I remember when a neighbor and fellow churchgoer invited me to have lunch with our Pastor, Randy. I’ve been eager to meet him as he is usually buried under a crowd after the Sunday service and I’ve never been able to get near enough to say more than Hello. So I accepted the invitation but not without a little fear in my heart. To date the only time I’ve spent in meaningful dialogue with a Pastor was to get baptized or married.
We met for a burger and talked for an hour-plus; it was a good time. As I expected him to, Randy eventually asked me about my relationship with God. I’m going to tell you some of what I told Randy because when I answered him, and he did not frown, I was uplifted.
The first thing I admitted was that I’ve been baptized twice. The first time, around the age of 13, was more directed toward impressing a girl at church than saving my soul. I did it, went through the churchgoer motions for a while afterward, the girl wasn’t impressed, and I, disenchanted, eventually stopped going to church.
That is the first thing I admitted to, not the first wrongheaded thing I’d done in my relationship with God. The first misstep I made was when I was a Boy Scout on a mission to earn as many merit badges as I could. I’m not even sure it is still offered but back in the day, which means at least 40 years ago, you could earn a merit badge for Christian Studies. I thought it would be an easy one so I went for it. I didn’t admit this to Randy because I also didn’t want to admit that I didn’t earn the merit badge. How pitiful is that?
A few years after overcoming my young love heartbreak I realized the folly of my motive for my first baptism and saw no hope for redemption other than to do it again. I was baptized a second time at the age of 16. Shortly after that, I found some other reason to hold myself to a low standard and began attending church in my head rather than taking a place on a pew.
What that means is I discovered a lot of sinful people went to church, including the Pastor, and I let it discourage me. I convinced myself I could be as close to God through my own intellect as I could sitting in church among people who were as sinful as I was. This worked for me for years, including the second thing I admitted to Randy and that was that I also convinced myself that making the sacrifices necessary to be able to send my daughter to a Christian school was in itself a form of worship. I believed in God enough to make sure my daughter got a healthy dose of Him every day for thirteen years, and thought I would receive some Grace for making that happen.
The mind can play some mean tricks, can’t it? That or the Devil is a skilled mindbender.
Today I realize I cannot ask to be given credit or consideration just because I wrote a lot of checks to a Christian school. It was a great thing to do for Meagan but I didn’t accomplish a thing for myself. Except, perhaps, that by having her there I introduced awareness of the fact she and I didn’t attend church; it was for and with Meagan that I returned to the church six years ago.
When I finished my story Randy smiled and said he was glad to have me in the church and encouraged me to get even more deeply involved with the ministries. How sweet it was to not be made to feel as if I were not Christian enough.
After lunch I returned to my desk to write and found this passage I had written down and saved for later use (Matthew 7:1), “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
It was, as they say, a prophetic moment. How dare I turn away from church because I thought it was filled with sinners? Me, a wretched sinner scorning other sinners, the gall!
Today, a much more mature Believer, if I were to ask myself where would I rather the sinners be than in church, I’d answer – nowhere else.