In the past few weeks for our Sunday Evening Services I?ve been talking about the value of living in community. You might recall that I spoke on the “Paradox of Community,” where we hunger for intimacy yet we fear intimacy. Then I talked about the problem of individualism, that natural tendency to consider ourselves supreme or sovereign. The antidote to that, as we discussed last week, is the joining together in small communities where we operate with one purpose that is not our own?to make disciples.
Tonight I want to discuss another problem that interferes with our living together in community and, ultimately, in fulfilling our purpose to becoming better disciples and making more and better disciples. This problem is isolation. Isolationism is a direct result of individualism. Individualism sends us into life as our own masters, promising control yet leaving us wounded and alone. It is our nature, when wounded and alone, to isolate ourselves. By doing so, we think we regain control by blocking out all the other people and influences that tend to increase our pain or remind us just how alone we are.
Is this not what we do?
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
The 1st century writer of the letter to the Hebrew believers recognized that it became the habit of at least some, to quit meeting together. This natural tendency has been played out through history and continues to this day.
Ancient cities were marked by great walls of isolation. I picture in my mind medieval castles surrounded by moats. Alligators swimming around in the mote. Trolls under the bridge! Entire nations have built walls of isolation ? the Great Wall of China and The Berlin Wall. Fortunately, in Canada, we don?t have too much of that. We might gain some sense of it as we try to pass over from the Canada to the U.S. But, quite frankly, I don?t have any idea, for example, where Ontario ends and Manitoba begins or where Ontario ends and Quebec begins or where South-Western Ontario ends and South-Eastern Ontario begins. Is there a big wall there?
Yet there is a more subtle move toward isolation that exists in our culture. In the 1950?s we began to see the development of suburbs. The development of the automobile made it possible to commute to work while living in a more isolated world than the city. At first it was just the homes that went into the suburbs. Over time, suburbs such as Brampton have become pretty much self-contained, with entertainment, dining options, shopping, and even many of the jobs.
Over time, even the suburb has not provided enough isolation. Houses used to be built right up along the road with a nice big porch, so people walking by could visit with one another. In the 60?s and 70?s, the houses moved farther back off the road, the porches got smaller, and white picket fences were replaced with 6 foot high cedar. Along with urban growth came the dream to move even farther out, into the country, perhaps find some wooded acreage. How many of us haven?t wished, at one time or another, that we could live in the country? Nice big property. Peace and quiet. We envy them!
Please understand that there is nothing wrong with living in the country or having a little space. I say all of these things only to point out our tendency throughout history and even today to isolate ourselves, even if we no longer build moats around our castles! And out of that tendency, or pull, comes the “habit” of not meeting together.
The idea of not meeting together is often quite appealing. Our community is filled with people who are formerly churched?something was said, an impression was given, grace was denied?and they?ve just quit going to church! I?ve run in to so many people who have given up meeting with others as a matter of habit. Some of you have been that person who gave up on church. Some of you may be considering it now!
If that?s you, I want to encourage you to stay the course and keep coming. David went into isolation and his troubles only increased. As a fugitive, writing in a cave, he prayed,
Psalms 25:16-17 (NIV)16 Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. 17 The troubles of my heart have multiplied; free me from my anguish.
Loneliness and affliction go hand in hand, and in the space of isolation the troubles of your heart will only multiply.
We must agree that the “habit” of not meeting together is counter-productive to making disciples. That promised land is a wasteland. It is in the secrecy of isolation that pornography grows from a cheap thrill to a devastating addiction. It is in the secrecy of isolation that eating disorders become life-threatening. It is in the secrecy of isolation that unforgiveness becomes bitterness and then becomes hatred and turns into rage and violence. Jesus knew what he was saying when he said
John 3:19 (NIV)19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
Sin craves isolation. And the devil prowls around waiting for someone to kill, steal, and destroy. Do you know where he hunts? In the shadows of the church.
Hebrews 10 says, instead: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another?and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Jesus came and established the church to restore to us a place where we can be spurred on toward love and good deeds. Spurring one another on, loving, doing good deeds, and encouraging one another all require the presence of others. We need each other.
Basically, there are four types of people in this world:
There are those who are?
PRESENT AND ACCOUNTED FOR
These are the people who are not in the habit of giving up meeting together. They show up for services and they?re connected with a group of others who encourage them to stay the course for that day when they will see Jesus face to face.
This is a healthy place to be. Those who are present and accounted for are spurred on to experience the abundant life Jesus came to give. They encounter God. They pursue God together and they see him in one another. It is said that much of our spiritual development occurs only through suffering. A small group community is not only a place for the suffering to find comfort, but for the comfort to find suffering. When we walk through these things together, we learn the compassion of Jesus.
PRESENT AND UNACCOUNTED FOR
Obviously, if you are here tonight, you are likely to be one of these or the other. The question isn?t whether you are present, but whether you are accounted for. The litmus test is not whether or not you are in a Koinonia Group, because it is quite possible to show up there too and still not be accounted for. We have a high value on our Koinonia Group communities because it is infinitely less likely that you will be present and unaccounted for in the small group context. The test of this is whether or not you are connecting with people relationally in the group. Are you letting them in? Are you spurring and being spurred toward love and good deeds? Are you entering into accountable relationships with others that keep you going until the day of his return?
Louis McBurney, in an article for Leadership Journal, said there are four reasons people reject accountability. 1) I fear rejection, 2) I feel embarrassed, 3) I resent control by hostile people, and 4) I don?t like facing my negative feelings. These fears and feelings are very real, and we must be very compassionate to the reality of them. But we must also help people realize that these emotions cannot intimidate us into isolation where we are completely vulnerable.
Eventually, all who are present and unaccounted for eventually become?
AWOL?ABSENT WITHOUT LEAVE
These are the people who have given up meeting together, despite the clear instruction from Hebrews 10:24-25. Some of the AWOL have been hurt. Others like the darkness because their deeds are evil. Others simply grow complacent and apathetic and have a myriad of excuses to avoid community. Either way, we need to be a shelter from their storm and provide communities of grace and mercy where they can come be healed. The challenge for us is whether we are willing to develop an atmosphere of grace that leads them out of isolation into community that spurs one another on to love and good deeds and encourages one another.
Finally, there are those who are ?
MIA?MISSING IN ACTION
These are the spiritually lost?those who are trying to live out their lives but have no spiritual compass directing them Godward and no hope to look past the day for his return. For these, it is of utmost importance that we develop a church community that is compassionate. A community that is intentional about helping them find their way. As we said before, helping them enter the discipleship process by learning to trust in Jesus Christ for their forgiveness and eternal life. Then they can also be encouraged as we approach that Day of Jesus? return.
Greg Slayton is the CEO of ClickAction.com. He remembers when he came to the Silicon Valley, he sense how even Christian leaders were under it?s spell. People wouldn?t return his calls. Because his company wasn?t ready to become a publicly traded stock prospect, they treated him as though he had been infected with Anthrax. Now, in the busy dot com world in which he now succeeds, he is exhausted by the frantic pace. This is how he describes where it has left him in relationship with others: “The sense of isolation is a curse. It is the curse of 10,000 acquaintances. You find no one to talk to when things go really bad.”
Are you suffering the “curse of 10,000 acquaintances”?
Proverbs 13:20 (NIV)20 He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.
The isolated have 10,000 acquaintances but are the companions of fools. Those who do not give up meeting together grow wise. They drink from the wellspring of God because they travel to the well in community with others. In whose company will you find yourself this week? Better yet, in whose company will you be a year from now?