I’ve told you about my dad before. He was a good man, a hard working man, very intelligent. But he was from that generation of men who were taught that showing emotion was a sign of weakness. I never heard my dad say the words “I love you.” I never saw him kiss my mother. He never hugged any of us. It’s not that he didn’t love us – it’s just that he wasn’t very good at showing it. When I became a Christian at age 16, my world opened up to a whole new way of viewing relationships, and I began to observe fathers who were emotionally attached to their kids, and felt comfortable hugging their kids and telling them they loved them – and I felt left out. So I thought I’d re-train my dad – I started hugging him and telling him I loved him. (Now stop and think about that for a second – a 16 year old boy suddenly becoming the initiator of loving exchanges – my dad must have thought aliens had taken his son!) I never let a day go by that I didn’t tell him I loved him. Most of the time I would get a grunt – every now and then I would get a “you too” in return – but never “I love you.” It must have killed him.
But I’ll never forget the day Diana and I became engaged. It was the summer between her freshman and sophomore year in college – I was going into my junior year. We had both gone home for the summer – her to Texas City, TX and me to Ft. Collins, CO – and I flew her up to Colorado for the week of the 4th of July. We had driven up to Estes Park and I asked her to marry me. We came back to the house that afternoon and announced it to my parents. My mom went crazy (she called her sister Lucille… I finally got my girl….), but my dad was real quiet. A little later he goes out in the back yard and comes back in with a handful of blooms off the lilac bush and hands them to Diana and does a little bow – kind of like a shy school boy. It was his way of welcoming her to the family. Not a word – but in that moment I got a little glimpse into the soul of my father as he fumbled to communicate what his mouth just wouldn’t let him say. But as he looked at me I knew he was trying to say “I love you.”
All that is to say, we all hunger for relationships – we want to love and be loved – even when we don’t know how to express it very well ourselves. And that isn’t a sign of weakness, it isn’t a character defect to need relationships. God created us with that inborn need to be in relationships that touch us to the very core. And especially to have spiritual relationships in the Lord that connect us, not only on the level of friendship and mutual interests, but connect us soul to soul in the things that are most important in our lives.
I need folks in my life with whom I can have a conversation that gets deeper than “Sure has been hot lately,” or “How about them Broncos?” I need someone who knows what’s going on in my life and feels comfortable enough to ask how I’m really doing – and who is going to listen when I tell them.
Where do you get that? How do you create that? If I were to say right now, “go find someone to relate to on a deep, spiritual level” – some of you would say, “I’ve already got that” – others of us would get that deer in the headlights look and say, “I wouldn’t know where to begin.” It’s not that we don’t want it and don’t need it, we just need help getting it going.
Church isn’t just about what we do in here on Sunday morning – it’s about what happens out there Monday thru Saturday. It’s out in the marketplace – on our jobs, at our schools, in our homes. It’s how we live out what we learn in here. When Paul said, “work out your own salvation” – he wasn’t saying “figure it out,” he was saying “live it out.”
How did the early Christians live out their salvation? They did it in community – surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ – involved in relationships with people who were closer than blood. Listen to Luke’s description of the birth of the church: Acts 2:41-47 “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Here were people who, only days earlier, couldn’t speak one another’s language – they were from everywhere across the Mediterranean world – nothing in common – but now they were one in Christ Jesus. And how did that manifest itself? They were “together and had everything in common.” They worshiped together and learned and grew together in the word, they met together in the temple courts and then they ate together in their homes. And there was a word that characterized that: “fellowship” – that’s that familiar Greek word “koinonia.” They devoted themselves to fellowship. And if your picture of fellowship is a potluck meal or visiting in the foyer for a couple minutes after church, you need a bigger picture. Fellowship is relationships with depth and closeness and transparency.
That’s what sustained the early Christians through difficult and dangerous times. That’s why the church grew – even in the face of tremendous obstacles – look at Acts 5:12-14 “And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.”
Why? People wanted what they had. People hungered for that kind of closeness and community. They were willing to die for it.
I think we still do. I think every one of us, in a heartbeat, would sell everything we have to be a part of a genuine, authentic community of believers like that. And that’s exactly what they did.
Somewhere between then and now the church has changed. The closeness of family has been replaced by the unfamiliarity of strangers. That togetherness that characterized the early church has been replaced by a handshake once a week in the foyer. We don’t come together as a family, we don’t spend time in one another’s homes, we don’t know each other on a spiritual level. We’re content to come and sit in an auditorium with a bunch of strangers and exchange a few superficial comments on weather and sports and then head for our homes where we feel quite comfortable that we’ve fulfilled our religious duties for the week. What they had “in common” has become very uncommon. It is rare to find those kind of relationships – and yet it is still something we hunger for.
And we have robbed ourselves. God did not create us to live in spiritual isolation. The church was never meant to be a weekly assembly of strangers. The church of the NT is a family who knows each other so well they can laugh and cry together and celebrate each other’s joys and mourn each other’s losses. We should know each other so well we know where each of us struggles and care enough about each other to confront and challenge one another when we sin.
And that can’t happen in a once a week, 60-minute worship service. And if that’s all you want and that’s all you intend to give, I am so sorry for you. Because there is more – so much more.
Throughout the New Testament there are a series of “one-another” passages – scriptures that talk about the importance of those relationships that we have in Christ and the specific behaviors and attitudes we are to have towards “one another.” Let me share a few of those…
Why do you think the writers of the NT, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, spent so much time telling us about one another? I thought the Bible was a book of religious doctrine – teach me what to think, what to believe, how to argue with someone who doesn’t agree with me.
Let me share a startling thought – and I’m going to come back to it next week, but in four passages, the NT writers use the phrase “sound doctrine” – in a dozen other scriptures the words “doctrine” or “teaching” are used. In almost every one of them, the sound doctrine that described has to do, not with some religious dogma, but with how you live around others, how you treat people. I don’t care if you know everything there is to know about pre-millennialism and eschatology and have never lost a debate with your religious friends. If you don’t know how to love the people who sit down the pew from you, you’re wrong about everything.
Do you remember back in college when you would take a class on chemistry you would sit in a lecture and take notes, but then you had to go to the lab and work out all that theoretical knowledge in the real world.
Life Groups are like that. We come on Sunday morning and you listen to me talk about what a Christian life looks like and how we ought to behave – and some of you even take notes (and I appreciate that) – but we need a place where we can work out what that looks like in real life.
Life Groups have the power to create that opportunity and fill that need. We’ve done small groups for years – they have been a part of the fabric of this congregation from almost the very beginning. But they’ve always been the added extra – if you want to, but we don’t want to impose – only for those who don’t have something better to do on Sunday evening.
The fact is, small groups are the life blood of a congregation. They are where we have the time – where we take the time to sit down across the table from the folks we go to church with and get to know them. All those things there just isn’t time to do on Sunday morning – this is where they happen. And it changes the church from an organization into a family.
Life Groups are a four legged table. The four legs give them stability and effectiveness. Take one away and they become imbalanced. All four together make the table strong and useful. The four legs are Relationships, Bible Study, Evangelism and Service. In the next three Sundays, we’ll talk about the other dimensions of Life Groups, but this morning our focus is on the Relationship building aspect of Life Groups.
Don’t misunderstand – Life Groups aren’t the magic fix-all. I can’t make that kind of relationship for you. I can’t match you up with somebody and say, here you go, one ready-made relationship coming up. But Life Groups are an opportunity for that to happen.
They put you together with people over a period of time – you sit together, talk together, discuss things of spiritual importance together, share things going on in your lives, pray together (and yes, even though food is not the focus, I’m sure you’ll eat a meal or two together!)
In Life Groups you are going to get to know one another in a deeper way than you ever thought possible.
In those Life Groups you will have opportunities to care for needs and serve others and grow together as brothers and sisters in the Lord. They are the ideal place to invite your friends and introduce them to the Lord and to his people.
I am really excited about the potential that Life Groups have to re-emphasize what has made this congregation something special over the years – that feeling of family. Of making what we have “in common” not so uncommon after all.
Posted on Sun, September 23, 2012
by John Roberts