I heard the story years ago about a preacher who preached at a small-town church. One Sunday he took his young daughter with him so she could see the quaint little building which took up his Sundays every week. As they entered the building and passed through the foyer, they stopped by an old wooden tray where here father reached into his pocket and, taking a quarter, dropped it into the felt-lined bowl.

Danny Minton

Danny Minton

“What’s that for?” was the innocent question the young child asked. Her father told her that the tray was the collection plate and that’s how he was paid each Sunday. The members either before or after service would drop their contribution in the plate and in return that is what he would get paid for the day.

The preacher finished his lesson for the day and greeted the members as they left, shaking hands and giving warm smiles. After the last person left, the preacher and his daughter went eagerly to the contribution tray. Looking down, there in the bowl, lay the lone quarter the preacher had put in as they entered. They stood there in the quiet before his daughter spoke up. “You know Daddy if you had put more into it you’d have gotten more out!”

In all my years of “church work,” I have heard a wide range of reasons that people don’t “like” or “go” to church. I’ve heard just about every excuse someone has for changing from one group to another. They are common among any denomination or religious group.

“I just don’t get much out of the preaching!” “The singing doesn’t touch me like it should!” “I visited, and no one said anything to me!” “I just don’t feel connected!” “I don’t really care for the Bible class teacher!” “I don’t learn much in class or from the sermon!” “No one talks to me!” I could go on, but you get the gist of what I’m saying.

The whole thing about “church” no matter where you attend, who preaches, who teaches or who else attends, boils down to one simple fact. You only get out of it what you are willing to invest of yourself. “Church” is not in the entertainment business to grab your attention. It’s about family and community, and we’ll never get anything out of it personally if we sit over in a corner and just observe.

If you are more interested in lunch or the afternoon ball game instead of listening to the preacher, you’ll never get anything out of what he has to say. If you play games on your smartphone instead of becoming involved in the Bible class, you’ll walk away empty. If you sit in the back and leave straight out after the closing song or prayer, you’ll never give people the time to welcome you. To be connected, you must open yourself up and get to work. If you never go to the gatherings or volunteer when help is needed, you’ll stay disconnected, but not because of others. What we “get out of church” is not determined as much by everyone else as it is by us and our attitude and desire.

Early Friday, February 9, 1917, thirteen-year-old Floyd, his seven-year-old brother, Glenn, and two other children made their way to the Sunflower school house in Stevens County, Kansas. Arriving before the teacher, the children decided to start the fire to warm up the schoolhouse. Believing a can contained kerosene, they threw some onto the fire. In fact, the can contained gasoline and, exploding, struck the children in their legs catching Floyd and Glenn on fire. In a panic, they ran the two miles home with clothes and skin burned away.

Two weeks later, Floyd died from the burns and infection. His brother, Glenn, lay critically ill with burns covering his legs. The doctor’s advice was to amputate his legs to save his life. After long deliberations with Glenn and his parents, it was decided not to amputate. The prognosis was that Glenn would probably never walk again. The burns had damaged his legs far beyond repair. In addition, he had lost all the skin on his lower legs and his toes on his left foot. He was destined to be crippled at age seven.

Through his and his mother’s determination, Glenn went through some new massage therapy as a daily routine. It was two years before he would be able to try and walk again. His attitude remained positive and with his religious faith he and his parents knew he would succeed. He leaned heavily on a verse from Isaiah, “Those who wait upon on the Lord will renew their strength, they will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.”

Glenn would not only walk again, but he would learn to run, and how he ran. He ran with speed and grace. Many watching him, not knowing his story, would marvel at his natural ability as a runner. He ran the 800-meter, 1500-meter and 1-mile races. He ran in world record time, all while still in pain that remained from his childhood injuries. He came in fourth in the 1500 meter run at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. He set the world record for the mile at 4:06.8 in 1934. He would do it again in 1938 at 4:04:6. In 1936 he set the world record in the 800-meter run.

In 1936 he made his second Olympic team and headed for Berlin. In his words from his autobiography, “Never Quit,” “The noise of the crowd throbbed in my ears, modulated by the pounding of my heart. I was pouring on the power when suddenly my legs began to hurt. Panic. Again, the pain, the aching. Would it never go away? At the halfway point in the race, a swift Frenchman took the lead. I decided to overtake him. I was about to pass the man when my right leg buckled! I nearly fell. I recovered at once, but now new pains stabbed through my legs. Once more I started after the Frenchman. This time I passed him, and the crowd went wild. I had the lead! We were in the stretch now. I lengthened my stride, fighting the pain. I pumped my arms harder. But I was in trouble. Big trouble. My legs could give out completely in an instant. I could see the finish line. I could also see the runner who was inching up on my right side. The fellow was passing me. The crowd went into a frenzy as I managed to pull away from him. But my legs were on fire. The realization enraged me. It seemed so unfair. The anger gave me strength as I pounded the cinders toward the finish. And then, too late, I saw I wasn’t going to make it. In the final lap, Jack Lovelock came out of nowhere. From the corner of my right eye, I saw him launch into a mighty last effort. Jack crossed the line first, I finished second.”

Glenn Cunningham had his Olympic medal. He never mentioned his legs as reporters swarmed around him. His only comment was that he felt he ran a good race and was happy he broke the world record for the 1500 at 3:48. He said only one person in the world was faster. Jack Lovelock ran the 1500 in 3:47.

Glenn Cunningham’s words to live by were “As long as you believe you can do things, they’re not impossible.” No one would have believed on February 9, 1917, that a seven-year-old with burned legs and amputated toes would one day be an Olympian champion.

We live in a world of negativism. The media is full of “doom and gloom.” We hear a lot about what is wrong with the church, our country, and the world. People are full of criticism and “woe, are we” mentality. It seems at times that people not only don’t see the brighter things in life, but they don’t even pay that much attention to the good that is taking place. We spend a lot of time looking at what we are not getting, instead of actively seeking what we can get if we put our minds and efforts into making our lives better.

Glenn Cunningham could have listened to the doctor who said he would never walk again and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. However, he chose not to give up. He chose to become active in his desire to be healed. The pain was still there, his scars were visible for all to see, yet he did not give in to the negative. He spent his life doing what others said was impossible.

You can’t sit in your easy chair and win a marathon. It takes effort on our part. I once knew someone who was on a diet, and instead of eating regular ice cream bought a box of Weight Watcher ice cream bars. He proclaimed that dieting didn’t work. The problem was he ate the whole box of bars at one sitting. You can’t expect to run a marathon or lose weight if you aren’t willing to put effort into achieving the goal.

If you want worship to be meaningful, you should become involved, willing to learn and not just listen. You must sing instead of sitting and listening to others. You turn off and put up your smartphone and become involved. You need to reach out and be open so others can reach out to you. You will never ever get anything out of “church life” unless you are willing to put your life into making it happen.

Remember the advice of a young girl, “You know Daddy, if you’d had put more into it you’d have gotten more out!” The more you give, the more you get.”

Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ

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