From the Pastor's Desk 

Doing Life Together



            Let's pray.


            There was a little boy out playing in his yard one day.  A man came down the street looking rather frustrated.  He said to the little boy, "Son, I'm lost.  Can you tell me how to get to the post office?"  The boy said, "Sure, just go to the stop sign and turn left.  It's right around the corner."

            The man thanked the little boy and then said, "By the way, I'm the new pastor in town.  If you'll come to my church on Sunday, I'll tell you how you can get to heaven."  The little boy thought about that for a moment and then said, "No thanks.  You don't even know how to get to the post office."

            I'm not the new pastor in town and I do know how to get to the post office.  You just go two blocks west from here and then turn south and it's just one block from there right on the corner, you can't miss it.  I also do know how to get to heaven.  That involves a sovereign work of God in our lives as He forgives us and saves us.  We then trust in Him and Him alone for salvation and repent of our sins.


            Knowing where we're going is very important.  We need to know where we're going spiritually as individuals.  We also know where we're going as a church body.  That's the whole purpose of this 30-day church challenge that we're engaging in this month.  We're going to try to make sure that we all know the direction we need to be going, how we need to get there and what steps we need to take to ensure that happens. 

            Every Sunday during this series, we are going to issue a new challenge related to one of the purposes of the church that we'll be studying.  If you're at all familiar with the Mission Impossible TV show and movies, you'll recognize this next line.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to step up to the challenge.

            Part of this involves the devotional book that we provided for everyone who wanted to use it.  You don't have to be using that book; but if you are, there are six readings each week that relate to the material we're covering.  If you've already started the book, that's fine just keep on going.  If you haven't now would be a good time to do so. 

            Ideally, by this time next month, we will all have discovered what it really means to be a church based on what God expects of us as a congregation.  Our studies will also help us strengthen our own relationship with God.  In addition, this challenge will help us understand how we can become a church that transforms our community and our world.  Our objective is that by the end of these 30 days, we won't just come to church, we will become the church.  A true, godly church is a community of faith, powerful, inspirational and transformational, touching our community and the world with the power of the gospel.


            In 1930, a Scotsman named Kurt Hahn invented a wilderness learning experience that he called Outward Bound.  Has anyone here ever heard of it?  It is backpacking, white-water rafting, dog sledding, rock climbing sort of thing. 

            Hahn believed that character development is as important as academic achievement.  He found that when people were put in challenging, adventurous situations, they gained confidence, redefined their perceptions of their personal capabilities, demonstrated compassion for others and developed a spirit of camaraderie with their peers. 

            In his leadership of Outward Bound, Hahn discovered that personal growth accelerates in challenging situations.  His wilderness challenges have been so effective that people have given up weeks of their lives and paid significant amounts of money to climb mountains, hike challenging trails, canoe down river rapids and rappel off wicked cliffs.  Today, Outward Bound sponsors wilderness adventures in more than thirty countries, helping people grow in character through the power of a challenge that stretches them in ways they wouldn't normally stretch themselves.

            Outward Bound and similar experiences also teach us that people grow better when they do it together.  Put a single guy out into the wilderness, and unless he's Bear Grylis, he's probably going to flounder and die.  But put a group of people out there and the power of community bonds them together and enables them to do things they would never have attempted on their own.  By our very nature, we grow better when we tackle challenges together.


            That is the very essence of what we're trying to accomplish with our 30-day church challenge.  We need to work together as a church in unity, to grow more like Christ and become more effective followers of the Lord.  The work we do for the Lord is a challenge.  As we live for Him, we should be gaining confidence, demonstrating compassion for others and developing a spirit of camaraderie with our peers.  If we're trying to live the Christian life all on our own, we will fail, flounder and die spiritually.  But as we live and work in community, we'll be able to do things we could never accomplish on our own. 

            All righty then, let's get going with the 30 day church challenge.  Take your Bible and open up to Acts chapter 2.  We're going to read the same passage of Scripture that we looked at last week in our introductory message.  Let's now read verses 42-47. 

            Every one of the challenges we'll be looking at is related to one of the five purposes of the church.  According to what we just read in Acts 2, the five purposes of the church are to cultivate authentic community; to experience worship as a part of our daily lifestyle; to take successive steps of spiritual growth; to practice personal stewardship; and to reach out to the world around us.  Those are the challenges that we'll be mastering over the next five weeks.  The first one we're going to look at today is cultivating authentic community

            The Acts 2 church excelled at devoting themselves to the church and to each other.  One of the things that made the first church so special was the people in that church made time for relationships.  Just look at a number of the verses from what we just read.  Verse 42 says, "They devoted themselves to the fellowship.Verse 44:  "They held everything in common."  Verse 46 adds, "They broke bread together in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts."  In other words, they did all that they could to cultivate authentic community.

            One of the things that you experience when you get involved in a really good church is that the people there recognize and realize that the church isn't a building that you go to; it is a family that you belong to.  For every person, the center of family life is usually a small group that meets together regularly so that people can study spiritual truth together.  Through that, they are able to come to a place where they can know and be known, love and be loved, serve and be served, celebrate and be celebrated.


            That begs the question:  how do we experience that?  One way that we experience authentic community is that we make time for it.  If you want to know and be known; love and be loved; serve and be served; celebrate and be celebrated, it will be helpful to commit to an intentional group of people on a weekly basis.  That could include a Sunday School class or even a home Bible study.  Make it a priority in your life to show up every week and be actively involved.

            Relationships are worth the time and the trouble.  But they don't just happen.  We need to deliberately make time for them.  We can't have deep relationships with everyone, but we can cultivate some authentic relationships with a few people. 

            A good Biblical example for us is found in the friendship of Jonathan and David.  Jonathan was the heir apparent to the throne of Israel; David was the commanding general of Israel's armies.  That means that these two men were both very, very busy and had a lot of things to do all of the time. 

            But they also knew how important friendships were.  They knew the power of relationship.  So even though they were very busy, they made the time that they needed to make in order to have a friendship.  They made time for each other.  Both of them were better men because of it.


            Once you've made that commitment, the second step to authentic community is to contribute to it.  It's one thing to show up for a small group, anyone can do that and it is a good thing to do and a good place to start.  But it needs to go farther than that and it needs to be deeper than that.  A good group bonds and gels when the members of the group make a conscious effort to be contributors to the group. 

            What does that look like?  Well it might mean that one person makes dessert for the group.  Somebody else might be responsible for calling those who are absent or late.  Everyone in the group contributes by paying attention and adding to a good discussion.  The bottom line is that you learn to do life together, speak the truth in love to one another, and make each other's lives better as a result of it. 


            The third step in building great community is that you take a genuine interest in the lives of others.  This is where selflessness comes into play.  If we're going to genuinely take an interest in the lives of others, we're going to need to think of them first.  We're going to need to put aside our own agendas and our own needs and seek to make a difference in the agendas and needs of the other people in our group. 

            That means maybe not talking so much and letting others have a say.  It means paying attention to what is going on in the lives of other people.  It means praying for people; spending time with them; Listening to their hurts and struggles of life.  In many ways, it's not all that difficult to take a genuine interest in others.  For much of humanity, it's just a simple matter of getting ourselves out of the way so that we can let others in.


            So, what does authentic community feel like?  What is its effect?  Let's all turn now to Psalm 133.  This Psalm is almost exactly in the middle of the Bible.  It's also one of the shortest chapters in the Bible.  It was written by King David, who experienced the power of authentic community in the company of close friends who were called, "David's mighty men."

            David uses two illustrations in this psalm to try to explain authentic community.  First he says, "It is like fine oil on the head, running down on the beard, running down Aaron's beard onto his robes."  What's that all about and what does it have to do with authentic community?

            In David's day there were two great offices in the nation of Israel.  One was the office of the king.  David held that office.  The other was the office of the high priest of the nation.  That position was hereditary.  It was passed down from father to son in the lineage of the first high priest, Aaron, the brother of Moses.

            The office of high priest was for life, so most people only got to see the anointing of one high priest in their entire lifetime.  When a high priest was to be anointed, the whole nation would gather in Jerusalem.  After some prayers, a special mixture of oil and spices, a mixture only used for the anointing of the high priest and nothing and no one else in all Israel, was poured lavishly over the head of the new high priest.  So much oil was poured that it dripped down both sides of his head, ran down his beard and splashed onto the collar of his priestly robe. 

            When David, who had experienced the power of authentic community in the company of close friends, searched for a way to describe how good and pleasant it is, he pictured a once in a lifetime nation-wide event and said, "It's like that.  Authentic community with a few close friends gives off the same level of joy as the celebration of the anointing of the high priest."  In other words, authentic community is a joyous celebration.


            Then he goes on to give a second analogy.  In verse 3 he says, "It is like the dew of Hermon falling on the mountains of Zion."  Israel has a very dry climate with only one short rainy season.  After that, all plants and animals have to survive on the moisture that comes from one natural source:  Mt. Hermon

            Mt. Hermon sits at the northern end of Israel and is the highest mountain in the country.  Its summit reaches high enough that when the wind blows eastward off the Mediterranean, it catches the moisture of the sea.  This moisture then flows down Mt. Hermon and waters all the surrounding area, even as far as Jerusalem, which sits on Mt. Zion.  Without the dew of Hermon, most plant life would die in Israel.

            David is saying, "You know the effect Mt. Hermon has on everything around it?  That's the effect that authentic community has, not only on those experiencing it, but even on those within relational distance of the community."  In other words, authentic community rubs off on other people.

            If you've ever been around someone who is truly happy, or truly content, his or her disposition tends to rub off on you.  People in great communal relationships tend to be happier and more contented, so there is this contagious and cascading effect to the community.  Community is like an anointing event for a nation and an environmental lifeboat for an eco system.


            If real community is so important and so precious, why aren't we all experiencing it?  It's mainly because so many people are too busy looking for the good life elsewhere.  We're involved in our kids little league games, which is a good thing.  We're involved in our careers, which is also a good thing.  There are family chores, exercise, paying bills, watching TV, taking vacations, and so many other things that are at our fingertips that it's easy to miss one of the most important things. 

            Ask yourself this:  Do you want the joy and unity that community brings?  Do you want the spirit of celebration that doing life together with others brings?  Do you want to bring life and refreshment to your family, your friends and your acquaintances?  Are you willing to invest some time in order to do that?

            Here is your first challenge:  Commit to joining a small group, class or ministry if you're not already involved in one.  Commit to making time for a small group, contributing to it and taking a genuine interest in the lives of others.  If you're already doing that, we then challenge you to go deeper.  Maybe prepare to lead a group yourself; or get more involved; invite others to come with you.  There is something that all of us can do to be better connected and involved with authentic community. 

            What do you need to do?  Is there some public profession or decision that you need to share with us this morning?  As our singers and musicians come now, we invite you to do so as we stand and sing.