Connect to Our Community
What is common place for us today was unheard of just 15 years ago. We live in this amazing time that allows us to be connected in a moment through cell phones, the internet, or text messaging. Not to mention social networking and through Facebook, snapchat, or Twitter you can basically live stream your life moment by moment. We live in this really unique time in history where more people find out about world events through Social Media than through the news.
Right now there are about a hundred different ways to be connected to one another, but psychologists are tell us we are struggling with unprecedented loneliness. On every block in our country, every college dorm hallway, and every apartment complex is filled with people that have all of this technology at their fingertips and still feel incredibly alone. I would venture to guess that even here today there are a few folks that struggling with feelings of isolation and loneliness.
I am sure in a setting this size there are some single folks here today that are struggling with loneliness and really would like to be connected with another person at a deeper, relational, level. You have lots of acquaintances, but what you really long for is another person who really cares about what’s happening in your life.
There are folks here today that are married and they find themselves wrestling with their own sense of loneliness. At one time you had this idyllic view of growing old together and vacationing around the world, only to wake up in the morning and realize you have not invested enough in your marriage. Now you have drifted a part, and you live alone in a house with a complete stranger.
Maybe the dynamic in your work environment has changed. What you used to be excited about and passionate about and encouraged by has now become something that is draining and weighing you down. Now every day you go to a building where there is a looming sense of loneliness.
Even in this place, there are some folks who used to feel a deep sense of connection with other weary travelers. You felt like you were an important part of this family, and over time you just sort of dropped out and you weren't really connected anymore. You weren't really dialed into what was happening. Now it's just become this place where you show up because that’s what you do, and even here you struggle with isolation.
I need you to understand that God never meant for us to do life alone. Think about all the great accomplishments that happened by teams in history. Louis had Clark. Gilbert had Sullivan. Lennon had McCartney. Sonny had Cher. Calvin had Hobbs. The Lone Ranger had Tonto. And Ben had Jerry. What would happen to ice cream if it were just Ben's? You have to have Ben and Jerry. The two have to be together, nobody does it alone.
As a matter of fact if you look in the Bible and you see from the very beginning God desired for us to have community with other people. In the very beginning, God said Let us make man in our image. Even God lives in community with the Son and Holy Spirit; He knew that it was not good for man to be alone. So God formed a woman. Now some translations say Eve was created to be his helpmate which is one way to translate the Hebrew word, Ezer, but the word literally means to support in times of hardships and distress.
Think about the fact that God looked down at His creation and said, there needs to be community, Adam needs someone to support him in his distress so He created woman. They went on to have children and from there, colleagues and friends. God eventually called out a whole nation of people to follow Him and be a community that would be devoted to one another and to Him.
Then you get into the New Testament and we notice that even Jesus chose twelve friends for His journey. Within that group of twelve there were three, Peter, James and John. Those three were the inner circle of Jesus' closest, tightest friends. Even Jesus didn't do life alone.
Once we get to the book of Acts we really see the idea of community come alive. After Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected the church in Jerusalem began to explode. Soon tens of thousands of people were part of this church community. Acts 2 is an important text for the church. In verse 42 we read, All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship and to sharing in meals including the Lord's Supper and to prayer.
I love the fact that community is made up of regular people who are devoted. The text says they were devoted to the apostles teaching, that’s the bedrock of our community. To fellowship with one another, that's community. They were devoted to sharing in meals, including communion. They were devoted to prayer. Then it says, As they devoted themselves to those things a deep sense of awe came over them all … All the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. In other words, there was this incredible unity. There was this incredible, wonderful sense of mission and purpose that was being fulfilled in that first church community. They weren't simply going to church, they were a community.
Today as we close out this series on Community I need you to understand that there is a distinction between going to a church and being a community. So as we close out this teaching I want to l;eave you with three things that can only happen in community.
First, real connection only happens in community.
Look at the first church in Jerusalem, thousands of different people came together and yet there was a warmth and a strength among the believers. Those feelings were present because they weren't just strangers who came together to worship in large gatherings, they had been meeting throughout the week in homes. They had been getting to know one another. They had relational depth and connection. When they came to the large gathering at the temple there was vibrancy and a life there.
When you look at the community described in the Bible you see this amazing place where folks came together and all of those things that divide us in our culture sort of fade away. That’s the heart of what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:26: For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. All who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ like putting on new clothes. Our baptism is stronger than anything that seeks to separate or divide us.
In community there is, No longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female for you are all one in Christ Jesus. All those distinctions, all those barriers, and all those things that the culture puts up that divides us: your race, your social status, or your gender. All of those things from the sense that it would divide us from one another, Paul says are gone because we are all now one in Christ. All of those walls are knocked down. It's an awesome picture of the church.
Usually, the prevailing idea in our culture is that church is just a building or a place you go. You find a church. You walk into a church. You sit through church for an hour. But that’s not we see in the Bible. The church isn't simply a place you go to. The church is who you are. The challenge isn't simply to go to church; the challenge is to be the church. Be the church in your own life. The emphasis found in the Bible isn't just about showing up, it's about connection. It's not about attendance but it's about relationships.
People living in a community know how to rejoice with one another when things go well and mourn when someone goes through a difficulty or a tragedy. It's a place where we pray for others and we are prayed for. Where we encourage others and where we are encouraged. We cheer others on and we're cheered for. Community is where all of that comes together. It will never happen if you just go to church for an hour on the weekend. The only way you really begin to experience community is when you get involved in the life of the church.
The second thing is when you connect with one another then you can motivate one another.
Turn with me to Hebrews 10, I want you to notice this really great passage about the church and how we motivate one another. (Read Hebrews 10:19-25)
The book of Hebrews was written to a group of Christians, who as I read the letter I get the sense that they kind of got lukewarm. At one point they were passionate, committed, and excited about their faith. But now their relationship with God and the body became just another a part of their life instead of the driving force in their life. That’s why the Hebrew writer get’s pretty stern in places.
Hebrews 10:23 says, Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm for God can be trusted to keep his promise. When your are struggling or going through difficulty we have a tendency to start doubting God. We start wondering what God is up to. The writer is saying, listen, God will keep His promise. Don't give up, don't walk away from your faith. Hang on!
The writer continues: Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. When was the last time you sat down and took five, ten, or fifteen minutes to think of ways you could motivate your family and friends to love and good works?
I want to stop here for a moment and share with you the reason we have asked Ruth to come help us with our Small Groups, the reason we have lunch bunch and fellowship meals, the reason we are planing game nights, and cook outs, and bible studies. We don’t want to add one more thing to an already overloaded calendar. We don’t want to fill up your calendar we want to fill up your heart in an effort to try and motivate you to acts of love and good works. The Hebrew writer says that's what happens in community. That's why we need one another. We motivate one another.
Think about it this way: how many of you are a part of a local gym? Now, how many of you went this last week? I get it. Most people who sign up for a gym membership in January go pretty regular for the first 8 weeks and then for the next eight months they continue to pay their dues but never step in the gym. Some of you not only treat your gym membership that way, but your church membership that way as well. At one point you were an active part of our church family, but over time you've drifted away. If someone asks, you'll say, I'm a member at Greenbrier. But does membership mean you just have to show up if there is nothing better going on, and you can’t sleep late on Sunday?
Maybe you are at the next level. You actually show up, but you still think you can do this alone. You are like the folks who show up to the gym, but it’s really easy to cop out on stuff. If there is a line at the Stair-master you’ll just do it later; you have places to be. You spend 30 minutes wandering around the gym and never break a sweat, but you feel safe because you were here and tried but it was just to inconvenient and you ran out of time.
There is something about going to a gym and working out with a partner. You have to show up because they ask you if are you coming. You go because you know they are waiting on you. Then if there is a line you wait through it together, because you have someone to hold you accountable.
The same is true for your relationship with God. You are really not experiencing it as you could if you are just trying to do it alone. That’s why we need to find at least 3 other people in this family that we are connected to somehow, it makes all the difference. A community holds you accountable. A community misses you when you don’t show up. A community is interested in your spiritual walk, they are not afraid to ask you how are you doing in your faith? How are you doing in your life?
I've known many folks over the years, who were involved with the church for a little while then over time they start to fade away. They meet a girl or guy and then they slip out. They get a new job and start to slip away. They find a new hobby and miss one week then two then ten. Without a community to motivate them they fall away.
I think the writer of Hebrews is saying if you want to wake up in two years, in five years and seven years from now and have an awesome relationship with God then you have to regularly be deepening relationships with other believers in your community.
Finally a community is a place where we can encourage one another.
In verse 25 the Hebrew writer describes the church: Let us not neglect our meeting together as some people do but encourage one another especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
I’ll let you in on a little secret this morning, it’s really hard to live a Christian life. It hard to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus every day. William Barclay wrote: One of the highest of Christian duties is the duty of encouragement. It’s easy to pour cold water all over someone’s enthusiasm; it’s easy to discourage people.
We live in a world full of discouragers, that’s one of the greatest things that should stand out about our Community. People who are looking for a place to find the strength to make it through another day, should be able to find that encouragement here. Many times a word of praise or thanks or appreciation or cheer has kept a Christian on his feet. Many times seeing someone I know from this congregation while Trista had me out and about have made a day of shopping much more tolerable.
It's pretty hard to overstate how important it is to be an encourager. The Greek word for encouragement is found 109 times in the New Testament. All through the Bible, the role of the encourager is celebrated. Encouragement is such a big deal that in Romans 12:8, encouragement is listed among the Spiritual Gifts.
God believes encouragement is so important that in Acts 13 when Paul is about to start his first missionary journey among the Gentiles God would not allow him to go alone. God knew that this was going to be a difficult work, a work that would only be made more difficult by the Jewish believers who stood opposed to the welcoming of the Gentile believers. So God gave Paul a partner for this important work. But notice that God didn’t chose a great theologian, or a great speaker, or a person with great organizational skills. The person God choose to be a part of this great work was a man named Joseph, but the Apostles had another name for him. They called him Barnabas, or Son of Encouragement. I believe that relationship with Barnabas, is one of the reasons that Paul would later send a man named Tychicus to the churches in Colossi and Ephesus for the soul purpose of encouraging them.
Encouragement inspires us to be better people. It softens our hearts. It lifts our spirits. It draws us closer to God. When Christ came, He not only saved us from ourselves, but He created a community where we can find love, acceptance, encouragement, and people who are having the same struggles that we are. A place where we can rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.
If you are not a part of this community today we would love to invite you to give your life to our Savior. Allow Him to welcome you into this community and the greater community of believers.
If you have been apart of this community in the past and have felt disconnected, we invite you to come back and get involved in the deeper life of the community this morning.
And today if this community can rejoice with you, or mourn with you; my prayer is that you will allow us the opportunity to create a greater community with you this morning. If you have any need please come.