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In 2012, my church held the first community cell meeting in my area of residence. It was titled ‘back to basics’. I remember the advert in the church weekly bulletin had pictures of legos. Now, when I think of community and fellowship- especially among professing Christians, I think of a lego. Not because of that advert but because when you really think about it, a lego is an ideal symbol of why we need community.
Lots of research prove to us that socialising with others is a primal instinct. We naturally gravitate towards people- especially people with whom we share similar attributes. I was initially going to state the previous line as ‘…similar (positive) attributes, but community is not restricted to ‘good people’ only. Infact, the heavy need for fellowship and relationships among humans is further explained by the fact that even the ‘tough, I-don’t-care’ teenagers have their own hood. Here in Nigeria, almost every profession- from medical science to carpentry, commercial barbeque (locally called suya) and plumbing- has an association. They also have local meetings in the smallest units possible. All over the world, drug dealers and users have gangs and even commercial sex workers have friends within their industry. It is innate for human beings to seek to connect with someone else on a level that is deeper than the shallow ‘hi-hi’ that pervades modern day relationships with neighbours and co-workers.
BARNABAS THE ENCOURAGER.
Yesterday, out of the blues, my little sister said to me, “have you discovered your own purpose?” That unexpected question led us into a discussion about vision and purpose. She confided that while she was yet to discover hers (she’s waiting for God to give her one that has a verse of scripture to back it up J), one of her friend has found hers: to encourage people. I was somewhat surprised but I just said “it is ok.”
Now that I think about it, it is not just ok, it is wonderful! What is more wonderful is that my sister’s friend is not the only one who has been called to that purpose, we all have been. Hebrews 3:13 tells us to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today”.
In relating with people, we learn to look beyond the smiles to what is really going on with them. The bottom-line is people are hurting. Really bad. In ways we can’t even imagine. When they take off the mask, you would be surprised with what you find. Sometimes, a good word will help to lift their spirits without your knowing it.
Although familiarity and routine may make us forget the true purpose of fellowshipping together but standing on the balcony will help us remember. It is as simple as ABC: affirm, bless and correct (in love). I will talk more about the ABC of Christian community in the next post.
In all, we ought to encourage one another; to not give up. To keep the faith in our Lord Jesus. To hold on to God’s promises of respite and salvation. This is not only as regards our relationship with Jesus but it also cuts across all areas of life. The ‘well nourished’ lady who is trying to lose some weight needs to be affirmed; “her formerly non-existent waist is meekly emerging- great job!” The unemployed man who is trying to get a job and provide for his family needs to be encouraged not gossiped about and put down. The matured single lady who is hoping to get married needs to be affirmed and encouraged; she is beautiful and God is blessing her career.
A good dose of sincere encouragement can’t hurt anyone. People need to be affirmed. There are some people who make a conscious effort to reach out with words of grace to people around them. Barnabas was one of such people- and he even got his mention in the Bible for that attitude. They called him Barnabas the encourager.
WHY PEOPLE AVOID CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
Gossip. Betrayal. Hurtful criticisms. Unkind words. Put downs. These are things you sometimes find within Christian community and fellowships. A friend and I were discussing about ‘bad girls’ we knew in college. After swapping our repertoire of their loose living and all the ungodly things we could remember about them (forget that we were gossiping), we still had this to say “those girls had good hearts. They were friendlier, warmer and more forgiving. My friend told me “they let go of things more than you and I”. Unfortunately, she was right. Someone said that “one of the great tragedies of our time is that there are so few kind people around”.
I have come to take it for granted that in relating with people, we get hurt. The average adult knows that. But in relating with professing Christians, we have higher expectations. That is why it hurts more. We often expect that we are dealing with people who are dealing with Christ, the best friend any one can have so we expect his siblings not to hurt us. I digress a little but it always amazes me how Jesus is the friend of millions and yet is able to custom-fit His friendship with you and I such that we think He is our friend only. We share Him with no one else. How does He do that?
A post on sermonnotebook.com includes this: “there are plenty of mean-spirited, hateful people, but there are very few who just take the time to be kind as a lifestyle. Yet, I believe that this is how every child of God ought to be, Eph. 4:32; Eph. 4:2; 1 Cor. 16:14! Let’s be honest, many people are opinionated, self-centred, rude and sometimes, just plain mean in our dealings with others. This ought not to be, especially among saved people! I believe that the Lord would have us to practice a ministry of encouragement as we pass through this world”.
Do we get out of fellowship because we’ve been hurt? Emphatic NO! Quoting Margaret Feinberg’s Wonderstruck: Awaken to the Nearness of God, a recent post on christianitytoday.com states that “the temptation to live a guarded life allures everyone, but walls constructed for protection ultimately lead to isolation. When we develop healthy boundaries and a sustainable rhythm in life, we have more—not less—time for deep, meaningful relationships.
Receiving the life God has for you requires vulnerability. God wants you to build a life without walls—one in which he is your protection—allowing you to live with arms wide open, where you can know and be fully known. Such a place doesn't exist without moments of hurt, rejection, and misunderstanding, but in this posture, you lay hold of the wonder of friendship God intended all along”.
She pretty much said it all. We stay in community-even if we have been bruised. Or perhaps, especially if we have been bruised. Since we know from experience what can hurt and how bad it does, we are better equipped to serve and nurture members of the community in which we find ourselves. I remember this from an experience in college. After two years of getting some not so nice treatment from people in my fellowship; I became sensitive to the needs of others, especially the jambites and DE students- the folks Americans call freshmen and sophomores. Thankfully, I was of service to some of them and I am eternally grateful for that opportunity. Some of them think it means I’m a great guy but it only meant that Jesus took nasty stuff and made it nice.
Let’s not abandon the community of fellow believers. Those ‘nasty’ people are also seeking to grow in faith you know (I hope). Let us encourage one another. Affirm one another. In church and out of church. It is as simple as ABC- affirm, bless, correct (in love). Let’s build up one another; after all, we are all spiritual legos.