I went to church today, but didn’t have to

“On the first day of the week, let every one of you….” (I Corinthians 16:2)

A heavy snowfall had paralyzed the city. By church time only the janitor and the preacher had shown up.  As they stood there, trying to decide what to do, the pastor said, “People today just aren’t as dedicated as they should be.” The janitor said, “No sir, and we wouldn’t be here either if they didn’t pay us!”

Today, the second Sunday of December, I’m at the halfway point of five banquets in a six-day period.

Thursday night, it was the “President’s Christmas Dinner” at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.” I wasn’t the speaker or anything, but they set me up a table and I sketched a lot of people.  Then, the next night, after driving nearly 400 miles, I did the annual “pastors and wives Christmas banquet” for two associations around Minden, Louisiana where my buddy Randy Hales is the director of missions.  I sketched nonstop for a couple of hours and did my stories for 30 minutes and drew some more, then drove over two hours back to Vicksburg, Mississippi where I’d reserved a room.  Came home Saturday. Then, that night, I did the “Christmas family dinner” a few blocks from my house for Grace Community Bible Church, drawing everyone and sharing my stories.

I slept like a baby last night.

Two more to go.

Tomorrow, Monday, I’ll do the senior adults Christmas luncheon at the First Baptist Church of Ponchatoula, LA, speaking and drawing.  Tuesday night will complete this run with a Christmas banquet for ministers and wives in the Hammond, LA area, meeting at Soul’s Harbor Community Church.

What makes all this a little more difficult is that last Wednesday, Margaret and I returned home from a 1729 mile holiday trip to see our grandchildren in North Carolina.  Normally, it takes me a couple of days to recover from such a drive (I do all the driving), but since I had to drive to Minden, LA, no time for that.

Could I skip church and sleep in today?  Sure. I could. But I don’t want to.

I want to go to church.

I love church.

I love to be there. I love the atmosphere. I love the happiness in the voices of people, the laughter and joy, the greetings of friends old and new, the hugs.  I love the songs and I love the preaching.

I love the invitation time when many of us kneel at the altar, praying for this nation, ourselves, our loved ones, and others.  It’s a wonderful time.

I’m the guy who loves church so much that I got my new bride out of the bed on that first Sunday morning in April of 1962 and said, “Let’s go to church.” We’d been married about 36 hours by then.

I wanted to show her off, for one thing.  “That’s my wife.”  But more than that, I loved church.  Always have.

West End Baptist Church in Birmingham is where I’d been baptized 3 years earlier, where Margaret and I had met, where the Lord called me into the ministry, and of course, where we were married.  I loved the people and the pastor, Bill Burkett, and the experience of worshiping there.

A few years back, after a wedding in our church here in suburban New Orleans, the wife of one of our members–she belonged to a church of another denomination, one that will go nameless here but is connected to a certain Italian city–said to me, “So, pastor, does this count as church this week?”

That caught me off guard. But I knew what she meant.

I smiled and said, “Sorry. We don’t play that game.  No one is keeping up with how many times we came to church or if we missed a Sunday.  We come to church because we want to and as often as we care to.”

She had nothing further to say. I think she just didn’t get it.

A few hours later.  I’m glad I went to church.

What did we do in church today?  I jotted down a few notes….

1) Our worship was prompted by someone else.  Had I stayed at home and worshiped, I’d have been my own prompter, as is usually the case. But to worship at church under the leadership of another is a good thing.

2) We received spiritual nourishment from those led by the Holy Spirit. The worship leader, Ron Laitano, chose carefully some spiritual songs and scripture readings that blessed everyone.  Pastor Mike Miller led some prayers and brought a sermon from Revelation 20 on subjects I had not thought of.

3) We had a full 90 minutes of uninterrupted worship.  Had I stayed home and worshiped, after 10 minutes or so, I’d probably have thought of a dozen things to do.

4) We were prompted to do things we would not have done otherwise…

–to participate in 40 days of prayer.

–to give to a missionary offering.

–to pray about going on a mission trip to Athens, Greece, next October.

5) We were made to think about aspects of the Christian life we would not have otherwise.  Mike’s sermon was on “the fate of Satan,” from Revelation 20.

6) The worship music was more wonderful than anything I’d have heard at home.  In addition to a keyboard, grand piano, and violin, we had various percussion instruments and several guitars, and the singers (all members of our congregation) were as accomplished as any you will ever hear.  I get such a blessing from the singing.

7) We heard from three members who traveled to Greece this fall on a mission trip.

I was so glad I decided to go to church today.

I plan to be in church next Sunday and the Sunday after that.


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