My youngest son came home with a fancy guitar pedal contraption last night that he had found on Craig’s List. The previous owner needed cash and decided to unload it cheaply to ensure a quick sale. The young man asked my son what he would do with the pedal.
“I’m going to use it when I lead worship,” my son said.
“I used to play in a church band,” the young man said. “But I haven’t been to church in a long time.” And in talking further with the young man, my son saw evidence of that very fact.
Just a couple of days earlier, an old friend of mine told me she had had coffee with another mutual friend we knew from church. “I haven’t seen her in forever,” I told my friend. “Where does she go to church now?”
“Oh, she’s not going anywhere,” my friend said.
Years ago, I knew a man who was raised Catholic but decided church was a farce because he couldn’t explain how God could justify the Crusades. He wouldn’t attend church, and he wouldn’t tolerate anyone in his household attending church.
I could go on and on with such stories. More than likely, so could you. When you talk to people who have fallen away from a church – or who refuse to go at all – the story is often the same: They have either gotten burned in a church or by someone who goes to church, and that burned taste has lingered long in their mouths.
The reality is that people are awful, and that includes Christians. We’re contemptible, self-centered brutes ruled by pride and ego. Our Golden Rule is more along the lines of “Do to others before they do unto you” than “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s no wonder Christians have a reputation for being self-righteous hypocrites.
So if you’ve been burned by a Christian within or outside of a church, get in line. Anyone who has ever known a Christian has. I can’t even begin to count my own scorch marks, some of which are fairly fresh.
One problem, however, is in equating God with people who say they represent Him. Yes, people are made in God’s image (see Genesis 1:26-27), and those of us who know Him even have His Spirit within us. However, unlike us, God is without sin. (See Hebrews 4:15.) He is holy and perfect – as we someday will be. (See 1 John 3:2.)
Maybe you are one of those people who doesn’t know the Lord but just knows you don’t want to be like those people you know as Christians. The good news is you don’t have to be. The better news is that God loves each one of us, sins and all, and has a beautiful plan to redeem our lives from the pit.
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23
God is good, even if people are bad. But church is good too. Why? Because, though we sometimes get knocked down by the very people who are supposed to build us up, we still benefit from the teaching, accountability, support and fellowship we gain. Church is so important that God commands us to make it a priority in our lives.
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:25
I’ll grant you some churches have a greater meanness quotient than others, and sometimes you are better off relocating. But you’re never better off giving up on church.
Think about our world today. Can you imagine the impact a unified group of true Christians could have on one another and on the world around them? We need to prepare for that Day that Hebrews 10:25 tells us is approaching. It will be a day when God will separate people into one of two groups: those who know Him and those who do not.
When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” . . . Then He will say to those on His left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” – Matthew 25:31-33, 41
Only God can transform goats into sheep. If you are still a goat, trust Him today, and He will transform you. Then go find a church where you can grow to maturity, even if you acquire some more scorch marks along the way.
And if you’re a sheep still nursing old wounds, it’s time to realize all sheep are smelly – you included. It’s time to stop letting the devil pull the wool over your eyes and to put your bitterness to pasture. Now go find your flock.