"What recreations and amusements children are permitted to enjoy is a very difficult matter for parents to decide, and needs guidance from God. It is a matter not only of where we allow our children to go but when. The real test of whether our pleasures are right or wrong is when they happen to clash with Church. What then do we do? I have little fear for any, young or old, whatever pleasures they may allow themselves, who, when a clash occurs, put Christ and his Church first. But it is a deeper question than pleasure. It is not merely Christ versus enjoyment, but Christ versus self. When we have some special call upon our time which concerns our personal advantage, what is it that suffers? Is it our work or our leisure evenings, or our attendance at God's house? There are only two real excuses for non-attendance at God's house: (1) our own indisposition, (2) the needs of others. There is no other that God will accept."
Rev. William Still, in a letter to his congregation, April 1948, quoted in Letters of William Still, page 27.
I rarely hear pastors today calling their people to unswerving commitment to their church. Maybe we pastors are shy about this for understandable reasons. But let's be careful. Our people will give themselves to something. Are the alternatives liberating and Christ-exalting and non-oppressive and bright with eternal glory? When was the last time we spent an evening vegging out in front of the TV and came to the end and said, "Man alive, that was awesome! I can't wait to do that again"? And when was the last time we spent an evening in prayer with our church family and came to the end and said, "Criminey, what a waste of time. And to think I could have stayed home and watched Wheel of Fortune"? My brother pastors, are we leading our people to the fullness their souls long for?
And what kind of foundations are we laying for the next generation? In our present patterns of Christ-intensity and church-laxity (a kind of religion we see nowhere in the New Testament), what are we teaching our children? When was the last time, dads, that we said to our family with tender good cheer, "I know we're a little tired this evening. But we do wonderful things even when we're tired. Jesus will give us the strength. So here we go, ya'll. See you in the car in five minutes"? Or are we, in effect, instructing our children to live self-centered lives that say to Jesus "You died for your church, but we will not live for her"?
It isn't a new problem, but it is clearly addressed. "I have no one like [Timothy], who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 2:20-21). Notice the logic embedded there: "your welfare" = "the interests of Jesus Christ." And "[Epaphroditus] nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me" (Philippians 2:30). "The work of Christ" = "your service to me."
If we honor the Groom, we'll love the Bride. The two go together in the redemptive ways of God.
Timothy Dwight (1752-1817), a leader in the Second Great Awakening, taught his generation to sing:
I love thy Church, O God,
Her walls before Thee stand
Dear as the apple of Thine eye
And graven on Thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend,
To her my cares and toils be given
'Til toils and cares shall end.
Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heavenly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.
What are we teaching our generation? And tomorrow's?