The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Keeping our commitment

with 8 comments

[A note before reading: concerning the timing of this posting, we had a delightful turnout out of members, regulars and visitors yesterday.]

It is Friday. You are going to the doctor for an inoculation, and you turn up for your appointed meeting, and the receptionist informs you that, “Sorry, but I am afraid that the doctor was a little bit tired today, and wasn’t able to come in. End of a long week, you know.”

You head on to the dentist, as scheduled (it has been that kind of week), only to find a sign on the door: “Due to a bit of a cold, the dentist is not fulfilling her appointments.”

Undeterred, on Saturday you move on to a child’s weekly sporting event, only to have the news filter round the assembled parents that the coach came to the conclusion that he had a few other things he felt were pressing, and so dropped out at the last minute.

Not to worry, at least there’s the birthday party this afternoon. Except that the hosts have suddenly decided that they wanted a bit of family time, and so the party has been unceremoniously cancelled.

Still, at least there’s church on the Lord’s day. The morning is a bit underwhelming, to be honest. But off you trot in the evening, arriving at the building at the appointed hour, only for it to become apparent that the pastor has been a bit overwhelmed this week, didn’t quite get his act together, missed his afternoon nap, and so decided he would rest up a bit in the hope of being a bit more ‘with it’ by next Sunday. After all, he preached to you this morning, so at least he was there once! (In case you think I am joking, I heard only recently from a brother who had booked a visiting preacher for a small church needing encouragement. A couple of days before the preacher was due to be there, he called through, explained that he had had a few struggles with his preparation that week, and as a result he was very disappointed to have to call off his engagement at such short notice. And that was that.)

I imagine, in most–if not each–of those instances, you would be somewhat dischuffed. After all, there’s a tacit agreement if not a more formally implied contract in most of those arrangements. To be sure, maybe the dentist is understating her ailment, and you wouldn’t want someone with streaming waves of mucus mucking around with your mouth. Generally speaking, though, I think you would feel that all of this was a little unreasonable.

And yet, put the shoe on the other foot. You expect the doctor to be there, but you perhaps don’t think very much of cancelling your appointment if you weren’t feeling up to it. After all, the doctor will be there anyway, another day. The dentist you might push for – after all, they’re a bit tricky to book appointments with. That weekly sporting event will have plenty of other kids at it. You know at least three other families who will be at the birthday party, so you won’t exactly be missed. And, church …

Actually, how would you feel if the pastor were missing, or unengaged and listless, or excusing his absence, or just had not got his act together, as are many church members all too often?

Perhaps you know the joke about the son complaining to his mother about school attendance:

“Son, it’s time to get up. You are going to be late!” calls the mother.

“But I don’t wanna go to school today, mum!” replies the son.

“You don’t have a choice.”

“But none of the kids like me!”

“You know that’s not true. Some of them think you’re great!”

“All the teachers hate me!”

“The teachers don’t hate you – they’re just trying to do their job!”

“But I don’t WANNA go!”

“You have to go,” says the mother with final firmness. “You’re the headmaster!”

Isn’t the whole joke meant to be that, as the headmaster, you wouldn’t expect him to be anywhere else? The excuses that he might have used were he a pupil–flimsy as they are in the themselves–clearly hold no water for the headmaster. In fact, the flimsiness of the excuses is revealed by the relationship of the person to the institution or obligation.

But surely the same goes with regard to the church. You would, I imagine, be mortified to turn up at a church service only to find that the preacher has cried off for the same reasons, or kinds of reasons, as so many in the congregation have decided that this morning or this evening they are not going to make it.

I understand that the pastor has a particular responsibility. I understand that there’s only one of him preaching, and plenty of others hearing. But I fear that the burden of responsibility, the flow of commitment, often seems to exist only in one direction. The preacher ought to be there. After all, that’s his job. But me? I can pretty much take it or leave it, depending on my circumstances.

Really? Are you not part of the body? Are you not a living stone in that divinely-indwelt temple? Are you not covenanted together with those fellow saints to minister to them and to be ministered to by them? Are you not persuaded that in this service heaven will draw near to earth, that the Lord will speak, more or less powerfully, through the preaching of the Word? That you will genuinely and really render prayers and praises to the Most High God in your participation in the whole service? That heavenly manna will be there for you to eat? That this might be the morning or the evening when you might obtain an unusual blessing, or your friend, or your child, or your neighbour, attending with you, might be converted? That, if nothing else, you have said, more or less formally, that you will not forsake the assembling together of those saints to whom you have made a commitment to love them and to be loved by them?

Oh, sorry, I forgot. You had a cold! You had a long week! Really?

I do not think any one of us would deny that there are, at times, providential hindrances to our attendance upon the means of grace. I have been in a hospital with one of my children on a Sunday evening because of an emergency, knowing that another brother was primed to preach. My wife has had to stay home to care for one or more sick children, and to try to prevent the current plague from sweeping through the unsuspecting congregation. I have had to cancel a Sunday preaching engagement late on a Saturday night because my wife went into labour early. Someone might drive into my car on the way to church. The roads might be closed because of a flood, with no alternative way around. I might myself be struck down with an illness that I cannot overcome. But these are providential hindrances, not casual excuses. They are obstacles I simply cannot overcome, barriers that are genuinely insurmountable at that moment, factors for which I cannot have planned which prevent me, despite my best efforts, from being where I have promised to be, doing what I have promised to do. I made a commitment. So did you.

When you go to the church building on Sunday, to gather with God’s people, you will all be expecting the pastor-preacher to be there, unless providentially hindered. He has arranged his week around being present, willing and able, by God’s grace, to invest in those hours of worship. He is expecting you to be there. You ought to be expecting one another to be there. It ought to be an oddity for you to be absent. If you are a healthy Christian, your brothers and sisters should be entitled to wonder what might be wrong that you are not in your appointed place. Expect a phone call to see whether or not you are OK. After all, you’re so rarely missing.

Dear Christian friend, your pastor–or one of them (or whoever else may be preaching)–is even now labouring over his preparation. He is prayerfully, even tearfully, wrestling with his text and with his God. He is weary in body and soul as he seeks to manage all his commitments, many of them as unseen and unknown as yours are. He too is probably juggling his family life and his work responsibilities in an attempt to do all that he is committed to do. He has you in mind. Your face, your life, is before him as he sweats away in the study. He is considering his explanations and crafting his applications for you, your family, and the others whom he hopes and expects will be there morning and evening on the Lord’s day. And he will, one way or another, spring or drag himself into the pulpit on that day in order to minister God’s word to your soul. The blessing of God for you is in a measure tied, by God’s decree, to his labours. He is part of the body. In that context, he has a particular duty as a mouth. He has to be there to speak. You are part of the body. In that context, you have a particular role as an ear. You ought to be there to hear.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 19 December 2016 at 15:44

Posted in General

8 Responses

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  1. […] read this by Jeremy Walker on ‘Keeping our Commitment’ which I […]

    Day 109 – ealinglevy

    Tuesday 20 December 2016 at 08:58

  2. If we hold our primary objectives in life to be glorifying God and loving him and fellow man, I’m wondering where this fits in. When I circulate freely in public while I’m sick, I demonstrate an attitude that says “I’m sick and I don’t care if you get sick, too. For almost 20 years, I was primary caregiver to a child who was very, very medically fragile. In her world, there was no such thing as “just a cold.” The congestion and misery that came from “just a cold” translated into more seizures that you can imagine. The fact that people circulate freely when they’re sick meant I could rarely circulate freely in public myself. What of the elderly? Are we more intent on occupying our pew than on loving them as we would want to be loved in a time of declining health? Is it so important that I engage in corporate worship and am there to hear the sermon live that it’s OK if I leave a few people needing to spend weeks in bed or be hospitalized? What of the mother with five children who are under eight? There will be no rest in that house for the next few weeks because, hey, it’s just a cold?!? Or what of the mother with “just” one newborn?

    No, I believe that if we consider society as being more than just self and people who are just like self ~ if we factor in the medically fragile (they’re more in number than you might think!), the elderly, families with very small ones and/or lots of small ones, people who have travel plans and wouldn’t want to be sick during, for instance, a 10-hour flight, we are not doing unto them as we would have them do unto us ~ if we were in the same shoes. Passing disease along to others is making decisions for others’s lives ~ and not loving ones.

    I appreciate your bringing this topic to the table. Having watched my daughter go to the brink of death with illnesses that others would have weathered well, I think this is a topic that is very important and is an opportunity to love selflessly ~ by staying home. Not to put too fine a point on it, my daughter’s stomach stopped working from the trauma of getting “just the flu.” Ultimately, they had to poke a hole surgically through her abdomen, cut her intestines and bring a section out to meet that hole so that food could be delivered directly to her intestines. She came alarmingly close to death waiting for that surgery. She also came alarmingly close to death as a result of that surgery.

    Just a few weeks ago, I held my neighbor as she wept over the loss of her beautiful little four-year-old daughter. Her daughter died from the flu. Not complications, just died at home from the flu. We hear the statistics. We know they’re out there.

    For the past eight days, I have had “just a cold.” I’ve had days with no voice at all, been through five boxes of tissues, ache through my diaphragm from coughing, and am weary of the general malaise. (Yes, I’m elderly. I got this when a child in public sneezed into my face.) My church family met for worship just two days ago. I would love to have been there but could not see how leaving others sick trumped my right to be there. Christmas is rolling right up. I’m aware that anyone who I leave sick will be sick on Christmas for sure. If congestion develops into a secondary infection (ear or sinus, for instance) they may spend Christmas in the emergency ward to get the necessary antibiotics. And if family traveled to be with them?

    If we could each see the fall-out from the diseases we knowingly pass on, would we do it? And maybe the next guy weathers it pretty well…. but what of their elderly parents that they gave it to? Or their already physically compromised neighbor? Or someone’s baby?

    Christians, I beg of you: Love as you would want to be loved. Consider others as more important that self. Be merciful ~ and stay home if you’re not well.

    Sue Conte

    Tuesday 20 December 2016 at 16:22

    • Hello, Sue – I don’t think anything I have written cuts across your concerns. I am sorry to hear of the particular struggles and pains that you and your family and friends have experienced. For what it is worth, it does not sound as if you are suffering from “just a cold”. However, you might wish to read again the paragraph on legitimate providential hindrances to see the issues that I am and am not addressing. To give you an example, we have recently encouraged families in our church to keep children who have had vomiting and diarrhoea to keep those children at home (rather than bringing them to church) for the full 48 hours that medical personnel advise. We did that, in part, because of the elderly or otherwise more frail or susceptible people at church. As I hope is clear, I am not encouraging carelessness or selfishness, but rather a spirit of commitment that is willing to make being among God’s people at least as much of a priority as all the other things we manage to do despite minor inconveniences.

      Jeremy Walker

      Tuesday 20 December 2016 at 17:45

      • Thank you for your kind response. I did go back and reread what you’d written on being providentially hindered. I hold to my stance, though, that while my cold may simply be a “minor inconvenience” to me, it is not loving to decide (by circulating publicly) that it would only be a “minor inconvenience” to another. A “minor inconvenience” that deserves to be overlooked is one that will not negatively impact others like, for instance, a headache or lack of sleep. But if my lack of sleep makes me a road hazard, the loving and selfless thing to do is to not drive. I don’t think the level of personal inconvenience is a factor so much as whether my actions demonstrate love and concerns for those around me.

        Because my daughter was medically fragile, my other children weren’t allowed to attend Sunday School. The classes were always packed with sick kids and there was no way, it seemed, to escape with wellness intact. In that church, the message from the pulpit was, unless you’re at death’s door, you should be at every stated meeting of the church. Man’s rules ran roughshod over love for others. When whooping cough swept through our congregation, we almost killed one of our babies (who ended up spending months in a hospital.) To be fair, the family that started it didn’t know their children had whooping cough. It was assumed to be a cold with a nasty cough. To me, the bottom line is that it was known that there was illness ~ cold or whooping cough, either way ~ and it was spread throughout the congregation because whether it spread or not wasn’t the issue. The issue was that the church doors were unlocked and they were supposed to be there.

        Spreading illness ~ even illness that’s not vomiting or diarrhea ~ isn’t a loving thing to do to someone. And it’s done so cavalierly that someone who must guard against illness (like a care-taker) needs to just stay at home. How could that possibly glorify Christ or demonstrate love to others (beyond the pastor) to have people knowingly and willingly inflicting illness onto others? Again, I would ask your readers to weigh in there first. Is being there and spreading disease glorifying to Christ? Does it show love to my brethren? Those matters trump sermon preparation time in my mind.

        Thank you for considering my opinions.


        Sue Conte

        Tuesday 20 December 2016 at 18:26

        • If I had an actual flu I would stay home. However if I stay home because I have a bit of sniffles after sleeping in air conditioning, etc. then that’s a different story. We can each wisely evaluate each situation as is needed.

          All said, the main point and spirit of this article is valid. Many times we (at least me) don’t go to church for very small reasons, reasons that would not for example keep us from going to see a show we had bought tickets for. I was definitely confronted by this text. Thank-you :)


          Wednesday 21 December 2016 at 16:05

      • P.S. In having spent decades considering this issue, I’m concerned when I hear some sort of man-made dogma issue forth from any pastor about how to address this issue when God’s glory and love to fellow man are issues that don’t come into play. The closest thing from Scripture that I’ve found that addresses this issues is in the Old Testament law and the rules surround whether someone was ceremonially clean. You are doubtless more learned than I and in a better position to offer an opinion as to why the ceremonially unclean were barred from circulating freely or able to participate, for instance, in the Passover (which, if they were clean, they would have been obliged to participate in or they were to be cut off.) I’d love to hear your thoughts on that as I’ve considered it a long time. If I’m off-base, it’s better I know than not. Thank you, Brother.

        Sue Conte

        Tuesday 20 December 2016 at 19:08

  3. Why not read 1 Corinthians 13 and see if you pass the test, whichever side you fall on. If we considered one another more than ourselves then Love would change all our attitudes.

    John Bacon

    Wednesday 21 December 2016 at 14:19

  4. […] Keeping Our Commitment – Jeremy Walker Are you not part of the body? Are you not a living stone in that divinely-indwelt temple? Are you not covenanted together with those fellow saints to minister to them and to be ministered to by them? Are you not persuaded that in this service heaven will draw near to earth, that the Lord will speak, more or less powerfully, through the preaching of the Word? That you will genuinely and really render prayers and praises to the Most High God in your participation in the whole service? That heavenly manna will be there for you to eat? That this might be the morning or the evening when you might obtain an unusual blessing, or your friend, or your child, or your neighbour, attending with you, might be converted? That, if nothing else, you have said, more or less formally, that you will not forsake the assembling together of those saints to whom you have made a commitment to love them and to be loved by them? […]

    Passion Points | Three Passions

    Saturday 7 January 2017 at 16:53

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