I grew up with you, I reluctlantly visited you every week, and sometimes more often. You were strictly an obligation, you were always part of my life, and yet, something was missing.
From an early age I knew you weren’t perfect, but I wanted you to be. You tried your best to make me feel welcomed and loved. I avoided you, I had no idea what your intentions were or how I would feel after being with you for an hour or two. I couldn’t stand the rules, the formalities. Then I decided to let go and live for myself, I decided to make my own decisions and find freedom from the “Do’s and Don’ts” and release myself from the perceieved condemnation and hypocrisy.
As I got older and began to venture on my own, I realized being in your presence made me feel like an outsider. I tried to connect, but there was something missing, I just never felt fully accepted. Sooner or later I realized I didn’t fit in, I couldn’t understand why, but you made me feel awkard, restless and sometimes bored. I couldn’t relate to you any longer, I just had to leave. I was frustrated with the inconsistencies in my own life, and the words spoken in public.
Until I was reintroduced to Him. He changed everything about what I thought I knew. When everything fell apart, when I had lost everything I held dear, He stepped in and transformed my heart. When my world was shaking from underneath me and my life was falling apart, He welcomed me with open arms. He made everything make sense, and He became real to me. He was the One who comforted me and gave me peace. He told me He loved me and that He would never leave me. He took my hand and helped me walk back into the same place I dreaded so much…
I was so wrong about you. My misunderstandings of you led me to keep you at a distance. You weren’t perfect, the rules, legalism and traditions forced me to find true meaning in what it truly meant to be the Body of Christ. The pain forced me to find meaning in the broken places. Why was this happening to me? Why God? I realize that I was trying to get from you, what only He could provide. And now, I don’t expect perfection in you, but I find community and joy in learning, growing and worship together. I learn from imperfect, caring and genuine men and women of God, whom I call friends and family, neighbors and colleagues. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom, and I simply could not find true freedom until I realized what I was searching for was rest in Him. Once I released the control of tradition and legalism and held on to the Rock of my salvation, I understood that He was my only strength in times of weakness. The church is not perfect, it is made up of imperfect people like you and I, looking to the Cross, to Jesus- the Author and Perfector of our faith.
Today I find joy in diving right in to Scripture, and learning and growing together as a Body. Sometimes I mess up, but I don’t stay there – His grace is sufficient for me. I get back up, keep my head high and looking to Him, and I cling to Him, the One who will always welcome me with open arms. I am forever changed because of Jesus and the role of the Body of Christ. I have found a place where I belong and a place where I can grow.
Let me encourage you today, the first place I ever felt welcomed in my brokenness was a little church in a small community in 2011 about 45 minutes away from my hometown. It was in the middle of the most devastating season of my life where I found community in church. It was there where I found freedom from whatever shame or guilt I was holding in for years. It was not the building, but the community of people that surrounded me and encouraged me. I will never forget the strong men and women of God here, and I’m so thankful for how they helped me grow in Christ. It was here I learned more about the role of the Holy Spirit and how much God loved me even in the mess of life, when everyone else seem to reject me. These men and women nurtured and encouraged me in the Lord, prayed for me and mentored me. It was this renewed foundation in Christ and in a new understanding of what church was that I found the importance of gathering together as the Body. Once the foundation was set and my unattainable expectations of what a church should be like were shattered, I had a new appreciation for gathering together.
Whether it’s big, small, far or close by; get connected and get plugged in. Find a place where you belong, feel challenged by the Word and grow. Walking through those church doors alone is never easy, but it’s doable and possible because He is with you. We can get lost in a sea of married couples, families and groups, but God still has a place for each one of us. It takes intentional effort and getting plugged in and connected, it may not feel comfortable, and it involves being vulnerable, but I pray that you experience the love of the Father through the open doors of the Church and the Body of Christ. We weren’t meant to go through life alone. God is with you! Jesus meets you where you are, and then gently takes you by the heart and hand and lovingly leads you into finding peace and rest in Him.
Go to church, not out of obligation, but out of joy! Joy to hear from the Lord, to gather together in His house and learn from His Word.
1 Corinthians 12:12-31