One of my favorite churches started several years ago as a ministry to ex-prisoners who were transitioning back into society. Now the church flourishes with people from all walks of life. I love that church because it reminds me of what I picture heaven will be like—filled with different kinds of people, all redeemed sinners, all bound together by the love of Jesus.
Sometimes, though, I wonder if church seems more like an exclusive club than a safe-haven for forgiven sinners. As people naturally gravitate into groups of “a certain kind” and cluster around those they feel comfortable with, it leaves others feeling marginalized. But that’s not what Jesus had in mind when He told His disciples to “love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). His church was to be an extension of His love mutually shared with all.
If hurting, rejected people can find loving refuge, comfort, and forgiveness in Jesus, they should expect no less from the church. So let’s exhibit the love of Jesus to everyone we encounter—especially those who are not like us. All around us are people Jesus wants to love through us. What a joy it is when people unite to worship together in love—a slice of heaven we can enjoy here on earth!
“Community” is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives, says Henri Nouwen. Often we surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, which forms a club or a clique, not a community. Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community.
The Christian church was the first institution in history to bring together on equal footing Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free. The apostle Paul waxed eloquent on this “mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God.” By forming a community out of diverse members, Paul said, we have the opportunity to capture the attention of the world and even the supernatural world beyond (Eph. 3:9–10).
In some ways the church has sadly failed in this assignment. Still, church is the one place I visit that brings together generations: infants still held in their mothers’ arms, children who squirm and giggle at all the wrong times, responsible adults who know how to act appropriately at all times and those who may drift asleep if the preacher drones on too long.
If we want the community experience God is offering to us, we have reason to seek a congregation of people “not like us.”
Watching my young grandson and his friends play T-Ball is entertaining. In this version of baseball, young players often run to the wrong base or don’t know what to do with the ball if they happen to catch it. If we were watching a professional baseball game, these mistakes would not be so funny.
It’s all a matter of maturity.
It’s okay for young athletes to struggle—not knowing what to do or not getting everything exactly right. They are trying and learning. So we coach them and patiently guide them toward maturity. Then we celebrate their success as later they play with skill as a team.
Something similar happens in the life of those who follow Jesus. Paul pointed out that the church needs people who will “be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). And we need a variety of “coaches” (pastors, teachers, spiritual mentors) to help us all move toward “unity in the faith” as we strive to “become mature” (v. 13).
The goal as we listen to preaching and teaching and enjoy life together in the church is to grow up to maturity in Christ (v. 15). Each of us is on this journey, and we can encourage each other on the road to maturity in Jesus.
Mary enjoyed her midweek church group meeting when she and several friends gathered to pray, worship, and discuss questions from the previous week’s sermon. This week they were going to talk about the difference between “going” to church and “being” the church in a hurting world. She was looking forward to seeing her friends and having a lively discussion.
As she picked up her car keys, the doorbell rang. “I’m so sorry to bother you,” said her neighbor Sue, “but are you free this morning?” Mary was about to say that she was going out when Sue continued, “I have to take my car to the repair shop. Normally I would walk or cycle home, but I’ve hurt my back and can’t do either at the moment.” Mary hesitated for a heartbeat and then smiled. “Of course,” she said.
Mary knew her neighbor only by sight. But as she drove her home, she learned about Sue’s husband’s battle with dementia and the utter exhaustion that being a caregiver can bring with it. She listened, sympathized, and promised to pray. She offered to help in any way she could.
Mary didn’t get to church that morning to talk about sharing her faith. Instead she took a little bit of Jesus’ love to her neighbor who was in a difficult situation.
During a church service I spotted an infant several rows ahead. As the baby peeked over his father’s shoulder, his eyes were wide with wonder as he looked at the members of the congregation. He grinned at some people, drooled, and chewed his chunky fingers, but never quite found his thumb. The pastor’s words grew distant as my eyes kept sliding back to that sweet baby.
Distractions come in all shapes and sizes. For Martha, distraction took the form of cooking and cleaning—trying to serve Christ instead of listening to Him and talking with Him. Mary refused to be sidetracked. “Mary . . . sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word” (Luke 10:39). When Martha grumbled because Mary wasn’t helping her, Jesus said, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (v. 42 niv).
Jesus’ words remind us that our relationship with Him is more important than any of the good things that might temporarily capture our attention. It has been said that good things are the enemies of great things. For followers of Jesus, the greatest thing in this life is to know Him and to walk with Him.
It’s not about the table, whether it’s square or round. It’s not about the chairs—plastic or wooden. It’s not about the food, although it helps if it has been cooked with love. A good meal is enjoyed when we turn off the TV and our cell phones and concentrate on those we’re with.
I have officiated at a lot of weddings. Often planned according to the dreams of the bride, each of the weddings has been unique. But one thing is the same: adorned in their wedding dresses with hair beautifully done and faces aglow, brides steal the show.
The Bavarian city of Nördlingen is unique. It sits in the middle of the Ries Crater, a large circular depression caused by the impact of a huge meteorite a long time ago. The immense pressure of the impact resulted in unusual crystallized rock and millions of microscopic diamonds. In the 13th century, these speckled stones were used to build St. George’s Church. Visitors can see the beautiful crystal deposits in its foundation and walls. Some might say it has a heavenly foundation.
Pastors make an easy target for criticism. Every week they are on display, carefully explaining God’s Word, challenging us toward Christlike living. But sometimes we look to find things to criticize. It’s easy to overlook all the good things a pastor does and focus on our personal opinions.