@robertkwendt || lead pastor
I'm one of those guys who grew up in church my whole life. I've been a part of Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, Lutheran, Nazarene, and Baptist churches. I have been in churches with beautiful stain glass and some that are torn down 30 minutes following the end of a service. No matter the denomination or setting, there seems to be one thing in common...COMMUNITY.
However, what I have also seen happen in these churches is that community loses its perspective. It becomes great at providing meals, help, and assistance to those on the inside. However, in so doing, it forgets about those on the outside.
When Jesus built the church, he prepared the community to be both inwardly and outwardly focused. So how do we get there?
go back to the basics.
The early church "ekklessia" (which means gathering) began with God sending himself to us as the Holy Spirit. Jesus had ascended into heaven but sent a helper. A helper who is still with us to this very day. From there the early followers met in homes, listened to teachings, went to the temple together, cared for one another, shared everything, and they "had favor with all the people." And then, the author Luke tells us, "And the Lord added to their number day by day." Acts 2:42-47
Wow how things have changed.
Today, the church as we have come to know it has not had favor with all the people. Some are struggling to see growth (especially in America). And while there are more followers of Jesus than ever before, there are still so many who do not know him or believe in him.
So what's the problem?
As Christians we can become so good at caring for one another that we forget about the world outside of our community.
If we want to be like the early church in Acts, then we have to go back to the basics.
#1 - start loving one another.
Why? I love this question. My toddler son asks it all the time. As we get older, we often forget to ask this key three letter word with a question mark at the end..."why?"
Why do we as followers of Jesus care for one another? After all, many of my neighbors who don't ever go to church will often drop whatever they are doing to help me before any of my Christian friends will. They want to help to do good. They want to be a "good neighbor" or a "good friend."
As followers of Jesus we know our calling is much bigger than that. Rather than doing something to be good or "do the right thing," we should do it out of love for one another. Our motivation isn't achieving likeability or favor, but rather it is based on a heart of love.
Jesus said to his followers (John 13:34),
"A new commandment I give to you, that you are to love one another: just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another."
Jesus very command is not to do good, or earn favor. It is to love. This command was not for the masses gathered either. It came during an intimate moment with his followers.
As followers of Jesus, we have to be rooted in love for God and each other. Sadly, we often miss the mark.
I recently had a lengthy conversation with a young man who felt complete shame. He has battled with addiction. While he has been in church and Christian school his whole life, the culture has left him full of shame. He is scared to be judged every time he walks through the doors. At his parents church they have wine with communion and a few things of grape juice. He worries what people will think when he grabs for the juice. Or worse yet, he worries if the juice runs out before he takes communion, then he will look like he isn't participating. A community that is suppose to be about love, instead has become about judment and shame.
If we want to get back to the roots, then we have to get back to loving those in our own community.
After all, if we can't show love to those within our churches, how are we to show love to those outside the church?
Why? Why did Jesus tell his disciples to love one another as he loved them? Because...
#2 - our love for one another has a greater purpose.
Jesus continues his statement from earlier,
"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:35
How will people know who the disciples are? How will they know if they are followers of Jesus? By their love for one another. What is so interesting to me is that the witness of Jesus' own followers is conditional. They had walked with him. Witnessed miracles. Seen the very son of God. Yet, the message they would carry later on still came with a condition.
There is a key two letter word in the verse above. "if"
The verse could be read:
If you love one another, then people will know you are my disciples.
As communities, our witness to the non-Jesus follower, is shown by our love for one another.
So, why should we love one another? Why should we be in community with one another?
#3 - our communities are to be a witness.
As Jesus followers we are not called to huddle up or hunker down. We are called to GO. Our mission is not to serve the best pot lucks until Jesus returns. NO! Our mission and focus is this:
To share the Good News of Jesus Christ with everyone we possibly can.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." John 3:16-17
We are able to share this message with the outside world through offering a community that is not found anywhere else. A community truly based on love.
Imagine walking into a place, beaten down with your regretfilled past. Hurting. Broken. And then feeling loved.
Imagine seeing people of all stories and backgrounds gathering together, eating with one another, sharing with one another, and talking about all the amazing things Jesus has done for them. Imagine witnessing people so on fire for God that they can't help but want to be there for everyone in their neighborhood.
Imagine this with me. THIS IS WHAT JESUS CALLS HIS FOLLOWERS TO LIVE LIKE.
So let's live that way! Let our Christian communities show the world who Jesus is by our love for one another.