Every week there is in at least one opportunity to gather with other believers. I do not think that we in America realize what an incredible freedom and blessing this is. Culture and society has changed quite a bit since the time that Christ told Peter that on this rock He would build His church and that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Just as Jesus said, the church still stands. It has been persecuted throughout the world, in some places more than others and in varying ways. Yet, believers and followers of Jesus Christ continue to gather together, even if the local law forbids it. Even if the cost is our lives.
It seems like in my part of the USA, there is a church on every corner. I live directly across from one. There is one not two blocks from my house. Then another one less than a mile away further down the road. The options are so wide open. In the various cities I have lived, I remember feeling like I was shopping when trying to find a church body with which I could connect and for which I desired to dedicate my time and resources. I narrowed down the congregations that shared my beliefs. Then I would determine if they offered the ministries I needed/felt were important as well as offering opportunities for serving, especially in areas where my gifts could be used.
It wasn’t usually easy to find the perfect match. No church body is perfect. Every one has its ups and downs, its positives and its negatives. Sometimes I sacrificed incredible speakers for serving opportunities. Sometimes I sacrificed fellowship/connection opportunities for amazing messages from the pastor. Sometimes these were all reversed. In any case, no one church body would fit my ideal scenario. It was a little disappointing that out of SO MANY options, it was often hard to find one single place that fills every need and desire for a church home. However, years later, I wonder if the difficulty was partly due to my self-centered nature.
We all have it. The freedoms America provides has inevitably caused the flourishing of a vast marketplace. The flavors are available for every palette, the styles are wide-open, the sizes are many, the options are endless. Have it your way. Sacrifice is something so many in the USA don’t understand. Why bother? What is that? There is no need. Yet, I think we do need to experience sacrifice. It is so easy to get disgruntled. We can find problems everywhere. There is always something to complain about if we think about it. Yet, God desires us to surrender to His ways, to give mercy and show love, to be grateful people, and to be a unified body. In every one of these cases, we will need to sacrifice. We will need to put something or someone else first.
Hebrews 13:15 says “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” Even our praise to Him is a sacrifice. For some it is more of a sacrifice than for others. If you are in pain, but choose to be grateful to God…that is sacrifice. If you are in mourning, yet choose to praise the Lord for all He has done….that is sacrifice. It is not usually easy.
Believers, followers of Christ, Christians, I am not in any way suggesting that we should sacrifice God’s calling/leading, God’s Word, or God’s standards. I do not think we should ever do that. I just want to offer some perspective and encouragement about the church. Sadly, we can be a people that prefer to seek the things that fill us up and make us feel good. We should not be gathering together each week to impress each other. We should not be seeking entertainment from the church body and church leadership. We should not be looking for some kind of emotional high. We should not be looking for perfection (it will not be found). We should not be competing with each other or with other church bodies. We should not let church services be the only time we hear the Word and grow in our knowledge of Yahweh. Church is not something to check off of a list. Church attendance does not save us and grant us an eternity in Heaven (only Jesus is the way for that, by God’s grace.) Church is not a place. The church is the body of Christ, and we need each other. That is why so many Christians in countries where church services/gatherings are against the law, break the law. If we didn’t have each other to lean upon, praise the Lord with, learn from, and mission together, we would be weaker and lonelier and could lose purpose. Christ knew we would need each other in order to follow Him and fulfill our mission to share the good news. That is why he set up the church.
Let us not take advantage of this wonderful gift that we have to come together every week. Every one of us has to balance jobs, family, community, events, life circumstances such as sickness and financial struggles. However, we do need each other, followers of Christ, frequently. Whether on Sunday or any other day of the week, it is good for us to fellowship and draw strength from each other. It is good for us to serve together, to learn more about our Creator and His Word, and to join in song, lifting up the name of the Lord together. Often we will have to sacrifice something to do it, but it will be worth it! What is the point of the church and gathering together at services, small groups, Sunday school, and other church events? We need each other, Believers. And we need Christ. Together, we have a great mission to fulfill, and together we can make it through as we draw our hope and strength from the Lord.
I am grateful for every church body and leadership that has poured into me, helped me grow, and pointed me in the direction of God’s will. None of us are perfect, but we sure are strong together in the Lord. The gates of Hades indeed will not prevail against us! I look forward to praising the Lord together with my current church home body and for the wisdom from our pastor. The blessings continue to overflow, and I see the Lord doing incredible things through and in you all.