Friday, June 13, 2008

Make Us Connected

Our church is participating in a movement called ONE PRAYER. 1,400 churches from 25 countries will be praying, fasting, giving, searching, and listening together as we hear pastors voice what would be their one prayer if they could only pray one thing for the Church around the world. Check it out at

Here is my ONE PRAYER.

KNU International English Church
June 15, 2008

ONE PRAYER SERIES: “Make Us Connected”

John 15:1-14; Ephesians 4:1-6, 11-16; Deuteronomy 16:11-16

Last fall Ron had the great idea that the KNU international professors should form a basketball team to compete in the student sports festival. It sounded like a great idea at the beginning, and to be honest, we thought we really might win. Unfortunately, we got crushed. Alas, we just aren’t 20 anymore.

Well, before the big game, Gordon, Ron, and I decided to get together to practice. We were playing some 21.[1] On one play, there was a loose ball, and Ron and Gordon both went for it. Gordon and Ron collided shoulder to shoulder. Ron and I didn’t think it was that bad until we saw Gordon sitting on the ground holding his shoulder, rocking back and forth, and praying, “Oh Jesus, Oh Jesus, Oh Jesus.”

I said, “What did you do to him, Ron?”

Ron was like, “I didn’t do anything, man. We just ran into each other.”

Gordon was praying: “God, make it go back in. Oh Jesus, just let it go back in. Oh Jesus, please just make it go back in place.” Somehow that little bump had dislocated Gordon’s shoulder.

We helped Gordon stand up and supported him as we walked to a van to take him to the hospital. I have never seen someone scream with pain like that. Gordon made all kinds of faces that looked like they were straight out of a cartoon or a Jim Kerry movie. After three hospitals, several shots for pain, lots of pushing and pulling, and a whole lot of screaming, the doctors were finally able to get Gordon’s shoulder connected with the rest of his body.

As I began thinking about this ONE PRAYER series, it didn’t take me long to decide that my one prayer would be: “Lord, make us connected.” We – the church – are “the body of Christ,” but we are a disconnected body. We have disconnected Christians and disconnected churches strewn all over our world. We are a bunch of bones out of joint. We are stomachs and ears and toes scattered all over the hills. All of us – and all of the world – are suffering because we are disconnected.

So, I pray, “Lord, make us connected.” In Ephesians and Colossians, Paul. talks about the body of Christ being held together “ligament and sinews.” Somehow, we’ve lost the ligaments and sinews that hold us together. Somehow, we need God to re-form these basic connections in us.

But what would that look like? What kind of connections do we need?

First of all, we need to be connected to God. Jesus talked about this in our Gospel Lesson for today. Yoni, would you please read John 15:1-14 ?

Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. A fundamental part of plant life is that branches have to stay connected. The branch only has life because the life of the vine is flowing through it. If the branch gets disconnected, it dies.

A few years ago, my computer stopped working. It wouldn’t even turn on. Nothing. No response. I pushed the button a thousand times. I checked the cords; everything was plugged in. I checked the power strip; it was working. Finally, I called the computer company for technical assistance. The techie guy who answered the phone said, “Take out all of the plugs and plug them back in again.”

I said, “I already checked the plugs. It must be something else.”

He said, “Do it again. Take every plug out and plug it back in again.”

I was sure he was crazy. I huffed around, bending behind my desk unplugging and replugging everything. “OK, I’ve plugged everything in again. This isn’t going to work.” I pushed the button. It worked.

I hate it when that happens! The computer guy explained that sometimes the plugs just get out of place – a bump here or there, and the circuit gets disconnected.

Sometimes, it’s easy for us to get disconnected from God. We’re still doing the same things. Maybe we’re still going to church, still reading the Bible (a little), still praying (or trying to pray), but we’re disconnected. The life of God is fading out of us. The Holy Sacredness of life is gone.

It might be time for you to check the plugs. Go back to the basics. Remember God’s basic commitment to you: “I will love you always and forever, no matter what. My grace is enough for you.” Renew your basic commitment to God: “I will follow wherever you lead me. I will live out the love you have put in my heart.” Figure out what helps you connect with God. We’re all different, and we all connect with God in different ways. Do what helps you connect.

Lord, make us connected to You!

But we also need to be connected to each other. No one lives alone. No human is an island. We are all in this together, especially in “the body of Christ.”

Yoni is going to come read our epistle lesson: Ephesians 4:1-6, 11-16.

I love this passage. Paul says, “live a life worthy of your calling,” and then he calls us to live deeply connected lives. Our calling as the people of God is to be deeply connected with each other. “There is one body and one Spirit … There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all” (Eph. 4:4-6). If we want God, we need each other.

A body is only as healthy as the connection of its parts. We are only as healthy as our connection with the body of Christ. Some of have been hurt by the Church, and we are frustrated with the body of Christ, so this connecting-with-the-body is hard. We’re too afraid of getting hurt or overcommitted to risk a deep connection. Let me suggest three basic ligaments of connection that might help.

1. Active love. In Romans 12, Paul says: “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them … Love each other with genuine affection … When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality” (12:9-11). We spend so much time pretending to love each other. We come, we smile, we go. That is not a real connection. That is not a ligament that supports anything. The connections of the body of Christ that mature us and grow us are the ones where we are actually loving each other in real actions and real words and real time. If we will just open up our hearts and our homes to each other, we will be amazed.

2. Find your job. Paul said, Christ “makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Eph. 4:16). Figure out what your “own special work” is, and do it.

This will do lots of cool things. Your acts of service will help other people in our church, and it will help you. You will become more connected to the body. You’ll get to know the people you’re serving with and the people you help. You’ll get the satisfaction of making the world a better place. And, you’re likely to feel less critical and judgmental of the church because you’ll be part of the team.

3. The third ligament that will hold us together is honest communication. Paul says, “We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ” (Eph. 4:15). We aren’t usually honest with each other. We hardly ever open our hearts to a friend and say, “Oh, man, I really need help here. I’m really struggling with this.” We hardly ever go to someone and say, “Hey, I’m really concerned about you. I think you might be going in the wrong way.” But this is the way of Christ. This kind of honest and humble communication is a basic ligament that holds us together.

If you have frustrations about this church or the Church, you’re not alone. When someone comes to me and complains about this or that, now I’m trying to say, “I often have the same frustrations you do. Would you please work with us to make the church better?” Near the end of his book, Irresistible Revolution, Shane Clairborne says: “If you have the gift of frustration and the deep sense that the world is a mess, thank God for that; not everyone has that gift of vision. It also means that you have a responsibility to lead us in new ways. Recognizing that something is wrong is the first step toward changing the world.”[2] Honest communication is key to the health of the church. If you’re frustrated, the Christian way is usually deeper in not farther out.

I’m really pumped about the work our Planning Team is doing. We listened to you at the Dream Session, and you asked for more small groups, honest accountability groups, and groups to help you actually live out the gospel. This kind of honest communication will help form the ligaments and sinews that hold us together.

Lord, make us connected to You as You make us connected to each other!

Finally, we need to be connected to outsiders. Jesus relentlessly pursued outsiders: the poor, the out-and-out sinners, the outcasts, the traitors. He left no one out. He even included the people who excluded him. If we follow Jesus, we do the same. If we don’t, then maybe we aren’t really following Jesus.

Jews have three basic festivals they celebrate every year. The first is the Passover Festival, and it’s only for insiders, people committed to the Jewish way. But the other two festivals are different. Yoni is going to read about these two: Deuteronomy 16:9-15.

What did you notice there? What were some of the words or themes you heard repeated? …….

The first theme I noticed was joyful celebration. These are supposed to be huge parties. God commands the people to celebrate with great joy! OK, if you insist.

The second theme that stands out to me is inclusiveness. Did you notice the guest list? “Celebrate with your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites from your towns, and the foreigners, orphans, and widows living among you” (Deut. 16:11). Well, that pretty much includes everyone. No one was left out. This party of God’s people was supposed to include the people usually on the outside. Jesus teaches us to live like this all the time, not just at special parties twice a year. But, two really great “outsiders” parties every year would be a really good start.

Shane Clairborne is dead right when he says, “the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor. … I truly believe that when the poor meet the rich, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.”[3]

If we will just get connected with more people outside the church and outside our economic set, that connection will transform the Church and the world. We will all be transformed together. One of the coolest ideas from the Dream Session was having a sister church in a poor country. The idea is that we focus our giving and international efforts on this one church over a long period of time. We write to them; we visit them; we exchange pictures; we celebrate together; we work together; we worship together. Then, poverty has a face and a place. We know that these people need us, and we discover that we need them, too. The connection heals us both.

Hebrews 13 tells us something amazing: “So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by his own blood. So let us go to him outside the camp…” (Heb. 13:12-13). If we want to be connected to God, we’ll find him on the outside, suffering with the outsiders, making a new kind of people who live with the outsiders.

It all goes together. Lord, make us connected to You, connected to each other, and connected to outsiders.

An old prophet named Ezekiel saw some crazy stuff and talked about it for God. One time he saw a huge valley filled with bones. There were parts of bodies disconnected and dislocated all over the place, and they had been disconnected for so long that the bones had dried up and turned white. God told Ezekiel that this valley of bones represented the people of God. They had become disconnected from God, disconnected from each other, disconnected from God’s purposes in the world. Now they were just a heap of scattered individual bones – dying from disconnection.

But then the Spirit of God started to move across that valley of bones, and those bones started to get up. They started clanking together and joining together and making skeletons. Muscles and ligaments and sinews started forming over the skeletons. Then, the bodies started growing skin. Finally, the Spirit of God breathed life into their bodies, and Ezekiel says, “They all came to life and stood up on their feet – a great army” (Ez. 37:10).

My ONE PRAYER for the Church is that God will move his Spirit across our world of dry bones. I pray that God will connect our dislocated shoulders and legs and ribs and put flesh and tendons and skin on us to hold us together as the body of Christ. And I pray that God will breathe the life of his Spirit in us, that God will connect us into a great army of love that changes our world.

Lord, make us connected!

[1] “21” is a basketball game for 3 people – one on one on one.

[2] Shane Clairborne, Irresistible Revolution, (Grand Rapids, MI, USA: Zondervan, 2006), 354.

[3] Ibid, 113-114.

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