By David Kowalski
I played a little football when I was younger. The worst injury I sustained was a sprained thumb. The coach briefly looked at it and sent me back into the game. It never occurred to me to protest or complain. Everyone plays hurt sometimes. When playing basketball, I cracked a bone in one finger during a practice. I got a splint for the finger and played the rest of the season that way. There was nothing heroic in that. That’s just what one does when they are on a team.
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As an adult, I learned that I could not stay home from work every time I felt bad. On one occasion, I was extremely ill from a brown recluse spider bite, but went to work anyway, as I was especially needed that day. Whatever the arena, life is filled with difficulties and one must be willing to persevere in spite of them.
Church is no different. In my first sermon at one church I pastored, I talked about the rituals found in cultures across the world to mark the age at which a boy is to be considered a man — a mature member of the community. They nearly all involve inflicting some kind of pain on the young man. One tribal culture has the young man run through a line of men who beat him with clubs. The universal message in such rites of passage is that what lies ahead for the young man will not always be pleasant and that being part of a community will sometimes mean enduring mistreatment from others. Being a mature member of the community requires an inward toughness that perseveres despite such things.
I jokingly told the congregation that as they left the building that morning it might be better for me to beat them with a club than shake their hands. “We’re going to have problems,” I said. “We’ll disagree sometimes. At some point, each of us will get his or her feelings hurt. But can we join hands anyway, and as mature members of the body, commit ourselves to the overarching purpose of making disciples?” Being an active part of a community of believers requires maturity.
“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14 NASB)
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