We are beginning a new series on “Becoming Like Family” as our online community members begin to share the daily challenges with friends, and we begin to gather our larger community together. We want to have five main characteristics, and the one we’re focusing on this week is to be spending time in community groups.
Yesterday, we saw that four-in-ten American young adults with a Christian background (43%) believe going to church and having Christian friends is optional.
You might think that this is a new phenomenon, but today we’ll read about a similar story from the Bible, written in a letter to some of the first Christians, within 50 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV)
First, please notice how clear this is that being a church here is about a gathering of people. The Greek word for church is ekklesia which literally means “an assembly” or “gathering of people” called out to be and do something specific. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews was not specifically speaking about a building. Even if they worshipped at the temple occasionally, it was primarily a place of Jewish ritual sacrifices, not a place that was immediately associated with Christian worship just because of its architecture or presence.
He was referring to a people group, a movement, who actually did spend time together – sometimes in temple, sometimes in homes, sometimes in rented rooms, and probably some places in between.
But the other thing that’s clear here is that they aren’t meeting together as much as they should, and it’s essential that they do.
The author doesn’t say why. Did they get lazy? Are they afraid of being identified by persecutors? Have they actually stopped believing?
No one can be sure. But the author is clear that being a regular part of a Christian community is critical regardless. He says it’s this important, it represents holding fast to what we claim/confess to believe. That involves connectedness with others who claim and confess the same things.
Gathering with other Christians is also a visible reminder of who we are – God’s beloved but distant children, trying to follow Jesus to know him again.
Someone I know recently went out West on business, and was planning to go to an Oilers vs. Leafs game, wearing a Leafs jersey! She went there knowing she’d be alone, and would endure persecution, where no one else would be dressed like her. But then at the game, she looked out, and saw a few other Leafs jerseys, and a few more, and a few more. She was reminded she wasn’t alone.
This is what church is about. Although we may feel alone at times as Christians, when we are part of a church we remind ourselves that we are not alone, as we catch a glimpse of others wearing our colours. We are not the only ones trying to live as followers of Jesus in a hostile world. In fact, there are millions of us, all over the world, and all around our offices and neighbourhoods. But we need to come out and recognize each other. As we gather together, we remember that we are part of a community. We see this, we feel it and we are encouraged. And we are challenged, to be there for each other throughout the week as well.
Question: Why do you think it’s important for followers of Jesus to meet together? What should come of their meetings?
Reminder: Last week we saw the importance of reading the Bible together in sync, so our new daily bible readings start today in our mobile app and web site.
Read the Bible in Sync Today
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We are in our last weeks of a new series on “Becoming Like Family”. This is important as our online community begin to share the daily challenges with friends, and we begin to gather our larger community together as one church community. We won’t be bound together by a building, or institution, but rather by five commitments. We’ve talked about commitment to common learning goals, connectedness as a community of small and large groups, connectedness to God in worship, grace in our lifestyles, and finally this week we end our series with a commitment to generosity in our resources.
Last week the Governor General kicked off a new initiative in canada: MY Giving Moment at http://mygivingmoment.ca/. You can watch a video introduction here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9Tn22k6jwE
Canadians clearly have an openness and willingness to give to others. According to a survey published in November 2012 the number of Canadians who made a charitable donation increased by 10% in 2012, while the total amount of donations increased by 14% when compared to 2011.
But when Christians talks about giving, sometimes it feels different. We might expect Christian teaching on giving to be self-serving, like we only talk about generosity when it means putting money on a plate to support a particular institute or building, or in the worst examples, buying a pastor a luxury car or mansion in the woods.
Imagine you are channel surfing, and you see a televangelist asking people to make a pledge – do you assume they’re genuine, or do you get concerned? Billy Graham, who just celebrated a birthday, is widely recognized as one internationally known preacher whose reputation is intact, but it’s so unfortunate that he’s seen as the exception rather than the norm.
A friend of mine attended church for first time, to support a friend's baptism, and I remember the look of horror on his face when the members of the church started passing a brass collection plate around. This man of another religion felt compelled to give to support something he didn’t believe or understand simply because a plate was going to be passed under his nose and he didn’t want to be embarrassed appearing cheap.
For all these reasons and more, the notion of churches and christian ministries talking about money can be a touchy thing. Some might suggest we’d be better to leave it alone, and teach about lighter stuff.
But if someone told you that the Bible was a great way to learn about Jesus, and then handed you a Bible with a bunch of sections blacked out, you’d be suspicious, wouldn’t you? You’d wonder what they were holding back, and rightfully so. You’d call WikiLeaks and see if they know what's been blacked out!
It would be dishonest of me to pretend that Jesus didn’t have an awful lot to say about money and how we live with it. It would be like blacking out 15% of Jesus’ words in the Bible!
I think Jesus said so much about money and possessions because he knew that the place of money in our lives was a spiritual issue far more than it was simply an economic issue. He knew money had a lot to do with our feelings of self-worthy, identity and security in life. The exact things we are meant to derive from God, and that are meant to be developed in and through our generosity.
Question: Have you seen someone who worships money? How could you tell?
Reminder: Earlier in this series, we saw the importance of reading the Bible together in sync, so our new daily bible readings start today in our mobile app and web site.
This series looks at becoming “like family” with others learning to follow Jesus. We're exploring how the church is not a building, institution or event, but a community of people. It's important that explore what church means as we prepare to launch a new church in Ajax in 2014.