Rediscovering Church

Community is Costly

"If we can't live together, we're going to die alone" (from the Lost clip).

This becomes a little more obvious when you're in a plane crash and stranded on a hidden island. It may be less obvious when we can surround ourselves with entertainment and other things to distract us. 

In certain place that I have been in Liberia and Mexico, the community only had one television. This, combined with a desire to watch the television, caused everyone to gather together to watch soccer matches or the SportsCenter highlights. What is a tool of isolation in America because everyone has one became a tool of community in a place where the town only had one.

Yet we have everything we need. We have our own televisions, tools, cars. We have become our own self-sufficent islands. And on our islands, we are alone.

And "if we can't live together, we're going to die alone." But it's not just about dying alone, it's about actually never really living. When we live alone, we miss out on so much.

We were made for community. Some get community as it within their biological family. Others get it at work or some other place. But the place of a healthy church is to provide the opportunity to be part of a healthy community to everyone, regardless of wealth, social status, or biological family.
Long ago in a distant land, a prince dreamed of creating more than a geographical or political kingdom. He dreamed of establishing a community in which all persons were committed to each other in loyalty and equality, where every person sought the welfare of the neighbor even at a cost to the self. So the prince called a great meeting of all the heads of clans, all the wise and trusted people of the land, and dared to tell his dream. Each chieftain and his clan were invited to join in the foundation of a new society. As part of the community's inauguration, each was requested to search his cellar for the best wine produced from his ancestral vines. These treasured bottles would be uncorked, poured into a great communal vat, and blended, as the true community it represented, into a common vintage.

"How can I mix my exquisite wine with that of my neighbors?" asked one of the winegrowers invited to this covenanting. "I would sacrifice the unique variety of grape, the special climate of the year, the sweetness of a late harvest, the indefinable magic of bouquet, and I would violate my art as a winemaker. Impossible! Give up my distinct variety? Lose my separate self? I will not be adulterated in such a common cup."

So he corked a bottle of tap water, affixed his most beautiful label to the bottle, and at the time of the ritual the water ceremoniously into the vat, thinking that nobody would notice one bottle of water mixed in with all the other bottles of wine. When the covenanting was solemnized, all filled their glasses for the communal draft, the toast that would seal commitment to community. As the cups touched their lips, all knew the truth. It was not wine. It was water. No one had been willing to pay the cost of community.

A modified excerpt from from David Augsburger's Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor (60-61).

A Brief Look at Community in the Bible

Community is costly. And the early church decided to pay the cost.

If we look at Acts 2:42, we see that.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  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 2:42-47 ESV).
They were gathering together daily. They were sharing life together. A real relationship with God has as its natural consequence, community. If we aren't experiencing community, we need to grow closer to God. We need to spend time sharing meals with brothers and sisters in Jesus. We need to spend time praying together. Taking care of each other, as we see here, is a natural part of community.

They were the church. This is the type of church we need to strive to be.

So we have to shift the way we think of church and the value we attribute to church.

The writer of Hebrews wrote:
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 (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV).
Some have given up meeting together. When they do this, it is to their own spiritual detriment. Others still attend, but they don't really encourage others. They just come to church and want others to love them. They will take, take, and take and never give back.

True community is just real friendship. It's people giving and receiving. It's a place where you belong rather than just go. A place where you know people will encourage and love you when you need it. And you look for ways to encourage and love others. This is the type of real community that we are called to.

It's overly obvious but we sometimes don't notice the overly obvious things and allow them to penetrate our thoughts and shape our life the way that they should. Jesus didn't change the world alone. He assembled a group of people to change it through. This group of people who followed Jesus became the first church. One conversion after another, we are part of that chain of disciples that go all the way back to Jesus Himself through them.

Stop Playing Church

Yet somewhere along the way, things have morphed. Our society has passed down to us a broken church, with broken people in and out of the church.

We have been taught to keep our faith personal, when Jesus always taught us and modeled for us to keep our faith relational. We are to reflect Him and have a transformative faith that changes ourselves and those around us.

True, he teaches us to love God. That may be able to be construed as just having a personal faith. But He links that with loving one another. That is relational.

The early church followed that model. They didn't follow Jesus in isolation from others; they followed Jesus together. They went throughout the world assembling believers into churches. These groups of believers learned to live a life of loving God, not in isolation, but in community with each other.

We have bought into the personalization/privatization of our relationship with Jesus. Just caving to the pressure of the secular culture around. Instead of having dynamic churches expressing the kingdom life in a relevant way, we have communities with struggling churches (struggling for vibrant spirituality, attendance, and funding). Instead of being the light of the world, churches just struggle to just keep the lights on. This shouldn't be.

Our communities aren't going to get any better by more people only developing their "personal/private" spiritual lives. They will improve when the people who claim to follow Jesus gather in a church community together and start doing life together, pray together, and serve the community they live in together. They will proclaim the Scriptures, which they fervently study together, when the opportunity arises and help out with the needs of those around them as they notice those needs and have the resources to meet them. This is church. 

Where did America go wrong?

Yet every church in my town  is struggling. And it's not just my town. Satan is winning the heart of America because he is winning the hearts of people in one community after another.

Where did America go wrong? Those who claim to follow Jesus stopped being the church. We started pretending to follow Jesus without the church, as if that is even possible. Now, before you want to project blame on someone else or something else, humor me for a bit and let me explain. I think we, the church, are at fault and are the ones that need to change.

Jesus came to establish His kingdom, not to just create Lone Ranger Christians following Jesus in their own way outside of the church. Jesus wanted to show the world the way it should live, and He did this through transitioning the Kingdom of God from the Old Testament kingdom of Israel with its military and borders to the Kingdom of God as we now know it, the church. The church is a kingdom without a military whose weapon is love. A kingdom without borders who welcomes everyone. We need to rediscover God's kingdom plan for the world, pray that it be done here on earth as it is in heaven, and begin to bring that will into this reality. We have to role to play as citizens in the Kingdom of God. And this can't be done alone. It must be done together. We need to live, following Jesus, together. We need to be the church.

A lot of the time it may come across as self-serving when a pastor stands in front of the church and asks people to be more involved in the church and to give more to financially support that church. Because it is true that if those things happen, the ministry of the pastor will often flourish.

That is not the case here. I won't benefit one bit by you getting more involved in your local church. I won't benefit any by increased offerings to your local church. But you should get more involved and make giving to your local church an important part of your budget.

Because you will benefit. 

But when I phrase it that way it is just appealing to your selfish ways. You get involved. You give more. You benefit. See the selfish appeal. 

What I really want to convince you of is that God made you for this. He made you, not to express your faith privately, but to express your faith through a community of believers. And you will probably benefit through this process. It is natural for benefits to follow in the wake of us following in God's plan for our lives.

God made us to be the church, to share life together, to love our communities, and, from there, the world. Together. Not alone. We were made for real, genuine community. We were made for life together.

Yet the world keeps lying to us, telling us to do it alone. To be self-reliant. To be self-sufficient. To be spiritual but not part of a church. Those are all lies, yet we fall for them time and time again. And when we believe the lies and live for them rather than God's truth, our lives suffer. From there, it spirals into our communities suffering. Consequently, our nation and the world follow in the suffering parade that we are grand marshalling. The lie that we can follow Jesus alone will not help us be the people that God has created us to be.

So I will not benefit one bit if you make being part of your local church community a greater focus of your life. However, if you have already surrendered your life to Jesus, there is nothing greater that you can do than to become a real active, tangible part of the church. Give your life to being part of the church. Help your local church, through the guidance and strength of God, transform your community. Be part of  a city on a hill. Be part of the light of the world. This is what God is calling all of us to. God transforms the world through transformed churches that are, at their core, just the melding together of transformed lives.
We can complain all we want about the world going to hell in a handbasket. Just seeing the news often makes us feel that way. From Iraq to Israel to Ukraine to Ferguson. It's chaos right now.

And then it may be more personal. Chaos may be entering our family life. Our relationships with friends. It may all be falling apart.

But in all of the situations we only control one person. Me. If we spend our time trying change others rather than allow God to transform us, we're really just projecting blame rather than being the necessary change.

We cannot change the world, America, or our communities through my own strength, knowledge, or methods. But we can allow God to change ourselves and allow Him to graft us into His church. Because the only reason the world, America, or this community has lost its way is because the church has lost its way. The people in the church have lost their way. And, most assuredly, the people who claim to follow Jesus but stay aloof from the church have lost their way.

The church has stopped being the hub of society. And that's not society's fault. That's the blame mentality. Blaming the world and others will get us nowhere. But if we take the blame on ourselves and say that it's our fault. It's the church's fault. It's my fault. Then we can change and, hopefully, see change around us.

Let's be honsest. Most of us aren't loving the people around us the way we should love them. We aren't showing the world the alternative plan for living that God wants us to express through being people who identify with Him and His kingdom more than we identify with any earthly affiliation or nation. 

The church isn't viewed as a safe place for sinners when we would should be the first place a sinner wants to go. 

Let's fix who we are. 

Let's stop complaining about who they are. 

Let's bring change, starting with ourselves, rather than focusing on who to blame. 

Blame is the tool of the lazy to not change. Change is the tool of God to bring about His will here on earth.

We shouldn't expect the world to be Christian when we aren't even willing to make the sacrifice and be an active part of a Christian community and radically, whole-heartedly follow Jesus with others who are also trying to figure out how that looks. 

An Alternative to SuperChristian Approach

Personal rant time. There is something that frustrates me more than nearly anything. People will watch Duck Dynasty and act superChristian. They will be political on certain issues that seem Christian, publicly proclaim a love for God and act superChristian. They will eat Chick-fil-a and act superChristian. Yet they have abandoned the church - the bride of Jesus. They expect the world to allow prayer in schools - our secular schools - when they won't even come to church and pray. The church should be known as a house of prayer, yet Christians are more concerned about getting prayer into secular schools than are they about actually getting together and praying. This is wrong!

Trying to force others to act Christian while we avoid doing the Christian things ourselves is not the response we should have as followers of Jesus to noticing that the world is out of sync with God's will. To project blame and excpectations on others is not superChristian, let alone even simply Christian. SuperChristians have taken some individualistic twist to following Jesus, wrapped the American flag around it, and act like that is the kingdom Jesus died for. But we are not to be about forcing others
to live the life of a follower of Jesus through legislation, policy, or even social or peer pressure. Instead, we should live the life of a follower of Jesus as best as we possibly can and join in with others doing the same. This is church. Living the life God wants us to live together so that others can see the glory of Him.

When we see corruption, we need to be people who live together without corruption.

When we see hopelessness, we need to be living in such a way that we are hopebringers.

When we see selfishness, we need to model what it looks like to selflessly live for others.

When we see sin, we are called to live holy lives.

Rediscovering the Way

We are to provide the answer to society's ills through letting the Holy Spirit guide us. We let Jesus take over our lives and spread His love and bring Jesus to the world around us. We are to be a people set apart for the work of God.

This is what community should be like. This is what church should be like. A group of people living this alternative life - the Jesus life, the Kingdom life - in the midst of a world that has not yet joined in. We are to be a living example of God's plan for humanity.

Church is not just about gathering together at a certain time on Sunday morning or Saturday evening. It is more than that gathering although that gathering is an important part of a group of people being the church, but it's more than that. Church is about gathering together, encouraging each other, studying and praying together, and sharing life together.

The greatest witness of Jesus to our isolated, lonely, and disconnected society is those who claim to follow Jesus actually being a community of connected people - a group of people connected to each other because of our shared love for Jesus and His plan for this world. 

The cure for loneliness is real relationships. 

The cure for what ails our world is real relationships. 

This is why Jesus gave us the cure, the church. We are part of the cure. His death on the cross empowers us to have real relationships with each other, glued together by Him. Jesus established the church because the church provides the answer for the world's problems.

All of the other places that we experience community only offer earthly help. Church offers help of an eternal nature. And people are lying to themselves if they think they are in a right relationship with God without being in a right relationship with a church family.

Satan satisfies us with just enough community in other places that it distracts us from the essential, life-changing community with other Christians.

You may be in Rotary like I was, but as soon as you have to cut back on finances and stop going to the meetings, you are out of the community. You may have community at your workplace, yet as soon as you find another job, you are no longer part of that community. You may be on a softball team and you have community with the other players.

The church is a place that is different than all of those. The church is a place where people who have different interests, hobbies, and are from different walks of life can still have community with each other because we share the same Lord and Savior. Facebook users and Facebook haters can be brothers and sisters. Democrats and Republicans can worship together. Buckeye fans and Wolverine fans can share at the Lord's table.

It's true that when we give up gathering together or give up following Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we lose church community. But beyond that, if you change jobs, lose your health, get injured, lose all your money, move, or whatever would remove you from the communities in this world, you will still have community in the church.

The church has lost its way. We aren't loving the world the way we should love the world. We aren't praying together. We aren't doing life together. When we deflect self-reflection through wallowing in blaming the world for being the world, we stop the necessary change that needs to happen. Let's fix who we are. Let's stop complaining about who they are. Let us live in community together. Let us be the church.