Today we hear from Anne Taylor Robertson--a soon-to-be member of City Church--on the importance of community in our commitment to grow towards Christ.
So that we may sing for joy until the end of our lives. --Psalm 90:14
I was born in Richmond, Virginia and grew up in Westover Hills and Bon Air. Many of my favorite memories of childhood were on or near the James River. We caught lightning bugs in our palms, made sailboats out of sticks and leaves in the creek, and watched the fireworks at the Carillon on the 4th of July from Riverside Drive. On the hot days of summer, we rock hopped in the river at Pony Pasture until the green leaves on the trees around us grew bright against the sky as it transformed to a dark gray storm. Surely our parents gathered everything quickly and hurried us out of the water and into the car, but my brother and sister and I--we were on the edge of life! Such excitement led to joy when we were together.
I grew up in the church and have attended many wonderful churches over the years, but I have never formally joined as a member of a congregation. Recently, I have been thinking about the purpose of church membership. Community is a buzzword in the church, but membership is not an imperative or substitute for salvation. At times, honestly, the idea of community was even a deterrent to me: Why do I need other people if this is about me and God? But Jesus did not lose interest in people after He came and went. Much of His time on Earth was spent with close friends with whom he walked, ate, laughed and cried, and argued. Our time alone with God is unquestionably fundamental to the growth of our spiritual lives, but when community is introduced, it blasts down the dangerous walls of isolation and we are able to see this part of God's purpose in salvation more clearly and vividly:
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord --Psalm 96:13
Within the small community of Jesus' disciples, there were some clear hardships: jealousy, anger, division, and even hurt. After the hard labor, though, they received the gifts of accountability, encouragement, friendship, loyalty, and peace. Their community was made of people from different socioeconomic brackets, different lifestyles and political convictions, different nations, and various interests and talents. Together, when they set their eyes on Jesus Christ and apprenticed themselves to Him, they reaped a taste of heaven in their community. Even more, the joy of their community faced outward and reached multitudes because Jesus was at the center of it.
As a child, my community was in my family (and it still is--it has just expanded). Today, it has extended to a church body where problems are confronted and encouragement is ripe; therefore growth happens. This is all with our eyes fixed on Christ and with the goal of running closer to Him.
Jesus was not welcomed back into His hometown of Nazareth and He was amazed (Mark 6). Nazareth has come and gone but there will soon be a new home for Jesus and all of His followers. Let us prepare to welcome Him there together, and we can sing for joy until the end of our lives. In community and/or a formal commitment to growing towards Christ together as the church, the Holy Spirit gives us this: “practice” for living in heaven, and a taste of its fruits even while we are here on Earth.
Celestial spirits enjoy communion with their Lord, and this is not denied to us; they rest in His love, and we have perfect peace in Him: they hymn His praise, and it is our privilege to bless Him too. We will this year gather celestial fruits on earthly ground, where faith and hope have made the desert like the garden of the Lord. Man did eat angels’ food of old, and why not now? O for grace to feed on Jesus. --Charles Spurgeon