February 19, 2006
Dear Paul and all my Friends at Grace Fellowship Church,
Writing to you is like eating chocolate - I like to do it... and, I do it too much. I ought to go back and read some of my first letters to you all and remind myself that over-talk is a sin that more often than not lands a man in a pile of mud. Maybe when I am done here I will do just that!
Last night I was leaning on a stall in the barn waiting for a cow to calve and thinking about what I ought to write to you next on the family. The thought struck me that there is really nothing more I have to say on that most important topic. In fact, for all my musings, I had to conclude that the Lord doesn't do much more than offer us a few important principles then leave the rest up to us. Kind of like throwing seed to the field... you throw the seed, but the earth and water and sun all have to work out the details on the growth.
So, tonight I am going to write about something much akin to last week's letter - on the subject of going to church.
I've heard more than 9 people tell me that they view church attendance as something that is not that important. More and more it seems that is the case. I am no cutting edge theologian, but I read in a recent Christianity Today an article by a Mr. Barna that just going to church was old-fashioned and out of date.
Well, maybe I am just an old, out of date farmer, but I want to make my case for doing what you are all doing there tonight. I'll begin by listing off what I think are some of the benefits of regular church attendance.
The first benefit is an easy one to describe by this little story. One Saturday afternoon Jake Wilson called me to see if I wanted to go down to a Toronto Maple Leafs game at the old Maple Leaf Gardens. Not ten minutes later I was in his car for the long drive to the city. Seeing as how we had both been up early that morning, we stopped twice along the way for coffee to keep awake.
Now, I know you city-folk get to hockey games all the time, but for me, this was a rare occurrence. So, I didn't want to miss a thing! It was a great game that ended up tied with Montreal with 5 minutes to play! But wouldn't you know that right around that time, those two large coffees, one pop and a hot chocolate all got to impressing on me the need to take a trip to the little boy's room. Finally, I could take it no longer and dashed down the aisle and out the door and back again as fast as my old legs would carry me... only to hear a giant cheer as I rounded the corner to re-enter the rink! I had missed it! The winning goal! Montreal - losers again! Just like me!
Now, it seems to me that is the thing that nearly almost happens on the Sunday you miss gathering with your fellow saints. The Sunday God chooses to come down, is the one Sunday you pick to convene a meeting with Pastor Pillow and Deacon Sheets! But the way to never miss the blessing is to always attend the fellowship.
You might think of church meetings like a series of meals. Mrs. Walter is more than a fine cook, but every once in a while she tips the cow and raises the roof. Some new recipe or even an old recipe comes together in such a way and at such a time that we are faced with a banquet we'll not soon forget. But if you skip dinner that noon to fix the spindle on your hay rake you miss the meal where your wife makes Martha Stewart look like a short-order cook. You've got to be there! Same with church.
One way to be sure you are there is always be there. I know sickness and flat tires happen, but you would be surprised what you can do when you put your mind to it. And you'll enjoy the blessings since you are there!
Now, making it to church regularly does some things. First off it helps to build friendships with all those fellow Christians. You can't love folks you never see, and the Lord had much to say about proving our love for Him by loving our brothers. If you only see your church friends twice a month, how are they going to have time to sin against you? You need to be around the barn to get your boots dirty and you need to be around your church to get your toes stubbed. I listened to those sermons by your pastor on The Authentic Church, and one thing was clear from the Book of Acts - those Christians spent a bucket-load of time together. And as they did, you can bet a penny for a dollar they crossed each other up a time or three. You had best learn from the get go that not everybody who walks through the church door is fun, encouraging and normal. Paul wrote something to the Corinthians about this:
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
"Foolish. Weak. Low. Despised. Things that are not." When you look in the mirror, that's what stares back at you. So we would do well to expect that such pathetic little creatures like us are going to take some serious works of grace in order to not stink the joint up. And part of the way the Lord will work on your heart and the heart of your brothers is through the requirement to keep loving those that are not so easy to love. Again, if all you do is avoid them, what kind of glory does that bring the King of Grace?
Get used to weird if you're in the church. Fact is, that is why you are here! And get your mind around the fact that you need to love all these other weirdo's just as much as you love yourself! If you make that kind of commitment, the Lord will use these folks to grow and change you. Best of all, He will use these folks to draw you closer to Him.
Now this is important not just for you but for your whole family. Your kids need to learn the same lesson with their friends. I wonder if the children of Grace would listen up for a minute? I want to tell you about a mistake I made growing up, kids. Just like you, I grew up going to church every week. As time ticked by, I made my group of friends and we pretty much stuck together all of the time. In fact, the way we acted at church was pretty much how we acted at school - we found our group and never a stranger came in it! I look back on those days with some regret though.
My family moved away for a year when I was 16 and we attended another church. Do you know the first Sunday I went to that church, the whole lot of High Schoolers walked up to me and introduced themselves. Well, I have to admit I was near knocked out of my socks. I had never seen anything like it! There were teenagers in my church that I had not said a word to in over three years! And here every one of these kids, male and female, was coming to greet me. Now that stuck in my head like a dull hatchet for more than a week. I realized I had worked pretty hard to make my world nice and comfy and that meant not including some people that I though were a tad different.
I think you young people need to decide now to open up your life and heart to all those other kids your age. And if I can be so bold, I would say you girls probably need to work twice as hard at this as the boys. For whatever reason, girls are great at letting the unwanted know that is what they are. I say, quit living like the world and test this heart religion of yours - can you love that other girl who looks weird to you? Can you talk to that other girl who makes you feel nervous? Life is full of people like this - and the last thing the Lord's church needs is relational adolescents in grown up bodies! Sticking a saddle on a cow won't make him trot! And putting a grown up body on a girl doesn't make her a mature woman. She needs to start learning now to love those who seem to her to be unlovely.
Now, you boys on the other hand, usually find it in your heart to include just about anybody that comes through the door. The problem with you though, is that you're more frightened than a one-legged possum at the thought of ever talking to your friends about Jesus. I say, you need to learn now to talk to your young brothers about the Lord and to elevate your conversations from sports and Star Wars to spiritual warfare and the Holy Spirit.
Take a look around you boys. You see all those other boys? Well, one day they will look like that old man sitting across from you... and so will you. Boys become men. But the Bible says something about the need for them to "act like men." A boy in a man's body is worse than a B-movie. Start acting like men, my little brothers and you'll be on your way to true godliness.
Now another great thing about being regular to church, is that you will surround yourself with a group of people committed to your spiritual good. A family is a great asset in the time of trial. There's been more than one occasion I have called on my brothers and sisters to help in the time of need. But if your family ain't made up of Christian siblings, there will always be something missing. They may be able to care for your physical needs, but if they don't know your Saviour, they will fall a mile short of what is most important in the hour of testing. Your Christian family is able to do what is best when you most need it - but the level of their love to you will be hampered and shrunk if you've been skipping church to watch football two out of four Sundays a month.
So you could view church attendance as a kind of investment. If all you ever do is throw a few dollars into your RRSP on deadline day, you won't have much in the bank when you need it. But if you start to put a little in, once a week - it'll take time, but soon that amount will grow much bigger than you thought. Better, there will be something there to live off of when your body says early mornings and late nights are no more! Invest in your brothers and sisters at church - a little at a time - and you will have a wealth of deep friendships to help carry you through life's trials. Oh, I know that ultimately even these will fail us apart from the Lord... but, I'd rather have a few friends on the lifeboat than spend my days adrift all alone. Keep yourself regular to church and you will have a boatful when you most need it.
There is something else going to church week by week will do for you. Last month our poor pastor got called out on the carpet by one sporadic parishioner. It was not a pretty sight, but this good shepherd had a bushel of kindness in his back pocket and he used it well. The problem the man had was with the decision to shift the World War II plaque from the front of the auditorium into the foyer. He showed up for his monthly visit and surprise, surprise... his granddaddy's name had gotten moved!
What he didn't realize, however, was that in the weeks before, our pastor had gone to great lengths to point out that nobody could read the plaque where it was situated and that he wanted to put it in a more appropriate and approachable location. He asked for some suggestions and then came back to the congregation with the foyer idea. Everybody talked about it and agreed that this was the thing to do.
Well, this poor man missed all that since he wasn't there! Then he shows up and throws a hissy fit after service not knowing that the whole matter has been discussed and prayed about by the entire congregation!
That's another good reason to make it to the church on time! You can't be a part of decisions if you aren't there to know about them. Some fool might say the onus is on the church to call the slacker and fill him in - but that's a pail of hoogly! In my mind, the duty falls on the man. If he wants to have a say, he needs to become a member and show up to church. Otherwise, please keep coming, but leave the decision making and vision setting to those who bother to be there once in a while.
Now that takes me right in to my final thought. Going to church is like joining a gym. If you just show up from time to time your belly won't shrink and your abs won't grow. To tell the truth, I don't even know what abs are, but two infomercials later and the word is stuck in my noggin. My point is that your heart has to be in it. I have never understood this notion of "adherent." Do you have those at Grace? I think you should get rid of them if you do. As best I understand that big word, it means something like: "not willing to fully commit." Now, I know I just stepped on a few tender feet, but hear me out. I think (and Mrs. Walter agrees) that you need to do all you can to join whatever church you are attending. Make a promise to be at the meetings and do your best to love the saints. Why would you not? For the life of me I cannot figure it out. All these great blessings would be yours in abundance.
Now some folks have opened their mouths with all kinds of sophistries about being a member of Christ's church and that being good enough. If I've heard that line once I've heard it 37 times. Friend, since I barely know you, let me just write, I think your real problem is with pride. I think the thing that keeps most folks from joining a church is a desire to stay unaccountable and to keep their attendance and service and giving to a minimum.
All I can say to that is that you are robbing yourself. Jesus said it was more blessed to give than to receive and I think you ought to join whatever group of believers you are with to do just that very thing. I realize there may be some doctrinal and other tricky issues to overcome... but a room of full of people that love one another ought to be able to find a creative way to do just that - overcome the obstacles.
Now I thought I was going to have much more to write, but my tired fingers are ready for a break. This cold weather slows down my typing speed as well as my metabolism, so this will probably be the last you will hear from me in a while.
The more I write, the more I realize I keep saying the same things over again! I warned you that I didn't have much to offer. But you won't go wrong if you put this letter aside and pick up your Bible. The words in the Word are far better than the ramblings of this old gorilla.
So, until the next time (if there is a next time), do me a favour and keep reading that Good Book and keep seeking to walk humbly with the One who called you. And remember to do all you can to get as close as you can to as many of those fellow pilgrims around you as you can. And bring glory to Jesus by loving His Bride.
You are much loved by,
P.S. Tell my old friend Hill thanks for the soap and that he's more than welcome to cut those birch branches on my back 40. He just needs to be sure not to stray into Larry McCall's field.