Church – Why Bother?

Church-Why Bother

I grew up going to church. Mom was a dedicated Christian, but Dad was not in the early years. He would drop Mom, my sister, and myself off on Sunday morning at the side door of 1st Christian Church in Vandalia, MO. I’d attend a Sunday school class, then I’d attend worship and set with mom, my sister Sandy, and mom’s parents (my grandparents). This continued for all of my growing up years. Eventually my Dad became a Christian and was there with us. Over the 13 years until I went to college this was part of almost every week. I was part of the youth group as a teenager, part of the Christmas plays, even sang in a quartet a few times (I know this part of the story is hard to believe). Then I went to college and strayed for a few years, but as Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he’s old he will not depart from it.” There was danger in my straying, but I came back and with some bumpy roads since then have continued as a man of faith in Christ ever since.

Why do I say all this? To illustrate that church matters. The primary teacher of children growing up should be their parents, but even when this happens effectively it is very important to have a social element that reinforces such teaching and provides encouragement, connections and resources that help the individual stay the course. I’m here to tell you: church matters! We live in a day when you don’t hear that message much. Many ask: Why bother with church? They just prefer to “believe” and go their individual way.

People are busy. The kids have school activities, mom and dad both work, there’s always something, and Sunday is the one opportunity to sleep late and relax (unless there’s a school or sport activity on Sunday, even Sundays are busy now days). Then there’s the typical church services. They don’t appeal to many men who are action oriented, who love to be outside, who work hard and don’t particularly enjoy group singing and sitting through an hour of religious stuff. It becomes easy when the culture disregards such things to disregard them ourselves.

And then there’s those people. You know, those Christians. They can be an odd sort, with personalities that are as varied as the general population, some are mature, some not so much, some have unusual perspectives, some are very loving, some very strict, some are hypocrites who proclaim values they do not live up to. All of that and more. It can become very easy to be frustrated with such people who don’t always live up to the standards that even you believe should be “Christian.” I recall the old rhyme: To dwell in love with the saints above, well that will be glory; but to dwell below with the saints I know, well that’s a different story. But then there’s you….

You struggle with sin (things God in the Bible state are wrong), just like everyone else. The people criticized in the church are really a lot like the critic. A lot like you. For all of us there’s a process we must go through to take an infant faith and allow it to mature. So yes, there are plenty of those who wear the name Christian who can be criticized. Some aren’t really Christian at all; they just wear the name. Others are sincere, they just need to get further into the maturation process, growing more like their Savior. But it takes a process, for them and for you.

And that brings us back to the church. The “gathering of Christians” (what the word church means) is for that very purpose. We gather to encourage each other, to study God’s Word together to learn the path he wants us on, to remember what Jesus Christ has done for us through his death and resurrection (in the Lord’s Supper). We pray, we sing, we give to the gospel cause. We attend a class or small group and get to know others on the same path. Kids grow up having what their parents teach them at home reinforced in a social environment. It’s not always a pretty path, but in this sinful messed up world, it’s the best path of all! Can’t we recognize the value of church?

“Let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together.”  – Hebrews 10:24, 25

Happiness and Hedonism

An old story goes like this: A Texas sheriff was pursuing a bank robber who kept crossing the Mexican border to hide out. Finally, the sheriff crossed the border himself and the posse tracked the robber to his hideout, where the robber was cornered. The sheriff needed an interpreter since he spoke no Spanish, and one was found. “Tell me where you’ve hidden the loot?” he asked. The robber wouldn’t answer. After several tries the sheriff got tough. “If you don’t tell me this time, I’m going to shoot!” He was serious, and it was obvious. The robber spilled his guts, admitting to his fault, telling where the money was hidden with detailed directions. “What did he say?” the sheriff asked the interpreter. After a few seconds the interpreter replied, “He says, ‘Go ahead and shoot.’”

The pursuit of happiness can take many avenues. If being happy is truly our deepest concern, we’ll rob for it, we’ll lie for it, we’ll do whatever it takes to be happy. Such is the Happiness & Hedonism Picture2life of the hedonist. They plunge into the experiences of life with one goal – enjoy! Sex in any form, lifestyles to please self, whatever it takes. A recent academic book suggests that, if the acquisition of pleasure and the avoidance of pain are our chief desires, maybe we’ve got the evolutionary theory backwards. Animals actually score highly on the pleasure scale, yet have few of the complex psychological pains, such as anxiety and disappointment, that are built into the human psyche. Yes, pleasure and happiness are good things, but they are not the only good things, and without boundaries they can enslave us. C.S. Lewis once said, if happiness was all he was after in life, a good bottle of port would do the trick.

If this life on planet earth is all there is, if the Bible’s promise of an eternity somewhere is not true, then hedonism makes some sense. Enjoy life while you can! The only boundaries you need are those that provide some level of safety, otherwise do whatever it takes to be happy. The trouble is, creating those boundaries is a fuzzy target. They vary with the individual’s background and worldview. And that’s exactly what we see in our culture, which has largely adopted the hedonistic philosophy. People stake their ground, then fight for their view of what can create happiness for them. Yet sexual fulfillment never really fulfilled anyone; financial security never really made anyone secure. Break God’s law for the sake of happiness, you end up proving God’s law, while breaking yourself.

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. (Ecclesiastes 2:1)

There was one person who could have taken this approach and been completely successful. Jesus. All he had to do was not create the world and the people who inhabit it. Then he could have stayed away from such craziness and rested in the fellowship of God, only pleasure, the absence of pain. But he didn’t. He wanted to have fellowship with humans. He gave them free choices of right and wrong. He even allowed them to accept him and follow his way, or reject him and do what they wanted. He spelled out consequences, but there was always a choice. Because humans chose the sinful path routinely, rather than push them away, Jesus chose to come to earth and suffer, and die, a ransom price paid to win us back. Isaiah 53 tells us, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering and familiar with pain…surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…he was led like a lamb to the slaughter…for the transgression of my people he was punished.” This is the life Jesus chose. During his life on earth he healed the sick, provided direction for the downhearted. What is it that motivates our choices?

The Christian life comes with a cost of discipleship. God provides boundaries in his word. More than that, he provides a reason to follow joyfully. Purpose in life, finding it’s true meaning, helping others know the love of God. Hope for an eternity where the real reward comes, where the burdens of life can be laid down. Meanwhile we take up our cross and live a life of self-sacrifice for the good of others. Happy? Yes, deep down. But it’s not the same as the hedonistic type. It comes as an unsought side benefit of this God-centered lifestyle.

 

To the Closed Heart

I am not better than you, whoever you are. And I’m not the nut “Christian” that you saw on the news doing something political or strange. I am not your judge. I do not have all the answers. But I do have a few questions that I’d like you to consider:

What do you believe? You’ve closed your heart to Christian faith, I’m not sure why, but surely you believe in something. Is it really God you have rejected, or just an inaccurate portrayal of him? If we are honest, even though we don’t think about it much, we know that we face death one day. On what basis do you have hope beyond the grave? If you take the time to really read the Bible, about how God revealed himself in Jesus Christ, how through Jesus he died for our sins, and how through the resurrection of Jesus we can have hope for resurrection one day, that’s a pretty amazing thing. Is that what you’ve rejected? Take a closer look, please.

Are you an atheist? That would seem odd to me. Most people don’t define themselves by what they do not believe. I don’t call myself an “a-Buddhist” or an “a-Muslim” (“a” in front of the word means you are not what follows). Yet some call themselves a-theists. They do not believe in God, and that’s how they define themselves. But I don’t know you: how do you define yourself?

In spite of a huge amount of evidence to support creation and the Bible and the historical person of Jesus and his resurrection, there are tough questions that arise; but tell me, must all of your questions be answered before you believe? In the realm of science, for example, there are many unanswered questions, many mistakes they make, do you fail to believe in science as a result?to-the-closed-heart-pic

Maybe a church or an individual in a church, maybe even a priest or pastor, has let you down in a major way. If that is the case, I am sorry. Really. Too many people suffer from such things. Maybe the person who hurt you wasn’t in fact a Christian at all, many wear the name who do not sincerely swear allegiance to Christ. Others who are truly Christian still make mistakes as they grow and mature in their Christian walk. Please try to understand, that gives further evidence of the sin problem Christ dealt with. It is not a reason to reject him, but a reason to run to him.

If you read one of the gospel accounts (I might recommend Mark, a short, fast paced account of the life of Jesus), I bet you’ll be surprised by the frustration Jesus himself expressed for religious leaders and the people who claimed what they did not live. Yet crowds flocked to Jesus, those who honestly faced their sin and wanted a solution to it. When the Apostle Peter preached the first resurrection message (in Acts 2) people who were convicted cried out, “What must we do?” And Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins…” Many (3,000) responded.

That was just the beginning. Such can be the beginning for you too. Please open your heart back up and consider the true message of Jesus.