First and Last
The longest I have lived anywhere since I was 18 was about three years. This means that I have been a part of a lot of churches. But for the past twenty-four months I have been living in Opelika, Alabama and I have been going to 1st Pres here in town. And it has truly been a grace that God has given me.
I can remember the first time I walked through the door for service. I hadn’t slept the night before and I honestly wasn’t sure if I even wanted to go. There were a number of things I would have rather been doing that day. As the service progressed the congregation began to sing the old hymn ‘Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus’ and I sat down and wept*.
And today, a little over two years later I sat in service which started with the hymn ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’. I almost had to chuckle at the providence of God in this. To hear this familiar tune play and think back over the past two years. A hard to years. A season where I have often asked God what He was doing, or if He was even there doing anything at all. But the answer to that hard question washed over me this morning as I sat and sang 'Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside! Great is Thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see..."
To be fair the congregation didn’t sing this one. One of the things which this church does that I have come to love is play a song at the beginning of the service as a time for everyone to prepare their hearts to meet with Almighty God and be comforted by a loving Abba.
As I sat there listening to the band play this hymn and quietly singing along I could not help but think back over the past two years. The wins that I have had, and the losses and wounds which I have suffered. And there have been many more of the latter if I can be honest. I have wept and rejoiced in this place often. Even at times walking here some nights to simply pray upon the steps of the church. Or at other times being given permission to lock myself in the chapel for more of the same.
This church has been a great grace to me. And though I am not moving anywhere, this morning was the last time I will be attending 1st Pres Opelika. That is because in a few hours I will be gathering with a small group of people for a worship gathering for the very first time. Tonight I will have the joy of seeing a new church launch and a greater joy to be a part of it.
St Augustine once said that no man may have God as his Father who does not also take the Church as his mother. And in this day-and-age that is something that many people buck against. But through the history of the church, the history of our family this has simply been a fact. For how can we say we belong to a people who we are not a part of.
I think that we can easily forget in the culture of ‘accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior’ (a phrase found nowhere in Scripture) that God always calls a people to Himself. He never saved alone. And in doing this He has made up a people. As St Peter says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:10)
Over these past two years I have often felt beaten, broken, and lost. But through it all, I can point to the faithfulness of God through each sleepless night and teary morning. And one of the main ways that God has done that is through the gathering together with other believers. And I know that many say that this can be done outside of a formal church gathering. But when we gather together we allow ourselves to be joined to each other. We open up our lives and are able to receive healing from those around us. We can sing together and be reminded that we are not in this alone. We can come to the Lord’s table and be filled with the special grace which Christ gives us when we take is body and take His blood together as a community of faith. Such things cannot happen outside of the church. Some people do these things together, but without knowing it by such actions they become just that…a local church.
So no matter where this season has you I would ask you to do one of two things. Thank God for the grace which you have been given through your local church** or if you do not have one then search for a healthy church to give yourself to. For as one of my hero’s once said of the local church, “It is the dearest place on earth.***”
And for all the pain and hardships that come to us, I have truly found it to be so.
*I have written more about this experience in the first post on this blog titled Confession. Feel free to go back and read that if you would like more context.
**If you feel like you have none then pray and ask God to show you how to be more connected or ask if the church you are in is unhealthy, if it is the latter then you should find a healthy church that preaches the gospel week in and week out
***"Give yourself to the Church. You that are members of the Church have not found it perfect and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not. If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I would never have joined one at all!And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us…All who have first given themselves to the Lord, should, as speedily as possible, also give themselves to the Lord’s people. How else is there to be a Church on the earth? If it is right for anyone to refrain from membership in the Church, it is right for everyone, and then the testimony for God would be lost to the world!As I have already said, the Church is faulty, but that is no excuse for your not joining it, if you are the Lord’s. Nor need your own faults keep you back, for the Church is not an institution for perfect people, but a sanctuary for sinners saved by Grace, who, though they are saved, are still sinners and need all the help they can derive from the sympathy and guidance of their fellow Believers.The Church is the nursery for God’s weak children where they are nourished and grow strong. It is the fold for Christ’s sheep—the home for Christ’s family.” - Charles Spurgeon