A New Day part 2
Connecting
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
September 21, 2008



Two weeks ago, I took the time here in our worship celebration to talk with you about what the name Sunrise means. We call this church Sunrise Wesleyan Church. It is a church, we’re part of the Wesleyan denomination, but where did the “Sunrise” come from. And I told you about how when Shera and I were first planning to begin this church, we envisioned a church that offered a new day for people who had been disillusioned by the Church, a ray of hope shining into the lives of those who have never encountered Jesus before, and a fresh start for those who have been in bondage to their past. Sunrise is a new day, it’s a ray of hope, it’s a fresh start.

Last Sunday evening, we discovered how this is a new day for Sunrise. At our Dreams & Dessert Night, we unveiled a brand new mission statement for Sunrise. Three words that every one of you can remember…

Our Mission:
Connecting… Equipping… Empowering!

That’s it. That’s what we’re here to do. We’re here to connect people with God and with others, we’re here to equip people for growth and for service, and we’re here to empower people to make a difference through mission and ministry. Connecting, Equipping, Empowering.

And we even handed out magnets just to make sure this “sticks”. Who needs one? Paul’s going to hand them out…

Okay. Well, this morning, we’re going to focus in on the first of the three… Connecting.


We are here to connect you…

What does it mean for us to connect? Who are we connecting to? Why is it even important? If this is part of our mission, what are we talking about?

Well, what I want to do this morning is take a look at three different aspects of connecting. Starting with the most important. We are here first and foremost to connect you…


A.    With God

Isn’t that what you hunger for the most? Deep down, isn’t that the cry of your heart? Don’t you want to know where you came from and why you exist? Don’t you want to know the One who created you? Don’t you just hunger to know God?

In the Old Testament, there’s a Psalm that sums this up beautifully. A Psalm is kind of a song or a poem, and the first words of Psalm 42 says… Read it aloud with me…

Psalm 42:1 (NLT)
As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.

Isn’t that a great word picture? “As much as the deer pants for water and is drawn toward it… as much as it hungers for it and thirsts for it and needs it… that’s what my desire for You is like, God.” That’s what the writer was saying there. That was His desire. That’s my desire. And I bet deep down that’s your desire, too. Maybe you’re aware of it, maybe you’re not. But within you there’s just something that craves to know God.

And the great thing is, that desire doesn’t flow just one way. It’s not just that you desire to know God; He also desires to know you, too. Yes, He already knows everything there is to know about you, but He also desires to know you personally within the context of relationship.

Ephesians 1:4 (Msg)
Long before He laid down earth's foundations, He had us in mind, and settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by His love.

Circle the phrase “the focus of His love”. He wants to express His love toward you. That’s His desire. In fact, you may want to write this down in your notes…

I was created to be loved by God.

God loves you and His deep desire is to know you and to love you. He wants to connect with you.


That’s God’s desire to connect with you; let’s get back to our desire to connect with Him. There’s a verse on the banner behind me that I’m also putting up on the screen here. And the context for this verse is this: Jesus was asked one day what the greatest commandment was. And this was His response. Read it aloud with me…

Matthew 22:37-38 (NIV)
“Love the Lord your God... This is the first and greatest commandment.”

Circle “first” and “greatest.” That’s our primary objective. To know God. To love God. To connect with God. God says, “Above everything else, here’s what you’re supposed to do in life: you’re supposed to learn to love Me, because I made you to know you and love you, and I want you to know Me and love Me back.”

In the Old Testament book of Hosea, chapter six, verse six, God says…

Hosea 6:6 (NLT)
I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.

God desires for you to know Him. You see, the fact is God has very, very deep feelings for you. Did you know that? Some of you think God is too busy for you. You might think, “He doesn’t care about me. God doesn’t even know my name.” But the truth is, He’s never taken his eyes off you. God is intimately acquainted with every area of your life. And the Bible says He has extremely deep feelings for you.

He is a God who is passionate about His relationship with you. He longs to know you. He longs for you to know Him. And God doesn’t want you to know Him out of duty. He wants you to desire Him. He doesn’t want ritual and religion and rules and regulation. He wants a relationship. And He’s passionate about it! And He says, “I want you to love Me as much as I love you.”


There’s a survey that’s been conducted over the past couple of years of hundreds of churches and thousands of people attending those churches. I know some of you have already read about this survey and some of the things it revealed, and we’re going to be talking about it more next week.

But one of the things they were able to do in this survey was identify where a person was in their relationship with God. And they basically broke it down like this. You’d start with a continuum with people “far from God” way over here on the left, and way over here on the right you’d have people who were “fully devoted followers.” And then along the continuum you’d have four different groups of people.

Exploring Christ – Just kind of checking things out. Maybe you believe in God but you’re not sure what that means. Your faith isn’t really a significant part of your life.

Growing in Christ – You’ve made up your mind, you believe in Jesus, you want to get to know Him better, and you’re working out how to do that.

Close to Christ – If you’re in this group, you feel really close to Christ and you pray regularly and seek His guidance daily. That sounds pretty good, but still one more group…

Christ-Centered – this is when your relationship with Jesus is the most important relationship in your life. It’s when you stop thinking about your life as being your life; it’s His life. You live for Him.

Now, you’ll notice that the level of “connection” increases as you move across this continuum. The more you edge toward being a fully devoted follower, the stronger your connection with God. Until you get to the point where God isn’t just IN your life; He IS your life.

When we talk about connecting people with God, that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about you moving from wherever you are right now and moving toward the right. How do you do that? Well, we’re going to talk about that next week when we talk about Equipping.


So Sunrise exists first and foremost to connect you with God. It’s the first and greatest commandment, and it’s our mandate… to connect people with God.

But that’s not all we’re about. It’s not all we mean when we talk about connecting. We’re not just here to connect you with God. We’re also here to connect you with each other.


B.    With other followers of Christ

Why is this important? Because we are a family. All of us who are followers of Christ have been adopted into His spiritual family. In a very real sense, we are brothers and sisters.

Ephesians 1:5 (NLT)
God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.

The entire Bible is the story of God building a family. That’s what it is all about. God is building a family for Himself that is going to last not just here on earth, but forever and ever and ever in eternity. It is an eternal family.

That’s why we refer to Heaven as being home. If you are a follower of Christ, when you die you’re not just going to a new location, you’re going home to be with your eternal spiritual family.

But it’s not just a family for the then and there. It’s a family for the here and now. Whether you’re close to your biological family or not, you can be closely connected with your spiritual family. In fact, God deeply desires for you to be connected.
 
1 Peter 2:17b (Msg)
Love your spiritual family.

You see, your spiritual family is going to go on forever. And so you’re going to spend more time with your spiritual family than you do with your physical family. So God wants you to learn to love them.

Now, why does He want us to learn to love them? Well, here are three reasons.

First, it makes us more like God, because God is love. If you’re becoming more godly, you’re becoming more loving. If you’re becoming more Christ-like, you’re becoming more loving.

Second, he wants His children to learn to get along. Think about it like thise: Are any of you parents? You know you want your kids to get along with each other, right? Well, God desires for His spiritual family to get along. He wants His children to be connected through a bond of love.

And number three, it’s practice for eternity. One of the things you’re going to do in heaven, in eternity, is you’re going to love God. And the other thing you’re going to do is you’re going to love the other believers that are there. It is going to be a place of love. So God says, “I want you to practice now learning to love other believers.”

1 John 4:21 (NLT)
And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.

And in a letter, the apostle Paul wrote this to his apprentice Timothy…

1 Timothy 3:14-15 (NCV)
Although I hope I can come to you soon, I am writing these things to you now. Then, even if I am delayed, you will know how to live in the family of God. That family is the church of the living God, the support and foundation of the truth.

In your notes, would you circle the word “family” and circle the word “church,” and kind of draw a line between them -- because the church is a family. It is not a building; it is not an institution; it is not an organization; it is not a club. It is a family. A lot of people say, “Well, I’m going to go to church,” as if church is a place you go to. That’s not correct. The Church is not a place you go to. Church is a family you belong to. Big difference. It’s more than a building, more than a service. It is family that we are to belong to.

Another word the Bible uses is the word “Body”. The Church is called the “Body of Christ.” Just like the various members of your own body are intimately connected to each other, we are to be connected to each other in the Body of Christ.

Romans 12:5 (NLT)
We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

VIDEO – SERMONVIDEOS.COM “THE BODY”

So what does this mean? It means we experience life together. It means we love together. It means we serve together. It means we grow together.

You see, nobody knows everything. You know some things I don’t know and I just might know some things thing you don’t know. And the person next to you knows some things neither of us knows. So we’re to share our experience with others. Think of all the wealth of knowledge sitting here just in this room, and how much we could learn from each other if we just make the time to get together. Think about how we can benefit from each other’s experiences and how much support we can receive from one another.

Galatians 6:2 (NLT)
Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.

We’re not meant to face our problems alone. We’re to share them so that we can help each other through them. The Bible says…

Romans 12:15 (NLT)
Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

So we can celebrate with each other in the good times, and mourn with each other in the not-so-good times. That’s what it means to be connected as part of this spiritual family. As Jesus said…

John 13:35 (NLT)
“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

You know, you hear some people say, “Well, I’m a Christian, but I don’t want to belong to any church.” That just doesn’t make sense. The church is where you live out what it means to be a Christian. That’s like saying, “I’m a hockey player, but I don’t want to be a part of any team.” It doesn’t work. Or “I’m a tuba player, but I don’t want to be a part of an orchestra.” A tuba player without an orchestra sounds pretty funny. It’s like a bee without a hive, or a soldier without a platoon. A Christian without a church family is an orphan. God meant for us to be a part of a family.

Ephesians 2:19 (CEV)
You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God.

Underline the word, “belongs.” The Christian life is not just a matter of believing. It is matter of belonging. You and I must choose to belong. God wants you to make the choice to be a part of His family. When you were born, you automatically became a part of your biological family. But you have to choose to belong to the family of God, the church. It is a choice.

Have you made that choice? If not, why not? What’s holding you back? Do you have some questions you need answered? Do you have reservations you have to get past? Do you have some pain you’re trying to deal with? Have churches or Christians let you down in the past, so now you’re blaming God?

You know, we’re a family, but we’re an imperfect family. We do make mistakes, we do fail, and people do get hurt. If you’ve been hurt by Christians or by the Church, let me apologize on behalf of all of us. I’m sorry for whatever happened.

And it’s my hope and prayer that you can move past the hurt and find true meaning and purpose in a relationship with God and become a valued member of His spiritual family.

In fact, if you’re not part of His family, why not consider joining right now? He welcomes you to do it. All it takes is for you to decide to follow Him from this point forward. You can do it with a simple prayer like this…

“God, I’m sorry for putting You off and rejecting You for so long. I’m sorry for trying to live life my way and not Your way. I want to change that starting right now. I want to experience your love and forgiveness, I accept Your free gift of eternal life, and I choose to join your family. Thank you for welcoming me in.”

That’s it. It’s that simple. That’s the start of your journey as part of His family. If you’ve started on that journey this morning, then you need to let someone know about it. You can tell the person you came with this morning, you can tell me, you can mark it on the back of your communication card… but let somebody know. We want to be able to pray for you and support you.


Alright, we’re here to connect people. We’re here to connect you with God, and we’re here to connect you with your spiritual family. But there’s one more component of this “Connecting”…


C.    With those far from God

You know, Christians have a bad reputation for being exclusive… for being cliquish. At times that reputation has been earned, at other times it’s just been a stereotype. But we still have to face it.

You see, here’s the thing. We just talked about connecting with God and about how important that it. It’s our primary focus. And we just talked about connecting with out spiritual family, which can become a very comfortable thing for us. To the point that we never move beyond it. We never venture outside it.

But if we allow that to happen, we’re letting God down and we’re missing out on fulfilling His purpose for us.

I believe it was something I read by Rick Warren once where he pointed out that there are only two possible reasons that God leaves us here after we choose to follow Him. I mean, when you become a Christ-follower, He could immediately take you to be with Him in Heaven. Why doesn’t He do that? Well, there are only two things you can do here that you can’t do in Heaven.

You can sin here, but there won’t be any sin in Heaven. That’s the first thing. And the second thing is, you can connect with those who are far from God here.

Now, which of those two do you think is why you’re still here?

We need to step outside of the comfort of our spiritual family. We need to venture across the room to reach out with a hand of friendship to those who are far from God. We need to see them as God sees them. We need to love them as God loves them. He was willing to die for them.

Listen to what Jesus said…

Acts 1:8 (NLT)
“And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Love demands that I move beyond my comfort zone to people with different backgrounds, different education, different languages, different economics. Our message about Jesus has such eternal consequences—heaven and hell—that we must be willing to risk anything to get that message out.

And that means we have to connect. We have to find ways to connect with people who are far from God. Look at what Paul said in the New Testament. Read it aloud with me…

1 Corinthians 9:22 (NLT)
I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.

Christians are called to build bridges, not walls. We have to find common ground so we can connect.

And I think to do this we need to first of all get the right mindset. Because it’s so easy for us to start thinking that it’s us and them. It’s us who are close to God and it’s them who are far from God.

But the truth is, it’s not us and them. It’s just us. We’re all sinners in need of God’s grace. We’re all people who are lost without God. We’re all in this together. The only difference is that those of us who have discovered Jesus have found the way to God. And we have to connect with others and show them the way, too.

That’s all I’m going to say about that right now. We’re going to talk more about this in a couple weeks when we talk about empowering.


But the first part of our mission is Connecting. Here at Sunrise we are here to connect people with God, we’re here to connect with each other in the family of God, and we’re here to connect with those who are still far from God so that they can connect with Him, too.

 

 

Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2008 SunriseOnline.ca