Sunday Message, 25th September – Lifeshapes ‘The Triangle – Balancing the Relationships of Life’
If you’ve been anywhere near Trinity in the past few weeks, at a morning service, an evening service, a Life Group, helping with young church, reading Life at Trinity, you’ll have come across some shapes, some pictures that are helping us to connect with the things we’ve been learning! So far, on a Sunday morning, we’ve looked at the circle, and the kairos moments, the key times in our lives and how we react to them. Then last week we looked at the semi-circle, and the balance of work and rest. The shapes should help us to remember the ideas much more easily than if we were just taught the information. This is the book we’ve been looking at. I’m sure many of you have a copy. If not, get hold of one!
This week, we turn to the triangle. All through the gospels, we see Jesus has 3 different relationships. He prioritises his time with God, his Father, he builds a close relationship with his disciples and he speaks to the crowds who gather around Him, he provides for them physically and spiritually. We see all 3 of these relationships in the passage we read from Luke’s gospel a few minutes ago.
Firstly, Jesus spent time with God in prayer. Up
Secondly, he called his disciples to him. In
Thirdly, he spoke to the crowds who have gathered and he healed their sicknesses. Out
What better example can we have for our Christian faith than to follow the example of Jesus?
Time and again, as Jesus went about his ministry, we see him withdrawing from the crowds, taking time out to pray to his Father. If Jesus, the Son of God, needed to pray and commune with God, how much more do we? But, Jesus doesn’t only pray at times of solitude and quiet, we also see Him praying in the midst of whatever was going on around him, right from his baptism to the cross. He had that level of intimacy with the Father that he converses with Him all the time. He tells his disciples that he can only do what he sees the Father doing. He spends time with the Father.
The picture we’re given in the Bible of the kind of relationship we should have with God is that of a walk. Right from Genesis, we read of Adam and God walking together in the garden. In Micah, we are encouraged to ‘Walk humbly with Your God’. God calls us to be in a relationship with Him. He calls us to spend time with him, to live our lives with Him. If our human relationships consisted of a 10 minute conversation at the start and end of each day, whilst being in the other person’s presence, but ignoring them for the rest of the day, the relationship wouldn’t grow very well! And, of course, being human, the one who was being ignored might become a bit bitter! However, we know that God isn’t like that. He longs for us to be in relationship with him. He invites us to walk with him, to spend our lives consciously in his presence. Every time we speak with God, we are responding to his call to our heart. I believe God places things in our lives to draw us to him and remind us of him and the more time we spend consciously aware of him, the more we see him, a sunset, a kind word from a friend, a smile from a stranger.
So often as Christians, we beat ourselves up about having to have a ‘quiet time’. We hear of people we would think of as being ‘super-Christians’, who get up at some ridiculously early time of the day, to spend an hour with God before they launch into the day. And, rather than encouraging us, it makes us feel all the more guilty.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s important for us to spend time with God, but it will look very different for each of us. For some, it might be as you walk your dog, literally walking with God. I personally, have my best chats with God when I’m out walking our dog. For others, it might be while you do the long drive/journey on public transport to work, it might be while you’re waiting for your children at some activity or other, it might be while you walk round the supermarket, maybe as you do the washing or ironing, you pray for each member of the family, maybe while you’re waiting for a medical/dental appointment, you take the time to pray for your Life Group (my Life Group will be please to know that they were each prayed for as I spent 20 minutes having 2 fillings done a few weeks ago), or the people you sit near each week at church.
It takes time to learn to walk, just look at a young child learning and falling so often, but eventually they get the hang of it! The find their rhythm! How about when you try and walk hand in hand with someone (try it sometime if you haven’t recently!), or even doing a three-legged race, it takes time to find a rhythm, doesn’t it? It’s the same when we start to learn to walk with God, to start with we might fall, we might forget, but we need to persevere. Walking with God means inviting Him into every part of our lives, it means seeing the whole of life as belonging to Him, not just those times when we are specifically focussing on Him. So often we put God into a box, we get him out when we get to church or when we read our Bible before we go to sleep. Let’s invite Him to be present in all parts of our lives and see how he can transform it.
When we don’t have the ‘Up’ relationship right we start to lose our balance.
Secondly, in this passage we see Jesus calling his 12 disciples, that group who he would spend the next 3 years in close relationship with. Jesus seemed to spend a lot of time around others, socialising we’d call it today! He invites himself to people’s houses for meals! He had a close group of friends, Peter, James and John. There were the other 9 disciples, a group of 72 followers, and the circle spreads out. We often read about him eating meals, going to people’s houses, meeting their families. He had what we call an ‘In’ relationship with his disciples.
God created us to be in relationships with others. He made us to live our lives with other people. Back again to Adam, in Garden of Eden. God said it wasn’t good for him to be alone. I don’t think here he was just talking about marriage, but as a general statement, God intends for us to have close relationships with other people. Life should come with a warning: ‘Do not attempt this by yourself’!
How many close friends do you have? Some of you will be on Facebook, many of you will have lists of friends in your e-mail address book, or your little note book by the phone. I have 594 Facebook friends. I need 6 more to say that I have 600 friends. Wow! We can connect very easily to so many more people today. I was watching ‘Outnumbered’ on Friday night. The daughter of the family decided she needed some new friends. Her solution? I’ll go on Facebook in the morning and find some! Through social media on-line, within a few seconds, I can send a message to someone I haven’t seen since I left school…years ago, I can see a friend’s wedding photos within a few minutes of the ceremony finishing, I can find out instantly if someone gets a new boyfriend!
Friendship is starting to take on a whole new meaning in today’s culture. How many of those people could I count as close friends? Friends I would meet with for a coffee? Friends who would hold me accountable if I was struggling with an aspect of my faith? Friends who I could call on in the middle of the night if a crisis came, and vice-versa? Probably only a few! And that’s ok, as long as we have some close friends. Jesus shows us a pattern, that although there were crowds of people around him, he chose to spend him life with a few disciples, to cultivate relationships with just that small group, and an even closer group of Peter, James and John. It’s a bit like children in school, I think. They’ll often tell you they have 1 or 2 best friends. If you’re planning a birthday party, they’ll probably roll off a list of friends! But they can only really have that close friendship with 2 or 3 others! As the phrase says, it’s all about quality, not quantity!
I love that picture in Acts, when the church was very young, and all the believers gathered together, and they ate together and gave to each other, sharing all their belongings. Sometimes it’s very easy to go along to church all our lives and never really experience the ‘In’ dimension of our faith. It can be very easy in a church the size of Trinity for that to happen. However, we each need to find ways to connect on that deeper level with a few people in our lives. We spoke a couple of weeks ago in the circle about how we need to be accountable in our Christian walk, to have others asking us how we’re getting on, challenging us perhaps to live up to what we’ve promised when we began our life with Jesus.
Have a look around you, who do you connect with? Who are you encouraging? Who is encouraging you? If you’re connected to a Life Group, I hope that you find that the group, or one or two within the group are an encouragement to you, people you can connect with. It’s great when people meet together to share the word of God and pray together, in a small, group outside of the big Sunday gathering, but it’s even better when that group takes on an identity in itself, when the group or members of the group connect by text or e-mail or a cup of coffee outside of that 1 hour once a week or fortnight, when they help each other out with babysitting, DIY tasks, shopping. That’s when we start to see a little glimpse of what Jesus intended when he said, ‘By this will all men know you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (John 13.35)
When we don’t have the ‘In’ relationship right in our walk as a disciple of Jesus, we’re not living in balance.
The 3rd part of the triangle is ‘Out’.
We receive from God, we share together with other Christians and then we are called to give what we have received to others.
This might be the most scary angle of the triangle! Maybe we should have this angle a bit sharper, so that it’s more pointy and it hurts a bit more, because I think many of us see this side of our Christian life as painful. Many of us will want to spend time with Jesus. We all know we need to do better, and most of us I would guess want to have a better relationship with Jesus. Many of us want to have closer relationships with other Christians, we want to be encouraged, to have a sense of belonging and acceptance. But, then, Jesus calls us to go out! He tells us ‘go into all the world’, leave the comfort of the church, the worship and the fellowship and share it with other people.
It’s that word ‘evangelism’, isn’t it? We all know that the church should be reaching out to others, telling people who don’t know Jesus the message of the gospel, and so we set up a committee to decide how we should go about it, and we organise a few events, and we believe we’re following Jesus’ command! If we don’t feel that God has gifted us in evangelism, we can leave it to everyone else!
But…Jesus told us, each and every one of us, to ‘go and make disciples’. So…what do we do?
Evangelism, reaching people for the gospel, isn’t just about what we, as a church, do. It’s actually much more about what we as individuals do every single day. We go to the places we normally go to, we meet the people we meet every day, and we build up relationships with them. Sounds easy! We all know people who are wandering through life with no direction, and the ‘Out’ relationship is about us coming alongside them and showing them a different way of life. In the same way that we need Christian friends in our lives to encourage us, we need to have non-Christian friends in our lives to balance us, to remind us what the world is like for people who don’t know the Lord. Many of us were brought up in church, many of you will have been coming to church, following Jesus for many years, and often we can lose sight of how lost people are when they’re not walking with Jesus.
Think about your non-Christian friends, or as some people would describe them, your ‘not yet Christian’ friends. Think about the conversations you have. Do they see Jesus in you? Do they see something different in the way you act or react, the way you speak?
But out isn’t just about telling people the good news, it’s also about sharing God’s love and goodness with others in practical ways. Maybe you see someone in your street who’s struggling, her husband’s left her with 3 small children, and she needs some help with childcare, or a listening ear, or a hot meal cooked for her. Maybe you see that older person who doesn’t get out much and would love for you to spend an hour with them. If you ask God, he will place people in your life who need just the gifts and abilities that he has given you. Just look out for them!
When we don’t have the ‘Out’ part of the triangle right, we’re not living in balance.
I wonder which angle of the triangle is lacking in your life? Which angle do you need to work on, to transform your life from 2D to 3D, like putting on the 3D glasses at the cinema? Is it the ‘Up’? You need to practise walking closer with God. Is it the ‘In’? You need to cultivate close, accountable relationships with other Christians. Is it the ‘Out’? You need to ask God to place people in your life with whom you can share the good news.