Many years ago, I traveled to Kings Canyon and Sequoia NP in CA and saw some of the giant redwood trees. Redwood trees are some of the tallest and oldest organisms in the world. The trees can grow over 300 feet high, that is higher than a 27-story building, and the trees can live thousands of years. In fact, it is believed that some of the old growth redwood trees in CA have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, certainly some of them were around in the days of Jesus. They are a true natural wonder in our world.
What is interesting about Redwoods is that they really only thrive in groves with other redwoods and that is because their root system does not go deep – it spreads out wide, maybe 100 feet in every direction, but it needs to intertwine with the root system of other trees to give it stability. If a Redwood grew 300 feet and there were no other trees around, it wouldn’t take much of a storm to knock it over because the root system wouldn’t be able to hold it up under the pressure, but when those roots intertwine with the roots of other trees, large and small, they form an incredibly stable and solid foundation for all the trees to flourish. Redwood trees need other redwood trees if they are going to thrive.
And that is the profound truth for all of us who follow Jesus. We need other followers of Jesus around us if we are going to thrive. We need one another if we are going to grow strong and remain standing up in faith under pressure. We need one another to be the best that we can be and the best person that God created us to be. We simply need each other so our Relationship with the Church, with other people of faith and followers of Jesus, is one of the three primary relationships that we are looking at this month.
As we explore what it means to be a disciple, how to grow in our faith, and become the people God truly wants us to be, we are focusing on three primary relationships that were seen in the life of Jesus: a relationship with God, the church, and the world.
While Jesus was always in a relationship with God, because he was God in the flesh, when he walked this earth in human form, Jesus maintained that relationship with God the Father through intentional times of prayer. Jesus sought direction from God, strength from God, and often just desired to commune with God so he went off to pray. Jesus’ prayer life was so dynamic and personal that his disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. The disciples didn’t ask Jesus how to turn water into wine, calm the wind and waves, or heal the sick, but they did ask Jesus to teach them to pray. They understood that conversation with God overflowing into their lives would fundamentally change their lives and help them truly be more like Jesus.
Jesus not only maintained a relationship with God, but he actively worked to develop a relationship with other people of faith. Jesus gave a big part of his time to developing a community, a family of faith, a group of people who became the beginning of the church. The first thing that Jesus did when he began a more public part of his life was to call people to follow him. He called people to walk with him, travel with him, learn from him, pray with him, eat with him, and live life together with him. He formed a faith community and instilled in them values that would help keep the community healthy and strong. While Jesus may have gone off to be alone to pray, he never went off alone to live.
There are many people who say they can follow Jesus and not be part of the church, I would disagree. While you can believe in Jesus as the Savior of the world and not be part of the church, you cannot follow Jesus and live like Jesus and not be part of the church because Jesus gave himself completely to develop this kind of faith community. We can’t be a follower of Jesus and not follow him into a community of believers and a family of faith.
Maybe Jesus formed the church and calls us into relationship with one another in the church because he knew that we are all like giant redwoods. If we stand alone, we will fall during the storms and stress of life. Or maybe Jesus knew that we are like the embers of a fire. If we are separated and alone, we will burn out quickly, but if we can remain close to one another – we will burn brighter and longer. If you want to put out a campfire, what do you do? You begin to separate out all the remaining pieces of wood or coal because in time, if all alone, they will burn themselves out. The same is true with our faith. Left alone, we will die.
Think about the images that are used for the church in the New Testament. The church is talked about as the Family of God, the Body of Christ, and even the Bride of Christ. If God loves the church enough to consider us his bride, his family, and his very body, then how can we neglect it or reject it? To say that we don’t need to be part of the church is to say that we don’t need to be part of God’s family, or that we don’t need to be part of Christ himself, which not only cuts us off from one another but cuts us off from God as well. We simply cannot experience the fullness of life and faith apart from a relationship with one another in the church and there are 5 rhythms that help us maintain this relationship.
- Accountability - I allow open & honest feedback in my life.
- Generosity - I use my time & treasure to further the Kingdom of God.
- Community - My interactions with the church are rooted in love & are mutually beneficial.
- Service - I use my gifts & talents to grow the church.
- Family - My faith overflows first & foremost in my home.
Once again, you notice that these rhythms are not a checklist of things to do, but a way to live and be. They are rhythms that will lead to specific actions certainly, but the checklist of activities is not the goal. We are going to start at the bottom of this list and work our way up because faith in God has always been meant to be lived out first and foremost at home and in our family.
God first called a family to be the community of faith, the family of Abraham. The promise given to Abraham was that he and his descendants would be great and that through them all people would come to know the truth and glory of God. The community of faith started as a family ministry and so our faith has to be lived out at home.
I was blessed to be part of a family that took faith seriously at home. We not only prayed at mealtime, and we did Advent devotions on Sunday afternoons, but we attended worship each week together, we went to Sunday School and youth group and sang in the choir. Being active in the larger faith community wasn’t something my parents made sure we were involved in, it was something they were involved in. We lived out our faith together and our parents set the example.
My mom was active in the life of my home church. She sang in the choir, played in the bell choir and served in leadership. My parents set the example for me. Being part of the larger community of faith was a value I saw lived out at home and so it became an important part of my life. Parents, you are already doing this because you are here with your children today, but don’t encourage them to be part of things in the church beyond worship, show them the value by being part of it yourself. Come and learn and grow and serve so they can see the value, the joy, and the benefit that being part of the community of faith truly is. Let them see you commit to these rhythms so that they can follow them in their own lives. As important as it is to talk about faith at home, what children really need is to see faith modelled at home by parents and grandparents.
The rhythms of Generosity and Service are the easy ones for us to connect with because they call for us to share our time, treasure, talents, and gifts with the larger community of faith. They call us to do something and so this is easier for us to identify and give ourselves to. What is it that you can offer to the church to help us grow? How can your generosity others in the family of God?
One of the blessings of Faith Church is that people take these 2 rhythms seriously. When help is needed for a project, all we have to do is ask, and people show up. People offer help in so many areas, and often the overflow of service and gifts is clear to see, like in 40 pumpkin pies. A few years ago it was the week before Christmas and we still needed many pies for our Christmas Day Dinner. I just stood here and said, we need pies and we got so many that week that we had 40 pies LEFT OVER. To this day I have to watch what I ask for because while we may have a real need for something, the giving of time, treasure, talent, and service in this church is so strong and that it can truly overflow.
While it is easy to focus on the activity of giving our time, treasure, gifts and service, we also need to make sure that we are doing it for the right reason – and this is where the rhythm of community comes into play. Community is not about coming together for fellowship, we are talking about making sure that all we do in the life of the church is rooted in love. Are we serving out of a genuine desire to love God and others? Are we giving because we truly love and have a desire to love God and others more deeply?
Where this rhythm really needs to become part of our lives is in our thoughts and words. In every community we are part of, family, work group, circle of friends, or church – there is brokenness, failure, hurt and pain. How will we respond? The church, like any family, is a place where feelings get hurt easily, and where unintentional words and actions can cause pain and bring division. In these moments are we willing to work for community and offer love. That love means we need to extend grace and offer forgiveness to those who have hurt us, or even the larger community of faith who may have let us down. Love means we make the choice to overlook offenses and be patient with people in an effort to keep the peace and help others learn and grow.
There is no perfect church that gets it all right all the time. As a community we often fail to notice someone in need, or recognize all those God has brought into our family, but if we can love one another through the problems – the community will experience healing, strength and peace and we all experience the life that God has for us. A loving church that forgives not only stays strong but is a beacon of hope in our broken world.
So I have saved the hardest rhythm for last – and for a reason. We cannot engage in successful and healthy accountability until we have a family that is committed to serving one another and giving to one another in love. Accountability without love is nagging and intrusive. People speaking into our lives without us seeing them as part of our family, or who are not willing to give their time to serving us, just becomes harsh criticism. Accountability is important, we need people who love us enough to speak truth into our lives, but we will only hear that truth and allow it to shape us if we know that we are loved first, and we won’t know we are loved until we have experienced people serving and giving themselves to us in love as part of a larger community.
Accountability is difficult and, in our society, because we don’t have a good model of how this looks. For the most part, accountability today looks like twitter wars as people call each other out on every word, action, and perceived motive behind every word and action. Accountability looks like calling people on the carpet, embarrassing them in front of others, calling for boycotts, and making vicious comments or reviews online. We need a model of accountability that is filled with grace and is committed to making sure people are served and helped and the community remains united and strong.
Perhaps the best model we see for accountability comes from support groups like AA. When a member of AA is concerned about another member, they might speak into their lives, but they speak the truth in love, and with humility and understanding, and then they back up those words with support and care. They walk with the person in need through the difficult time and don’t just point out the problem. This is the model that the church should be showing the world. Accountability includes a commitment to walk with people in love.
Can we, with love and grace, allow people to speak into our lives? Don’t ask if you are willing to speak into someone else’s life, ask if you are willing to allow someone to speak into your life. If you aren’t, then don’t even start to speak into someone else’s life. Will we allow people to speak into our lives, and will we then ask them for help, assistance and support? Are we willing to seek out this kind of accountability with a desire to grow stronger in our own faith by allowing people to walk with us?
While accountability may be the first one on our list, we need to understand that real accountability can only come when we are willing to generously give to, and serve the family of God, the church, in true sacrificial love. When these 5 rhythms become how we live our lives, we will experience a community that will not only change us, but a community that will fundamentally and forever change our world. These 5 rhythms help us become the body of Christ and experience the blessing of community which God created us for. These 5 rhythms also help create a community that reveals to the world the kingdom of God.
3 Relationships – Relationship with the Church
1) God created us to be part of a family and a family of faith. How was faith part of your family growing up? How is faith lived out in your family today?
2) Where have you been able to experience a real sense of community in a church setting? What helped make that happen? What have you learned from past church experiences (both good and bad)?
3) The 5 Rhythms of a strong relationship with the church:
a) Accountability – I allow open and honest feedback in my life.
b) Generosity – I use my time and treasure to further the Kingdom of God.
c) Community – My interactions with the church are rooted in love and are mutually beneficial.
d) Service – I use my gifts and talents to grow the church.
e) Family – My faith overflows first and foremost in my home.
4) Read Acts 2:42-47 and identify these 5 rhythms at work in the life of the early church.
5) Which of these rhythms is a strength for you? How can you continue to grow in this area?
6) What’s one way God is asking you to use your gifts, talents, time, and treasure to further the Kingdom of God and grow the church? What do you need to take this next step? Who can you ask for help?