I hope that you had a good Christmas and New Year!
The year has not got off to the best of starts as far as the weather is concerned and as a result church attendance throughout the Kilmarnock area was down considerably on the Sunday of the Pulpit Exchange. I was at Winton Pl where they were very apologetic for the low number attending. I reassured them that it was a large congregation compared with my first charge which was on an island with a population of about 200.
The turnout was also much lower than usual at both Fenwick and Riccarton. Because of the icy conditions I had been in some doubt as to whether the service in Fenwick would even be able to go ahead. I fully appreciate the reasons why many people didn’t attend that day, and I certainly wouldn’t want people taking any unnecessary risks to get there. However it did strike me how important it was for some people to make the effort to be there. I know that there are others who really miss coming and would love to be able to come.
I couldn’t help thinking back to a former member of one of my previous congregations who had stopped coming to church when the council had removed the railings along the pavement of one of the roads coming up to the church. Without explanation that probably sounds ridiculous, but this lady used to use the railings to pull herself up the hill, and when they were gone she couldn’t manage. Up to that point it had been a struggle, but being a part of the church had been so important to her that it was worth her while.
I recently came across an article about an interview given by actor Sylvester Stallone. "I was raised in a Catholic home, a Christian home," he said. "And I went to Catholic schools and I was taught the faith and went as far as I could with it. Until one day, I got out into the so-called real world, and I was presented with temptation. I kinda, like, lost my way and made a lot of bad choices."
But, Stallone added, those bad choices ultimately left him unsatisfied, especially his decision to place fame and career ahead of his family. As a result, Stallone was increasingly pulled back into his Christian heritage. "The more I go to church," he said, "and the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus and listening to his Word and having him guide my hand, I feel as though the pressure is off me now."
As part of this transformation, Stallone realised another poor choice that had guided his previous life: self-reliance. "You need to have the expertise and the guidance of someone else," he said. "You cannot train yourself. I feel the same way about Christianity and about what the church is: The church is the gym of the soul."
The writer of Hebrews puts it like this, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)
As we begin 2018 maybe we need to think seriously about making full use of the gym!