Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
One of the great problems of our time is the number of people who feel isolated, lonely and without social contact, who stay locked up in their homes or units, day in and day out. They don’t venture out for fear of being attacked or robbed, or have no-one to talk to.
It’s a great tragedy that we have lost our sense of community. Do people care for one another any more? Unless you live in a small country town, chances are that no-one in your street keeps an eye out on the elderly. How lovely it is to hear stories of kind neighbours who have an arrangement with their elderly friends: Put your blinds up each morning as a sign that you’re OK. If not, I’ll ring to see if you’re OK. That’s real community spirit, isn’t it?
But unfortunately the opposite happens too often. The media has reported sad stories about elderly people living alone and found dead in their rooms, weeks, sometimes months, after their actual death. No-one noticed they were missing. I saw a headline that said, “Shyness hid death of widow”, as if that explained everything. Possibly the saddest of all was when the body of an elderly man was found in his bedsitter government housing unit, six months after he had died. Why didn’t someone notice? Did anyone take 60 seconds to knock on his door to see if he was alright? Apparently not.
In the old days, people used to have a chat across the back or side fence, chatting about all sorts of things. Some neighbourhoods even had parties where everyone was welcome—no more. Instead we have private parties with security guards to keep out gatecrashers. How sad that we have become so sophisticated that we have lost a sense of communities caring for people.
Why Church Is Important
That’s why the church is so important. Why do I say that? Sure, people don’t go to church like they used to and that’s a great shame. But great things happen in church when people come together. For the church is meant to be a place, a safe place, that fosters an environment where anyone can feel at home, with no strings attached. I like what American pastor and author Rick Warren said: “Loving churches grow and growing churches love”.
It’s true. Going to church should be a positive experience where you feel accepted, loved and valued as an individual, regardless of your age or background. It was back in the late 19th century that a Methodist minister named Nash gave these recognised words: “A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints”. I like that very much, because it’s correct. The church is meant for you and me to come together and worship a loving God who said ages ago in Genesis 2:18 (NKJV): “It is not good that man should be alone”. He wasn’t just referring to Adam, but to the whole generation who would follow him. People are made for connecting with others.
The church exists not only for its members, but for every person who walks past its door.
Dr Larry Crabb has written an excellent book called Encouragement: The Key to Caring. And he says:
The more I understand people and their needs, the more I am persuaded that God has uniquely designed the local church to respond to people’s needs. I am sorry to say the church has become a place that seeks to perpetuate itself.
That’s quite a criticism of the established church.
And those of us in the church need to reflect carefully on Dr Crabb’s words. The church exists not only for its members, but for every person who walks past its door. And our model is Jesus who spent a lot of time serving others and building relationships with them. Read the gospels and you’ll come across events that show his love and compassion in action. Jesus is our model, and the model for every church.
A Place of Caring and Acceptance
Because we have an inner longing to connect with others, we need meaningful relationships. And that’s where the church is so helpful—a place where people find that connection with caring and friendly people. What about the matter of accepting others unconditionally? How good are we at that? Romans 14:1(NIV) says, “Accept the one whose faith is weak without quarreling over disputable matters”. No-one is perfect, and we all make mistakes. Romans 15:7 (NIV) says, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”.
Sometimes we lose sight of that. A bunch of eight-year-olds were asked the question, What does love mean? And Jessica said, “If you don’t mean it don’t say, I love you; but if you do mean it, you’ve got to say it a lot of times because people forget.” People do forget that the most important thing about life is not who’s in charge but how we love and accept each other.
People forget that the most important thing in life is not how much money we get or how many locks we have on our doors or how we can face a rainy day. But what really matters, what really makes us secure, is knowing that we are loved and that the people who love us are committed to us. That’s what belonging to a Christian church is really all about.
It means being ready to serve others because Jesus did the same. The New Testament tells me serving is a good thing: we should serve others, not ourselves. Galatians 6:10 (NIV) says: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers”.