I have been thinking a lot about “church” and what that means to me. I think it has been on my mind more than normal because of the fact that we are moving from one city to another, and we need to find our new church family. And with every thought comes a particular memory of Pastor Mark. He is a man who loves to see God’s people being the church that God intends us to be.
It was a Sunday morning. Chris dropped the children and me off at the front doors and went to find a parking spot. We all went in and then the children scattered…off to their Sunday school classes. As I was milling through the crowd of people in the lobby, I thought I heard a voice calling me. I turned around but didn’t see anyone, so continued on my way to the sanctuary. I heard it again, so I turned around. This time I saw our friend, Bob. He called me over to where he was sitting. As I approached him, I saw that his eyes were teary and his face sad. He said to me, “Pastor Mark is here-I thought you might want to say hi to him.”
Sitting at the next table was Mark…he was sitting there with his wife, Jeanie. They were surrounded by people who loved them, who wanted an opportunity to tell them so, to let them know that they were being prayed for. I was one of those people.
I waited until it was my turn, then I gave him a hug. He looked tired and thin. His body looked weary. I couldn’t help but cry as I hugged him. It seemed so desperately unfair that this dear man should be inflicted with such a horrible, painful cancer. It was hard to grasp what the cancer was so quickly doing to his body.
I told him that we loved him. I told him that we were praying for him and his family. I stood up and continued talking to him, listening to his heart. I knew that other people were wanting to greet him, and I knew that Chris would be waiting for me in the sanctuary. So I told him that I was so thankful that I had the chance to talk with him, and I told him that I hated to go into church, that I just wanted to sit with Jeanie and him. And what he said next, I will never forget.
He was still sitting there, looking up at me, holding my hands, quiet tears sliding down his face and he said in a broken voice, “This…this IS church.”
And he was right. A room full of people, wanting to share in the burdens of a brother and sister in Christ. Praying together, crying, moments of laughter, all the time giving glory to God. We didn’t know what His plan was, but we trusted Him to bring something beautiful out of something painful. Jeanie told me a few minutes later, “God has taught us to serve Him and to live for Him. Now He is teaching us to die for Him.”
That was the last time that I spoke with Mark. Less than two weeks later, four weeks after he was diagnosed with cancer, he went to be with Jesus. In those moments, my heart took a snapshot of what the Body of Christ looks like when it is living life together. I treasure that picture, I keep it close.
And I embrace that idea of living life together.
Sharing the ups and downs, good and bad times, laughing, crying, praying together.
Being transparent with one another.
But I am realizing that this is much easier said than done. I want to do this, I truly do. But in our case, in a new town and new local church, it means starting over. And, ugh….it’s not so easy.
Yesterday, the church we would like to attend for a while was having its annual church picnic and baptism service. I was looking forward to meeting new people and for the children to start making new friends. I don’t know if the migraine was purely physical, or if it was a spiritual attack to discourage me, but shortly after I witnessed my two sons being baptized, I was in pain and feeling sick. I could barely handle sitting upright, let alone trying to converse with people. I ended up in laying down in the van while Chris let the boys finish swimming, and then we headed home.
This morning, I still have a lingering migraine, but more than that, disappointment. Even though meeting new people is nerve-wracking for me, I wanted to take every opportunity that I had to reach out to people~to be a blessing. And I didn’t get to talk to anyone.
I have the picture of that Sunday with Mark in my head and in my heart. I know what I am looking for, and I know that God has it for us somewhere. I want to be IN the picture again, not simply holding it and looking at it longingly.
I can’t remember where I heard this…it was either Chip Ingram or Pastor Mark…but one of them was teaching on Romans 12:5
“…so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of His one body, and each of us has different work to do. And since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others.”
I know that there is a local body that I need. I know there is a place for me to serve. I know it because Christ says it, and I know it because I have the Holy Spirit aching for it inside of me.
We have been invited to try out a Life Group here, and I am excited to do so. I know that God created in me a need to connect with and serve the rest of His body. I am so thankful for the many years of sitting under Mark’s teaching…his passionate commitment to the Body of Christ has taught me to not accept anything less than what God intended.
Lord, please show us the spot that you have carved out for us here in this city. Give us the patience to persevere in relationships and the courage to serve wherever you ask. Let us be part of a church that wholeheartedly follows after You, loves one another and reaches out to the world around us.