It's been cold for a long time in Chicago. Let me rephrase that, it's been record-breaking, brutally, dangerously, thirty-plus-degrees-below-freezing cold in Chicago for weeks on end. Which can entice you to stay home, curl up under a blanket and wait it out. People are buying four gallons of milk at a time because they don't know when they will be up for leaving their house again. Because it's not just been cold, it's been snowy and when snow freezes it becomes ice. No one - not even in Chicago - likes to drive (or walk) on ice. So there's been a bit of cabin fever around here. And it's hard to talk yourself into going anywhere, let alone church.
That combined with a series of recent posts on other people's blogs have had me thinking about how easy it is to withdraw from fellowship. It's not just weather that keeps people away from their church services, or bible studies or Christian friends though. I've heard more stories of Sunday morning soccer and basketball games and football playoffs that start before church ends than I care to admit. To say nothing of the exhaustion and lack of sleep or lack of days off or lack of days to grocery shop or clean. There are many, many reasons not to meet together. And the reasons we find good enough to skip one week of fellowship can quickly become legitimate enough for 2-3 weeks off until the place we call our church is a destination we arrive at once a month at best. But hey, that's still better than the national average, right?
How easy it is to believe there's no harm in taking a break or even a good, long break from gathering together with the saints.
The problem is it's not true.
Tim Challies wrote about six great enemies of marriages on his blog recently. Number 3 was "Neglect of Fellowship"
"Another great enemy of marriage is a lack of fellowship—local church fellowship. Satan loves it when he can compel an individual to withdraw from the church; how much better when he can draw away a couple or a whole family. When a married couple leaves the church, or even pulls back to just doing the bare minimum, they are leaving the place where they are meant to see healthy marriage modeled, where they are able to worship together side-by-side, where they will find friends before whom they can open up their marriage so others can see and diagnose their struggles. Marriage thrives in the context of the local church and withers outside it."
A couple of nights ago my daughter's biology teacher assigned a list of words to memorize (along with their meaning) for a vocabulary test. She was rehearsing her list and came to "corp" which meant "body." She asked us for some examples and I said "corporate worship" is the body of Christ gathering together to worship God in song and prayer and reading/hearing His Word. I could almost see the light bulb over her head. She had heard me use the term a hundred times before (remember I work in the church) and never knew what I was referring to.
It reminded me of God's Word to us on the subject...
"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." Hebrews 10:24-26
When we make everything but meeting together a priority we lose out on encouragement, we miss out on love, we back off of good works and we become much more susceptible to sin.
I'm not saying there's never a time to take a break from a bible study or skip a church service or that God is keeping a tally sheet and docking points off your score. But I am saying that the answer to a Christian's struggles isn't less church.
So if you've been hesitating to join a church group or make a deeper commitment to regular attendance or if you've just been letting all the pressures of life keep you from the most blessed experience in a week, I'd challenge you not to neglect to meet together and see if you aren't stirred up by the extra time in fellowship.