Recently, I received an email from a sister with a long and colorful history in our congregation. She was asking me the question, "What's the difference at The Door? What is it about our Fellowship or discipleship at The Door that is set apart?" This is a kind of "loaded question" because on the surface it could sound like a question of superiority or a "better than thou attitude". Stuff like that is pride that God hates! Plus, the Bible warns us about useless comparisons. This was not the spirit of the sister's letter or question. It was a sincere, honest inquiry that really had to do with her own past, present, and future: what she was birthed into and how this affected her journey forward and her ministry to others. It turned out to be a question that provoked my thinking a lot and is still a kind of work in progress. I think a better word is "distinctives" not "differences." Please hear me when I say that we are nothing apart from Jesus; without Him we can do nothing! There is no one who knows this better than I do, and it is the foundation of my understanding of who I am, what the Church is, and it lies at the heart of so much of my own prayer life! We are not the "only thing" happening. But, I also know that there is and has been a real "God thing" happening in our church that has some unique features to it, and is a part of our spiritual heritage and birthright. These are things to be appreciated. One of the things that stands out in my mind is the reality and value of "brother bonds", or a strong sense of heritage and belonging that we share. There's a big difference between real community and a religious crowd. The old Christian hymn says, ""Blessed be the ties that bind our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above." That fellowship of kindred minds one of the distinctives of our Fellowship, hence the title of this post, "The Blessed Bonds." There is an intriguing testimony to this from the life of Abraham that says, "318 trained servants who were born in his own house." (Gen.14:14). It's not describing the result of an intensive job search or of a membership drive. It's not describing a loose-knit kind of affiliation. These were not employees or spectators. No, it describes a strong sense of identity, of family, of shared purpose, and of the linking together of their lives! Whether directly (those saved and won to Christ through our church's ministry) or indirectly (those who by "adoption" God has joined to us) there is a dynamic at work similar to Jonathan and David where "the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David." In our outreach and church planting, this is not a program or an organization we're investing in. These are the "sons and daughters" of this congregation that were are helping do the will of God! This is so much a part of my vision for the church that I can write about this with a deep sense of passion. We are far from perfect and have in no way "arrived". My own failings in this regard disturb me and provoke me to want to grow more like Christ and be a better pastor/shepherd. There are a number of things about this distinctive that come to mind that are worth considering.
Mark of spiritual authenticity. In Paul's letter to Philemon this is what stood out, "hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints." The effective sharing and testimony of Philemon's faith was rooted in this soil! Jesus and "the saints" are forever connected; you can't really separate the two. The New Testament knows nothing about a "me & Jesus" mentality to the exclusion of the church family, the brothers and sisters where we've been planted. It is this feature or these "bonds" that signals spiritual authenticity or the "real thing!" Look at Paul's greeting and acknowledgement to the church at Ephesus and Colosse and you discover the same thing. (Eph.1:15) (Col.1:4)
Important command to obey. Peter gave a short but powerful exhortation, "love the brotherhood" (1Pet.2:17). The Message puts it this way, "Love your spiritual family." We're not to take this for granted but this is both something to value and to guard. In the New Testament, one of the highest designations is that of "beloved brother." It usually comes before references to other things like fellow-worker or fellow-soldier. In other words, the structure of the kingdom of God and the Church is not organizational but filial (family). What is it that holds us together even with all our faults, our shortcomings, our misunderstandings, our conflicts and our selfishness? It is these relational and spiritual bonds that are the work of the Holy Spirit! This is why we should always guard our hearts against the things that would weaken these, such as neglect or bitterness. One of my greatest grief’s in life is when these "blessed bonds" are violated, broken or severed. And you know what? I don't really care about all the reasons, the explanations or the justifications....in the long run they don't matter....brotherhood does!
It carries a dimension of victory. There is a powerful dimension of spiritual victory connected to these brother bonds. Think again about Abraham and his 318 trained servants born in his own house. They were not a numerically superior force, but these "bonds" (what Ps.133 calls "blessed unity") equipped them along with God's grace, to be victorious even when outnumbered! Just ask Jonathan and his armor bearer. There were only two of them, but they knew a God who was not limited by size, and because they were so joined in heart and spirit, they became a powerful force overthrowing a Philistine garrison. This is why the Book of Ecclesiastes to combat the meaninglessness of this life said simply, "two are better than one!" He used many examples, but one was the promise of a dimension of overcoming this brought, "A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer." (Eccl.4:12)NLT I've got to believe that because this victory and dimension is so powerful that Satan fears and fights against these bonds of belonging so much!
It enriches our lives immensely. I am blessed and a better man because of you and the God-ordained relationships that I have! I just returned from Fairfield, CA where I conducted the wedding ceremony of Rachel Gutierrez and Fred LaValley, and preached afterwards. I was honored to be invited to that role. I'm sure part of the reason was that the Pastor happened to be the father of the bride, and the odds weren't good that he could keep it together! I can guarantee you that it was very rare to be marrying two young people and also to be the man who married their parents over two decades ago, and dedicated them when they were children! That, my friend, is the fruit and result of the bonds I'm describing. It makes me either incredibly blessed, or it makes me a relic! I think I will choose the former!
Let me wrap up my feelings about this distinctive feature. One of my favorite "revelations" is Paul's description of his fellow-workers in Colossians 4, "in terms of Jewish converts, these are the only fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me." (Col.4:11) I remember years ago doing a word study of the word "comfort" here that Paul attributed to his brethren and fellow-workers. It's a unique word. It is the Greek word, "paregoria" where we get our English word, "paregoric" from. Being on old hippie, this caught my attention. The word signifies medicines which allay irritation. Paregoric is the opiate that you find in strong diarrhea medicine. Is there a lesson in this for us? Yes, I believe there is: WHEN LIFE GETS LOOSE (AS IT SOMETIMES WILL) ---- IT'S GOOD TO HAVE FRIENDS!" Have a blessed day.