Recently the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a cover story on my hometown of Mt. Sterling, Illinois. Apparently my home county has the lowest unemployment rate of any county in Illinois or Missouri. You can read the article here. You can also watch a picture slideshow of Mt. Sterling’s not so urban landscape here. (hit the play audio slideshow button) If you find yourself enamored with Mt. Sterling after this exposure, make sure you get a t-shirt.
I have many wonderful memories of my time growing up in Mt. Sterling. I, of course, loved the Brown County Fair, but what I think I loved most was recognizing just about everyone and being recognized by just about everyone. There is something special about seeing people you are familiar with and that are familiar with you where ever you go.
This week the Riverside men began studying 1 John. In the first chapter, John discusses how Christian opponents were not just affecting believers’ understanding of Jesus, but they were hindering their fellowship with God and each other. Sin was affecting how they related in general. One cannot have true fellowship with God and not walk the talk. And it is walking the God talk that is necessary for true fellowship with each other.
I think my small town upbringing gave me a glimpse of community. I got a taste of what it means to be known and to know. But it was just a glimpse. God calls bodies of believers to much deeper community. John later writes in 1 John about love and laying down our lives for each other. The Church is not to be the casual, "hello, how are you" of the small town grocery store or bank. The Church is to be authentic and vulnerable life lived together.
Whether we admit it or not, this is what we want. This is what we were designed for. Larry Crabb says, "each of us fervently wants someone to see us exactly as we are, warts and all, and still accept us." He goes on to say that God is that someone for us. And I would add that God most often reveals his unconditional acceptance through the faithfulness of those that have experienced Him this way and been transformed into new creations.
Let us move beyond knowing each other’s names and jobs, to knowing each other’s hearts, struggles, gifts, and experiences of the Light. And let us embrace one another, "warts and all," so that we may find a relational God, life transformation, deep unity with each other.