23 January, 2008

The Lone Ranger

Does everyone need the church? Is it a sin to "be a lone ranger," as is popularly asserted? Will you automatically fall into sin and be discouraged and ultimately fall away from the Lord if you forsake assembling yourself with other believers?

Of course not.

Christians have served the Lord alone for generations and generations, whether by choice or by force. Some are uniquely suited for going it alone as believers, and others find refreshment and survive in spite of their weaknesses. In fact, I can point you to dozens of believers who are making it on their own right now. You know them yourself. The next time you sit down in your church to hear your pastor preach, take a look around. Many, maybe most of the people on whom your eyes fall are going it alone as believers.

So very many of the people who attend our churches are doing just that, attending churches. Their lives are as heavy as yours. They come to church every Sunday faithfully praising God and receiving the teaching of the Word and the elements of worship. They ask after everyone and hear everyone at church is doing fine, and they tell everyone they're doing fine, too. They could hardly be more alone.

Maybe you could hardly be more alone?

The international science community has finally figured out what Solomon told us years ago. The primary indicator of happiness is relationships. The more high-quality relationships we have, the happier we are. It could hardly be simpler. Wealth, comfort, knowledge, recreation, luxury? They all take a back seat to relationships. If we love some people deeply, and know we are loved in return, the rest settles out happily for us.

Ecc 4:9 - 12
Two [are] better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him [that is] alone when he falleth; for [he hath] not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm [alone]? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

God made us this way. It's a matter of depending on one another. We feel valued when we know someone cares for us, and we feel valuable when we know someone is depending on us.

Let's look at two people, Joe, who attends church and Jane, who is a real part of that same church.

Joe attends every week, sings from the heart, worships with passion, and receives the sermon with great hope and attention. He always greets some brothers and sisters, and knows a number of the members by name. If he missed church even one week, he would miss out on one of the anchor points of his life, and he would feel ill equipped to face some of the things that are weighing down on him right now. Joe attends every week to have an affirming experience with God, and without that blessing he begins to feel distant from Christ.

Jane also attends every week. She visits two older ladies every week, and brings them tea and cookies. While she's there, she tells them about her children and the problems she's having with her husband. They don't always have answers, or even ideas, but every Sunday they ask how the family is doing. She also checks in every Sunday on a couple of the teens that she used to babysit when they were just kids. Once last year, when one of them got dumped by her guy, Jane got to take her out for an ice cream. She keeps checking, but everything's pretty much OK these days. She trades babysitting for date nights with a couple of the other young marrieds in the church, and does her turn in the nursery every couple months.

Some day, life will crush both of these people. Life does that. It never goes like the commercials say it will. When that day comes, both these people will run to the Lord. Both will know that only He loves them and cares for their every need. But Jane will be able to rest in the prayers of her brothers and sisters. She will be comforted by the love of God through the church. Joe may or may not "break down" and decide to tell his problem to someone, but if he does, it will be hard. It will be like telling his problems to a stranger. It's always like that the first time, but if he makes it through, having a real brother will be a source of strength for him for the rest of his life.

There's a more important way to look at Joe and Jane, though. Whenever life crushes any of Jane's brothers and sisters, she'll know about it and she'll be able to help. Because she is close with a half-dozen people, she'll hear about it when anyone in the church is having a hard time. She'll be able to add her support to the church's love. Sometimes she'll be able to help directly, and sometimes she'll be able to pray. She'll always be able to avoid laying a burden on the burdened. She'll know with whom to rejoice and with whom to weep, and she'll join the whole church in praying the Lord will break through and rescue one of His own. Joe will never hear anything but that everyone is fine, and he'll be the poorer for it.

So test yourself in this way. If, so far as you know, most people in the church are doing fine, you are just attending. If no one in the church knows the thing that is eating at your heart, you are just attending. If no one in the church looks forward to receiving some gift of your time and love, you are just attending.

We don't all need the same kind of help, but we all need each other. We're all so very, very different, but in this we are alike. We need one another, and every one of us for a different reason. There is no sin in being the "lone ranger" Christian, but there is loss. The body loses because it lacks your gifts, and you lose because you lack anyone to receive them.

Paul tells us that we are like a body, each of us with different gifts. The foot rejoices in having 200 pounds come crushing down on it over and over all day long, while the eye can hardly bear a mote of dust. The hand might relish holding a thrashing fish, but the ear is soothed by a song. Some of us are strong while others are sensitive. Some are gregarious and others are thoughtful.

The body has a real need for every member's strengths.

If you're a nose, you need to be doing what noses do best - you need to be in the wind sniffing for rain, and savoring the aroma of good spiritual food, and rejecting the stench of meat (and advice) gone bad. You need to be inhaling the pleasant incense of the Son of God, and sharing with others in the body how good He is.

The foot with nothing to support is pointless. The hand with no mouth to feed, the eye with no heart to thrill at the sunset, the ear with no body to lead in a dance; these are all Christians with no brothers and sisters. We have strengths, and we need to pour them out on the Lord's children.

If you would please the Lord, and be happy yourself, join a good church now - maybe even the one you attend!

PS: I've been working on this post for 2 weeks. I could not find the feel, the place to put my lever, the picture that made it all come together for me. Well, I finally found it. Phew. Then I read a post somewhere out there that put some stuff into words for me. I sat down and had to finish it, even though I felt bad. I posted it without linking back to the post that really is represented here.

The blessing post was one that emphasized that people can sit in pews and be pursuing a very personal journey, rather than a corporate one. I thought it was Beyond Words, but it might have been Eclexia. They had some good conversation (along with several others) going in this post right here.

I'm sure I'll find it tomorrow at a glance, but today has not been one of those days. Today I spent 4 hours troubleshooting a problem because I transposed a 2 and a 3. I was working away on server #237, wondering why nothing was quite right. I was supposed to be working on #327. I'm blaming it on the 95* anti-fever I was running. (It seems to be letting go. Phew. I'm looking forward to getting my brain back.)

Anyway, somehow I've read the appropriate posts and cannot find the thing the stirred me, and I have to get to bed. Rather than do nothing, I'll just link them both and hope they don't mind my bouncing off their great discussion and seeming to take credit for their thoughts. It was not intentional.

15 comments:

Milly said...

join a good church now - maybe even the one you attend!


That first step to doing that seems like a drop into the abyss for my heart. I’m working on it. Small steps to the edge. I do have a small group of folks who love me but I don’t open up to them.

Lynne said...

hmm .. not sure how to respond to this. By your reckoning I'd get 50%, ie it's a bit of a one way street. I'm working as a voluntary assistant pastor, there are several people who'd come straight to me when they're struggling (including the pastor). Some I've even had stay in my home. But when it comes to getting help for my problems, it's a whole 'nother ball game. I've learned the hard way that some sorts of issues people don't want to know about, or just want to keep in the too-hard basket, and other things I can't share because of the gossip factor (ie the people I would like to share with have a relationship already with the one who's causing the problem. And I'm cautious, I got very badly burned a few years ago when I shared some intimate personal issues with my then home church. At the moment I'm treating church as a place where I go to serve and give, but with very little expectation of getting much back except from God Himself. Not sure what the answer is -- thank heavens i have a close friend outside the church with whom I can really share my heart.
Oh, and BTW, we go to the church literally 2 minutes walk round the corner and have been there almost 9 years ..

codepoke said...

I'm still recovering from an illness, and I've been doing a horrible job of responding to comments here. I apologize to all. Still, I have a minute this morning, and I'll try to be productive.

codepoke said...

Milly,

And maybe not the one you attend. Only the Spirit grants wisdom, and only friends who know the situation can give wise counsel. The only question, though, is whether you should open up to friends at your current church or new friends in a new church. None of us can stand alone forever, and none of us can keep our worlds in order all the time.

May the Lord grant you wisdom.

codepoke said...

Lynne,

My heart goes out to pastors everywhere. It seems to be a part of the job description that you must be islands of strength, always rich and never in need. It's not even livable, much less fair.

Until we can redefine the pastorate, it seems wisest to confide mostly in people outside your church. It is a defeat to have to write that, and surely must be heartbreaking for you to know it, but I just don't think there's another answer. I'm sorry.

Journeyman said...

Codepoke
Thanks for that - it's probably the most challenging thing that I've read today.

Lynne
Thanks for sharing your situation too.

Missy said...

So your saying that the Lone Ranger still needs Tonto?

Sorry, Bro! This is good. Interesting that I remember a Lone Ranger post from you before, but maybe more pro-Lone Ranger? I hope one day change like that - and a love for my brothers and sisters in Christ - is that apparent in my life.

Kansas Bob said...

I received a bit of advice from a friend recently that basically advised me, in my current situation, to be around people that could encourage me and not around those that need to be discouraged. I didn't like hearing it but know that it is true for me in this season of my life. I consequently cancelled my home group.. really sad and hard to do.. because most (but not all) of that group consisted of needy people.. people that I loved to encourage but were somewht draining.

Netting all of this out I have to say that I think that.. maybe for leaders especially.. church can be a place where people give a lot but don't always receive. Finding a place of health sometimes requires us to lay down ministry.. not that it is easy.. old habits are hard to break.

Milly said...

Bob,
Sorry that you had to give those folks up but you do need to take care of yourself right now. I considered giving up the ministry I work for because right now I’m having enough trouble just taking care of the needs of my kids. But the support I’ve gotten from them has kept me going, even when I show up with tears.
I’m praying for you and Ann

codepoke said...

Yes, Missy. I think this is another growth area for me. I've always been a lone ranger, and am trying to coax myself into seeing why that defensive reaction is wrong. That's why the post took me two weeks to write. I cannot help but subconsciously write all posts about needing a "church" for "them."

Learning is good. Too bad it takes so long.

codepoke said...

KB, my heart goes out to you, both as a person as a holder of the role "pastor." The burden of pastor, and the way that role eats its own, is one of the reasons I still consider stopping my little daliance with churches in general.

You might consider the book, "Encouragement" by Crabb. He directly and honestly confronts the issue of how to continue to encourage when no one is encouraging you. His answer is not pleasant and not complete, but the thinking exercise might be of value to you.

I applaud your openness to counsel. Hang tough, brother.

Mike said...

This is a good post. It is about time we need move beyond attending and start connecting.

In many respects Church is a lonely place. I lead a small Christian community. Alomst every person used to attend big churches. They were surrounded by people but very alone.

This is my first visit. Nice to meet you.

I will link to this post from my blog

Missy said...

Kev, I hope you are feeling better. :)

I was reading a post today I thought you might have an interest in - it seemed in line with some of the things you've been discussing lately. Take a look

codepoke said...

Thanks, Mike. Nice to meet you, too. I admire the effort and direction you are taking. I know how hard it really is.

Praise the Lord that you're working to bring people to each other.

codepoke said...

Missy,

Thanks for the link. I've subscribed to 2 blogs in just one post. Wow! I just might learn something about this faith of ours someday. :-)

And yeah, I'm starting to feel better. I'm still running the low temp, but I had a pretty good night of tennis, and even played a strong set of singles. I must be getting a little stronger, anyway. :-)