I remember sitting in the back row at church, as a kid, wearing my shoulder pads, my Giants jersey, my football pants and my cleats. And I wasn’t the only one. It was our Sunday morning attire before our youth football league games. Church came first.
I remember my Dad being on the board for Little League and not allowing Sunday morning games or practices in the league.
And Dad wasn’t some legalistic, bible-thumping, KJV-only-fundy either. His language was naughty and he battled alcoholism all his life. I never even heard a hint of a message that we were going to earn points with God or or get into heaven either. It wasn’t about that.
Dad was a Marine. His motto was “God, Country, Family” as I grew up. And yes, sometimes I think it was Country before God after his years of military service.
We went to church. Picnics were for “after church.” Activities were for “after church.”
We weren’t even well-behaved in church. My mom was always giving us “the look” and sitting between us so we wouldn’t poke and pinch each other. But, we were there.
I think I was bored most of the time but, I have to admit, a lot of the messages seeped in somehow. The old hymns seeped in too as Dad and I poked fun at the language or he rolled his eyes and winced during “special music” numbers that were more painful than special. He would make me laugh.
One of my favorite songs by Rich Mullins include the lyric:
“And did they tell you stories ’bout the saints of old? Stories about their faith? They say stories like that make a boy grow bold, stories like that make a man walk straight.”
Mom and Dad would resume bickering as soon as we got into the car to head home. I had a time where I judged them as hipocrates before I understood that they were simply human trying to navigate life like everyone else.
Mom asked for the same thing for Christmas every year from the time I was twelve on, “I just want you to sit with us in church every Sunday, that’s all.” She meant not with my friends or my girlfriend. They were welcome to sit with us and they usually did.
Our church was little and pretty lame, at least, by most of today’s standards. We had no polished musicians and the sound system regularly produced weird feedback noises. The bulletin thing had plenty of typos. The pews were uncomfortable and sometimes it was way too hot and sometimes way too cold. But none of that seemed to matter much because people seemed to really love each other and care.
Mr. Sidelinger was awesome. Mom and Pop McCleary were old but they’d invite our handful of teenagers to their house for board games and Bible studies and we went: always hugged and welcomed. Dick would give me rides whenever I needed them. The Hawkins family was like my second family. Irv Lash was my hero… It was 40+ years ago but, as I write this, I still feel those connections. I still feel the warmth of their love.
None of it was about legalism, earning salvation or making God love us. The message I got was that we went because God was God and church was about Him much more than us. I got the message that we went to be a part and to serve. I am thankful Mom and Dad found a church like that and made me go. I’m glad they committed to it even during the “pastorless” times showing their commitment to the body.
Yes, they complained about the church sometimes but that was no different than complaining about things at family gatherings we went to. We all complain about family stuff but we love our families.
So, this morning when I saw this post that read, “church should be your excuse for missing things, not vice versa” I paused to consider it. And then, I was grateful that my mom and dad set the example for me without legalism, without any nonsense about earning God’s love, just because God was God so we went to worship, be part and serve – even during the boring times.
I am thankful today that my kids appear to have received that message from Robin and me and are now passing it on to their children, teaching them that gathering is to be a priority to worship, give and serve.
I apologize if you wince with guilt or painful memories of “church” misused in your childhood. I am so sorry if you were told God doesn’t love you when you are naughty, or misstep, or live wrong. I am sorry if God was used as a punishment to create fear in you and manipulate you into behaving a certain way.
See, the thing is, that God’s love for you is always beyond what you can comprehend. It’s what this whole Christmas thing is about. It is mankind that has reduced God’s love to being all about you and what you do and how you act. That is not the Good News proclaimed to lowly shepherds on a hillside. It’s just not.
I’m thankful that my mom and dad brought me to church where I learned that gathering to worship is more about who God is than who I am. I’m thankful that it shaped me into who I am today.
Maybe consider church as you set goals for the new year?
As life gets more difficult, more chaotic and more cluttered, going to church must become even more important according to Hebrews 10:25:
“Let’s not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (as things get tougher)
Find a good church where people are real and it’s about who God is, what Jesus accomplished and who we are in him. Make it a family priority.