Abide in My love

John 15:9-10

9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.

10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

I think it’s safe to say that most of us have had one: the middle-school crush. One day we’re getting on the school bus or hanging out with friends at lunch and suddenly there he or she is. She’s beautiful in a way that other girls aren’t. He’s handsome in a grown-up, perhaps even a bad-boy sort of way. We start courting as best we can. I used to talk with her friends to find out if she likes someone else, and to know what it is she does like. After a while I’d get up the courage to pass her a note: “You’re pretty” or something like that. And then came the fateful day—usually just a week or so before a school dance or friend’s big party—when we finally write that all-important note that demands a response:

“I really like you. Do you like me? YES NO (Circle one)”

We’d pass the note early in the day, hoping for a response by lunch time—you know, so we could sit with our newly beloved one. We’d watch the minutes pass slowly by in class, and keep an eye out for the object of our affection in the hallway between classes. Time would pass, and then…perhaps just as lunch is ending…perhaps just as we are getting on the bus…the note is returned to us. The verdict is YES!

And then we crumble up the note and throw it away, and go on with our lives like nothing ever happened, right?

Of course not! We don’t ignore the note! We find a way to sit with our beloved on the bus or at lunch. We arrange trysts (although today it would just be “hanging out”), and we call or text each other. Today we might change our status on online social networks to say we are “in a relationship.” Woohoo! We start learning what he or she likes, and we share our likes, our dreams, our hopes and fears. We meet our beloved’s family. (I still joke that I get along famously with kids, pets, and mothers-in-law.) In short, our life changes.

Well, it changes for as long as the crush lasts. The teenage heart is fickle, and before too long our beloved has decided he or she likes someone else better. Or, perhaps we are the one who moves on. We don’t stay in love like that for very long, despite the notes and bad poetry that say otherwise.

Now imagine if you had written that same note to Jesus:

“Do You love me? YES NO (Circle one)”

Needless to say, His answer will always be an emphatic YES.

And then we crumble up the note and throw it away, and go on with our lives like nothing ever happened, right?

Unfortunately, most people do just that. When some people have come to Jesus, they hear that He loves them just as they are—broken, scarred, sinful—and they bask in that warm, fuzzy feeling of love and acceptance. And then they go right back to where they were and being who they were before. They don’t seek out their new Beloved One, they don’t make time for Him, and they don’t try to change their lives to match His. Like a middle-school crush, they “love” Him for a while and then move on.

But despite our fickle hearts, Jesus never stops loving us.

In today’s passage, Jesus gives us an interesting way to think about His love and our love for Him. He says we are to “abide” in His love. That word in Greek is μεινατε (“meinate”), which is a command from the verb μένω (“menō”) which means to stay, to continue, to abide. It’s where we get our modern-day words “remain” and “mansion.” Jesus is telling us that when we come into the sphere of His love—i.e. when we accept His love by repentance and belief in Him as Savior—then we are to STAY THERE. It’s not a place we are ever meant to leave…and yet so many do.

Jesus even tells us HOW to remain in His love, how to dwell there, how to abide there:

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

We stay in Jesus’ love by keeping His commandments—and, by extension, the commandments of the Father, which Jesus Himself kept. Jesus told us that all the law and the prophets hang (depend) on two commandments: love God with all our heart and mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:36-40) If we truly love God, then His law becomes our law, what offends Him offends us, and whom He loves we love–which is to say, everyone. God’s love is so great that when we were His enemies, He still sent His Son to die for us. (Romans 5:8-10) As Jesus goes on to say after the verses above:

John 15:12-14

“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”

How DID Jesus love us? He circled YES on our note with His blood when He gave His life to take away our sins! He took our imperfections, our iniquities, our rebellion, our SIN upon Himself, and He nailed it to the cross forever more. And now that He has done that, He expects us to stay, remain, abide where His love has gotten us! Just as He selflessly and sinlessly followed the Father’s commandments and even died for us, so, too, are we to adhere to God’s commandments and also selflessly love one another and be willing to die for each other. We are to change our lives forever, not just for a fortnight or until some whim of our hearts leads us astray.

Romans 12:1-2

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Jesus is not some middle-school crush. He is the greatest love of our lives. This is not meant to be some fleeting romance but a lifelong commitment to a changed life. Be renewed, be transformed, my friends! Now that Jesus has responded to us with a resounding YES, let us not return nor remain where we once were, but let us follow God’s commandments and abide in His love forever.

Precious Lord, dearest Father, help us always to remain in Your love. Guide us in the way everlasting, that we might always be Your sons and daughters. Amen.

© 2014 Glenn A. Pettit

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The bond of perfection

Colossians 3:12-15

12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.

14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.

15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

On a day like today—which happens to be the anniversary of my marriage—it’s easy to focus on love. Pretty much all I could think about from the moment my wife’s alarm went off this morning was how much I love her and how special was that day four years ago when we met face-to-face at the Bible study I was leading. We had actually spoken a few times on the phone in the few days before, having been introduced to each other by a mutual friend. But that morning when she followed through on my invitation to come to the study—well, that was the clincher. That morning, she showed she loved Christ as well as being interested in me, and that made me even more interested in her. The fact that she is beautiful was just icing on the cake, so to speak.

So, for the two of us, love is the theme of the day today. But as I meditate on love, I cannot help but think about how love isn’t supposed to be a once-a-year thing. In our lives, my beloved wife and I don’t make a big deal of Valentine’s Day, because for us every day is a day to show our love. Love is a full-on, everyday, natural thing. It is, as Paul says in today’s passage, the “bond of perfection.”

But look at how Paul sets up that description. Echoing his passage on the fruit of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians, Paul says we are to “put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another.” And we are to do this not just because it is a good idea and makes for a more civil society. We are to do this because in so doing we imitate Christ who forgave us.

Our whole goal as believers is not to be ourselves anymore but to become more like Jesus Christ, our sinless Lord who died for our sins. Jesus died for us because He loves us, and that is the ultimate expression of love. How then can we who claim to love God and follow Him do any less? How can we be allow “fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5) to remain in our lives and still claim to be in Christ? How can we let “anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language” (Col 3:8) be part of our everyday behavior when we know that Christ went to the Cross for us?

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus spoke the simplest treatise on godliness: Love God first, and love your neighbor as yourself. What He said next is the part that people often forget: “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:40) What he was saying to the Jewish lawyer was that for all your searching through Scripture for the most important laws—i.e. the ones to which you must most closely obey—you will be lost if you don’t love God and others, because all the laws that God has laid down for us depend on our love for Him. Without loving God, it is impossible to obey God and fulfill the law.

Which brings us back to Paul’s letter to the Colossians…

Paul’s concern was that the Colossians were being led astray by someone preaching something other than the gospel Paul himself had originally preached. Someone was telling them they needed to adhere to Jewish laws and customs—that certain foods were forbidden, that certain people were not worthy of their fellowship, that their way to God was through works rather than the blood of Christ. So Paul wrote to them that it is ALL about Christ and what He has already done for us. We are to lay aside the backbiting and prejudices of our past life and instead focus on the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And so his letter leads up to this beautiful passage before us today, where Paul reminds them that love for God is what makes them complete. In God’s eyes, there is “neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Col 3:11) Knowing that Christ is all that we believers should concern ourselves with, and that He is in us if we believe, how then ought we to live?

“But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.”

Paul speaks not of erotic love (Greek eros) nor even of brotherly love (Greek philos), but of Godly love (Greek agape). It is love for God that is the “bond of perfection”, the bond of completeness. It is love for God that brings people together and that gives them that Christlike ability to forgive, to have mercy, to show grace, to be humble, kind, and meek. And it is love for God that must be the center of our love for one another. The apostle John agreed with Paul:

1 John 4:19-21

19 We love Him because He first loved us.

20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?

21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

And so today, as I reflect upon the love I have for my beautiful wife Teresa, I remember that it was and is our love for God that binds us together so perfectly. It was our love for God that our friend saw in us before she introduced us. It was our love for God that we discussed in several long phone calls before we ever laid eyes on one another. It was our love for God that drew us to the same place four years ago today. And it is our love for God that keeps us loving each other. Yes, we have our ups and downs like any couple, but through it all we know we must be merciful and forgiving, just as Christ was with us. Bound together in love for God, the peace of God (generally) rules in our hearts. Together, we are being perfected into the image of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen and amen.

Heavenly Father, I cannot thank you enough for my beloved wife and the life we share. Through trials and storms, through joys and celebration, You are the center and peace of our lives. We rejoice in Your mercy, Lord, and humbly ask that You continue to guide us and perfect us. Help us, Lord God, to serve and obey You better all the days of our lives. Amen.

© 2014 Glenn A. Pettit

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As I ought to speak

Ephesians 6:17-20
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—19 and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

I sometimes wonder about the prayers people offer up or ask for themselves. I am reminded of all the furor several years ago around a book that touted the “prayer of Jabez” as the key to personal prosperity and generally getting what we want from God. This is exactly ALL that we know about Jabez:


1 Chronicles 4:9-10
9 Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.”
10 And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.

Seriously, that’s all we know about Jabez: he was more honorable than his brothers, and he asked the Lord to bless him, enlarge his territory, and keep him from evil—in his prayer, apparently that meant not hurting others. Nice prayer, but not much to go on. That’s not to say we shouldn’t pray for similar things—you know, to be blessed and not sin. But is that really all we want from this life? How about doing more for others, not just avoiding hurting them? How about glorifying God in all we do? How about…? I could go on and on, but I think you see that while I am glad Jabez got what he requested, it seems to me he aimed a little low.

Anyway, I still wonder about the things people pray for themselves. Do we seek honor or prosperity for ourselves? Do we seek to keep from hurting others? Do we seek peace in our family? Do we seek healing for ourselves or others?

I love intercessory prayers, but the kind of prayer Paul asks from the Ephesians for himself is a bit different that our typical intercession. And this is not the only place he asks for such prayers.


Colossians 4:2-4
2 Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; 3 meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, 4 that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.

Same prayer, different day. And what is that prayer? That God would embolden him and open doors for him to speak the gospel boldly, “as I ought to speak.”

Think about that for a moment. As Paul reminds both the Ephesians and the Colossians, he is in chains already for being so bold as to speak the gospel, and yet Paul wants MORE boldness! Really?!? Why would Paul ask that?

Because, for all he had already done, Paul knew there was still much to do. For all that he had accomplished for the kingdom of God, in his heart of hearts he still burned to do more for his Lord and Savior. It’s not that Paul felt like he HAD to do more, that all his work would somehow buy him some special place in heaven. It’s just that he knew the Great Commission could not be fulfilled without one key thing: the power of God enabling the apostles and evangelists going into the world.


Matthew 28:18-20
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

All authority had been given to Jesus, and He passed on to the apostles the authority to make disciples in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Without that authority, without the power given by the presence of the Holy Spirit, there would be no adding to the kingdom of God.

So Paul asks people not for good health or wealth or fame. He doesn’t ask for a closer relationship with his Lord, nor even for spiritual insight. Interestingly, he doesn’t ask that any particular group of people suddenly accept the Lord. He simply asks for the courage and opportunity to make Jesus known to the world.

Note that Paul asks for the boldness to speak “as I ought to speak” and for the opportunity to speak “as I ought to speak.” In some translations, Paul asks to speak as he is required to speak. Paul feels like he hasn’t been bold enough up to now, that he hasn’t had all the opportunities to make the gospel manifest to everyone. He knows that the job isn’t yet finished. The Lord had chosen Paul specifically “to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) So Paul had a long way to go yet, and he knew that only the Lord could enable him to finish the work set before him.

In short, Paul asks that the Lord grant him to be all that the Lord has asked Him to be already, the apostle to the Gentiles and far-flung Jews of the world. Paul asked for others to lift him and his fellow workers up in prayer so that they could keep doing what they had been doing all along, preaching the gospel to all creatures.

Is that our own prayer for ourselves? In the midst of our intercession for friends and family, as we pray for our nation and our leaders, as we lift up our communities and our jobs, do we pray that God would use us to bring the gospel to the world?

I don’t know about you, but as I read these verses today, I was convicted. I realized I wasn’t using my voice as effectively as I might for Christ—certainly not in the way He has called me to do. Certainly, God does not call all of us to be apostles like Paul or Peter, nor does He call all of us to be great evangelists, but He does call us to this:


1 Peter 2:11-12
11 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Will people see the gospel in you and the things you say, so that when Jesus returns they will glorify God? Will you speak as you ought to speak—i.e. sharing the gospel in word and deed?

As disciples of Christ, it is incumbent upon us to speak boldly for Jesus, to make Him known to this fallen world. Let us never be satisfied that we have done enough, but let us always seek more for Him. Let that be our prayer now and always, that the Lord will provide us with more boldness and more opportunities to speak His gospel as we ought to speak, and through the gospel to bring more to salvation.

Heavenly Father, I thank You that You have given us Your Word to speak. Like Moses, so often I feel like I cannot speak clearly enough to glorify You and accomplish Your will, and yet time and again I find Your Word upon my lips. Lord God, embolden me every day, open doors for me always, so that I may make the name of Jesus known to any and all. May Your Spirit help me to speak the gospel as I ought to speak, forever to Your glory and praise. Amen.

 

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Barbarians and Fools

Romans 1:13-15 ESV
13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.
14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.
15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Have you ever told a joke about something you really know a lot about, and had it fall flat when telling that same joke to people who don’t know much about such things? Being the gadget geek that I am, I can joke with my peers using technical jargon and such, and I can be sure they get the joke. When I am around my kids, we can chuckle over references to TV shows we watch together, and I know they’ll get it. With my pastor and others in my Bible study, we can get a chuckle or two from sly references to the Gospels or Moses or whatever is in the Bible. It reminds me of an article I read thirty years ago about an anthropologist who was trying to retell the story of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” to a tribe in the African bush country. He got in trouble right away because the tribe’s belief system didn’t allow for ghosts in the sense we normally think of them. By the time he was finished trying to shoehorn Hamlet into the local language, the tribal elders looked at him and said, “You need to go home and learn the story again. You plainly got some things wrong.” Whether it’s a joke or Shakespeare, it’s the language and culture that make the difference about whether or not people “get it.”

But the same is not true of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news of salvation through Christ is for everyone, and it is something that can and should be told in every language and culture on earth.

In his letter to those early believers in Rome, Paul tells them he has been wanting to visit them for a long time. For the previous couple of decades, Paul has wandered the eastern Mediterranean Sea—through Asia Minor, Greece, Macedonia, Cyprus, Syria, and Judea—preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has made return visits to places like Philippi, Corinth, and Antioch, and he has already started writing epistles to some of those churches, to build and encourage them as they grow in this new faith. But Paul’s calling is to be the apostle to the Gentiles—i.e. those who are not Jews, which is pretty much everyone outside of Judea—and in that role he has set his sights on Rome and even Spain. That’s a pretty bold goal for someone who is mostly travelling on foot and occasionally by coast-hugging boats. But Paul knows that Jesus was quite serious when He said about him “he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) And so go he must, travelling all the known world speaking the name of Jesus Christ his Lord and Savior.

This is why, in our verse above, Paul speaks about wanting so much to see the believers in Rome. Paul had travelled a lot, and his own disciples had continued on in many of the places where he had established churches, but none of the Apostles had yet made it to Rome itself. We may ask, “Well, why didn’t Jesus Himself just start in Rome, thus bringing the whole Empire into the fold?” That’s a nice idea, but as Paul himself reiterates here, the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16) The promise of salvation was spoken to Abraham and later to Israel and then the Jews, and so the gospel started in Jerusalem because that is where the Jews were, and then it spread as it did because faithful disciples preached the gospel to the ends of the earth. Paul’s desire is to visit Rome and share the gospel in deeper fellowship with the Roman believers, bearing fruit with them just as he had already started in other churches across the Mediterranean.

Looking at verses 13 and 14 above, we can see that Paul doesn’t want to visit Rome to speak to believing Jews—some of whom may have been among that crowd on Pentecost years before when so many Jews visiting Jerusalem were saved. Paul’s goal is to include everyone in his evangelism. Note how Paul says that his obligation—i.e. his commission to preach the gospel—includes both Greeks and barbarians, the wise and the foolish. In our modern culture, we think of barbarians as being savage people with primitive ways and questionable morals. There is no clear etymology for the Greek word “barbaros”, but from the context used in other writings before and after Paul, the meaning is clearly “someone who doesn’t speak Greek.” So in Paul’s time, calling someone a barbarian simply meant he or she was someone who didn’t speak your common language. Paul is not talking about savages, he’s talking about people of other cultures and languages. He’s talking about people who might not “get it” if he recites a joke from a Greek play, but people who most certainly WILL understand when he speaks of sin and salvation.


Acts 2:4-11 ESV
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language.
And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians–we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

After being in Jerusalem in those early days, knowing how the Holy Spirit empowers us to speak in languages not our own, reaching people who come from different places and even cultures, Paul could easily include both Greeks (whose language he already knew) and non-Greeks (whose languages he did not know). Paul didn’t worry about HOW he would address the very cosmopolitan populace of Rome, only that he wanted the chance to get there and do so.

Paul also singles out the “wise and the foolish.” As in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is speaking of those who know—or THINK they know—about God and the world, and also those whose cultures are so different, they seem like unthinking beasts. Paul uses two very different words here. We translate “sophos” as “wise”, and that is the way the word has worked its way into the English language in words like philosophy, sophisticated, and sophistry. But the word translated as “foolish” is “anoetoi”, which literally means the “un-thinking ones.” The one time Jesus uses that word, it is when he calls the two men on the road to Emmaus fools for being slow of heart to believe that He had indeed risen from the dead. (Luke 24:25) He is basically saying they were foolish to trust only what they heard from others or had seen themselves and not trust what they knew in their spirit and from His own teachings. And what did they not know, not think about?


Luke 24:25-27 ESV
And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Jesus then TAUGHT the “foolish ones”, the ones who had seen and not believed, the ones who had heard and still were skeptical, the ones who’d had the evidence in front of them the whole time and yet had not thought about it.

Paul is telling the Roman believers that he is obligated to share the gospel with those who speak his same language and those who don’t, those who know the Scriptures and those who don’t, those who think they know everything and those who haven’t got a clue, those who are believers already and need encouragement and those who do not believe yet. In short, the gospel message is for EVERYONE.

As we consider this passage today, we need to ask ourselves “Who are the barbarians and fools in my life?” Who are the ones who may not speak my language or come from my same background, but who still need to hear the message of Jesus Christ? Who are the ones who haven’t even given much thought to salvation and eternity because they have been too caught up in the worries and pains of this world? Who are the ones who have ignored Christ or never been exposed to Him as WE have? We must all remember that somewhere along our own ways, someone spoke the gospel to us—perhaps just once, perhaps repeatedly over a number of years. (Thanks, Mom!) SOMEONE preached the good news to us.


Romans 10:14-15 ESV
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

We are ALL obligated to speak the name of Jesus Christ to ALL humanity, not just to the ones we think might “get it.” Honestly, we cannot know whether or not someone will understand until we have spoken to them. They cannot say “Yes” or “No” if you never give them the chance!

Our commission is to make disciples of all nations, to preach the gospel to all creation. So let’s get out there and preach the gospel to those barbarians and fools in Christ’s name!

Amen.

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A church remembered

It’s strange to be cleaning out a church building. I don’t mean just cleaning up a church, but actually cleaning out a building preparatory to selling it. And of all the people still attending that church, I probably have the deepest (although not the longest) history there. There is the spot where a fellow named Maurice first welcomed me to that little church body who had bought a rundown restaurant to make their own. There are the lovely glass-paned doors that Maurice made for our sanctuary before he went home to the Lord. There is the spot where I wept on Pastor Paul’s shoulder as I gave my heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. I stood on that stage-cum-altar for two of my own weddings, and for the funeral that came between them. There is the spot where I proposed to my new wife one Easter Sunday. I preached and worshiped in this place. I took my first baby steps at leading a Bible study in that fellowship room. Oh, how wonderful were those fires we lit in the fireplace there! We broke bread and had worship concerts there. We gave our hearts to ministry and experienced the joy of the Lord there. Sure it was an old, moldy, dusty hulk of a building, but we replaced the windows, rebuilt the stage, and expanded the old dining room to accommodate our flock. And now we have moved nearly everything out. Were it just a tad bigger, you’d hear echoes there.

But a church is not now nor has it ever been a building. Our church is the body of people now sitting in a rec center on Sunday mornings. It’s the faithful kids meeting at our youth group. It’s the handful who attend a weekly Bible study, and the larger group that gather at our Pastor’s home for worship two Fridays a month. The church is the men who faithfully lead us in worship as they continue to work full-time jobs and also work on their first full album together. The church is the people continuing together in fellowship and worship, a group continuing in the teaching of the apostles, a group who regularly greet each other with hugs and handshakes and blessings.

I said a prayer as I left that old building today. I knew I might not ever come back there except for one final cleanup, but I remembered something that happened my first Sunday there. After weeping through a service that made me realize how hungry I was for God’s mercy and love, the Pastor asked me, “So do you think you’ll be back next week?” And I replied, “You couldn’t tear me away!” That was eight years ago. I may be leaving a building behind, but nothing could tear me away from God’s church which I found there. My prayer is that there will always be more people who fondly remember their first time in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, and who grow in the Lord as I have grown. I pray those folks come to know Jesus in profound ways that lead them to share the gospel just as a loving shepherd once shared it with me in a rundown old restaurant outside of town.

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