Tomorrow we are having our monthly church picnic. We do this on the second Sunday of every month and it is always a blast to spend extended time with one another. I’ll never forget the picnic where we barbecued outside the building and ended up setting off the fire alarm. Having a fire truck pull up was definitely a memory that we won’t soon forget!
We don’t have these picnics just to enjoy being together though. We do this so that we welcome in people from our community to join with us in experiencing real friendship. You see, the gospel allows us to relate in ways that are radically counter cultural. We don’t have to pretend to be something we are not and we can care about people other than ourselves. As Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this they will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Our church picnic is a small way that, through spending extended time with each other, we can express love for one another. This love is meant to bear witness to those who are not yet followers of Jesus, of the difference that Jesus can make.
Larry is an example of this. Larry first heard about our church through one of our picnics. He was sitting on a park bench and observing how we related. He was intrigued. He said he had never seen people talk in such real ways. He’d never heard such genuine laughter. He had never seen people praying for one another. He had never seen friendships made possible by the good news of Jesus.
Larry came out to a guy’s night we had the following Saturday. He came to church the next Sunday. Over the next few weeks I got to know Larry. He would drop by my office often and ask questions about Christianity. Larry didn’t know Jesus, but Jesus was starting to make himself known to Larry. I’ll never forget Larry telling me, with tears in his eyes, that this was the only place, and the only people, that he had ever felt safe around. Two months after being part of our community, Larry put his trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of his sins. What a joy it was to embrace my new brother! That was on a Wednesday. The following weekend Larry missed church for the first time. He didn’t stop by my office on Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday. It was very odd for a week to go by without me seeing Larry. Thursday morning another guy from the neighborhood (also named Larry believe it or not) stopped by. After giving him a cold bottle of water, I asked if he knew where Larry was. He told me that on Wednesday night of the previous week, Larry had overdosed and died. The day that Larry put his trust in Jesus, he went home to be with Jesus.
Psalm 139 says that all our days are written in God’s book. God knew when the closing page of Larry’s story was going to be. And in Larry’s final chapter, God wrote in a few pages of two months spent with a church where Larry would see, experience and hear the gospel. Larry died because of his sin, but he did not die in his sin. Because of his trust in Jesus, God’s word gives the promise that Larry is with the Savior right now.
And the starting point of what God used to make that happen was our picnic. That’s why we do it.
Looking forward to being together tomorrow1
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