The best investment of your money in the stock market from 1972 to 2002 would not have been in Microsoft, GE, Intel, or IBM. It would have been in Southwest Airlines. The impressiveness of this feat by an airline company cannot be overstated. The airline industry is heavily impacted by the most inconsistent of forces, mother nature. Just in the last 30 days in America there have been almost 30,000 cancellations, and yet, somehow Southwest has consistently made a good profit for over thirty years. Most people say that their success comes from the fact that they are very clear about who they are and what services they will provide, and who they are not and what services they will not provide. Southwest understands what is so hard for churches and individuals to understand, which is that to do anything truly worthwhile, you must say no to a lot of things and invest heavily in what is important.
Southwest deliberately chooses only to fly to a few destinations, and they do not have first-class seats, and you cannot buy meals on their planes. They do all of this to keep costs of tickets down. Southwest’s success has led to other companies trying to emulate some of their practices. Continental Airlines tried to create something similar called Continental Lite. This failed miserable (costing the company hundreds of millions of dollars, and the CEO his job) because they only adapted few of Southwest practices and didn’t fully change the way they did business. They did what is known in the business world as “straddling.” They tried to be a discount airline and a regular airline at the same time, and you just cannot do that. You cannot partially invest your energy in two different directions and get good results; this is true in business and in life.
In his Gospel, Matthew records a series of parables that Jesus gave concerning the Kingdom of heaven/God. At one point Jesus says, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all that he had and bought the field” (Matthew 13:44). The claim of Jesus and Christianity is that the gift of being in the kingdom is so much greater than any other thing that we possess. The more that we receive this gift the more that God’s spirit empowers us to be fruitful people in the world. These fruits that are to overflow and pour out of us are love, joy, peace, and patience, along with many others.
The reality of these fruits of the Spirit is that they are the result of being in God, of our saying no to certain things so that we can say yes to important things. I wrote last month that four pillars of an individual Christian’s life are personal prayer/morality, doing social justice, being in an intimate community, and practicing mellowness of heart and spirit. To do these things it takes time and energy, but they are the type of investments that make life meaningful, and in fact, Scripture claims that this is what we were created to do. When we survey our life and notice an absence of these fruits our response should not be simply to “try harder,” but to realize that what has happened is that we have lost our way, that we have begun to make other activities or desires a priority above and beyond what we were created to do by God.
The purpose of these Cobblestone Community Groups is to help each other more fully experience the gift of the kingdom of God that we may be people marked by the fruits of the spirit. These groups are not going to be perfect; they probably will not magically make your life better, but they are one of the simplest things that we can do to invest in something that is truly important. For some, the only way to be in on of these groups involves saying no to something else. Know that your leaders will do what they can to ensure that you are making a worthwhile investment.
For those of you who are skeptical of these groups I want you to simply try them for a few months and see how it goes. Each group is scheduled to meet 8 times between now and Christmas. If you give a group a try and decide it isn't worthwhile, then you can stop attending, but I think you’ll be surprised at how powerfully God works in and through a handful of people who are investing in the lives of each other and serving those outside of their day-to-day community.