Upsidedown Living: Missional Relationships

In 2001, director Steven Soderbergh gave us a visual reminder through film of a life and leadership principle: “Relationships Matter”. Here is a conversation that took place between two characters, Rusty & Danny:

Rusty: You’d need at least a dozen guys doing a combination of jobs.
Danny: Like what do you think?
Rusty: Off the top of my head, I’d say you’re looking at a Boesky, a Jim Brown, a Miss Daisy, two Jethros, and a Leon Spinks, not to mention the biggest Ella Fitzgerald ever!

These characters and conversation took place in the popular movie “Ocean’s Eleven”. George Clooney played the idea man, Brad Pitt was the pro, Matt Damon was the protégé, and Julia Roberts was the wild card. The movie struck a chord with people showing relationships matter that the cast reunited in 2004 and in 2007 for Ocean’s 12 and 13 with new faces each.[1]

There is an unmistakable reality in life that friendships and relationships shape our lives. Relationships are the glue that holds society together and are the working parts to make things work. Without relationships the world would be a lonely place – literally. God has designed the world for relationship and community. It is so hard-wired into our psyche that we hardly can identify ourselves without others – “I’m so and so’s father, mom, friend, etc.” Even more, we look to others to affirm our identity or somehow we feel inadequate or incomplete when we go without or hear a negative response.

In this message I hope to show that relationships are central but there must be key ingredients to our relationships. Supremely, the gospel must be at the forefront of everything – it is our identity, our passion and our hope.

Missional relationships have gospel humility (2:1-6).

In these two chapters Paul becomes more personal. He reveals things about himself and his desires for the Thessalonian believers. Those with a heart for ministry will resonate with Paul in that he was moved with affection for the people he served. Yet, it did not come easy. Paul and the Thessalonians endured suffering and strong opposition both from outside (unbelievers) and inside (religious Jews) Christianity. Paul shows his vulnerability by reminding them that their relationship was not a failure (empty or without effect/profit). Despite all the challenges their relationship resulted in spiritual fruit. Lives were impacted (2:9-10) and the church was growing.

 No one wants a failed relationship. Paul’s relationship was productive because of their gospel humility. It was seen in 3 ways:

1)     They relied on God in suffering. It would have been easy to give up but they chose to endure and dared to speak of the gospel’s power with the help of God.

2)     They evaluated the motives of their actions. They weren’t serving to gain attention or for personal gain but to please God – who knows and tests hearts. They avoided flattery and greed. They simply showed authenticity and vulnerability, which is the attraction of the gospel.

Many Christians do not evaluate their motives. They serve to get their name mentioned or to receive the benefits. Paul shows this is in direct contrast to the gospel. He revealed his vulnerabilities. Christianity must regain gospel humility and remind people that ‘it’s ok to not be ok’. God is not looking for perfect people but problem people. He came for the sick not the healthy (Luke 5:31-32). The power of the gospel/God is that though it’s ok to not be ok, He loves you too much to let you stay there. His grace brings you into fellowship with Him and into a right relationship with others. More will be said about this in the next point.

Missional relationships have gospel community (2:7-3:13)

The growth of Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonians believers was due to the fact that they shared a mutual purpose – glorifying God and advancing the gospel. They sought each others spiritual growth and edification. Paul was delighted to share his life [ψυχας – entire selves, mind, body, soul] with the Thessalonians. He was like a parent investing into their life, sacrificing and giving everything so they could grow and sustain health. Note the verbs in verse 12: encouraging, comforting, urging. These are the actions of gospel community working and living together for the worthiness of God who calls us into his kingdom and glory. The communal sanctification of each other is our hope, our joy and our crown which we will glory in Christ when He returns (2:19-20).

Paul continues this idea of communal sanctification in sending Timothy “to strengthen and encourage” faith so that the Thessalonian believers do not become unsettled by life’s trials. 

 Not everyone has had the privilege or benefit of such productive relationships inside the church as Paul and the Thessalonians. In fact, some have had quite the opposite experience. And as a result they left the church. They are what is known as the “de-churched”, as those who are put off by organized religion or expressing one’s faith through community. The thinking is that faith is a personal experience that can be lived and expressed without others. Some even go so far as to say they love Jesus/God but they hate the church – a churchless Christianity.

 Indeed, there is plenty to hate about the church:

There are the people. Churches have some of the most obnoxious, annoying people on the planet. They are arrogant and prideful, mean-spirited and selfish. The de-churched are those who are not only burned out by church but those who have been burned and emotionally bitten by Christians. They’ve been yelled at, criticized and judged and pushed out the door, feeling like they don’t belong.

 There are the rules. Churches have lots of rules typically created by traditions that no one remembers how they got started. There are bylaws, bulletins, budgets and backdoor gossips. The rules have to do with anything from dress apparel, decision making to who can do what, where, when and how.

 There are the sermons. Churches have boring, irrelevant sermons. Preachers telling stupid jokes that if you get on email you simply delete. They share stories and Scriptures that barely relate and have no point. Or if there is a point it isn’t from the Bible but just the preacher or churches opinion (see rules). They’re too long and too lame.

 There is the music. Churches have interesting tastes of music to say the least. And if the style fits people want to argue and complain about it.

 There is the food. Churches are known for having lots of meetings and having lots of food at those meetings. These are famously called “pot-lucks” or in other words, mystery meals. You don’t know who made it or sometimes even know what it is or what is in it. But one thing is for sure, you come away full!

 The problem is that we can rail and rage about the church until Jesus comes, but that will never do any good. In fact, it is an offense to Jesus. You see, you cannot love Jesus and hate His bride. The church is Christ’s bride for whom He gave His life. The Christian is not called to live in isolation of others. To do so is to claim a moral superiority whereas the gospel humbles everyone. Therefore, the Christian is called to engage in gospel community, confessing our short-comings for the sake of growing together in Christ-likeness.

 Indeed, there is plenty to love about the church:

There are the people. People who sincerely love God and love you. They serve without ever being thanked or seeking attention. They give their time, talents and treasure with incredible generosity.

There are the rules. People plan, organize and communicate systems and structures for how gospel ministry can be sustainable, safe and satisfying to God and people.

 There are the sermons. Preachers who spend countless hours studying Scripture and praying to be certain their words are accurate to what God would want shared with the people of God. They read lots of dead authors writings and brainstorm fresh communication tools so that their message is clear and easy to understand. Above all, they want people to truly know God.

There is the music. The content of the songs is more important than the style it is played. The words recall the person of Jesus and inspires everyone to sing. The instrumentalists may not be perfect but they have prepared and are playing unto the Lord which inspires everyone to focus on God’s presence rather than human performance.

There is the food. The taste of meals that cause you to savor the moment. Sometimes the food can be so simple as a cracker wafer and juice cup to remind you of what Christ has done. The food becomes secondary in pointing to what is primary.

The church is bruised and battered, flawed, old and tired. But that’s no reason to turn our back on her. In fact, it’s a call to love each other more dearly – share our lives with each other – , care more generously, serve more full and pray that much harder for revival. This is the gospel; that doesn’t leave us broken but enters to heal, forgive and reconcile us to God and others.

 TAKING IT HOME

ð     Where are you in your relationship with Jesus? Have you started? Is there something hindering your sweet fellowship? What is God telling you to do about it?

ð     Where are you in your relationship with the church? Go through the list of hate/love the church. What is God telling you to do in response?


[1] Illustration idea from Leonard Sweet, “11 Indispensable Relationships You Can’t Be Without”. p.15.

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