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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This week we’re learning that our money, our time and our natural skills are resources to be used in ways that will allow God’s purposes to be realized. Amazingly we are given total freedom in this. There are no set rules or specific suggestions, only the objective. The challenge is to use our imagination and our creativity in thinking out how we will apply our money, for example, to this purpose. As we learn more about God our awareness of the opportunities to use our money in this way will increase….charities, individuals, families and church ministries will all show us ways we can make a difference.
I have seen three steps many Christians move through as they grow in generosity.
It begins with casual giving. This happens at the checkout counter in a store when they ask if you’d like to give a dollar to this fund or that. It also happens in a church service when a plate is passed, and you look to see what you can give today.
But often we move from there to another type of giving: responsible giving.
I know of one person who’d grown up going to church, but as an adult, was asked to join the advisory board. She accepted, and figured it would be a good idea to be at the annual meeting for the first time in her life, since she was on the board now. Well, the next day, she reported that it was a huge eye-opener. As she saw the budget, she looked at her own givings, and explaimed, “I just realized I’m the biggest cheapskate here!”
She had just become a “responsible giver”…someone who looks at the budget, and says I’ll do my part of the good work that’s happening here. Looks at world, says I should help.
Finally, many Christians move from responsible giving to proportional giving.
This is where we don’t just do our part, but instead we looked at our budget, figured out a percentage we would give every month, signed up for pre-authorized giving, and stuck to it. We have plans for our money…work on the house, new roof, etc. but we’ll have to save up for it, because we make sure our tithe comes out first.
What percent? There are several places in the Bible that talk about tithing—which literally means giving 10% to God’s work. It’s something from the Old Testament, when God’s people, the Israelites, were to give 10% of everything to God – crops, animals, everything. Is that the rule or percent?
But we have to remember how Jesus treats many Old Testament laws – he steps them up and makes them more challenging to our hearts.
He says his disciples’ “Righteousness is to exceed that of scribes & pharisees. – Matt 5:20
For example: The Pharisees and scribes avoided murder (one of the 10 commandments)…so Jesus wants his followers to not only never murder, but to also avoid anger. He shifts them from doing the bare minimum, to an actual change of attitude.
In the same way, if the Pharisees give 10% because they have to, what do we give if Jesus always calls us to have a change of attitude?
It’s to give, not until it hurts, but until it feels good again…until our attitude has changed from one of giving what we have to, to one of giving generously, because we love to give.
How do you choose your level of giving? Only you can decide, but identify where you are today, and challenge yourself to the next level…today, not tomorrow. Jesus always said those who were faithful with a little, are the ones he trusts to be faithful with a lot, so start where you are, no matter your income, no matter how little it may seem, because if you give generously out of love, it’s important to God.
Just to be clear – I’m not just saying this to boost Redeem the Commute's income! I am encouraging you to give generously to God’s work – whoever, wherever, however it is done. So long as it is work consistent with God’s plans for this world – so long as it is kingdom work.
Giving to Redeem the Commute, helping us become a new kind of church is a great way to do that. We need your financial help to keep helping marriages and families, and developing a community that can do that for the long term. You can give at https://www.redeemthecommute.com/donate/
But God’s work is much bigger than any one ministry!
Please give to a variety of ministries. Perhaps you can find balance by giving to Redeem the Commute as your church, and a Christian relief charity like World Vision, and a medical charity that's consistent with God's kingdom plans to heal the sick and hurting. And of course you want to be ready to help people in your life in need when they ask.
In the final analysis, stewardship is about the overflowing of a grateful heart in response to all that Jesus has done for us…..and so determine how much to give by determining what God has given and done for you. Then decide how you can say thanks.
Remember that we were made to be givers, but we have been socialized by a world that has lost its direction into believing that we are supposed to be keepers.
Challenge: Map out what you can give away every month, and the right blend for you. One suggestion is to set up a monthly gift to RTC at https://www.redeemthecommute.com/donate and a monthly gift to your other charities, and a savings account so you are saving for the future needs of your family and others you know who may need your generosity. Go to http://www.mygivingmoment.ca and register your moment there!
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.