November 29, 2020. We are pretty much one month away from welcoming in the year 2021. Don’t we all hope for a new year — and a different year than this year.
What a strange year this has been. Socially, emotionally, relationally, economically, educationally, medically, politically, and on and on.
And one thing I’m mising alot is church. Going into a church building. Fellowshipping with other believers. Together.
Now, I grew up going to church every week. We dressed up for church every week. As a little girl I loved my little black shoes and dresses. In the winter I wore those thick yarn-like tights, boots, and snowpants over the top! At church dad had to pull the little comb from his pocket that he always carried, because when I pulled my hat off, my fine childish (product free) hair flew up with staticity! Sometimes I complained about dressing up. “Why do we dress up?” I’d ask Mom. “Because we are going to see the King,” she’d reply. She likened it to going to see the president. I had never gone to see the president. Didn’t understand why you’d dress up for that either. Yet we also dressed up for baby showers and bridal showers and concerts. I liked dressing up — always have. Don’t get me wrong. But sometimes I just didn’t want to! (My uncle who is now close to 80 years old once told me he remembers dressing up to go to dinner parties in the evenings!)
Sometimes I just found church boring, if I’m honest. Once, I remember, I was sitting by a friend and her dad. I typically sat by my parents, but for some reason I wasn’t this morning. I had on a watch. I found myself constantly looking at my watch. Mr. Lorenzen finally reached over, turned my watch around on my wrist and whispered, “You can check the time when it’s done!” I got the message – sit still! So I did. But my mind still wandered and I didn’t listen to the message. I confess many times to not listening to the message, even if I outwardly looked like I was. But sometimes I did listen. And I really liked youth group and Sunday school. Overall I liked church. And when I started falling more in love with Jesus and with His Word, which I was intentional about in highschool, I actually listened better to my pastor!
As I grew up and went to college I remember my first chapel of my freshman year. (I went to a small Christian college). At that chapel many of the local churches came by and had booths set up, they wanted students to find a new home church. I remember our campus pastor stating that when students got to college and now had a choice of attending church — not required as in their parent’s household, many chose to not attend. They were encouraging students to find a church. They said if students didn’t find a church within the first month, it was far more likely they would stop going to church, and eventually fall away from faith. (And I did see that happen with some students.) Since I didn’t have a car, I was at the mercy of finding a place that someone else also wanted to go to. I found a small church, and a handful of college students went there. I borrowed a car a few Sundays because no one else was going. “Bedside Baptist” became a phrase that meant someone was too tired to go to church. And I confess, there have been Sunday mornings where I just don’t want to get up, shower, get dressed, and get out the door. Some Sunday’s I have had to force myself to, even though I love being at church.
I have attended Methodist, Baptist, Evangelical Free, and Covenant churches regularly. I have “searched” for churches, and I’ve gone to many styles of churches. I’ve attended a church where they didn’t believe in any musical instruments, and at a very small church with no song leader and no one really letting their voice ring loudly, let me tell you that worship time was sparse and lacking. I’ve been to a super small church where everyone but us as visitors wore a name tag, and yet no one talked to us except the greeter passing out the bulletin on the way in. Let me tell you — that church knew we were visitors but no on reached out and I never went back. I’ve been to a church that made me so uncomforatable I couldn’t wait for the hour to be done to bolt out. I’ve been to churches darkened with no lights, candles only. I’ve been to churches so big that each week I didn’t know anyone I ended up sitting by, and I “met” the pastor three times because he didn’t remember meeting me. I’ve watched a pastor on a screen (expecting to go to church with a pastor there, but learning he was at a different campus that day.) I’ve been to one church where the pastor’s wife came in late every Sunday to avoid the singing, because she couldn’t stand the style of music. I’ve been in churches where the message was topical week after week, and though Biblical principles were expressed, no Bible was ever opened. So, yes. I’ve been in quite a few churches. I have my own ideas and likes and opinions.
As I became a young adult and set out to find my own church, I heard some helpful things. Mainly: Preference vs. Principle. Does the church meet your preferences? What are your preferences. But do these preferences that you don’t prefere not honor God, or is it just something you don’t like? (Sometimes we think our opinon and preferences are the most important, and it isn’t!) And, what does the church teach? Is the Bible taught as God’s inspired, inerrant Word? Is the Bible opened and read? Is the gospel of Jesus preached? Is Jesus taught as the only way to heaven? Also, are you able to plug in and use your gifts in some way, which were given to you for the edification of the body?
And I also heard Ravi Zachariahs once state, “We have forgotten how to worship, so we must be entertained.” This made me evaluate my heart and motives. Why was I attending church?
Church. So many people. One head: Christ Jesus. Yet we find ourselves not at unity with each other. We find ourselves not staying in one place. We find ourselves arguing over opinions rather than uniting on the gospel. We criticize. We complain. We seek another place.
But this year, I’m reminded. We have the freedom to worship together. We are not persecuted when we attend church. We can pick a church, and are not mandated to attended a certain church. What priveleges that I have taken for granted far too much throughout my years! Shame on me that I squabble over preferences.
This year, I am not attending church — because of COVID. I have not attended since March. Watching online at home just isn’t the same. I don’t dress up. I lounge on my couch in sweats. Watching on a lapton screen that I typically work on, shop on, browse on, put down whenever I want to get a snack, am entertained on, and play games on — that makes for my mind to be set up already to struggle to watch church. Just being honest. I also am distracted by what is happening outside my window, noises call me to check. I get up to check on lunch in the oven. I find it hard to pray and sing cooperately, and sometimes to even focus. I think “no problem, I can rewatch it later!” But usually I don’t make the time to go back and rewatch later. Am I the only one? Surely not!
I once heard that our outward and coorperate Christianity is like a couple’s relationship — what is seen by others, starts in the home and in private. Dear Christian sisters — in this season, our own personal walk with God that begins in private is so crucial! We can not put our hope in going through the motions, or in serving, or in being at church. Never can, it doesn’t ultimatly work. But especially now, your walk with God and your own personal habbits with God are what are going to carry you. Of this I’m sure.
Dear friends and sisters in Christ, I am learning to press on in a new way. You must be too. I miss church. I miss the building. I miss the people. I miss the pews and stained glass. I miss dressing up — making an effort. (Now, not dressing up isn’t the real issue. It’s a heart issue. You can worship in sweats, and some who are dressed to the hilt actually don’t have a heart of true worship. God knows!) But I am hoping that in the year to come, we can return to church.
I am thankful that at this time we still have freedom to go to church and openly believe in God.
I am thankful for the body of Christ — all of us who believe in Jesus together. (Remember the old song: I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together. All around the world, all who follow Jesus, yes we’re the church together!”