Tuesday, 12 May 2009
It's all about the family!
God says in 2 Corinthians chapter 6. "I will be a father to you and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord almighty" (verse 18).
You know what that means? If He's our father, we are His sons and daughters. What does that make us to each other? Brothers and sisters (now stay with me, I hate the way this term has been abused in N.I. as much as anyone) But the fact of the matter is, we're related to one another because of this truth found in the Word.
So the church is a place of family relationships, like it or not. You may not like some of the people in the church. Some of the people in the church may not like you, but we are family. We have to learn to love each other, to get along with each other. We're going to spend eternity with each other as a family.
Now families can cause pain; they can cause rejection. There can be problems in families, but families can also be the place of the most intimate possible relationships. To be a part of the Church means that we belong to each other, that we're related to each other.
C.S. Lewis wrote, "Christ works on us in all sorts of ways, but above all, He works on us through each other." We need each other in the body of Christ for our walk. It's in the context of the church that our lives are supposed to be getting prepared for heaven, prepared for eternity.
It's in the context of the church(and I don't mean just one service that you attend on Sunday morning)that we learn to lift our eyes up, above what happens in all the rest of our world and all the rest of our week - to look over and beyond this world with its problems and its struggles and its pressures and lift our eyes up and see Christ and see heaven and see eternity. That's where our focus on eternity should be shaped.
Over and over again in Paul's letters to the New Testament churches he says, "Greet one another." That could be considered a Biblical command at least seven times in his letters.
Romans chapter 16, at the end of the book of Romans, Paul names people he wants to greet there. He says, "Greet Priscilla and Aquilla. They have been co-workers in my ministry for Christ Jesus. Greet my dear friend Epaenetus. He was the very first person to become a Christian in the province of Asia. Give my greetings to Mary who has worked so hard for your benefit. And then there are Andronicus and Junia, my relatives, who were in prison with me. "Say hello to Ampliatus whom I love as one of the Lord's own children, and Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and beloved Stachys" (paraphrased verses 3-9) On and on and on and he ends with this word. Verse 16: "Greet each other in Christian love" (paraphrased).
In that one passage alone Paul greets 26 people by name. He knew about those people. Many of them he didn't just say their name, but he said something about them that he knew and appreciated about their service for Christ.
That speaks to me the importance of relationships in the body of Christ. It says that people are important. They matter to God. Their names are important. You can be sure all those people - Andronicus, Ampliatus, Urbanus, Epaenetus . . . - had needs spiritually. They all had rough edges, just as we do. There weren't any super-saints in that church in Rome any more than there are in your church or in mine.
Even when writing to the Corinthian church, riddled as that church was with conflicts and carnality and doctrinal confusion, Paul says at the end of 2 Corinthians 13, "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (verse 12). Greet each other. He doesn't say in this church that has humungous problems, "Quit the church or go find another church." He challenges these believers to deal with one another and to deal with these issues in genuine love and humility.
So when you go to church, don't wait for people to approach you and be friendly. Take the initiative; reach out; be friendly to others. Show an interest in them; show an interest in their children. Look for people who are there alone if you're there by yourself and feeling alone. Look for other singles or women who are married to unbelievers that don't go to church with them, for widows.
Proverbs 18 says: "A man who has friends does show himself to be friendly" (paraphrased, verse 24). Dale Carnegie said, "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you." So ask people questions: "How are you doing? Really, how are you doing? How can I pray for you?"
Be the body. Greet one another; encourage one another; pray for each other; show genuine interest. Can you imagine if everyone would do that or if just even a lot of people would do that in our churches? You say, "I wish they would." You do it! Even if you're the only one in your church who does, do it. Reach out. Get beneath the surface.
Even between weekend services, set a goal to connect with at least one person from your church once each week during the week - a phone call or a lunch together or getting together with your kids. Set a goal to connect with somebody from your church once during the week so that we're breaching between weekends. We're ministering to each other.
Can I be honest? I don’t believe that it's enough for us to go and sit in a service one hour a week, important as that is. But we need more than that in order to cultivate community, to cultivate authentic relationships in the body of Christ in our local churches.
So plug into the life of your local church. Don't just be a pew-warmer, a bench-sitter, a spectator, somebody on the sidelines. Get out on the field; get involved in the game. Get involved in what's going on. Don't go to church and sit there with your arms folded and say, "Now minister to me. Now entertain me. Now make me feel good."
Give yourself, give your heart, give your efforts, give your time, give your prayers, give your resources. Plug in; get your life involved. You do what God wants you to do and you'll be blessed, and His church will be blessed as well.
I preached recently about the redwood forests in California. Have you heard of them or seen them? It's just unbelievable. These redwood trees . . . . I'm told that they're the largest and the tallest trees in the world. Some of them grow over 350 feet high. Some of them are more than 2,500 years old. That's a long time.
Now you'd think that trees that large would have a huge root system growing down into the earth hundreds of feet. But actually, the redwood trees have a very shallow root system. Most of the roots don't go down any deeper than 6-10 feet into the earth, which is not that much considering some of these trees are 350 feet tall.
You have to ask yourself, "How do these enormous trees stand upright for thousands of years?" Well, there's a secret. The secret is in the roots. These trees grow close together and all their root systems intertwine. The root systems are locked to each other. They're inextricably connected to each other. So when the storms come and the winds blow as they do, the redwoods stand, but they don't stand alone. They all support and protect each other.
When I think about those redwoods it reminds me of the fact that we need each other as believers. We don't stand alone. If we try to stand alone, we'll blow over alone when the storms and the winds come. We need each other. We need our roots to be connected to each other if we're going to stand strong and grow tall and live long.
As you read through the New Testament, you find a lot of instructions that talk about how we're supposed to deal with one another. They're sometimes called the "one anothers" of Scripture. We're to greet one another, to comfort one another, forgive one another, build one another up, serve one another, bear one another's burdens, encourage one another, meet with one another. These are all things you'll find in the New Testament. Be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving toward one another. We're to receive or welcome one another as Christ received us. We're to care for one another. We're to minister to one another, to show hospitality to one another, to pray for one another. And those are just some of the "one anothers" of Scripture.
Listen (I don’t know how you do that when I’m writing and not actually talking – but ya know what I mean!), when you're in a community, when you're connected at the roots to the people of God, the family of God, you can't fall over as easily. But you have to contribute to that. You can't be reclusive; you can't be estranged, and neither can you blame it on everybody else. You've got to be willing to get involved. Does that make sense?
Do you love the Church? Jesus does. He laid down His life for it. I want to tell you that's one of the biggest driving motivating forces in my life. I've seen as many or more messes in churches as you have, probably. I've seen a lot; I've heard a lot. But I know that Jesus loves the Church and gave His life for it. Awesome isn’t it?