Is It Really Worth It To Go To Church?

It was one of those Sunday mornings. After walking with Heidi and eating breakfast, we got in the car to drive to church. Fatigue suddenly hit me from the emotional and physical drain of the week. I could feel mounting resistance at the thought of sitting through church, trying to stay awake and engaged. Was it really worth it to go? 

If church attendance is a part of your life, you have probably had similar thoughts. There are those moments when it just seems easier to stay at home, sit in a comfortable chair, and read the Sunday paper. It was just one of those mornings for me, but I didn’t turn the car around. Perhaps because I knew better, or perhaps because Heidi was in the car. In the long run, it didn’t matter why because of what happened next.

No, nothing spectacular occurred during church. There were no Aha moments or emotional breakthroughs. What happened was all the more amazing because it was so gentle, so unobtrusive. As the worship began, one song focused around the Lord’s desire to be our strength—yes, Lord, even when I feel so depleted. When an old hymn about the church came up next, I looked around at everyone there and felt a quiet but distinct connection to them. Yes, I am a part of their lives, as they are of mine. Then I recalled the saints throughout the ages who had all trod the same path of faith and obedience. We are all connected in a long procession of faith, something so much bigger than our individual life circumstances.

During confession, there was a time of silence, deepening with His presence as it progressed. Then as one of the elder’s prayed publicly, I let his intercession wash over me. With the preaching of the Word, I let the old truths soak into me. And when the benediction came, I raised my arms to receive the love of the Father, the love we all need.

What happened to my fatigue, my resistance? It just vaporized in the joy and energy of being in the presence of the saints. “For where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them" (Matt: 18:20). Yes, that's the energy of Sunday morning. That’s why I need to be in church. That’s why we all need to be a part of His body, no matter how sad or difficult or even hurtful churches can be at times.

That’s where the life is because that’s where He is. Only Jesus makes the difference, but what a difference it is!

 

 

"I still haven't found what I'm looking for."

No, I'm not talking about my wallet, although it certainly could be the case! This tag line from an old U2 song has become a chorus that continues to haunt me. What do I mean?

It seems as if all of my life I have been looking for something and not finding it. Coming to Christ as a teenager was what I desperately looked for and needed at the time. But the irony is that Jesus hasn't dampened the longing to keep looking. He has only intensified it.

Sometimes when I walk with Heidi, I feel there is something in the sturdy oak or freshly cut grass calling out to me, something hidden yet very much alive. The same thing happens when I see a streaked rose sunset or a sweeping panorama from a mountaintop. I relish the beauty I see, but there is always a boundary, a block, as if there is something else there I am not allowed to enter, something latent, yet very real. 

The same thing can happen in my daily interactions. The ordinary laughter of the moment will turn into a window from which I gaze out into a world of unbounded joy. I want to enter that world, only to find it locked and the vision fading as quickly as it appeared. At other times, conversations can turn into the depths of the heart. As I hear the sadness or pain of others, my empathy becomes tinged with longing. I sense a glory underneath—buried, yet waiting to get out.

Finally, I look at my own life's work and the journey of my heart over the last 58 years. Yes, there has been so much accomplished, so much transformation. Yet, it all feels like fragments I cannot hold in my hands, unfinished stories waiting for resolution. 

I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

And then I open the Bible and read this: "We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship" (Rom. 8:23). There it is. We groan as we wait. We long as we look. Paul says the longing is normal, the work of the Spirit, and our calling now is to wait. But for so long, I either let the longing become a ravenous hunger that consumed or a buried desire I suppressed. In contrast, all of our lives in Christ are supposed to be one growing ache, washing over us and through us as we eagerly wait for heaven.

When that day comes, the waiting will be over, and I'll find at last what I have been looking for. It will be better than any of us could have ever imagined.

Yes, come Lord Jesus, come!

 

The Freedom of Pain

I don't enjoy pain. No one should, and if they do, there may be mental illness lurking. So what could possibly be freeing about pain? I got my answer last week.

Back in May, I strained my left quad muscle doing a bike workout without sufficient warmup. But instead of being out for a bit as I thought, it has dragged on for weeks. I recently had to cancel a backpacking trip because of it. So frustrating!

So what is God up to in all of this? I was wondering that myself when the answer came Thursday, or at least part of the answer. I went to see a chiropractor who is highly skilled in muscle issues. After some initial manipulating of the leg to stretch it out, he told me to sit on the table with my lower legs hanging over and then pull the injured leg back while he did something else. What that something else was I soon found out.

He put both hands right on top of the strain, applying force downward as I pulled my leg back. The pain was tremendous. It was all I could do to hold on and keep breathing. Then he repeated the process another five or six times, putting pressure each time on a slightly different place. I hated the process—but loved the result. When I got up and walked around, I could tell he had freed the tension in my leg the strain had caused. Everything just felt better.

In a flash I realized this is exactly how God works in our lives. If we allow Him, He will put his hands right on our points of pain. We think He's trying to kill us, but He's actually trying to free us. I have experienced this repeatedly as I have allowed God to heal my wounds and call me out as a man. The attachment to idols, the deep sin patterns, the refusal to grieve, the inability to love—all of these and more He has put His finger on and pressed hard, harder than I thought I could bear at times.

I have hated the process—but loved the result: experiencing His love, hearing His fatherly voice, and learning to walk with Him each day. 

July 4th was the freedom day for our nation. God also has His freedom days for us—painful, but freeing. If you are in pain right now, ask God to show you how He may be freeing you in the process. And keep asking until clarity comes.

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free" (Gal. 5:1). Yes, Lord we believe. Help us in our unbelief.

The Irony of Father's Day

Sunday was Father’s Day, a time set aside to remember and celebrate all the good we see in fathers. There is something right and wholesome about this, yet I am jolted by a heartbreaking irony. So many men I work with have been poorly fathered, and so many dads I know feel they are poor fathers. Where is the disconnect with Father's Day? This is a long and convoluted story, but we can cut to the heart of it with the help of the Apostle Paul.

In speaking about the new life we have in Christ, he penned these striking words: “For God did not give us a spirit of fear leading again to slavery, but He gave us the Spirit of sonship, and by him we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15). Here is the answer to the disconnect.

Anything good and wholesome we have seen in fathers, in our own fathers, comes from reflecting the true Father in heaven. But we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of the Father (Rom. 3:23). And with that fall, men have lost their primary sense of being sons of the heavenly Father and their central orientation for fathering. Hence all the stories of abandonment and abuse, all the tales of violent and silent fathers, all the confusion and stress of being a father today.

What is the way back? Here it is: only true sons can be true fathers

Every man experiences that loss of connection to the Father as one of fear and slavery to sin. Paul acknowledges the sinfulness of man but announces that this is no longer the story In which we must live. We have been given the Holy Spirit, whose primary job is to restore that feel of being beloved sons. How do we know this is happening? We start to sense God as Daddy (a good way to translate Abba). We realize that He delights to be called this and delights in our confidence in Him as Father. Bonding to Him as sons replaces fear, delight replaces slavery, and love starts to replace the lost places in our hearts. We start fathering as we have been fathered.

As for me, my own relationship with my father has been a difficult struggle over the years, and I too feel the mistakes I have made with my own children. Yet this weekend one of my daughters unexpectedly put her arm around me as we walked together. And the Father continues to teach me about walking as a beloved son. I am slowly learning to be a true son and a true father.

This is how the irony of Father’s Day becomes the glory of the Father. Only Jesus could do this.

And He has.

Postscript: The same basic process holds true for women, but that's a Mother's Day blog!