Connection

In today’s post, we are going to reflect on our need for the church community. This is post number three on the topic of being anchored. We have addressed being Anchored in the Word and Anchored in the Gospel the previous two weeks.

This post is informed by the observation that when God saved sinners, he also ordained the church into existence. God’s program of salvation and relationship with mankind does occur individually, but it is is not isolated. The means for spreading the gospel, worshiping God, and serving others is the church. The church is the people of God living in community.

The Greek word, ecclesia, is the word translated church in our English Bibles. It specifically means “called out” or “the called out ones.” The universal church is made up of every believer on planet earth and represents God’s people throughout history. But while the Bible speaks of the universal church, the most common reference to church in the Bible relates to the local church, or to a specific body of believers gathered around God’s mission for worship and fellowship.

To be sure the experience of church has looked different during this Covid-19 pandemic. Attendance, interactions, programs, classes, services, and relationships have all been affected. But the mission and necessity of the church has not been changed.

Our mission at Wilkesboro Baptist Church is to lead our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus by worshiping, learning, serving and replicating.

Since the church’s founding after the resurrection of Christ, the church has survived persecution, marginalization, heresy, and countless debates and divisions. It is safe to say that the universal church is thriving as are many local congregations.

In his first general epistle, Peter described the church using metaphors and illustrations:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:4-10, emphasis mine.

As the church, our identity is what God says about us. We are his, and God is building us up into his dwelling place. God has made us royal priests to serve his people and purposes. God has called us from among the nations to reflect his glory and goodness to others.

As Daniel Doriani observed in his commentary on 1 Peter, “In the old covenant, God set his people apart from the nations. In the new covenant, he sets us apart as we live among the nations.” God wants his church to reflect his mercy and goodness to each other and to the peoples around us.

The bottom line. We need each other. We need the church.

This past week I entered our Wednesday evening worship service preparing to preach. This is the service we record and stream on Sunday mornings. But I was not really in a good place, mentally or spiritually, as I walked into the service. We had recently had a repair done at my house that took up a great portion of my week. I was unable to get some things done that I needed to finish. And before the service I heard some distressing news. But something changed when I gathered with the believers to worship. The songs we sang emphasized God’s glory and intervention among his people. Our corporate worship and the leadership of our worship team moved me. I teared up. Sang. Wept. Praised. Prayed. Confessed. In that moment, I needed the ministry of our worship team and the ministry of congregational worship.

The other week, I wrote about just trying to get through. This past week I had this experience again.

I don’t know about you, but there have been times in my life that I’ve prayed for daylight. There have been times that I’ve prayed just to make it through the storm. There have been times that I’ve prayed to get by to the next day.

Anchored in the Word

Sometimes, God answers our prayers to get through with each other. Sometimes, God anchors us in relationship with one another. Sometimes, God holds onto us through the ministry of the church.

More times than I can count, God has strengthened, encouraged, supported, helped, and motivated me through the ministry of believers in his church. We need to be anchored in the church.

  • To be anchored in the church, we need to be part of the church. I’m not specifically talking about church membership. To be a part of the church, we need to repent of our sins and trust Jesus for salvation. Becoming a follower Jesus is our introduction into the life of the church. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you are a part of God’s church.
  • To be anchored in the church, we need to be connected to the church. Relationships matter. If you don’t believe me, consider the fallout from the isolation and separation during this pandemic. We need the benefit that comes with counting on one another in dependence and relationship.
  • To be anchored in the church, we need to serve one another. Just in the last week, I recognized my need for the ministry of someone else. Not only do we need relationship with fellow believers, but we need the gifts and service of others. Your church needs you. And you need the ministry of others in your church.
  • To be anchored in the church, we need to defend the unity of the church. In 1 Peter 2:1, Peter wrote: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” Peter identified these community-destroying vices, and told his readers to rid themselves of behaviors and attitudes that damage the church. We have an obligation to defend the church’s unity.

Being in the church offers encouragement, accountability, service, and support. In this era of isolation and uncertainty, we need the church more than ever. Here are some application points for anchoring yourself in the life of your local church.

Attend, watch, participate. I realize not everyone can attend church right now. Masks, social distancing, pandemic spread, vulnurable health conditions are all reasons for staying home. But if you stay home, watch your church’s service online. Participate in the worship of your church. Sing. Pray. Praise. Take notes. Be a part of your church even if you are apart from your gatherings.

Call, encourage, communicate. While we may not all be able to be as present as we’d like to be, we can still remain in contact with one another. Don’t wait on someone to call you. Pick up your phone and think of someone who may be more lonely than you are. Give them a call. Send them a text. Minister to them. Serving someone else by caring for them is part of our church’s mission.

Pray, support, give. Distance does not affect one’s ability to pray for the needs and situations in the church. One way to remain connected is to pray for your pastoral staff, church leaders, and those sick in the church. Our prayers, support, and giving are ways to invest in the life of the church. Investment in the church leads to being anchored in the church.

Photo by Jackson David on Unsplash

Originally published as an op-ed here for the Wilkes Journal-Patriot.

Stay at home orders. Social distancing. MerleFest cancelled. Social gatherings banned. Schools and businesses closed. Church meetings cancelled.

The last few weeks have certainly been eventful. Our current experiences cause concern. Our anticipated experiences in the days, weeks and months ahead could cause fear and anxiety.

COVID-19 has arrived in Wilkes, but how many will be infected? How long will it take before the economy recovers? Will the economy recover? Will our lives ever go back to normal?

These questions permeate our thoughts. As a pastor, I feel it is my duty to have answers and bring hope. But let me offer a confession.

I’ve had plenty of moments in the last several weeks where I’ve felt a mixture of uncertainty, fear, and worry. I don’t offer my perspective from a place where I’ve conquered my anxieties but from a platform of hope and peace.

Solomon, Israel’s wisest king, wrote nearly 3,000 years ago, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad” (Proverbs 12:25). Solomon’s words could not be more prescient today.

Government bans, the panic-inducing news over COVID-19, and subsequent worries breed anxiety, often at a more exponential rate than the virus itself.

Fear and anxiety are enemies that weigh us down. When we are weighed down, we are more likely to live in fear, become depressed, or wallow in negativity. Like Solomon’s original readers, we need a good word. Let me offer three good words that might help make us glad.

Perspective. While these days are certainly unique, they are not universally unprecedented. Humanity has already overcome the bubonic plague outbreaks of the Middle Ages, the Spanish flu of 1918, world wars, and countless natural disasters. This pandemic will pass.

We need to evaluate our perspective. Instead of seeing our situation through the lens of all we are missing, we need to see it through the lens of all we are gaining.

Many of us have been too busy, too frazzled, and too distant from those closest to us. The next month (or longer) will afford us time to pause, rest, pray, and make the most of the days with our families. There may be a lot we will miss during this ban, but we will never forget the time we have with those closest to us.

Connection. People in my church tell me nearly every day how much they miss gathering together. God made us social beings who need each other.

Many of you are missing your normal social interactions. I am as well. But the lack of being in the same space need not keep us from connecting to one another.

Social media, text messaging, phone calls, FaceTime, Skype, emails, notes, and media like the Wilkes Journal-Patriot are all means by which we can connect with others. Make an extra phone call. Send another text message. Facetime a friend or family member. Find ways to connect with other people.

Our connections during isolated days will make our face to face connections that much more meaningful when these days are over.

Gospel. Solomon used the phrase “good word.” In the New Testament the good news is the gospel. The good news that the Bible offers is predicated on some bad news.

The bad news is that we live in a fallen, sinful world. This is one reason why viruses, pandemics, and natural disasters happen. But more importantly, the Bible teaches us that we are sinners. Sin is anything less than what God desires.

Our sin is the bad news, but the good news is that God sent Jesus to die for our sins to offer us forgiveness and eternal life. While our current situation is uncertain, our future does not have to be. The forgiveness offered through Jesus cleanses our sin, eases our anxiety, and offers us eternal life.

My hope and prayer through all of this uncertainty is that these good words: perspective, connection, gospel, will bring us gladness, now and forever.

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash