Never was a place more awkward, and at the same time, so glorious.
Hi everyone, this post is my light adaptation of a message given by Corey Fronk,
a preacher at Grandview Christian Assembly.
When I was little, my mom laid out some photographs and asked me if I would like the kids pictured in them to become a part of our family. I was excited to have four more people to play with (I only had six siblings at the time). For the most part, we kids were oblivious to the bigger picture—that our parents had hatched a plan of adoption, had prayed, discussed, met, and budgeted. Nor was it only a focus on how to get our new siblings out of a bad situation. After all, it wouldn’t have made sense to rescue these kids, and then leave them on a corner with a wad of cash—Okay, you’re free now. Enjoy your life!
Getting them out was essential, but getting them into our family was the goal. And once in, they were expected to act as members of this new family. My parents treated them exactly like they treated the rest of us. They got just as much discipline, and just as many rewards as the other members of the Fronk family. In fact, we were expected to treat these new siblings as genuine brothers and sisters.
There’s a tendency today to think about our salvation along radically individual lines–God looked out over the world, saw me overwhelmed in corruption, on the path to to death and destruction and hell, and He had compassion on me and lifted me out of it. Now that I’m out, He tells me, Okay, you’re free. Enjoy your life!
A lot of the Bible is missing from that description. If all God can do is get us out of something and send us on our individual ways, the other fifty percent of the gospel is missing.
Actually God’s plan is much bigger than a hyper-focus on individuals escaping unpleasant circumstances. It’s about creating a people, and placing us among them. The Bible talks about this in Colossians 1:11 where Paul prays that “you may you be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”
Take a look at some of the components in the verse. There’s the inheritance God the Father has qualified you to share. It’s not something we deserve or could ever earn. In order to access the riches of this inheritance, this tremendous blessing, God qualified us, approved us, through the death of His Son. Now we partake of it “with the saints in light.” That is, we share it with those who have believed in Jesus.
In order to get in, though, we had to get out.
1:13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.
One “benefit” of darkness, was that we could hide. No one ever really saw us, and we didn’t really see anybody. We didn’t even see ourselves. All we had was external—the face we hid behind, our resumes, basically the image we built for ourselves.
Only in a community of light could we ever hope to see the real situation. It’s a cringe and a cheer all at the same time. The light that comes from being together will expose those areas of us that are sinful, corrupted, and in rebellion against God, but it will also illuminate the glory of the work God is doing in each of us.
Verse 18 says, Christ is the head of the body, the church. That means we’re not a collection of free agents at a get-together, but in a bond so close we are like members of a body. And in verse 21, “you who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”
Alienation and hostility were what we felt toward God and others until God the Father reconciled us to Him, and now we stand not as isolated individuals before Him, but as members of His Son. The intention is that we would obviously be close, and connected. In that setting, this body would become a staging place where God works in us, until we are blameless and above reproach.
I got my first taste of this bigger plan about twelve years ago, when I first started college at Ohio State. For the previous four years when I was in high school, I went to church whenever I wanted (which was almost never). When I got to OSU, in short order I was invited to a Christian retreat, which sounded cool, because it was a bunch of other college students going out to a huge country house, where there would be food, and games, and hanging out.
Everything was going well, when all of a sudden the ‘Christian’ part of ‘Christian retreat’ became obvious. Things started happening I hadn’t really signed up for. We all stood in a circle and started singing (and, gasp, looking at each other!), and if that weren’t awkward enough, a guy encouraged us to sing louder. Later, a preacher showed up and talked about Matthew 28, and something called the Great Commission, which I couldn’t make heads or tails of. One of the other college students though, got excited, hopped up, and encouraged the rest of us to share our faith with our classmates and our friends (which I wasn’t crazy about). People were trying to get me to contribute my thoughts on some Bible verses (which I also wasn’t crazy about doing), and to pray out loud (seriously not crazy about this one, either). And finally, strangers at the retreat came up and started talking to me (“No” to that one, too).
And so it went–singing, sharing, meeting people, encouragement, and being on mission with Christ. Then before I knew it, all the stuff I hadn’t liked was over, and I was driving home. And I was missing all of it. My feelings were hard for me to understand. After all, my spiritual condition had been exposed while in that little community of light. It had been awkward, and a bit humiliating. But the glory I had seen made me want to go back and do it all over again. I believe God made a lasting impression on me to show me that as a Christian, that’s where I belonged—with other believers, sharing a portion of the saints in light.
So I started going to church. As time went by, I kept showing up. Now I’m in the pulpit. Well, funny things happen when you keep showing up. The most natural thing we could ever do, is to gather every week. Church attendance and involvement is according to the true nature of the work God has done in us. He saved us out of where we were, approved us in Christ, and granted us an inheritance, jointly held.
My encouragement to you: Live in the light of these communal riches, and show up. See others as they truly are in Christ. No, it’s not always easy to keep coming week after week, Sunday after Sunday, and interacting with people. It can be a struggle at times. I think it’s helpful to see in Paul’s example when, after laying out this grand vision of the church, he says in verse 24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body that is the church.” It’s as though he were saying, “I’m happy to be inconvenienced if it means I can help, or I can participate in the work God is doing in you and among you.”
In verses 28-29, he goes on to say, “Him [Christ] we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we make present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works Within Me.” His ministry, as detailed here, squares with what God did in Christ, back in verses 20-22, where God reconciles us then works to present us holy and blameless and above reproach.
God’s work became Paul’s work and wherever the apostle showed up, that quickly became apparent. Paul would go to cities to announce Christ, and whoever responded, even if they were only a handful of people, he would encourage to start meeting together on a regular basis where they would read the Bible together and break bread and pray. This wasn’t some kind of organizational afterthought. Our meetings conform to the invisible work that God has accomplished in Christ. Paul knew these people had received a shared inheritance that could only be realized together.
Nor are there any substitutes. A big difference exists between being physically together, and trying to have a distance relationship. Physical proximity really means something, regardless of how much texting or talking tries to take its place. We had a standing joke in college about what happens when a guy gets a long-distance girlfriend. Even if we had been hanging out every weekend with pizza, games, and other dude stuff, when one of us got interested in somebody living out-of-town, the rest of us would say, “Well, it was nice knowing him.” We all knew phone calls and video chats weren’t going to do. That guy was going to chug Red Bulls and make a lot of long drives, struggling, toiling, and suffering just to be physically present with her for a couple of hours.
That’s why only appearing every now and then in public gatherings will leave us feeling as though we only got half a gospel. But when we struggle to emerge from our social isolation on a regular basis, to look one another in the eye, it allows the big picture to materialize.