A member of a certain church, who previously had been attending church services regularly, stopped coming to church. After several weeks of this absenteeism, the pastor decided that he would make a visit to the delinquent.
When the pastor made the call on him, it was a chilly evening. The preacher found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing and crackling fire in the fireplace. Already having guessed the reason for the pastor’s visit, the man welcomed him and led him to a comfortable chair near the fireplace.
The preacher made himself at home, but at the outset said nothing. In the grave and somewhat awkward silence, he sat there contemplating the dance of the flames that were surrounding the burning embers. After some minutes, the preacher, seeing the fire tongs at the side of the fireplace, took the tongs and carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone. The he sat back in his chair and remained silent.
The host watched all of this in quiet contemplation. As the lone ember’s fire decreased, and the flames flickered and diminished, there was a momentary fading glow, and then its fire was no more. Soon it went out, and became cold and dead.
The preacher after that glanced at his watch and realized that it was time to leave. He slowly stood up, took the tongs and picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Within seconds it began to glow again with the light and the heat of the other burning coals around it.
Then as the preacher reached the door to leave, his host finally broke the silence with a tear running down his cheek. He said to the pastor while shaking his hand, “Thanks so much for the visit and the fiery sermon. I shall be in church next Sunday.”
We live in a world today which tries to say too much with too little. Consequently, many times few listen. Sometimes the best sermons are the ones left unspoken, and it is still true that our actions speak louder than our words.
We all have those situations in our churches when it dawns on us that so and so has not been attending faithfully as he or she once did. Maybe he or she took offense at something you or someone else said or did. Maybe it is that life has just become too much for them, and they have become discouraged and even disillusioned in their faith as circumstances have ganged up on them.
Haven’t you and I ever gone through the experience that it seems like no one cares? We felt like we just didn’t matter much to anyone anymore. Perhaps even the feeling that God had forsaken us. You know, feeling lonely in a crowd and the crowd somehow makes us feel lonelier still. Been there! Done that!
Then there was the very moral gal and a very faithful church goer who suddenly dropped off the church radar. She started to surf the internet and started to meet with a guy who was not a Christian. But at least he was someone and she somehow was not as lonely, though she knew it was wrong. Loneliness is an awfully painful thing, and often people will do the wrong thing, even knowing that it is wrong, just to ease the pain a bit.
Or perhaps there is that new convert to Christ who was so filled with that initial glee and glow of having discovered Jesus to be greater than he ever imagined. Now some time has gone by, and he has begun to pay the daily social price at work and with his former friends – he is now being treated as an outcast. And he has begun to wonder, “Am I supposed to be like this – cut off and alone.” He is in a very delicate way, so vulnerable to the enemy, and he has already begun to withdraw from the church. He is feeling the painful reality of the words of our Lord in John 15:19,
“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the
world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”
Recently a very dear widow and friend from some years gone by left us. My wife and I remember her as a very dynamic and godly woman, wife, mother and school teacher. Her husband had passed away in the interim since we last saw her, and we were informed later that her children had turned against her and shut her out of their lives and the lives of her grandchildren. One night, she stepped in front of an Amtrak Train and committed suicide. It all became too hurtful, too hard, too lonely and too dark. Only Jesus understands the real depths of rejection and loneliness that she suffered. Even though we have lived a fair distance from her for some time, there is not a day that goes by but that we wonder what we could have and should have done to ease her pain and wrap her up in God’s love. I am reminded of a Messianic Psalm where we find our Lord expressing Himself in this way in Psalm 88:8,
“Thou has removed my acquaintances far from me; Thou hast made me an object of
loathing to them; I am shut up and cannot go out. “
I shall pray for you this week as you reach out to and visit those who need to feel that they are not simply dying embers. There are times when folks need someone to sit with them, be with them, cry with them, pray with them, and just plain love them and wrap them up in the warmth of Jesus’ arms. Or as a most venerable colleague of mine, who has gone to be with Jesus, used to say, “Wrap them up in pure God.” Yes, as their pastor, but even more as their friend! It could well be the most important ministry you will do in your entire life. It could well be the most important sermon you will ever preach. You may not have all the right things to say, but just your being there may be the greatest sermon they will ever hear, a sermon without words. God bless you!
BUT THERE IS A FRIEND WHO STICKS CLOSER THAN A BROTHER