Grace Afoot (October 10, 2018)
Dear VICC family,
I wanted to write this week and tell you about an experience I had while on break a couple weeks ago. The girls and I were back from our week at the coast, and Nichole and I were dropping Ava off for AWANA at Bethel Church on a Thursday evening. We had gotten home from the ocean the previous Friday and had worshipped at Bethel that Sunday morning. Now I was hiding out in the car to avoid getting into a “churchy” conversation with someone (yes, pastors have to do things like this on vacation), and Nichole was walking Ava to her group. As I was watching people come and go in my rearview mirror, trying to look invisible, I thought back on the previous Sunday. I thought about how much I enjoyed worship, but also about how much of a “take it or leave it” feeling I had about the experience. Don’t get me wrong. Pastor Luke preached a great sermon. The worship was great. We got to sit together as a family in the service (which pastors’ families almost never get to do). And I only had two people try to engage me in ministry-specific conversations, only one of which had a “what are you going to do about it?” angle to it. It was about as close to restful as a Sunday morning can be for a pastor who doesn’t skip church altogether or go somewhere that he or she is anonymous. But I could not shake the realization that, as a “mere churchgoer” that Sunday, it really was an experience I could do without. If I went, great. If I didn’t go, great. And I suddenly understood all the people who only go to church when it’s convenient. I suddenly understood all the people who say that not going to church has not negatively affected their relationship with God. The once-a-month-or-less attendees suddenly made perfect sense.
But as I sat in that car, something started to happen. I started to notice things. A mom from our church who I had just told about AWANA that week at the grocery store showed up to register her daughter. Another dear saint from VICC, whose children are all grown, came in, parked, and entered the building. She had come to volunteer. I saw her and the new mom run into each other in the parking lot and start talking. After all of this, I saw a family I knew walk across the property. They had also come to register their kid for AWANA. This family had attended Bethel, and VICC, in the past. They had a history of hurt in the church (both as givers and receivers, as is almost always the case). As they dropped off their kid, they were walking around and looking at the buildings. On our way out of the parking lot, Nichole and I stopped to say hi to them and talk. They commented on how different the property looked, and seemed surprised I knew so much about what was going on at Bethel (assuming perhaps I would be estranged from goings-on at that church). As Nichole and I drove away, we both commented on how significant it was that they had brought their kid to AWANA, and how amazing it would be if they started attending Bethel (or anywhere on the island) again.
What I saw that evening was God at work. And it struck me that that is what we miss out on when we keep ourselves away from weekly worship. We miss seeing God at work in other people and in other people’s lives. We miss seeing God as work in his community, the church. And we miss out on getting to see, over time, the larger patterns of God’s grace. What might otherwise be to us isolated incidents become parts of a larger tapestry, and we get to see things a little more the way God sees them. In our text from last Sunday, the apostle Paul talked about the gospel “bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world” (Colossians 1:6). He wrote this from prison. And, as we will see, he wrote this to a church that was becoming plagued by a false understanding of Christian spirituality. But in, through, and despite all this, Paul saw the message of God’s grace moving victoriously throughout the world. He saw the victory of grace through eyes of faith. I believe gathering with God’s people in weekly worship is one of the best ways to train our own eyes to see the same thing.
Your partner on the journey,