Encouragement From The Word

We are the church, together!

Yesterday, I attended the funeral of a treasured colleague.  Though he was a good age, it was still difficult for his family and his friends.  His daughter-in-law read a letter from friends who could not be present.  His son shared about him in a loving way, and another colleague, who took the service, spoke warmly as well.  But if that was all there had been, it would have felt like something was missing:  fellowship.

I was grateful that there was an opportunity for fellowship after the service was over.  Throughout most of the last two and a half years, the fellowship component to funerals has been missing because of concerns over the pandemic.

But I’m glad it was back for this gathering, because there were people who are dear to me with whom I wanted to be able to express personal condolences and have a conversation.  I know from experience that in many ways, as important as the service itself is, the opportunity to share grief in community makes a significant contribution to the healing process.  

Likewise, community is strengthened when there is an opportunity to share table fellowship.  Last Sunday, our congregation had its first pot luck lunch in almost 3 years, and it was wonderful.  Twice as many people stayed as had actually signed up to stay, which was great – there was plenty to eat – but it was a sign that people hunger for fellowship.

Since March 2020, when the world shut down, fellowship has been hard to come by.  For a while, of course, people stayed apart on the advice of officials who were still trying to figure out the unknown communicability of COVID-19.  But, thanks mostly to the media, that caution became an abject fear in some people that has continued to this day.

And, as a result, they are losing out on one of the most wonderful things about being human:  community.

This is especially true for followers of Jesus, because Christianity is definitely a team sport.  We can’t go it alone; we need each other.

So be cautious, yes, but don’t deprive yourself of the fellowship you need to keep your faith strong.  Christian, you are the church!  We are the church, together!

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10.25, NLT).

Biblical Messages

Communion and Community

Often, Christians come to the Lord’s Table and think it’s a “you in your small corner and I in mine” kind of experience, where we meet with the Lord one-to-one, and there just happen to be other people around.  But that’s not what Communion is supposed to be at all!  It should be a gathering of God’s people – together – being in such a good relationship with each other that there is nothing separating us from each other, or from God.

Reality often shows us that human relationships are not always what they’re supposed to be, but Jesus envisioned better for us.  As we approached the Lord’s Table today, we heard a message based on Matthew 5.21-26, and Matthew 18.15-17.

During this message, I showed the video you can watch here.  Listen to the message and consider your relationships with fellow Christ-followers.

Encouragement From The Word

Iron sharpens iron

Yesterday, I had a three-hour conversation with a colleague whom I deeply respect and genuinely like. Our conversation went ‘around the world’ in one sense, but found its focus on God, the things of God, and being leaders of God’s people. It was the kind of conversation that leaves one energized and encouraged about the task of serving God’s kingdom.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re in church leadership or not; you need a friend with whom you can have those comfortable conversations. Ideally, you need a friend with whom you can talk about your work and your faith; for my colleague and I, of course, those two things are intricately interwoven. But to be able to chat freely, openly, and vulnerably with someone about life and faith is a real gift. Hopefully, you can do this with your spouse, if you have one, and that’s an important part of any marriage; yet it’s also good to have friends, particularly who share similar vocational or avocational interests, with whom to exchange ideas and just generally commiserate.

John Calvin certainly had this in mind when he created his Company of Pastors, a weekly gathering of clergy from all around Geneva and environs, in the 1530s. Not all jobs have any sort of built-in method for fellowship, but that doesn’t stop us from creating them. Even if we are not working outside the home everyday, as is the case with retirees and stay-at-home parents, there can still be room for connecting with friends in a similar place in life. (If you’re not sure of the value of this, check out any moms-and-tots group, or the coffee klatch at the nearby donut shop most weekday mornings!)

These examples allude to another form of Christian fellowship from which we all can benefit: the small group. Congregations have different names for their small groups; at St. Paul’s Church, Nobleton, we call them LifeConnect Groups. They are avenues for study, fellowship, mutual support, and service, and are key means of helping the congregation fulfill its mission to connect with God, grow in Christ, and serve in community. Being part of a small group is a great way to remember that our faith is not just a Sunday thing; God calls us to integrate our faith into every aspect of our living. That’s basic discipleship. Following Jesus is the vocation from which every other part of life flows. Having a church family, a small group, and faithful friends make a difference in our walk with God.

We all need people in our lives to keep up sharp, in the best way. They are gifts from God; sometimes, though, we need to seek out those gifts! Have you?

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27.17, NLT).