THE NEED FOR FELLOWSHIP
Since I retired, my wife and I have been visiting different churches of different denominations and very different orders of worship. We have encountered both contemporary and traditional orders of worship in these various denominations. One Sunday we visited a Pentecostal church – and believe me, there is a difference between their style and other contemporary forms! Most recently, we attended a Christian church, and as at every other time, we again tried to learn a little about their history. While talking with one of the pastors, we discovered that there are three denominations which carry the title of “Christian Church” – The Christian Church(Disciples of Christ), The Church of Christ, and the Christian Church.
As we depart following the worship services, we usually ask the pastor what we specifically can pray for them in the coming week. At this most recent visit, we found that minister had been the senior pastor for about 30 years, and following his official retirement, the Church made him their pastor for shepherding (congregational care). When we asked if he had a specific personal prayer need, his first reaction was surprise. I imagine he is not asked that very often, but after regaining composure, he smiled and answered honestly and simply. During the service it was mentioned that there had been several deaths in the church. Being the longest-term pastor, he has the relationships with many of these families. Thus, more often than not, he is the one who ministers to them at their time of need and loss. He noted that it was becoming harder to do during the pandemic. Having to wear masks, standing six feet apart, not being able to shake hands or even hug, and groups cut to a minimum were contributing to a sense of loss of support from friends that would normally be there. Basically, it made it much more difficult to be a comfort – and he felt so responsible to provide that….
Here in Georgia, there is no real total ban of Christian fellowship. We’ve had bishops and denominational leaders who have pushed the political correctness of not meeting live and in person. We’ve tried to convince ourselves that YouTube, Facebook Live, and Zoom are just as good as live and in-person worship. And even with the passage of months and gradual return to normal in other sectors, some churches in Georgia have still not opened up. In Idaho, Nevada, and California, believers are being arrested for daring to worship together. What is amazing that one can take a seat on an airplane in California and not be seated 6 feet apart, but you can’t go to church and sit next to someone in a pew. And God forbid one dares to sing praises! We begin to get a real idea of the importance of the church in Nevada when we learn that churches are dangerous but casinos are deemed necessary. Even in Georgia at the beginning of this mess, while churches were not banned but encouraged to close, liquor stores were not on any list of expected closure. The Bishop of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church recommended that churches close down for regular services, but it was OK to march in a large group protest as long as you wore a mask. The hypocrisy of this whole situation is astounding. The fear-mongering throughout this process has been controlling and intentionally so. The politicizing of science has been ludicrous.
In undergraduate school, I worked on a double major in biology and chemistry. I can remember reading in one of my genetic text books about the reason for the food shortage in the Soviet Union. Because of this, even in the middle of the Cold War, the Soviets depended on the U.S. farmers of that day for much of their food supply. During that time in history, wheat was one of our major exports, and the major country our wheat was exported to was the Soviet Union. At that point, there were three separate genetic theories on how to grow and increase wheat production. In the U.S., the farmers were free to try out methods and discover what worked the best. In the Soviet Union, only one theory gained government acceptance. It wasn’t successful – and many people starved.
We are now experiencing in our own country what took place in the Soviet Union in the 60’s and 70’s. There has been banning of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as possible treatments for the current viral illness. Real doctors on the front line who are actually treating patients have been eliminated from all media. All media – mainstream and streaming social media. Because someone who hasn’t been in a lab coat much less a research lab or medical clinic in the last 30 years, with the backing of Big Pharma and their billionaire investors, doesn’t want to lose the billions about to be scammed from this country and the rest of the world. I am not going to bore you with the science, but the fact is hydroxychloroquine does work as a preventive and as a treatment if used in the early stages of infection. The truth is there is nothing at this time that works well as a treatment when it develops into the advanced stages if the immune system does not successfully combat the disease. A friend of mine who has worked with the CDC and is familiar with SARS and other epidemics in our recent history (12-14 years) has said that when this great vaccine comes out, look at the ingredients and expect to see that the main one will be hydroxychoroquine. The difference will be that Big Pharma will be able to charge $200+ per dose instead of our using a medication that can be bought over the counter in two thirds of the world. And we hear the same thing that the citizens of the Soviet Union heard in the 60’s and 70’s – “It’s for your own good!”
Oh, WOW. That was a rabbit hole I didn’t intend to go that far down, but I guess I needed to say it. What I started out to say is that this pandemic has been used to eliminate something that is important to all humans. It is doubly important to Christians. Last couple of weekends I have been watching college football. I’m glad we have college football, I enjoy college football. I also enjoyed what is now missing, the crowds, the fans. I miss the bands, the before-game walks. These rituals are important for many people. When the camera zooms in on the stands and you see cardboard cur outs and you hear piped in crowd noise, there is something different and lessening. Well, people say, it’s the new normal…..No! It is the old lie! There are dark spiritual elements at work in our society. There are people within our government and as well as outside who want to control every aspect of our lives.
I haven’t heard anyone within the church community say anything yet, but did you know that there are new guidelines for what constitutes hate speech? Did you also know that these new guidelines which can define the Holy Scriptures as hate speech? There has been for the last several years the Anti-Christ movement to remove Jesus from everyday life. For several Christmases, there was pressure to just say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Now in some places you are not being a good citizen if you want to go to church, but you are if you go to a liquor store or a casino. Home Depot and Walmart are essential, but not corporate worship in a sanctuary. Christians have family members and friends getting extremely ill and even dying, and not just from COVID. Non- Christians have Christian family members and friends getting extremely ill and even dying. But family members are not allowed to visit, their pastor is not allowed to visit, and if there is a death only, a certain number can attend the funeral. Most funerals are not being held in chapels or sanctuaries, and many are being conducted only as grave-side services. For an old country boy like myself, it’s a return to the old normal of my youth, just the graveside service, but with the lack of physical support. The neighbors and church family bringing in enough food to feed the grieving family for a month. The physical presence of a friend, not saying words of wisdom but just being present, and not thinking that they are breaking some presidential mandate if they stay a little longer. The comfort of a firm handshake and a strong meaningful hug. The touch of a pastor as he or she prays for the sick or the family of the departed.
At a time when we need the presence of Jesus the most, we are being told, “No, you need science more.” At a time when we need to stand on the Authority and Power of God’s Word, we are cautioned by our church leaders that not all the Bible is authoritative, and some of it may be hateful. At a time when we need fellowship with other believers so that we know we are not alone, so that we don’t have the Elijah syndrome – where we can look one another in the eye and say, “I believe” and hear someone else say, “I believe, also” – we are told, “Hey, there is YouTube, Facebook live, TBN, and other websites. Go there”, all the while knowing that the powers controlling YouTube and Facebook generate their authority in woke media and the cancel culture. And once we become accustomed to their new normal, the powers that be can then gain control or cancel TBN and even our own websites. There is a big reason that Apostle Paul tells us in Hebrews 10:23-25, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, NOT FORSAKING THE ASSEMBLING OF OURSELVES TOGETHER, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the Day approaching.”
Paul is expounding a great truth here. TV and computer screens do not and will not cut it in the long haul. To stir up agape love, there has to be fellowship. To actually bring forth good works, there has to be fellowship. Because it is only in fellowship that we are able to strengthen and be strengthened. It is only in fellowship that we are able to edify and be edified. It is only in fellowship that we are able to exhort and lift up while also being exhorted and lifted up. “The Day approaching” to which Paul refers is exactly like the times we are living in now.
WAKE UP, CHURCH! The woke media and the cancel culture has us in the cross hairs at this very moment. But we do have a choice: fear or power The world is bombarding us with fear, but we have access to POWER. There is POWER in the NAME OF JESUS! There is POWER in the AUTHORITY OF THE WORD. There is POWER when we choose to ASSEMBLE TOGETHER in FELLOWSHIP! It’s OUR choice.
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If you are having trouble with fear pray PSALM 91 in the first person and claim it for yourself.