Several months ago, I preached a sermon where I quoted an article from a church bulletin. I thought today might be a good time to read it again.
“All are welcome here. But we extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, those who are skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.
“We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our preacher who can’t carry a note in a bucket. We welcome you here if you just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s baptism.
“We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, and junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion.”
“If you blew all your offering money last night at the dog track, tough luck for us. You’re still welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
“We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts…in short, we welcome you!”
For some of you, this is your first time visiting here at Cruciform, and we want you to know that we are honored by your presence. One of the comments we hear most from those who visit with us is that this feels like family, and I don’t think there’s any bigger compliment that we could receive, because we are family. And we want to thank you for joining our family this morning.
Before I share some thoughts with you this morning, I’d like for you to enjoy the message from this video:
How wonderful it is to be part of a family. There’s a story that is told about Sam Rayburn who was the Speaker of the House of Representatives for 17 years. If the story isn’t true, it’s one of those that ought to be true.
“Mr. Sam” as he was known, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and it became necessary for him to resign as Speaker of the House. He decided to move back home to Bonham, Texas, population 7,300.
Someone asked him why he didn’t stay in Washington, DC or perhaps go to New York to get the latest and greatest treatments. They wanted to know, “Why in the world would you go back to a little place like Bonham, Texas?”
Sam’s reply was this. He said, “I want to go back because in Bonham, Texas, people know when you are sick, and they care when you die.”
Some of you may have grown up in a small town like that, but things tend to change over the years. And it seems that, more and more, we are living in a time when people are isolated from one another. People hide behind the walls of their houses and apartments. People cut themselves off from any real contact with others. And even with the popularity of texting, tweeting and Facebooking, we have become what someone has described as a “nation of strangers.”
Part of the problem is that our society has become so mobile. The average American moves 12 times in his lifetime, and some of you probably passed that number a long time ago. But that mobility affects our ability to establish deep relationships with others.
The extended family was once a very important part of our lives in this country. People grew up surrounded by grandparents and cousins and uncles and aunts and people that they were related to even if they weren’t sure exactly how. For some of you, that’s still a reality. But for most of us, we’ve moved away and we don’t have those family ties. We may see those people once a year at family reunions, but they aren’t really a part of our lives.
And it used to be that community itself was very important in giving people identity. People were born, grew up, and died all in one community; they knew all of the people who lived around them. During the bad times, everyone was there to help. They would fix food if you came down sick or they would build a new barn if yours burned down. Today, we generally don’t have that kind of community closeness. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that most of you don’t even know your next-door neighbor’s name.
So the only relationship that most people have left is the nuclear family — mom, dad and the kids. And even that relationship is break¬ing apart in this country. So what’s left? Maybe it’s true that we are becoming a nation of strangers. And, as a result we’re experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. One Gallup poll reported that 40% of Americans say that they have frequent feelings of “intense loneliness.” We don’t feel wanted by anyone, we don’t feel needed by anyone. And I realize that that doesn’t describe everyone, but it does describe a lot of people.
And everywhere you look, there are signs that people are hungering for fellowship, community, and a sense of family. One of the most popular shows on television for many years was the sitcom, Cheers. It was a show that was set in a bar. The theme song said it all, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came; You want to be where you can see, our troubles are all the same; You want to be where everybody knows your name.” That show resonated with viewers because it touched a need that we all feel—to know and be known. I believe the pull of the neighborhood bar is often not the alcohol but the friendship it offers.
And it seems a shame to me that people will go to bars looking for that, when God intended for that to be a description of the church. The Bible uses several different pictures for the church, and each of them is used to emphasize a different aspect of the church. For example, sometimes the church is referred to as a “kingdom”, an image that stresses the dominion and power of God and our responsibility to obey Him.
Other times, the church is referred to as “the bride of Christ”, an image that stresses the love and close relationship that Jesus has with his church.
The church is also called the “body of Christ”, an image that stresses that Jesus is the head and that there is a need for each and every member to do his or her part.
But the most frequently used image of God and his people in the New Testament is the family relationship. Sometimes we are pictured as being “born again” into this family. Other times, we are pictured as being adopted into God’s family. And this image of the family is used to stress the close relationship we have with God, who is our Father, and our close relationship with one another, as brothers and sisters in this family.
Reading from the New Century Version, Paul writes in I Timothy 3:14-15, “Although I hope I can come to you soon, I am writing these things to you now. Then, even if I am delayed, you will know how to live in the family of God. That family is the church of the living God…”
In a nation of strangers who have become isolated from one another, we preach a gospel that not only allows, but even encourages, all men and women to be a part of this family. In a society that is filled with loneliness, we share a message of a family that accepts and loves, a place where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.
Because the church is not a building. It’s not an institution; it’s not an organization; it’s not a club. It’s a family. As Rick Warren has said, “Church is not a place you go to; Church is a family you belong to.” And so, this morning, I want to talk with you a little bit about what it means to be a part of a family like this.
1. Family is a Place to Belong
In Romans 12:5 (NLT), Paul wrote, “So it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.”
In Ephesians 2:19 (NCV), Paul said to the converted Gentiles, “Now you who are not Jewish are not foreigners or strangers any longer, but are citizens together with God’s holy people. You belong to God’s family.”
The Living Bible translates that verse, “You are members of God’s very own family…and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.”
And the wonderful thing is that God allows you to choose to belong to his family. Now, we all ended up in our physical families by default. By that I mean, you didn’t get to choose who your mother and father are, or your brothers and sisters. In fact, if you had a choice, you might have chosen someone different, right? But we enter into God’s family by choice. We choose to belong.
I want you to know this morning that, here at Cruciform, we would love for you to make the choice to belong to this family. Perhaps there are some of you who would like to be at a place where people will care about you, will pray for you, will say hello to you when you walk through the door, will call you when you’re sick or check on you if you’re missing. Where people will show you the kind of love that only family can show.
Because we recognize that we need each other. There’s really no such thing as Christianity apart from the church. Last year, I preached a series of sermons here on some of the “one another” passages of the Bible. And there are a lot of “one another” verses – “love one another”, “greet one another”, “forgive one another”, “be patient with one another”, “edify one another”. In fact, that phrase is found over 90 times in the New Testament.
And that phrase lets us know that discipleship requires community. You can’t “love one another” by yourself. You can’t “encourage one another” by yourself. The truth is, you can’t be an effective follower of Jesus Christ all by yourself. I’ve seen people try, but it doesn’t work. I’ve seen people claim they were doing it, but there wasn’t much evidence that they were succeeding.
I love the story of a hunter who was walking through the jungle when he ran across a dead ferocious-looking rhinoceros with a Pygmy standing proudly beside it. The hunter was amazed and he asked the man, “Did you kill that rhino?” He said, “Yes.” The hunter said, “How could a little fella like you kill a huge beast like that?” The Pygmy said, “I killed it with my club.” The astonished hunter said, “Wow! How big is your club?” The Pygmy said, “There’s about 90 of us.”
You see, there’s strength that comes by working together. When I was a kid, I joined the Boy Scouts. I was in the Scouts for a few years, enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. But suppose when I joined the Boy Scouts, I was told, “Here’s the Boy Scout Handbook. Go home, read it and be a Boy Scout.” Well, when do we meet? “Oh, we don’t meet. We don’t think that’s essential. We think you can be a good Boy Scout in the privacy of your home. Just go home and read the book and do what it says.”
You know as well as I do that the Boy Scouts wouldn’t last very long at all with that kind of approach. And it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for you to maintain your commitment to the Scouts if you didn’t have any association with other people who share that commitment.
And I suppose that’s the approach that God could have taken with Christianity. He could have said, “Here, take this book that tells you how to become a Christian, go home and read it and do it in the privacy of your home.” But God, in his infinite wisdom, knew that to do that without association with other people who share the same commitment we do, would be disastrous to our spiritual health. So he instructed us to meet together on a regular basis.
He brings us together as his family, a place where we can connect with others, a place to belong.
2. Family is a Place of Sharing
Comedian Bernie Mac came from a large family and he used to say, “There were 13 kids in my family. We were so poor we had to eat cereal with a fork, so we could pass the milk to the next kid.”
One of the things that good families do is share. And so, we’re not surprised when we read in the New Testament that the early church was filled with Christians who shared with one another. Acts 2:44 (TLB) tells us that, “All the believers met together constantly and shared everything with each other.”
Now that passage tells us that the early Christians shared their possessions with one another, and we still do that today. But let me offer three other things that we also share as the family of God.
a. We share our experiences.
Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense, was quoted a few years ago as saying: “Don’t make all the same old mistakes the last team in Washington made. Try to make all new mistakes.” There is something to be said for sharing our experiences and learning from one another’s past mistakes.
Proverbs 27:17 (TLB) says: “People learn from one another, just as iron sharpens iron.”
When I hear you talk about a struggle that you’ve been going through and what you did to overcome that struggle, it helps give me the strength when I face something similar. Or, when you tell about a mistake that you made that resulted in some awful consequences, I learn not to make that same mistake.
And so, as a collective body, we share our collective wisdom, and we learn to make wiser choices. We teach and instruct and encourage one another.
b. We share our homes.
We gather here every Sunday from 9:30 to 11:00 for worship, but we don’t do a lot of fellowshipping during this time. Now we’re going to get into some fellowship in just a little bit when we sit down to eat, and we always have lots of fellowship before worship begins, and the later as we stand around talking after worship.
But a lot of our best fellowship takes place in smaller groups. It happens in our homes. I Peter 4:9 (GNT) says to, “Open your homes to each other.” Here at Cruciform, we believe that time in our homes is important. And so, every week, our Ladies Bible Class gathers in a home for fellowship and Bible study. Some of our best discussions about God and our spiritual walk with Christ have taken place around a dinner table in someone’s home or seated on the couch in someone’s living room.
In this church family, we want to try to avoid the isolation that is such a big part of our society. Do you know what the biggest things are tend to push us to isolate ourselves, to close ourselves off from everyone else? Of course, television is a big one because we spend so much time with our face glued to that screen. But I think the smart phone has now surpassed the television as a tool of isolation. If you don’t believe that, next time you’re in a restaurant, notice how people are sitting at the same table but ignoring one another because they’re glued to their smartphone.
But there’s a third enemy that I think may be even worse — automatic garage door openers. Because we can pull up in our driveway, we flip the door up, we pull the car in, we hit the button, and we’re in our fortress. We don’t have to connect with our neighbors, we don’t have to spend any time with anybody else.
But God intends for us to live in community, not just for an hour on Sunday mornings, but throughout the week, and here at Cruciform, we believe it’s important to share our homes.
c. We share our problems.
Galatians 6:2 (TLB) says, “Share each other’s troubles and problems.”
I heard a story about a sweet little old lady who went to the post office every week and waited in line to buy two stamps. One day, as she got to the counter, the postal worker said to her, “You know, you don’t have to wait in line to buys stamps. You can get them from the machine over there in books of twenty.” The little old lady responded, “Yes, but the machine doesn’t ask about my arthritis.”
There’s an old saying that goes: “When you share a joy, it’s doubled; when you share a problem, it’s cut in half.” And I’m sure we can all remember times when we were struggling with something so heavy that we just couldn’t seem to go on, but a friend spent time listening to us, giving us the strength we needed. Moments like those are huge; you can’t put a price tag on something like that.
That’s what family does. That’s what we do for one another here at Cruciform. In Hebrews 10:25, we read, “Let us not neglect our meeting together.” But instead, let us “encourage one another.”
And so, when someone loses their job, the church family is there. A mother miscarries, and the church comes over. A loved one is on their death bed, and friends come by and say: “Just wanted you to know that I’m praying for you and I’m here for you.” Someone goes through a divorce, and the church is there to say: “We still love you. We’ll help you get through it.”
Family is a place of sharing – sharing our experiences, sharing our homes, sharing our problems.
3. Family is a Place Where We Serve Together
Someone has said, “You share your heart—that’s level two. You do your part—that’s level three.”
I Corinthians 3:9 (GNT) says: “We are partners working together for God.”
Someone else has said that church isn’t just a spiritual spa where we come and soak. And I think that’s where so many people get church wrong. A lot of people go to church and they want to know, “What are you going to do for me? What are you going to do for my kids? Are you going to have the kind of music I like? Are you going to do everything you can to make me happy?”
I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, I don’t remember my parents being too concerned about doing everything in a way that would make me happy! What they were concerned about was helping me to find my place in the family, doing my part.
Some of you may be familiar with the movie “Cheaper By the Dozen”. It’s based on the true story of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, a couple in the early 1900’s who had twelve children. Frank made sure that every child in that family had a responsibility, and even the smallest kids would dust the low parts of the furniture.
Because that’s what families do. And we believe it’s important here at Cruciform that every member of this family have somewhere they can serve, somewhere that they can put their talents to use, somewhere where they live out their passion in a way that brings honor and glory to God.
4. Family is a Place Where We Love and Are Loved
In John 13:34-35, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; As I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
That’s what families do best – they love one another. And Jesus said if the church will have that kind of love, the world will take notice. We’ve been meeting for worship here for about a year, and not very many people have noticed. Every week, I try to have some beautiful PowerPoint presentations, but the people in this city don’t seem to care. We feel confident that we understand a lot about God and about God wants us to do be saved, but the people in the apartment buildings right behind us don’t seem very excited by our knowledge.
But Jesus said, when people see the kind of love that we have for one another, and for those around us, they’ll realize that we’re serious about following Jesus.
That was true of the early Christians. The people in the world saw how Christians loved one another and were committed to each other. They saw Christians taking care of their poor and weak. They saw Christians sacrific¬ing to help others in need. They saw Christians weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. The world had never before seen such a sense of family, and long before non-Christians grasped the finer points of Christian doctrine, they saw a community of believers who truly loved each other — and they wanted to be a part of that.
And we’d like to believe that that’s what people see when they look at Cruciform – a family that’s filled with love, a place where they can come to love and to be loved.
Because when someone’s on their deathbed, they almost never say, “Bring me my iPhone. I just want to hold it close.” Or, “Bring me my golf trophies. Or that gold watch they gave me for working so hard.” No, what people come to the end of their lives, what they want most is their family and friends. Bring me the people who love me the most.
And if we love as God tells us to, a watching world is going to notice. And maybe, just maybe, people will stop going to bars and they’ll start coming here instead. A preacher once preached a sermon built around the TV show Cheers, and he asked the question, “What if that lonely person off the streets could walk in here on Sunday morning, and have the whole church turn around and go: ‘Norm!’” What if people could find love here, find a family here? Wouldn’t you like to be “where everybody knows your name”?
God intends for the church to be a place where people can connect to others and feel a sense of belonging, a place they can share their experiences and share their burdens, a place where they can join together with others in serving in a way that gives their life meaning, a place where they can show love, but more important, a place where they can feel loved.
Which is exactly what God intended when he said that the church is a family. Here at Cruciform, we want this church to be that kind of place. And we invite you to be a part of our family.