Episode 1. Church – Community and Commitment
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This thing called church is a strange sort of an animal. What it is – or at least the way we see it – has changed a bit over the years. And whilst sometimes we might think of it as a building or …
This thing called church is a strange sort of an animal. What it is – or at least the way we see it – has changed a bit over the years. And whilst sometimes we might think of it as a building or an institution – it’s really neither of those things. It’s a community. And community requires commitment.
Have you noticed the more money people earn, the more choices we have – the more choices we have, the busier we are at work and with kids, and we get tired? And so these days, getting a sense of community going is really hard. There are lots of lonely people around the country and around the world and yet God has this plan for His family. God has a plan that His family should get together and be a family and that plan is called ‘church.’ Now, for a lot of people, church is a four–letter word. A lot of people are browned off with church. They’ve tried it, they’ve had enough. People are starting to write text books about this huge number of Bible believing Christians, who have decided they are not doing ‘church’ anymore. And for someone who hasn’t come to faith in Jesus Christ yet, the whole notion of church is old fashioned, out of date, and irrelevant. So church gets a lot of bad press. Yet God writes, Himself, in Psalm 68, verse 6, it says that, “God sets the lonely in families.” So God has a plan for His children, for His people to be a part of a family and that family, by and large, is called ‘church.’
Now our society is struggling with having a sense of community. Just out there every day in life, lots of people are struggling to connect with one another and a lot of people never do, a lot of people feel very lonely. And to tell you the truth, in a lot of quarters, the church is struggling as well, to create a sense of community. So often churches come up with programs, you know, they have this program for the youth and they do all these programs. It’s almost like you are going to McChurch, you know, it’s – two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun – approach to Church, where you’re kind of ground through the mill.
Community is about relationships. Community is about, well, it’s organic, isn’t it? It’s naturally people getting on with one another, living with one another as a family, helping one another, compensating for one another. I was reading something that a man by the name of Malcolm Langford wrote. He’s a lawyer and a musician. He wrote this,
“I have a dream of a Christian community that when I entered, you were excited to see me. When I revealed my wounds, you held me close. When I lost my job, you paid my rent. When I needed a home, you became my family. When I followed billboards, you led me to the cross. When I ran after mini–loves, you opened my eyes to ‘The’ Lover. When I was self–absorbed, you taught me to love the broken. When I hurt others, you showed me the struggle for justice. When I destroyed everything, you helped me to create beauty. When I let you see my true self, you celebrated my journey and when one day heaven’s glories opened to call me home, I was torn.”
That’s a beautiful verse isn’t it? It’s a beautiful picture of what Christian community should look like.
But sadly a lot don’t. Sadly a lot of people who attend churches, with the right intention – the intention of worshipping God, the intention of hearing His Word proclaimed, the intention of being part of a family. Where they love and are loved, where they support and are supported, where they’re cared for and they care. People go to church with that intention, yet so many churches struggle in this area of community. After all, if a church isn’t a family, if a church doesn’t provide community, well, we might as well all just stay home and listen to sermons on the radio or CD. That’s great but it doesn’t help us to be a part of a family. I would strongly encourage you, if you are struggling with church; you hang in with us, this week on the program, because I believe that God wants us to flourish in the House of the Lord.
Churches can do programs, they can do ministry activities, we can do that till we’re blue in the face and yet not build relationships and not have a sense of community. Community is the Holy Spirit stirring our hearts and moving our hands, you and me. And today in this message that I’ve called, “Flourishing in the House of the Lord,” the first in a four part series, we are going to look at three key impediments to that sense of community. We are going to name them, identify them and I pray, help remove them.
The first of those is the impediment of ‘commitment.’ When you think of a relationship, as a relationship between two people matures, it moves from being casual to ultimately becoming a relationship of commitment. Marriage is like that, boy meets girl, they are attracted to one another, they might date, they might stop dating, they might date again and progressively they go through a process of commitment, of becoming engaged, spending some time in engagement and then becoming married and the whole ‘marriage’ thing is supposed to be a life long commitment to one another. And as that commitment begins with marriage, so the relationship deepens and matures, that’s Gods plan. I know it doesn’t always work out that way. I know half of all marriages, almost, end in divorce, but that’s God’s plan of a mature relationship between a man and a woman, husband and wife.
In the New Testament, the word ‘church‘, well, there are two words for it. One is the Greek word “Ecclesia” Now, I don’t normally talk about Greek words, but this is important. One is the Greek word “Ecclesia”. It literally means – an assembly. I guess that’s what we do Sunday mornings or Sunday evenings, when the Church meets together. It’s the word that we get, “Ecclesiastical” from. The other word is “Koinonia”, it means – a fellowship, it comes from a group of words that have a root meaning of – to share something in common. You can do “ecclesia“, you can meet together on Sunday morning as an assembly and have zero commitment, but you can’t do “koinonia” church that is “fellowship” church, without commitment being a foundation of the relationship. You might say, “Well, I’m committed to church, I think.”
Let’s have a read of what God says in Psalm 92, verses 12 to 14. If you’ve got a Bible, grab it and open it up. This is a great passage. He says this:
“The righteous flourish like a palm tree and a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the House of the Lord and they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they still produce fruit, they are always green and full of sap, showing that the Lord is upright, He is my rock and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” (Psalm 92:12–14)
The plan for us is that we should be trees like the cedars of Lebanon and like palm trees, planted in the House of the Lord. The problem is that these days we want to be “pot plant” Christians. We don’t want to put our roots down in the House of the Lord. We don’t want to be part of the fellowship. We want to say, “Well, I’m a Christian and I don’t need those other Christians. They’re a pain in the neck sometimes, so what I’ll be is, I will be a pot plant Christian. In my pot I’ll be protected, I won’t be hurt, I won’t be disillusioned.” Maybe you have been through that, in the past, in a church and you’ve had enough. The hurt has never gone and so you’ve put yourself in a pot instead of a forest. You put yourself in a pot instead of the House of the Lord, where we’re intended to flourish. You put a pot in the wind and it dries out, it blows over. Ultimately you put a pot out there in the weather and the chances are the tree will die. To flourish means to grow well, to thrive, to luxuriate, to be at a time of the highest productivity, and excellence or influence.
And my hunch is it’s not up to us to transplant ourselves from one church to another. You’ve probably heard of that term – going church shopping! Isaiah Chapter 61, verse 3, says that “we are trees of righteousness, the plantings of the Lord.” Where we are planted is God’s choice!
Am I planted in the right place? Well, there are two answers to that question. What does God want and what do our feelings tell us, and frankly, sometimes they are different. Are we prepared to put the calling of the Holy Spirit above our feelings and say, “Lord, am I planted in the right place, have you got me in the right place?” If the answer is “Yes”, from God, then it’s time to get committed, but if the answer is “No”, we’d better find out where God wants to plant us and go there and be committed.