Read Hebrews 10:24-25; Acts 2:42; Hebrews 3:13
We have enjoyed the June rains. The flowers seem to be larger and more luxurious than usual. Everything is thriving, displaying the Creator's handiwork. Therefore, it has been worth waiting for dry days, even when there were outdoor chores that needed to be done. Yet, we were glad when, about ten days ago, we believed that we had the perfect day to work outside. It was time to put the protective netting over the peach tree.
When my husband and I do projects such as this one, he gets up on the ladder, and I stand on the ground handing up items and holding the lower part of the net. I don't begin this kind of endeavor with the mindset that it will go smoothly or quickly, and circumstances unfolded pretty much as I had expected. It was not surprising when the net twisted upon itself and kept catching in our hair and clothing. However, after one time of running back into the house due to rain and a few do-overs. Voila, the tree was netted. One thing is certainly true. A zealous bird might find a way to get into the netting to pilfer a bite of a ripening peach. Or, something like hail could tear the netting. Yet, something else is even more certain. The peaches are safer under the net than they would be if they were simply hanging unprotected from the branches of the tree.
As that thought came to me, another idea came quickly to mind. It is not only developing peaches that are safer under the net, we who love Jesus are too. What net? The local church that loves the Lord and isn't ashamed of the Gospel and contends for the faith, Romans 1:16-17; 2 Timothy 4:1-2; Jude 1:3. What a precious net each one is, whether the congregations are small or large, when we have such a net where we can grow and be edified, Ephesians 4:11-14, we are blessed.
Sadly, even though all of this is true, there isn't any person who has gone to church-even a church like the one I described-who hasn't been hurt or hasn't known someone else who has been hurt by someone in a church. Perhaps even someone who reads these words would describe herself as someone who has been treated badly in a church. We don't want that to happen here, but we know that there isn't anyone of us who loves Jesus that couldn't act in a way that causes someone else pain. Is it still worth coming under such an imperfect net? May I explain why I believe that the answer is yes?
In the local church, we have a place of belonging. We share joyful times and times when we grieve, Romans 12:15. I remember when one of my church friend's sister received Jesus. Many of us had been praying with her. Oh, the joy we shared when we heard that Jesus had saved that precious woman, Luke 19:10. Though I had never met her, it was a sweet time when we heard the story with all its details.
Belonging also means that sometimes, we see one another's flaws, and when we are being led by the Holy Spirit, we pray for and encourage each other, rather than tearing that brother or sister down. Because we belong to each other, we learn to "cover over" each other's sin, not repeating the wrongs a brother or sister has done, 1 Peter 4:8. Instead of gossiping, if necessary we gently come to him, humbly restoring him, because we know that we are also prone to sin, Galatians 6:1.
Belonging means coming under the authority of the scriptures together. We all hear the same message each week, and we receive nourishment to edify us so that we can walk in love and obedience. Our preacher may not be as famous as John Piper, but we live and worship with him and his family. He walks the same streets that we do, and how good it is to know that it is his desire to walk out the truth he gives us. We have the privilege of growing alongside of him and his family, challenged and encouraged by the same truths.
Belonging means forgiving one another, Ephesians 4:32. Why should we let go of offenses? What if the one who did the wrong doesn't seem to understand that she has offended us? What if what he has done really caused pain? The only way to forgive is to fill our minds with the truth concerning the multitude of sin that Jesus will never remember against us, Hebrews 10:17. Instead, He has credited us with His own righteousness, 2 Corinthians 5:21. How our sins must hurt Him when we forget the price He paid,1 Peter 1:18-19. The more we remember God's lavish grace towards us, the more we will want to extend that same unmerited favor to others.
These are glimpses of the fellowship that we can have with other believers week after week. I can't remember where I read it, but I have heard it explained like this:
We can be like marbles or grapes. Marbles bounce up against each other. They don't make any dents or have any effect on one another. However, grapes aren't like that at all. Bounce them off one another and the juice from one will spill over on to the others.
Fellowship under the net is surely imperfect. Sometimes, it isn't all that it could be. Yet, when our lives spill out, touching one another empowered by the Holy Spirit, beautiful things happen. We help one another grow as we watch each other live. We keep one another soft toward the Lord and those around us, as we encourage each other, Hebrews 3:13. Still, it might seem to some that abandoning the net is safer. Yet, the Lord never intended His children to live without the fellowship of a family, even an imperfect one. We can't carry each other's burdens, Galatians 6:2, if we aren't aware of them, and no one has the opportunity to help us with our struggles if we don't come under the net.
Lord, show each of us how to express Your love to those who come into our churches.