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Somewhere in rural, southern Arkansas this summer, my family and I drove past a church’s marquee sign which read, “Some Assembly Required.”  “Clever,” I thought.  “Quite clever, indeed!”  The implications of the sign’s message kept rattling around in my head off and on during the remainder of our journey home from vacation.  I wondered if some astute, local church member had dreamed that one up, or if it had pre-existed in the larger public domain of “churchy” quips and quotes.  It turns out that it was the latter.  A quick Google search the next day revealed that the longer version (requiring far more letters and a bigger sign) reads, “The church is a gift from God; some assembly required.”

While true Christian faith is based on a personal, individual relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, it is equally true that God has chosen to keep His children in community; He adds us to a family, a body, a kingdom of believers, His church.  It is within this community of faith that many of us have likely experienced some of our most precious spiritual memories, as well as our worst ecclesiastical nightmares.  It is with the “church assembled” that we have shared laughter and tears and felt the weight of burdens lifted by a loving Christian family.  It is also where we have likely had our feelings hurt, felt like a complete stranger, or had salt rubbed in our wounds.  We have been in assemblies in which we felt transported to the very throne of God by voices and hearts united in praise, and we have also been in gatherings where we sensed that the Spirit was a million miles away; or perhaps it was our own emotional distance that was responsible for that feeling.  Such are the highs and lows, the joys and sorrows, the blessings and disappointments of life in the Body of Christ.

Yet, it is good to be reminded that our failures and foibles in the implementation and execution of God’s plan for His people do not negate His divine wisdom in calling us to assemble and to share our common faith in a living and dynamic community. 

Carolyn Arends shares a brilliantly insightful opinion piece entitled, “Taste the Soup,” in her “Wrestling with Angels” column in the current issue of Christianity Today.  It captures and articulates the thoughts and feelings that I had been mulling over ever since I saw the “Some Assembly Required” sign.  She expresses these sentiments so effectively that I wish I could just provide a link to the article, but it is currently unavailable on CT’s website.  However, it will likely appear on Arends’ blog sometime soon.  I’ll share a few excerpts in hopes that you will soon be able to read it in its entirety.   Arends’ title comes from an illustration in which an annoyed restaurant patron repeatedly asks the server to “taste the soup” in order to communicate that no spoon has been provided on the table.  Her point:  “Sometimes you have to do what is being asked of you before you understand why it’s required.”

Arends writes:

“Lately, for me, the command to ‘taste the soup’ has been about attending church.  Trouble is, I just haven’t felt like going.”

“I’ve been sliding into pews (or modern equivalents) from infancy; my vocation has taken me to hundreds of churches around the world.  I’ve met some of my dearest friends and endured some of my darkest betrayals in youth rooms, foyers, and sanctuaries.  I’ve cried, sung, prayed, committed, disconnected, recommitted, scribbled sermon notes, doodled, been wounded, been healed, encountered the Mystery, and dozed off – sometimes all in the same service.”

“Like anyone who has logged serious pew time, I’ve got reasons to be jaded.  I’ve seen churches split over trivia while they trivialize glaring immorality amongst their leaders.  I’ve encountered gossip posing as prayer, and bullying masquerading as ‘spiritual guidance.’  I’ve watched the realignment and reduction of the gospel into a business plan for membership growth or personal improvement.”

“People who complain that church is boring have no idea.  Church is scary.”

“There’s just one problem.  Beneath my rhetoric of antilegalism, enlightenment, and self-protection there remains a still, small – but increasingly insistent – voice.  And it’s telling me to taste the soup.”

“Obedience in this area is simply intentional proximity with a group of people who love Jesus and each other.  It is coming together to his table, if only because that is what he asks us to do.  And it is trusting that he’ll show us not only the spoons we’re missing, but also the feast he has in store.”

Thank you, Carolyn!

We assemble as Christians, not because we serve some cranky, attendance-taking Divine Curmudgeon who delights in marking us down for unexcused absences, but for reasons of our own spiritual benefit, and that of others through us.  

If it has been quite a while since you last assembled with other Christians for praise and fellowship, let me encourage you and challenge you to muster up the resolve to do so this Sunday.  I know that I’m asking a lot, because some of you have been severely wounded, neglected, misunderstood, or perhaps just “overlooked” rather than “overseen” in the shepherding ministry of the church’s leadership.  All of these negative experiences are caused by the fact that churches are made up of people exactly like ourselves, plagued by similar weaknesses and failings. 

“Taste the soup” this Sunday, and be open to the multiple reasons why God calls us together.  He may be counting on you to be there to reach out to someone who really needs you, someone to whom you can extend understanding and compassion because of your own painful experiences.  I pray that healing will begin to overcome the hurt.

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September 2012