I can think of all kinds of things that I would get to avoid if I didn’t have to go to church every Sunday morning, but I also know there are a least 3 things that I would definitely miss.

My wife and I would get to avoid sacrificing one more morning of the week to hustling a pack of kids out the door. I’d avoid having to myself up early and out the door on a morning that I could be using to enjoy any number of possible leisure activities, or getting stuff done around the house that I never seem to have to the time do.

On my more introverted Sundays, skipping church would mean getting to avoid interactions with people, even some very wonderful people, with whom, sometimes, I just don’t feel like I have the energy to interact. And what if the music isn’t to my liking that morning, or the preacher is having bad day? Skipping church would mean getting to avoid all of that as well. And seeing as I’m usually the one preaching and helping with the music, I sometimes wonder if my skipping church might actually be doing people a favour.

But for all the less than perfect things that we avoid by skipping church, or by choosing to get our church online instead of in person, there are some really important things that we miss out on when we don’t go to church.

Obviously, as a church leader my perspective on this topic is fairly biased. But trust me when I say that I know how imperfect and sometimes downright unpleasant going to church can be.

I also know, however, that while going to church isn’t everything, there are at least three things that it offers followers of Jesus that nothing else can.

Let me also say that I recognize attending or not attending church isn’t always a choice. I know a number of people who would be in church a lot more if they could, but their life circumstances, and the limited range of service times that are available to them make regular attendance impossible.

But for those of us who do have a choice, here are 3 things we miss when we choose not to attend.

1. We Miss Uninterrupted Time Focused on God

The range of preaching, prayer, worship, meditation and study resources that are now available to us at the swipe of a screen, no matter where we go, is incredible. The problem is that none of these apps or online resources has the ability to remove us from the countless distractions that keep us from offering our undivided attention to God. Most, in fact, are designed so that we can listen to a sermon, study the Bible, worship and/or pray all while doing any number of other things at the same time, like exercising, working, driving, or chores.

These apps and other resources are incredible and can really help us grow, but none of them is a substitute for giving God our undivided attention, because it’s precisely in those times of extended focus, of waiting and listening for God that God actually speaks to his people. We see this again and again in the Bible and it’s true to this very day, and no app or online resource will ever replace the experience of having God speak to you directly.

Of course, there can be lots of distractions at church too, but unlike anywhere else at any other time of the week the operating assumption at a church service is that we are there to focus on God which, in spite of all of the potential distractions or interruptions, makes it an invaluable time and place to practice giving our undivided attention to God.

2. We Miss Getting to Express the Value of God with Our Own Voices

At no point in Christian history have we ever had the amount and quality of inspired and inspiring musical worship available to us as we do right now. There is far more and/or far better worship music available just on YouTube on any given Sunday than there is in any church in the whole world.  But listening and even being moved and inspired by the very best praise music is not the same thing as raising our own voices with the voices of others to proclaim the goodness and love of God and to express the value of God in our lives.

Listening to inspired worship music can be very uplifting and spiritually nourishing, but true worship isn’t just spiritual nourishment. True worship is also spiritual exercise. It’s an offering of our effort in service to God, which, as we practice, makes us spiritually stronger.

The result of only ever consuming worship music and never exercising our own worship muscles is, in a spiritual sense, the very same thing as if all we ever did was eat physical food and never exercised our physical muscles. We become spiritually weak and even ill.

Although it isn’t always as immediately pleasurable as listening to the very best worship music available to us, the practice of regularly lifting our own voices together, as well as we can, to praise God is absolutely essential to our spiritual growth, our spiritual strength and our relationship with God.

3. We Miss the Power of Joining Our Lives in Christ with the Lives of Others

Going to church isn’t always much fun, and it isn’t always as inspiring as we would like it to be.  But every time we go to church we take a step towards joining our lives in Christ as followers of Jesus and members of God’s people, with the lives of others, and there is always power when we do that. And the more we join our lives with other followers of Jesus the more of that power we get to experience and be a part of.

In a blog that actually inspired a lot of my thoughts on this subject, blogger Sarah Piercy (http://unitedanduntied.com) talks about each of our lives being like a “babbling brook,” each with its own energy and vitality. But then she asks, “what happens when you cross paths with another brook. And another. And another?”

“Something bigger starts to happen. Something one babbling brook can’t do on its own. Momentum happens. Then power happens. Then Niagara Falls happens! (Note: did you know Niagara Falls generates enough energy to power almost 4 million homes? No babbling brook does that.) In the same way, 10s, 100s (or even 1000s) of people moving in the same God-given direction is POWERFUL.  And it doesn’t happen when we are disengaged.” (Sarah Piercy-“What you never know you miss by skipping Sunday Morning”-careynieuwhof.com)

It’s true that just going to church isn’t the same thing as being truly engaged with the life and mission of Jesus. You can attend church and not really be engaged. But it’s pretty hard to be engaged without at least making it a priority to attend when we can. Engagement is another reason attendance really does matter.

So what do you think?

Does attendance matter? Why don’t you swing by St. Paul’s Hampton this Sunday and let me know in person 😊

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Sincerely, Rev. David Turner

If you’re not quite ready to say “good-bye” to the Christmas season, then I’ve got some really good news for you. This Sunday, January 6th is Epiphany, which means Christmas isn’t over yet.

Sometimes known as the “12th day of Christmas” or “Little Christmas” Epiphany is the ancient Christian celebration of the day a group of Magi (a.k.a. wise-men) from the east arrived in Bethlehem to worship the young Messiah Jesus. But of far greater importance than the excuse it gives us to squeeze in a few more Christmas carols and to leave our trees up a few more days is the reminder that Epiphany provides us that Jesus is God’s gift to everybody, regardless of their religious or spiritual background.

The religious background of the Magi was just about as different as you could get from Jesus’ own very Jewish background. For example, the wise-men’s fondness for astrology is explicitly forbidden in the law of Moses and elsewhere in the Old Testament scriptures. And yet, in spite of all of the ways in which their religious views and practices diverged from the very scriptures that foretold the coming of the Messiah, the Magi chose to journey hundreds of miles across deserts and mountains in order to kneel before Jesus and worship him with precious gifts as the true king of God’s people.

Perhaps even more remarkable is the way in which God alerted the Magi of Jesus’ birth and of its significance, and then guided them to his Son to worship him as Messiah. We are going to explore all of this in more detail on Sunday, but what it all points to is the fact that Jesus did not come into the world to be the Messiah of just one particular ethnic group, nor was he born to be the saviour of just one particular religious community. Jesus came as a gift to the whole world and to every single person in it, and whatever their religious or non-religious background might be God is actively drawing everyone to the amazing gift of his Son. All of that and more is what we are going to celebrate this Sunday at St. Paul’s.

On a sadder note, this Sunday will also be St. Paul’s last regular Sunday morning with the Gowan family (Christian, Jessie, Gillian & Elliot).

After more than six years of Christian Gowan leading our musical worship at the 10:30 service, and Jessie Gowan contributing to our parish’s ministry to children and youth, the Gowans are following a call to begin worshiping more regularly a little closer to home in Quispamsis. Worshiping closer to home will mean that their children can attend worship with their classmates and that Jessie and Christian will be able to invite their neighbours to experience Christian Community right there in their own neighbourhood.

We hope you can join us this Sunday morning following the 10:30am service as we gather for cake and coffee in honour of the Gowans and as we let them know just how much we appreciate them and everything that their family has contributed to the life of St. Paul’s.

Weekly News 2018 03 22

During the season of Lent we’ve been exploring the idea that followers of Jesus are called to live what Michael Frost calls “Questionable Lives.” He explains, in his book Surprise the World, that Christians are called to live in such a way that those around them, who do not yet believe in or follow Jesus, are surprised by the things that their Christian neighbours do, and as a result are compelled to ask them questions about why they do what they do. These questions, in turn, create opportunities for Christians to share their faith in Jesus with their neighbours in a way that is natural and personal.

So far, we’ve explored 4 of the ‘questionable’ habits that Frost focuses on in his book: 1. Blessing others, 2. Eating with others, 3. Listening for the prompting of the Spirit, and 4. Learning Jesus. This Sunday we’ll be looking at the 5th habit, which is to practice seeing ourselves as Sent.

But that’s not all we’ll be doing this Sunday. We’ll also be starting our journey through Holy Week to Easter by remembering Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem just days before his crucifixion and death.

The approach of Holy Week and Easter has gotten me thinking a lot about the reasons behind our Holy Week and Easter traditions, and which of these traditions are really ‘questionable’ in the way Michael Frost proposes.
We may wonder, for example, why exactly people decorate and hunt for Easter eggs, but these are such popular and obviously fun traditions that they don’t tend to raise many questions for people.

Far more unusual to people (at least these days), and therefore questionable, are traditions like waving palm crosses on Palm Sunday, foot washing on Maundy Thursday, time spent in solemn reflection on Good Friday, praying and singing in the dark on Holy Saturday, and shouts of “Alleluia! The Lord is risen!” on Resurrection Sunday. If our neighbours could see us doing these things they’d probably have all kinds of questions for us.

Part of the answer to why we do these things is because they are traditions that have been passed down to us and which many of us have observed every year since we were very young. But there are deeper reasons for these traditions.

When observed with an openness to the presence and working of the Holy Spirit, these traditions offer us the opportunity to enter into the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We were not there when these things happened, but when we believe that it was for us that Jesus lived and died and rose again, these traditions offer us the chance to participate in these ancient and mysterious events.
And by participating, not just in these traditions, but mystically in the events to which they point, our sense and understanding of what God has accomplished in Jesus is enriched and deepened, and we are given a new appreciation for the hope and promise of salvation.

I hope you will be able to join us this Holy Week and Easter, if not in body then in the Spirit, as we observe these traditions, seek to enter the mysteries to which they point, and, by God’s grace, deepen our rootedness in His power to save.

The Red Triangle Award recognizes long and meritorious service, outstanding contributions and achievement in the community. This year’s recipients are Stephen MacMackin and Bill MacMackin.

These brothers and business partners are each involved with numerous organizations and initiatives in this community and beyond. Together, they represent decades of volunteer commitment and leadership that has helped advance the Greater Saint John community. Both have served on a variety of boards and have been involved with a number of projects that quietly moved our community forward.

The Red Triangle Award Gala will be held on Thursday, April 12 at 6:30pm at the Saint John Regional Y. Tickets can be purchased online at www.saintjohny.ymca.com , at the front desk of the Y or by phoning 634-4922.

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