Where do you belong?

Have you ever started something and not finished it? I have. I am an avid reader. Books on leadership, most how-to-do-its and biographies are my favorites. I love to read for the benefit of application. Many times, when I get a helpful concept or two, I seem to tire of the book and set it down. Then, a while later, I'll move on to the next promising title. Consequently, I have a stack of books about knee high in my office and a number more scattered around the house that I have not yet closed out. Certainly, some do not demand an entire read, but I do think my practice is a bad habit. We really should finish some of the things we start. 

Do you know what I am taking about? I am sure someone out there started an exercise routine that eventually just faded away. Maybe you dropped out of a college class halfway through the semester. Or perhaps you bailed on a relationship to which you committed. Regardless of the rationale for opting out, you might have felt regret for starting the endeavor or guilt for not finishing it. 

How about continuing in your faith with God? Last week's column was about beginning with God. The starting point with God is turning to him. Of course, a beginning with God is only just that -- a beginning. I have had chats with not just a few who think the bare minimum in faith is the way to go. But how real is our faith if it doesn't move beyond the starting gate? What is the next step beyond beginning with God? 

The answer is helpfully found in I John 3:11, "This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another." The writer here, John, was trying to appeal to the original audience -- the ancient church at Ephesus -- to not stop at first base in their faith, but also to run to second. "The message you have heard from the beginning" is found in Luke 10:27, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." Beginning with God leads to pursuing loving relationships with other followers, one another. Starting with God leads to belonging to a body of believers. 

What does it mean to belong? Belonging is the idea of being closely linked together for the purpose of serving each other. A few verses down, in I John 3:17, it says, "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" Belonging is the kind of interaction that you find on a healthy sports team, where all of the members care about the team and try to figure out what they can do to help each other. 

Now I know there are some who would dispute this, saying that faith is a personal matter kept to one's self. The claim would be that one can practice and grow their faith on their own. But this is not the Biblical pattern that Jesus gave us, nor is it the vision laid out for how the "Good News" would go out to others. In Matthew 4, Jesus calls his first disciples to "come follow me." While committing themselves to Jesus, they also entered into relationships with the other disciples. In Acts 2, those disciples carried out the same pattern when the church was born at the festival of Pentecost. Here, Peter invites the listeners who are ready to turn to God by repentance. Acts 2:44 reads, "All the believers were together." Beginning with God naturally bridges to belonging to a group of committed followers.   

Now, all these relationships in the early church were not always pretty. And this is exactly the point. As your faith is challenged by those whom you join with, your relationship with God is further developed. And the opposite is also true. If you do not venture out and take steps toward belonging with other believers, your faith will not grow. In fact, for all practical purposes, your faith may indeed die.  

What about you? Have you begun with God? What is your next step to regularly involve yourself with other followers of Christ? I want to encourage you to find a body of believers with which you can link.

Imagine what would happen if you took your faith beyond the starting point. You would experience a deeper relationship with God and others would be encouraged, not to mention how great it would be to take steps toward finishing something you started.

Norm Byers is the lead pastor of Genesis Church, with two locations meeting Sundays at 9:30 a.m. at Petoskey Middle School and 11 a.m. at Boyne City Elementary. More information is at www.genesiswired.com or on Twitter @normbyers.
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