“We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . But brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you” 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2:17 (NIV).
Sometimes technology is wonderful. A few Sundays ago I experienced my first-ever livestreaming church service. Like many churches around the world, my church has canceled services due to COVID-19. Nevertheless, due to modern advances, we can still join together in worship and hear sermons from our pastor. We can still “go” to church.
When I was growing up, my dad, a pastor, was like two different people: Dr. Playful and Mr. Strict. I could skip school any time I wanted. I was a very responsible student and made good grades, so he never worried about whether I would get my work done. In fact, I can remember occasions when he would try to get me to stay home! I would have to be the grown-up and say, “No, Dad, I have a test today.” Other times though, I would agree. I remember one day staying home watching Donahue, eating tangerines, and playing dominoes with my dad. Another time, someone had given him a ping pong table and he talked me into staying home from school and playing. It was outside in the carport, and we were still playing when the bus came by that afternoon. My friends called me later, incredulous, and no doubt a tad jealous, that my dad had orchestrated that hooky session for the sake of ping pong.
On the other hand, church was a whole different matter! I had to have a doctor’s note, filled out in triplicate and notarized, documenting lab cultures and stating the degree of my fever if I wanted to miss any church service or church-sponsored event. Okay, I’m exaggerating. But only a little. We did not miss church. Ever. I had my tonsils removed when I was nine. I did get to miss church that Sunday, but I was on my own because Mom still went to the service. I remember lying on the couch watching our 13-inch television, ten feet away on a high shelf. Such freedom I felt! And maybe just a little bit of rebellion, way down deep.
My husband was raised similarly, though not quite as rigidly. That’s just what you did: you went to church every time the doors were open. When we had children of our own, we struggled with trying to emphasize the importance of church attendance and involvement without it becoming legalistic. By that time, families were excessively busy with sports and other activities, and church was part of that busyness. So, if we had a gymnastics meet or a ball tournament out of town on a Sunday, we didn’t stress about missing church. The rest of the time, however, we were involved in everything from G.A.’s, to A.W.A.N.A., to handbells and choir, to youth group.
To be honest, I’m not certain if we did that right. Now that our kids are grown, they don’t always put the emphasis on church attendance and involvement that we would wish. Maybe that’s our fault. But on the other hand, I know an awful lot of people who were forced to go religiously (pun intended) as children and now refuse to darken the doors. It’s impossible to know.
What I do know is how wonderful it is to be a member of the family of God and what a blessing and privilege to meet together for worship, not “forsaking the assembling of [ourselves] together,” (Hebrews 10:25 KJV) even when there’s a global pandemic. Jesus promised that where two or three are gathered together in His name, He will be in their midst (Matthew 18:20). That thought stirred my spirit the first week of livestreaming as I visualized little groups of quarantined Christians across the world, gathered in their homes around televisions, computers, or phones, watching the livestreams of their respective churches, all worshiping God together separately, some in their PJs, others in their Sunday best, with their kids, with their coffee, with the dog, cuddled up, or socially distanced. And I felt His presence. I think He was glorified.
Unfortunately, not every week has been quite as warm and fuzzy. One time the video kept glitching and the audio and video were out of sync. Last week our dogs were feeling feisty and kept rolling around and growling during “church,” a tad distracting to say the least.
Nevertheless, if it is one thing we know, until the Lord takes us out of here en masse, His church will endure. The gates of hell will not prevail against it, and neither will coronavirus (nor dogs nor video glitches)! I encourage each of you to join a livestreaming church service faithfully as long as we are all quarantined. When life returns to normal, however, all who are able should go back to our brick-and-mortar buildings. While solidarity via technology is a beautiful thing, even more beautiful is the work and worship we do together, side-by-side.