Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you’ve got
Taking a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You wanna be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name
How many of you remember that song and the show it introduced – Cheers. Yeah, the show took place in a bar, but really it was about having a group of people who would rather be with each other than anybody else. They weren’t family, but they were more than friends. Think of what happened every time the character, Norm walked into the room. Every time he walked in, the folks in the room acknowledge him by calling his name. Who wouldn’t want to be included in a group of people who enjoyed your presence that much? Probably the last time you or I were greeted like that, was by our children when they were toddlers, right?
“An old Marine Corps buddy of mine, to my pleasant surprise, came to know Christ after he was discharged. I say surprise because he cursed loudly, fought hard, chased women, drank heavily, loved war and weapons, and hated chapel services.
“A number of months ago, I ran into this fellow, and after we’d talked awhile, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘You know, Chuck, the only thing I still miss is that old fellowship I used to have with all the guys down at the tavern. I remember how we used to sit around and let our hair down. I can’t find anything like that for Christians. I no longer have a place to admit my faults and talk about my battles–where somebody won’t preach at me and frown and quote me a verse.’
“It wasn’t one month later that in my reading I came across this profound paragraph: ‘The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit that there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give his church. It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality–but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets, and they usually don’t tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers. ‘With all my heart,’ this writer concludes, ‘I believe that Christ wants his church to be unshockable, a fellowship where people can come in and say, “I’m sunk, I’m beat, I’ve had it.” Alcoholics Anonymous has this quality–our churches too often miss it.’
“Now before you take up arms to shoot some wag that would compare your church to the corner bar, stop and ask yourself some tough questions, like I had to do. Make a list of some possible embarrassing situations people may not know how to handle.
“A woman discovers her husband is a practicing homosexual. Where in the church can she find help where she’s secure with her secret?
“Your mate talks about separation or divorce. To whom do you tell it?
“Your daughter is pregnant and she’s run away–for the third time. She’s no longer listening to you. Who do you tell that to?
“You lost your job, and it was your fault. You blew it, so there’s shame mixed with unemployment. Who do you tell that to?
“Financially, you were unwise, and you’re in deep trouble. Or a man’s wife is an alcoholic. Or something as horrible as getting back the biopsy from the surgeon, and it reveals cancer, and the prognosis isn’t good. Or you had an emotional breakdown. To whom do you tell it?
“We’re the only outfit I know that shoots its wounded. We can become the most severe, condemning, judgmental, guilt-giving people on the face of planet Earth, and we claim it’s in the name of Jesus Christ. And all the while, we don’t even know we’re doing it. That’s the pathetic part of it all.”
Does that hurt a little bit to read? It hurts me, when I think that sometimes, when we have problems, our church family is the last place we think to come for help because we’re afraid (1) that your secret will become the church gossip, and (2) that instead of a loving ear you’ll get a heavy dose of judgment and condemnation.
The book of Acts paints a very different picture of a church community.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47
A couple of sentences really stand out to me: “All believers were together …” and “Everyday they continued to meet together … They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.”
How many of us only see our church friends one time a week, at church on Sabbath? We say “hi,” we chat politely, and then we walk out of the church and don’t even think of them again until the next Sabbath? How many of us would admit that our connection with our church friends is probably the weakest connection of all our friends? How tragic is that?
I don’t have the answers. But what can we do to create a church environment that’s more like the Cheers environment – “Where everybody knows your name / And they’re always glad you came”
Lillianne Winegardner Lopez 10.26.2018
It’s no news flash that friends make us happy, but Meliksah Demir, Ph.D., a professor at Northern Arizona University, has drilled down to reveal exactly what about friendship warms our hearts. It turns out that companionship—simply doing things together—is the component of friendship that most makes us happy. And the reason friends make us happy, Demir has concluded, is that they make us feel that we matter.
Don’t let pride stop you from opening your home. Ignore the cat hair on the couch (or in the mac and cheese). It likely won’t kill anyone as decisively as loneliness will. Add as much water to the pot to stretch the soup. If you run out of food, make pancakes, and put the kids in charge of making that meal. See how much fun that is.
And know that someone is spared from another humiliating fall into internet pornography because he is instead walking with you and your kids and dogs, as you share the Lord’s Day, one model of how the Lord gives you daily grace and a way of escape. Know that someone is spared the fear and darkness of depression because she is needed at your house, always on the Lord’s Day, the day she is never alone, but instead safely in community, where her place at the table is needed and necessary and relied upon. Know that someone is drawn into Christ’s love because the Bible reading and psalm singing that come at the close of the meal include everyone, and that it reminds us that no one is scapegoated in this Christ-bearing community. Know that host and guest are equally precious and fragile, and that you will play both roles throughout the course of this life. The doors here open wide. They must.
…we must guard against ‘spiritual autoimmune disease,’ in which spiritual white cells see normal cells within the body as enemies and try to destroy them …
Is it possible for a human body to “bite and devour” healthy cells, destroying life? Absolutely. Sometimes white blood cells mistakenly attack healthy cells in the blood, causing disastrous results. The immune system fails to recognize components of the body as normal. It then creates autoantibodies that attack its own cells, tissues, or organs. This causes inflammation and damage, and it leads to autoimmune disorders. For example, autoimmune hemolytic anemia is a group of disorders that attack red blood cells as if they were substances foreign to the body. Like other cases of anemia, the person may experience shortness of breath, tiredness, and jaundice. When the destruction of healthy red cells persists for a long period of time, the spleen may enlarge, resulting in a sense of abdominal fullness and pain
God intends for his body to be healthy, nourish each other, protect each other, and carry harmful waste away. Horace Smith
There can be no maturity in the spiritual life, no obedience in following Jesus, no wholeness in the Christian life, apart from an immersion in, and embrace of, community. I am not myself by myself.
Steve Bankes had a remarkably simple idea for reaching out to his neighbors: he decided to put a patio in his front yard. A 2009 Chicago Tribune article showed a picture of five adults relaxing on chairs on a small patio under shade trees near a suburban street. A couple of kids were there, too, and a dog sleeping under one chair. Barbara Brotman, the writer of the column, said, “It would have been charming, but unremarkable, if it had been in their backyard, the usual spot for patios. But this patio was in their front yard.”
According to the 2009 article, the front yard patio became like a friendship magnet for Mr. Bankes’ neighbors, “especially when Steve had … set out a fire pit and built a bonfire. So people began to wander over, sit down and talk. It was so easy and low-key. No invitation required; if you saw people out there, you joined them.” Steve called his patio “the Conversation Curve,” and he told the paper that his goal was “fishing for people.”
A year later, almost to the day, Ms. Brotman wrote a follow-up article. Apparently, Keith Speaks from Hammond, Indiana, read the story and immediately called Bankes to discuss his “fishing for people” front yard patio concept. Keith Speaks works in community development, and he wanted to use the concept to build friendships in his town. So Speaks started the “Please, Have a Seat!” program, which gives grants for homeowners to create “micro parks” in their front yards. The follow-up article in 2010 described the unveiling ceremony for some of these micro parks: “Rev. Stephen Gibson, whose [church] has two benches of its own … gave a benediction. ‘I ask God to bless this bench as a symbol of the spirit of welcome.'” Lee Eclov
Long before the church had pulpits and baptisteries, she had kitchens and dinner tables. Even a casual reading of the New Testament unveils the house as the primary tool of the church. The primary gathering place of the church was the home. Consider the genius of God’s plan. The first generation of Christians was a tinderbox of contrasting cultures and backgrounds. At least fifteen different nationalities heard Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Jews stood next to Gentiles. Men worshiped with women. Slaves and masters alike sought after Christ. Can people of such varied backgrounds and cultures get along with each other?
We wonder the same thing today. Can Hispanics live in peace with Anglos? Can Democrats find common ground with Republicans? Can a Christian family carry on a civil friendship with the Muslim couple down the street? Can divergent people get along?
The early church did—without the aid of sanctuaries, church buildings, clergy, or seminaries. They did so through the clearest of messages (the Cross) and the simplest of tools (the home).
Not everyone can serve in a foreign land, lead a relief effort, or volunteer at the downtown soup kitchen. But who can’t be hospitable? Do you have a front door? A table? Chairs? Bread and meat for sandwiches? Congratulations! You just qualified to serve in the most ancient of ministries: hospitality.
Something holy happens around a dinner table that will never happen in a sanctuary. In a church auditorium you see the backs of heads. Around the table you see the expressions on faces. In the auditorium one person speaks; around the table everyone has a voice. Church services are on the clock. Around the table there is time to talk.
Hospitality opens the door to uncommon community. It’s no accident that hospitality and hospital come from the same Latin word, for they both lead to the same result: healing. When you open your door to someone, you are sending this message: “You matter to me and to God.” You may think you are saying, “Come over for a visit.” But what your guest hears is, “I’m worth the effort.” Max Lucado
Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.
A few years ago, a friend assembled a weekend work party to lay sod in his yard. The sun was shining. He had fresh coffee and cinnamon buns. And the crew he’d called together were all good friends. We liked each other immensely.
Then Al said, “Guys, do you realize something? This is it! This is it!” We stopped.
“Al, this is what?”
“This is community.”
We all murmured our assent and congratulated one another. Yes. This is it.
But then I said, “Al, this is great, but I don’t think this is it. I like you all too much. Add a person or two to this company who lacks social graces, who looks different, who’s needy, smelly, and irritating. If we truly loved a person like that, then that would be it.”
Silence. Then one of guys said, “Uh, Mark. We’ve accepted you, haven’t we?”
We all laughed, but they granted my point.
We’re always tempted to turn the church into a club. With our kind of people. With a strict decorum designed to keep up appearances and keep out the, shall we say, undesirables. But Jesus said it’s no credit to us if we love those who love us—our kind of people. We don’t need God to love them; natural affinities are sufficient. But you, Jesus said, are to love the least of these and the worst of these—losers, enemies. That takes God: a supernatural subversion of our own prejudices, and a heaven-borne infusion of God’s prodigal love.
I preach that. I try to live that.
A year or so after our sod-laying party, Wanda arrived. Wanda was not our kind of people. She was thirsty alright, for beer, port, rum, vanilla extract, whatever. She had only one way to pay for that. I’ll let you guess.
But she was desperate, and thirsty for something else. She called the church one day, wondering if she could see a pastor, and now! Two of us met with her. She told us her troubled story. I told her about the woman at the well whose life, like Wanda’s, wasn’t going well. But she met Jesus and he offered her living water. I explained what living water was, and asked Wanda if she’d like some.
“Oh yeah!” she said. We prayed. She confessed, repented, surrendered. Drank deep.
The other pastor said, “Now, Wanda, this Sunday will be your first time in church. Don’t feel you have to fit in right away. You can sit at the back if you like, come late, leave early. Whatever is comfortable.”
Wanda looked at him sideways. “Why would I do that?” she said. “I’ve been waiting for this all my life.”
That Sunday, Wanda was the first to arrive. She sat at the front, and loudly agreed with everything I said. She was the last to leave. The next Sunday, same thing, except she brought a friend, one of her kind of people. I preached on servanthood. My main point: if you’ve tasted the love of Jesus, you’ll want to serve. It was Communion Sunday. In those days, we called our elders The Servant Leadership Team. I asked the Servant Leaders to come and help with Communion. That day only two of our team were in church. They straggled to the front.
All Wanda heard was the word servant. And she had been listening intently to my sermon: if you’ve tasted the love of Jesus, you’ll want to serve.
She walked straight up to serve Communion with the other two “servants.”
Then I remembered Luke 7, Jesus’ words to Simon the Pharisee as a woman, not unlike Wanda, washed Jesus’ feet: “Do you see this woman?”
Do you see her?
I leaned over to Wanda and said, “Since this is your very first time doing this, do you mind if I help?”
So Wanda and I served Communion. The best part was watching the faces of the people I love and serve and pray for and preach to.
Not one flinched. They saw her.
This is it. Mark Buchanan
Questions can make hermits out of us, driving us into hiding. Yet the cave has no answers. Christ distributes courage through community; he dissipates doubts through fellowship. He never deposits all knowledge in one person but distributes pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to many. When you interlock your understanding with mine, and we share our discoveries, when we mix, mingle, confess and pray, Christ speaks. Max Lucado
Love cannot exist in isolation: away from others, love bloats into pride. Grace cannot be received privately: cut off from others, it is perverted into greed. Hope cannot develop in solitude: separated from the community, it goes to seed in the form of fantasies. No gift, no virtue can develop and remain healthy apart from the community of faith. “Outside the church there is no salvation” is not ecclesiastical arrogance but spiritual common sense, confirmed in everyday experience. Eugene Peterson
In Matthew 9:37, Jesus tells his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” The results of a 2007 survey illustrates this point well:
- 82 percent—the number of un-churched people who are receptive to attending church if invited and escorted by a friend
- 21 percent—the number of church-going Christians who invited someone to church in 2006 Bill White
When he left Rivendell, Frodo didn’t head out with 1,000 Elves. He had eight companions. Jesus didn’t march around backed by hundreds of followers, either. He had 12 men—knuckleheads, every last one of them, but they were a band of brothers.
This is the way of the kingdom of God. Though we are part of a great company, we are meant to live in little platoons. The little companies we form must be small enough for each of the members to know one another as friends and allies. Is it possible for 5,000 people who gather for an hour on a Sunday morning to really and truly know each other? Okay, how about 500? One hundred and eight? It can’t be done. They can’t possibly be intimate allies.
It can be inspiring and encouraging to celebrate with a big ol’ crowd of people, but who will fight for your heart? John Eldridge
The lesson is the union with others is more significant than your individual existence. It doesn’t deny the importance of your individual existence; it just means that you are a better person the more you connect with others. You’re going to know more, you’re going to be stronger, and you’re going to have a better life if you get over yourself. Viggo Mortensen
A man went to an asylum for the criminally insane. He was a bit surprised to find that there were three guards to take care of a hundred inmates. He said to one of the guards, “Aren’t you afraid that the inmates will unite, overcome you, and escape?” The guard said “Lunatics never unite.” Locusts do. Christians should. If we don’t, we don’t know where our power is. Haddon Robinson
No man should be alone when he opposes Satan. The church and the ministry of the Word were instituted for this purpose, that hands may be joined together and one may help another. If the prayer of one doesn’t help, the prayer of another will. Martin Luther
In Witnesses of a Third Way: A Fresh Look at Evangelism, Robert Neff’s chapter includes this story about visiting a church service: “It was one of those mornings when the tenor didn’t get out of bed on the right side. … As I listened to his faltering voice, I looked around. People were pulling out hymnals to locate the hymn being sung by the soloist.
“By the second verse, the congregation had joined the soloist in the hymn. And by the third verse, the tenor was beginning to find the range. And by the fourth verse, it was beautiful. And on the fifth verse the congregation was absolutely silent, and the tenor sang the most beautiful solo of his life. That is life in the body of Christ, enabling one another to sing the tune Christ has given us.” John H. Unger
Church-goers are like coals in a fire. When they cling together, they keep the flame aglow; when they separate, they die out. Billy Graham
The Bible is all about community: from the Garden of Eden to the City at the end. George F. MacLeod
Gary Portnoy, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name (Cheers Theme)”,
Produced by Judy Hart Angelo & Gary Portnoy, Album Keeper
 Charles Swindoll, Leadership, Vol. 4, no. 1.