Going Home

 

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Courtesy of Lydia Muniz.

 

It’s a unique experience to be part of the same church for an extended period of time. Before Texas, our church changed several times due to moving. Now, I’ve now been a member of Heritage Baptist Church for over twenty years.

When you’re at a church for only five or six years, you don’t really get a chance to see who will rub you the wrong way. You don’t experience the pain of sinning against someone, or being sinned against, in the way you do when you’ve been in the same church with most of the same people for most of your life. You really only get to see the nice sides of people in that short of a space of time.

When you are able to stay put, by God’s providence, and you endure in a church, by God’s grace alone, you often see people at their worst and most immature. I cringe sometimes to think of the behavior some of my fellow church members have had to witness as I’ve grown up. I’m so thankful for their love throughout the years. But, that is the other side of the coin. Sticking around means seeing people grow up. It means watching saints learn to serve. It means seeing people come back. It means the opportunity to rub edges off one another. It means different levels of sanctification all fellowshipping together.

And, it means watching fellow believers die.

In our little church alone, we’ve had Glenn, Harry, Aunt Vi, Ron, and now Robert go home. Some of them went slowly with their family gathered round. Some went too quickly. We weren’t ready. Harry lingered for several days, never alone, always a handful of us gathered around him singing, reading, praying, just being there. Robert got his diagnosis and instead of six months to two years, it was less than two weeks. But, he didn’t die alone. Two of our ladies were with him.

These saints who have gone before are missed terribly. Something will catch the corner of your eye and trigger an old memory of one of them. You look for them, but they aren’t there. But we have hope. Oh fellow pilgrim, we have hope. We will see our brothers and sisters again. They are gathered together in heaven with Christ and they are waiting for us.

They have shed the last of sin, glorious thought. They have beheld our Savior, and they are together. Someday, we too will rejoin their ranks.

Being in a church year in and year out, Sunday after Sunday, unites you deep down because some of your dearest friends–and some who you didn’t really know well, but love–are up there. The people at work don’t understand this. Many of your friends and family don’t understand this. But that person in the pew next to you, they get it. They get the strange mix of boundless joy as one more saint crosses the finish line. They get the sense of longing you have for the rest promised in heaven. They know who it is you miss, because they miss them too. 

Our church hosted another small memorial service for another small member. It was a different memorial than some of our others, because, in a way, Robert had shut himself off over the last few years. The memorial service included a confession of that, given to one of our pastors before Robert passed. He asked us all to forgive him, which we all freely did. Despite that, he was one of us, one of ours. We loved him and forgave him. Some of Robert’s family came, some friends from work, many we didn’t know. The gospel was shared. Tears were shed. Hymns were sung, and we few, we happy few, rejoiced to know Robert was in Heaven. 

 

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Courtesy of Pinterest.

 

Sunday Thoughts: Matthew 18:6-9

If you were to see us not in our Sunday best, but in our spiritual armor, in our TrueSelves, what would you see? A congregation of beauty? Coiffed and pampered? Polished plate, gleaming and shiny? Our swords sheathed and our guns holstered? Maybe clean, on parade soldiers, unsoiled and unspoiled by war?

No, my dear friend, no.

You would see a congregation of scarred, maimed amputees. You would see intense listeners, leaning forward in their seats. We fight our exhaustion. We push through distraction. Our swords are in our laps, blades bare, guns drawn and ready.

Row after row after row of bone-tired warriors with missing eyes, fingers, arms, and legs, gather together. We wear dented, miss-matched armor covered in blood and gore. We’re broken, weary to the point of tears, hungry, and never out of the fight.

Look deeper. Look at our gossamer souls. Do you see the holes? Do you see the daily deaths we die to ourselves for one another? Over there is a battle with sin not going so well. Up front is a disfigured saint still gnawed at by a particular temptation. Back there is a weeping soul who fell yet again into the same trap. They bend under the weight of the battles they have waged this week. They stop their ears to lies and unbelief.

Do you see the dreams sacrificed? Do you see the wants set aside? Do you see the here and now given up? The prayers prayed during the dark of the night? The trials, great and ordinary? The hatred of sin? The suffering endured? The pain of refining? The constant ruthless severity with which each saint turns blade and bullet on his own heart and flesh to rend and fight the corruption within?

This isn’t clean.   

This isn’t pretty.

This is war.

Battle.

Look at us on the path to heaven. We have sacrificed beauty and ease here for glory there. We are the scarred, amputated, broken, weary warriors. We are the ruthless.

We are the loved.

Sunday Thoughts: A Letter to the Ordinary Saint

 

Dear Ordinary Saint,

Yes, you. The one who quietly slips into their pew every Sunday, stands, sings, sits, reads, stands, sits, and quietly leaves. Yes, you. You who have health issues and can’t even stand for the Bible reading. You with the wiggly children who can’t whisper yet. You who are bearing a weight of such sorrow, you can’t talk to others. You who don’t rush around after the service, don’t play a musical instrument, don’t manage anything big or small. You who don’t talk much. You who are there every week: we appreciate you.

There is nothing in the world as important as the preaching of the Word of God. Nothing. And there is nothing more discouraging to the Bride and body of Christ than empty pews where fellow brothers and sisters are supposed to be. You ordinary saints who move through this life with a quiet contentment as you raise your families, love your wives, and obey your husbands, are encouraging your church family with your faithfulness. Don’t belittle it, or think it unimportant.

Mothers, you think you spend the whole service hushing, shushing, calming, and disciplining your children. You worry that it might be better if you just avoided church with your noisy brood for the first five or six years of their lives. Please don’t! Your faithfulness encourages all of us. We come into the service bloody and bruised after a week of fighting sin, weary to death, and what do we see? You. Again. With your children, ready to hear the Word. Our faith is bolstered. Our hearts are lifted. We see God’s gentle provision expressed in your paper-strewn pew and we are reminded He will care for us.

Young people, you have a million things calling for your attention. Work, movies, concerts, friends, events, functions, education. There are hundreds of more exciting things you could be doing, and honestly, hundreds of more exciting churches that would love to have you on their worship team. Please don’t! Your faithfulness encourages all of us. We have all faced the temptation to play or work on Sunday, or attend an event, or just sleep in. Seeing you make the sacrifice of what is considered normal in our culture to be in church every Sunday encourages us to stay at the task. Our resolve to face our God- given duties is braced by your faithfulness. Have you ever realized that? That your cheerful willingness to be in church every Sunday helps all us old people?

Men, be you young or old, married, fathers, single, husbands, your faithful choice to set aside ease, comfort, and relaxation to gather yourselves, your families, your wife, your children, and be in church is leading. Your job tells you to work long hours. Your world tells you to use Sunday to enjoy yourself, or finish something on the eternal Honey Do List. Please don’t! You have no idea how many other men are struggling to be in church themselves or with their families. They may be drowning in the temptation to stay home. They may have lost sight of why we are in church. But they see you there, every week, in the same spot, and they’re encouraged in their duty. You didn’t have to say anything to serve. You probably didn’t even realize you are serving. But it helps all of us hold the course when our men faithfully attend church.

Last, for the sake of your dear pastors and teachers, please understand the power of faithful attendance. Do you ever think about your pastors’ week? They have spent hours and hours studying the scripture, testing themselves against other wise men, formulating something that is understandable. They have labored late into the day. They have forgone rest. Some of them have woken in the middle of the night to make sure, one last time, that what they’re about to say is true and edifying. They have agonized over each word. They have fought the temptation to say something popular. They have shredded their sermons and lessons and started over, on Friday. Their wives and children have sacrificed time with them, so they may study for you. Then, when everyone else is ready to have some rest on Sunday, they stand before you and give you the Word of God. They have brought word to the bride from her husband. They have prepared armor for you against sin and temptation.

You weren’t there to put it on.

You weren’t there because something more important came up. More important that the Word of God? How discouraging it is for these men to look out and not see you in your pew. To wonder if you are okay? To find out you sacrificed the Word of the Lord, the amour you need for the week, the defending of your soul, to stay up late last night, or to work on the house, or finish a project, or just cause you couldn’t pull yourself together. Not only does faithlessness discourage your pastors and teachers, it is unbelievably disrespectful to the Lord.

But, when you have made all the sacrifices and given up all the little comforts of this world to be in your pew, your pastors and teachers are encouraged. They’re inspired to continue in the work. They’re filled with hope that you will listen and be prepared for the fight. They’re cheered in their work and ready for another week of study and preparation.

Ordinary saint, you have no idea the power of your faithful attendance. Your year in and year out, repetitive sliding into the pew each Lord’s Day builds up those around you. It bolsters your pastors and teachers. A lack of faithful attendance is like sitting in a foxhole with a soldier who always avoids his duties. It’s his turn to guard and he’s not there. It brings the whole unit down. It’s dangerous for us and you. It may cost the lives of your fellow soldiers. Have you ever thought of it this way? Have you ever taken your church membership and church attendance this seriously? Are you willing to sacrifice everything else in your life (work, rest, status, art, sports, and cultural norms) to make sure you’re in church ready to hear the Word of God? Do you do this for your sake, and for the sake of your fellow church members?

We all need each other. We’re soldiers in the same war. We’re a family that will be a family long after our earthly families are dissolved. We believe that the preaching of the Word is Christ amongst us. Your faithful attendance is a reminder of His faithfulness to us. Never ever lose sight of how important our everyday, ordinary attendance to church is.

Love in Christ,

A fellow pilgrim