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Why Go to Church? Is it Really Necessary?

Altar with communion

Devotional thought for your day:
23  Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. 24  Let us be concerned for one another, to help one another to show love and to do good. 25  Let us not give up the habit of meeting together, as some are doing. Instead, let us encourage one another all the more, since you see that the Day of the Lord is coming nearer. Hebrews 10:23-25 (TEV)

16  I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17  and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18  so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19  Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:16-19 (TEV)

667         Haven’t you noticed how people in love dress to please one another by their appearance? Well, that is how you should tidy up and deck out your soul.

I have seen and heard a couple of people challenge the idea of going to church recently.  Sometimes it is direct, saying that people who go to church are needy (we are!)  and hypocrites ( correct again).  Or perhaps the challenge is that you can worship God anywhere (but will you?) or that truly being a Christian is demonstrated in how you care for people. ( it is, but exactly how good are you at loving the unlovable?)

Some may say that I am biased because of my occupation/vocation, that because I often invest 60 hours a week in “church” I have a stake in whether people come or not.  If it was only a stake, if it was only to make my investment of time, talent, and tears pay off, I wouldn’t do it.  The amount of time, whether as a pastor or a lay person is great. But it demands more than that – it demands the investment of your soul.

So why go to church?

Well, the obvious one is in the first quote, simply because God’s word tells us we need to, we need to encourage each other as we gather together, not setting it aside, it is too important, too critical to keep each person encouraged, to support each person in their life, to help guide each other, and sometimes carry each other, into the presence of God.  It is in church that we learn why we find hope in knowing God, and more importantly, exactly what that hope, that incredible hope is.

That is the purpose for the music, which expresses our pain ( this type of worship is called lament)  and the healing God brings, which celebrates His love and His presence.  That is the purpose of the sermon and Bible studies, to reveal the hope that knowing, intimately knowing God’s love. It is even the purpose of the various things we do in church, and everything we take in with our eyes.

It’s all about God… and us.

Which is what Paul expresses in the second quote, where he talks of knowing, of experiencing ( because we can’t fully know/understand) the dimensions of God’s love for us, revealed in Christ Jesus.  The soaring heights as we realized we are loved, the depth of God’s compassion, as He is with us at the rock bottom parts of His life. In the midst of this, Paul inserts the word together.  That all God’s people need to experience this love, together.  That too is what church is, not just what it is about.

It is the moment we hear we are all forgiven of our sin. All of it. Completely.

It is int he moment when we realize God’s peace is with us, and we share that peace with those around us. celebrating the love of God which glues us together, and together with Him.

It is in that moment when we are given proof of that love, as we are given His body and blood, to remind us of His death for us, and His opening the door which reveals God’s love to us, together.  Even that person I was so ticked off at, is there, being loved by God, as I am.  To realize we’ve both been freed of the sin and guilt, the shame and resentment, the burdens that crush and divide us.

It is then when loving them becomes a joy, not a duty obeyed because we have to .

It is then when church becomes more than an organization, or a costly bit of entertainment mixed with some positive “feel good” messages, or a club where we celebrate our being holier than those people out playing golf or watching their kids play soccer, or working.

Church isn’t some obligation, it is what St. Josemaria talks about, a time to get our soul ready to interact with God, by hearing again and again how He has prepared us to be with Him and then spending the time with Him.  the early part of a service, as we are forgiven, as we hear of His love, of his promises, that is like a bride being made ready for her wedding.  And the Lord’s Supper is then the wedding and all joy of life brought together, as we realize how much we are loved.

This is what church is, this is what we need, a place to find hope, healing, reconciliation, and joy as we dwell together in Christ, while helping others find those same things, as God revelas His love to them.

Amen!

Escriva, Josemaria. Furrow (Kindle Locations 2792-2794). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Old Rugged Cross? It Will Cost You Everything You Are

Devotional/Discussion THought of the Day:

38  Those who do not take up their cross and follow in my steps are not fit to be my disciples. 39  Those who try to gain their own life will lose it; but those who lose their life for my sake will gain it. Matthew 10:38-39 (TEV) 

1020      This is the sure way: through humiliation to the Cross; then, from the Cross, with Christ, to the immortal Glory of the Father.  (1)

One of the challenges of singing the old “standard” hymns, is tht they can stir our emotions, without our “hearing” the words. The melodies, familiar and having great meaning from the past, stir our soul, cutting through our defenses.  But do we simply mouth the words?  Do they affect both heart and mind?  This mornign, as I looked at my devotions, a hymn beloeved by many came to mind.

“the Old Rugged Cross”

I tried to think of the words, a hymn I’ve played a thousand times, sung even more, in every kind of church.  Yet, the words escape me, save the last line – “and exchange it someday for a crown”

I just looked up the lyrics, and they seem to romaticized.  A wondrous attraction, this cross of Christ, and our joining Him there?  Yes it is where Christ embraced our evil, but it is also where He embraces it, because He embraces us there.  Which means the humiliation of realizing our desperate need to be embraced, in order to be cleansed. This taking up the cross, it’s not just the praiseworthy work we do, the sacrifices we make for others, as Christ seves them, through us. It does get these, as we share in the glory of God, as only His children can.

But to go to that cross, to be pulled there perhaps, kicking and screaming, is not easy. It is to realize our own darkness, our own shame – and to let it be nailed there to the cross.  To die with it there, no more games, no more self-righteousness, no more my way is best, well at least better than theirs. The cross costs us so much it woudl seem, for what is stripped away there is everything not in in the image of God. Salvation is indeed free – but it is radical in what it takes from us.That humiliation is hard, to open up to God, to confess our sins, to realize He will forgive and cleanse. He is faithful, He is merciful, He is loving.  Having died to self, we find it is where reconciliation happens, because we realzie we are broken, needy, sinful, and the glory of God unites us with His death, and yes with the humiliation that comes from realizing it is our own way to know life. Our desires become like HIs, to help others, trapped as we were, to know this life… this incredible life which is different than just existing. 

It is walking with God!

Many of us need to see our old ways crucified daily, as we remember our baptism (see Romans 6) and the work God does in us, calling us, cleansing us, healing us.  We know it happened – for me 48 years ago on Wednesday. But I need to remember it happened, today.  I need to embrace the fact that I needed to die with Christ, and then brought into the presence of God the Father, and welcomed home.

Harsh this cross may seem, hard to endure it is, save one thing.  We take it up, with Him.

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3607-3608). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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