abandoned His own Son so He would never have to abandon us. God left His Son so He would never leave us.
God is present. Somebody us getting set free by this truth right now. God is present. He has not left you because of what you’ve done.
He has also not left you because of what’s been done to you. Somebody here believes that you’re damaged goods because of what was done to you. You were abused. You were molested. You were raped. And it’s left a stain on your soul that you can’t wash off. And you feel like you’re damaged. Dirty. Discarded. And God just doesn’t get involved with people like that.
Let me tell you something…God gets involved with people EXACTLY like that. Here’s what we all have to grasp. You are not what you do. You are what Jesus has done for you.
And you are not what someone else has done to you. You are what Jesus has done for you. Jesus is what defines you. And because of what Jesus has done for you, God is always present with you.
That’s what Paul told us. He said that God gave us His Spirit. And it’s not some limited time only deal. The Holy Spirit’s presence doesn’t come and go. It’s time we stop acting like we’ve got some kind of McGod who kind of McLoves us, but who will eventually McLeave us when our lives get messed up.
That type of thinking has got to be offensive to God. God abandoned His own Son so He would never have to abandon us. God has given us His Holy Spirit, and it’s for keeps.
And Paul tells us exactly what the presence of the Holy Spirit does in our lives. He gives us power.
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power…” (2 Timothy 1:7a, NIV)
The Holy Spirit isn’t a feeling. He isn’t an emotion. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God’s power. And again, if we get this, it really does change everything.
The first thing we have to understand is that God is present. But He is more than just present.
He is powerfully present. He doesn’t just show up. He doesn’t just hang around. He is present, and His presence brings His power. God is powerfully present.
Have you ever been in a situation where you knew your presence didn’t make any difference? That happened to me not that long ago. My wife loves The Walking Dead. Any other fans here today?
My wife is with you. She loves The Walking Dead. And I absolutely do not. From the few minutes of the show that I’ve seen, I’m pretty sure I hate it. But Nicki loves it. And not too long ago, she was talking to some people in our Connect Group who also love The Walking Dead. And specifically, they were talking about what happened to some dude named Glenn. I don’t even know who Glenn is, and to be honest, I really don’t care. But they knew and they cared a lot. And they were talking about what happened to Glenn.
Now, I was there. I was part of the conversation. I was present, but my presence made no difference. I didn’t know anything about anything. I couldn’t say a single intelligent word about it. I was present, but my presence made no difference.
But here’s the truth about God. God is present, and His presence makes all the difference because His presence brings His power. God is present, and His power changes things.
God is powerfully present in your life. How does that change things?
For example, how does it change your finances if you understand that God is powerfully present in your finances? A lot of us are struggling and stressed in our finances, and it’s because we’ve been doing it on our own.
When I do things on my own, then the best I can do is the best I can do. I am my own limitation. I am my own lid. When I do things on my own, then the best I can do is the best I can do. And so if I’m doing money my way, then I am my own limitation financially. I am my own financial lid. The best I can do is the best I can do.
But if I understand that God is powerfully present in my finances, then that changes everything. All of a sudden, the best I can do is no longer the best I can do. When God is powerfully present, then the best I can do is the best God can do. And the best God can do is WAY better than the best I can do.
So when I understand that God is powerfully present in my finances, it sets me free to do money His way. I am set free from my self-centered lifestyle that is causing me to spiral deeper and deeper into debt. Because that’s really what debt is. It’s believing that I deserve something even though I can’t pay for it. When you think about it, that really is the height of arrogance and self-centeredness. I deserve this, so I’m getting it even though I can’t pay for it.
And when we do that, it sucks the financial freedom right out of our lives. Instead, we are slaves to our debt. And when you consider that the average American household carries around $16,000 in credit card debt, it’s pretty obvious that most of us are enslaved. And that’s just credit card debt. We didn’t even bring up other debt, like car payments. Some of you are enslaved, and you drove your slavemaster to church today.
And it’s all because we’ve bought into this lie of self-centered living that gives birth to all this debt.
But when God is powerfully present in your finances, it changes everything. You are set free from self-centeredness. You start to live with godly wisdom. And wisdom gives birth to things like budgeting. Planning. Sacrificing. Saving. Preparing. And when you do that stuff, you are set free.
And that freedom leads to generosity. That is the pinnacle of godly finances. When I do money God’s way, I know that my money is no longer about me. It becomes a vehicle for me to be generous.
And I want to tell you this…Connect is full of generous people. Our leadership team met this past week to finalize the budget for 2016, and as we looked over this past year, we were blown away by the generosity of our partners here at Connect. There are some crazy generous people in our church. Last week we talked about how our volunteer culture at Connect is not normal. Our generosity culture is not normal, either. And because of your generosity, we are going big in 2016. Really, really big.
I can’t let the cat out of the bag yet, but I can tell you that you haven’t seen anything yet. Our leaders laid out a vision for 2016 and beyond that is huge. We’re going to go places we’ve never gone before. We’re going to do things we’ve never done before. The vision is huge. But the only reason we can pursue a God-sized vision is because our partners believe in God-sized generosity. They are seeing what happens in their church when they are generous. And they are seeing what happens in their lives when they are generous.
If you aren’t living a generous life, can I suggest a reason why? It’s probably because you don’t really believe that God is powerfully present in your finances. You don’t really believe that if you trust Him and if you obey Him, His presence and His power can change things. But there are a ton of people in this room who will tell you that it can. God’s presence and God’s power changed their finances.
One couple in our Connect group shared their story with our group a couple of weeks ago. They were in trouble. Their marriage was in trouble. They were on the verge of bankruptcy. Things were really, really bad. But they made a decision to submit to God in their finances, and that’s when things began to change. God showed up and His presence and power changed things. It healed their finances, and it healed their marriage. So don’t tell me that God’s presence doesn’t change things.
And money is just one example. God’s powerful presence changes everything in our lives. If there is an area of your life where you’re struggling, where you’ve lost hope, where you’re ready to give up, you need to know that God is there. How does God’s presence and God’s power change things in that area of your life? Because it does. It absolutely does.
God is powerfully present. He is powerfully present in our lives. He is powerfully present in our singleness. He is powerfully present in our marriages. He is powerfully present in our school. He is powerfully present in our jobs. He is powerfully present in our families.
And He is powerfully present in our church. And that changes everything about our church.
Go back to the central verses for this series. In Philippians 1, Paul wrote, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.” (Philippians 1:27-28a, NIV)
We stand firm in one Spirit: the Holy Spirit that God gave us. And because of that, we can move forward in vision and in purpose, without being frightened in any way by those who oppose us.
Now, Paul didn’t say that we won’t be opposed. He just assumes that we will. There will be challenges. There will be obstacles. There will be people who don’t want to see our church live up to our vision and our mission. There will be curveballs and setbacks. And sometimes there will be gut-punches that threaten to knock us to the mat.
But when those things come, we hang onto this truth. We are one. We stand firm together in one Spirit. The Holy Spirit reminds us that God is present and God is powerful. And when we understand that, fear loses all its power over us. Obstacles won’t derail us. Opposition won’t stop us.
We have a vision to love and serve and reach the people in this school district, and beyond. We have a vision for people to find hope and purpose and peace. We have a vision for lost people to become found people.
Our church exists to connect people to Jesus Christ by leading them into a growing relationship with Him. That’s why we’re here, and nothing is going to stop us from carrying out that mission.
So as we move toward our official launch here at WT next week, there is only one question left.
Are you in?
Connect is probably different from other churches you might have experienced in the past. We don’t have members. We don’t do membership here at Connect. Instead of members, we have partners. And it’s more than just a difference in wording. It’s a completely different approach. It’s a completely different attitude. And it brings completely different results.
Here’s the difference. Members have rights. But partners have responsibilities.
Membership tells me that it’s all about me. I’m a member, so I want my perks. My privileges. My rights.
But partnership is different. If I’m a partner, then I know that I’m part of something that is much bigger than myself. And I have a part to play. I have something to contribute. If I don’t do my part, then the vision and the mission suffers.
That’s why we fully embrace partnership here at Connect. It’s because we are one. We are partners who are all in this thing together.
The requirements for partnership at Connect are simple, but they’re very, very important.
First of all, it starts with Jesus, because the very first core value of our church is it’s all about Jesus.
Every partner at Connect has surrendered to Jesus. That means that they follow Jesus. They’ve asked Him to forgive their sins and they’ve made that decision public through baptism. That’s where it starts.
After that, all our partners have signed a commitment that says they will: Give generously. Serve selflessly. Share their story and invite others to church with them. And pray for our church.
That’s what it means to be a partner. If that sounds simple, it is. It’s purposefully simple. But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s small. This is huge. This is what is changing lives in our church and through our church.
And that’s why all that’s left is this one question: are you in?
There are partnership cards and pens under every chair in this room today. Some of you have been checking out Connect for a little while and you know that this is where God is calling you to be. You’re ready to become part of this amazing family. You’re ready to join in an incredible vision and mission. You’re ready to say, “I’m all in!” and become a partner today. If that’s you, grab that card and fill it out.
Some of you are intrigued, but you’re not quite sure yet. Maybe you have some questions. Maybe you’d like to talk to somebody about it. There’s a box you can check on this card to tell us that. And I promise someone will follow up with you this week.
Once you fill out your card, you can turn it in at the Connect Center in the foyer when you’re leaving. Someone from our Connect Team will be there to collect your card. Just look for the green Connect shirt.
But it comes down to this question: are you in?
That same question goes for all of us who are already partners. Maybe you’ve been a partner at Connect for a while now. Are you just as in now as you were when you first made your commitment? Because following Jesus never gets stale. It doesn’t get old. We are on the cusp of a fresh, new adventure. It will have new challenges. We will face new obstacles. But we are not afraid, because God is powerfully present in our church.
That’s why we won’t quit. That’s why we won’t back down. And that’s why we really do believe that the best is yet to come.
God is unchanging. His love is unchanging. His presence is unchanging. His power is unchanging. And that’s why we will always have hope.
If you need someone to come alongside you to talk with you and pray with you, our Care Team is ready to do that. Don’t leave without going to them.
Next week is our official launch in our new location here at the school. And we are ready, because we are one. We are one family, pursuing one mission, empowered by one Spirit.
And so we’re going to close out singing a song that celebrates that. This last song is called We Stand. Now, that’s significant. It’s not I Stand. It’s We Stand.
That’s because we stand together as one. We are one in Christ. We are one in His love. We are one in His grace. And we are one in His power.
So let’s come together as one and let’s blow this place up in worship right now!