Pastor Craig Carter
We are in a 40-day spiritual growth campaign based on Rick Warren’s bestselling book, The Purpose Driven Life.
By listening to sermons, reading a chapter in the book each day, and joining with other believers in small groups to discuss the material, we are seeking to answer life’s most basic question, What on Earth Am I Here For? Note: It is not too late to get on board … grab a book and invite a friend! Learn more at mylhumc.net/purpose-driven.
The Bible talks about the various reasons for our existence in terms of God’s calling on our lives. Last week, we discovered that first, and foremost, we are “called to be loved.” Before you and I do anything for the Lord, we first just have to let Him love us because we were planned for God’s pleasure (purpose #1).
Having received God’s love, we are then equipped to love Him back through worship and to love others through fellowship because life is all about love — love for God and others.
In order to help us live a life of love, God has placed us in a family environment. The Bible is the story of God building a family (Adam, Noah, Abraham, Israel, etc.) When those attempts proved largely unsuccessful, the Lord took matters into His own hands and sent His Son Jesus so He could create a family for Himself.
As Paul describes it, “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:5 NLT)
So in answer to the question, “What on earth am I here for?”, we can add purpose #2: We were formed for God’s family.
Rick Warren points out in his book that we can’t learn how to love in isolation; instead, we have to be around people – irritating, imperfect, frustrating people. And where do we find those kind of folks? In our family, of course!
But I’m not just talking about at home with our biological family members. No, we also find people to bump into in God’s family which He calls the church.
“I am writing to you…so you will know how to live in the family of God. That family is the church of the living God…” (1 Timothy 3:14-15 NCV)
Here’s how Paul describes it in our memory verse for the week, “You are members of God’s very own family…and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.” (Ephesians 2:19b TLB)
So you and I are “called to belong” to something bigger than ourselves – it’s the family of God or the church. And by belonging to the church we live out our calling to belong to God: “You have been called to belong to Jesus Christ…and we all belong to each other.” (Romans 1:6; 12:5 NLT)
I like the way the great Methodist missionary and evangelist, E. Stanley Jones, describes it: “Everybody who belongs to Christ, belongs to everybody who belongs to Christ.” That’s the Church!
We oftentimes think of the church in terms of it being a place to go or an event to attend. Where’s the church? 3203 Minnesota Avenue. When does it meet? 8:30 and 10 am. But the New Testament suggests the church is something much different. The Greek word is ecclesia which is a compound word made up of a preposition, “out of” and a verb, “to call.”
So the church is literally “the called out” people of God. And each of us is called to belong to this “called out” group. When we fulfill our calling and belong to the church, several benefits result.
Today we’re going to identify four benefits of belonging by exploring several metaphors the Bible uses to describe God’s church – a family, a temple, a body, and a garden.
1) In God’s family, we learn our true IDENTITY.
Much of our lives is spent in a search for identity. As children, we want to fit in on the playground or hope other kids will like us. As teenagers, we long for affirmation and wear clothes that identify us as hip or with it. (Note: that language suggests I’m neither “hip” nor “with it”). As adults, we try to build a good reputation and buy things that show we’ve arrived
Throughout our lives we fool ourselves into thinking that our identity is tied to all kinds of stuff. But the truth is, most of our identity comes from our relationships. For example, who is Craig Carter? I’m a native Missourian, a former Air Force officer, a son, a husband, a father, a pastor, a boss, a Lynn Havenite. My relationships and associations define who I am.
That’s okay when the relationships are healthy and life is good. But what happens when they’re not? During those times, our identity and self-esteem suffer.
If your identity is tied to being a mother, but then the kids all leave home or are thrown in jail, what happens? You feel useless at best or a complete failure at worst.
If your identity is tied to another person who abandons you or divorces you, what happens? You feel all alone and left out.
If your identity is wrapped up in your work and you get fired, what happens? You feel like a failure and no longer feel a sense of purpose
Our identity is closely linked to our relationships and given how fragile they are, it’s no wonder many of us really don’t know who we are.
Here’s the good news: we find our true identity in relationship with other Christians.
“You are members of God’s very own family…and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian.” (Ephesians 2:19b TLB)
Above everything else, we are members of God’s very own family and belong to it. Whereas our physical families won’t last forever, our spiritual family is eternal. All of our human family relationships have beginnings and ends, but our spiritual family ties remain forever.
That brings us to an all-important consideration: How do we become members of God’s family? Read carefully because what I’m about to share is critical: every human being is created by God, but not everyone is a child of God. We become a part of a human family by being born for the first time, but we get into God’s family by being born again: “[God] has given us the privilege of being born again so that we are now members of God’s own family.” (1 Peter 1:3 TLB)
And by putting our faith and trust in Jesus, we receive that new birth and become the children of God. “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26 NLT)
Through the saving work of Christ, we are then adopted into God’s family. “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:5 NLT)
And if God is the Father, what does that make you and me? His sons and daughters, of course! That’s our legacy. That’s who we really are.
Our identity as children of God is the highest honor and the greatest privilege we will ever receive. No matter where else we go, no matter what else we do, no matter how others may think of us, the fact remains: we are children of the living God.
So whenever we feel unimportant, unloved, or insecure, we need to remember to whom we belong and that is reflected in the family name we carry – Christian.
As I’ve already mentioned, that family relationship does not happen automatically. We have to agree to the terms of adoption and we do that by putting our faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. If you’ve never done that, let today be the day you are adopted into God’s family. If that’s a step you’ve already taken, rejoice in what you’ve received.
Let’s never forget, we belong to Christ and that makes us honored children of God. That, above all else, is who we are.
2) In God’s temple, we find STRENGTH and STABILITY.
“You are the living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.” (1 Peter 2:5a NLT)
Notice that you and I are “living stones” that are used to build something wonderful. Alone we’re just a pile of bricks, but together we become a temple for God.
I grew up in the age of Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs. They were okay but I wish I had grown up a generation later in the age of Legos. Each Lego has only one purpose – to connect with others. By themselves, they are not too pretty and pretty useless (Ever step on one?) But in the right hands, they can become a masterpiece. Just Google “lego art.”
I don’t know about you, but I want to be a part of something beautiful – a temple sounds nice. So it’s essential that we assemble all the “stones” or bricks that belong together. And when that happens…
“In Christ the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives…” (Ephesians 2:21-22 NIV)
That’s a pretty neat image for the church, isn’t it? Connected both to God and to one another, we experience strength and stability. We become Legos snapped into place, not just Lincoln Logs resting on each other.
There are times in our lives when the winds of turmoil and trouble are going to blow. Can anyone say Hurricane Michael or global pandemic? What’s going to keep us standing? The strength, stability, and support we get from God and others in the church. I know that’s true because I’ve experienced it time and time again.
Friends, I don’t have to tell you that we live in a dangerous and destructive world. And if we are going to endure the storms of life and the howling winds of death, disease, and despair, we have to connect with each other and allow ourselves to be built into God’s temple.
Peter says we’re to see ourselves as “living stones.” I’d say we’re “Lego Christians.” Either way, we are called to belong to God and to one another.
3) In Christ’s body, we discover our unique VALUE.
On a number of occasions in the New Testament, the church is described as the Body of Christ: “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27 NLT)
What does this metaphor tell us about our calling to belong?
The church is not a building, it’s a living body (i.e. an organism, not an organization). And when we’re a part of it, it means that we find our unique value and contribution in the greater whole. Individual organs and body parts have no intrinsic value in and of themselves.
As I described two weeks ago, separated from the whole body, individual parts are useless and grotesque. But when put together, there’s enormous potential to do something wonderful.
You and I discover our true value through our relationships with other Christians as we work together for the common good. It’s why Paul made this statement to the Romans: “Just as there are many parts of our bodies, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of it and it takes every one of us to make it complete, for we each have different work to do. So we belong to each other, and each needs all the others.” (Romans 12:4-5 TLB)
We may all be different but that’s because each of us has different work to do. And to complete what God wants us to do as His Body, we need one another and “we belong to each other.”
Let me put it this way: you can’t be all God intended you to be unless you’re connected to the Body of Christ. At the same time, we (Lynn Haven UMC) can’t be all God intended us to be without you. You may be the “missing piece” we’ve been searching for to make us complete.
Using Paul’s preferred analogy, you need to be grafted or transplanted into the body. Note: Every part isn’t a fit for every body, so if not here, find where you belong. By taking your place in Christ’s Body, you’ll discover your purpose for being.
Real meaning in life is not found at work, at home, out hunting or playing golf, or at the gym. What on earth am I here for? What on earth are you here for? It is to function as a valuable part of Christ’s body because “we belong to each other.”
4) In God’s garden, our lives become PRODUCTIVE.
Here’s another metaphor from nature that helps us understand the church. Jesus told His followers: “A branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful apart from me. I am the vine and you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit … fruit that will last. But apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5, 16 NLT)
The only way we can be vital and produce fruit is by being attached to the vine.
Growing up, my uncle lived nearby and he had a vast garden and extensive orchard. He raised grapes, blackberries, peaches, and apples. I never once saw a piece of fruit produced from a branch cut from the vine or tree. To think that it ever would is utterly ridiculous.
All of us want our lives to count for something and to make a difference. Yet, we try to accomplish something significant in all sorts of crazy ways disconnected from God and His church. It ain’t gonna happen! Apart from Christ, you and I can “do nothing” … not a little, but NOthing!
But by remaining in Him and His vineyard (the church), we won’t just produce a little something, our lives will bear “much fruit.” And it is “fruit that will last” because it is of eternal value since it’s rooted and grounded in the Eternal One. That’s pretty productive!
Let me say one more thing about this subject. In our individualized American mindset, we read the words of John 15:4-5 and 16 from the perspective of “What can I personally do to make a difference?” But in the ancient Greek text the word translated as “you” is in the plural form. With that in mind, read it again with “y’all” inserted for “you”.
“A branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and [y’all] cannot be fruitful apart from me. I am the vine and [y’all] are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit … fruit that will last. But apart from me [y’all] can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5, 16 NLT)
Our effectiveness in producing Kingdom fruit is a team effort.
Over the course of my ministry, churches I’ve served have recorded more than 1,000 professions of faith and yet, I’ve personally led only about 10 people to Christ. I’m pretty good at leading and teaching, but my gift is not evangelism. But by being a part of a Body, connected to the Vine, together we’re able to fulfill our purpose for being on this planet.
Do you see the enormous benefits of belonging to the church, God’s family? It meets our basic human needs for a sense of identity, a source of stability and security, and a feeling of accomplishment.
Let me close with a final quote from The Purpose Driven Life: “The person who says, ‘I don’t need the church,’ is either arrogant or ignorant. The church is so significant that Jesus died on the cross for it.” (p. 134)
You and I need the church because we have been called to belong to God’s family. It’s God’s desire for every person He’s ever made to be a part of a local congregation because He wants us all to belong to Christ. And a Christian without a church home is like a child without a family, a loose stone without a building, an organ without a body, or a branch without a tree.
Won’t you fulfill your calling and choose to belong? You can reach out to me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested in becoming a member of Lynn Haven UMC.
“Glory belongs to God in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time and eternity! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:21 GWT)