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Don't Give it up

Greetings All,   
     Today's 'thought' addresses an increasingly prevalent problem in modern church circles--lack of church attendance.  It is taken from Phillip Yancey's book, "Church: Why Bother?" and it begins with the question,"Is church really necessary for a believing Christian?"  
     In days gone by church attendance used to be considered somewhat "mandatory."  Not always in a "legalistic" sense (as some people are quick to reply), but in a truly devoted, committed, testimony to the world, I need this, I benefit from this, God commands it sense.  The Lord's Day used to be seen as the Lord's Day and not just the Lord's hour, or worse, his 45 minutes or half hour -- something one fits in among a multitude of other equally pressing (or in reality, not so pressing) commitments and desires. 
     And because it was the Lord's Day, they understood that at least part of it was to be spent in the House of the Lord; the House of Worship, or the "Meeting House" as it was called in early New England to differentiate from the "church" (which is the people of God and not the building they meet in). 
     Hebrews 10:25 made it clear: "Do not forsake the gathering together of yourselves, as is the habit of some..."   The reason?  It was a time to gather together in a world often hostile to the faith and encourage one another.  The word encourage is a compound word from "en" (meaning "in") and cour (meaning "heart") and essentially means to "infuse with courage" or "infuse the heart with strength to go on."  Gathering with others for worship, fellowship, instruction, prayer and praise encourages both us and them to keep our gaze focused on Christ, grow in Him and persevere in the faith.
     This thought addresses why many people (including the author at one point) do not do so. It also offers some food for thought and reasons to reconsider going back if you have forsaken gathering together with others for worship on Sunday morning. I have also inserted a related section from Yancey's book, "What's So Amazing About Grace?"  I trust you will find them helpful. Enjoy. 
     "Is church really necessary for a believing Christian? Winston Churchill once said that he related to the church rather like a flying buttress: he supported it from the outside.  
      I tried that stategy for a while, after I had come to believe...and had committed myself to God.  I am not alone.  Far fewer people attend church on Sunday than claim to follow Christ.  Some of them have stories similar to mine: they feel burned or even betrayed by a former church experience.  Other simply 'get nothing out of church.'  Following Jesus is one thing; following other Christians into a sanctuary on Sunday moring is quite another.  Why bother?  As the poet Anne Sexton put it:
                            'They pounded nails into his hands,
                             After that, well, after that everyone
wore hats...' (men might add ties)
      As I reflect on my pilgrimage I can see that many barriers kept me away from church.  First was hypocrisy.  The atheistic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was once asked what made him so negative toward Christians. He replied, 'I would believe in their salvation if they looked a little more like people who have been saved.'
     Scarred by the absolutist fundamentalism of my childhood, I too approached church warily.  On Sunday mornings Christians dressed up in fine clothes and smiled at each other, but I knew from personal experience that such a facade could cloak a meaner spirit.  I had a knee-jerk reaction against anything that smacked of hypocrisy until one day the question occurred to me, 'What would church look like if every member were just like me?' Properly humbled, I began concentrating on my own spirituality, not everyone else's. 
      God is the ultimate judge of hypocrisy in the church, I decided; I would leave such judgment in God's capable hands.  When I did so I began to relax and grow softer and more forgiving of others.  After all, who has a perfect spouse, or perfect parents or children?  We do not give up on the institution of family because of its imperfections -- why give up on the church?...
    What changed my attitude toward church?  A skeptic might say that I lowered my expectations somewhere along the way, or perhaps I 'got used to' church just as, after numerous false starts, I got used to opera.  Yet I sense something else at work: church has filled in me a need that could not be met in any other way.  Saint John of the Cross wrote: 'The virtuous soul that is alone... is like the burning coal that is alone.  It will grow colder rather than hotter.'  I believe he is right. Christianity is not a purely intellectual faith.  It can only be lived in community.  Perhaps for this reason I never entirely gave up on church. At a deep level I sense that church contains something I desperately need.  Whenever I abandon church for a time, I find that I am the one who suffers.  My faith fades, and the crusty shell of lovelessness grows over me again. I grow colder instead of hotter.  And so my journeys away from church have always circled back inside."
    It was Billy Graham, I believe, who used to tell people that if they found the perfect church they shouldn't join it, for then it would no longer be perfect.  Yet believing that requires that we maintain an honest inwardly focused gaze directed at our own imperfections and shortcomings, rather than the typical outward gaze that looks for the imperfections and shortcomings of others and then upon finding them (which one can always easily do) uses them for an excuse to leave or neglect attending church.  
   One thing might help the defection rate, though.  And that is if the church focused on being the church Christ called it to be.  We can never erradicate things people will use as an excuse to avoid church, since as Yancey admits, the problem really rested in us and not others. But it would help erradicate some of them if we followed his advice given in this second quote: 
    "'In the world Christians are a colony of the true home,' said Bonhoeffer. Perhaps Christians should work harder toward establishing colonies of the kingdom that point to our true home...  If the world despises a notorious sinner, the church will love her.  If the world cuts off aid to the poor and the suffering, the church will offer food and healing.  If the world oppresses, the church will raise up the oppressed.  If the world shames the outcast, the church will proclaim God's reconciling love.  If the world seeks profit and self-fulfillment, the church seeks sacrifice and service.  If the world demands retribution, the church dispenses grace.  If the world splinters into factions, the church joins together in unity.  If the world destroys enemies, the church loves them. That, at least, is the vision of the church in the New Testament: a colony of heaven in a hostile world."
               With prayers that we might display such subversive behavior,  
Pastor Jeff