We Gather Together (3) — To Connect

            There’s a story that’s told about Sam Rayburn who was the Speaker of the House of Representatives for 17 years.  “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 Sam why he didn’t stay in Washington, DC or perhaps go to New York to get the very best treatment for his cancer.  They asked, “Why in the world would you go back to a little place like Bonham, Texas?”

            According to the story, 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’re 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 all that transition 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 they were related to even if they didn’t know exactly how.  For some of you, that’s still a reality.  But for most of us, we’ve moved away from our family and we don’t have those close family ties.  We may see those people once every two or three years, but they aren’t really a part of our lives. 

            And it used to be that community itself helped people feel connected.  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.  In fact, I would imagine 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 break­ing 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.

            Earlier this year, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) published a report that said that 30% of adults say they have experienced feelings of loneliness at least once a week over the past year, while 10% say they are lonely every day.  Younger people were even more likely to experience these feelings, with 30% of Americans aged 18-34 saying they were lonely every day or several times a week.  We don’t feel wanted by anyone, we don’t feel needed by anyone, we don’t feel connected to 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 and community.  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 be connected with people.  And I believe the attraction of the neighborhood bar is often not the alcohol but the friendship it offers. 

            And so, we’re seeing people who are looking for a place to belong, a community where they can feel safe, a family that they can be a part of, a place where they can love and be loved.  And I want you to know that is exactly what the church is, or at least it’s what the church is supposed to be.

            We were not created for isolation.  We weren’t meant to live our lives disconnected from each other.  That’s why times like this are so special.  It’s a chance for us to be gathered together in one place with God’s people, sharing our joy, sharing our pain, declaring our faith as we worship together, and sing, and get excited about what God is doing in our lives.  

            And that excitement motivates us.  It encourages us.  It doesn’t matter how difficult your week was or what you’ve been going through.  When you get in this room surrounded by God’s people, something incredible happens.

            Because we weren’t meant to live lives disconnected from each other.  In fact, we were created in the image of a God who himself exists through community — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And we were made for community.

            This goes all the way back to what God said in Genesis chapter 2, it is not good for man to be alone.  And I don’t think God was just talking about finding a marriage partner.  He knew that we do better when we have other people around us.  Of all the things that church is, at its core, the church is a community, it’s family.

            And so, in a nation of strangers who have become isolated from one another, we preach a gospel that not only allows, but encourages, all men and all women to join us and to be a part of God’s family.  In a society that is filled with loneliness, we share a message about a family that will accept you and love you, a place where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.

            Because the church is not a building, and it’s not an institution; it’s not an organization.  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 about what it means to be a part of a family like that.

            A couple weeks ago, we started a series of lessons, entitled, “When We Gather Together”.  And what we’re doing in this series is we’re looking at some of the aspects of the Christian life that you can only experience when you gather together with other believers.  And this morning, we’re going to see that as we gather together, we connect with one another.

            In Acts chapter 2, beginning with verse 44, 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.” (Acts 2:44-46)

            I want you to notice three things as we look at this idea of community and connection. Number one is this….

1.         God Wants Us to Share Life Together

            Verse 44 says, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common.”  The Greek word that’s translated “in common” is “koinonia.”  It’s a word you’ve probably heard before if you’ve been in the church for very long.  Koinonia.  It means fellowship, but it means so much more than that.  It means something that is shared together.  Shared experiences, shared life.

            And, over and over, in the New Testament, this is a word that describes the church.  They weren’t just a bunch of random people all doing their own thing.  They shared life together because they belonged to one another.

            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.” 

            If you’re here this morning and you are not yet a part of God’s family, I want you to know that 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.   In the Bible, there are a lot of “one another” passages – “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. 

            But 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 to do it, but it doesn’t work. 

            There’s a story about 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 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.  In Acts 2:44, it says that “all who believed were together.”  Those early Christians worshiped together.  They prayed together.  They studied the scriptures together.  They ate together.  They gave their offerings together.  They shared the gospel together.

            Which leads us to the second point…..

2.         God Wants Us to Share Life Together in This Room

            Verse 46 tells us, And day by day, attending the temple together…”  Why were they in the temple?  Because that was where the early Christians gathered for worship.  It was one of the few public places that had enough room for 3,000 Christians to gather together in one place.

            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. 

            God brings us together every Sunday as his family, a place where we can connect with others, a place to belong.

            Sometimes I’ll talk with someone that I haven’t seen in a long time, and I’ll ask how they’re doing.  And they’ll say, “I’m doing good.  I’m still walking with the Lord.  I just don’t go to church anymore.”  Which makes me wonder, how can you be walking with the Lord if you’re not doing what the Lord told you to do?

            You see, it’s not an option for us, as Christians, to either take or leave the community that we share together in this room as the church.  If we’re serious about following Christ, we will want — not be forced to — we will want to be a vital part of all that God is doing in and through his people.

            I’m sure you’re all familiar with Hebrews 10:25, but listen to how it reads in the Contemporary English Version, “Some people have given up the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer.”

            I don’t know about you, but I believe the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer.  I’m going to set a date or anything like that, but when you see what’s happening in this world, it’s hard to imagine that things can survive much longer.

            And so, what’s the Hebrew writer’s encouragement to us?  As you see the big day approaching, don’t avoid your times of worshiping together.  Get together.  Worship God together.  Spur each other on.  Encourage one another.  Why?  Because we need it now more than ever.  As this world gets darker and dirtier, we need the light and the salt more than ever before.

            We need Christians to encourage one another, to sing songs with each other, to praise the Lord together, to get out in the streets together, telling people about the love of Jesus, serving the needy and the poor.  We need each other more than ever before.

            And church doesn’t have to be some sort of a miserable experience. I hear some people talk about church.  And the way they talk about whatever church they grew up in, they’ll say, “Yeah, I used to be a Christian, but” — whatever the but is, it’s usually not good after that.  And they’ll tell me a story about their miserable experience of church, how they were hurt, things that were done to them, what happened at the church.  And I try to be empathetic in listening to it.

            But we’ve got to understand that church doesn’t have to be a miserable experience.  This should be an oasis in the middle of a hot desert.  Church should be the place where you get refreshed, you get revived, and you get equipped to go back out into the messy world that we all live in.  We shouldn’t dread church; we should look forward to it.  We should be saying all week long, “Man, this week sucks.  I can’t wait to get to church.”

            “I’m tired of all the struggles, I’m tired of being treated the way people are treating me.  I can’t wait to get to church. I can’t wait to get with God’s people.  I can’t wait to be refreshed, to be revived, to be equipped.  I can’t wait to come into God’s house so I can get recharged and have enough fuel to get through all the stuff that I know I’m going to deal with next week.”

            We shouldn’t dread it. We should look forward to it. We should long for it. In Psalm 122:1 the Psalmist said, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.'”

            Every Sunday, I love seeing God’s people come though those doors.  I love seeing you guys getting your coffee, talking with each other.  I love worshiping with you. I love hearing the word with you.  I love giving with you.  There is nothing as energizing and exciting as being in the house of the Lord with other Christians.  Nothing.


3.         God Wants Us Share Life Together Outside This Room

            Look at verse 46 again. It continues by saying, “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.”

            So, what does that tell us?  It tells us that they worshiped together in the temple.  But it also tells us that they gathered in their home — communing, eating, and fellowshipping with each other.   

            We gather together here every Sunday for this time of worship, but the truth is, we don’t do a lot of fellowshipping during this hour.  Now we’re going to get into some fellowship in just a little bit when we go to the park for a picnic, and we always have lots of fellowship before worship begins, and then later as we stand around talking after worship.

            But our best fellowship always takes place in smaller groups.  It happens in our homes.  I Peter 4:9 (GNT) says to, “Open your homes to each other.”  Spending time together in our homes is important.  I love it when I hear that someone is having a BBQ and invites Christians to come over, or when someone invites a few families over to play games.  More significantly, I think some of our best discussions about God and our spiritual walk with Christ take place around a dinner table in someone’s home or seated on a 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.  God intends for us to live in community, not just for an hour on Sunday mornings, but throughout the week.

            Because attending church is not intended to be a spectator sport.  I enjoy watching sports.  And you may not be like me, but when I go to watch a baseball game or a football game, I’m not there to make connections with anybody.  I’m there to watch the game, and then I go home.

            There are some people who approach church the same way.  They’ll come in during the first song of worship, they’ll leave the second the last “Amen” is said.  And you can do that and never have a conversation with anybody, never have anybody ask you how your week was, never have anybody know what you’re struggling with.  You can hide it all.  You can protect yourself.  You can keep yourself from being vulnerable.

            But if you get in a setting where there’s just a few other Christians, you can’t do that.  You have to talk to people.  You have to answer questions.  You have to allow yourself to accept accountability.  And we all need that.

            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 buy stamps. You can get them from the machine over there in books of twenty.” The little old lady responded, “Yes, but that machine doesn’t ask about my arthritis.”

            That’s what family does.  That’s what we do for one another here at Cruciform.  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.”

            Church family is a place of sharing – sharing our experiences, sharing our homes, sharing our problems.  Church is where we grow together.  We live life together.  We work together.  We share together.  Because we’re family.

            Our sense of community in America is so broken.  A recent study shows that the average American has only two people they can confide in for any meaningful conversation.  Which is ironic because the average Facebook user has 314 friends.  But how many “friends” do you suppose you could call at 3 o’clock in the morning and say, “Hey, I need help, I’m struggling”?

            We have more options for making connections with people than ever before.  We have every social media available to man.  We’ve got Instagram.  We’ve got Facebook, X, TikTok, Snapchat.  And there’s more coming out every single day.

            And almost everyone in this country is a part of this huge community.  But if that community was real, we wouldn’t have issues like depression and loneliness that plague our lives.  But social media is not real community.  It’s Facebook friends.  It’s Fortnite friends.  It’s not people who care about you.

            Most people don’t have deep friendships.  They don’t have deep relationships.  They only have Facebook and Fortnite friends, who only see the parts of them they want to show because they don’t trust anyone.

            But we weren’t built for isolation.  We weren’t meant to live lives disconnected from each other.  God created us for community.

            Community is so important.  That’s why we exist as a church, as God’s family.  And I would suggest that if you really want to walk with the Lord, if you really want to grow spiritually, involvement in the church is an absolute necessity.

            But when I say church, I mean gathering together and belonging, not just attending.  Community and relationship with other Christians outside these walls, that’s what the church is.  The church is more than just a worship service.  It’s people living life together, helping one another, serving our community together. 

            The church should be the most compelling expression of community and connection that you can find in our culture, the place where everybody knows your name and everybody’s glad you came.

            And I’m telling you, if you don’t have that, you need it.  You might not think you need it. You might think you got it all together.  You might think that you can handle life all on your own. But you can’t.  You need people.  You need people who love Jesus, people who love you, people who want what’s actually best for you.

            God wants us to share life together, both in this room and outside this room.  


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