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Summary: Levels of Fellowship: 1. Membership: Choosing to belong. 2. Friendship: Learning to share. 3. Partnership: Doing my part. 4. Kinship: Loving believers as family.

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(Note: The outline of this sermon and some of the content have been adapted from Rick Warren’s material on 40 Days of Purpose.)

I often think of the stories my grandma told about the Depression era when people would pool their soup beans and eat at each other’s homes. Times were hard, but there was a closeness among people that we do not experience today. They worked together, ate together, and actually talked to their neighbors. Even the architecture of homes was different. We lived in a large city, Indianapolis, but our home was like many others, it had a front porch that was more than a step. We had chairs and a swing. I can still remember being on grandma’s porch swing and watching people walk by on the sidewalk. Everyone said hello because everyone knew each other. Sometimes they would stop and talk, or even come up on the porch and sit a spell, and grandma would bring out lemonade. Almost all the homes had porches, and people sat outside in the evening since they did not have air-conditioning. Friends would stop by unannounced to visit. There was a connectedness among neighbors and families.

Today it is a different story. You would feel very awkward stopping over to someone’s home unannounced with the intention of spending the evening. Most of you can’t name half your neighbors. If you visited someone, you might be interrupting their favorite TV program. Sociologists have identified a phenomenon in our culture called “cocooning.” Instead of going out and being around other people, we cocoon in our homes with our “home entertainment centers.” We have settled for individual entertainment rather than human interaction. We each have everything we need, and there is no need to “pool the soup beans” anymore.

If you want to see how depersonalized our culture is, just think about how many things you can do without ever talking with another human being. Try calling a large company and see if it’s even possible to talk to a real human being. You go to the service station and never have contact with anyone else since you swipe your credit card, fill up and go. How many of you even remember when there were only “full service” stations? You used to actually know your banker. Then you pulled up to a suction machine with a tube inside and talked to an electronic box. Now you can do all your banking at home on your computer. Many people did all their Christmas shopping online this year. They did not want to fight the crowds. You can even do your grocery shopping online. The radical individualism of our culture has resulted in the depersonalization of our culture. All of our progress has brought us isolation, and loneliness.

What this means is that there is an enormous hole in the heart of the average American. There is a longing for belonging. They don’t know how to be close to other people, and even if they want to be close to others, they don’t know where to go to have relationships. Gregg Easterbrook has written a new book entitled, The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. We have more conveniences and comforts than our grandparents could have imagined, but 25% of Americans suffer bouts of depression. 7% of all Americans suffer from at least one major, debilitating depression a year. And at least part of that comes from being alienated from other people. We were created to be social creatures. We need other people whether we want to need them, or think we need them, or not. You were made for other people. You were formed for the family of God.

This is why the Bible says, “And 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” (Hebrews 10:24-25). This is why our Sunday Seminars and small groups are so important. This is where we get to know each other and learn to care for each other. People share deep experiences from their lives. It is where we know and are known. There is someone to encourage us and pray for us. This is what we were created for. You were not meant to be the rock of Gibralter, you were meant to live in fellowship with other believers. You need other people, and they need you. We really do need each other. This is an important part of your purpose in life. The Bible says, “Love your spiritual family” (1 Peter 2:17, Message). And listen to this scripture: “The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both” (1 John 4:21, Message). And you can’t love other people if you are not with other people.

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