Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Greet one another (Solitude vs. Isolation)

Greet one another
1 Cor. 16:19-21

“The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭16:19-21‬

Sometime ago, a book I read on church growth, suggested that it wasn't a good idea to have a "meet and greet" time during a church service. According to somebodies research, apparently visitors may be turned off by this and not return. I also heard this topic being discussed on a Christian radio program where a few Christians called in to express how much they disdained the meet and greet time. Some suggested that it felt forced. One person expressed their disdain by saying that it may put them in an uncomfortable position of having to shake hands with someone that they were at odds with. To these two responses I would ask, why should it feel forced? If you're greeted by somebody you were not expecting to run into at a store, would you feel that you were being forced into exchanging pleasantries? And if you were at odds with someone in the church, should the Christian response be to avoid that person. Doesn't the bible say, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew‬ ‭5:23-24).

Why would a Christian view the meet and greet time as something that is being forced upon them, instead of an opportunity to express unity and love? Perhaps an unsaved person, who is anti-social may be uncomfortable with being welcomed and greeted by a stranger? However, the culture of the church, which should be welcoming to all, should not be hijacked by someone who doesn't like being around people. In fact, even businesses teach their employees to be courteous and welcoming to customers.

It is true that we live in a world, where people are self absorbed, rude, and standoffish. On my block, very few neighbors take the time and initiative to get to know each other. And if you never say hi to them, they wouldn't lose any sleep. I have a neighbor or two, that seem to avoid making eye contact so that they don't have to say hi. As a Christian, should I allow the culture to influence me, or do I seek to be a godly influence on the culture? As Christians, we should look for ways to get to know our neighbors and build relationships with them, not only because it's the right thing to do, but with the hope of sharing Christ with them. And often times, if we don't take the initiative, if we don't look for ways to break the ice, it's not going to happen.

A Pastor friend (Jon Hoekema) recently shared these honest thoughts on Facebook:

Sometimes God annoys me. Not in the way that traffic annoys me, where I just get frustrated, but in the way a child annoys a parent by asking the same question over and over and over again.

Over the last year, God has really been telling me to really get to know my neighbors. I know who they are, at least most of them. After all, we've been living on this street for 12 1/2 years. Our kids play with their kids. We know a bit about them, but don't really know them. So, God has been saying to me, "invite them over."

So, for the past 4 weeks, we've invited our neighbors over twice - for a fire in the fire pit on a summer Sunday evening, and a BBQ before our towns end of summer fireworks, and in a few weeks, we're going to invite them over for another fire in the fire pit, just to hang out.
After the first gathering, our neighbors all said, "Why haven't we done this before?" and "We need to do this again!"

After hearing stories and getting to know them, I'm beginning to call our street "the United Nations of Bluebird Drive" since we have immigrants from Pakistan, China, Nigeria, Poland, and Mexico.

It really has been fun to get to know them. Within 4 weeks, I have people on our street waving to me that would otherwise pass me by. People stop by and talk with one another that haven't talked with each other before.

Jesus calls us to love our neighbor. How could I love them if I didn't even know them? How could I be Jesus in the flesh without being in relationship with them?

I am looking forward to what Gods' annoying me over the last year will lead to!"

We all will have times for various reasons when we don't feel very sociable. We all have are moments, but this should not be the norm, and if it is, we need to check our hearts. In addition, a Christian should seek times of solitude. The Psalmist wrote, ““Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalms‬ ‭46:10‬). But there's a difference between solitude and isolation. “Solitude is a chosen separation for refining your soul. Isolation is what you crave when you neglect the first...Solitude is a healthy and prescriptive discipline; isolation is a symptom of emotional depletion” (Wayne Cordeiro). We should be serving the Lord, not on empty, but from the overflow of are dynamic love relationship with Jesus.

So if your craving isolation, this may be a sign that something is not right within. Examine your heart. It can be unconfessed sin, shame, bitterness or, as Wayne suggested, it could be that you are depleted emotionally. Wherever you are, the first step to coming out of isolation is to be deeply rooted in Christ and the gospel. Jesus died so that we can find forgiveness, and acceptance in a loving relationship with the Father. You may also need to seek the help of a friend, Pastor or counsellor that can assist you with other factors for why you're isolating yourself, like being emotionally depleted. Resist your feelings and the lies of the enemy that you are alone in this world. God loves us and he ordained that we grow in Christ in community.

We are called to minister to others, but we also need to be ministered to. And we may need it the most when we don't feel like we do. We also need to keep in mind that often the person that you notice isolating themselves, that is avoiding others, is the one that may need your sincere greeting and caring attention the most.

On that same radio program I mentioned earlier, one professing Christian said that they intentionally go to church late in order to avoid the meet and greet time. I don't think that this is just a matter of preference, but an issue of the heart. If we do not welcome the opportunity to welcome and greet others in church, I wonder if we are looking for opportunities to welcome and greet unbelievers outside of the church. If we can't muster up enough energy to say hello to our neighbor, I doubt if we would ever be a strong witness for Christ. “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God" (Romans‬ ‭15:5-7‬).

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