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Too Close to Cough, by Phil Ware Phil Ware

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    Holiday travel is interesting. We’re all crammed into one car, or more crammed into an airplane full of nervous people. We sit way too close to each other. Wedged in tight, we’re really close, way too close! Too close to cough... but someone inevitably does!

    When we arrive, we stay in a house designed for a fourth of the people waiting on overused bathrooms and fighting over the TV remote. We find that we are close, way too close. Too close to cough... but someone invariably does.

    A few days later, we remember all the things that irritate us about of our kinfolk and we “remind” them of ours! We are around each other way too much, in quarters way too close. We are close, way too close. Too close to cough... but someone always does.

    Why do this crazy crowded ritual? Why put up with cramped travel, cramped quarters, and cramped relationships? Why get so close to the coughers? Because we need each other. We need the relationships. We need to belong. We need to have family. We need to be a little crowded every now and then.

    Church is a lot that way. We get together with flawed people, each living to go to heaven, doing the best we can not to “cough” on each other. While many of the people can be very nice, eventually someone “coughs” on us. We get hurt and angry. We want to give up on this whole “too crowded” condition and avoid all the coughers and the hurt they cause. But a voice deep inside keeps calling to remind us how much we need each other.

What are we going to do in an imperfect place with imperfect people?
    All of us, sooner or later, is going to get “coughed on” at church. What are we going to do with that? What are we going to do in an imperfect place with imperfect people who sometimes “cough” on each other?

    First, let’s give thanks for the crowd and the cough. If we couldn’t go where there are imperfect people, then we’d have no place to take us in. Sure, it’s unpleasant at times. But then sometimes we’re unpleasant and need someone to be patient with us.

    Second, let’s remember that our gathering together with church folks is a lot like going to kinfolks for the holiday. We know each others irritating habits and sensitive vulnerabilities. This makes it easy for us to get on each others nerves. But it also means that we can offer comfort, support, encouragement, and friendship at a level others cannot approach.

    Third, praise God that our crowded conditions are going to be remodeled and our flawed selves are going to be perfected. When Jesus returns, all our minuses will become plusses and all our crowded “coughs” will turn into shouts of joy and celebration.

    I once had a friend from the Ukraine tell me that “In the Ukraine, we say that after three days, relatives are like fish: they start to smell and need to be put out.” I told him we had a similar saying. But as believers, we have an even more profound truth: Jesus died, was buried, and rose on the third day. He did this so that what stinks about our lives could be made new, so our future Reunion could be sweet, and so our broken hearts could be made whole. When that Day comes, we’re going to find a great crowd, but there’s always going to be enough room for us, and no one coughs... ever!


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