“For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” (Hebrews 3:14).
On every other day of the week, Truckee High School is just that, a high school. Today it is a different institution of learning, a house of worship, a place to connect with the living God. Christ followers ascend to it and make the cafeteria a place befitting a congregation. It is time for church.
As a visitor, I do not know what to expect, at least entirely. I had heard of the rented space, but I grew up attending church in a sanctuary which doubled as a movie theater. I am accustomed to worshiping in borrowed facilities. I had heard of the loving nature of the body of believers, but that has often been my experience in my home church. Still, I had never attended this collection of saints. When gathering with a church, some elements are certain — worship in song, announcements, a sermon of some kind — but others are not. What would this body of believers be like?
I parked, walked to the front door, was greeted awkwardly (as greetings from volunteers can sometimes be), and found a seat a few spaces away from a woman in her 60’s (forgive me, Lord, if she was younger). She chatted kindly with me during the greeting time, but otherwise, I sang and listened and watched in solitude. I was there to be with God’s people, even if we would never see or hear from one another ever again. Vacationing in the area, I needed the connection which flows from relationship with other believers.
But I was also there to hear a man speak the word of God. I had heard of this particular pastor. In his 70s now, after years of faithfulness to his region and church, he still regularly teaches the word of God.
He did not ascend to the pulpit. He could not, for there was no stage, no platform of any kind. Instead, he walked to the lectern, placed on ground level in front of our seats, set down his Bible, and greeted us. After a few niceties — one of which was a deacon interrupting to wish the pastor a happy birthday, followed by a round of the happy birthday song by the church — the pastor opened his Bible.
From his first word, God spoke to my heart. Clearly, to him, the church was a flock. He was their shepherd, though under the Great Shepherd. I heard God through the message — from Colossians 1, if you must know — but more loudly through the messenger.
From the outset of his sermon, I heard a man pleading. It was as if he had seen an invisible King and kingdom. His sole desire was for his audience to see it too. I recognized the desperation, for I have felt it, but I was taken aback by the fact he did too.
Not that I have ever felt completely alone in my desire for people to see the deeper life, the most important realm, the glorious kingdom, but I suppose I wasn’t prepared to feel such a kindred spirit to a man decades my senior. Rumor is that disillusionment is supposed to set in by that time. Some have told me the flame inevitably gives way to a flicker. But not for this man. I heard it in his voice. The prophet’s fire still burned within him.
I am certain, people being what they are, that he preached and taught and implored quite differently forty or fifty years ago. His delivery today is considerate and kind, and I have a hard time imagining him otherwise. The rough edges and subtle criticisms which creep out of a younger preacher’s mouth are now absent.
Elder John on Patmos comes to mind. Love, truth, and more love. But still, through it all, that pleading. Like a dying beggar from biblical times crying out for food and water, this pastor pleaded with his people. He seemed content, but discontent. Joyful, but sorrowful. Glad, but mourning. He did not want to end his sermon until every person there embraced the kingdom, but mostly its King.
At the close of the service, I took my place in line to say a simple hello, give a birthday greeting, and express my gratitude for the message. I’m sure he thought I meant his words about Colossians 1. They were good words, to be sure, but that was not the message for which I was most thankful. No, I was grateful for the sermon of his life.
Steadfastness is a bible word, sturdy and strong, the stuff of the faithful. It would not be difficult for me to write a definition of it, with words, but it would be more difficult to point it out from everyday life. But the man I saw this morning embodied it. I witnessed steadfastness, and it uplifted my soul.
What about you? Have you found examples of steadfastness which have encouraged you to go on?