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

 

Quote of the Weekend

SoulDefenders and HearthKeepers

The voice of God’s Shepherds, the SoulDefenders rise in song,

Thick, deep, loud, powerful

Mixed in, peeking out, the voices of the women who walk at their side,

Oft’ unpraised, the HearthKeepers.

As the night settles in, as the stars come out, the SoulDefenders gather in smaller groups,

Smoke hangs in the air

Beer, both light and dark, is savored

Talk and laughing with deep-bellied laughs

As only men who have fought spiritual battles can laugh.

Stories are shared of their sheep, the souls they defend,

Sometimes laughing so they don’t cry

They carry the scars of words, sins, stress

In their dark eyes and gray hair,

These Soul Defenders, Shepherds, Pastors.

A warning: Don’t become one of these men lightly

Don’t pick up their weapons seeking glory

You won’t gain what you seek

Seek your SoulDefender, SoulDefenders

Seek your Shepherd, Shepherds, and not yourself.

-Abby Jones

(I wrote this while at the ARBCA-GA in April. You may have noticed that while this bit of prose is called SoulDefenders and HearthKeepers, the HearthKeepers were only mentioned once. This is because they are often unsung in the shadows, but they are okay with that. Their job is a hard one with little praise, but they know it’s not about them. Someday, maybe when my fairytale is done, I think I’ll write a story about SoulDefenders and HearthKeepers.)

Writing Journal: Being a Mini-Creator

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Being a novelist has deepened my understanding of some of the truths of Scripture.  It has helped me relate more personally to some doctrines I knew and believed but found difficult to understand.  These are very personal observation.  Please take them with a grain of salt and not as perfectly sound, doctrinal expositions.  Meaning, they are like all experiences, examples, and analogies for the truth of Scripture – they fall short at some point.

“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.”
― George MacDonald

I read this quote the other day and it gripped me in the corner of my mind where my stories wait for the chance to come out and play.  I have sets of characters that I have written stories about for years.  Again and again, I send them off on dark adventures.  Some of them make it out on paper…or computer, and some of them don’t.  New stories with new characters get mixed in there, too.  It’s like having a new friend – so exciting.  Some of you with children will probably tell me that you get what I’m saying but you learned it by having children.  I learned it through the process of creating worlds, lives, and the events in those lives.  Someday, I hope to join you, but for now, you can join me.

The process of creation is something unique to human beings.  Sure, you can stick a paintbrush in the trunk of an elephant and watch them splash paint on a canvas, but to birth art you have to be human.  Why?  We are created in the image of God with souls.  Part of that expression is being little mini creators ourselves.  I can relate to the power and beauty of realizing God, the incomprehensible, has comprehended me because I create.  The process of creating little fictional lives makes this quote mean more to me.  Why?

I destroy their lives and rebuild them.  I walked with them through the darkest of moments.  I design and create them.  I weep as I injure them knowing they had to be injured or they’ll never be who they need to be.  I suffer and rejoice along with them.  I am irrevocably tied to the lives of my characters.

This may sound strange, and it may be something only other novelist can relate too, but these fictional characters are very ‘real’ to me.  I don’t mean that in some mystical way I think they exist, but they are something I’ve created, and they are an extension of my soul.

This is just a hint, an inkling, a tiny example of what it means to be formed by the hand of God, to have Him write my own story.  I’m real.  I’m a human writing about humans.  He is God creating.  To move beyond my experience as a writer and think about God – mighty, holy, loving, perfect, complete in Himself – thinking, designing, and creating me, is a humbling thought.  Mind blown.  My brain just can’t comprehend it.  So I return to my little example to keep my brain in my head.

e4ddc8cd09daedbde32cae418edd178fI spend so much of my time thinking about my characters, and God says my worth is far above sparrows, which He tends to every day.  I plan each little step they take, each word they speak, each mistake they make.  God says He formed me in my mother’s womb.  I focus on how I’m going to heal them.  God says he will make me more like Christ and finish the work He began.  I’ve literally sit and weep on my keyboard as my characters suffer, experience loss, are tortured, and even die.  God says He’ll never leave us or forsake us.  I’ve gotten a better sense of walking through the valley of the shadow of death and fearing no evil for He is with me.  Why?  Cause I’ve put some people through hell and agonized over them more then than I did when they were happy.  I don’t worry about them when they’re at the good part of the story.  I worry about them when they’re at the darkest part of the story.

I have a better sense of not rejoicing in the death of the wicked because even my evilest characters have a small drop of pity from me.  I don’t have any qualms about their death.  My antagonists are evil.  But, I still pity them.  I pity them because they don’t want salvation.  They love their evil and have no desire to leave the darkness and come to the light.

I have a better sense of the salvation of monsters because I’ve saved some.  My favorite characters are the ones so unworthy of salvation.  I look forward to the day when I am before the Throne of God and I get to see all the vile sinners He has saved.  I anticipate that there will be some very horrible people there.  Why?  Well, for one, I’ll be there and I know my sinful heart.  I also know because on a very small, human level, I have copied my creator – like a fumbling child after a parent – and saved my own monsters.  Saved monsters are so much deeper and more wonderful than saved unicorns.

517af6dcdb6fb3c8f6e3f067d3827746I write stories, even my fairy tales, about things that go bump in the night and the men and women who battle them.  I’ve have characters who give up on anything resembling a normal life to protect that normal life for others.  This has given me a deep appreciation for the sacrifices required by the men on the front lines in the physical battles and the women who stand by their sides.  That understanding has blossomed into a deep respect for the men who wage spiritual battles against darkness.  It has helped me appreciate and pray for the men responsible for my soul.  Do you ever think about what your pastor has given up to be your pastor?  A well paying career, worldly respect, friendships, hobbies, a hidden life free from judgment and peering eyes to name just a few things.  Pastors have many sleepless nights filled with concern for their flock.  Everything they do is under the microscope.  And yet, they willingly put themselves and their families through this for the sake of the glory of God, the gospel, and you and me.  My appreciation for their sacrifice has been enriched by my writing.

If I, a weak and distracted writer, can spend that much time working on her characters, how much more does God work on us, His beloved children?

All this the Lord has helped me see over the years I’ve been writing.  In another words, I look at life through my Christian-colored glasses translating my experiences through the Bible, not the Bible through my experiences.  When you do it in the right order, there is a treasure trove of truth to learn.  I’m so thankful for my writing gift from God.  I hope to encourage and lift others up with it.  I’ll never write a story void of darkness, but I will always have light, hope, and a happy ending.

Thanksgiving 5

Today I’m thankful for our pastors.  They are our shepherds here on earth and the defenders of our souls.  I’m thankful that the Lord has blessed our church with faithful men who search the scriptures and then make it understandable for us.  I’m thankful and humbled by their willing sacrifice to give up on so much in life to serve us.  I’m thankful to the Lord for our pastors.