We’ve been visiting a new church. And I have to admit I’m not enjoying it. Not the church, the visiting. I’m enjoying the church. It’s the visiting I don’t really enjoy. I’m not used to it. We have not done much visiting of a church since I was in Seminary. Since then, each visit has been as a candidate to be a pastor on staff. Which is not like this kind of visiting. Even though we know the pastor and a number of members, it’s been weird.
But they’ve been in the Gospel of Mark.
I have to admit, going to church over the past 6 months or so has been hard. No so much because I don’t want to go. But because I’ve had to go for so long. You have to go when you are in Seminary. And when you are on staff you have to go. Even when the kids are sick, you go. It’s part of your job. It’s not that you don’t want to go. There are just no options, so you go and wanting to go is neither here nor there on one level.
But now, it is no longer part of my job. So we go because we need to go and sometimes because we want to go. The first often makes up for the last. There are some Sunday mornings when my chair is just really comfortable and another cup of coffee sounds like a mini vacation and getting the kids ready sounds horrific and the drive is extensive.
But we know we need it, so we go.
We need to be with God’s people and experience the means of grace and be prayed over. I don’t go solely to learn anymore. And I certainly don’t go to experience or feel God. God knows, I often don’t feel a whole lot. No, we go now because we need Christ. And this corporate gathering is given for that reason. We mess it up sometimes, but it’s God’s idea, this gathering as a church.
Though it feels uncomfortable to go we go and hope for a little comfort.
Back when I was single, the Singles group I was part of had a retreat and Michael Card taught the sessions. I think I fell asleep while sitting on the front row in the first meeting because I stayed up with friends the previous night (that could have happened the year before with Jerry Bridges teaching, can’t remember). So I moved to the back row for the next meeting. In one of these sessions – not the first – Mr. Card said something I have never forgotten. He said, “It is comforting that you can always go to the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and find Jesus there when in need.”
Or something along those lines.
I don’t remember the context. But I’ve never forgotten what he said. It’s been an an anchor for me over the years and even more so now as I navigate the waters of no longer being in vocational ministry and doing work I am pretty sure I am not crafted for. In the middle of this whirlwind of change, my soul’s great need has easily been reduced down (up?) to a need for Jesus – his words and his deeds.
When I go to the Gospels I can “hear” Jesus say, “Come to me all you who are weary, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I can “see” him loving the rich young ruler even as he rebuked him. I need to be rebuked and I need to know I’m loved.
I need to see him dealing with sinners and saints and legalists and family and followers. I need to hear him eat food and speak loud enough to be heard above the blowing winds.
I know the prevailing wisdom tells me I should feel his presence in my life when I sing worship songs and pray. But that rarely happens. They are helpful in other ways but what really helps me fellowship with Jesus is when I can see his life on earth in front of me on the page. It’s when my life can be tethered to the life and ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus regardless of how it feels.
Look, I’m no “red letter Christian.” Christ is on every page of holy writ. But I am comforted by being able to go to his life in the Gospels and in a way commune with him there.
All this landed on me in a real way as we, the visitors, sat on the 2nd row this past sunday, in front of God and everybody. It’s a little uncomfortable for me, sitting that close when you are a longtime member. Even more so when visiting. The life of Christ in the gospel of Mark pushed out much of the anxiety. He was comfort for the uncomfortable.