It was about five years ago when my wife and I decided that we needed the fellowship of a local church. I was anxious and even a bit afraid. I would joke, and say, “I’m not sure I want to be around a group of people that would want to be around someone like me.” We needed healing. We needed someone to tell us, “Welcome home, you are accepted here”.
Why so nervous?
What would people think? This is my second marriage. I allowed my first marriage to slip away through a lack of honor and commitment. I was worried about being judged unworthy of God and of real friendships. I knew church relationships were based on transparency, and that “church” was where you showed everyone how God had made you perfect, right? I was worried about what would happen when new people found out who I really was. They probably wouldn’t accept me. I didn’t even accept me.
“AND DON’T COME BACK!”
The “Church” had proven itself worthy of these concerns in the past. Towards the end of my first marriage, after we had separated, I received a letter from the church where we had attended for a short time. This letter scorned me for my behavior, and asked that I not return. They didn’t want my kind around their kind, and I understood.
Being unwelcomed in church provided just the excuse I needed. It also fueled more lies about who I believed God was, and what He thought about me. Clearly, God was not big enough to handle my sin. While denying the hurt this caused, I believed I deserved it. I lived with guilt over the circumstances surrounding my divorce and shame over loosing my family.
When we started attending that Chicago area mega-church, I needed someone to tell me that God understood, and that there was hope and help. One man even reached out to me, but I convinced myself it was not a fit and “something” kept us from connecting. I remember thinking that church was a place where good people came together to celebrate each another for their goodness. I knew I didn’t fit their idea of a good Christian man, husband or father. This was 10 years ago.
It was a small church that we’d found through a miracle. The church was located in an industrial park and met in a warehouse type building. Everyone was friendly, almost to the point of being phony, but there was something about these folks that just seemed sincere.
The music, already pulsing loudly, reminded me of rock music. Their version of “Stevie Nicks” was on the stage belting out worship songs that I didn’t recognize. There was a thumping electric bass, a screaming guitar and drums all mic’d up and locked away in a Plexiglass cage. Was this music legal in church?
My wife was a red-eyed, snotty mess within the first few minutes, explaining the need for tissue boxes everywhere. We had only been in church together a few times prior to this, and one of those times was for the wedding of her nephew. She had been a church regular prior to her divorce. She had no problem falling right back into the swing of worship. I had not seen or heard a church done like this before. Padded chairs had replaced wooden pews, but where are the hymnals?
After the message, given by one of the guitar players, we found out that the “senior leader” was away that Sunday. We were invited to come back the next Sunday to meet the pastor and his wife. We did.
We were met the following Sunday morning with more bass-thumping music, tears and tissues. There was a message about how God actually WANTS to forgive sins and DESIRES relationship with sinners. I heard that God cared about even me, with all my junk. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us…” I remember thinking; there must be two Gods.
After the service, we met the Pastor and his wife in the aisle. Right there, he told me not to confuse my earthly father with the Heavenly Father. He asked me who I thought God was. When I tried to explain, he talked about not believing the lies that I had been told. He told me that God would not judge me and had, in fact, already forgiven me. He had even forgiven me for those things I had been condemning myself for. He prayed for me, right there by our seats. Nobody had ever prayed for me while I was present. I was thankful for the tissues.
Accepted and needed
We were not only accepted by this congregation, we felt needed. We were told that my family, each of us, has something that’s required for the Church to fulfill its mission.
I’ve spent the last five years on a journey of reconciliation. Reconciling the lies I had believed with the truth of who God is, and who He created me to be. I have yet to fully understand God’s gift of grace and His forgiveness. I do know that, by accepting it on faith, I am a Christian man, husband and father. Regardless of what “they” may say.
Question – Can you see the benefit of the Church accepting vs. rejecting those in need? What changed when you realized that you were accepted?