• jimpaula

From a distance

Paula writes a beautiful article reflecting on the power of community, encouraging us to participate wholeheartedly in the Church. She argues that it is only through developing real, imperfect relationships that we can experience growth and maturity, and live out our call to be disciples.

I am on a plane returning to Auckland from Christchurch after a wonderful weekend with dear friends celebrating their significant birthday.

Friends for two decades are of course more like family and our times together are so much more valued now that they live on the mainland. Of course we keep in touch digitally but nothing beats physically being together - real hugs, shared experiences and late night talks together in the same room.

With COVID-19 leading to periods of lockdown, this has taught us much. In particular, that hanging out with friends and family is not to be taken for granted.

We need each other

That fact was highlighted recently by the unfortunate passing of a school friend of mine on the other side of the world. The distance meant that I couldn’t physically be present with her family and our shared friends. Even in a world where funerals can be live-streamed, it was hard grieving from a distance.

As a Christian, each day we walk in step with the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, meaning God is near and not distant. Being in Christ gives us access to God through the Spirit which changes every aspect of how we live.

As followers of Christ we are called to live in community and I love being part of a church family. As followers we get to live out the beautiful community of The Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

With lockdown I missed my church family and physically being with the youth, the young adults and the “older young adults”.

The older I get the more I realise I can’t grow in holiness all by myself - it is hard to be a disciple on your own.

Developing real relationships

Right from the very beginning man was not alone in the Garden of Eden (Genesis chapter 2, verse 18) and God’s people were placed in community throughout the Old and New Testament.

Today in 2020 the local church is where we see one another live out what we believe, encourage each other and hold one another accountable.

As broken as we may be, we love Jesus and each other which leads to us being the salt and the light this world desperately needs (Matthew chapter 5, verse 13 to 16). How we love each other as a church speaks to those around us of Christ’s love.

Within the local church, real relationships develop. These types of relationships are not easy to filter or edit in real time. I love that as brothers and sisters we can pray for each other, and spur each other on during hard times. Furthermore, we also get to celebrate how the Gospel has changed us as we grow more Christlike which as believers we are all pursuing.

I have learned a lot about perseverance from my church family, watching those up close and personal who have been devoted to God and the church for many years. Their example has helped me stay the course even when I am discouraged, frustrated or, frankly, tired.

Of course like any family there are hard times that need to be worked through - it is definitely easier to love at a digital distance rather than in close proximity at times. But, the flip side is that when we do love and forgive, that is when the growth occurs.

With Christ and the church as our focus - and not our personal aspirations - relationships are restored, maturity happens and Christ is glorified.

The gift of community

Psalm 12 is one of David’s lament Psalms, where he is feeling abandoned as the faithful have vanished, leaving him alone.

He had no community and was feeling isolated. It is being in a community where we need others to give us hope when we are feeling hopeless.

What a gift to be able to reflect the hope of the Gospel to someone, to pray together and practically support those going through tough times. Christian perseverance is a community endeavour. So, if you lack strength to persevere and when your faith is wavering,I encourage you to reach out to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

In Ephesians 4 Paul talks about how Christ has equipped His people for works of service so that the body of Christ might be built up.

Of course like any family there are hard times that need to be worked through - it is definitely easier to love at a digital distance rather than in close proximity at times. But, the flip side is that when we do love and forgive, that is when the growth occurs.

God has created us to use our gifts to grow our church family which should encourage us to dive deeper into our church community with those around us. We need each other!

Don’t get me wrong, being connected to the global Church online is amazing. I love that my Instagram and Facebook feeds are from many different churches and ministries across the world but they can’t replace the local church.

We are called to serve God and each other where we are placed. It is the local church where we seek to know God and seek to know God more through His Word as disciples in Christ.

From a distance things can look very different than in reality; especially from a digital distance. We can’t truly know or love someone we have never met and they can’t be the hands and feet of Jesus when we face trials.

Despite being more digitally connected than ever before we know loneliness is a growing issue. I love Psalm chapter 68, verse 6 where it says God sets the lonely in families.

Our local church is a family of believers that welcomes those seeking God. We are a diverse bunch with only Jesus in common, not just a selected group of friends who are like us.

From a distance we can be whatever we want to be but it is close up in families where we are known for who we truly are, and we mature to be the person we were created to be.

A digital distance can be convenient, easier and way less demanding but let’s remember it is not about us.

It starts with us

John chapter 13, verses 34-35 says “Love one another as I have loved you so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”

Let’s draw near to God through His Word and be strengthened by our church community so together we become disciples of Christ, not consumers.

Let’s draw near to each other so that those watching from a distance see us living in a way that draws them closer to the God who seeks to be in relationship with them.

A couple of weeks later, we are back in lockdown and our Sunday church service is online. His sermon is from Matthew chapter 28 which records Jesus’s final words before ascending to heaven also known as The Great Commission.

One sentence from the sermon resonated with me in particular:

“One of the strategic missional initiatives that any of us can take is to think creatively and pray fully about how we can deepen the relationships in our churches.” (Dr. John Tucker)

In a world where this is so costly and counter-cultural, let’s be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ by immersing ourselves in community and in reading the word of God with others.

Let’s draw near to Him and each other so those from a distance are discipled and brought into the family of the church.

Paula is a speech language therapist with pre-schoolers who have a disability. She and her husband, Jim, have been part of Windsor Park since moving from the UK 20 years ago.They are parents of two teens and are team leaders for year 10 youth. Writing is a new thing but one which she is enjoying as a way of expressing how God speaks and leads her in everyday life. // Photo: Caleb Van Essen

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