Back in the ’80s I was invited to preach in a church in Northern Oklahoma. I arrived in time for Sabbath school, and heard the Sabbath School superintendent talking about how everyone should be friendly, and if we have guests, invite them home for lunch. I thought how nice! After my sermon, as I was greeting people on their way out, the Sabbath School superintendent shook my hand, thanked me for coming and then joined her family in the car and drove away. As she walked away, I almost said, “So, am I supposed to follow you to your house?” Seems to me, we sometimes want to be known as being the friendliest church in town, without actually having to be the friendliest church in town, or being friendly at all for that matter.
I have often said that you can’t tell how friendly a church is on Sabbath morning. It is during the week that you find how friendly a church is. On Sabbath people will smile and greet you. By the way, may I throw out there, that if you are not the designated greeter, that it is even more important for you to greet others? When you are a guest and get greeted by the greeter, that is like the free space on the bingo card. Being greeted by the greeter does not make you feel extra warm and welcomed. You just perceive that as the greeter doing her job. While everyone is friendly during church, the question is how many are friendly after church? How often do you call your church members during the week? By the way, it is not your pastor’s job to be visiting everyone. It is your pastor’s job to encourage everyone to visit everyone.
Fellowship lunches are nice, but I have made some observations. I have seen entire families sitting at a table all by themselves. My reaction is, you could have sat all by yourself at home. I imagine they would like someone else to sit with. That is why they came, but no one else will sit with them. Oh sure, they will smile and wave at them, and even shake their hand when meeting in the hall, but genuine friendliness goes a lot farther than that. By the way, I realize many people drive great distances to church, and its not really practical to ask someone to your home for lunch when its a two hour drive. Therefore the church makes a nice meeting point for lunch and fellowship. But is that always the reason for having fellowship lunch? Could fellowship lunch at church be a nice way to be friendly without actually having to have someone come into your home? Could it actually be a way to be friendly while still being a bit standoffish? Do we meet people at church to avoid having them in our homes?
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, Acts 2:46 NKJV
Here I see the early church first of all not just being friendly on Sabbath but being friendly daily. I also see them doing it in their homes and not just the church. Indeed it is not on Sabbath, but during the week when you see just how friendly a church is.
In June, I published a post about losing my mother. I was so comforted by the comments and kind words that followed. It was healing to know that I had friends around the world that cared for me everyday and not just on Sabbath.
Just a couple weeks ago I had a rare weekday afternoon free, and the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team also had a rare weekday afternoon game, so I went to enjoy some alone time. While there I walked over to the section where I sat with my mother and father the last time they went to a game with me. Suddenly and unexpectedly a rush of sadness came over me. I went by myself to enjoy some alone time, but I am sure many of you will understand when I say, my alone time turned to loneliness and despair. The Rays won 2-0 but as I walked out there was this huge cloud hanging over me, separating me from the sunshine of God’s love and the love of my friends. I know the sun is still there even when the clouds block it, and I know God’s love is still there even when “clouds” seem to block it.
I got in my car, feeling gloomy. I started driving towards the beaches that my mother loved so much. Then that gloomy cloud hanging over me started dropping raindrops of doubt. “You are all alone William. Look you are here all by yourself, no one cares!” Never mind the fact that I chose to go the game alone for some alone time! Never mind all the kind words people shared on SSNET and cards, calls and texts. But our emotions like to play mind games with us, and they lie to us about the reality of God’s love and the love of our friends and family. As I pulled over near the water to stop and pray, those raindrops of doubt started to pour. Now I know full well that the Bible and the Bible alone is all I need to know that I am very deeply loved. Even while my emotions were playing mind games with me, I knew not to trust my feelings and to trust the Bible. But something wonderful happened. The sunshine of God’s love broke through my metaphoric cloud. At that same moment when I thought I had myself convinced that I was all alone in the world now, my cell phone beeped and vibrated. I looked down and read this text from a friend far away.
Hey William, Just checking in to see how things are going. I was just thinking about you and wondered how you are?
In an instant I realized how stupid the gloomy cloud hanging over my head really was! I felt again what I already knew, that those raindrops of doubt were nothing more than hollow lies! God used a friend I had met years ago at church, who moved far away, to show me real friendliness, not in church Sabbath morning, but on a weekday afternoon.
You may study this week’s SS lesson here.
PS I want to take this opportunity to thank my friend who texted me that day from Indiana, and all my friends who continue calling and texting, keeping the clouds away.