Who Will We Be?
by Jack Wald | September 8th, 2019

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I talked in the RICEmail this past week about why we should make September 1 the start of our year. (If you are not receiving the RICEmail, let me know. I want to keep you informed of what is happening in our church community.) January 1 comes in the middle of the year. It is a mid-year break, not a new start. September 1 is the start of a new school year. Summer vacations are over and we step back into the rhythm we follow for most of the year. September 1 is the true start of a new year. (I realize that this works best for the northern hemisphere. Those of you from the southern hemisphere should have your own calendar.)

Here in Rabat we are starting a new year. This is especially true for RIC. We lost a number of people this past spring/summer and are waiting to see who will come to join us for this coming year. We are waiting to see who will volunteer to carry on the ministries of the church. We have lost friends and are hoping new people will arrive who will become our friends. This is the cycle at RIC that we go through every year.

As we develop a new community this September, what kind of community do I hope we will be? Where do we look to see the kind of community we should be?

Should we model ourselves after a church whose pastor has written a book about how to live together in Christ? Should we model ourselves after a church you have come from? Should we model ourselves after the early church? If so, which one? Which dysfunctional church should we model ourselves after?

We are all imperfect and every church is imperfect. If we model ourselves after a church we know or have read about, we will only be as imperfect as that church is. When we look for a model for how we should live in community, we need to go back to the beginning, back to what existed before there was a beginning.

For an eternity before the big bang, before the creation of the universe, the triune God existed in relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit.

Michael Reeves wrote a book titled, Delighting in the Trinity, and in his book he asks the question: What was God doing before creation? His answer is that before creation the triune God existed in relationships of love,

“Jesus tells us explicitly in John 17:24. ‘Father,’ he says, ‘you loved me before the creation of the world.’ And that is the God revealed by Jesus Christ. Before he ever created, before he ever ruled the world, before anything else, this God was a Father loving his Son.”… “God is, before all things, a Father . . .“The Spirit stirs up the delight of the Father in the Son and the delight of the Son in the Father, inflaming their love and so binding them together in ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ (2 Cor 13:14).”

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existed for an eternity before the creation of the universe in a harmony of love and unity.

In this relationship, the triune God has needs that are perfectly met within the relationships of the Trinity. Ellis Potter, in his book titled Three Theories of Everything, points out that we have needs to be seen, to be heard, to make a difference, and to be wanted. We want to be recognized, respected, and honored. We want to belong, to be affirmed, and valued.

These are not signs of weakness. These are not human frailties. We are created with these needs because we are created in the image of God who has these same needs. The difference between our needs and the needs of our creator is that the needs of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are perfectly met within the relationships of the Trinity while we are created with needs that are unmet without a relationship with Jesus. God does not need us but we need God. God wants us but does not need us.

Because the focus in the triune God is outward: the Father loves and encourages the Son and Spirit; the Son supports and blesses the Father and the Spirit; the Spirit values and gives glory to the Father and the Son. Each member of the trinity submits to the others in the trinity.

It is because of this outward focus that we were created. We were created to be in relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit. We were created to delight in the relationship Father, Son, and Spirit enjoyed for an eternity before the universe was created.

We were created to live in community, loving and caring for each other, supporting each other – just as Father, Son, and Spirit love, care for, and support each other.

Jesus prayed in his High Priestly prayer in John 17 (John 17:22)
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one

We each need to choose to follow Jesus, but our following of Jesus is meant to be in community, not as individuals. This is why we are on earth: we are given new life as we are born into the family of God. We are making our way through this life, along with our brothers and sisters in Christ, being prepared to live in eternal fellowship with God.

So who should we look to as we look for a model for our community in RIC? We should look to the relationship of the Trinity. How do we know what that community looks like? We can look to the lists of behavior Paul encourages us to have in our communities.

(Philippians 2:1–5)
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Paul is writing about behaviors in the relationship of the triune God. We are meant to exhibit these behaviors because this is the mindset of Christ Jesus.

Paul writes in Colossians (Colossians 3:12–14)
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Wouldn’t you like to be a member of a community that was like this? Where the people around you were compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forgiving, and loving?

In his Galatians letter Paul talks about destructive behaviors. (Galatians 5:19–21)
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

Why are these behaviors so destructive? Because they destroy the community we are meant to live within. Look at this list. What effect does hatred have on a relationship? Or fits of rage? Or factions or envy?

Instead, Paul writes, let the fruit of the Spirit abound in your life.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

A few years ago I preached a sermon about hell and I described hell as a place with the absence of the fruit of the Spirit – a place where there is no love, no joy, no kindness, no faithfulness, no gentleness or self-control. When you envision a world like that, it is so much more horrible than any metaphorical tongues of flame licking at your feet.

These New Testament lists of behaviors teach us how to live in community. They show us how to model ourselves after the relationships between Father, Son, and Spirit.

We are created to live in community. Most of us are not living in a country we will call our home. For most of us, RIC is a temporary church home – but the reality is that all of our church homes are temporary. We are pilgrims moving through this life and wherever we are, we need to encourage and support those who are with us.

So let me run briefly through characteristics of our RIC community that I would love to see in this coming year.

  1. I want to see us become a vibrant, thriving community. Some cultures are better at living in community than others. Those of us from Western cultures have a high value of individualism that works against community. We are here for just a few years and then move on to another country, another church, and can be comfortable with more superficial relationships. But regardless of what culture we have come from, we have a deep need for community that is not satisfied by superficial relationships. We need to have a strong desire for a vibrant, loving community.
  2. I want us to be accepting of each other, not judgmental. One of the barriers to community is that we are fearful of being judged if the truth about us is discovered. We are all broken people. Sometimes this is obvious to others; sometimes this is well hidden, well disguised.

I have known some very impressive people at RIC over the years, people who have risen in their profession, people who seem to have it all put together. But when they are honest with me and trust me enough to be real with me, I discover the deep wounds that have been covered over.

We hide very well. To use a trivial example, it was not until I was in my forties that I finally accepted the fact that I was an adult. It seemed like everyone else my age was an adult, but I was only pretending to be an adult. This is not just me. Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, wrote, “I believe that everyone else my age is an adult whereas I am merely in disguise.”

Eugene O’Neill, an American playwright who knew a lot about being broken wrote, “Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.”

We are all broken but we hide our brokenness from each other because we fear being rejected if the truth were known. We all need grace and mercy in our lives. We all need people we can be honest with who will love us, not judge us. I pray that all of us in the RIC community will develop friendships were we can experience grace and not judgment.

  1. I want us to be affirming and encouraging of each other.

We need acceptance and we also need affirmation and encouragement. Once again, this is not a human frailty. Father, Son, and Spirit also need affirmation and encouragement. How was Jesus able to respond so lovingly to people who rejected him? How was Jesus able to draw Saul into his kingdom after all the things Saul said and did as he persecuted the followers of Jesus? How does Jesus continue to reach out and pursue people who have worked so actively against him?

Jesus is loved, encouraged, and affirmed by the Father and by the Spirit. He is secure because he is so well loved.

Why do we shut down and push people away when they reject us, betray us, work against us? We are not secure in being loved. We are filled with inner doubts, inner insecurities. So we build up a wall around us to protect ourselves and to present a better image of ourselves than we really are.

In a community of brothers and sisters who love us, encourage us, forgive us, give us another chance, we can begin to let down those walls. A loving and encouraging community is a healing community.

  1. I want us be vulnerable.

In a loving community we can be vulnerable. We do not have to defend ourselves. We do not have to protect ourselves by hiding who we are. We can be open and vulnerable which is necessary if we are going to be healed of the pains in our life. I want RIC to be a place where wounded people can come to be loved and find healing.

Pierce Pettis has a song titled, Crying Ground.

No need to hide what’s going on
Your story’s all over town
But it’s all right if everything is all wrong
Just come on down to the crying ground

Dark skies, feels like rain
Why, look at all those thunder clouds
I’ll bet that dam is just about to break
Better come on down to the crying ground

Come on down to the crying ground
Let your tears be holy water
Rolling down your face, ain’t no disgrace
Come on down to the crying ground

I can see you want to steal away
Where you will never be found
But sometimes everybody feels this way
So come on down to the crying ground

Come on down to the crying ground
Let your tears be holy water
Rolling down your face, ain’t no disgrace
Come on down to the crying ground

No need to tell me what you’re going through
Cause, sister, I’ve been
right where you are now
You know exactly what you need to do
So come on down, down, down. down…

We are talking holy water
Rolling down your face, ain’t no disgrace
Come on down to the crying ground

I want our community at RIC to be a crying ground where we can share our pain, be loved and encouraged, and find healing for our pain.

  1. I want us to be authentic.

Little children play pretend. They may dress up in adult clothes and pretend to be nurses, businessmen, policemen, soldiers. They pretend they are parents caring for little children.

Adults continue to play pretend. A couple can be fighting and arguing all week long. On the way to church there is a cold silence. Then they arrive, park the car, get out, and walk into church with big smiles. Adults are very good at pretending.

The problem with this is that our pretending blocks what God wants to do in our lives. This kind of pretending is really blocking out reality and that blocks out God as well as other people. We may look better in the eyes of other people but God grieves because he cannot work in us when we are so closed.

If our community is accepting, not judgmental, affirming and encouraging of each other – then we can be vulnerable and live authentic lives with each other.

This is the kind of community I long and hope for. I know we are imperfect and our community will be just as imperfect as we are, but I am reaching for the stars. I am reaching for how it will be in our eternal home.

Our community will develop as the weeks and months go by. I will work, pray, and preach to this end.

There is one final characteristic of a community I want us to have.

  1. I want us to be a community that volunteers, using our gifts to build each other up into the image of Christ.

A community of followers of Jesus thrives when love, peace, forgiveness, patience, and all the other positive qualities of the New Testament are being experienced. In this atmosphere, people use the gifts God has given them to build up and encourage each other. People volunteer to help in the ministries of the church.

Paul writes in Ephesians that God gave spiritual gifts to each member of his family so that the body of Christ may be built up into unity in the faith. (Ephesians 4:11–16)
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Most of us are here at RIC for only a few years, but in those years, each person is very much needed. We are at different stages of life, have different responsibilities, but we are all needed and we depend on each other to use our gifts for the benefit of each other.

There are many programs and ministries we can have this year that will be a blessing to us but we will need volunteers in order to do what we want to do.

There is nursery and Kids’ Church during our morning service. There is a youth group for those who are junior high and high school age. There are fellowship opportunities for us. There are weekly bible studies and prayer meetings. There is a Marriage Course and Parenting Courses that have been a great blessing to people in the past.

RIC is not a church with a large pastoral staff. The ministries of RIC are dependent on volunteers. If no one volunteers, the ministries are limited in what they can do.

Please pray with me for the life and vitality of our community.

Let me finish by reading some of the scriptures that were read at the beginning.

John 15:12–13
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Galatians 6:2
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Hebrews 10:24–25
let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

1 Peter 4:8–10
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

1 Peter 2:9–10
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.


Benediction

Ecclesiastes 4:9–12
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.