We’ve spent the last several weeks talking about the life God blesses, and specifically about living life out of the soul. And this involves looking at and working on those below-the-waterline things in our lives. Developing the keel that keeps us upright in the storm, working on things that no one else will ever see, but are crucial to living the kind of life that Jesus calls the abundant life.
This morning, I want us to look at something that might not seem that important to your spiritual life, but God’s Word emphasizes as more important to staying upright in the storm than we might ever imagine. Keeping with the nautical theme, we’ll call it weight distribution.
In filing an insurance claim, a man found the company needed more information and wrote this letter:
I am writing in response to your request for additional information for my insurance claim. In block number three of the accident claim form I wrote, "trying to do the job alone" as the cause of my accident. You said in your letter that I should explain that statement more fully. I trust the following details will be sufficient.
I am a bricklayer by trade. On the date of the accident, I was working alone on the roof of a new six-story building. When I completed my work I discovered that I had about 500 pounds of brick left over. Rather than carrying the bricks down by hand, I decided to lower them in a barrel by using a pulley which was attached to the side of the building at the sixth-floor level.
Securing the rope at ground level, I went up to the roof, swung the barrel out, and loaded the bricks into it. Then I went back to the ground and untied the rope, holding it tightly to insure a slow descent of the 500 pounds of bricks. You will note in block number 22 of the claim form that my weight is 150 pounds.
Due to my surprise at being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Needless to say, I proceeded up the side of the building at a very rapid rate of speed.
In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming down. This explains my fractured skull and collarbone. Slowed only slightly, I continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers of my right hand were two knuckles deep into the pulley.
By this time, I had regained my presence of mind and was able to hold tightly to the rope in spite of my pain. At approximately the same time however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel then weighed approximately 50 pounds.
I refer you again to the information in block number 11 regarding my weight. As you might imagine, I began a rapid descent down the side of the building. In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming up. This accounts for the two fractured ankles and the lacerations of my legs and lower body.
This second encounter with the barrel slowed me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell onto the pile of bricks, and fortunately, only three vertebrae were cracked.
I am sorry to report, however, that as I lay there on the bricks in pain, unable to stand, and watching the empty barrel six stories above me, I again lost my presence of mind, and let go of the rope. The empty barrel weighed more than the rope so it came down upon me and broke both of my legs.
I hope I have furnished information sufficient to explain why "trying to do the job alone" was the stated cause of the accident.
If you’re like me, you’re also guilty of trying to do the job alone. There are times I try to carry the weight all by myself. But God never intended for me to carry my burdens by myself. In Galatians 6, Paul tells Christians, Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:1-2)
We need others in our lives to help us when we’re struggling, we need others who will walk with us along our spiritual journey. We need a church family. There are many reasons why we need a community of believers who help keep our lives in balance. And there are tremendous blessings that come when we intentionally make ourselves a part of that community and accept both the responsibilities and the accountability that come with it.
Blessing #1 - I am known
As far as I know, there are no anonymous members of my family. When our children were younger everybody who sat around our dinner table was there because they are important to us. I never referred to my children as deductions #1,2,3. We are family – we don’t just know each other’s names, we know what’s going on in each other’s lives. When one doesn’t show up for dinner, we don’t just shrug our shoulders and wonder if they’re sitting at someone else’s dinner table, we hunt them down and check in with each other. Why? Because we’re nosy and want to spread guilt around? No – that’s just what families do.
When you are a part of a church family, there is not only an implicit, but an explicit expectation that you will keep up with each other. It’s not enough that I know your name, I want to know you – about your family, what’s going on in your life, what brings you joy, what you’re struggling with. And when you’re not here on a Sunday morning, I’m going to check in with you. Why? Because I’m nosy and want to spread some guilt around? No – that’s just what families do. And folks, we haven’t done enough of that. We assume people don’t want you checking up on them – but the truth is – we really do want someone to care enough about us that they will call. We want to be missed.
When you’re not a part of a church family, and you just show up at whatever church is convenient, it’s like showing up at a restaurant for dinner. They might be glad you’re there, but when you don’t show up tomorrow night, they’re not concerned – you don’t mean anything to them. And while we’re glad for our visitors, until you say, “I want to be a member of this family,” you haven’t given us permission to be concerned about your spiritual welfare.
When you become a member at the Glenwood Church, you become a part of our family. Our elders accept the responsibility of being shepherds of your soul. You’re no longer just a name on a visitor card – you become somebody we will lay down our lives for.
Blessing #2 - I am needed
There is really no worse feeling than feeling useless – to feel like you’re not needed – that nobody would notice if you weren’t there. That was what Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, when he described the church as a body:
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
There may be some places you’re not needed, but this isn’t it. You – every single one of you – is important to this body. We can’t function effectively without you. You can function without an eye or an ear or just one leg, but you won’t function as well as when all your body parts are working fully and in coordination with each other.
And you might think – the church seems to run just fine without me – but the truth is, without you, we’re limping along on partial power. Oh, we’ll keep the doors open, we’ll have men up front to serve you communion, but if you aren’t doing what God created you and gifted you to do, we’re not working as effectively as God designed us.
And that’s not a manipulative ploy at getting you to sign up for something. It is the joyful realization that you are needed – you are significant to what God wants to do here at the Glenwood church.
And so, if you are a member here at the Glenwood church, we need you to be involved in ministry of some kind.
Blessing #3 - I am loved and cared for
There are two verses in Hebrews 13 that I want you to pay attention to: vss. 7 and 17. Those are the verses that admonish us to “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.” Those verses really aren’t about leaders, but about followers (there are all these seminars and workshops on leadership – but have you ever heard of a seminar on being a good follower?) We need both – in fact we need far more instruction on what it means to be a good follower. But listen to the last of vs. 17, “They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
What it tells us about leaders, it also tells us about being a part of a church family:
First of all, those leaders keep watch over you. It’s nice to know someone cares enough about me to pay attention to what’s going on in my life. We need someone to look after us and make sure we’re well fed and properly clothed, spiritually. We may think we’re self-sufficient and independent, but let me tell you – that’s Satan’s voice.
Earlier in the book of Hebrews the writer wrote, “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first” (Hebrews 3:12-14). We need a church family, we need shepherds who will watch over us. And when we place our membership in a congregation, we are intentionally placing ourselves under the leadership of the elders in that congregation. When we don’t become a member, and we just float around like a free agent, we are saying, “stay out of my business, I don’t need anyone helping me” and we put ourselves at great spiritual risk.
It’s like watching a two-year old who is getting a sense of her independence and goes around telling everybody – “I do it myself.” Trying to do things that she doesn’t have the strength or the understanding to do, but belligerently pushing you out of her way while she insists on attempting something she can’t do herself. It’s cute for a while in a two year old. It’s sad in a 40 year old who keeps trying to do something he doesn’t have the strength or the skill or the understanding to do, but insists that he can do it himself. It’s the man whose marriage is in trouble, but says, “we don’t need counseling,” as he helplessly watches his marriage crumble.
The truth is, we can’t do it ourselves. One of the greatest blessings of being a member of a church family is that I know there are people who care for me, and love me enough to come to my side when I am trying to carry a burden too heavy for me to bear; who love me enough to help me fight a battle against an enemy too strong for me to defeat on my own; who recognize my weaknesses well enough to come challenge me when they see me struggling with something that will shipwreck my faith.
When I’m not a member of a church family, I’m alone in the fight. I don’t have a church family to care for me and shepherds who will keep watch over me.
The second thing the Hebrews writer tells us there in vs. 17, “Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
When you’re a member of a church family, and you’ve placed yourself under the leadership of the shepherds, the outcome of that relationship is supposed to bring joy and be an advantage. And not just joy to the leader, but joy to you. I’ve been around long enough to have known a few folks who bristled at the idea of somebody – anybody – having spiritual authority over them (and to tell the truth, they really didn’t even like the idea of God being over them). They didn’t like it and they took every opportunity to make the elders’ work a burden. And you know what? The burden worked both ways. The elders’ job was harder, and the member’s life was less joyful.
How many times have your kids complained about rules and curfews and discipline? Your kids think you’re doing it to make them miserable. But I don’t know of any parent who sits around thinking, “How can I make my kid’s miserable?” Our purpose as a parent is to make our children’s lives more joyful. But joy doesn’t come from the absence of rules and restrictions, it comes when parents love their children enough to guide their lives with loving discipline. Just listen to what the Hebrews writer says again in Hebrews 12:10-11, “Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
When Paul was writing to the Corinthian church about a man who was living an immoral lifestyle – it was so bad, even the pagans wouldn’t have put up with it. And Paul tells them to put the man out of their fellowship. And this is what is really amazing – not for the purpose of getting rid of him, or even for punishing him – but to make him so painfully aware of what has been taken away from him that he will repent and change his life so that he can be restored to fellowship with the church. The only way removing fellowship has any ability to change somebody is if that fellowship means something in the first place. Unless there are relationships and privileges that are so important to a person that removing them creates pain, then all the dis-fellowshipping in the world doesn’t mean a thing.
That’s a pretty sobering question to ask yourself this morning: If for some reason, the church was taken away from you – the fellowship, the worship, the relationships – would it affect your life in any significant way? Or is the church just an afterthought? If your relationship with the church isn’t important enough that it would hurt you to lose it, it isn’t what God wants it to be.
I want you to experience, this morning, and every other day of your life as a Christian the full blessings of being in Christ. And I’m telling you the truth that those blessings can only fully be experienced in a committed relationship with Jesus Christ and with his church in a local congregation. Not just a Christian at large, without connection, without relationships, but being a member of a church family. Not just with your name on the roll, but active and involved. It’s not an optional extra. It is essential and crucial to being a part of Christ.
It is that weight distribution below the waterline and mostly out of sight. And when we are missing it, our lives are out of balance and in danger of being capsized by the first storm that comes along.