Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,--Hebrews 12:1

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Gather Together

The Run

It's Thursday! Two days from the Mississippi River Marathon. This morning I ran only two miles at my goal marathon pace. Yesterday I did the same. These short runs almost feel like I'm cheating, but I know I've got to back off to rest up for the race on Saturday. There's not much happens on a 2 mile run, so it's kind tough to describe it. It's really pretty much over before I even get warmed up.

But Monday and Tuesday I got in my normal 6 mile runs. Monday's was a slow and easy solo run, but I joined my old Tuesday/Thursday group the next day. It was really great running with those guys again and I can't wait to run with them next week. You get some great conversation in on group runs, talking about stuff a lot of folks just don't understand.

Being a runner, there are things you want to talk about that non-runners can't understand or just don't care about. On group runs you don't have to worry about that. And there are times we talk about things other than races, shoes, and other running specific topics. But mostly it's just nice to be around others who understand the passion for running.

And that's the spark for today's message.

The Message

"I don't have to go to church to see God?" How many times have you heard that said? How many times have you said it? Because I can promise you I've heard it and said it more times than I can count. Now, I would agree that God is everywhere and can be seen in everything, but that's not really what most people mean when you hear them use this as an excuse not to attend church. Certainly it's not what I really meant all those times I said it.

What I meant, and the way I take it when I hear it now is, "I don't have to be around church people to be a good Christian. So leave me alone. I'm not going." But I've learned a lot over the years, and have to say now that I don't think I could have made it through these past couple of years if I hadn't been a regular at church.

When I was young, and even when I was not-so-young, I had some bad experiences with people in church. I won't go into details, but let it suffice to say that I began to look at most church members as hypocrites. I saw people, close to me and not so close to me acting one way at church on Sunday and another when I saw them any other day of the week. At the time, I was living the way they were those other days, and I didn't want to be considered a hypocrite, so I quit going to church. For a really long time I didn't attend.

Eventually I decided I probably should go, and started again. I was going for the wrong reasons, but I was going. By this time, I had changed my ways and really was trying to live the best life I could, to do the right thing, and to help people along the way. When I decided to go back to church, it was because things weren't working out as well in my life as I thought they should be. Maybe, just maybe, if I went back to church and got my family in church, things would turn for the better.

So I started going. My wife went with me, and we made our kids go. But I did it not to worship God, not out of gratitude, not to glorify Him. I went back in the hopes of reaping earthly rewards. You can probably guess how that went.

It wasn't until after Amanda was murdered that I began to realize what I had been doing wrong. That's when I really started looking for what God wanted out of me, what He expected out of me. I had lost one of my daughters, both of whom I cherished above all else in this world, and I really needed more than any material thing would ever be able to provide. I needed spiritual help. I needed spiritual growth. I needed spiritual hope.

I began reading my Bible and understanding it, for the first time in my life. I began actively listening to the preacher's sermon at church and participating in the discussions in Sunday School. It didn't take long for me to learn that I'd been missing out, that through that growth came help and hope that can get you through the toughest times. And I also learned that we NEED to go to church.
" 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 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." -- Hebrews 10:24-25

Paul was clear in his letter to the Hebrews that Christians need to meet together, not with the expectation of material gain, but spiritual gain. Just like runners can get together and discuss shoes, equipment, injuries, etc. to help each other improve, we gather in church and discuss the scriptures, our fears and our hurt so that we might be encouraged. We all struggle, no matter how old or young you are, tall or short you are, skinny or fat you are. We all have bad days when, like Job, we just cannot understand why we have to deal with the rough patches in this life.

Not only will you find others in church who've faced similar problems, but you'll find others who share your faith and can provide Bible-based counsel to get through them. I'm no doctor, and I'm not advising anyone to follow my lead when I say this, but I think it's important to point out that even with all we've been through these past couple of years, I've never seen a counselor, never taken a pill to block out the world, and never sought solace in a bottle. Jesus, through my Bible and my church have given me the knowledge and strength to battle my demons without those things. They have spurred me on to love and good deeds.
"For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." -- Matthew 18:20

I think it's important, too, to remember Jesus' own words on the subject, that He is with any group who gathers in His name. I do also believe Jesus is with us always, even away from church, but these words from His own mouth make clear that it's pleasing to Him when Christians gather. And I think if we really believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that He came down and dwelt among men, was crucified, died, buried, and that He rose again so that we might all have an opportunity for eternal life, if we believe all that, how can we not want to please Him?

So gather together in Jesus' name, to grow and learn spiritual. Do so and you'll find help and hope among our brothers and sisters in Christ, help and hope that can get you through anything you'll deal with in this life.

If you don't know Jesus as your personal savior, if you're missing the faith, hope, and love written about here, if you want the peace that we as Christians have in our lives, please visit our Got Jesus? page for step-by-step instructions on how to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior.

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