Monday, March 3, 2008

The Value of Community

I had one of those days the other day. We all have them from time to time. One of the kids brought a note from the teacher home from school (not the good kind of note), the car needed some work and I wasn't getting paid for another week, the dog was sick, etc., etc. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. My plan for the evening was basically to sit around and lament my fate. You know, lots of self pity about how terrible my life was. Then my wife reminded me that we had committed to go to a supper at church. I really didn't feel like going, but my wife and kids really wanted to go, so I went.

When I got there I found out two pieces of news about members of our congregation. First a woman who had been an elder in our church and has a daughter about my daughter's age had been indicted in federal court for stealing money from the bank where she worked. Apparently there had been an article in the newspaper. Unfortunately, I've not seen them at any church function since this all became public. People in the congregation who have spoken to them indicate they are too embarrassed to come. How sad is that? I understand their feelings, but it seems like the church is the place they most need to be right now.

Secondly and even more tragically, we found out that another church member has had her cancer return and that it's basically untreatable and beyond hope at this point. This woman has three school aged children. Her husband is a basket case about this and, as you might imagine, the children are taking it pretty hard. Different groups in the church have begun taking meals to them and we're trying to figure out how best to help this young family as the situation worsens over the next several weeks or months.

Obviously, I felt pretty shallow whining about my little problems when I heard about what these two women and their families are dealing with. But my larger point is not just that I can be pretty self-centered and self-absorbed, but that I wouldn't have realized the depths of my self-absorption if it were not for the community of the church. We all need to be in community. Like a lot of young people, I went through one of those "I can worship God anywhere" periods when I was younger and stop going to church as a young adult. Boy was I wrong. First of all, I wasn't really worshiping God at all. I slept late a lot or engaged in activities that had nothing to do with the Lord. But even if I had been worshiping God, I would would have missed out on the challenges and benefits of being in community. It's easy to read about loving your enemies, but when someone you really dislike is sitting one pew over, it becomes a real challenge. You can think about loving your neighbor, but it doesn't really come home to you until you ponder how to help elementary school kids deal with the fact their Mom is dying.

I live in the south and there is a lot of focus in churches around here on having a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ." And that is certainly vital. But I wonder sometimes if that focus on the individual and his or her relationship to Christ doesn't take away somewhat from the value of being active and involved in a Christian Community. I keep thinking of the whole idea of there being no salvation outside the Church. Obviously, God can do whatever he wants and save whoever he wants, but if you look at salvation as meaning more than just what happens to us when we die, I think no salvation outside the church may be correct. Maybe I was saved by being drawn away from selfishness and self-absorption the other night. Perhaps I was being saved when I was forced to think of ways to help these fellow Christians who were suffering. Hopefully, I was saved when I hugged my children and my wife that night and gave thanks to God for their lives and health.

Anyway, please pray for these two families and thank God for all your blessings.

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