“Let us consider how we may spur one another on… let us encourage one another.” ~Hebrews 10:24-25
Our summer Wednesday nights at Central are intentionally focused on getting our church family together; on breaking down the barriers between generations and zip codes; on putting away the distinctions; on bringing together all ages, races, cultures, economic groups, and social classes to celebrate the divinely-ordained diversity with which we’re blessed in this body of Christians. And this week’s version of Running the Race — we called it “Cheer the Runners: Encouraging One Another” — surpassed by far our expectations.
For the evening meal, we asked everyone in our church family who was baptized 50 years ago or more not to wait in line to serve themselves, but to sit down at the designated tables so the rest of the congregation could serve them. And we did. We served up tons of brisket and potato casserole and strawberry shortcake. And after we all ate together, we sent these older saints into the foyer of our chapel. While the rest of us gathered in the pews, our older brothers and sisters were outfitted behind the foyer’s closed doors with “runners tags,” big numbers to wear on their chests declaring how many years they’ve each been running the race. Meanwhile, I prepped those of us waiting in the chapel for what would come next.
Johnny led us in the singing of Come, Thou Almighty King and then Greg opened up the back doors and here they came! Right down the long south aisle of our 83-year-old chapel. 60-year-Christians! 70-year-disciples! A couple of 74 and 73 year followers of our Christ! And we let them have it! A standing ovation. Clapping. Cheering. Whistling. Stomping. High fives and hugs. Salutes and pats on the back. Yelling. Hollering. Smiling. Laughing. Nearly 70 of our dearest, sweetest brothers and sisters entering our place of worship to such a roaring welcome. Three hundred more of us cheering them on!
Once these dear saints got grouped up at the front of the chapel, we sang to them:
“We love you with the love of the Lord. We see in you the glory of our King. We love you with the love of the Lord.”
And then we all sat down together and raised the roof in beautiful song, praising God and encouraging one another.
Next, we ran around with a couple of handheld microphones and asked these older members to fill in the blanks: My favorite thing about Central is __________. I once was __________, but now I’m __________. I’m encouraged when I see younger people __________. They really opened up with us. They shared their hearts and their emotions. They shared with us their joys and sorrows, their laughter and their tears. More than a few of them expressed gratitude for having once been uncertain about their eternal salvation, but now being completely confident in the promises of our God. A lot of them spoke of their admiration for our elders and ministers. There were many comments about the faithfulness of this church. There were several observations regarding the blessing of so many young families and children in our congregation.
And then we younger ones blessed our older ones one more time: We love you because __________. Again, we heard over and over the common themes of faithfulness and love. We’ve watched them run the race. We’ve watched them endure and persevere in faith. And we’ve felt their great love for us. A lot of people in that room have been blessed by the faith and love of these older saints for their entire lives. And I pray we were able to return some of that encouragement and strength Wednesday night.
Later, Mary had us all divided up — intergenerationally, of course! — into 20 groups to create and decorate Running the Race banners, using only the random supplies and following the specific directions provided at each of the decorating tables. It was quite a deal. Young and old, black and white, rich and poor, older saints and brand new Christians, all working together on these little projects and then, with great pride, displaying their banners and posing for the “team pictures.”
It was an extraordinary night. I believe every person who participated Wednesday came away with a strong sense of truly belonging to something huge, something bigger than ourselves, something eternal. I think we also got a real reading on the faithfulness of our God. He really is still alive and still very powerful; he really is still saving people and still bringing his people together to work and worship and, together, change the world. And I believe we got a little glimpse of heaven Wednesday night. We experienced a little taste of the one people around that one table celebrating together our salvation from God in Christ.
We’re doing a church-wide tailgate party on July 11 and prayer-walking our neighborhoods on July 18. Can it get any better?
Truly we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus. Let us not grow weary or lose heart. And may we consider how we may spur one another on.