We live in a strange day. A day in which there are more than 6 billion people in the world and yet so few feel like they truly have any real friends. A day in which people are seeking close relationships with people on the internet and shunning the opportunities to get to know those around them. A day in which cyber buddies are attractive because we can be anonymous and face-to-face friendships are scary because they might discover who we “really” are and reject us.
As I was studying Hebrews this past week and reading articles on the Internet about topics like the modern-day phenomenon of “cocooning,” the Lord impressed on my heart the need we have for deep relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ. The Internet may bring us friends from around the world, but it will never provide for us the kind of intimate relationships that God calls us to experience in His Word. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the relationships the Internet offers let me give you some examples.
I know people who are going through difficult times and have found “communities” on the internet that are designed specifically for people like them. If you have some kind of ailment there is a chat room or email list you can join where you can gather or exchange mail with others who have the same kind of ailment. My mother has emphysema and doesn’t get out much, but she gets hundreds of emails a day from her cyber friends who are part of a community called “Efforts,” a group of men and women from around the country who also share her struggle to breath. These folks are very encouraging to my mother, they share their experiences, detail their medical prognosis, the medicines they are taking, and how their day went. If you are looking for advice about your marriage, then there are “love and marriage” communities where you can get more advice than you could ever use. If you are a Star Trek fan and find it difficult to find other Trekkies in your neighborhood or school you can find a whole world of Star Trek fans on the Internet. I have a friend who loves to study the Hebrew Bible – a love that not too many English-speaking Americans can identify with today. My friend has a group of buddies on-line who study Hebrew and then share their thoughts through email. Their love for the Hebrew Bible and their daily exchange of thoughts, ideas, and questions has knit them together as friends, but I would dare say that their friendship falls short of the intimate relationships that our souls yearn for in life.
If the Internet was supposed to bring us together, then why are there so many people in the world feeling a greater sense of alienation and isolation today than in times past? Timothy Morgan wrote in an article called, Making Webheads Of Us All,
Live online chat, all day, every day, has reshaped conversation for tens of millions of people. The chat rooms and message boards of AOL, and indeed, the entire Internet, are redrafting the rules of civil discourse. The biggest human need that chat rooms have met is our deep desire to talk with people like ourselves. Motley Fool, Moms Online, ChristianityToday.com, and thousands of other groups are using communications technology to allow birds of a feather to flock together in cyberspace. Contemporary Americans are experiencing a level of alienation and dislocation unlike any generation before. Parents, children, grandparents, and friends may be strung out across distant time zones that cover the world. Proximity is a lost cause as Americans are drawn into tag-team parenting, commuter marriages, and distance learning. Online chat and e-mail mean that I may know a fellow journalist in Cairo better than the man who lives across the street from me. (Timothy C. Morgan, Making Webheads of Us All, Books and Culture, January/February 1999.)
There is evidence all around us that Americans are retreating from the community of face-to-face relationships and are feeling more and more isolated in their day-to-day life. I read an interesting article this past week from Faith Popcorn, a woman who studies trends in America. Ms. Popcorn has found,
· New surveys show that only 17% of workers want that corner office; a clear
majority would prefer to work in a home office.
· The number of U.S. at-home workers is up 100% in the last 5 years, for a total of
10.1 million. In 20 yrs, 1 in 7 workers will be a full-time telecommuter.
· An old prayer brings this trend home: “Bless these walls so firm and stout,
keeping want and trouble out.”
· Gated communities house 4 million Americans and the number is rising.
· Private security is now a $104 billion market.
· And when we’re tucked safely indoors, we want to enjoy ourselves: movie
theaters are now installed in some 16.6 million homes.
I believe that the heightened isolation and alienation that so many of us are experiencing are due in part to these new phenomenons of cocooning and seeking relationships online while spending less energy investing in the lives of others in face-to-face exchanges. God has created us to be in relationship – up close and personal relationships. The kind of relationships that include a hug and a smile, a tear and a prayer, sharing our deepest hurts in the circle of friends who can reach out and touch us with arms of love and understanding. When relationships like this are missing there is a void, a vacuum in our lives, that nothing else can fill. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning found in Hebrews 10:23-25.
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 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. (Hebrews 10:23-25 NIV)
If you will remember two weeks ago we studied the first part of this section of Scripture, verses 19-22, and you were invited to “come in and draw close,” to the very presence of Almighty God. The curtain separating all of humanity from the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God, has been torn wide open so that all people, through Jesus’ death and glorious resurrection, can have access to the Father.
Once a person comes to know Jesus as Lord of their life and they begin to study God’s Word there is an overwhelming reality that they are confronted with in God’s Word – the mandate to relate. We are called to reach out to those around us, to go into our neighborhoods, workplaces, and cities in order to share the share the good news of Jesus with others. We are to see the value in others, we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those locked away in prisons, and love one another. God desires to move us out of our comfort zone and into the lives of others whom we may or not like, whom we may or may not be like, whom we may or may not have anything in common with in our own lives.
This call to reach out and care for all people leads to another reality that the followers of Jesus, and nonbelievers alike, can relate to – pain, rejection, hurt feelings, frazzled relationships, and suffering. If you are a person who has a relationship with another human being then you are going to be hurt. Not only will you eventually be hurt, but you will do your share of hurting as well. How do I know that? Hurt people, hurt people. There is not a soul alive who has never been hurt by another person. With that reality before us we need to ask, “How do you cope with that reality in life? How do you overcome pain and rejection? How can you continue to love, reach out, and forgive when you have been hurt so badly?” I’m so glad you have asked. The writer of Hebrews tells us in verse 23,
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23 NIV)
He says, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess…” What does it mean to “hold unswervingly?” Does it mean that you go to church on Sunday? How about attending Bible study? Does it mean that you memorize a verse now and then? Or sing a song of faith in the morning before you head out for the day? All of these are good, wonderful ways to grow in our faith, but “holding unswervingly,” means much more.
The Greek word used here, (Katecho) means “to hold back from going away, to check a ship’s headway i.e. to hold or head the ship, to hold fast, keep secure, keep firm possession of.” I love the idea of heading a ship in the right direction. The captain of the ship knows the destination and his mission is to bring the ship to safe harbor. You and I know our mission in life, we are keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, to follow in His steps, and to live the life that Jesus lived while He was in the flesh. Nothing, not bad blood, not frazzled friends, not hurt feelings, should ever divert our attention.
The word that the writer of Hebrews uses here is also used in the other places in the New Testament. Take a look with me at Hebrews 3:13-14,
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. 14 We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (Hebrews 3:13-14 NIV)
We must hold firmly to the end. Do you not know that Jesus understands the rejection you have encountered? Do you not know that Jesus is familiar with messed up relationships, manipulating people who try to use you, and how our feelings can be hurt and our spirits crushed? Sure He is familiar. He went through the storm before there was ever a cloud on your horizon. When your friends forsake you – hold fast! When things don’t go your way – hold fast! When trouble comes and the enemy tempts you to question God – hold fast!
Another place where this word is used in 1 Corinthians 15:1-2. Take a look with me.
1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:1-2 NIV)
In I Corinthians 11:2, Paul writes to the people of Corinth and praises them for holding to the teachings he had passed on to them. Read along with me.
2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you. (1 Corinthians 11:2 NIV)
These teachings that you and I have received from the Lord are not simply a philosopher’s ruminations. They are not the musings of a mystic or topics for casual conversations – they are our very life, the fiber of who we are as followers of Jesus. My name is Mike Hays. I am the son of Charlie and Glynna Hays. I have brown hair and brown eyes. I am married to Connie Hays and we have three kids – Dan, Nate, and Annie. These are facts of my life. These facts do not change if the sun doesn’t shine today. These facts are constant in good times and bad times. These facts about me are overshadowed by one greater fact – I have been chosen by God to follow in the footsteps of Jesus in all types of weather, in trouble and triumph, in heartache and joy – I am a follower of His! I must hold unswervingly to the truths of God that I have been taught from His Word.
As we hold to the faith we are moved then to do something in addition to this. We read in Hebrews 10:24,
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24 NIV)
I love this verse because imbedded with this verse is the mandate for deep, intimate relationships. When you read the verse casually you get the idea that you ought to think of ways that we can get others to love one another and do good things. I can come up with a list of ten things you need to do if you are going to love someone genuinely. I can come up with another list of ten things you can do that are good for you and for others. We can apply those lists across the board, but that would be a misapplication of the Scripture.
When you look at the verse more deeply you can see imbedded here the need to “consider,” to look intently into someone’s life and see them for who they truly are. The Greek word, “consider,” is an intense word. The word in Greek is (katanoeo) and it means “to give very careful consideration to some matter, to think about very carefully, to consider closely.” Let me show you how the word is used in the New Testament. Turn with me to Hebrews 3:1,
1 Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. (Hebrews 3:1 NIV)
23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. (James 1:23-24 NIV)
We are to do more than come up with a generic list of ways to love and deeds to be done. We are to look intently, to consider, our brothers and sisters’ lives and see how we might lead them into doing God’s will and fulfilling His purpose in their lives.
As you get to know someone you discover gifts that the Lord has given to him or her. You discover things they truly love and enjoy. We need to know people before we can see the uniqueness that the Lord has placed within them. When you discover those gifts and passions you can then find opportunities for them to get involved in helping others in those areas.
In our last verse of our study this morning we are encouraged to come together. Read along with me from verse 25.
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. (Hebrews 10:25 NIV)
I love this verse of Scripture because it is an answer to anyone who says, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” No, you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian, but you do have to go to church to be in God’s will. Why would God be so adamant about our going to church? I mean I can read the Bible on my own. I can pray on my own. I can sing the great hymns and praise songs on my own. I can help people all by myself. Why would God mandate that I join with other believers? That is a great question. First let me share with you one of the most beautiful words you will ever find in Scripture. The Greek word for “encourage” found here in verse 25 is (parakaleo). The word means, “to call to one’s side, call to, call upon, which may be done in the way of exhortation, entreaty, comfort, instruction, to admonish, exhort, to console, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, to comfort, to receive consolation, be comforted, exhorting and comforting and encouraging.”
Do you see the wide range of activity that is included in this little word? To encourage means so many things, but they are all action oriented. The same word is used in Acts 14, where Luke writes,
21 They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. (Acts 14:21-22 NIV)
Paul and Barnabas went back to the followers of Jesus in order to encourage them in their faith. The most effective Christians, the most powerful testimonies to be found are found in the lives of those great encouragers who come alongside of others to be a blessing.
I mentioned to you in the beginning of our study that many people today feel like they do not have a friend. They feel all alone when they go through difficult times. They don’t think they have anyone who really cares about them and their struggles in life. These people need someone like you, like me, who are willing to come alongside of them and share their struggle, pray for their deliverance, and love them through the storm. You have no idea how a little love offered by you can make a huge difference.
Two weeks ago, on Sunday night, I got a phone call from a friend here in our church that had a family member who was in a hotel room and contemplating suicide. My friend wanted to know if I would go and talk to this distraught soul. We talked for a while and I told her that I would call her relative. When I called the woman was in tears. Her world had come undone. She had no money, no job, and no hope. She felt like she had hurt everyone in her life and that it would just be better if she were not around. I listened to her talk for a little while and then she said, “Why would you call me? You don’t even know me.” I said, “I called because I want you to know that God has a purpose for your life. I know you are going through a hard time right now, but God is going to bring you through this storm. Jesus is on His way to lift you out of the darkness.” She said, “When is He coming? When will He get here?” I told her, “I don’t know when He get there, but I can promise you that He will be right on time. He is never late.”
We talked some more and I asked her if she was going to check out of the hotel the next morning and she said that she had no place else to go. I said, “When you get out I would love to meet you. Could you come by the church?” She said that she would. While crying almost uncontrollably, she thanked me for calling, and we prayed together over the phone.
The next morning she called me and told me that she had slept with her Bible just to try and make it through the night. Today, she is getting some help and I praise God that He would allow me to invest maybe 30 minutes of my time to encourage her in the Lord.
Do you see how little it can take? A little done for the Lord goes a long way my friend. There are people hurting in isolation. Some of you are holding it in when you know that you would love to have someone pray for you and encourage you in the Lord.
Why does the Lord encourage us to come together? Because we need one another. We need brothers and sisters in Christ who will consistently point us in the right direction, encourage us to seek the Lord when doubts lie in waiting around every treacherous corner, and to stand with us as we seek to serve the Lord with a passionate heart. We also need to be present for brothers and sisters who are going through a rough time, who are passing through a dark night of their soul and in need of someone to pray for them when they feel like they can’t pray for themselves, and to celebrate the victories the Lord will win in their life. The truth is we need one another.
I don’t know if you are aware of it or not, but the phrase “one another” appears in many places in God’s Word. I went through the list this past week and categorized the ways that we are to relate to one another according to God’s Word. In God’s Word we are told to love one another, have compassion and mercy on one another, exhibit devotion towards one another, have fellowship with one another, honor one another, live in harmony with one another, be hospitable towards one another, be humble in our dealings with one another, do not pass judgment on one another, accept one another, encourage one another, do not slander one another, instruct one another, spur one another on to love and good deeds, greet one another, be kind to one another, submit to one another, speak to one another about spiritual matters, forgive one another, be patient with one another, and agree with one another. That is quite a list!
Can you imagine a church that pursues those kinds of relationships with one another! That is a church where people can grow in their love for the Lord. That is a church where hurting people can find acceptance and encouragement to press on in their struggles until the Lord delivers them into the light of His love. That is a church where people can be open and honest with their struggles to live in obedience and receive prayer and support rather than harsh ridicule and condemnation. That is a church that I want to attend! That is the church that God is calling Britton Christian Church to become!
I pray that this morning the Lord has shown you how greatly you are in need of His great love, compassion, and mercy. I pray that the Lord has shown you that you really need to be in fellowship with other believers – growing, praying, caring, sharing every facet of your life with others who will love you through the storms of this life. If the Lord has spoken to your heart this morning and you want to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life then won’t you come forward and make that commitment at this time.
John 13:34-35; Romans 13:8; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:11; 2 John 1:5
Compassion and Mercy
Fellowship with one another
1 John 1:7
Live in harmony
Romans 12:16; 1 Peter 3:8
Be hospitable to one another
1 Peter 4:9
Be humble towards one another
1 Peter 5:5
Do not pass judgment
Accept one another
Instruct one another
Romans 15:14; Colossians 3:16
Encourage one another
1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13; Hebrews 10:25
Do not slander one another
Spur one another one to love and good deeds
Greet one another
Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; Galatians 5:13
Be kind and compassionate with one another
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
Submit to one another
Forgive one another
Be patient, bear with one another
Agree with one another
1 Corinthians 1:10