Saturday, February 24, 2007

Fellowship

The moment you received the Spirit of God into your hearts you were adopted into God's family, born again, made new, and were promised an eternal relationship with your Creator, Jesus Christ.

Some of us may feel distant from our biological family, but the good news is that our spiritual family in Chirst will outlast our physical families. Your brothers and sisters in Christ will be with you now and for eternity.

This relationship we have with each other as the people of God is called fellowship. We have fellowship here as we speak as the people of God gathered around His Word and Sacrament. However, the Scriptures speak of fellowship as being something much more deeper then what we have right now. Fellowship means to love and experience life with other believers. We sometimes think of small talk after church, coffee hour, and other social events as fellowship. However, the Scriptures call on us to be close in God's family, and truly get to know and love one another.

The first thing a we must do is choose to belong to a church. Some Christians think that all they need is Jesus Christ and their Bible. Some go to church hopping for years and never truly belong to a church family. Others think that it does not matter one way or the other if they attend church or not. This is incorrect. A Christian without a church is a like an orphan. God desires that we belong to His family, and that means to be in relationship with other believers.

The church is described as the bride of Christ in Holy Scripture. If I were to claim that I wanted to follow Christ but was in no need of a church, that would be the same as me telling Jesus that I loved Him but I wanted nothing to do with His bride! It would be like me telling my brother-in-law Robin who just got married in Seattle: "Robin, we've been awesome friends over the years and I love you lots, but - I'm not too sure what you see in your new wife.:)" To put it in another way, it's like saying, "I'm a football player, but I don't want to be a part of the team."

The second thing God calls on us to do is share in God's family. The Christian life is not a solo act. God's hope is that you would be encouraged and influenced by His people and that you would in turn have an impact on them as well. In Acts 2:44 it says: "The Lord's followers met together and shared everything they had". Here we have the example of the first Christians recorded by the Historian Luke.

Moving forward about 300 years, we come to the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine in 313 A.D. Up to this point, Christians were being martyred and tortured. The ones that stayed alive maintained a lifestyle that was separate from the lifestyle of the world. Christians did not participate in worldly things, were not concerned with image, status, or pleasure. When Constantine became a Christian that was the beginning of institutionalized Christianity. Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Pretty soon everyone was a "Christian" in name. The Christians from previous generations were not too pleased with this. They responded radically by fleeing to the mountains where they sought what is now called an ascetic life in places of solitude. This is when the church experienced her first monks, and the first monasteries. In the church's history, errors from time to time crept in. Unfortunately, human nature responded radically to these errors at times, and here we have our first example. Going off and living in the mountains will not fulfill God's hope that you would experience life with and love other believers. How can one love others if they fail to talk with others? This is not to say that there have not been monks that have not been great Christian missionaries. However, it is to say, that through the majority of the church's history, monks set themselves up over and against the average Christian, isolated themselves from the body of Christ, and were unable to edify the body of Christ.

The third thing we are called to do is to share our experiences. Martin Luther was once a monk and he shared his experience with the rest of the church and informed them of the downfalls of entering monasteries. From sharing each other experiences we can learn from our brothers and sisters in Christ and therefore grow in our faith and in the knowledge of how to serve our Savior.

We all have experiences. I was raised in a Catholic home, baptized as an infant, but unfortunately was not instructed with the Word. Looking back on things I am now able to learn from the downfalls of being baptized as an infant but being raised in a house with nominal believers. I can then tell my brothers and sisters in Christ the downfalls of raising kids with no instruction in the Word. We all have experiences and we are called to share them with one another so they we can build each other up, and learn from our experiences.

The fourth thing we're called to do is share our homes. 1 Peter 4:9 calls on us to open up our homes to each other. Did you know that in the first 300 years of Christianity there were no church buildings? Followers of Christ met at each others houses and had church in a very intimate and personal way. Many of you are in small groups studying the Bible and are experiencing the intimacy of sharing experiences with other believers. In those small groups, you can learn to identify, belong, be held accountable, ask questions, and share with other believers.

Small groups are quite significant in the life of the church of God on earth. I would not be standing here today if it wasn't for small groups. If the University Ministry at the University of Washington didn't have small groups, I probably wouldn't have heard the gospel from men I could relate to. As I said earlier I was raised without instruction in the Word of God. By the time I was in high school I was influenced by my peers who were not following Christ. There wasn't anyone at church who I could relate to. Everyone who I got along with was either on the football team or people I met at high school parties. In the distracting culture we live in where the world makes image, status, and gossip gods, it is difficult to get plugged into God's Word without believers one can relate to. I knew that if I was going to become a follower of Christ it was essential that I found other men my age who were walking with Christ.

By my sophomore year in college I finally decided to pursue God's Word at the University Presbyterian Church. I was put into a small group with other men who were my age who were all committed Christians. The small group leader turned out to be the most inspirational guy in my life. My life has never been the same since. With all the peer pressure, and struggles that young students go through, it is quite essential for our children to find fellowship with peers they can relate to.

The fifth thing God calls on us to share is our problems. Galatians 6:2 says to bear each others burdens so that in that way we can fulfill the law of Christ which is love. How many of us go through life without problems? Life is not an easy ride. There will be ups, downs, problems with people, emotional stress, financial problems, and times of insignificance. God calls on us to not deal with these problems away from His people, but calls on us to come to our brothers and sisters in Christ and share them. God speaks through His Word, but God also speaks through you. You are God's Holy people, you know God's Word, and you are called to edify one another, and bear with each others struggles.

The worst thing one can do is bottle things up inside and not share. I once had a friend in college who was struggling with a certain sin. This particular sin kept occurring over and over again in his life to the point where it was tormenting him. Cory felt like such a hypocrite that when it was time for our college retreat, he didn't attend. He felt like such a sinner that he didn't want to pretend like he was part of God's Holy family.

This was not right. And the reason why I know this is so, is because later my friend decided to abandon his relationship with Christ altogether. Sin stunts our growth. And it has caused many to fall from faith because our sinful nature decides that fighting sin is not worth it.

God's hope is that we would not hide from Him, be ashamed of ourselves, and hide from the people of God. His hope is that we would confess our sins to each other and pray for each other. His hope is that we would receive absolution and affirmation that our sins are forgiven in Christ. James 5:16 says to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other so that we may be healed. Do not bottle things up inside. Turn to each other, and share your troubles and problems so that you can healed.

God's children are not only called to share, but also to have a partnership with one another. In a family there are family responsibilities. You moms out there probably hope that your kids would work with you to accomplish the chores that need to be done around the house. The garbage needs to be taken out, the carpet needs to be vacuumed, and the dishes need to be done. It is the same way in the family of God. There are responsibilities that we all have, and we're called to have a partnership with each other to fulfill God's mission through us. We're called to have effective elders, an effective praise band, effective small group leaders and so on, so that our responsibilities in God's family would all be fulfilled. A couple years ago the Seattle Mariners won 116 games in one season. They unfortunately blew it in the playoffs, but nevertheless tied the record for most wins ever in a season set back in 1906. To do this they had to have partnership with each other. They had to have good starting pitching, good base running, good hitting, good closing pitching, etc. It is the same way in the body of Christ. We all have different roles, and functions, but we remain one body.

An intimate stage of fellowship that occurs in the lives of believers is called kinship. Kinship is not a common word we hear often anymore. However, it means loving other believers like we love family. You mothers out there love your children deeply. You probably love them to the point that you would sacrifice your life for them. That's how much you love your children. God's Word says in 1 John 3:16 to "Lay down our lives for each other" like you would lay down your life for your family. God calls on us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ like we love our families. The martyrs over the past 1,977 year history of the church are examples of Christians who not only laid down their lives for their faith, but they also laid down their lives for my faith, and your faith.

The Great Commandment is to love our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. Jesus said that the second commandment which is not inferior to the first is to love your neighbor as yourself.

The most intimate time of fellowship between believers is when they partake of the body and blood of Jesus Christ as brothers and sisters. Paul describes Holy Communion as a vertical as well as a horizontal communion with each other in the body of Christ. When he rebukes the Christians in Corinth he calls them out for being divided and showing favoritism at the Lord's Table. When we share in the Lord's Supper together, we foreshadow the feast in heaven that is to come when Jesus welcomes us bodily into his kingdom. How intimate and special it is then, when we gather around His table today.

If congregations are places filled with love, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness, our witness to visiting non-believers will be strong. In the 90s, Christian Schwarz did a study of over 40000 churches on all six continents in order to determine what qualities were present in growing congregations. One quality that came up over and over again of churches that were experiencing spiritual and numerical growth was: loving relationships. If people find community, hope, and joy through relationships with their brothers and sisters in Christ, they will stay at the church they attend.

How unfortunate it is when divisions occur among people in God's family. What a terrible witness it is to non-believers when they see us fighting, insulting and disagreeing all the time. Some Lutherans refuse to even pray with other Christians if they are not in agreement with them in all points of doctrine. This means that if your brother in Christ believes that woman should be able to vote at voters assemblies and you don't, then you can't pray together. That means when you meet with your family who is Baptist on Easter you can't say grace before dinner because they don't hold the same theology as you do. How horrible! What a terrible witness we are to non-believers when we exalt ourselves over one another in this manner!

God calls on us to love each other. 1 John 3 says that those who do not love their brothers are not Christians, and are still in death. 1 John 4 says if we can't love our brothers whom we can see how will we love God whom we do not?

And the best way you can love is to share Christ's love with unbelievers, lead them to a relationship with Christ and increase the amount of people in our church family.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters in Christ as Jesus has loved, so continue to love one another. By your love, the world will know you are Christ's disciples. Amen.

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