People matter to your health

Word reached me yesterday that COVID has touched my extended family once again. We are blessed in that there has not been death or even hospitalization as a result of sickness. I was saddened by the fact that the appearance of the virus will hinder some from being part of our holiday gatherings. What a tragedy!  

Yes, there is a hidden cost of COVID. The news focuses on statistics about physical illness. There is something that is largely hidden and/or ignored;  the ripping apart of our social ties which results in more depression, more abuse of alcohol and drugs, and more stress on families. Reputable studies are finding significant psychological distress and loneliness among adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published findings in mid-August, that Americans are experiencing depression, anxiety, substance abuse and thoughts of suicide at unprecedented rates!

All of this reinforces what we all know intuitively – people matter and relationships are critical to our well-being. This is nowhere more true than in our Christianity! A practice of faith that is without community is not normal. We are called to be together. Yes, I know that this is not a new thought, but we need to keep reminding ourselves of the value of worship and gathering; finding the balance between caution and overall well-being.  Yesterday, in CoffeeBreak, I emphasized the importance of being ‘living stones, built into God’s temple.

Today, I want us to look at a lesson from Paul’s letter, found in parts that are usually read quickly or that are just ignored. In many letters, the apostle closes by mentioning people by name. He writes about their needs, their contributions, sometimes even including a word of correction. The closing words of his letter to Titus is an example. “As soon as I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, because I have decided to winter there. Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives. Everyone with me sends you greetings. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all.” (Titus 3:12-15, NIV)  

I don’t know much about Artemas or Zenas but they mattered to Paul and the Church!  These people were his friends, his compatriots in the work of Christ. He cared about them and his affection is written into Holy Scripture.

The entire 16th chapter of Romans, Paul’s letter that is so rich with theology for our Christian faith, is devoted to people in his life. At least 25 different people are mentioned, by name, along with personal notes. Here’s an excerpt – “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”

What can we learn from the inclusion of those personal names and notes? That people matter! We must continue to connect, to care, to love, to share life as much as possible throughout this time. It is critical to our spiritual and emotional health, important for the vitality of Christ’s church.

Just in case you believe the 1st century church was a paradise of loving relationships, you need to recall the many corrections written into Paul’s letters. In so many different ways he speaks to their conflicts. “Stop fighting about secondary matters!” he says.  “Stop judging one another and accept each other!” 

In Galatians, he calls out Peter by name. ” When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.” (Galatians 2:11, NIV)  Ouch! In Philippians, he names a couple of people asking them to stop fighting and imploring others to ‘help them.’ “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” (Philippians 4:2-3, NIV)

My point? People matter. The Gospel lives, not just in the Book, but in our lives as we become God’s people together even when it is difficult.

Are you working to make and strength significant ties with other Christians? Are they getting written into your story of faith – people you care for, who care for you?  Are you making the kinds of friends and allies in the faith that will stand with you when you’re down and celebrate your successes?

COVID has made the ‘usual’ things more complicated. But, we are not without the ability to connect, even if it is a note, a text, or a phone call!  Friend, I do not write this to guilt you. It is written from deep concern that so many have just let the crisis force them into a kind of isolation without realizing the long-term cost of that choice. It may be that you cannot be physically present but you can stay ‘in touch.’  That is the blessing of technology for us.

The word from the Word comes from Romans.  As you read these personal notes, pray that the Spirit will remind you of people you can love, of the priority of staying connected to Christ’s church, through sickness and trouble, for the Glory of God. “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings.

I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:1-20, NIV)


We Will Stand
(I love this old 1980’s song with a timeless message.
Let Russ Taff’s artistry encourage you to stand together with other Christians.)

Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand
Why we pull away from each other so easily
Even though we’re all walking the same road?
Yet we build dividing walls
Between our brothers and ourselves.
But, I don’t care what label you may wear,
If you believe in Jesus you belong with me!
The bond we share is all I care to see,

And we’ll change the world forever,
If you will join with me,
Join and sing, sing.

You’re my brother, you’re my sister,
So take me by the hand.
Together we will work until He comes.
There’s no foe that can defeat us,
When we’re walking side by side,
As long as there is love,
We will stand!

The day will come when we will be as one
And with a mighty voice
Together we will proclaim that
Jesus, Jesus is King.
It will echo through the earth.
It will shake the nations.
And the world will see, see that;

You’re my brother, you’re my sister,
So take me by the hand.
Together we will work until He comes.
There’s no foe that can defeat us,
When we’re walking side by side,
As long as there is love,
We will stand!

James Hollihan | Russ Taff | Tori Taff © 1983 Word Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)

CCLI License # 810055

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