I grew up going to church. Sunday morning. Sunday night. Mid-week service. If the doors were open, you would find my family there. And maybe I wasn’t your typical kid because I actually found myself liking it.
I relished the hugs from the greeters at the front door. They were an elderly couple that I always playfully tried to sneak by, but they would cheerfully chase after me, wrapping their arms securely around my chest and telling me how happy they were to see me again. It is a memory I still treasure to this day. Their smiles were endless. Their hugs were tight, to the point where you felt like your breath was being squeezed right out of ya.
It wasn’t a particularly large congregation, probably because I grew up in a small town. My best guess would be about two hundred people. Over the course of time, I pretty much knew everybody. My parents were attendance junkies, recounting everyone’s names while we ate our Sunday lunch.
“Sure was nice to see the Smiths today. Hadn’t seen them in awhile.”
“Oh, did you know that Sarah had her baby? I hope she is doing okay.”
Just small talk and of course, a bit of critiquing the sermon as well. We had our Sunday routine down. Even sitting in the same pew week after week. This church home was like family.
So, imagine my shock one afternoon when my father called to share some bad news. I was in college at the time. As a senior deacon in the church, he uncovered a shocking embezzlement of church funds by the pastor and his secretary. But oh wait…there is more. They were also having an affair.
As such scandalous stories go (and you’ve probably heard your fair share), there was a church fall-out from the news. And being completely honest, it rocked my world too. It made me question my faith in God Almighty and ask loaded questions like, “God, are you really real?”
When people we admire stumble, we often follow suit.
I responded by wanting to ignore God. I doubted His existence. I could not wrap my arms around how a man of God could fall so hard…and without even a word of repentance. I began to wonder if this whole Christianity thing was merely a hoax or some type of social club gathering. If God were truly sovereign, why in the world would He allow such a shakedown?
I struggled to pick up my Bible. I didn’t seem to care what was written in it. I stopped praying and talking to God. At the time, I figured it didn’t matter anyway. But for some odd reason, I still kept going to church. For me, it was a deeply ingrained habit.
For years, this is what I referred to as Christianity. A set of routines. A social gathering. And every once in awhile, a provoking sermon. But then the day came when God finally got a through to me.
There is more to church than Sunday attendance…God is seeking a personal, intimate relationship. For all of these years, I had simply been going through the motions. Like me, I know many give up on God due to a similar experience. Their church is dead or someone isn’t living up to their expectations. Maybe church seems like a bunch of hypocrites. Rather than pursue a personal relationship with Jesus our Lord, we look for excuses to escape it.
If you find yourself checking the absentee box at church due to the people gathering within, I challenge you to reconsider.
No church is perfect. The music may be too loud or the pastor may have an off day. You may find imperfect people loitering in the lobby, spreading gossip under the guise of prayer. There may be some unruly children, leaving you scratching your head, “If these people call themselves children of God, then I don’t want to be here.”
But interestingly, by taking a closer look, we see Jesus hung out with the same kind of people. There was Peter who declared with his lips that he loved Jesus more than anything. Yet in a matter of hours, he denied he knew anything about him (John 18:15-27). Another disciple named Thomas was skeptical that Jesus really rose from the dead (John 20:24-29). And what about Judas Iscariot…was not he one of them? A disciple. A close friend of Jesus. Nonetheless, it is he who would craft the greatest betrayal.
If these are the kind of people Jesus hung around, don’t you think maybe we ought to as well?
No pastor should be put on a pedestal. They’re not Jesus, but rather a mortal man with human skin just like you and I. They make mistakes. Sometimes big ones. For this reason, we need to keep our gaze fixed on the cross. Jesus should always be the center of our focus. Him alone and no one else.
God’s grace covers a multitude of sins. It took me years to come to a place of forgiveness for the wretched sin that took place in my home church. And here’s a little secret I uncovered in the process…my sin is just as ugly in the eyes of God. Sin is sin no matter how we slice and dice it. It is repulsive, dreadful, deadly, maddening, toxic, and the list goes on and on. Without Jesus, I would spend eternity in hell. I’m in bad shape without a Savior.
When I turn my gaze inwardly towards my own sin rather than to what everyone else is doing, my eyes become fixated on Jesus and the wondrous work of the cross.
What is hindering you from taking your faith deeper? Is your faith your own…or that of someone else?
“I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8
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