Delmarva is the name of a peninsula shared by Delaware, Maryland, and northern Virginia. It juts into the Chesapeake Bay, forming the boundary between the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the waters of the bay itself. This past summer our family experienced the privilege of traveling the full length of the peninsula. From Norfolk we crossed the Chesapeake Bay to Cape Charles, traveling the entire peninsula in just over four and a half hours. Forty-eight years ago our trip would have been dramatically different; prior to 1964, a bridge between mainland Virginia and the peninsula did not exist. The 18 miles between Norfolk and Cape Charles crosses open water—a slight disadvantage; that is, unless one owns a very large boat. Fortunately we had another alternative, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. It was in the same instant both intimidating and inspiring to look to the right and left and see nothing but miles of unbroken ocean. From end to end the bridge and tunnel complex represent 17.6 miles of engineering excellence. By April 1964, the first bridge was completed; eventually this bridge would become the northbound bridge (the bridge which we returned on); however, for 34 years it served alone. It was not until April of 1999 that the southbound span was completed. Upon completion, the original span was considered one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world. From one who has traveled the span, the praise seems appropriate.
Like other large construction projects, the Bay Bridge-Tunnel was named in honor of an individual. The official name given to the bridge and tunnel complex is “Lucius J. Kellam, Jr. Bridge-Tunnel.” The honor was granted Mr. Kellam in recognition of his foresight and leadership. While credit should be given where credit is due, I ask the question, who exactly should receive the credit? While we do not dispute the significance of key individuals, it is certainly true that this project would not have been possible without an army of willing men and women with “a mind to work” (Neh 4:6). These included architects, carpenters, masons, electricians, draftsmen, painters, welders, divers, machinists, etc. The list could continue for a very long while. All were gifted in their respective fields, lending their expertise and energy so that the bridge might be completed on schedule and that it might be “fitly framed” (Eph 2:21). While some may have contributed more, it is apparent that it was a spirit of cooperation which made these bridges possible.
The analogy speaks of good church life, for a willing heart and a spirit of cooperation will also serve to make church life successful. Consider the words of Christ in Matthew 16:18, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Encouraging, isn’t it, to realize that the Church of Jesus Christ will stand firm, and the gates of Hell cannot prevent nor hinder the body of Christ. Not only is the verse encouraging, but it is also challenging, for Jesus said, “I will build my church.” The Greek word used by Christ for church is ekklesian (those called out, an assembly); therefore, it is clear that the building in question is in fact individual Christians. Peter identifies these Christians as “lively stones,” which “are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1Pe 2:5).
Furthermore, Paul admonished in 1 Corinthians 3:9, “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.” Labor is a word which is sometimes “orphaned” because no one is willing to claim it. In spite of our unspoken desire that it may be otherwise, we do recognize that healthy and happy church life will include a certain amount of labor. It is not always pleasant to attend midweek services, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, or to search among the highways and byways compelling “them to come in, that [God’s] house may be filled.” As Brother Aaron Shank once said, “It will always take work to keep our fellowship healthy.” Anything left to itself will decay. It wasn’t for nought that Paul encouraged the church at Galatia, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Gal 6:9). While healthy church life takes effort, we realize that the investment is well worth it. In terms of peace, support, encouragement, and safety, the returns exceed the effort in “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over” (Luke 6:38).
Our contribution to good church life finds expression in many ways; consider a sampling below.
I am reminded of a local billboard; it reads, “What is missing in Ch-ch? u R (You are).” When services are planned, how responsible do we feel to attend? Do we find ourselves like those at Philippi gathering by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made (Acts 16:13)? Or do we, like those invited to the King’s wedding feast, “with one consent [begin] to make excuse” (Luke 14:18)? The New Testament identifies the local body of believers (the Church) as the primary place where a Christian is to find safety, encouragement, edification, and instruction. In the multitude of counselors, there is safety. God certainly works through a Christian individually; however, it is in the context of fellowship where we find growth, accountability, and support. As one of our PMC bulletins states, “People are like engines; they usually sputter before they miss.” To neglect fellowship is to slowly starve oneself to spiritual weakness and eventual death. Like those at Laodicea, such a man may profess himself to be full and in need of nothing, and yet be “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind” (Rev 3:17). Take a heartfelt interest in church attendance, to prayer and exhortation, and we will not only offer support to our church but to ourselves in the process.
While there are times when being late cannot be avoided, to be late should be the exception rather than the rule. Not only is chronic tardiness distracting, but it is also discouraging to others. It is always very encouraging to observe a congregation seated and quietly waiting upon the Lord just prior to the beginning of a service. Punctuality communicates interest and a desire to worship.
“Benchitis” can be a serious impediment to healthy church life. Take action to avoid the disease. spend time studying your Sunday School lesson, engage in heartfelt singing, take notes from the message, visit freely during the after-service. When benchitis begins to take hold, the symptoms may go unnoticed in mild cases; however, as the disease advances it begins to establish a law which is identified as “the law of diminishing return”; that is, the less one does the easier it is to do less still.
Consider the following illustration:
Somebody, Everybody, Anybody, and Nobody
Fred Somebody, Thomas Everybody, Susan Anybody, and Joe Nobody were neighbors. All four belonged to the same church. Everybody stayed home from church to visit with friends. Anybody wanted to worship but was afraid that somebody wouldn’t speak to him. So guess who went to church—Nobody.
Of all these neighbors, Nobody was by far the most faithful church member. Nobody did the visitation. Nobody repaired the church building. When a Sunday School teacher was needed, Everybody thought Anybody would do it, and Anybody thought somebody would do it. And you know who finally did it? That’s exactly right—Nobody.
When a fifth neighbor moved into the area (who was an unbeliever), Everybody thought Somebody should try to win him for Christ. Anybody could have made an effort, but in the end you probably know by now who finally won him for Christ—NOBODY.
Among the articles of war mentioned in Ephesians 6:18, Paul encourages that we would pray “always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.” Make it a priority to lift your brethren to the throne of grace, that they may find help in time of need. A practical aid in doing so may be to use your church’s directory and pray for each person, family by family, name by name. I have found the old adage “prayer changes things” to be true.
Warmth in church life is simply irreplaceable. A warm greeting, a cheery smile, a note of appreciation, and a hearty “amen” all are deeply encouraging. Among all of the virtues of church life, Jesus identified love as the keystone to successful evangelism. He said in John 13:35, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Peter places love “above all things” (1Pe 4:8). “And above all things, have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” Peter identifies the offenses that may occur in church life: perhaps a careless word, or being excluded due to an oversight. When we become suspicious in church life, the opportunities for offense will abound more and more; however, if we exercise love, those small offenses will be recognized for what they mostly are—simple mistakes and carelessness. Love will move us to compassion when we see the hurts of others; it will compel us to forgive when we have been wronged; love will serve as a spur which motivates us to “seek and to save those who are lost.” Love is the lubricant which greases the wheels of productive church life.
Consider 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” “Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you” (2Co 13:11).