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).

Encouragement From The Word

Sanding off the edges

Most readers of Encouragement From The Word are involved in a local church, so I probably don’t need to sell you on the importance of engaging in worship. We understand the importance of the church, and we get that it’s not just a building; it’s the people that matter. It’s a community of faith. To encourage your ongoing participation, though, I want to share a quotation I read earlier this week: “The community provides rules and boundaries against which I can break off some of my sharp edges (or they are broken off!). And it provides authentic models” (Norvene Vest, Preferring Christ [Morehouse, 2004], p. 148).

Did you ever think of the church playing those roles for you? The church, the community of faith, can round some of our corners and sand us down a bit. Most of us would rather not admit our need of this, but if we’re honest, we know we all need a bit of, shall we say, smoothing out. And loving, caring Christian community can do that for us.

The church can also provide models in authenticity for us and for our children. There aren’t enough role models out there today whom we can really trust, are there? Many parents say that their kids won’t listen to them, but they’ll listen to other adults in their circle of acquaintance. The church can be the place where you find a mature follower of Jesus to mentor and disciple your son or daughter – and where another parent finds you to mentor and disciple her or his child! It also can be the place where you yourself find someone who will make a difference in your own life and walk with the Lord.

All this means, of course, that the church is not just a body gathered together for an hour (plus coffee) on Sunday morning. Deepening relationships involves an investment of time. Make no mistake – it is an investment: there are dividends that are paid. Those dividends, though, are not paid to us, at least not directly; they are paid to the person in whom we invest, and in turn, in the Kingdom of God. Think of those whom you may meet in heaven who will be able to thank you for spending time helping them love Jesus better! They may be little ones you taught in children’s ministry or adults you walk with in a small group. They may be people with whom you spent an hour in the coffee shop one day, on a whim. All because you journeyed together as the church of Jesus Christ.

Along the way, others may have come along and helped to make you a more beautiful disciple, shaping and sanding and breaking off corners to help you live more like Jesus.

Sure, there’s sawdust on the floor, and maybe bits of clay. There are empty coffee cups, poopy diapers, and notes tucked into Bibles, written on napkins. Being the church, being active, can be messy. But with God, not one bit of it is wasted.

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).