I’ll begin by admitting my complete ignorance of all things agricultural, rural, and farm-related. I grew up as a city kid. With the exception of two short years when we lived in a small town in northern Indiana and occasional visits to see family who lived on farms in Wisconsin, I spent my entire childhood in and around the city of Chicago. Need to know how to catch a bus, transfer to another one, cross the busy street or play baseball in the intersection of a couple of side streets? I can help you. Have a question about breeding cattle? You should probably ask Google.
That’s why I was so completely fascinated by an unexpected birth that took place in our house many years ago. My wife and I had a cat. She was tiny, usually friendly and almost always inside. She did escape from time to time, but she always made her way back home. We had noticed a slight weight gain in her, but we were hoping that maybe it meant she was finally going to grow into a full-sized feline, rather than the tiny version that she had always been. Then one day I found her in my sweater drawer. Somehow she had gotten there by climbing under the dresser and into the drawer through the back. Some of you are already ahead of me. I tried taking her out, but she seemed insistent on finding her way back in, snuggling deep into the soft fabrics. I’m not even sure how I worked it out, but I realized that our tiny cat with the recent weight gain was about to be a mother.
I found a box, lined it with old towels and gently put her inside. She took a few minutes to rearrange things and then settled into a corner, looking rather uncomfortable. I was fortunate enough to be able to witness the birth of her three tiny kittens. I was mesmerized by the process. I watched as they appeared one by one. I watched as Mom cleaned them up. I watched as she fed them their first meal. After they fed, they snuggled in close and dozed as she kept a watchful eye on them. I remember noticing the time and being surprised at how much time had passed since the whole process began. It seemed like only a matter of minutes to me.
I was even more surprised at our tiny little cat. Prior to that day she had shown no particular skills nor intelligence. She didn’t chase mice. (Not that we had any.) She wouldn’t come when she was called. She rarely even played with the toys we had purchased for her. But now she had found a suitable place to give birth, brought offspring into the world, cleaned up with the efficiency of a top-notch house-keeping staff, fed her little ones and stood guard over them like she had valued them all of her life. Clearly, God had designed her with all of the natural instinct that was necessary for her to be a successful mother, all on her own.
I thought of that cat a few months ago when our son and daughter-in-law welcomed our first grandchildren into the world. Yes, you read that right. Grandchildren. Two of them. Twin boys. They’re doing very well, thank you.
I love our daughter-in-law with all my heart. She is, in every way, our daughter. She is intelligent, hard-working, compassionate, and she loves the Lord, her husband and (I think) her in-laws. But she is not a cat. From the moment those two babies came into the world they needed the full attention of their mother, their father, two sets of grandparents, doting aunts and uncles and, at times, a medical staff. Everything that seemed to come so easily and naturally to our tiny cat requires staff, logistical planning and the precise choreography of the Rockettes for the care of those two boys. They have turned their household upside down, and taken a number of us with them in the process. Of course, we are only too happy for the privilege.
There is a spiritual analogy here, I believe. God did not make human beings in the same way that he made cats – or cows or giraffes or fish, for that matter. For the most part, the animal world is capable of birthing or hatching their offspring, as well as nurturing them, without the assistance of others. But humans need help. Usually, that help comes in the form of family, assisted at times by professionals and other caring friends. We are not designed to function alone. That is as true in the rest of life as it is in birth.
It is also true in our spiritual lives. When we are born again, we are immediately placed into the family of God. We not only become his child, but we suddenly have brothers and sisters in the Lord. Our life is now defined by new relationships, both with God and with others. These new relationships extend far beyond the fact that we have new friends, Bible study classmates or fellow-worshippers. These “spiritual sibling” relationships have been given to us by God as a part of His plan for our spiritual growth and mutual ministry. The Bible tells us that one of the most important elements in the ministry of the local church is the mutual edification of each member (Eph. 4:11-16). In other words, we all use our spiritual gifts for the benefit of one another individually and – as a result – for the benefit of the church at large.
The New Testament teaches a great deal about this need for connectivity and relationships within the body of Christ. The Greek word is koinonia. It is usually translated simply as “fellowship,” but the significance is far greater than pot-luck suppers or dinner on the grounds. The idea speaks of mutual partnership in accomplishing some specific purpose. This is more than just comradery or bonding together. It is, as the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 1:5 “fellowship in the gospel;” both in it’s proclamation and in living out its reality in the Christian community.
This idea is carried even further in Hebrews 10:23-25:
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
As preachers, we often focus on that bit about assembling together. As important as that is, we should notice that our “church attendance” is sandwiched between two admonitions to encourage one another to good works. I need my church family and they need me. We encourage one another, provide examples to follow, lovingly correct one another and generally enjoy the pleasure that comes from working alongside someone with a shared set of values in a work that is larger than both of us. We rejoice together on good days, and we weep together during the difficult ones. Their gifts help me, as mine are to help them. Most importantly, once a week (at least!) we have the privilege of worshipping our Lord together.
The believer who somehow feels that he doesn’t need the interaction, connectivity and fellowship of the church has robbed himself of one of the most important resources that God has provided for him. Simply stated, we were not designed to tackle life alone. Can I state the obvious? We are not cats. We need one another.
Part of our intentional strategy at Global Baptist Schools is to restrict our ministry to the fellowship of churches. Each student attends at his own church, with his church family, under the leadership of his own pastor. The discipleship that takes place in those classroom hours, as well as the required ministry in each week within the church not only builds the individual student, but serves the rest of his church family as well.
Speaking of family. I think my grandsons need some quality time with their grandfather now! May the Lord bless you as you serve Him within your own church community.