Fellow Fighters, Racers and Finishers!

“Imitate me.” That was Paul’s command to his readers, a plea repeated several times in the Epistles. He called believers to follow his ways in Christ (1 Cor 4), his life (Phil 4:9), and his work ethic (2 Thess 3). He also commended Timothy for following his teaching, his conduct, his aim in life, his faith, his patience, his love, his steadfastness and even his sufferings. (2 Tim 3). As we read Paul’s writings, we are indeed struck by his God-honoring, Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered example.

Undeniably, his faith and reliance upon God are exemplary. He clearly states in 1 Timothy 4 that God is the One who never abandoned him. When opposed, though all others had deserted him, Paul testifies that the Lord had stood by him and strengthened him. He was confident that God would see him through, rescuing him and bringing him safely into glory.

A brief look at Paul’s writings reveals another reason why Paul could say as the end drew near, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7) All throughout his writings, we cannot help but notice the repeated mentions of Paul’s coworkers and helpers. Human ones. Flesh and bone friends. He did not strive alone, race alone, or keep the faith on his own.

The following examples serve to prove this point:

*He relied on the prayers of the believers in Rome and expected their company to refresh him (Rom 15).

* Phoebe helped Paul as a patron of his, as his benefactor (Rom 16:2).

* Prisca and Aquila were fellow workers who risked their lives for him.

* Andronicus and Junia were fellow prisoners.

* Urbanius was a fellow worker.

* Rufus’ mother had been a mother to him.

* Gaius hosted him.

* Tertius did the actual writing of Paul’s letter, serving as a scribe.

* Several are referred to as ‘beloved’, a word that reveals a warm, close relationship with Paul. (Rom 16, Col 4)

* In Acts 9, we see how instrumental Ananias, Barnabas and other disciples were in Paul’s first steps as a believer.

* In 1 Corinthians 16, Paul is rejoicing that Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus came. They refreshed his spirit.

* The Philippian church, through Epaphroditus, provided gifts to Paul so that he was well supplied. (Phil 4)

* Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus (Justus) were fellow workers for the kingdom of God, men who were a comfort to Paul. (Col 4)

Paul was surrounded by fellow servants, fellow workers, beloved brothers whom God used in multiple ways in his life. Paul needed the body of Christ. He walked a pain-filled path all the while setting an example to emulate. No doubt he finished his race well, yet he did so by God’s sustaining grace and surrounded by faithful men and women.

His example compels us. His reliance on God and on fellow believers shows us the way.

The year 2020 and on is showing us how applicable this example remains. Many in our congregation can testify to the truth of having needed both God’s sustaining grace as well as the help of fellow believers in the past year. It has been a rough stretch for many. Here is a testimony of one of our own.

Mark and Allison Bates moved from Southern California to join our community last summer. No one probably anticipated an entirely smooth transition – it would have been naïve to do so - but obstacles and trials have abounded. Even if one expects problems, dealing with the day-to-day realities requires determination and perseverance.

Adjusting to a new home, job, church, environment - and all during Covid - is definitely not an easy process. Leaving family and close friends behind is heart-breaking! Welcoming one’s ailing mother at home, though done with joy, adds to the difficulty of transition. If joyful events in a family reveal how difficult it is not to live close to each other, serious health issues and crises only intensify that realization and magnify the distance. The Bates have dealt with ALL of these, every one of them over the last few months.

And yet, this is what Allison writes:

“This year has had its ups and downs, BUT God’s hand has been in it the entire time. Knowing that truth has given me peace and comfort with every step of my path this last year. A few things automatically came to mind when reflecting on how I got through it.

* God loves me and has been with me at every moment.

* If it wasn’t for the women from EFC, I would have been lost.

* I am so very blessed by our Connection Group and by the love that they have given Mark and me.

Allison continues with specific examples.

* It started with Petrina Ladendorf opening her home to us on our visit.

* Bill & Sharon Rogers gave us our Oroville tour.

* Mark & Susan Lundberg opened their home for us to stay in until we found our own home.

* The amazing women of the church threw me a welcome reception so that they could get to know me, and I could get to know them.

* Our Connection Group laughs, cries, prays, and learns together! Not only are these women so loving and caring, praying for me constantly, but the men have brought so much love and comfort to Mark.

* Honestly, as I write, the list keeps getting longer of so many amazing families that have loved on us.”

Allison ends by saying: “Thank you to all the families that have opened their homes and hearts to us.”

Does this not resemble Paul’s testimony and example to us? Dependence on God and on fellow believers. Offering and accepting help. Closely ministering together. Facing trials together.

So, beloved, using our gifts and opportunities, let’s continue to grow as fellow servants that creatively encourage and help each other. Let us cheer each other on to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith. And may all the glory go to God! Carol Hensel

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