Roots in Ripon
25 January 2016
What a Body!
You may be raising your eyebrows at this point, clearly wondering if I’ve gone over to the dark side. Rest assured, all is well with me.
The body I’m referring to is the congregation to which Isaura and I have been so much a part of the past 18 years, sixteen of which I was the pastor.
It was about three years ago when I was sensing God leading me to retirement from pastoral ministry. There were several contributing factors in making this decision. In no particular order or level of importance, these reasons primarily had to do with: my health; the need for a new pastor to take the reins; more time to invest in my grandkids; more opportunities to get away with Isaura on trips hither and yon; and the desire to get serious about writing several books. Then of course, there’s golf.
But never for a moment did we want to be away from our church family, also known as, the Body of Christ on earth; the Fellowship of the Saints; the Gathering; the Brethren; the Flock; the Laity; the Multitude; Parishioners; and so forth. Regardless of what name this group of Believers in Jesus goes by, they are a wonderful assemblage of people who have had an encounter with Jesus, and because of that their lives are forever changed.
I’m often amused when I hear someone tell me why they do not go to church (I suppose I should mention that the only time I ever ask a person where they attend church is if they have already informed me that they are a Christian). “The church is full of hypocrites!” is quite possibly my favorite. I love the expression on their faces when I tell them I absolutely agree with them. “All the church ever wants is my money!” is another favorite of mine. Once again, I agree with them. How else is this non-profit organization going to function if there’s no “buy-in” by people who have committed to walking with Jesus? “No one even said hello or shook my hand when I visited!” And the companion complaint, “After I attended church I never received a call or a card or anything!” The flip side of this complaint is, “These people never leave me alone! One visit and I’m on their mailing and calling list forever!” And again: guilty as charged. If I say hello, then I’m pushy. If I don’t say hello or shake your hand, I’m cold and uncaring. If I don’t let the people in the pews know of the financial obligations of the church then folks figure they don’t have to give anything in the offering plate. If I do share the financial needs of the church and its ministry, then we’re “sticking our hands into your wallet/purse.” And so on it goes.
But the people that make up the body of my church are just folks. You see, over the past two decades, my wife and I have gotten to know them, and they have gotten to know us. I remember one couple especially that we invited to our home for dinner along with several other couples shortly after arriving in Ripon. Isaura had planned a big dinner which she wonderfully prepares. It’s a gift with her. This couple had started attending church again after we came because he was a WWII veteran, and had heard I was also a veteran so he was coming to “check me out.” But they weren’t sure about going to the pastor’s home for dinner. They had never done that before. They even asked me how they should act. I said, “We’re just people like anyone else. Be yourselves.” They became precious friends.
I still enjoy attending the first service at 8:30 on Sunday, followed by the pastor’s Sunday school class at 10:00. I then stay for the first part of the 11:00 service so I can sing the hymns again (I love to sing!) and also meet and greet these folks I love.
The congregation I am a part of is made up of all sorts of disreputable people. Their backgrounds are often sordid and foul. Some were drunkards. Others sexually immoral. Still others crude and profane. Some cheated on their spouses. Or suffered with depression. Or were addicted to drugs. Some were living a lie. Some still are (the hypocrites mentioned earlier). Some have kicked the habit, fallen off, kicked it again, fallen off again, etc. Some are running from God while sitting in the pew every Sunday. Some harbor resentments and exhibit an unforgiving spirit. Shall I go on?
Here’s my point. The church is not a place for those who are perfect. Instead, it is a hospital for the spiritually sick. Remember: Jesus did not come to save perfect people, but sick, horribly flawed sinners. And we have all been affected (and infected) by sin. Jesus is the antidote. But you must come to him for the cure.
This is why I love the folks in my church so much. They have either come to Jesus and been healed of the sin sickness. Or they are wrestling with a commitment to surrender their lives to him. Or they are just not sure about anything, but they know they need something. My kind of people!
Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions, for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again to receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Where do you stand with Jesus? Accept him as your Savior. Then connect with his body. You’ll love it too!