I thought of the old advice -- a home going pastor makes for a church going people. I wish that were true. Well, no, I don't. Of all the things I dislike about being a pastor, one of them I detest most is the idea that my job is to be the conscience of God's people and that I am responsible for their failure to hear and heed the call of God. I do go after folks and remind them of their place around the Word and Table of the Lord -- with the rest of God's people in this place. When people see me and they have not been in church for a while, I hear excuse after excuse as it I were the one they needed to mollify with their good and legitimate reasons for missing. But it is not me to whom they must answer. I will preach pointedly and bluntly the Word of the Lord and will admonish the erring from their ways but it is the Lord's Church and the people of God are accountable to HIM. Pastors sometimes forget this. People, too.
It occurs to me that we have it so much easier than those who went before us. Too easy? We have too many distractions, too many things competing for our time and interest, and too many choices. I grew up in one of those homes where I knew that unless my parents encountered a cold dead body in the bed on Sunday morning, I knew where I would be. My brother knew it as well. It was in the DNA. We went when the pavement was icy, when snow blew across the gravel road, when it seemed like the rain would wash us away, and when we were holding back the sniffles of a coming cold. But we had it easier than those who went before us. They encountered a cold church and waiting for heat in the winter and put up with noisy fans circulating the heat in the summer. All while wearing suits and ties and dresses considered worthy of God's House!
The pandemic has given us an excuse to give into our fears, to be sure, but it has also allowed us to surrender to a whole lot of other things. If we can watch church on TV in our pjs and sip coffee along with listening to the hymns and sermons of online services, we have the ultimate choice. The appeal of the virtual church will not soon go away because we are ever more susceptible to our weaknesses. We have become wimps. We will not put up with much to go to church on Sunday morning. We won't tolerate inconvenience, we will not turn down a more interesting or pleasurable alternative, and we won't allow ourselves to be bored. If the pastor is not on his game, we will find something else to do. If the facilities are not up to snuff, we will find some place better. If the coffee does not suit us, we will hold it against God. Our expectations are greater than ever and our patience has worn ever so thin. We are not simply picky. We are wimps.
Prosperity is a tool of the devil because it makes us soft. We live in a world of choice and preference and high definition life. We will not long tolerate a church that does not live up to expectations. It is not because we are erudite and educated. We are soft. We have become accustomed to people, business, and religion than panders to us. The devil must be laughing at how easy it is to use our abundance against us. And it must grieve the Lord that He has given us so much and we are not willing to give up anything or risk anything or put ourselves out for anything in return.
Suffering is not in our vocabulary anymore. Your body hurts, take a pill. Your life is not what you want it to be, make it over. Your marriage is not giving you what you think you deserve, end it and find somebody better. We unfriend, block, and report everyone and everything that does not live up to our picky expectations and God gets treated like everything and everyone else. What do we have in common with Christians who lived under constant threat and uncertainty? What do we have in common with churches suffering persecution simply for believing and worshiping according to Scripture? We are wimps.
We would rather pray for God to deliver us from unpleasantness than to endure troubles, trials, or temptations. We would rather find a way around the mountains in our path than climb over them. But Scripture reminds us that those who endure to the end will be saved. God is our hiding place and He is our refuge but in His wisdom He will not deliver us from every little thing and even some very big ones we are sure we would be better off without. We all have thorns in the flesh that are meant to drive us into the arms of Christ, to stand in the strength of Christ, and to depend less upon our own strength, wisdom, or cleverness and more upon the steadfast love of the Lord. We are wimps.
Pray that God will make us more than weak and cowardly people. Pray that He will enable us to endure to the day of His coming and find in Him grace sufficient for each day's trouble and mercy new every morning. Pray that the cross will shine forth to us as well as through us so that we know the cost of our salvation and can bear our daily crosses without complaint. The world is not improving. Things are not getting better and better. With every technological advance comes untold consequences not so delightful. And we find it harder to trust in the Lord. But as dark as it can get, as prone as we might be to despair, as short as our tempers may grow, God will grant us all we need to endure. And he who endures to the end will be saved. God will make something of us yet. If we only let Him.