This fall we have started an important conversation with you, one that I think we could describe as a journey.  It’s a journey to find answers to life’s biggest and most important questions.   Questions that we all wonder about, that can weigh on us in the deepest parts of our hearts and minds.  Questions like why am I alive?  Does my life matter?  Why is life so hard?  What is the meaning of my life or what is my purpose?  This is the big stuff, the deep stuff, and quite frankly, these are important questions for us to be able to answer on a personal level.  Because if you can answer them, you find direction, purpose, focus, energy and so much more in your life, but if you can’t answer these questions, you will walk through life hopeless, aimless, wishing for energy and focus, and so much more because life without purpose and meaning, is an empty life.  Remember this quote from Rick Warren?

“Without a purpose, life is motion without meaning, activity without direction and events without reason.  Without a purpose life is trivial, petty, and pointless.”  Rick Warren

So, this fall conversation just feels big to me, to spend our time together getting to the truth and the answer to meaning, value, and purpose in our lives and we hope that you have been tracking well with where this series is and has been so far.  And I am just going to tell you, that today’s topic is very important and is one of the most challenging for me in my personal life to engage and not quit on, so I’m very much looking forward to this conversation with you today…but before we get there it’s important to make sure we are all on the same page.  Because this series will just keep building, and the questions are so important, so before we dive into today’s talk let’s remember where we have been so far.

We kicked off this journey to finding purpose and meaning for our lives by answering this question.  What on Earth am I here for?  Remember, if you want to know the point of any invention, you ask the inventor.  If you wonder, why something was created you go to the creator and what did we learn from Scripture?  We learned that we are here because God created us.  God created us on purpose for His purpose and what was that purpose?  God created us to love us and this was so important, we were created to be loved forever.  This gave us so much to talk about from the importance and enormity of forever, to just trying to wrap our hearts and mind around how loved and valued and cherished we are by God.  We also found a real challenge in that talk to get to know God, and to walk with Jesus daily so we can find our purpose over time as we come to know Him!  Scripture is clear on where we find it.

Colossian 1:15 We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. 16 For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels — everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.  MSG

Everything finds its purpose in Him!

Ephesians 1:11 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. MSG

We see so many people these days feeling empty, and searching for meaning, just hopeless and aimlessly walking through life, while distancing themselves from God and or simply denying Jesus access to their lives…and Scripture says that it is in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.  So no, it’s no coincidence that as we walk away from God, we lose purpose and meaning in our lives!

Then Ken was with us last week to talk to you about something beautiful, and amazing to think through and that was that we were created to love God…we were created to worship.  You were formed by God for God’s pleasure, to love Him, to worship.  Now what is interesting is that around church we know the word worship don’t we?  We tend to hear that word and think about the 5 or 6 songs we sing on a Sunday morning but what did we learn about worship last week?  Worship has a lot to do with trust.  What did Ken tell us last week?  We recognize that God loves us so we will trust God enough and love Him back.  God loves us so we will trust Him enough to obey Him and to follow Him through life – even when life is hard.  When you trust God, you love Him…you worship God.  That is your first and greatest purpose of life.  Why do we know this is so important?  Well Jesus told us it was the first and most important command of God!  Someone asked Jesus what the most important command was…

Matthew 22:37 Jesus replied, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.” TLB

Jesus explained the greatest thing you can do with your life is to love God back with all you have and every part of your life, that is worship, and that should probably be a much larger part of our lives than a 6 song set on a Sunday morning.  Worship is trusting God with all aspects of your life.  That simply means, because of God’s love for me, I will give my life back to Him.  I can trust that God knows what is best for my life.  So, I will surrender my life to Him and obey Him.  Because I have experienced His love for me.  His love is so real, that I trust Him in every area of my life.  That’s worship.  That’s what Jesus was saying when He said Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind.  So that is where we have been so far, and today we dive into the second great purpose of your life, and that is to love others.  How do we know this is the second most important thing we can do?  Well Jesus told us so…

Matthew 22:37 Jesus answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 This is the greatest and the most important commandment. 39 The second most important commandment is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ GNT

So today we discuss the second great purpose for our lives, and it is the purpose of fellowship.  We were created by God to do life with other people.  We were created by God for community and fellowship, and this will give us a lot to talk about today because we love you too much not to be honest around here, and if we are honest, we can say that life with people isn’t always all that easy.  This can be a really challenging conversation because we are already using some hot button words, and often misunderstood words around church life, aren’t we?  I’m not sure there are more questions, challenges, or misunderstandings around any part of a church than over this one word “community.”  So, this is where we head today, to talk about the importance of relationships and people and community in your life, in your faith, and for the church, but we can’t talk about that without diving into what actually keeps us from ever experiencing the very fellowship or community God created formed us to be part of.  So yeah, we have a lot to talk about today…this is a challenging and important subject.

The first thing I want you to see is that we were created by God to be part of God’s family.  That family is the church.  The church is what we would view or should see as our spiritual family.

1 Timothy 3:14 I hope to visit you soon. However, I’m writing this to you 15 in case I’m delayed. I want you to know how people who are members of God’s family must live. God’s family is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. GWT

Do you view your church experience and community this way, as your spiritual family?  Scripture says it is your spiritual family, so do you treat it this way?  We become part of this family by accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  It’s through Jesus that we are accepted into this family.

Ephesians 1:4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.  NLT

So, we become part of God’s family through Jesus, all through what Jesus did for us, and all through Him.  So, we were formed for fellowship, brought into this family through Jesus, now at the very center of family is something really important, and that is love.  We are to love each other…right?

John 13:34 “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” NLT

So, we are to love one another, and when we do, everyone will see that love we have for one another, and it will lead them to want to be part of that family!  Which is interesting because what often blocks people from wanting to be a Christian?  It’s how Christians behave, treat each other, and act inside their church community.  Love matters greatly.  We need to see that this love is not about our happiness or making us part of some elite club that others can’t be part of but this Godly, pure love is all about spreading Jesus amongst us and to the world of people who need Him as much in their lives as we all do in our lives.  Fellowship, community, it’s all about learning how to love and I think it’s fair to say that some people teach us more about how to love than others don’t they!  I mean, people can be tough to love!  No one is saying that the church family won’t be messy, or that there won’t be challenges, but the point is to learn how to love, if you really stop and think about it, that is what life is all about isn’t it?  We learned in week one of this series that this life is preparation for the next, and that we were created to love and be loved forever.  So, learning how to love is important, and you can’t learn without life lessons, experiences, and unfortunately tests and trials at times too.  It’s interesting because so many people talk about wanting to be part of an Acts 2 type church…have you ever heard that from Christians, they wish we could be like the church in Acts?  What do we see in Acts 2?

Acts 2:42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved. NLT

So that sounds amazing, a group of believers filled with the Holy Spirit coming together and sharing everything, together and united in every way.  But while we want that kind of community in our lives, we often ignore where that kind of unity and community got started.  It all started with a deep connection to God and the Holy Spirit inside them and led to this choice to share their lives with each other in every way.  Many people want the people part, but struggle because they ignore or aren’t interested in the kind of walk with God that transforms our hearts to this pure form of love.

So let’s slow down and get personal for a moment.  Are you willing to share your life with people?  I have to tell you I think this is a very challenging thing for me to do personally.  I walk through hurts, and can pull inward, and just can decide I would rather not try or open up to people again and  I would really like us to talk about why it’s so hard to love and share this way.  Why community is so challenging and why life seems like it would be easier without people, while we know deep down, we need people in our lives.  We all would agree that community is important, and many people come to MRC and their first question is about what we are doing for community…and the heart-breaking reality is how messy, and hurtful, and challenging community can be, when God’s love isn’t first and foremost central in our lives.  The Acts 2 church that we see, and all want was filled with the Holy Spirit, love, sharing and unity were so prominent but today many people ignore their relationship with God, show up to church wanting church community, and then wonder why it is so messy.  So, we ignore our hearts, and walk away from church disappointed because the community isn’t working out for us.  Relationships with people are hard, and messy, and frankly can be volatile and bring conflict, and they are so much harder without God in us which should be covering our sinful ways with God’s beautifully pure love…and often church community goes sideways because we ignore our relationship with God and try to substitute it with relationships with people, with events and programs around church, and we can never figure out why church community doesn’t look like it should.  We get hurt and feel rejection from our spiritual family.  We need God in us, or community just won’t happen.  Let me show you why we need God’s transformational love in our hearts, and we will start with an observation that Solomon made about most people…

Ecclesiastes 4:4 Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind. NLT

What is Solomon seeing in people, that most of what we do is out of jealousy and envy of others…listen to this moment here with Jesus where he starts performing miracles and many people start to believe and follow Him and trust Him, and what does John so carefully explain to us here?

John 2:24-25 But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people.  No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.

So, this is what goes on in our hearts as people we are envious, jealous, competing for spots, rankings, unwilling to share our lives and resources with each other.  We come in with our own motives and they aren’t pure…do you see it?  Our human nature is selfish and sinful and is why we so deeply need the transforming power of God in us, allowing us to live out this life of love and openness and unity…it can’t happen without God’s transforming power in us which is why at MRC when people ask about community, we always start with a personal relationship with God.  Get your heart right and things just look different but the thing we were not ready for was just how often disappointing that is to people who then conclude we don’t care about community, but the reality is community never comes together as it could with God central in it.  You want an Acts 2 Spiritual Family?  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  Well, we must remember what started all that love and sharing and that incredible looking family?  It was the Holy Spirit in their lives and flowing out of them into relationships with each other.

As I was thinking through this talk, I just kept thinking about how challenging life with people is for me.  Try living in a small town, believing in community and the idea of a Spiritual Family, and then spending 21 years at the same church, and continuing to bump into all the people who have come and gone at Giant, or the parks or sports fields…it’s tough to continue to try to share your life with people, when frankly you are dealing with your own fears, and insecurities, on top of all the wounds of all the promises made, commitments broken, and hurts of rejection over the years…life with people is essential, but it’s really hard and I think it’s ok to talk about it.  Listen to the writer of Hebrews here…

Hebrews 10:23 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching. NIV

So why would the writer of Hebrews make a point to tell us to keep on meeting together and not give up on our Spiritual family?  Why the challenge to keep at it?  It sounds like some people are tired of meeting together and are giving up on it doesn’t it? Can I ask you something today, can you relate to that?  I sure can, and often struggle to keep in relationship with people especially around church because relationships can be tough and messy, and downright painful at times, can’t they?  It also is another reminder of how important community is. We are being encouraged here not to give up on it even if it feels like life would be easier or more peaceful or just less painful if we stepped away.  But what have we learned today?  We are created to be part of God’s family; we have been wired by God for fellowship.  All through Scripture we can see just how important it is for us to stay in relationships with people even if it is messy and challenging.  Life is about learning to love because we were created for forever and to love and be loved forever.  But this leads to so many questions around the church, doesn’t it?  I mean why is it so challenging?  How is it possible that with Jesus and the gift of eternal life to center around we can’t seem to get out of our own way when it comes to community and relationships? So, what is the deal here?  Why do we see so much hurt and messiness when it comes to this concept of church community?  Well, let’s start with one very important fact.

You have an enemy.  Your life is opposed.  Your enemy is going to do whatever he can to keep us focused on ourselves, and to do things on our own.  He destroys so many hearts by having them experience rejection, judgment and hurt inside a church setting.  He wants you alone and the quickest way to keep you from God is to drive you from your church community through the hurts that come through church community gone wrong.  It’s spiritual war on a practical and painful level and distances us from God.  And we have already explored that our hearts without God in them are selfish, jealous, competitive, and full of envy so by keeping us from God, He destroys our chance at community, which we all need in our lives.  Do you see it?  It terrifies your enemy to think that a church community could ever come together and become the Spiritual Family it was intended to be.  All through scripture we are reminded of how important relationships can be in our lives…

Proverbs 27:17 As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. NIV

We learn time and time again that through scripture that we are designed for community, that it’s in true relationships that we are better than we would ever be apart.  Solomon here reiterates it…

Ecclesiastes 4:9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: 10 If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  NIV

We were created to be in community…and I could go from scripture to scripture and show you how you were designed for community and that you are better together than you could ever be apart, but I want to stop right now help you see just how hard the enemy pushes against you finding your Spiritual Family.  You do have an enemy who knows that when a community comes together and rallies together it can become an unstoppable force for Jesus…so there is no irony in the fact that we struggle to find unity inside a church setting!  It is opposed!  Your enemy wants you alone!  Check this out…

1 Peter 5:8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  NIV

Peter says your enemy is like a lion looking for someone to devour…well where do animals find safety from a hunting lion?  They find safety in their numbers, it’s in the herd.  They gain strength in community in the numbers of who they are and how they stand together.  The lion is trying to separate and grab the weak ones who stray from the flock.  It’s no different for us spiritually.  Your enemy wants you focused on everything and anything but Jesus.  He wants you walking into your relationships with selfish desires.  He wants you walking in here every Sunday focused on yourselves, your spots, your rankings amongst others.  He wants you to experience hurt and rejection from other believers so that you stay away from community and lose that desire to share your life with people.  How do I know because I feel it too.  Listen, at some point you will be hurt, or let down by someone here at church.  Do you know why?  It’s because we are people, and we make mistakes.  It’s in those moments that you have a choice to make…will you walk away?  Will you isolate?  Will you throw your hands in the air and say I’m never doing that again.  It is so damaging to go it alone and speaking as a very public introvert who gains energy alone, it can be very tempting to check out on the relationship with others, and try to do it on your own, but you will struggle because you were formed by God to be part of His family.

So, it is interesting the expectations and mess that comes with big church terms like “community,” and “fellowship” but I want you to know something.  It will never be perfect.  Just because this is a church and it’s filled with people who love Jesus it doesn’t mean that there still won’t be issues, and hurts, and mistakes made.  This is why the love of God alive in us and flowing in and out of us is so important.  What does that love bring to the table?  Patience, forgiveness, empathy, compassion, and the ability to show and share God who is love to this world.  It won’t be perfect.  We are just people and there is a world outside of this building that needs to know the amazing, good news of God’s great love for them!  So, we have some choices to make.  We can do the easy thing…which would be to quit on church community, never to engage community again, and frankly after all of 46 years around church people, and religion it can be tempting but that choice will crush you.  Or we can choose to engage something so much greater than any of our own selfish desires which is the God mission…and we can do it inside this beautiful mess we call community.  But if we can’t get to the loving people part without the first thing.  It all starts with engaging God so deeply that His love flows in and out of us in such a way that community takes on a pure loving life that only comes from God’s love…that is why we stay so focused on your relationship with God, because without it, life with people in and around our Spiritual Family will always go off the rails…and we will always wonder why it doesn’t work, and often blame the church for not providing community properly while in truth we aren’t doing the first thing which is tending to our heart conditions and engaging God which would allow us to come into the community of believers without those selfish motives and hearts that all us humans have…do you see it?  It’s a bit of a chicken and the egg thing with people.  I won’t engage God and wonder why I don’t feel community and relationships are happening well for me inside the spiritual family, but without God’s love pushing out the sin nature and filling us with God’s love community will always be messy.  Chicken and the egg for those unwilling to engage God and live for Him.

So today we engaged the second big purpose of our lives.  We learned that we were created by God to be part of His family.  We were formed by God for fellowship and through Christ we are invited into our Spiritual Family, and we are just better together than we would ever be a part.  I wanted to talk to you today not only about the importance of relationships and community, but also the reality of why they are so hard to be part of…and just how opposed they are by our enemy because he knows how much better we all are if we could unite.  It’s so interesting how we think of church and read things like this about community in Scripture or books and our minds race to what all the church should be doing to provide these things for me.  We think of events, programs, small groups, and activities but the bigger question to be asked from that is will those things the church provides for me fulfill our deep God wired need for fellowship and relationships?  Well, they absolutely could but only if God’s living and active in each and everyone of our individual hearts!  Without God, the concept of sharing our lives together and loving well will not happen which takes us back to the chicken and the egg debate of why community matters and why a church would continue to push us towards a relationship with God…first.  Without God’s love in us the Spiritual Family will always suffer.  So, a couple of questions as we close…

  • What does it say to your heart today to hear that you were formed to do life with people?
  • Do you find yourself tempted to check out on people and do life alone?
  • Do you see the connection between the Holy Spirit living and active in your life and your ability to relate to and love on people inside church community?
  • Are you able to bring your best to people with no strings attached, or if you do something for someone do you have expectations of what should be coming back to you?
  • Would you say that you are walking in a life of love? 
  • Would you say the Fruit of the Spirit are coming out of your life?  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? 
  • Do you see why God in you is so important to living life with others and the direct connection between your heart condition and your ability to love others well?
  • Do you see the heart of a human, the motives, the selfishness, and our deep need of the transformative love of Christ to engage our Spiritual Family well?
  • What would you need to do practically to get to a place with this kind of love in you?  What would it take for you to get to a place where you enter community with God’s love flowing in and out of you?  What would you need to do, stop doing, and engage in for this type of life change?

Listen, we love you so much, and we want you to see and understand something here today.  You were created to do life with people, and there is nothing more damaging than pulling away from community, but we must see how challenging it is to share our lives with each other if God’s love isn’t transforming us inside and out.  It’s as God’s love pours in and the Holy Spirit takes over that we create a loving community that attracts people to God and shows God to those in deep need of Him because it’s a love that only comes from Him…we can’t do the love others thing, without the transforming love of God in us.