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Summary: Three times the word "especially" appears in the New Testament, prompting us to be intentional in fellowship, to emphasize family life, and never to forget the centrality of the message of the Cross.

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Dealing with people is always messy. There is no way you can work with human beings and have everything neat and clean. When you deal with people, you get a mess. They misunderstand, they misinterpret, they make mistakes, they get it wrong. And that’s just on Sundays! The rest of the week is even worse. Mess is just a part of life.

Some of you have been involved in mess-cleaning around this church building in recent weeks. You have removed mildewed hymnals from the basement. You have uncovered long-forgotten pageant costumes tucked in a closet. You have carted to the dumpster boxes of food that is no longer edible to anyone other than Mickey and his friends. You know, Mickey – not Mickey-D but Mickey Mouse! We’ve been dealing with mess in this church building, and it’s a chore to deal with a mess.

But I will tell you in a hot minute it’s a whole lot better than the alternative, because mess means that there is life here. When something is ultra-neat, it suggests that there is no life there. A couple of years ago the trustees of Leland seminary took a tour of a church building we were considering as a place to house our classes. We went through several rooms designed for children. These rooms were clean and bright and airy. Toys were neatly stacked on shelves. Books were carefully placed in bookcases. These were facilities I would have gladly jacked up and moved to the corner of Piney Branch and Aspen. A beautiful suite of children’s rooms, all neat and clean. But do you know why they were so neat and clean? Can you guess why this church had no mess in its children’s rooms? Because they had no children! Because there hadn’t been anybody under the age of forty in that church for years! Children make a mess. People make a mess. So praise the Lord for the mess! When you deal with people, it will always be messy.

The church of the Lord Jesus Christ gladly lives with the mess. We are not sweet and antiseptic. We are not squeaky clean. We are a laboratory of love, learning to love one another through the mess. That’s what fellowship is about. Working with the mess.

You see, sometimes we get our notion of fellowship all wrong. Sometimes we get our idea about church all out of whack. We think the church is supposed to be a perfect place, where everybody lives in some sort of heavenly glow, speaks with “thee” and “thou” language, and never makes any mistake. If you find a church like that, hey, go and join it. You know what will happen then? If you or I join that perfect church, it won’t be perfect any more! I had a friend who was on a church staff. He would gripe and groan and complain about everything from the pastor (he wasn’t a good enough preacher), to the salary (it wasn’t large enough), to the location of his office (it wasn’t prominent enough). Gripe, gripe, gripe, this church is a mess, he used to say. Then one day he told me he was leaving. “I’ve got a call to another church. It’s a perfect church. Not a problem in it. No issues at all. A perfect church.” You know what I thought, but did not say? Oh, I bit my tongue on this one. I so much wanted to say, “Well, John, as soon as you get there, it will be a mess, just like this church.”

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