So I attended church this morning. My family and I got up, we picked up my step-daughter’s friend, and drove to church.
The Christian church has taken a few beatings lately, especially with the new Obama administration. Abortion, embryonic stem cell research, Prop 8 – all of these things, biblically speaking, the church is against. I’ve heard people describe church, Jesus, God, and church-goers as:
- money-grubbing (high-profile church leaders – usually associated with Jim Bakker, Oral Roberts, et al)
The list goes on. The church is too opinionated. Why does the church get to tell me what to do. Why is God even in the equation when it comes to affairs of the State. The bible isn’t real anyway, and even if it were, look at all the brutality of the Old Testament – you call that a loving God??
I didn’t grow up a Christian. I grew up in an alcoholic family of divorce. I didn’t focus on God, I focused on being invisible and making sure everyone around me thought that my life was “just fine”. I had no one to really rely on and I managed to eek out a pretty good existence with some issues here and there.
From the outside looking in, God and the church and all those “believers” is incredibly daunting, as if they know something you don’t know. They have “all the answers” and it’s irritating when they try to tell you what you’re doing wrong. So it’s easy to be offended by that, as if they know what’s right for you.
I went to church today. And this is what I got from a big group of “narrow-minded, antiquated, judgmental” people who believe in “something that probably doesn’t exist anyway”.
My pastor spoke about past hurts and how with Jesus’ sacrifice all those mistakes we’ve made, they’re gone. Guilt? That’s gone, too, because when you’re forgiven it’s not just for twenty minutes, it’s for life. Judgment? If you’re a believer, that’s not God whispering in your ear telling you didn’t earn it or deserve it, well, that comes from a whole different and much darker place.
How can I possibly explain to someone who has never “let go” of their life and given it over to the Creator of the universe that trust is not a four-letter word? How do I explain the kind of heart-shattering love that comes with knowing there is ONE person out there who loves you more than even you can imagine and has only the best plans for your life? How can you put that into words to someone who thinks I’m weak because I believe in something that isn’t fully understandable, but is absolutely knowable?
We did Communion today as a remembrance of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us and although it’s a little disconcerting to think about the trauma that Jesus went through for us (if you’ve seen The Passion of the Christ you have a very good idea of what it was probably like) so that we could be free of these very real, though intangible, chains that bind us and crush us and strangle us.
I looked around as the choir sang Amazing Grace and I saw the Prayer Team, just regular people who love God and want to use their gift to help others, praying with people they didn’t even know in one big group until every single one of them had been prayed for. I don’t know what the issues were, anything and everything. Just because we believe in God doesn’t mean we’re not human, with the infinite capacity for making mistakes – even really big ones.
Through my pastor, I heard what God thinks about my finances, how I should be a good steward of my money and becoming a slave to another lender. Hear that, those of us who are in debt to credit card lenders? I learned about how everything in life is cyclical and when pastor asked us who had ever been in rough financial times to raise our hands, nearly 90% of the entire congregation did. Know what that means? It means we have been there. It means there is no shame in needing help and it means that for those people who thought they were alone, well, they were wrong.
Then pastor directed people to information about programs the church offered from Finance Seminars to Celebrate Recovery (like biblical 12-Step), to Hannah’s Hope Chest (free shopping if you can’t afford clothes, food, etc.), to Premarital Counseling and Marriage Seminars. Do you know how much all of this costs to the people taking part in these church-sponsored activities? Usually – nothing. Maybe the cost of a workbook.
You know who pays for all of that? The people of the church who give their time, talent, and money to the church so that God can use it in a way that will be a blessing and aid to others. Many people don’t agree with the church or what God says about many topics today. In fact, when it comes to many issues, a lot of people don’t want to hear what God has to say.
Unbelievers – Before
- God shouldn’t tell me what to do with my body
- Sleeping around is my business, not anybody else’s
- I get high, so what? It’s not hurting anyone
- I don’t know what the big deal is, I lost my virginity when I was 12
- The only person I gotta worry about is me
- We need tolerance, but I can’t take what those Christians are preachin’, they shouldn’t be so narrow-minded
- There is no God
- What I achieve and what I have shows everybody how important I am
- Religion is for suckers and weak people who can’t handle life
Unbelievers – After
- I wish I hadn’t done it, I never knew it would be this hard – I still think about it
- I’m pregnant / I thought he loved me, but he left me / I have a commnunicable disease / I feel used / It wasn’t worth it
- I got busted / I got in an accident / I owe money to this guy… / I don’t feel like… / Whatever, who cares?
- I wish I had waited / He was such a jerk, he told everyone / I didn’t love him / He pressured me / It wasn’t worth it
- I wish I had someone to talk to / I’m lonely / Why don’t people like me? / Would anyone even care if I wasn’t here?
- People should be able to believe whatever they want – except the Nazis, and the Christians, and those Jihad Muslims, and…
- There is nothing but me. Nothing. But me.
- I’m exhausted / What if I fail? / What’s the next big thing? / Are they impressed? / Oh no, I failed, I’m losing it all. I’m nobody.
- I wish I had someone to share this burden with / Why doesn’t anyone even care? / How do I handle this on my own?
Believers – Before
- I’m afraid, I don’t know what to do
- I messed up – big time
- I feel alone
- I need wisdom and guidance
- I’m hurting right now
- I’m lost
- What is my purpose?
- How can I make a difference?
- How do I share my gifts?
- How can I turn my awful past into something that will help others?
- What does God expect from me?
Believers – After
- I prayed and even though I didn’t get the answer right away, you wouldn’t believe how God communicated to me…
- I went to church and Pastor said that God has already forgiven us, we need to let it go and accept it. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from me.
- I joined a ministry, so now I help in the kitchen and I met some really great people / I joined a singles group and met my husband / I attended a seminar and met some…
- I looked up a great passage in the Bible and it was so weird how it answered my question perfectly, I just needed the moral reminder to make the hard decision
- I got a call from the girl in my Small Group and she said she saw me looking out of sorts so she felt compelled to call me, it was weird, but the timing of her call was so perfect
- I felt really far away from God, I was doing some stuff I knew I shouldn’t be, maybe hiding from God, but I went to service and sat in the back and prayed and now I felt better – it was so dumb to try and hide from God, He knows what I’m up to, but just talking to Him and getting it out like that made me feel so much better
- I never thought I could feel so alive and useful delivery home-cooked meals to someone who is bed-ridden, but the way she lights up every time I come over, if I were in her shoes, I’d want the same thing. I feel like I make a difference and even though I’m exhausted, inside my heart I feel so energized!
- I didn’t think it was a big deal donating that crib, but when I heard the story about the family who lost their home during the hurricane, it really showed me that even the small things make a difference
- I joined a Ministry at church and now I greet people at every service and it is so wonderful to see how they go from nervous and confused about what to do, to smiling back and thanking me for showing them around. I may have just led someone to their seat who could become a believer today.
- I never in a million years would believe I’m telling the story of my life to an auditorium of over 5,000 people. So many came up to me after the talk and said how they were experiencing exactly what I had.
- I always skated by on life before, I was never really very moral before and it really burned me, but now, I hold myself to a higher standard – Jesus’ standard – and even though I can’t be perfect all the time like He was, I know that when I am honest and trustworthy and sincere, that people see I’m someone who is decent inside and out. I am someone that they can rely on and someone that they look up to.
So I went to church today. I saw people joyful loving and praising all the great things God has done for them. I saw people in earnest prayer seeking God’s guidance and forgiveness for mistakes they’d made, mistakes they wanted to turn away from. I saw people give and receive love from perfect strangers. I saw tears of joy, heartache, relief, and sorrow. I saw a community of people who collectively believe that they are not all they will ever have, that there is something/someone far bigger and more capable of handling the problems of their lives – and more than willing to do so, if they will let Him.
I saw a community of people who trust in God, as crazy and strange as it sounds, and I have seen miracles and wonders that He’s performed even in my life. His way is not easy, it requires sacrifice, changes, moral inventory, walking away from things that – even though they feel “good” at the time – eventually sink their hooks and suck the life right out of us. It’s a scary thing walking away from being free of moral responsiblity, believing in God, believing in Jesus and that He existed, and that the bible is true.
But ultimately we have two choices:
- live up to God’s word and standard and create a life of purpose and have guidance along the days of our lives
- live down to the world’s standard, where everything is about you, you’re the only one that matters, and you are your own god
I went to church today and I learned just another wonderful lesson about life. And my family did, too.