Posted by: lepages | January 8, 2012

Healthy living – a healthy community!

My preach notes from this morning – think the Lord enabled me to express much better what he had stirred in me (and more!) much better when I preached than they are in my notes as I reproduce them here. Moving time of responsive worship afterwards as people shared what God was stirring in them. Praise you Lord!

Healthy living – a healthy community

– Building community

Introduction
Okay, I’m going to say some things in setting the scene which you may or may not agree with – and that’s okay! Please fell free to tell me if you disagree with me. I’m not claiming some revelation from God over what I share in setting the scene, its just some of my observations and assessments, which may or may not be right in the big scheme of things.

This week has seen the media looking back in time, to a time when, in my reckoning, we saw the breakdown of a sense of community in our nation – even if it wasn’t fully recognised at that time.

This week the media was caught up with this man

Can anyone tell me who he is?

Stephen Lawrence – not the gentleman sitting at the back controlling the PA – but the young man, sadly murdered in a racist attack at 18 years old, 18 years ago – some of whose murderers are only just being brought to justice.

At the time of the murder there was much debate about ‘what is our society coming to?’

This week was also the week when the film ‘The Iron Lady’ was launched, with Meryl Streep playing the role of Margaret Thatcher.

Meryl Streep has been critically acclaimed for her role in portraying Margaret Thatcher. How she has switched her American accent for the distinctive tones of Margaret Thatcher’s voice is quite stunning. The film hasn’t in itself received the same acclaim that Meryl Streep has for her acting.

Margaret Thatcher governed (ruled??!!) as Prime Minister, throughout the 1980’s – a period which many would see as leading to a downfall in any sense of community in our nation – a period when there became a wholesale pursuit of personal financial blessing – which we now pay the price for – the sale of endowment mortgages with the expected blessing of a tidy nest egg at the end as the mortgage is paid off being just one of the products of that time.

A large part of the Christian church, caught in the culture of the time began preaching a gospel which was self-centred ‘Come to Jesus and he will meet all your needs.’ It was a building in truth on a Western, individualistic cultural mindset which already existed in much Christian thinking and expression – the need to receive Jesus as our ‘personal Saviour’ – it would be common for us here at a person’s baptism to ask ‘Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as your own personal Saviour?’

I wonder where the term ‘personal Saviour’ comes from?
I’m not sure I can find it in my Bible – though I’m quite open to being corrected on this.

What I’ve discovered in scripture over the last few years has been the depth of corporateness which exists in scripture. How so much of scripture is about the body of God’s people, the church. About how much of the teaching in the New Testament (and indeed the Old testament) is about drawing others into the family of God’s people.

So we come today to the second in our Healthy living series and we’re thinking about A healthy community and our value of -building community – in a world where community has been lost in so many ways.

But, this is changing.

All around us, people are recognising the need to rebuild community.
The rise in the number of Resident’s Associations and other groups, seeking to bring communities together for the good of their community.
The rise in social media so that people have a real sense of community as they share their lives with others through New Media like Facebook and Twitter
(Did you know we have a Facebook page now which you can go and ‘like’ and share in?)

The rise in the number of folk choosing to belong to a club of some form, whether it be sporting or some other interest group which they share in.

The Government recognises this need to rebuild community and so, in this last year we have seen the flagging up of Big Society
It’s stated aim is to be:-
“about helping people to come together to improve their own lives. It’s about putting more power in people’s hands – a massive transfer of power from Whitehall to local communities.”

Well, how you respond to the stated aim, and your analysis of the reasons for it may vary depending on your political perspective – but that stated aim of ‘helping people come together to improve their own lives’ has to be a good one at some levels?!

So, in our society, the stirrings of a move towards recognition of the value of community and in Scripture a wholehearted affirmation of the value of community, albeit not using that term…
does this mean there is something intrinsically valuable which we need to get a hold on if we are to be a healthy church? if we are to be a healthy community? and if we are to move from just a belief that community is valuable to it being a value which we put into practice – hence our value being labelled ‘building community’.

Let’s turn to some scripture.
I believe that there is a glorious model of what it means to be community, portrayed in the early pages of Acts as the church came into being. Acts 2:42-47

READ Acts 2:42-47

Now, it’s possible to read those words and think ‘That was nice.’ Or, ‘That was then, but this is now….times are different.’

But, if we do that we are in danger of somehow missing out on the level of community which operated amongst God’s people at that time.

I want us for a few minutes to just begin to unpack some of what this community was about.

It was devoted

v42 They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer

I wonder how many of us would use the word ‘devoted’ in any way to our Christian lives?
‘Profound dedication’ is how one dictionary defines the word ‘devoted’.

I wonder if it was that profound dedication of God’s people to him, to his people and to his purposes that was the reason the early church was so blessed?
Maybe it is that profound dedication in places around the world which is resulting in awesome moves of the Spirit sweeping many into the Kingdom of God….
What did they devote themselves to?

To the apostle’s teaching…. they were eager, they were hungry to grow in their faith, they wanted to know all they could know to put it into practice.

They devoted themselves to the fellowship – to being together, to sharing together – gathering together as God’s people was high on their agenda!

They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread – making sure they continually reminded themselves of what it was that Jesus had done for them through his sacrifice on the cross.

They devoted themselves to prayer – more literally ‘the prayers’ – a formal gathering to pray, not just personal devotion to God in prayer.

I wonder what sort of church we would be if we were devoted in that way?
Eager to be built up into all that we can be in God.
Eager to meet together to support, encourage and strengthen one another.
Eager to break bread, to come before him in worship, to come before him in prayer and seek him to see his will and purposes fulfilled amongst us.

Maybe, just maybe, if we were a community like that, we might be a community that like that community which was filled with awe

They were filled with awe because of the quite miraculous things which God was doing amongst them.

Has God ceased to be a miraculous God?
I don’t believe so.

Do I long to see God doing miraculous things in signs and wonders amongst us?
Yes I do.
Do I get frustrated when I hear God’s word, and hear stories from across the world and across our town of God working miraculously today?
Yes Lord, I do.
Do it here Lord.
Cause us to be a people who are filled with awe at our marvellous God.

The third thing about this community of believers was that they were:- together

v44 ‘All the people were together’
v46 ‘Every day they continued to meet together’

These people liked to be together!
It’s okay to enjoy hanging out with your brothers and sisters in Christ!
They were together, not just in a formal sense of meeting together, but they were together in their commitment to one another, in serving one another.
So much of the New testament is about that being worked out in practice – what it means to ‘love one another’.

There’s around 50 ‘one another’s in the New Testament.

Just a few of them, besides loving one another:-

be devoted to one another Romans 12:10
honour one another Romans 12:10
live in harmony with one another Romans 12:16
accept one another Romans 15:7
greet one another Romans 16:16
serve one another Galatians 5:13
be kind and compassionate to one another Ephesians 4:32
speak to one another with psalms, hymns … Ephesians 5:19
admonish one another Colossians 3:16
encourage one another 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Their commitment to one another, their community went beyond meeting together for formal gatherings of the church. They really did love each other, to the extent that they were prepared to sacrifice time and money for the benefit of those in need; to the extent that they opened their homes to one another – hospitality is one of the greatest demonstrations of community and love – welcoming others into your home.

Hospitality is something which is being rediscovered in our day.
Having largely abandoned cooking meals from scratch, now there’s loads of TV programmes being avidly watched by many, seeking to regain that ability again.
Watch programmes like ‘Come dine with me’ and you’ll soon discover that folk are judged not only on their culinary skills, but also on their hospitality.

Want to show love to people?
Invite them into your home.

The fourth thing about this community of God’s people was that they were:-
enjoying the favour of all the people

The result of this was that the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

I don’t know about you, but I want to see people saved and added in to the family of God’s people, the church. I want to see community built which is a reflection of the community that exists in God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A loving commitment to one another, which is prepared to sacrifice to reach out in love to others to draw them in.

Jesus said, John 13:34,35
‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

So, if you want others to know about your faith in Jesus, one way is to let them see that being worked out in the love being demonstrated amongst his people.

The community of the church is not meant to be a selfish, self-centred, inward looking community. It’s meant to be an outward looking, growing community which seeks to demonstrate the values of the community.

Values which include, putting Jesus at the centre, and being a community of loving relationships, worked out in loving, practical, emotional and spiritual support of one another.

Do you want to be part of a community like that?

A community which is devoted to one another, devoted to God, devoted to his Word, and devoted to seeing others brought into God’s family so that they can share in the community.

I do.

If you want to dedicate yourself to building community this year, to being part of a community that wants to live those things out this year, then I’d invite you, if you are able, to stand with me and we’ll make a commitment to God to see this value being lived out and fulfilled amongst us in this year ahead.

Prayer of commitment

Step of faith and fulfilment

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