Look at 1 John. I want you to see this relationship between being in a relationship with God and, therefore, in relationship with other believers. By the way, that’s the theme of the book of 1 John.
The apostle writes, “That which was from the beginning which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes,” speaking of Christ, “which we have looked at and our hands have touched,” he’s saying this is real, “this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life. The Life appeared,” Jesus, “we have seen it and testified to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and has appeared to us.”
The gospel, great. Now, get the next two verses. “We proclaim to you that we have seen and we have heard,” notice the purpose clause, “so that you also may have fellowship with us.” I would expect Him to say, what? “So you can have fellowship with God.” He doesn’t say that.
So, to you, we’ve proclaimed it. When we share the gospel, it’s so people can have fellowship with us. “Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Christ Jesus. We write this to make our joy complete.” Do you get it? Once you’re related to God, you are now organically related to other believers all over the world.
And have you picked this up, yet? Have you figured this out about life? That joy is not a target or a thing that you can try to achieve, but that joy is a byproduct of relationships, period. You ought to write that down and if you learn that it will transform how you live life.
See, there are a lot of people that think success will bring them joy, and then they’re successful, and it’s empty. They think getting something, earning something, achieving something, being something, dressing a certain way, having a certain house, driving a certain car.
They think it will bring them joy and what happens? It’s like the old cat chasing its tail. You bite into it only to find out it certainly wasn’t what you expected. See, joy is a byproduct of relationships with one another, and with God.
So, well, we’ve solved it, haven’t we? Aren’t you glad you came? Oh, we have! You don’t have to be lonely. God cares, right? He’s all-knowing, all-powerful, and He loves you. Jesus understands your loneliness so if you talk to Him at any time, His heart will break with your hurt. He invites you into a relationship if you haven’t.
And finally, once you’re in a relationship with Him, you belong to one another. And so since you belong, everything’s great, right? Gosh, we’re done pretty early. It doesn’t work quite like that does it?
See, the fact of the matter is there are a lot of us that belong, we’re born again, we know Christ, but your experience in the body of Christ is like you live your life feeling like there’s a plexiglass box around you, and you’re on the outside looking in. And in your heart of hearts you don’t feel like anyone really cares and you don’t feel deeply connected.
And it may be true of you that you know God, and it may be true of you that you belong, but you don’t feel it. So, let me take some time and see if we can’t discuss and discover – how can you experience authentic love and real connection in the body of Christ? How does that work?
Let me give you a quick picture that might help you at least register, intellectually, with what I’m talking about. Many of us have had this problem of getting in shape, right?
We all want to be in shape, at least, sometimes the doctors say get in shape and it motivates us, and other times around Christmas someone buys us one of those coupons to go to a gym or to a spa, so sometimes we get motivated. But whatever it is, whether someone else bought it or you bought it, you can sign up to go to one of the area gyms or one of the spas. Or you could even buy a treadmill and put it in one of the back bedrooms. And the moment you sign up for the gym or for the spa, what? Your problem with getting in shape is solved. Isn’t it?
All the machines that you need to get in shape are available. And when you go there they’ll talk about nutrition, and they’ll talk about habits, and they’ll talk about lifestyle, and they’ll even pinch you and tell you your body weight fat, dup, dup, dup, and all that stuff, right? And they’ll tell you which exercises. You’re in.
Now, help me with this. However, if you sign on the dotted line and you’re a “member” of the spa or the gym, you have positional membership, but you never go, how in shape do you get? Zippo. Nada. Flaborine. Right? High cholesterol!
It’s the same in the body of Christ. You can be a positional member. You’re saved, you know Christ, you’re forgiven, you’re in the family, you belong to other believers, but a “positional member” is very different than a “practicing member,” a participating member. There are very few benefits.
It’s like the kid who might live in your house and this isn’t hopefully happening anywhere, but it’s like living in a house and all the fun’s around the dining room table, and people are eating and laughing, and having fun, and giving high fives, and even having a good few healthy arguments. You can live in that house, but if you stay in your room all the time you don’t get it.
See, I believe it is the state of scores of people in this room and all over the world, people are positional members, but they’re not practicing members. And until you are a participating member of the body of Christ, guess what. You’re lonely. Are you lonely because God doesn’t care? Nope. Are you lonely because Jesus doesn’t understand your pain? Nope. Are you lonely because He hasn’t invited you into a relationship with Him to solve a problem? Nope.
Are you lonely because no one cares, there’s no place to belong? Nope. Why are you lonely? You’re lonely for two reasons. One, I believe you have a distorted view of the Church and two, you have a distorted view of relationships. And so in the time remaining here’s what I want to do. I want to help you break out of your loneliness and isolation by rethinking your view of the Church, and by revising your approach to relationships.
First, rethinking your view of the Church. Many people think of the Church as an institution. It’s buildings, it’s programs, it’s structure, it’s this idea of “them.” In fact, when I meet you out/ at the mall or when I’m running around, when you tell me, “I go to your church,” you’re telling me that you think Church is a “them” and you’re a “we.” So, you don’t feel a part.
The Church is not an institution, the Church is a community. Community is where you have involvement, sharing, relationships and connection. See, the Church is not an event to attend, like I’m going to the theatre. It’s Saturday night or Sunday morning, let’s go to the church. It’s a place to attend. Hope the music’s good. Hope Chip has a good day. You know? I’m going to the church, an event. That’s not the Church! The Church is a place to belong. It’s a family. It’s “us.” It’s in relationships.
And until you rethink how you think about the Church, you’re going to be lonely. And there are steak dinners, spiritually, on the table; and starving people and that doesn’t make sense to God.
Look at the Early Church, Acts chapter 2. Just listen to it. Just listen to it and you tell me. You tell me if this sounds like an institution or an event to come to, to schedule in your planner, or if this sounds more like life, and relationships, and involvement.
Early Church: “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, and to fellowship, and to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe. And many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common,” koinonia, sharing, relationship, involvement, “selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as they had need.”
That means they at least knew each other’s names, didn’t it? They cared about one another. They got out of their comfort zone. It wasn’t any easier for them than it is for us. “Every day they continued to meet together in the Temple courts.” They had large group worship – Temple courts.
They had instruction, they had celebration, they had worship, but in Temple courts or on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning you can’t experience all God wants for the Church. This is one function. But notice what happens after the Temple courts and they get it daily. “Every day they continued to meet together in the Temple courts, they broke bread…” they had meals together, shared the Lord’s supper – where? “…in homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” You’re kidding! You mean small groups isn’t a new method that someone made up to help churches grow? No. No.
You mean meeting at home, sharing meals isn’t something that some seminar group came up with? No. It’s actually right from the beginning. See, it’s real-life relationships. You worship here, you learn here, but life doesn’t take on meaning until you sit down over a coffee table, or you sit down around a fire at the beach, or you go have some fun together, and you look into someone else’s eyes and those eyes say: you matter. Tell me your story. Tell me your struggle. Tell me where you’re frustrated. Let us pray for you about the relationship that’s not working in your life. Let’s pray for your boss. Let’s hang in there with your sick kid.
Notice what happens when the church operates this way? Verse 47, “They were praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people, believers and unbelievers, and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Everybody needs somebody that cares about you as you. And I know, I know, “But Chip, I don’t do relationships well. I tried one of those groups you’re talking about in a church and you should have seen the whacko who lead that group.”
Or, “I shared something in one of those groups and then I heard about it from someone else two weeks later. I’ve been burned. I’ve been hurt. I’ve been rejected. I’ve been abandoned.
No one really cares about me. No one will really want to enter into a relationship with me. So, I’ve learned to keep acting in a way that makes that true.”
“What you’re saying sounds great, Chip, and with all these people here when we laugh together, it seems, yeah! But when they play that last song and you walk out the doors, I feel like I’m alone again. How do you do relationships where you can start to break down these barriers and get connected in the body of Christ?”
Suggestion number one: Realize your need. As long as it’s an option, you won’t do it. It’s our pride that makes us think, I don’t really need other people. No, you just need to keep lying to yourself. There are no lone rangers. The Bible is clear that attachment is essential. Life was made, listen, life was made for relationships. It can’t even be just you and God. He didn’t design it that way. Realize your need.
Two: Move toward others. Now, it’s great when people move towards you, but for some of us, see, we walk in and here’s how we all think. See, you look happy. You look smiling. When everyone gets up, and introduces, and says hi, I look around the room and everyone’s got it together. And you’re probably in a group, and you’re probably in a ministry, and life’s probably going great for you. But it’s not for me. What you don’t understand is sixty-five to seventy percent of all the people that you think that about, it’s not true. They’re struggling just like you are.
They don’t have it together. They’re hurting and they’re struggling. They need you to walk across an aisle, make a phone call, extend a hand, smile, and say, how are you doing? And you’re saying, “Well, no one’s ever done that to me in this church.” And they haven’t. And, “I’ve counted. Fifty-two weeks, no one’s done that.” Of course, you haven’t done that to anyone else, have you? You’ve got to move toward others. Scary? You bet. It can’t be any worse than loneliness.
Number three: Be vulnerable. The word vulnerability literally means, be open to attack. See, when I meet someone that either looks like they have it all together or projects they have it all together, you know what I’ve learned over the years? One, I’m too intimidated, I don’t want to get around them. And, two, I’ve been around the block to know that they’re either faking it or they’re lying. So, I don’t want to be around them either. Right?
Now, are you attracted to people that really, “Man, man, he’s really got it together.” I’m not! But the moment someone shares a hurt, the moment someone shares a struggle, the moment someone peels a little bit of the mask off and lets me know what’s going on inside, I’m immediately attracted to them.
You know why? Because, oh good, they’re like me, insecure, struggling, temptation, all kind of problems, and I need help with them. And, I don’t know, I just feel comfortable. Is it scary? Yes. But be vulnerable. Do it wisely, open up a little at a time, make sure how people respond, don’t do it with everyone, but take some steps.
Fourth: Channel distorted thinking. No one likes you, they’ll abandon you, it’ll be just like last time, you keep those running, and you’re right; nothing will change. Challenge those.
Fifth: Take risks. Step out, extend a hand, join a group, reach out to someone. Take a risk. Six: Be empathetic. Identify with others’ hurts. If you can get others-centered and listen, listen, listen.
I have never found a person who’s a great listener that doesn’t have tons of friends. You know why? Who do people love to talk about more than anyone else in the whole world? Ourselves! Do you realize what great friends you could have if you say, “Where are you from? Well, do you have any children? What part of the country? How’s that going? What’s the biggest struggle you have in work? Boy, that must be very difficult. How do you manage that?”
You just keep asking questions and listen, listen, listen. You know what? They walk away thinking, Man, what a nice guy. Right? And then, out of sheer politeness they might try something like, I’ve been talking for twenty minutes, “How are you? And where are you from?” And you’re thinking, This works; I love it.
Finally, pray. Trust God. Pray, pray, pray. Every time you come to a crossroads and you think, I want to take a step towards this person. I’m afraid, I’m afraid, I can’t do it. And God will say, “That’s right you can’t, but I can with you.” Okay, I’ll do it. Pray, pray, pray. Trust God. How does connecting occur? The first, smile. It’s amazing, just smile at someone. Two, extend a hand. “Hi, my name is, I’ve been coming so-and-so.”
Three, for three minutes I want you to talk with someone you don’t know. You know what we do, those of us who feel connected? We come here, smile, think everyone’s okay, and I think, great, “Marty, how are you doing?” I know Marty. “Hey, Sue, how’s it going?” I know Sue. “Hey, Gordon, hey man, how’s it going, tell me about.”
And so we all, we know each other, we talk to each other and all the people who are not connected walk in, walk out, walk in. For three minutes, don’t talk to anybody you know.
Fourth, help out. The quickest way to get connected is people are desperate for help. You want help in the kitchen? I’ll help out. You need help with those kids? I’ll help out. Hey, shaking hands and giving out bulletins, I’ll help out. You need help putting these chairs up? I’ll help out. What happens? You forge relationships.
The summary, to lick loneliness you’ve got to – write in the word – belong. You’ve got to belong. You see, it’s these informal steps plus formal strategies that will produce a connected community of love.