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“Developing a Character Like Christ's”
Part 4:
Connecting to Others through
Our Heavenly Father”

Based on John 15:9-17
Delivered on March 21 & 22, 2009
by David J. Claassen
Copyright 2009 by David J. Claassen     

            When a tragedy such as 9/11 happens, cell phone circuits quickly become overloaded.  Are people calling their financial counselors to switch investments?  Are they calling a restaurant to cancel their reservations for the evening?  No, they're calling the people nearest to them: a mate, family members, or a close friend.  When someone is told their job is being done away with, what's the first thing they do?  They call someone near to them.  If we've just heard some exciting news, the first thing we do is call someone or tell them in person.

            When life suddenly takes a major turn — for the worse or for the better — our instinctive reaction is to connect with someone close to us.  Life is best when we have good connections with people!

            We’re continuing our current six-part weekend series with the general theme of Developing a Character Like Christ's” in which, as scholar N.T. Wright put it, we “dare to impersonate our older brother” — who, of course, is Jesus.  Today’s message is part four, in which we're going to see the importance Jesus put on connecting with others and how as His followers we should act as He did. 

Jesus Was Connected to Others

            If you knew nothing about Jesus other than the fact that He was God on Earth in human form, you might easily assume that He spent His time here without depending on anyone because He needed no one.  However, we know a lot more about Jesus than that, and one of the things we know is that He did depend on other people!

            One of the first things Jesus did when He started His three years of active ministry was to call twelve men as His disciples.  He didn’t do that just so they could learn from Him, though that was a key element.  He also called them to be with Him for companionship and to help Him carry out His call from the Heavenly Father.

            “When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” (Luke 9:1-2)  Later Jesus sent out more of His followers: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.” (Luke 10:1)  The group of twelve and the larger group of seventy-two were chosen to help Jesus carry out His work.

            Jesus felt close to His followers.  He said to the twelve disciples near the end of their three years together, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15)  He wanted this special time with them.  Later He said to them — and you can hear affection in His words — “You are those who have stood by me in my trials.” (Luke 22:28)

            In Jesus' greatest time of need — in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest and execution — He wanted His disciples to be with Him.  He took the eleven into the garden (Judas was away, setting up the betrayal).  Leaving eight of the disciples in one place, he took the other three deeper into the garden: “He took Peter, James and John along with him and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.  'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,' he said to them.  'Stay here and keep watch.'” (Mark 14:33-34)  Though Jesus went deeper into the garden to be alone with His Heavenly Father, He wanted the three disciples nearby.

            It's apparent that Jesus knew that He was supposed to have the help of others in carrying out His Father’s will for Him in this world.  Human connection was exceedingly important to Jesus!  If Jesus needed human connections, we certainly do! 

Connecting Like Jesus Did

            It's important to remember that Jesus not only called the twelve disciples to follow Him, He called them to do it together!  Jesus told them — and it's recorded for us, too — about a natural progression of God the Father connecting to Jesus, Jesus connecting to us, and our connecting to each other: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. . . . My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. . . . This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:9-10,12,17)

            Modern spirituality seems to be largely a solo effort.  The prevailing view is that each person's spirituality is no one else's business: it's a private affair.  Jesus knew nothing of this kind of approach.  Jesus' call is for us to follow Him individually — and to do it together.

            This isn’t necessarily easy, and it wasn't for the original twelve, either!  Among the twelve original disciples there were some very diverse characters!  There was Matthew, the former tax collector for the Romans, and Simon (not Simon Peter, a different Simon) who had been a zealot, part of a movement to overthrow the Roman rule!  I suspect that Matthew and Simon had to agree not to discuss politics!  The twelve disciples didn’t always get along in perfect harmony, but they had to get over that!

            If we want to be followers of Jesus, we're stuck hanging around some other followers of Jesus, like it or not.  The fact is that sometimes we like it — and sometimes not!

            Think of your favorite TV show.  Are all the characters alike?  No; in fact the different characters, some of whom really are “characters” in their own right, make the show interesting.  Any church, including Mayfair-Plymouth, is made up of all kinds of characters.  The problem is that when you're part of a real-life drama instead of a TV drama, the odd characters aren’t as interesting as they are annoying!

            We not only have different personalities, we’re different in many other ways.  We’re school-aged and retired; we're Republicans and Democrats.  We're of different national and ethnic backgrounds; we're white-collar and blue-collar.  About the only thing we all have in common is Jesus, and I have a sneaking suspicion that that's the way it's supposed to be!  Author Philip Yancey quoted a pastor in India, where they have a strong caste system: “Most of what happens in Christian churches, including even the miracles, can be duplicated in Hindu and Muslim congregations.  But in my area only Christians strive, however ineptly, to mix men and women of different castes, races, and social groups.  That's the real miracle.” (Christianity Today magazine, November 2008, p.119)  It's all part of the genius of Jesus' plan!  That's why I like our church's logo, which we've had for over thirty years: “Finding Friendship around Christ.”

            When we come together as a group of believers where all we have in common is Jesus, we reveal Jesus to each other — and to other people, too!  Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)  People will see Jesus best when they see that we can love and connect to each other because of Him!

            In the village of Whalton in Europe the people did something special at the celebration of the millennium.  Every household was given a disposable camera to record images of what the village meant to them.  Local artist Ian Johnson used 2500 of those images to produce a montage image of Christ.  Together, all of us here at Mayfair-Plymouth are supposed to form an image of Christ!

            In practical terms that means that we treat each other with love and respect as we work together on projects at the church, on ministry teams, or on church boards.  It means that we care for people, not just for what they can help us with in the church.  It means that we don't just hang out with our little group of friends; we reach out to those we don't know well in the church, striking up a conversation in the hallway or sitting by them at a church service or a meal in Friendship Hall.  It means that we invite people who don’t have a church home to join us.  If they don't have a church, they don’t know the all-important role that a church has in helping them to become the people God wants them to be.  According to a survey, 86% of the un-churched feel that they can have a good relationship with God without belonging to a church.  Jesus Christ has a better way!  The Bible says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — . . .” (Hebrews 10:25)  Jesus wants everyone to be His followers, but He wants us to do it with each other!  Invite someone to our church so they can discover what they've been missing!           

Connections That Count

            Connecting with other people around Christ in what we call the Mayfair-Plymouth Church is just one way we're supposed to connect.  We're going to leave this church service and go back to our marriages, families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.  Jesus has His plans for us to connect in His best way in every situation!

            Jesus gave us two great commands: “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Matthew 22:37-39)  We're supposed to love God and our neighbors.  Who are our neighbors?  Anyone near us at any time.  That means our mates who sleep beside us every night and live with us, the children we have, the friends we pal around with, our co-workers, and the people who live next door.

            Let's ask ourselves some questions.  This week, how does Jesus want me to relate to my mate, to my family, and to my friends?  How does He want me to relate to my co-workers, to casual acquaintances, and to strangers?

            Human connections were of supreme importance to Jesus.  Because we seek to be His followers, human connections should be of supreme importance to us, too!  This week let's connect to others as Christ would have us connect!

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