19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
Dear Friends in Christ,
What do you think of when you hear the word “togetherness”? That word can bring to mind all kinds of mental images, can’t it? For example, we’re just finishing up with that time of the year when families take their summer vacations and there’s a sense of togetherness that prevails when they spend hours traveling in the car or the van or the SUV together. And let’s be honest, sometimes that togetherness gets tested a bit as everyone gets rather testy and irritable and tired of riding with each other. But once the destination is reached, the togetherness resumes as you enjoy doing whatever it was that you planned to do on your vacation.
Togetherness can also mean a nice relaxing evening with your spouse watching TV or sitting on the porch swing and just talking. It can be the camaraderie that you feel with your fellow Cardinal fans when you attend a baseball game at Busch Stadium. A little over a month ago I was at a Cardinals game which amazingly they won in spite of getting only 2 hits and after it was over a couple of guys behind me high-fived me like we’d known one another all of our lives. I didn’t know either of them from Adam, but there was definitely a feeling of togetherness that permeated the stadium that night.
Togetherness is supposed to be a big part of our everyday lives. For God created us that way. When Adam was all alone in the Garden of Eden and he had finished naming all the animals, none of which was found to be a suitable companion for him, God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” But not only did God design togetherness to be a part of our everyday lives, he also designed it to be a part of our spiritual lives. Or to put it another way, we are called by God not just to believe in his Son Jesus Christ, but to also belong to his body, the church. The Bible loves the word “together.” It says we are put together, joined together, built together, members together, heirs together, fitted together, held together, and that we will be caught up together when Christ comes again. You know what that means, my friends? It means when you become a Christian you’re not on your own anymore. You’re part of a family – a great big wonderful family. Romans 12:5 says: “In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
In fact, we are so vital to this family and so dependent upon each other in this family that in I Cor. 12 the Apostle Paul takes this analogy of a body and uses it to help us see how each one of us is a different part or organ of this body. So just like the body can’t do without a heart or liver or lungs, so also Christ’s body can’t do without you. And just like the heart or liver or lungs can’t function or survive on their own apart from the body, so also you can’t function or survive or truly fulfill your God-given purpose in life apart from Christ’s body. You see the interconnectedness there? That’s why it’s so important for us to be active, vibrant, participating members of a church family.
Some of you have heard me share the story of the pastor who went to visit one of his less than active members one cold winter night. He rang the doorbell and the man invited him into his living room. The two of them sat in front of the fireplace for a while without either saying a word. The man knew that he had been negligent in his worship and was just waiting for the pastor to blast away at him with his verbal blowtorch. But the pastor wanted to communicate his concern in a unique way, a way that would hopefully go straight to the man’s heart. So he prayed for wisdom and the Lord gave him an idea. He got up from his chair and walked over to the fireplace. He took a pair of tongs and reaching into the midst of the fire he removed a single burning coal and set it off by itself. Then he went back to his chair and sat down. Both of the men watched as that coal got dimmer and dimmer until finally it went out completely. After a few minutes the pastor placed it back into the flames. Immediately it caught fire and burned brightly again. And with that the pastor headed for the door. As he was departing, his member finally broke the silence and said, “Thanks, Pastor, for the fiery sermon. You’ll see me in church this Sunday.”
The point of that wordless sermon was obvious – that when you remove yourself from the fire of God’s Word and the fellowship of God’s people, the fire of your faith will go out sooner or later. But when you place yourself back into the fire again, back into the family of God’s people, and you get back to the faithful hearing of God’s Word, you will catch fire again and your faith will burn brightly, just as God intended it to.
So I’d like to spend the remainder of my time talking about this important subject under the theme “Why You Need a Church Family.” And the first point that I want to make is that a church family helps to identify you as a genuine believer. The person who says, “I don’t need the church to be a Christian” is either arrogant or ignorant. I know that sounds harsh so let me explain. The Bible calls the church “the bride of Christ” and “the body of Christ.” Now think about that for a moment. What if someone said to you: “I like you, but I can sure do without your spouse.” Or, “I accept you, but I don’t care for your body at all.” How would make you feel? You’d be offended, wouldn’t you? At the very least you’d be hurt and you might even want to hurt the person who made such a rude and insensitive remark. And yet that is precisely what we are saying to Jesus whenever we demonstrate through our words or actions that we can get along just fine without the his bride, his body…the church.
The Bible says that a Christian without a church home is like an organ without a body, a sheep without a shepherd or flock, a child without a family. It is an unnatural state. But when you do have a church home and you take your life in that home seriously, then the reverse is true. Then you are an organ with a body, a sheep with a Shepherd as well as a flock, a child with a family. And you are identified as a genuine believer.
Then a 2nd reason why you need a church family is because it helps you overcome your natural tendencies toward selfishness and self-centeredness. I’m sure most if not all of us here today know John 3:16 by heart: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” But I wonder how many of us know I John 3:16 which says: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” As an active, participating member of a church family, you learn to care about others, to share the joys and heartaches of your fellow believers. I Cor. 12:26 says: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
Would you believe that over 50 times in the New Testament the phrases “one another” or “each other” are used? We are commanded to love one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, admonish one another, serve one another, teach one another, honor one another, forgive one another, submit to one another, be devoted to one another, and bear one another’s burdens. So being part of a church family gets us out of ourselves, out of our own little worlds, and into the worlds and lives of those around us where we can fulfill our mission of being Jesus to them.
That’s one reason why I wanted to get those Labors of Love meals started at our church some years ago. Through those meals we not only serve those less fortunate than ourselves, but we also overcome our natural selfish and self-centered tendencies as we discover the wondrous truth that it is more blessed to give than to receive. And that’s why I love it when I see members of our congregation volunteering for and participating in give-outs at the Food Pantry in town or ringing bells at Wal-Mart and IGA and Rural King for the Ministerial Alliance’s annual bell-ringing campaign or sending cards or providing meals or gift cards or furniture or clothes for people in our church who are going through rough times as some of you have done for the Heimgartner’s following the fire they had. All of this is part of what it means to do what we’ve been talking about in my current sermon series, namely, living a good news life in a bad news world.
And that takes us to one more reason why you need a church family, and please understand the three I’m sharing with you today are not the only three. There are many others besides these, but time will not permit us to examine them all. The 3rd reason why you need a church family is because it will help keep you from backsliding. Make no mistake about it, my friends, none of us is immune to temptation. Given the right – or maybe I should say the wrong – circumstances, the wrong situation, you and I are capable of any sin. Jeremiah 17:9 says: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” In I Timothy 1:19 the Apostle Paul speaks of those who “have shipwrecked their faith.” And if you don’t think you’re capable of falling prey to the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, you haven’t been reading your Bible. For there you’ll find Adam and Eve, God’s original perfect creations, ignoring his command, listening instead to the voice of the tempter, and eating of the forbidden fruit. You’ll see Aaron, Moses’ brother, fashioning the golden calf for the Israelites to worship as they proclaimed that this was the god who brought them out of Egypt. You’ll see James and John, 2 of Jesus’ closest disciples, wanting to call down fire from heaven to destroy some Samaritans who wouldn’t allow them to pass through their territory. And on and on it goes. All of which is why Paul says in I Cor. 10:12: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
And that’s where a good church family comes into play. If we truly care about one another, then we’re going to care when one of us starts to go astray and we’re going to do whatever we can to lead them back home to Jesus again. Like James 5:19-20 says: “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
So let me throw a little challenge out to you today, my friends. If you know of someone in our church who is straying right now, or someone who has been absent from worship for some time, call them, speak to them in person, go after them, not in a holier-than-thou sort of way, but in a loving, concerned way that lets them know that you and their church family truly cares about them.
Let me close then with a neat little bulletin blurb I dug out of one of my files entitled “U”.
You cannot spell CH RCH without U.
You cannot spell AD LT without U.
You cannot spell YO TH without U.
You cannot spell M SIC without U.
You cannot spell S NDAY SCHOOL without U.
You cannot spell F NDING without U.
You cannot spell S NDAY without U.
You cannot spell S CCESS without U.
Clearly our church needs “U”!!!
And I hope you’ve seen today that you need the church!