Written by: James E. Thompson
A couple of Sundays back I found myself sitting next to Missy at church. However, this church service was being held on the beach. We were in Destin visiting the Penningtons, and, as it was Sunday, we all went to church. We found out that a church held a service on the beach (it was just an added blessing that it happened to be a Methodist church).
We were sitting on a white sandy beach that disappeared into bluish-green waves. There was a constant crashing of waves on the shore. The sun was partially hidden behind clouds that hadn’t quite made up their minds if they were going to rain on us. It was, well, awesome. The speaker that morning was a youth intern who had asked her senior pastor for advice on the topic of her message. His reply was basically, “Does it really matter? He was, in a funny way, reminding her that she will be standing before an amazing example of God’s creation. (I have a feeling he also reminded her to take up a collection).
So, as I was listening to the speaker, I couldn’t help but notice the other people on the beach. It was hard not to notice them as they were passing directly behind where the cross, musicians, and audio equipment had been set up. I saw four groups of people:
- those who passed by with blinders on;
- those who seemed to be annoyed by our presence;
- those who were interested in what was going on but who were with others that fit into category 1 or 2; and
- those who joined us in worship.
Each group got me thinking.
Group 1: These people had jogging/exercising that had to get done. It didn’t matter if the rest of us were worshiping God or sunbathing in Speedos. They had a task to accomplish and our worshiping was not going to get in their way.
Group 2: These people made faces and seemed annoyed that they had to listen to a few minutes to our (off-key) singing as they walked by. Why should they have to hear such things? If they wanted to go to church, they would have!
Group 3: I felt bad these people. They seemed interested in joining us for worship, yet they were either unable or unwilling to express that interest to their companions. Meaning, they had a longing to participate but were going with the flow. And, that flow took them right on by.
Group 4: This category had one person in it. One lady who was walking by stopped and took a seat. She sang along and listened to the message.
At one time or another, I have been a member of all of these groups.
Group 1: I have sometimes put the emphasis on the “task” of being at church (on time) and have been less than Christ-like in “encouraging” my kids to get dressed and ready to go. “Where are your shoes?” “Why are you still not wearing shoes?” “Shoes, boy, shoes!” I put being “at church” above being a member of the church and reflecting Him in my actions.
Group 2: I have, on occasion, been put off by another’s worship of God in a setting that I was not expecting. It’s weird, but I have been annoyed by someone who has prayed or thanked God for something that I thought was minor or not worthy of thanking God. Really, James?
Group 3: I am guilty of not saying grace sometimes before a meal because I know I am with nonbelievers. Not only am I not giv[ing] thanks in all circumstances,” but I am wasting a chance to witness.
Group 4: I hope to be in this group more often than not. I want to take advantage of being with other believers, fellowship with them, and worship our God. In our lives, we will spend more time being a part of “the church” than we will be “in church”. [This statement does not apply to those on staff].
The whole experience reminded me of Matthew 18:20:
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Group 4 gets it. They get that we need not be in a building to worship and experience the presence of Christ.
In fact, one of the best examples of this verse is found in Luke 24. As the two men were walking to Emmaus they were talking and discussing the events after the resurrection. It was then that “Jesus himself came up and walked along with them.” He “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” A part of the story that I tend to overlook is the part where “as they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther.” The two men asked Jesus to stay and fellowship with them. And, Jesus did.
Wherever you and another member of “the church” find yourselves, worship Christ and he will be there….even the beach. And, even better, ask him to stay awhile.