Driving to church a couple Sundays ago, I saw a man dressed in a dark suit walking on the sidewalk. His back hunched, he relied heavily on a walker to move up the street. Slowly he took a shaky step, then another, and another. Each forward press of his crippled body demanded great strength and determination.
I looked to see what would bring an old man out this early morning. As he stepped again, he looked up the street and my eyes followed his gaze. There, about a half block away, was a church with bright red doors.
Sometimes I find it difficult to show up on time, or to even attend church. I’ll be the first to admit it—my weeks are mentally and physically exhausting, and some don’t end until Saturday night. Sunday is my only day to rest and then I get up late and rush out the door. I can make it to work several hours earlier every weekday, but on Sundays I’m super tired and it’s a fight to get to church on time.
Over the years I’ve had friends who have said they don’t agree with church leadership so they won’t attend any longer. They say, “The church has become too political ... too strict ... not strict enough ... undisciplined ... not grounded in the Word ... worldly ... sinful ... outdated ... not relevant.” And the long list of complaints and criticisms goes on.
Other friends purchased second homes or cabins as weekend retreats that give them peaceful, quiet family time. Their weeks are especially demanding. They know God—they love God—they read and follow the Bible. Yet, they don’t make it to church.
I think about the old man. He’s alone, yet he walks. He’s crippled, yet he walks. His path is rough, yet he walks. He struggles, yet he walks.
Others disagree with the church. The Pew Research Center found that many young people in the United States don’t agree with
churches’ strict moral codes and intolerance of current social attitudes. Some say the church hasn’t evolved in its beliefs. While most churches cling to their Bibles, some are making adjustments to be more acceptable, more understanding of a changing world. They believe if they change the message, people will come. Others believe that if we make the church more hip, more like a mall or a coffee shop, people will come.
I wonder. Would the old man walk to the mall with the same determination? His face shows the wisdom of a long life. Why did God show him to me when I could have been distracted from looking out the window, like I am most mornings riding to church?
We used to attend a church that we dearly loved. It was the first church I attended after accepting Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. It was a plain church with brown paneling inside. This was the church where during an evening service my husband, several of our children and I were water baptized. I sang in the choir, my husband and I taught Sunday school, we attended at least three services a week and everything in between. We loved our church and our congregation.
Then we moved several times as my husband’s career advanced. The churches we attended in the various cities were of the same denomination, but none replaced the church that was our first love.
Something I valued there was the open altar at the end of every service. Often, the Holy Spirit would draw me forward and I’d go to my knees to pray or talk to God. It was safe there.
Today, our church has many wonderful people and solid biblical teaching from gifted ministers. I’ve taught Sunday school in the past and helped with church events, but my job makes it hard for me to make deep connections. I’m a bit of an outsider.
This urban church places elders at the front to pray for people who come forward. While many others embrace this loving gesture, I still prefer to go alone to the altar to talk to the Lord. It’s not that I can’t pray with the elders, but it just doesn’t feel the same as pouring out my heart to God at the altar.
I wonder. Would the old man change churches because of a the times? I imagine him struggling to get his walker up the final incline to the church entry. He doesn’t care if the elders are there or not. He’s going to see his Savior. He doesn’t care if his feelings are considered, if the message is tweaked to his liking, if the pure Word of God is offensive to the world. He’s going to see his Savior. He’s at the threshold now, and the red wood door opens wide to let him in. And there, just beyond the open doors, he finds God. And he walks inside.
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