In What Type of Community Must the Church Live? – Part 3

As Christians we are supposed to live in authentic and interdependent community. If you want to know what that looks like and why, check out my last two posts here and here.

While I believe I’ve argued well for why we must live in authentic and interdependent community and what it looks like, that doesn’t mean we know how to develop that type of community. Today, that’s what I’ll focus on –– how we develop authentic and interdependent community with one another.

How do we develop authentic and interdependent community with one another?

We can start by looking at what took place in the early church. Looking at Acts 2, we see that the early church:

  • Immersed their lives in God’s Word together.
  • Prayed together.
  • Shared each other’s burdens.
  • They laughed, they cried, they parented, they ate together.
  • They celebrated the Lord’s Supper together, proclaiming in a visible way to the world that Jesus is their Savior.
  • They served each other and the community.
  • They sacrificed for one another.
  • They made sure each other’s needs were met.
  • They extended hospitality to those around them.
  • They were on mission together, seeking to win others to Christ and helping each other grow in their Christian walk.

These are the things the early church did.

You are a necessary part of the body of Christ.

Along with doing these things, they saw themselves as a necessary part of the body of Christ. They knew that they were missed. They knew that they were hindering the church’s growth and mission when they failed to participate.

You must be willing to share your lives with others.

As well as they were willing to share their lives with each other. They were open. They were transparent. They shared more than their physical needs with others. They also shared their spiritual needs.

So we must not only participate in the same activities as they did, but we must see ourselves as a necessary part of the body, and we must be willing to share our lives with one another. Those you attend church with should know how to pray for you. Not just physically but spiritually. They should know your fears, your struggles, your joys.

I know hearing that probably sounds a bit invasive. But that’s what it takes to live in authentic and interdependent community with one another. If we always keep one another at arms length, if we never let anyone in, we aren’t really depending on them. Instead we are depending on ourselves. But that’s not how a body operates. Your arm doesn’t depend on itself. Instead, it depends on the rest of the body in order to work. We must do the same. We must depend on one another in order to live in authentic and interdependent community.

Conclusion

How are you doing with that? Do you see yourself as someone who just lives in proximity to others? Or are you living in or at least working towards living in authentic and interdependent community with your local church members?

If we are going to be authentic disciples, then we must also live in interdependent community. We must do it, not only for our own spiritual growth, but for the spiritual growth of others, and the furtherance of Jesus’ kingdom. So we must be disciples who live authentically and interdependently with one another in biblical community.

Resources

Post developed from my sermon In what type of community must the church live?

In What Type of Community Must the Church Live? – Part 2

The community represented in Acts 2 reminds me of an illustration I recently read in a book. The author spoke about the giant Redwoods just outside of San Francisco in the Armstrong Redwood National State Reserve. These Redwoods extend skyward over a football field in length. They have stood for centuries despite heavy storms coming through the region. The way they have been able to face storm after storm after storm without toppling over has to do with their root system. When you read about their roots, you learn that they are only about 12 feet under the surface. While 12 foot is not shallow, it doesn’t seem deep enough to hold a tree 100 or more yards in height in the ground against fierce winds. On it’s own it probably wouldn’t. But the giant Redwoods aren’t standing on their own. If you were to scrap back the earth, you would see an intertwined network of roots. The Redwoods are able to stand because they live in community with one another. In other words, they depend on one another for strength. What they couldn’t do on their own, they are able to do in community.  So that’s how they have been able to stand for 100’s of years despite the storms Mother Nature throws at them.

Likewise, the only way we are going to be able to endure the storms of life and thrive as God has intended us to is by living in authentic and interdependent community with one another. In other words, our spiritual roots must not just extend deep but also wide. We must be connected with and depend on our fellow believers around us. If not, we aren’t going to stand when the storms of life come at us. Instead we will fall. We need one another. We need to live in authentic and interdependent community with one another.

What does that look like live in authentic and interdependent community?

II. What does it look like for us to live in interdependent community? (vs. 44-47)

Starting in verse 44 we read,

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47)

What I want to draw your attention to in these verses is the word “together”. It appears in verses 44 and 46. While this word is translated as the same word in English, it’s actually two different words in the Greek. As you can guess, these two words mean two different things.

In verse 44, the Greek is epi and it has to do with physical location. What that tells us is that these early Christians lived in the same place.

A. They lived in close proximity to one another.

This wasn’t a small community. In verse 41, we learn that 3,000 people were initially saved at Peter’s preaching during Pentecost. Some, I presume, went back to their towns, but others stayed in Jerusalem. Along with those who initially believed, we also learn in verse 47 that others were being added to the church each and everyday. So this was quite a large community of Christians living together with one another. I’m not exactly sure what that first community’s living quarters looked like. But what I do know is that they sold their possessions and moved so that they could live in close proximity to one another.

Now, I don’t think this means that we all have to sell our houses, secure a plot of land somewhere, and build our own community. Although, I know some of my church members wouldn’t be opposed to some folks buying and building across the street here, since they have land for sale. While they will gladly sell you a plot of land, I don’t believe that’s what Acts is teaching.

Acts is mainly a descriptive, not a prescriptive text. In other words, more often than not it tells us what the early church did and not necessarily what we must do. I believe that is the case in this text. God through the writing of Luke is calling us to do something but it’s not to move on to the same plot of land together. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with that. There are families in our church that do live on the same plot of land. If anything that can be very beneficial. I’m sure the families here would agree. But that is not what God is calling us to do — that part is descriptive.

That, however, doesn’t mean God isn’t calling us to do something. We have the book of Acts for a reason even if it is written in more of a descriptive fashion. What I believe that we, as 21st century Christians, are to take from this is that:

B. The church we are involved in and its members should be local to us.

In other words, it should be in the same community in which we live. We should be able to “run into” other church members while we are out and about.

That means then that we shouldn’t be members of a church that is located outside of our community just because it is the popular church in the area or we like the speaker. No, we must live in proximity to those with whom we attend church. That makes sense if we are going to genuinely devote our lives to one another. That’s hard to do if we don’t ever see one another. Or if it is a burden or hassle to get together with one another. So we must live in close proximity to one another, just as those in the early church did. In other words, the church we attend must be local.

That idea that we must be a part of a local church gains even more traction when we consider the second “together” used in these verses. It is found in verse 46. It is the Greek word homothumadon. Literally this word means to have the same fiery passion. It’s to be intensely unified with another like fans who cheer on their home team.

I know most of you in Decatur like football. Even if you don’t, being from Decatur, you probably still attend the Homecoming festivities — the parades, pep rallies, and the game. Those who attend those activities don’t sit there half asleep. They engage, they cheer, they root for the home team. If you were to take a step back and get a birds eye view of the stands, especially if Decatur was driving down the field for the winning touch down, you would see a fiery passion, a sense of unity among the fans. That fiery passion, that unity that draws you together is the idea that this word is trying to convey. This is why some translations translate it as “one accord.”

But this word doesn’t just carry the idea of being in one accord with other spectators at a sporting event. It goes much deeper than that. It carries the idea that we are to be together, in one accord with one another, on a deep spiritual and emotional level. What this word tells us then is that:

C. We are to live interdependently.

Living interdependently means that we are together in both proximity and in dependent community.

Think about the example of the Redwoods that I opened with. They exist in proximity to one another, as well as they depend on one another. They live in interdependent community. That’s how the first church lived. That’s how we are to live as well. 

Now, living in interdependent community of course means that we live in proximity to one another. But:

Interdependent community takes us much deeper than proximity.

Even though proximity is associated with interdependent community. To a certain extent living in proximity is easy to attain. All it takes is for us to live in the same community and attend the same local church on a regular basis. Proximity is really nothing more than seeing one another, saying hey, shaking hands, sitting in the same Sunday School class and sanctuary together. So achieving proximity is really not all that difficult. But it is the first and a necessary step to living in interdependent community.

That tells us, then, that

We can’t just stop at proximity, we have to keep going until we also are living lives that are depending on one another for growth and godliness.

We need to get to a place where we believe that we need each other in order to grow in Christ, that we need more than just Jesus, a Bible, and a quiet a place. Don’t get me wrong, we need time alone with Jesus. We need our time in the Word and in prayer, but we also need one another. We have to recognize that or we will never live in interdependent community with one another. We will never see the value of asking someone else to pray for us. We will never see the value of asking another to hold us accountable. We will never see the value of getting together with one another in Bible Study. We will never see the value of serving one another by using our spiritual gifts.

So we must get to a place where we believe that we need one another in order to grow in Christ and accomplish our mission as the Church.  I’m not talking about a physical need. Certainly, we need others to help us with things. We need people who are willing and able to cook meals for those who can’t do it on their own. We need people to go and fix things at other people’s houses. We need others to give us a ride at times. We need each other physically.

But we also need to go deeper than that, so that we recognize the fact that we need each other spiritually. The first church saw that need, and that’s what drove them to sell everything, to move in with one another, and to gather together on a daily basis to not only fulfill the physical but the spiritual as well. They saw their need for one another. If we want to be a growing vibrant church that is making disciples, we must see that need and we must allow others to meet that need.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do we see a need for one another? 
  2. Are we willing to be open and transparent so that others can fulfill that need? 

Next Time

Next time, I’ll focus on how we are to live in interdependent community with one another. 

Resources

Post developed from my sermon In what type of community must the church live?

Why should you join a local church?

Every now and again, as a Pastor, I get asked,

Why should I join a local church? I mean, I’m a Christian, which means I’m a part of the universal church. I attend church semi-regularly. Why do I have to join a local church?

For the most part, that’s an honest question. And an honest question deserves an honest answer. So:

Why should you join a local church?

I believe there are several reasons. Let’s look closer at those now.

(1) God has commanded it in Scripture. 

The writer of Hebrews says,

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Heb 10:24–25)

First things first. God has commanded us to join together with one another. Since we are commanded to gather together for the purposes of helping one another grow in love and good works, we aren’t to neglect that activity. In order to know which people you are to gather with, you need to commit to them. You show your commitment by joining that particular church.

(2) God has given us the local church as a place where you can:

  • Use your spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12; 14; Eph 4)
  • Learn more about Him (Joshua 1:8; Ps 1:2; 112:1; Matt. 4:4)
  • Be held accountable and be helped to grow in your spiritual walk (Heb. 13:7, 17; 1 Jn 5:14-15; 1 Tim. 2:8; Eph. 6:16-18; James 5:16; Phil. 1:15-18; Gal. 2:11-16; Col. 1:21-23)
  • As well as it is a place through which you can serve others and the community (1 Tim. 5:3-16; Acts 6:1-7; James 1:27; Matt. 28: 18-20; John 6:35-40)

It is hard to do those things if you aren’t a member of a church. That’s because people in the church don’t know if you want them to hold you accountable or not. The leadership doesn’t know if you want them to shepherd and guide you spiritually. Nor does the church as a whole know if you want them to help you use your spiritual gifts.

In reality, you may not even be given the opportunity to use all your spiritual gifts if you aren’t a member. At the church I pastor, if you aren’t a member, you can’t head up a ministry, you can’t teach, you can’t serve on different committees, nor can you be a Deacon. We aren’t the only church that limits people in these ways. Many churches limit non-members ability to serve.

So for those reasons, I believe it is important you join a local church.

When I say local, I mean local.

I know it’s popular to attend a church with a big name celebrity pastor. Generally, they have more resources, deliver better sermons, and produce better content. They didn’t garner the following they have without being able to do those things. While it’s fine to attend those churches, I’m not against big churches or celebrity pastors, I don’t think you should drive out of your local area to do so. I say that because doing so will generally make attending weekly worship services and other church activities a burden. I don’t know about you, but I usually don’t do that which is a burden consistently.

When you aren’t attending regularly, you usually aren’t serving, holding others accountable and being held accountable, or serving the community. Instead, you become a pew sitting consumer who shows up a couple of times a month. When I read Hebrews 10, I don’t think that is the type of gathering together with one another the author had in mind.

Question for Reflection

  1. What are your thoughts on local church membership?

Resources

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Post adapted from my sermon: What is the Church and Why is it Important?

Do You Worship Out of a Sense of Duty or Thankfulness?

In Psalm 50, Asaph confronts Israel regarding their worship and living. What they were doing isn’t much different from what many do today. Their worship was formulaic. In other words, they were going through the motions. Sure, they brought the appropriate sacrifices, but it was done more out of a sense of duty instead of thanksgiving.

Many Do the Same Today

To our shame, many today view the Sunday worship service as nothing more than another box to check off on their spiritual checklist right alongside their morning prayer and devotion. Thinking that way, we drag ourselves to the Sunday Service, sing a few songs, bow for the pastoral prayer, greet our neighbors, place some money in the offering plate, listen to the sermon, and then we are on our way, patting ourselves on the back for a job well done. Why do we do this?

Why Do We Worship Out of Duty?

We worship out of duty because we think that is what God wants or needs. But that is far from the truth. God doesn’t need us, our provisions, or our worship. He owns everything, and He is satisfied in and of Himself. The truth is, we need God. We need His provisions and care.

The Gospel Changes Our Perspective

Instead of faking it, what we need to do is change our perspective. The way we do that is by meditating on the gospel.

The gospel tells us we are sinners, who have rebelled against and offended a holy God. As a result, we are destined to suffer His wrath. However, Jesus came, lived a perfect life, and, even though He didn’t deserve God’s wrath, He faced it on our behalf. He took the wrath we deserve on Himself. All those who repent of their sins and believe Jesus suffered the punishment we deserve, can experience a restored relationship with the Father free from the fear of judgment.

For Jesus’ sacrifice, we should be thankful. For God’s provision and care in our life, we should be thankful. Our thankfulness should drive us to worship God. So when we begin to go through the motions in worship, what we need to do is stop, meditate on the gospel, and remember God’s provisions.

We need to reset our heart, so we see that it’s not God who needs us, but we who need Him.

When we truly see our need for God and how He has provided for us, we should be driven to worship out of a sense of thankfulness instead of duty. When we worship from a right heart, we end up glorifying God. For He says in Psalm 50:23

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” (Ps. 50:23)

Question for Reflection

  1. Does thankfulness or duty drive your worship?

Resource

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Learning the Art of Waiting is Worth It

I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” (Ps 40:1–3)

Gone are the days when we have to take a trip to the local store for groceries, clothes, movies, or other goods. In our always connected digital world, we can have them delivered to our house the same day or watch on demand. There are advantages to be sure. We can get more done, relax longer, and play more with our kids.

Our Patience is Growing Thin

However, there are also disadvantages. One is that our patience grows thin. You know what I am talking about, if our movie buffers or our item isn’t delivered in a couple of hours, we feel slighted, and we take to social media to instantly complain about our mistreatment.

A Thin Patience Affects Our Relationship with God

But a diminished patience not only leads us to complain more about companies online, it also leads us to complain more about God.

We think God must work like the companies we both admire and complain about. He must cater to our needs instantly. The benefits of waiting are lost on us.

This negatively affects our spiritual growth and leads to diminished worship. Instead of praising the Lord when He comes through, we say, “Finally, what took you so long.” Instead of leading others to worship God for His faithfulness, we complain, drawing others away instead of towards God.

Learning the Art of Waiting is Worth It

Waiting for the Lord to deliver or answer us is difficult, but it is worth it. God’s plan is greater than ours. His timing is perfect. Recognizing that helps us to see that this world isn’t all about us, our wants, and our desires. Instead, it’s about God, His plan, His will, and His purposes for this world and our life.

While it is hard for us to wait, there is a lot we can learn during that time, so may we learn to wait on the Lord, and may we praise Him even more when He answers us.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you believe our instant society is affecting your relationship with God?

Resource

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A Call To Maturity: How the older generation can train the youth of today

March 2013’s edition of Table Talk Magazine covers Youth Culture. In an article entitled A Call to Maturity, Robert Carver challenges the older generation to train up our youth in the way of the Lord.

While there is a cultural divide between the older generation and the up and coming youth, godly saints still have a lot of wisdom to offer. Walking with the Lord for 30, 40, or even 50 years bears a lot of fruit. Fruit that needs to be shared. Even though formal instruction exists in homes, schools, and churches, informal day-to-day opportunities are available. Carver offers three practical ways to take advantage of the everyday.

How to Take Advantage of the Everything

(1) Love Them Genuinely And Patiently

The younger generation needs to know that the older generation is not estranged from them. The church is a body made up of many members, young and old – all valuable to the functioning of the whole.

In Ephesians 4, Paul describes the saints as growing from spiritual immaturity “to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (v. 13). This process is accomplished “when each part is working properly, mak[ing] the body grow so that it builds itself up in love’ (v. 16).

If we are to have an impact on the young, we must love them, and they must know that we do.

Love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

If you are a part of the older generation, don’t be hesitant to tell the up and coming youth you know that you love them (corporately and individually). To love them genuinely and patiently is to love them as God loves us.

(2) Share With Them What Is Most Important to You

One thing that should be important to you is God’s Word. Let the youth see your passionate love for God’s Word as it instructs you, guides you, encourages you, and convicts you. Let them see how vital of a component it is for your everyday life.

I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12).

Share specific passages that have gripped your life recently.

Also, convey to them the essential nature of prayer. Help them to see that it is an activity Christians can’t live without. Do this as you pray with them and for them. Le’ts Paul’s testimony of Epaphras be yours. In Colossians 4:12, Paul testified that Epaphras was “always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col. 4:12).

Without fail urge them to fight the good fight, to battle tirelessly with sin, and to flee youthful passions (2 Tim. 2:22) that wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11).

Furthermore, challenge them to see God at work in all events, including the details of their lives. Encourage them to constantly thank God for all they have and for them to never forget to give Him all glory.

(3) Invest In Them

Buy them books that have made a spiritual impact on your life, and offer to study these books with them. Offer to take them to conferences and other Christian gatherings. The investments we make in their spiritual lives will pay everlasting dividends.

Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days (Eccl. 11:1).

Conclusion

After offering three practical suggestions Carver closes by saying:

So, “to what shall I compare this generation?” Surely it is a generation like no other. But it is also a generation that needs to know Christ’s redeeming love, and needs to shine as lights in the world in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation (Phil. 2:15) – just as we of the older generation needed to do back in our day (and now). May God help us to be examples and loving instructors to them, and may they do likewise.”

I believe Carver’s call and suggestions are helpful and must be heeded. I can speak from personal experience in saying that the older generation has influenced me. I am thankful men have stepped up and spoke into my life. I am afraid though that is a rarity, but it doesn’t have to be.

May those in the older generation feel God’s call to train up the youth of this generation to be the men and women of Christ that they have become.

Resource

Table Talk Magazine March 2013, A Call to Maturity, 23-25.

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