Summary: Every day, we find ourselves actively engaged in crowds. There are all kinds of crowds. There’ s the work crowd, the school crowd, the crowd associated with the activities of our children and there is the church crowd. It is easy to confuse our associatio
The Amazing Race: Community
Every day, we find ourselves actively engaged in crowds. There are all kinds of crowds. There’ s the work crowd, the school crowd, the crowd associated with the activities of our children and there is the church crowd. It is easy to confuse our associations within these crowds with the experience of authentic community. Crowds are pseudo-communities, including church crowds, where relationships are experienced at the superficial level. Crowds are drawn together by activities, rather than to seek accountability and deeper meaning in our life. Every crowd is defined by activities that draw us together. Think of the Mardi Gras crowds, Jazz Fest crowds, the Saints or Hornets crowds. You come together on the basis of those activities.
But crowds are limited because you never get beyond superficial levels. People say, “How are you doing?” You say “Fine!” Everything is just fine. Everybody is just fine. No one knows anything about what’s really going on in your heart, mind or life. And before long, that’s the only thing we know and what has been created is a culture of superficiality. That’s one reason Americans are the loneliest they have ever been according to the latest Gallop polls. Paul McCartney once wrote in a song about loneliness in a crowd of others, “All the lonely people, Where do they all come from? All the lonely people, Where do they belong?” They belong in community. And what we find is that this lack of connection with others, this lack of real community and accountability stunts our growth, relationally, emotionally, and spiritually.
There are three inhibitors to spiritual growth and transformation in community. First is consumerism. Materialistic cultures are driven by the goal to get you to spend more. The promise is that if you buy that new item, you will be happier. And so we try to dull the pain of loneliness and emptiness in our lives by buying more. But it’s just a temporary fix and as soon as the luster wears off, we find we’re as empty as we ever were and are moving onto the next purchase. In effect, we have been dealing with the exterior when true transformation deals with the interior. So consumerism and its false promises cause us to avoid the loneliness in our lives.
The second inhibitor to spiritual growth and transformation in community is individualism. There is a rise of radical individualism in our culture which is committed only to the self. We have come to see ourselves as independent. In fact, isn’t that our ideal, the rugged independent American who can do it on their own? We come to believe we are self-sufficient. I don’t really need you other than in a superficial kind of way. I can do this thing called life on my own.
The third inhibitor to transformation in your life is the paralysis of isolation. Everything about me is personal, and private. All addiction occurs in isolation. When I begin to say, it is none of your business, I don’t need anything other than the crowds, I begin to disconnect myself from authentic community. And as soon as I disconnect from communities of accountability, I lose any chance at the real authentic community I so need. And the end result too often is that I begin to disconnect from myself. I experience isolation and isolation is death.
Yet deep within us we all know we were made relationship. That’s why Author Randy Frazee in his book “The Connecting Church” writes, “The experience of authentic community is one of the purposes God intends to be fulfilled by the church.” The church or a local community of believers is essential to our spiritual well-being. Believers in the early church needed each other and God expected them to be there for each other. Likewise, we need each other and God expects us to be there for each other. God has ordained that we play a vital role in each other’s faith. For that reason, we are commanded in Hebrews 10:25 not to, “…give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another….”
We do not exist for self-actualization or self-gratification; we exist for God and relationship to one another. What I want you to see in our Scripture today is the contrast between crowds and the four friends. Crowds are the inhibitors that keep people from coming to the real Jesus and his transforming power. But friends connect us to Jesus at any cost. In our Scripture the paralyzed man’s friends do everything they can to get their friend to Jesus, even tearing off the roof of a house so he might experience the power and healing of Jesus in his life. They knew their friend’s condition. They knew his struggle in life and the daily pain in caused him. They knew his heart’s desire to be made whole.