We think of fellowship as something that is good for us – a gift from God – and it it is. But isn’t it also something we do for God by giving to our brothers and sisters in Christ? Consider how we can strengthen the Church through fellowship, a gift from God and to God, in this latest presentation, Fellowshipping for God.
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One of the things associated with the Church of God is fellowship. That’s why we’re doing a presentation on fellowship today. And, believe it or not, I actually planned this way ahead of time – to get the other five in before Pentecost – so that I could do it on the right time, so it kind of fits in. I called this Relating to God…people always talk about their relationship with God, but nobody ever talks about how to do that. So we are – how to relate to God.
God gave us the church so that we could be closer to Him. That’s one of the purposes of it. But why is fellowshipping something that helps us relate to God? What is it about fellowship? You’d think that it would draw us closer to other people, wouldn’t you? We’re talking with each other, right? And why would it be something that we do for God – fellowshipping for God? What’s that about? We usually think of it as something that’s good for us, right? God give us a church so that we can be fellowshipped with. And that’s good for us. What’s all this about?
Let’s take a look. Let’s look first at how fellowshipping draws us closer to God. Let’s go to Matthew 18:20.
Matthew 18:20 – For where two or three are gathered in My name – they’d be fellowshipping, wouldn’t they? – there I am among them. God comes to where His people are. I mean, that’s the principle, right? We’re fellowshipping and God comes. So you can’t relate to somebody who’s not in the room, right? You’ve got to be in their presence to do that. So, if we want to relate to God – to have a relationship with God – we have to spend time with Him, and do things with Him, and go where He is – or He has to come where we are. So one of the places that He is, is in groups of His people. So He’s here with us today.
And we’re thinking and talking and fellowshipping, right, about the things of God today.
One of my younger clients, a while back, got sick and had to cancel a session. She’s one who struggles with relationship. She can’t detect when she’s loved. Her father texted me and told me that she wouldn’t be there. I texted her and told her that I would miss her. She doesn’t know that I care about her yet. She thinks it’s just about coming to see the doctor and she doesn’t get that. God wants us to spend time with Him. Why? We know that He loves us. He enjoys our company. When we’re not there, He misses us. Can you detect it?
Let’s look at another scripture: John 17:20. Point number one, under B.
John 17:20 – I do not ask for these only – we read this at Passover, didn’t we? – fifty days ago, or there abouts – but also for those who will believe in Me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. The glory that You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, even as We are one – I in them and You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent Me and loved them, even as You love Me.
So there’s a lot of oneness in that scripture, isn’t there? And that’s God being in us and being one with us – being of one mind, coming together, drawing close – relating, right? That’s what it’s about.
So how does God do that? Well, it’s called the Holy Spirit. We heard about that in our scripture reading today, didn’t we? When we fellowship with other people of God, we’re fellowshipping with Him, because His mind – His Spirit – is present. You might call that the mechanics of how it happens.
Now let’s go to 1 John 1:1. John said:
1 John 1:1 – That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest and we have seen it, and testified to it, and proclaimed to you eternal life, which is with the Father and was made manifest to us….
So there’s this man – at one time a fisherman – one of the sons of Zebedee, right? – son of thunder – very judgmental, very hostile – completely changed – and now he’s a witness – he’s a witness – to what happened to the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
V-3 – …which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you, too, may have fellowship with us. And indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that your joy may be complete.
So there it is. When we come together and fellowship, Jesus Christ and God the Father are present there. So that’s one way that we can relate to God. We can come to church. “Oh, I don’t feel good. I’ve got a headache.” “You know, I can’t go to church three times in a row. I might turn into a pumpkin or something like that.” God is going to be where the people are and we need to be there if we’re going to fellowship with God.
The third thing that I wanted to say about this – the first thing was being with God and the second thing was that God is in us – and that’s how it happens – when we’re together – is it’s a family. Why does God talk about Himself as a Father and us as the children? Because He talks to us in terms that we can understand. We know what family is, because He made us to be familying beings. So it’s the God family. We get together on Thanksgiving, and we get together on different holidays, and we get together on holy days, like Pentecost. It’s a family gathering. It’s the family of God.
Let’s look in 1 John 3, and verse 1:
1 John 3:1 – See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called the children of God! And so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. So not everybody is in this family and not everybody understands it. They don’t know the family jokes or the stories about the family. They’re outside of that. But we are not. We’re in this family – the family of God.
I was thinking about the class that we attended last week. Our little group took a class on Friday because we didn’t want to go on Saturday, so there was just a few of us – six of us, right? Five of us were a part of our little group and then, Bob, who graciously agreed to beef up the numbers. Then, on Sunday, we merged with another group that brought the group up to thirteen. So there were seven and six, right? So they did a special thing to allow us to come on Friday. Did you notice the difference in the tone in the group on Sunday compared to our little group on Friday? The instructor of the Friday group thanked me three times for getting this group together – like I really did that. I mean, I can’t really take credit. But he commented that our group was a fun group to work with. And Bob, who came with our group, but isn’t really a part of it, said the same thing. He had fun being with us. We feel like a family. The same spirit is there. We’re kind of different. We’re interested in the things of God and each other.
I think about our Bible studies we have. We talk about the Bible. We wind up talking about our struggles, and our successes, and we tell our stories to each other. We talked about telling stories through this series. There’s something very important about that. And we add to our stories as we talk. As we do that, we get to know each other a lot better than we ever did before, sitting and listening to somebody else talk. We know how to pray for each other. We understand each other better than we ever have. It feels like family.
You know, I mentioned earlier the girl who couldn’t detect that she is loved. I don’t really see that much among church kids. And I’ve worked with a lot of them over the years. Only a few that were damaged in that way have I ever run into. Pretty healthy group, for the most part – pretty balanced. And I know – not so much among the kids, but among us adults – we do have a few thorns that I’ve run into from time to time in years past that are negative and divisive, but, for the most part, God’s presence influences us mostly for the positive, I think.
When we attend our family functions here, and we talk about family stuff, we do stuff with the family, we’re really doing it with God. We’re drawing close, because His Spirit is with us and we’re drawing closer to Him. That’s what fellowship does for us.
But why is fellowshipping for God? What does it do for Him? Let’s read Acts 2:42. This is in the same chapter that we heard earlier – about the beginning of the church – and it says:
Acts 2:42 – They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. So, in the first day, weeks, months of the church, they realized that being together and sharing their hearts and their prayers and their faith was important. And that’s what they did. And they were in a lot of trouble. They were being persecuted and hounded. And that pulled them together. But they called it The Fellowship – the band of brothers, if I could steal a phrase from the video series.
Let’s go to Philemon 1:4-7. This is a book that Paul wrote to a man in the church – an elder.
Philemon 1:4 – I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints. And I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Wouldn’t that be a great thing, if God said that about you? – that the hearts of the saints had been refreshed through you. How would you feel I if He said that?
Why is fellowshipping for God? Well, one reason is that fellowship strengthens all of us. It strengthens the church. And how is that for God, then? Well, in 1 Peter 2:4 it says:
1 Peter 2:4 – As you come to Him – a living stone – so he’s talking about the analogy of the temple, right? There is a new temple. It’s made up of living stones – people – and Jesus is the chief corner. As you come to Him – a living stone – rejected by men, but, in the sight of God, chosen and precious. For you yourself, like living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture: behold, I am laying in Zion a stone – a cornerstone – chosen and precious, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame. So honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, that stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. They stumble because they disobey the word as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation – a people for His own possession – that you may proclaim the excellency of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
The church is God’s! It says that He’s jealous for the church. We are His own possession. He’s assigned Jesus Christ to be the architect of all of us – our salvation. And when we contribute to that church, when we strengthen the brethren by our presence and our fellowship, we are advancing God’s agenda. We’re participating with Him in doing that. And He likes that! That’s what He gets out of it. It talks about how our fellowship is the sacrifices that we make to God. It’s something that we give to Him.
Matthew 25:40 – you’ve read the parable.
Matthew 25:40 – The king is going to answer them. And he’s going to say, “Truly, I say to you, ‘As you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it to Me.’” See, there it is. You fellowship with one of God’s brethren and you help lift them up and you’ve done that to God.
When somebody comes to you and they help you do something that you can’t do for yourself, how does it make you feel about them? Grateful. Right. And it makes you feel loved. It makes you feel like somebody cares about you. Does God feel like that when we do things for Him? I think He does. There’s some talk about storing up treasure in heaven, right? And how do we do that? Well, we take care of the brethren. If you help build up the church, if you tell your story and share your faith and take care of God’s people, you are doing something that draws God close to you. It helps Him and makes Him want to be close.
So how important is it to relate closely to God? How important is it? Society is different now than it’s ever been in history. With the advent of personal computing and all that comes from that – cell phones and all of that – everything comes at us so rapidly – more than at any other time. We have to pay the bills. We’ve got to get the kids to soccer practice. We have to learn new software. We’ve got to wash the clothes. We’ve to go answer fifty Facebook messages, twenty-five emails, twelve texts and three phone calls, watch our favorite TV show, and oh yeah, we’ve got to go to WalMart, because we can. We have cars. And in all of that, one of the biggest challenges that we have in the church is that we get distracted. We need to fellowship with God. We need to remember God. We need to fellowship with Him in prayer and we need to spend time with His people – be a part of that and, if we do that to the least of His brethren, then we have done it to Him. If we don’t do that to the brethren – if we don’t take care of the people that need help – what happens? Remember the parable? Outer darkness, right? Don’t make it. So this is a big deal! This is really important. It’s way more important than WalMart or Facebook – way more.
What we have to do is to learn how to do first things first – to prioritize things. How do you do that? How do we fight our way through all the irrelevance and the trivia? Some of the things we have to do are very important. Paying bills – if you don’t pay your bills, bad things happen. If you don’t spend time with your kids, bad things happen. If you don’t wash the clothes, definitely, bad things happen. And you have to have a little fun, right? But somewhere, we have to also put the important thing first. We have to prioritize God into our lives.
I don’t think I’ve said anything that I haven’t known for a long, long time today. Has anybody heard anything new that they…? No, it’s old stuff. But, you see, we don’t do it, so we need to be reminded all the time of these things.
What can you do? How can you change your mind so that more of the good things will happen? Well, I think one of the things that most of us need to do, is to become less interested in things and more interested in people. There are so many things to distract us – so much stuff, so many different kinds of everything. I’ve used the example before of when I was a kid, there were about three kinds of…we called them tennis shoes back then, but they were not just for tennis. They were for everything. They were for basketball. They were for track and field. They were for football. I guess they had football cleats, but, I mean, you couldn’t wear those on the street. That was about it. There was Converse, and Keds, and there some PF Fliers, and then, maybe, a few no-name things. And they were, pretty much, all the same thing on different levels of quality. And now what is there? There’s everything. There are so many different kinds. So…less interested in things and more interested in people. People are more important than stuff.
Realize that activities are for connection. The class we all went to was not a spiritual activity, but we turned it into something good for the group just by doing something together. Right? It wasn’t for the activity. I mean, it was for the activity, but because we were all there of one mind, it was for the people. Right?
I love to go backpacking – Alpine backpacking – backpacked all over the west, pretty much. And I’ve been doing it for twenty-five years. I didn’t plan it this way. I got into it because I liked it, but it turns out that my personal interest in this has helped me engage hundreds of young people in the church over that twenty-five years. I can’t really boast about it, because I just kind of stumbled into that. I wasn’t thinking about that. It just happened. No pun, by the way. I’m just giving my own experience as an example.
So what do you like to do? And who, also, might be interested? Who in the holy temple might you engage? And over what activity? The Swensons run Camp Outreach every summer. And they, also, have engaged hundreds of young people since about 2004 – I think, was the first time we did it. They have been pulling people together for a spiritual purpose and that causes fellowship to take place – fellowship of the Spirit. But it doesn’t have to be that big. It could be something like, “Hey, would you like to go see The Avengers in 3-D? I mean, who wouldn’t like that, right? Who can you take with you? Who can you engage? The activity is there, but it’s also a way to connect.
In our society we sit in little cubicles and work, surrounded by people, but we’ve got headsets on, answering the phone, talking to people we don’t know and trying to get them off the phone as fast as we can, in some cases – at the call centers, right? We focus on screens, and play video games, and now we text people – which limits your ability to communicate vastly, because you don’t pick up on any of the nuances. You can’t even do…160 characters is about the limit to the size of the message before you have to start another one. It wasn’t designed for carrying on a conversation. And yet, we have a generation of kids growing up that thinks that’s what communication is. So we have to learn how to get back to people.
The third thing I think about here is to watch and see who has a need that you could fill. By the way, the word need here…I’m not talking about doing things for people that they can do for themselves, but just don’t want to. That isn’t really a need. We’re talking about helping people who, maybe, have too much to do and need help, or don’t have the resources to do something they need to do. I’ve seen people pay for other people’s kids to go to summer camps, because the parents didn’t have enough money. I’ve see people in the church buy clothes for people that couldn’t afford to buy clothes of their own. I remember years and years ago, when I was a ministerial trainee in Arkansas, my boss and I went to visit way out in the boonies – out on the delta in Arkansas – and we had a visit card that came through KAAKY 50,000 watt, clear-channel radio in Little Rock – and we went to visit this man and his family. He worked at a gas station and had his name on his shirt in red letters. He fixed lawn mowers. I remember he did that on the side. But how he made his living…he was a gas station attendant. I think they had five kids. So they had to grow a lot of their own food. He saw that we had suits and ties on and he asked us what he should wear to church. My boss said, “Do you have a suit and a tie?” He said, “No.” And he said, “Well, what you have on is good enough.” So he came with his gas station attendant suit on, pressed. And his kids were all scrubbed up and wearing their jeans – their overalls and stuff – T-shirts. The next week he probably had more suits than anybody in the church, because a bunch of the men brought suits for him. He was a very slender man, so a lot of the guys had outgrown a lot of their suits, so they gave them to him. It was kind of a joke for awhile. But he was very humble and everybody liked him and his family. His kids were well-behaved and friendly. His wife was very nice. They didn’t have to have a lot of money in the life they lived, but they had a good quality family. And when they came to church, if they needed something else, and it was just showered on them by the brethren.
So how did that make them feel, do you think? New people – brand new. A part of things already. Loved – right – respected. So all the apprehension they had about not fitting in and not dressing properly – ppphhhttt, gone.
And the fourth and final thing…I didn’t enumerate these points, but…. We need to get less interested in things and more interested in people – that’s one. We need to be interested in activities as connection points between people, not as just activities themselves. We need to watch and see who has a need that we could fill. And we need to find our gift and use it. What does it say about that in the Bible? Well, let’s go to Ephesians, the fourth chapter.
Ephesians 4:11 – He gave the apostles – this is verse 11 – the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and the teachers to equip the saints – that’s us – for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ – and all of us have gifts that we’ve been given to use to build up the body of Christ – until we can all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God to a mature manhood to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Isn’t that amazing – that if we do that, we’re going to pull each other together?
I think about the things that I’ve seen that have caused division in the church – not the pulling together, but the pulling apart – and that usually is ego – self. “I’m better than…. I’m special. I know something you don’t know. I have a doctrine. I have a point of view. And let’s see how many people we can pull in with that and then go off somewhere else.” That’s one thing that happens.
Another thing that happens is talking down about others so we can feel up to grade. But, you know, if we could just drop that, and be like the guy that came to church in his gas station suit, everything would just be fine. It would be so much better.
I want to ask you, for a minute, to think about what we said earlier about how our relational style fits into all of this. You know, we talked about the four relational styles, right? One style is that person that believes everything is going to be okay and they’re good enough. They are enough. They don’t have to posture, or have a doctrine or any of that stuff. They just have to be present and God will add what’s needed. And they believe that everything is going to come out all right – that person that got enough when they were a baby, right?
Then there’s that person that knows that he’s not going to get enough, so he always is suspect of other people, thinking they’re going to let him down. How does that affect your ability to use your gift or reach out to people? You’re not going to. Right – just going to get disappointed again.
…or the person who is not sure whether they’re going to get what they need – the drama people – the anxious, ambivalent people, who have strong feelings both ways. “Yes, I am; no I’m not.” “Yes he is; no he isn’t.” Those people always have a storm going around them, it seems like. People see that and leave. They’re offended. Like the young girl who can’t detect when she’s loved…she said that her youth pastor told her that the biggest impediment, or turn-off, for people toward Christianity is the Christians – the problems that we generate among ourselves. A lot of that comes from those kind of folks.
Then there are the people that are afraid that they’re going to be mistreated – you know, the “deer caught in the headlights” folks. They’re paralyzed. They don’t do anything either, because they’re afraid they’re going to get hit.
That’s why I was talking about all of that stuff a few sermons ago – so that we can see how that affects us in the things that God tells us we need to do to participate in the church.
That’s a bit about how fellowship helps us connect to God. And I guess I should add, though…. Do you remember what I said was the single greatest predictor of somebody that has that healthy, secure way of thinking about life? It’s the ability to tell a story – a story – about how they got to be the way they are. And for us, that includes our faith story, right? It helps us to know about other people and it helps other people to know about us.
I probably shouldn’t mention the name in this, but we were talking about a minister’s wife recently, who passed. I had forgotten this over the years, but she was called into the church, apart from her parents, when she was thirteen years old – all on her own and God. I had that same experience. So I can really connect to that. But I had forgotten that part of her story. But that’s meaningful to me, because the same thing happened to me, but probably in a totally different way. So telling our story helps. It helps the church as it helps us.
We talked a little bit, too, about why relating to God is so important and why the church is so important. It’s so important it even has its own holy day observance. That’s what this day is, right? The church is such an important thing.
So, next time, we’re going to finish this series on relating to God. We’re going to talk about how interfacing with those outside the church, as well as those inside the church, is a way to relate to God as well.
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