Matt Sturdevant: Good morning Hope Church. I'm Matt Sturtevant, I'm the executive pastor and we are continuing the series that we're in right now. This is a brand-new year, a brand-new series called The First Five. And for many of us January is that month where we begin the new year with all kinds of hopes and dreams and aspirations for this year to be different. New Year, new you, right? We think about, regardless of how December 31st ended, this is our chance. Our chance for change, our chance to do it right and maybe we're going to eat better, we're going to exercise more, we're going to sleep more or whatever the problems or the chaos or what was missing from last year. This is the chance. Well diets and exercise and sleep, those are all things that are important. But what about the most important thing? And that's our spiritual lives. So that's why we're kicking off this series during the month of January and we're taking a look at the five big components that are involved in walking with Jesus.
Matt S.: And this is week three in the series. So if you happen to miss either of the first two weeks or any weeks after this, you can always go online. You can check out our podcast or you can check out the messages at hopechurch.com. So week number one, we looked at walking with Jesus. It was sort of an orientation to the new life. We looked at what the problem is, which is sin, and then what's the solution? It's yielding our lives to Jesus Christ and the new life that we can find in Him. Then last week we looked at learning. And learning is about knowing, doing, and becoming. And the purpose of learning is not just to know all kinds of cool stuff to impress people, but actually to live better so that we can follow God more exactly and we can help others do the same. And then there's the big reality that the only one who can learn from me is me.
I've got to be invested in it. And one of the things I shared with you is that over my own life, what I've found is the two things that have had the most impact in my own spiritual growth, are:
- One, actually reading the Bible for myself. Opening up the Bible, trying to figure out what it says, understand it, and then how do I apply it to my life? That's number one.
- And then number two was getting around other people and discussing it. Learning from leaders who know more than me, who have more life experience than me. And then learning from my friends and my peers, people that are just right there at that stage in life trying to figure out how to make this thing work.
So that second part is sort of the under the bigger context of what we're going to talk about today, which is connecting, learning and connecting have been, and I believe always will be, two major things when it comes to spiritual growth.
Did you know that the population of the world is something like 7.6 billion people today? They're expecting it to pass 7.7 billion this year in 2019. The U. S. has come down a little bit. We are over 326 million people just in our own country. Come down to this state of Texas. We've got almost 29 million and then right here Fort Worth Texas, we've got nearly 875,000 people. We live in a day and age where there has never been more people around us and technology is like at the peak. Of course we say that every year, right? But that's the direction technology is moving.
There is the potential to have more relationships than ever possible because of the number of people and then actually the tools and the technology to basically connect with anyone anywhere on the face of this planet. Yet we live in this paradoxical age where we have never been more connected yet we are lonelier than ever before. This morning I want to look at three truths about connecting. You've got a listening guide there in your program if you want to follow along. I have another video clip for you this week. This is a spit segment from a Ted talk. A Ted talk by a woman named Hannah. And what you're not going to see in the clip is as she sets up where we're going to start, she's tells us that she was the weird one in college. She was weird because her mom didn’t email or text. Her mom actually wrote letters to her and mailed them. So she was the weird ones standing by the mailbox, waiting to hear from home. Take a look at this.
What's going on here? Why is Hanna and so many other people writing letters to complete strangers and more importantly, why are these complete strangers lives so deeply touched by this letter? She says it gave them a reason to wait by the mailbox. What's going on here? It's the same reason that why about this time last year in the UK, they appointed this woman Tracey Crouch to be the first ever Minister of Loneliness and of all the things that go into government offices and the reports and this and that, there is this 84 page document called A Connected Society: A Strategy for Tackling Loneliness, laying the foundation for change. It's the same reason that the Urban Dictionary now has this in it: crowded loneliness - feeling lonely even though you're not alone. Why? Because we want and need meaningful connection. Why? Because this is the way God made us. He made us for relationships.
He made us to be connected to other people and it doesn't matter if you believe in God or not. This is how God made us. He made us for a relationship with Him as Creator. He made us for a relationship with other people and it doesn't matter if you're shy and the super introvert or you're super outgoing and you just can't get enough of people. We all need and want meaningful connection. We need it. We want it, we look for it. And some even pay for the illusion of it because we have this deep, deep need inside of us for connection. Why? Because God put it there. That's the way He made us. If you take a look at the book of Genesis, the first book at the beginning of the Bible, the Old Testament - Genesis, it describes the account of creation. God created the world in six days and then on the seventh day he rested and as God was creating things, he gives a commentary, he makes the fish and the water animals.
And He says it's good and He makes the trees and it's good. And then He gets to the pinnacle of His creation man and He said, it's very good. But then just a little bit later, Genesis 2:18 - then the Lord God said, it is not good that man should be alone. I will make him a helper fit for him. From the very beginning we see the importance of connection and of relationships. God didn't just create Adam and give him everything he needed. He connected him to another person. That's how God created it. That's how he designed it. We want and need meaningful connection. It's kind of like the relationship between your car and oil. Oil doesn't make your car go, but your won't go very far without it, right? Connection isn't the only thing in life, but without it, we're just going to stumble through life and it's not going to be all that it could be if we don't connect with God and we don't connect with other people.
So connection is part of the way that God has designed us. It's also part of the way that He designed the church. Those who follow Jesus and the book of Acts is the account of sort of the birth and the expansion of the early church some 2000 years ago. And chapter two, it begins when the Holy Spirit comes upon the followers of Jesus and that all people were from all over the place. They're in the city for Passover and they are like, what's going on here? I'm a hearing like the Gospel in my language and what's going on? And then Peter says, "Hey, nobody's drunk here. Okay. It's early in the morning." And then Peter begins telling them about Jesus and a revival breaks out and we see in Acts 2:41-42 - so those who received his word were baptized and they were added that day about 3000 souls. 3000 people became followers of Jesus that day. And they devoted themselves to apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer.
Interesting how in Acts 2:42 we see these two components:
- Learning the apostle's teaching and
- Connecting, fellowship.
What we find is that 2000 years ago it was vitally important to the beginning and the expansion of the church and it's just as important today for our own personal spiritual growth and the growth of the church today. As we read the Bible, the Bible's full of pictures and images and we get these different word pictures and as we look at the New Testament, we see four images, word pictures of the church and the relationship of this connection.
- We see a building being used where like we're built one up upon one another's like bricks. And how bricks are connected so you get a wall. That's one picture we see.
- Another one is the body. We see this in several places, in the letters, in the new testaments where we're connected together like a body. Here's my hand, I got a finger, I got a hand, I got an arm. It's connected to my shoulder. That's how we're connected.
- There's also the image of a family, is that we're adopted into the family of God. Those of us who are followers of Jesus. And for me, I kind of think about this. It's like we have this common DNA which is following Jesus. And I don't know about you, but you might have some people in your family who you don't look like them, but you've got common DNA with them. So that's another one of these word pictures.
- And then the fourth one that we find is the vine and the branches. We looked at that two weeks ago. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. If we're going to grow, we've got to be connected. If we're going to bear fruit, we've got to be connected.
So connection is so important. We want and need meaningful connection and it happens vertically with God. Think about this for a minute. It happens vertically through reading our Bible and praying, reading our Bible and praying. It is this vertical connection that we have with God and then it happens horizontally with others through teaming together on mission and then just slowing down to do life together. We want and we need meaningful connection. The next truth about connecting is that there are many advantages in connecting. Motivational speaker and author Charlie "Tremendous" Jones is known for his quote. "You'll be the same person five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read." Again, we see the importance and the connection between learning and connecting, having an influence on growth, and as we meet people, as we connect with them, we really have the opportunity for our lives to be touched and changed forever in some circumstances. And I know for me as I think about connecting with others, I can think of several advantages that I've personally experienced over the year. So I want to share a few of those with you. The first one is friendship. Just friendship as you connect with others. It's the gateway. It's the doorway to friendship.
I want you to picture in your mind your closest dearest friend. Okay? You got them. Can you remember that there was a point in the past in which you didn't know this person. There was actually a moment that you had a connection with them and that relationship grew over time into what it is today when you think of them immediately as your closest, dearest friend. So connections can lead to friendships. There's no guarantee that you're going to have a deep, meaningful friendship from a connection, but you're not going to have a friendship if you don't connect with other people. And usually there's a process involved in becoming a friend and the process can basically look like this. It can happen at different speeds, but it looks like this. There's a moment where we have this initial connection where we meet someone for the first time and then that moves into an acquaintance and then a little time goes by they become a casual friend a little more time they become a close friend. And then with some of them we've got a BFF, we've got a best friend.
This process that happens over time, and I love what Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says about friends. It says two are better than one because they have good reward for their toil, for if they fall, one will lift up his fellow, but woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up. One of the great benefits of connecting is friendships and as you have friends, you have people that are there with you. They're there with you in the good times to celebrate. They're also there in the not so good times and this is something that I've experienced time and time again. We've got a really fun event scheduled on my calendar this week for early in the morning on Thursday. I'm going to be having knee surgery. I have an older injury and one of my knees apparently, and it's just gotta be dealt with now because it's been giving me some problems.
That should just be a quick 30 minute procedure, but that's what's on the docket for this week for me. Now, I mentioned this to you for three reasons. One, please pray, pray for the surgery, pray for a quick recovery. Number two, if you were wondering why we were talking about a walk through the Bible and New Testament event happening on Saturday and then suddenly we stopped talking about it. Now you know. I'm the walk through the Bible guy here and it's not going to be physically possible to walk through the New Testament the way that it's meant to be done. Two days post knee surgery. But then the third reason I mentioned this is because I have a number of friends, people that at one point in time I didn't even know they existed, but over the years they've become my dear friends. They have reached out to me and asked me, hey, do you need anything? How can we help you?
Now I'll be on crutches for a little while I'm told and I hope I literally don't fall down, but I've got people in my life to pick me up if I need that. So if you're new around Hope, I want you to know two more things about friendship. One is you really can find friends among us. You really can. My wife and I have been a part of this church for 17 years now. In 2002 we moved here from southern California. I was working in business. We moved to a new city, a new place, a new church, and over the time as we've invested in relationships, we have found friends. So you really can't find friends here. And then the second is if this topic of friendship is particularly of interest to you, today's message is more about connecting not so much about friends, but the Bible has a lot to say about friendships.
And I want to point you to a resource you can go to hopechurch.com/tag. This is going to take you to a message that we did last summer during our box office wisdom series. It's an awful movie, Tag, but it talks about a really important thing, friendship, and in this message we take an extended look at what the Bible says about friends. So that's something you can check out.
- Another advantage is encouragement. Anybody here want to admit they had a hard week this last week? Raise your hand. All right, look around. I did too. I had a hard week who can't benefit from encouragement, who doesn't want a little bit encouragement in their life? Consider these three passages
- Hebrews 10:24-25 - and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. Not neglecting to meet together as the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11 - Therefore encourage one another and build one another up just as you are doing.
- Proverbs 27:17 - Iron sharpens iron as one man sharpens another.
As we move through the week, there's just a lot of drag that we experience. Maybe it's from the negativity of what you find on the job. Those around you that maybe at school or just what you see and hear in the news. There's nothing positive in the news ever. And it just all this drag that you feel. We need to be encouraged. We need to be encouraging one another. We need to be encouraging one another in the direction of where Jesus is taking us as we seek to follow Him. We want to sharpen the edge of each other to move into the direction that Jesus is leading us. And the great thing about encouragement is this, it's a two-way street.
I can be encouraged, but I can also encourage others. And I don't know if you've ever experienced this. But there's been a number of times I've set off to encourage someone. I know they're going through something difficult. They need some encouragement. And then as we connect and as we talk and as we relate, I actually am encouraged in the process. So we were both encouraged through that happening.
- As we connect, there's another kind of advantage that we find and that's protection. Proverbs 13:20 says, whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. And I love the way The Message paraphrase says this last part. It says, hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces.
Don't raise your hand, but some of you are laughing because you've done that. We need protection. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, don't be deceived. Bad company ruins good morals. The truth is that we are always influencing and being influenced as we spend time with other people. This is why we need to spend our time wisely. Why we need to spend time with the wise so that we're being influenced in the right direction and there's protection in that. One of my favorite summary phrases for what we're talking about here is this: pick your friends, pick your future. Pick your friends, pick your future. This is the reality of what Charlie "Tremendous" Jones was talking about in his quote. You want to see where you're going to be five years from now. Look at the people you're spending time with. And I can be changing and being influenced in the positive or in the negative. So I've gotta be wise about who I'm spending time with and as I am, there is protection there for me. Now I want to pause for just a moment. I want to speak to the guys.
Guys, men, fellows, my brothers. This is really important for us. I know we don't particularly like that word connection, right? We don't need that. We're strong. We're tough. We're men. We don't need that. And the truth is we hear that word, we think about the ladies. Well, the truth is the ladies do a better job at connecting. Therefore they're often in a lot better place than we are as men. If you've been around Hope for any length of time, you've heard pastor Harold talk about the Challenge of the Decades. Last year I turned 40 and the Challenge of the Decade of the 40s is stretching and enduring. It sounds like fun, right? And the challenge is to trust God and be faithful amid the increasing an unending stresses of life. Guys, I haven't even been in my 40s for a full year yet, and I'm here to testify the truth of that.
f you're in your 40s and you can testify, let me hear it. All right. The truth is we need to connect with others. We need it more than we care to admit, and we need it more than we even realize. We need encouragement as we press on. We need the protection that the pack can give us so that we don't blow up our lives. So we don't make stupid decisions, which guys we’re prone to do that, right? We don't want to blow up our marriages, our families. We don't want to ruin our careers. We don't want to ruin the personal ministries that we have. And I am so grateful that I have a group of guys in my life who I can be open and honest with and they can point out blind spots, which guys, we all have them. We don't see them. That's why they're called a blind spot. You need other guys in your life to point them out to you so you can see them and I know that these men in my life, that they will come and they will grab me and they will drag me back in the right direction if I start veering off course.
We all need that. This gives the Band of Brothers whole new meaning. There's something about just that series and that idea that draws us and it connects with us deeply. This is why we want and we need connection. We've got to have it. Guys, if you're in your 40s or if you're in any decade for that matter, this is what I desperately want for you if you don't have it. You've got to be connected and there's protection in that.
- Another advantage is direction. Proverbs 19:20 says, listen to the advice and accept instruction that you may gain wisdom in the future.
If you're not connected to other people. it's kind of hard to do this one. You've got to have people in your life. You've got to have people who know you and people who trust you. And then you've got a last blank here. This is kind of the ‘choose your own adventure’ blank. What's an advantage that you've experienced when I haven't met. You go ahead and write your own end. If something comes to mind right now, if something comes to mind later, you can fill in that last blank with how have you been benefited and what has been the advantage of connecting in your own life? So the first truth about connecting is that we want and need meaningful connection. The second truth is that there's many advantages. The third truth is that connecting comes with challenges.
You got to pay to play. You heard that before. If you want the advantages, the price are the challenges. Last week I told you the only one who can learn for me is me. So the only one who could learn for you as you, the same thing is true about connecting. The only one who can really connect for me is me. The only one who can really connect for you is you. And as a church we can provide all kinds of opportunities for you. We can provide groups, we can provide events, we can provide teams, you name it. But as the organization of Hope Church, all we can do is provide you with the opportunity. You, me, we all have to do something. We have to take the initiative to take advantage of the opportunity that's been set before us.
Right now we're in the middle of group sign-ups. Pastor Ben has been working really hard with all of our group leaders to get things set up so that we have a great semester of groups. They have been working on what night of the week the group's going to meet, where are they gonna meet? What time are they going to meet? What are the different groups going to be focused on? Coming up with all kinds of things so that those who are a part of groups, can have a really great experience, but you know what? You have to take the initiative to sign up for the group.
Even if we were to sign you up and just assign everybody a group, you'd probably be mad at us because you'd say, ‘Oh, I'm not available that night.’ It's not something we can do for you. We can want it for you, but we can't do it for you. In fact, we've supplied you with the tools. You have a group catalog and you have a connection card, but you have to take the initiative and actually look at the catalog and find the group that you want to sign up for. Write it on the back of the card and a quick note here. As I was talking to my brothers a few minutes ago. Guys, if you look on the inside Group 112, Mansfield's book of Manly Men, Tuesday nights at 7:00 PM, OK? Led by Josh Hofford, he's sitting right back over there. Josh, wave your arm. Guys, if you want to connect in a group, go talk to Josh after the service today.
We can provide the opportunities, but you've got to take the initiative. If you've got a question, something that's preventing you from taking that step, you have to go get that question answered. Whether it's, I got to figure out if I can leave work 30 minutes early to make it to the group I want to make or I got to arrange childcare or I got ... Whatever it is. You've got to take the initiative. So one of the challenges that we have is initiative and this initiative relates to church, but it's also just part of life. If you want to connect with people, you've got to take initiative. People are not just sitting back there waiting to run you over and become your friend. We've got to take the initiative. It's true at work, at school with our neighbors, whatever it is, to connect with others we've got to take the initiative.
That's the positive side of the challenge. This next one it's kind of the dark side of connecting. It's actually a four letter word as well as the word risk, R-I-S-K, risk. Anytime you connect with someone else, risk is involved. Why? Because you could get hurt. Why? Because people are sinners and we sin. Talked about last week about we're selfish. Every single one of we are selfish and as I'm being selfish and I'm going on with my life and I'm not paying attention to other people, it's really easy to run over them, not even knowing it, not intending to hurt them. It just happens. It's part of life and we've got to risk and if you don't risk, you're going to miss out. The challenge and the opportunity for us, and this can be more difficult because if you've been hurt. Like if you've really, really been hurt and damaged, you don't want to risk.
You know how risky the risk is, but with the challenge in the opportunity that we have is to risk. If you really want to get serious with Jesus and walking with Him, you've got to connect with other people. You've got to connect with other people who are following Jesus. It's got to happen but not just happen. It's got to be a priority in our lives because this is one of the ways that God grows us as we connect. You're going to have to accept the fact that people are people. We're going to hurt one another and we've got to learn how to move past that. We've got to learn how to work together and when we hurt each other, to clear it up and be able to move on. And if you're a newer around Hope, I want to invite you to risk.
I want to invite you to risk, but I also want to give you this warning ahead of time. One of the things that I've seen over the years, and this really, I've seen it be true of all churches, whether you're here at Hope Church, whether you're at another church, one of the things that typically occurs is people, they start coming to a new church, they get plugged in, they get really excited, and then about two years in, something happens. They get hurt. Somebody hurts their feelings, there's this reality moment of I've been hurt. And what a lot of people do is that's the time they move on and they start the whole cycle over again somewhere else. This is what we've got to learn how to forgive people, how to give forgiveness, how to forgive others.
Because what we find is, is that really, really, really the one who was hurt in this, if we let that be a block to stop us connecting, we're the one who's really ultimately hurt. We miss out on all that God has for us and we let that be a place where we just stop. There's tremendous benefit, encouragement and strength that comes from connecting with other people. So we just got to accept the fact that people are people. We're going to get hurt. We've got to work through it. In fact, the Lord's prayer, we find it in Matthew 6, the Lord's Prayers, it's kind of a pattern. Jesus' disciples asked him how do we pray? And Jesus gives him this model prayer. And part of that prayer talks about forgiveness. Verse 12 says, forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors.
This is in the pattern because it's just part of life. It's going to happen. We'd need to learn how to give forgiveness and how to ask for forgiveness. In fact, Ephesians 4:32 it says be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you. How do we move forward in relationships? This is how it happens. We risk a little bit and then we see what happens. And when we're not hurt and when we're not damaged, we risk a little bit more. And then we see what happens and then we risk a little bit more. And then what we find is that over time, as we take initiative and as we risk, we can develop deep, meaningful connections with other people and we really can enjoy life in a way that it's just not possible when you're isolated and when you're alone.
So when I think about connecting for me, one of the things that blows my mind literally blows my mind when I think about this, is that God lets us be a part of this process. God doesn't need us, but he lets us be involved in so many aspects. It's a great privilege that we have and two ways that this plays out is one, we actually get to be a part of people coming to know Jesus. We get to meet people, we connect with them, we share our story. This is what Christ has done for me. This is how my life has changed. We share the gospel with them. Sometimes we get to be there the moment that they pray to receive Christ, the moment that their life changes forever and then sometimes we're there and we have this process where we help them grow in this new life.
We get to be a part of that connection, but the other way is that those of us who are followers of Jesus we’re his hands and his feet. When He’s going to move, He’s going to move through us. Thinking about this for a moment. Has God ever answered one of your prayers through another human being? Something that you were praying, you're talking to God, He’s the only one that knows and He uses another person to answer that prayer. For me one of the ... I'll never forget this, I was leading a mission trip several years ago. I was going to have to navigate getting a team from one city to another city through the German train system and I'm just like, I don't speak German. I don't know how I'm going to do this. And I'm praying, ‘Oh God, please help me. I don't know how I'm going to do thing.’ I don't want to get the team lost and it all the responsibility and He provided a person.
He provided one of the students that we had been working with to come along with us and be our guide. He was German. He spoke the language, he knew how the train system worked. And guess what? We got from where we were to where we needed to be. God answered my prayers through another person. How about this though has got ever used you to be the answer to someone else's prayer. You're going along, you're walking with Jesus, you're trying to be obedient. I don't quite understand what He’s asking me to do, but it really seems like I should. And you go and you have this conversation or you do this thing or whatever it is, and the person looks at you like, ‘What's wrong?’ And they're like, ‘You're an answer to prayer.’
And you didn't know what they'd been praying because they've been talking to God. But by you going, you actually got to be the answer to prayer is something that we see over and over again. God lets us be a part of this. So as we connect with God and we connect with the people of God, we get to discover and experience God in so many new ways and understand who He is and how He works in this world. As I wrap up, I want to give you an invitation and a challenge. I want to invite you to discover and experience God's ways by intentionally connecting here at Hope Church between now and Easter.
That's just 13 weeks between now and Easter. Intentionally connect here at Hope. I want to give you two specific ways that you can do that. One is sign up for a group. This is one of the best ways to connect with other people. In fact, I'm going to go out here on a leadership limb for just a moment. If you're in this service and you're a group leader, I want you to just stand up right now. Just stand up please.
Look around those that are standing are group leaders. You may not be the right fit. You guys can sit down thank you. One of our values is following spiritual leadership within scriptural limits, so I’m like, ‘God, please let them stand’. All right. If you have a question about groups, somebody that you just saw stand, they can help you. They can help connect you to the right group, but the best way that we can discover and experience God's ways is doing it through community. I want to invite you and challenge you. Sign up for a group this spring. The second opportunity that I have for you, and this one's a little bit more risky.
I want to challenge you, before you leave today, to connect with say hello to two to three people. Some of us are in the habit of during the last song, we put our head down, we make a beeline for the door and we don't ever make a connection. I want to invite you and challenge you today. I won't ask you to do this every week, but today, risk just a little bit, just risk a little bit. Make a connection with two to three people before you leave and I'm even gonna make it easier for you. I'm going to be out there by the main doors and you can count me as one person. After the last service I had several people came up. They were like, pastor, pastor, pastor, and hey, they took the challenge. So I'm inviting you to take the challenge. But what I want, I don't want you to wait. Don't wait. Start connecting today.
Let's pray. Father, thank you that you created us to connect, the want and the need that we feel deep within us to connect is a good thing because that's how You made us. And You’ve made it possible to connect to you through Jesus Christ and You’ve made it possible to connect with others. Father, I know from my own experience that it can be awkward. It can be hard, it can be uncomfortable at first, but I pray, Father, please give us the courage. Give us the boldness to connect with one another and to begin to experience the joy in life that You make possible through connecting. Lord Jesus thank you for making a way to connect us to the Father and have a right relationship with Him. It's in Your name we pray. Amen.