Review: WEEK 1: Intentional Community
What we believe in matters, but oftentimes people don’t act on what they believe, just like when we purchase exercise equipment and then barely, if ever, use it. Where’s it get us? No where. However what Jesus says and what the New Testament emphasizes, is that it’s not believing that makes the difference in our lives, it’s what we do with what we believe.
There are two parts to faith, vertical and horizontal, like a cross. You have your relationship the God – vertical, and your relationships with the church, other believers – horizontal. Both parts are needed. Remember Paul’s one-another list: forgive one another, accept one another, care for one another, encourage one another, submit to one another, restore one another, carry one other’s burdens. You can’t do any of that on your own.
So if you’re going to follow Jesus, it’s about being in community with other believers so that you have an opportunity to be encouraged when you need it and even when you don’t even want it, and so you can also encourage other believers.
WEEK 2: Truly Known
We all want to be known for something, but what we really need is to be known by someone. We all, including me, need relationships where we can drop the pretense, where we can drop all the manufactured cool, courageous, confidence, the we’ve got it all together looks. We need a place where we can drop all of that without fear of being judged and without fear of being rejected.
The place where this is supposed to happen, the place where we are to be known the most, the place where we should have the most freedom to be transparent, and at the same time committed to becoming everything that God wants us to be, the place designed for that is the church. That’s real church.
So if you are going to encourage someone, if you are going to restore or build someone up, you’ve got to know them, like really know them. If you’re going to carry someone’s burden, you’ve got to know what their burden is. Yet you’re never going to figure out anyone’s full burdens right here. Circles are better than rows.
Today, I want to talk about the importance of always having someone in your life who is pouring into you and someone you are pouring into. Someone that’s investing in you, and somebody you’re investing in. The reason it’s such a big deal, and I’m taking three weeks to talk about small groups is because all of us, and I am part of ‘we’ when I say this, we drift.
If it is good for us, we drift from it. Exercise, diet, our budgets, healthy relationships. You do not drift into a healthy relationship. If you want to be in a healthy relationship, whether it’s a friendship, someone you’re dating, a marriage, you have to be intentional. But we all have a tendency to drift, and drifting is never good for us. And that intersects with our relationship with God.
Our relationship with God takes some intentionality too. Our relationship with God takes a bit of discipline. So consequently, if we’re not intentional in our relationship with God, it begins to drift because the current of life is generally in the wrong direction. Think about this, in every area of life that’s important, we are swimming upstream.
Whether you’re trying to have a healthy marriage, healthy relationship with your kids, overcome bitterness or anger, dealing with a difficult boss, or pursuing a relationship with God in a culture that is not going to make that easy, you’re swimming upstream. Wherever you have made the effort to better yourself, wherever you have made the effort to overcome an obstacle, overcome a relationship, get out of a situation that’s dragging you down, it takes a lot of effort, right? You’re swimming upstream. And I can promise you that it’s so worth it, but it’s a lot of work.
But here is one of the core beliefs of Christianity (Remember “I believe in the communion of saints” from the Apostle’s Creed), when it comes to swimming upstream, we are not called to swim alone. Instead, we have been called to swim together. There’s power in community. And when you are in community or a circle with people who share your values and are trying to get to the same destination you are, life become so much easier.
Now, here’s the cool thing, this isn’t new. In the first century, when the church first began, this was an issue and the first century writers actually addressed this.
12 See to it, brothers and sisters, (talking to us) that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
Now, who in their right mind would turn away from the living God? I mean, who in their right mind knowing the difference between right and wrong, knowing that God wants you to do the right thing, would just choose to do the wrong thing? Who would do that?
Yeah, all of us, right?
In other words, the author recognized the fact that you and I have the capacity regardless of what we believe, regardless of how long we’ve believed, each have the capacity to turn away from the living God.
In fact, many you have done this somewhere in your life and can now look back and ask, “Why do we do that in college? Why do we do that on business trips? Why do we do that when we feel pressure? Why do we do that when things are even going well?”
The solution to drifting, to being tempted to turn our backs on God, is right here in this scripture. This is not an individual command. This is an all skate. This is a group command. Notice the plurals. “See to it brothers and sisters that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”
In other words, you need to check up on each other. The heart that turns away from God is something that happens within us. The turn away from God begins in the heart. That’s why he says, “An unbelieving heart that turns away from God.”
So here’s the trick. When we begin to turn away from God, when we begin to lose interest, when we begin to drift, the drift always begins not on the outside, but on the inside. It begins with a temptation. The drift begins within with a thought, a doubt, a question. “I’m not so sure about that. I’m not sure I believe that anymore. I’m kind of getting tired of that. I’m not really interested anymore.”
The drift always begins within and no one knows it unless someone has access to you. And the thing is, the access to you is not going to happen in here. The only way anyone’s going to know about your sinful, unbelieving, drifting heart is if you are in a circle with them, and they have access to you. Otherwise, we’re swimming alone. And we struggle upstream alone.
Hebrews continues. He says look, I don’t want you to have a sinful unbelieving heart that drifts away. Instead….
13 But encourage one another daily…
The Greek word translated to encourage does not mean encourage like, “way to go,” or “good job.” It means appeal to, to urge strongly, to beg, to implore. This little Greek word means he’s saying I want you to be in each other’s lives in such a way that you know what’s going on. I want you to be able to detect when someone begins to drift. I want you to notice when they don’t show up. I want you to notice when their attitude goes south, and I want you to be in their life to the degree that you can say something.
So that a wife or a husband never has to struggle alone about something only she and he knows about. That teenagers don’t have to struggle alone about something that’s going on at home that no one else outside their family circle knows about.
Encourage each other, how often? Daily. Really? Yeah. Okay, so maybe you don’t need to call the person every day and drive them crazy, but it means that this is an ongoing thing. This is not a once in a lifetime thing. This is not a once and done deal. This is a relational thing that you have access to people and they have access to you.
13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
“As long as it is called today” is a reference to the fact that we live in an age where we constantly need this kind of encouraging. He’s saying as long as you’re alive and struggle with sin and temptation, as long as you are here today, you need to be in one another’s lives.
Now here’s something interesting. The New Testament authors, especially the apostle Paul, would talk about sin as if it’s an entity, almost as if it’s a person, as if it’s a living active thing on the inside of us. We think of sin as an activity, as something we do. But the author of Hebrews and the apostle Paul in particular say, “No, it’s deeper than that.” There is sin residing in you. And the problem with sin residing in us is that it deceives you.
Now, the way we experience that isn’t by a little voice where we say, “Who said that?” That’d be easy. The way this actually works is we talk ourselves into dumb things. We deceive ourselves. We begin this self-talk like we’re driving. It’s like, “Well, you deserve it. She’s practically forced me to do this. I almost don’t have any choice. Who would blame me if they knew what was going on?” We have all this self-talking. And before long we start believing the dumb things we tell ourselves.
Yet the author of the text is saying the best defense against self-deceit, sin’s deceitfulness, the best defense against talking ourselves into dumb things and out of wise things, is a community. Your best defense against the things that you have a tendency to tell yourself that aren’t true is community. Not you. And most of us have lived long enough to know that this is absolutely the case, that we, the circle, the community is the best defense against the deceitfulness of sin in me.
So here’s a question for you. Don’t answer this question out loud. What are you telling yourself these days? Don’t suppress it, just kind of bring it right up to the front center. What is it you’re telling yourself these days? That is the seed. What is it you’re telling yourself these days that if you were to tell someone else they would think you’ve lost your mind?
This is a very important question because most of us never tell anyone what we’re telling ourselves because if we told them, they would think we’ve lost our minds. But if you tell them, they will tell you, “I think you’ve lost your mind. That is the dumbest, most self-destructive thing I can even imagine.” But here’s the power of this, and likely many of you have experienced this. It is so powerful when we take those potentially self-destructive thoughts and get them out in front of someone because suddenly you see it differently. You start to realize they’re right, and your not going to do that. And yes, they may think you’re crazy, but they may keep you from crazy. This is the power of community. This is the power of circles.
The point is that the drift begins within, so we have to let someone in. The drift begins right here, always. But if you will allow someone in, they can help keep you from doing things that you will later regret. It’ll keep you from drifting.
And then he wraps up this whole thought with a passage that looks like he changed the subject, like he’s going in a totally different direction. So let me just read this to you then tell you how this connects to what came before.
14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.
Here’s how you know you are a follower of Jesus, that you are in Christ. You hang on to that original decision you made as a child or a teenager or an adult. Remember when you made the decision to follow Christ? The way that you know that you are in Christ, the way that you know that you are connected to God through Jesus is that you’re hanging on to that original conviction.
Now here’s his point in bringing that up. This is so important. The little thing that begins in us that makes its way into our marriage, or makes its way into our finances, or makes its way into our relationship with God, he says that little itty, bitty drift that begins as one small thing has the potential to lead to unbelief. In other words, that one area of drift can undermine everything. That one thing can lead you to the place where you don’t believe any more.
For some of you that’s your story. It wasn’t that one day you woke up and just said I’m not going to believe in God anymore. Instead, it was a slow drift. Maybe you decided you didn’t have time to do outreach anymore. There was something else you thought was more important. Then you decided you didn’t feel like going to small group. Then you decided worship was also an inconvenience, and before you know it, you have nothing to do with the church, you’re not connected to the church and after a while, you’re not connected to God any more either.
Now I know, if you are drifting, you are not thinking about abandoning God. That’s the furthest thing from your mind. It’s just the little drift. But if you don’t pay attention to the little things it could cost you everything. It starts with the smallest thing, but the next thing you know it’s impacted your whole faith.
The author is saying you must hang on to your original conviction. And the way you hang on to your original conviction, your original decision to follow Jesus is by not allowing yourself to be tricked by the deceitfulness of sin.
And how do I keep myself from being tricked by the deceitfulness of sin? He said by being in relationships where other people have permission to speak into you. Because one thing has the potential to undermine everything.
So in a summary this scripture is saying, “See to one another on a regular basis, so that none of you is tricked by sin and drifts away from the faith that has made such a difference in your life up until now.”
See to one another. Get in each other’s business a bit. Prod and pry and ask those pesky questions. Circle up on a regular basis so that none of you is tricked by sin and drifts away. Not just drifts away from a relationship, not just drifts away from a good habit, not just drifts away from diet and exercise and budgeting. So that no one drifts away from the faith that has made such a difference in your life up until now.
Ever watched a friend make a really bad decision? Like financially, or you saw them rushed into a relationship too soon, or they just decided their marriage is not working out. It was so obvious to you that it was a bad decision.
But do you know that when it comes to you there is someone who has the potential to see what you can’t about you? And they either will or will not have access to you. And the only person that determines that, is you.
So to avoid the drift, someone must have access, permission to appeal, to exhort, to implore, and if need be to beg. Because at the end of the day, regardless of what your background is, regardless of how long you’ve been a Christian, regardless of whether or not you are a Christian, we all have the potential to drift, so we all need Christian community.
This is why we believe in groups and it’s why we want every single adult who calls this church home their church, or even if you’re a guest or you’re trying to figure it out, we want everybody in a circle.
So, if you have fallen out of community because you’ve been busy or your group ended, we want you to reengage this spring. And this year, we’re going to make a strong effort to connect more people than we’d ever connected before.
Now let me just say something to all of you who are parents. Parents, I encourage you to get your children enrolled in one of our fabulous Sunday school classes, and please make sure you are here every Sunday with them in that fabulous environment because someone is here every weekend prepared to reinforce the Christian values you’re teaching at home.
Each week, we are prepared for your kids and we want to instill in your kids Christian values based on Scripture. And for some of you there are values you wish you knew how to teach at home, you’re just not that good at it yet. We want to help you. And get this, it’s free! Who else is going to do this for you for free?
At the core of what we do, it is not about sitting in rows, it is about getting into circles. There are things that we are called to do, things that can happen face to face that will never happen shoulder to shoulder. So get connected, join a small group. There’s a list of small groups available in your bulletin.