Church as a Family
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
September 3, 2006

 

Main Passage: Ephesians 1:3-8 (NLT)

 

Well, here we are… Labour Day Weekend… the summer’s behind us, the new school year is upon us, and before long Christmas will be here. Yes, I said it. Christmas. I know that excites some of you. Others of you… not so much. But I’ve got to tell you, I’m looking forward to Christmas this year. Let me tell you why.

You see, while I was growing up in Fredericton, every Christmas Eve my family would gather at my grandparents’ home for a reunion. All of my cousins and uncles and aunts and whoever else claimed a branch in our family tree would be there. The house was always packed and everyone was just so happy to be together. Oh, and the food! Baked beans, meatballs, three-layered Jell-O, freshly baked rolls, Molasses cookies, and anything else you could think of. And the highlight would be when we’d all gather around my great-grandmother’s chair and listen as she read the Christmas story to us.

Looking back, those are my favourite memories of Christmas. Problem is, my line of work makes it difficult to be there very often. I’m usually tied up on Christmas Eve and can’t get home. Don’t get me wrong… I love what I do, and some of our greatest times together as a Church are on Christmas Eve. But I miss being at my family gatherings. In fact, I’ve only been there once in the past twelve years, and that was for a grand total of about 30 minutes. It was about five years ago, there was a snowstorm, and we had to head back here because Shera’s parents were showing up the next morning.

But this year… this year will be different. Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday this year, and so we’re going to have our Christmas Eve service in the morning. It’s for purely selfish reasons, but we’re going to have our Christmas Eve service in the morning and then Shera and I will hit the road and head to Fredericton. I’ve been planning on that for almost nine months, and the day’s almost here.

Oh, things have changed a lot over the past twelve years. My great-grandmother died… my grandparents died… the location has changed… my mother now reads the Christmas story… other people have moved away as well. But there are also new family members and new traditions to begin. I’m not sure if anyone brings baked beans anymore… I know the experience is different now. But it’s still family, and I’m looking forward to being with them.

Because that’s what it’s like with family. Families want to be together. Families value each other. Families have a bond which ties them together.

Well, I have news for you this morning: Church is a family. In fact, in your notes you see a statement…

 

Church is not a place you go to; it’s a family you belong to.

 

And that’s not a new concept… that’s the way Jesus designed the Church to be. Going all the way back to the first days of the Church…

Acts 2:42a (CEV)
...they were like family to each other.

Wow, what a powerful statement. A couple other verses…

Romans 12:10 (GW)
Be devoted to each other like a loving family.

1 Peter 2:17b (Msg)
Love your spiritual family!

Now, the word used in the Bible to describe this relationship between believers is the Greek word “koinonia.” And it means community or fellowship. It means being as committed to each other as we are to Jesus Christ. Even being willing to sacrifice for each other. You’re probably familiar with what it says in the New Testament Gospel of John, 3:16. But do you know there are also three letters of John in the New Testament? And in his first letter, 3:16 it says… read it with me…

1 John 3:16 (NLT)
We know what real love is because Christ gave up His life for us. And so we also ought to give up our lives for our Christian brothers and sisters.

That’s describing the depth of love and community and family that should be present within the Church. John even used the terms “brothers and sisters.”

Now, maybe you’re not particularly close to your family… or maybe your family has been a source of pain for you. So perhaps that distorts your image of what “family” is. Perhaps the concept of the Church being a family doesn’t sound all that appealing to you. But you need to understand, when the Bible describes the Church as a family it’s not talking about a dysfunctional family; it’s talking about a healthy family. It’s not talking about a disconnected association, it’s talking about a bonded relationship. It’s not talking about an arbitrary bloodline, it’s talking about a spiritual bloodline… bonded by a shared Christian heritage, a shared mission in the world, a shared focus of worship, and a shared hope for the future.

Paul described the foundation for our spiritual family when he wrote…

Ephesians 4:4-6 (NLT)
We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all.


We are a family. That doesn’t mean we’re all clones of each other. But it does mean that there’s a common bond… a family tie. There is a unity in our diversity. And so this morning, I want to talk with you about the Church as a family. And what I want to do is identify for you five ways in which the Church operates as a family. And you can use your notes to follow along and fill in the blanks as we go. The first way that the Church is like a family is that…

 

A Healthy Family…

1. Grows stronger through tragedy, struggles, and adversity

You know, one of the signs of a healthy family is that when some crisis comes… maybe a disease or a death, or financial hardship, or relational issues… when a crisis comes, a healthy family pulls together. They walk hand-in-hand to confront the issue.

So how do we do that as a church… as the Sunrise Family? We do that by standing with other believers when they are going through a crisis. When everybody else walks out, we walk in; we’re there for each other in the tough times. We take seriously what it says in Galatians 6:2…

Galatians 6:2 (NLT)
Share each other’s troubles and problems.

Because we’re not meant to face our problems alone. When you share a joy, it is doubled; and when you share a problem, it is cut in half. That’s the beauty of being part of the Family. The Bible says…

Romans 12:15 (NKJV)
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

Now, how does this play out in a Church? Well, this can happen one on one. To an extent, it can happen with the entire Church. But it happens best and most naturally in a small group… in our LIFE Groups. In a small group, sometimes you just die of laughter and sometimes you’re all shedding a tear. It all depends on what is going on in your lives and in your group on that particular week. But you’re there for each other… you can share openly and honestly with each other about your struggles… you can pray together… you can encourage each other…

And that doesn’t mean you have to fix everybody’s problem. God hasn’t told you to do that. He just says share them. You don’t have to fix it. In fact, a lot of times, trying to fix a problem doesn’t help at all. So just lend a listening ear. Just sit there and listen and go, “Boy I feel for you,” “I’ve been there,” “I understand,” “That’s tough.” Share sympathy and share from your experience.

Now, you’re never going to go to this level of “family” until you actually get into a LIFE Group. That’s why the Bible says…

Hebrews 10:25 (TEV)
Let us not give up the habit of meeting together. Instead, let us encourage one another...


Our LIFE Groups have been on a break for the summer, but we’re getting geared up to start them again in a couple weeks. There’s going to be a guys’ group. There’s going to be a ladies’ group. Harvey and Sandra are going to be hosting a mixed group. And if all our groups fill up, we’ll start more. So get involved!

That’s where the care and the nurturing and the compassion and the friendships happen best. So get involved. The primary purpose of a group is to encourage each other. And you’re always going to need encouragement. So get involved.

In fact, let me say this. I don’t want to hear anyone complaining about how they’re not included, how they’re not loved, how nobody cares for them… I don’t want to hear any of you complaining about how unfriendly the people at Sunrise are… if you’ve never gotten involved in a group.

I’ve heard comments from people in the past… none of you… but I’ve heard people say that they never felt like they fit in at church. Actually, most people don’t say that… they write it. But they would indicate that they never felt like they were accepted at Church. In other words, it never became “family” for them.

And that really concerned me… until I got to thinking about it and I realized that they never even tried to fit in. They didn’t serve in any ministry, they didn’t come to anything outside of Sunday morning, and they never got involved in a small group. Yet somehow they expected to develop deep and meaningful friendships during five minutes of casual conversation before or after the service… when they didn’t come late or leave early.

For them, the Church was a place to go to. But they were wrong. Church is not a place you go to, it’s a family you belong to.

Let’s move on. Number 2… a healthy family…

 

2. Experiences life together

Now, maybe you think this whole community thing is for the birds. Well, we can learn a lot from birds. In fact, let me read for you something I found online… lessons we can learn from geese…
 

Lessons from Geese
By Milton Olson or Ryugen Fisher or Robert McNeish ..
http://www.somerton.k12.az.us/geese.html

1. As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the others behind it. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock adds 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of another.

2. Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone, and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the "lifting power" of the bird immediately in front.
Lesson: If we have as much sense as the goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed where we want to go (and be willing to accept their help as well as give ours to others.)

3. When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies at the point position.
Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership--with people, as with geese, we are interdependent on each other.

4. The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
Lesson: We need to make sure our honking from behind is encouraging, and not something else.

5. When a goose gets sick or wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it is able to fly again or dies. Then they launch out on their own, with another formation, or catch up with the flock.
Lesson: If we have as much sense as geese, we too will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.
 

Geese experience life together… the good and the bad. And that’s the way it should be with us. Read this with me…

Proverbs 27:17 (TEV)
People learn from one another, just as iron sharpens iron.

The early Christians experienced life together. You see that clearly in Acts 2…

Acts 2:42,44,46 (NLT)
They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord's Supper and in prayer…
And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had…
They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity…

They just love being together… in organized activities and in spontaneous gatherings. You know, they’d come together for a service, and then afterwards a group of them would decide to head to the Deli on the corner for lunch. Or they’d invite people over to their homes to… I don’t know… watch a rerun of The Sound of Music or something. How long has that been running anyway?

The point is, they just loved being together. Doesn’t that sound like something you want to be part of? You know, last week we talked a little bit about the Trinity. We talked about how there is only one God, expressed in three persons. There’s the God the Father, there’s Jesus the Son, and there’s the Holy Spirit. All three are part of the Godhead. Always have been, always will be.

And I think one of the most powerful things we learn from this Trinity is that God Himself lives in community. There’s the community of Three living as One. And since you and I were made in God’s image, we were made to live in community. We were made to experience life together.

 

3. Creates shared memories

I already told you about my memories of Christmas Eve. Families form those types of memories. That’s why families take family vacations. I remember trips to the African Lion Safari in Ontario… and to Santa’s Village and Six Gun City in New Hampshire. I even remember getting carsick in the back seat while trying to read during one of those trips. Sometimes those memories aren’t that pleasant at the time, but with the passage of time even that can become a fond memory because it’s a memory of a shared experience.

Families create shared memories.

Paul had shared his life and created memories with the Christians in Thessalonica. And even after he had moved away, those memories continued.

1 Thessalonians 3:2, 6 (NLT)
…We sent Timothy to visit you. He is our co-worker for God and our brother in proclaiming the Good News of Christ. We sent him to strengthen you, to encourage you in your faith…
Now Timothy has just returned… He reports that you remember our visit with joy and that you want to see us just as much as we want to see you.

Circle the word “remember”. They had some shared memories. And later, when Paul knew that he would shortly be arrested and executed, he told the leaders of the Church in Ephesus…

Acts 20:31 (The Message)
Remember those three years I kept at it with you, never letting up, pouring my heart out with you, one after another.

They had memories together. And so do we. We do things together. We share life together. And we create memories… together. We’ll talk about some of that next Sunday evening at our Dreams and Dessert Night, while at the same time I expect I’ll be trying to forget my memory of the Golf Day.

 

4. Has conflict, but there is more that unites than divides

Even the healthiest of families experiences conflict. Maybe that in itself is an encouragement for some of you. I mean, besides Jesus, who do you look at in the New Testament as being the standard for spiritual maturity? Who were the people who had the most influence in the Early Church? Who were the leaders? Peter and Paul.

But Peter and Paul had their differences. In fact, in Galatians chapter 2, Paul writes about how he had to publicly confront Peter. But at the same time he was confronting Peter, he constantly referred to the unity that they had in Jesus.

[see Galatians 2:11-16; Acts 15:36-41; Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11]

And that wasn’t the only conflict Paul was involved in. He always seemed to be in the middle of it. His travelling companion was a man named Barnabas. And they spent years together travelling around and starting new churches and helping new believers get grounded in their faith. They worked really well together.

But Barnabas had it in his mind that he was going to train a young cousin of his named John Mark. He wanted to invite John Mark to join them and travel with them. Problem was, they had already done that once before and John Mark had gotten homesick or something and abandoned them. And so Paul wasn’t going to invite him again!

But Barnabas insisted, and the conflict rose to the point that they parted ways. Barnabas went with John Mark and Paul went with Silas.

But later on, in some of his letters, Paul refers to John Mark as his fellow worker. He talks about how John Mark is an encouragement and a help to him. And so the conflict was apparently resolved. And John Mark actually went on to write the Gospel of Mark.

Being a Christian does not mean the absence of conflict. Even strong, spiritually mature Christians have conflict. But in the midst of their conflict, they recognize that there’s a unity. There’s a common bond. And so any issue can be worked out honestly, with love and understanding. It may not be easy, it may not be quick, but there is more that unites us than divides us.

Even while we have a diversity of opinions and backgrounds and ethnicities and languages and cultures and preferences… even though there are many differences between Christians, there is more that unites us than divides us.

And that’s exactly what Jesus Himself prayed for us shortly before His crucifixion. He prayed…

John 17:20-21 (NLT)
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me because of their testimony. My prayer for all of them is that they will be one, just as you and I are one, Father—that just as you are in me and I am in you, so they will be in us, and the world will believe you sent me.”

A healthy family may have conflict, but they recognize that there’s more that unites them than divides them. And number five… a healthy family…

 

5. Goes beyond a loosely knitted group of associates to a community of oneness

I’m just going to play an audio file for you, and I want you to listen to it. It’s from a conference I was at in Moncton about a year and a half ago, and the guy you’re going to hear talking is Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian. He’s an old professor who once taught and inspired a young man named Bill Hybels… some of you recognize that name. He has a fairly strong French accent, so listen carefully…

PLAY AUDIO

You catch what he said?

“Christ did not die to save sinners. The right way of saying it is that, ‘Christ died to save sinners in order to integrate them together into the community of oneness.’”
~ Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian

You were created for oneness. You were reconciled to God for oneness. There are no Lone Ranger Christians. Or at least, if there are, they’re not living as God desires. He desires for each one of us to be integrated together into His community of oneness… the Church.

Check out this passage…

Ephesians 2:13 (NLT)
Though you once were far away from God, now you have been brought near to him because of the blood of Christ.

We were brought near to God through the blood of Jesus, but we were also brought near to each other at the same time. That’s what the passage goes on to tell us…

Ephesians 2:14-15 (NLT)
For Christ himself has made peace between us… by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us… His purpose was to make peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new person from the two groups.

And then I like how The Message paraphrase of the Bible puts this next verse…

Ephesians 2:16 (Msg)
Christ brought us together through his death on the cross.

So you see, the Church should not be a disassociated, disconnected group of individuals living life in isolation. Like a family, we are to be joined together in His community of oneness. Jesus said…

John 13:34-35 (NLT)
“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

And you know, that’s what Sunrise should be known for. Not our music, not our sermons, not our size, not our strategy, but our love. We want people to say, “That’s the place where they love each other,” because that’s what Christianity is all about… loving God and loving each other.

 

The Church… it’s not a place you go, it’s a family you belong to. It’s a family that encourages each other, uplifts each other, builds up each other, believes in each other, stands by each other and loves each other unconditionally and absolutely.

The church is a family. It is not a building; it is not an institution; it is not an organization; it is not a club. It is a family. Church is not a place you go to; it’s a family you belong to. And that’s a big difference. It’s more than a building, more than a service. It is family that we are to belong to. In the passage Chris read earlier it told us that…

Ephesians 1:5 (NLT)
His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ.


And you know what? I’m proud to be part of this family. And as we head into September and into a whole new year here at Sunrise, I’m excited about the memories we’re going to create together, about the bonds that will be developed in our LIFE Groups, about how we will express our family love by serving our city, and about how our family will continue to grow and expand.

Let’s pray.

Lord, as we head into the Fall, and as lots of things begin to fill our calendars, I pray that you will protect and build this community of oneness… this family… We echo the very prayer you prayed for us… Make us one. May we truly learn what it means to love each other, to be open and honest with each other… even vulnerable… to be supportive and encouraging of each other, to want the best for each other… to look at each other with the same care and compassion that You see us with. May our sense of family be so solid… so strong… so steadfast… that people all around us will want to join in and become a part of it. Thank you. We join together and pray this in Your name, Amen.

 

 

 

Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2006 SunriseOnline.ca