A snowstorm is coming. Go to church anyway. Really!

The Abominable Snowman is stomping our way! Yes, a big snowstorm is predicted. Our region of PA has a forecast for an apocalyptic snow event starting sometime Sunday. And I can read your mind. You’re seriously contemplating just skipping the church service tomorrow, whether in-person or live-streaming.

Backstage secret. Here’s an underbelly-of-the-beast truth: Every Sunday on the calendar is tough work, but pastors dread such a wintertime collision of nature and scheduled worship gatherings.

Whether you live in our region under the threat of a storm or somewhere else across the U.S. there’s a really good chance you are contemplating skipping church tomorrow. Pre-COVID, church attendance was already trending downward. People had good reasons galore. Sunday kids’ sports, golf with buddies, sleeping in, better TV preachers, fabulous breakfast buffets, or more open treadmills at the gym. “Easy like Sunday morning” is a smooth, catchy song lyric, indeed. And it seems so delightful to roll with such easiness.

The pandemic has produced a host of additional complexities, fears, disruptions for everyone. In that whirlwind, faithful church involvement has become more optional than ever. Good excuses abound and are multiplied.

Icing on the cake for this weekend, there’s a snowstorm coming, and you’re thinking, “I don’t really need to connect via live-stream, and I certainly don’t need to get in the car and go attend in-person. After all, the flakes might start falling at 10:13 a.m. Yikes! That’s risky. And then they want me to wear a mask, stay six feet apart—certainly no hugs or handshakes—and the café menu is so scaled back. It just doesn’t feel like church like I liked it back in 2019.”  

Are you really contemplating skipping church again? Really?

Don’t do it. Really. Just determine right now you’ll be made of stronger stuff. Decide you’re still going to attend—or even go back for the first time—either in-person or online for live-streaming.

Here are three bigger reasons you should gather in-person or online this week. Hear me out.

Reason #1: Your local leaders have been uniquely planning, creating, studying, and crafting something really good for you.

Really. Trust me, no matter who your leaders are, their unique gift mix, passions, weaknesses, and expertise, they’ve got something very meaningful planned. If you skip tomorrow, you’ll miss the encouragement, the challenge, the conviction, the hope, and the good gracious help that’s being served up. You’ll miss the songs, the teaching, and the opportunity to fellowship with others. Every Sunday, these elements stir together so you can be inspired to be good and do good in the coming week. For fresh perspective, see Hebrews 10:19-25. Determine you’ll gather. It’s good for your heart. It’s good for others. You don’t want to miss out!

Reason #2: Your local leaders are uniquely available and accessible. After all, well, they’re local.

This should be so obvious, but in the YouTube and TV celebrity status of so many national and international ministries, it’s quickly forgotten.

Andy Stanley, his great dad Charles, Rick Warren, and Francis Chan. They’re awesome dudes, and they are indeed fantastic communicators. Out of sight. I’ve been blessed and learned from all of them. But stop and think about it. They’re not going to chat with you after the message regarding your questions, pray with you in the lobby, call you in the hospital, do your child’s wedding, or send you an encouragement card. They’re hundreds of miles away.

So why not jump into the mix this week with your local congregation? Tap into what’s been creatively crafted by your local leaders in your unique context.

Go to church this weekend. Really. You’re warmly welcome! And welcome back if you’ve been away for a while. Go online or in-person with an open heart, a level-head, with non-judgmental expectations about the music and preaching. Bring a serious others-orientation. Aim to be a blessing yourself, not just be blessed, fed-to-the-full, and encouraged yourself. Go to encourage others!

Reason #3: Jesus went to church faithfully. You should too.

There’s a little phrase that jumps at me in Luke 4, verse 16. We’re told Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. (Yes, it’s not precisely our present-day Sunday gatherings, but it’s a very similar, Jewish, first-century approximate of our twenty-first century worship gatherings.)

Now here’s the intriguing little phrase about Jesus. He went to the synagogue “as was his custom.”

What’s that mean? He went to synagogue every Sabbath. Jesus was a regular. He was faithful, whether it was going to snow or not.

You say, “Well of course he did, he’s JESUS.” Okay, but think about it; he already knew all the truth there is to know. By nature of his divine position before coming to earth, he was intimately familiar with the best worship and the most sublime teaching. Andy and Rick don’t hold a candle to what Jesus already heard and knew by heart. But he still “went to church,” and because he did, others were abundantly blessed.

You say you want to be like Jesus. You really want to grow to be more like him in 2021, in spite of the horrific pandemic, a sagging economy, and raucous political turmoil? Wonderful.

You say you’re aiming to be like Jesus? Fantastic. Start by gathering for church, either online or in-person. You won’t regret it!

And after all, the really heavy snow isn’t supposed to start until afternoon.

Go to church. You’ll be blessed, and you’ll be a blessing in the mix with others. Really!

Remembering Kobe, comforting kids, and the work of grieving

We were driving through West Virginia, headed back from visiting our middle son at college in Kentucky. Our youngest, Josiah, suddenly called. “Mom, Dad, did you hear? Kobe Bryant just died in a helicopter crash.” Similar to everyone, we were stunned. I must have said “Oh no, Jos’—that’s so sad” at least a dozen times in the next two minutes. In the hours to come, we learned further details, including the horrific loss of his daughter, Gianna, and seven others.

Such moments are surreal for everyone. When we got home mid-evening, our family conversations continued, including prayers for the Bryant family. Such a tragedy is so much for a sports-loving fourteen-year-old and his friends to process. (Good grief, it’s a lot for parents to process as well.) So many feelings, so much sorrow and heartache.

I’m struck by the reality: there is a collective work about grieving that we do better together. Perhaps you remember 9-11, or the space shuttle Challenger’s explosion, or even JFK’s assassination. In our shock at such events, we abruptly pause. We inhale the sudden sting and exhale our angst with tears. I am moved in such moments that we always have the opportunity to either duck and hide, push away the conversations, run from the pain, or we can collectively work through it and let something new and good happen inside us. I am convinced that if we boldly, courageously embrace the work of such collective grieving, we can actually grow stronger.

When facing grief, both our own and others’, it’s important we resist every urge—both self-induced and pushed by others—to rush our responses. Quick fixes and pithy spiritual platitudes are rarely productive. Don’t hurry yourself to get over your grief, and be very careful what you say to friends and family when they are experiencing loss. H. Norman Wright cites a number of our well-intended but too-often unhelpful, potentially even pain-producing clichés.

Big boys don’t cry.

You’ve just got to get ahold of yourself.

Cheer up.

Time will heal.

Life goes on.

This is the work of the devil.

Count your blessings.

God never gives us more than we can handle.

I know just how you feel.

If there is anything I can do, just call me.[1]

We dare not hurry ourselves and loved ones to quickly process grief, to “just get over it,” and get on with life. But we can choose to get back up, step forward, and trust God with bigger hope. When you are ready, you can choose to walk a fresh path. You can focus on God’s provision for your brighter future. You can boldly embrace your fresh start toward a deeper faith—an overcoming, hope-filled trust to match your deepest grief.

Blocking and shoving

In their original, sidesplitting blockbuster, Shrek and Donkey are camping outside, guarding Princess Fiona as she sleeps in the cave. Staring at the stars and moon, Donkey decides to play therapist and confront Shrek about his threat to build a wall around his swamp to keep everyone out. In their terse, back-and-forth interchange, Donkey makes the now famous and oft-quipped statement (at least it’s quoted often in the Pletcher house), “You cut me deep, Shrek. You cut me real deep!” With a sullen face and folded arms, Shrek abruptly rolls to his other side. Donkey gets in his face. “You’re blocking.” “No, I’m not!” Shrek adamantly denies as he rolls to his other side. “Yes, you are!” Donkey retorts.

Remembering Kobe serves as a healthy reminder for us all. Grieving can and should be cathartic. How often do we self-protect, block others, or otherwise try to hide what we’re really feeling, unwilling to let others see us grieve? Especially with our kids or at the office, in the shop, or out on the production floor—how preposterous would that be, to let others know you are grieving?

Kristin Brown courageously ponders four principles for better grieving. She urges—

Don’t feel ashamed to show your grief. You may be worried about crying at odd times, like in the middle of a meeting. Give yourself permission to be a little less poised.

Avoid making major decisions while grieving. Some decisions may be unavoidable. But for those that seem optional, it’s best to wait until your thinking is less clouded.

Don’t interrupt or abbreviate your season of grief, but productive work is healthy. Both hope and joy can co-exist with sorrow and sadness. Putting your hand to the plow with tears coming down your face is not a bad thing.

Share in the sorrow of those who are grieving around you. People in grief want to know that others are, in a sense, carrying some of the sorrow that they are experiencing.[2]

Catharsis at work

A dusty Hebrew proverb says: “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy” (Proverbs 14:10). Here is the salty, sincere mix, those raw reflections on the fragile nature of our human hearts. For the hours and days to come, there will be a bitter-sweet, ongoing work in remembering and grieving Kobe.

Already last night, Josiah and some of his baseball friends were reflecting. Over the years, they have commonly recognized Kobe’s GOAT (greatest-of-all-time) status with a fun ritual. During practices, they gather up dozens of stray baseballs and throw them into the coach’s bucket. As they throw them, they shout “Kobe!” It’s been their ongoing expression of adoration for the legend. Last evening, a number of the boys—including several of us big-boy coaches and dads—were lamenting how that toss of baseballs toward the bucket will never be the same again. Down deep we chuckle, and then more tears roll.

What if we allow remembering Kobe to do a good work in us? Perhaps we’ll talk more openly together—big kids and little kids—about what it means to grieve and also find fresh hope. Maybe we’ll talk more deeply together about what it means to truly live life to the full. Let’s squeeze our kids tighter. Let’s hold each other—family and friends—even closer. Let’s listen well and even more intentionally affirm our kids, friends, and coworkers. We all need listening ears and encouragement.

Go ahead and cry. Oh yes, cry tears. That’s healthy. But don’t stop with tears. Let’s encourage each other to choose a bigger and better hope. May we all be more tender and caring with one another. We live in such divisive, hate-mongering, quarrelsome times. Perhaps such care, tenderness, and hope in the face of grief might propel us into an ongoing love and stronger civility.

What if we deliberately work toward more genuine love, that depth of selflessness and others-orientation that our loving Creator intended from the start? Let’s remember Kobe, and let our collective grieving lead us to both receive and give God-like love more deeply and freely.

[1]Wright, Helping Those Who Hurt, 32–33.

[2]Brown, “Why We Can—and Should—Grieve at Work.” The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics blog. Tifwe.org