The world has been riddled with bad churches since the dawn of civilization. Corruption, infidelity, abuse, just plain old indifference can be seen throughout the generations, not to mention flat out heresy. So how, in a world full of so many choices, can a person find a church that, while flawed, isn’t outright dangerous? How can you recognize a healthy church where you can find both truth and grace, wrapped up in an atmosphere that appeals to you?
Join us this week as we Flashback to an early episode from season 1 where we address those very concerns.
This is a much larger topic than we had time to fully cover in just one episode, so if you have questions or need help finding a healthy church in your area, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting
and His faithfulness to all generations.”
– Psalm 100:5
This last Sunday a remarkable thing happened. I worshiped at my home church.
Admittedly, this doesn’t sound like such a big deal. But wait…. This was the church building I grew up in, the one I helped pound nails into when I was a little kid. The very building that I watched grow from a tree covered plot of land to a log church at the base of Mt. Hood.
Still, why is that remarkable?
Twenty years ago that church, along with two other churches in the area, decided to have a marriage, so to speak. Three churches became one.
Folks, church merges happen all the time. That’s nothing new. What’s exceptionally rare is when those merges work out.
That’s what happened in this case. Matt and I had already married and moved to Utah so I didn’t get to witness this marriage first-hand, but I heard the good news from family and friends.
And this last Sunday we had a 20-year anniversary reunion to celebrate it all.
Here’s the super cool thing: in that celebration, I got to see people I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. I got to see men and women, now gray and starting to show the effects of age, who helped shape and mold my life as a young believer. It was a beautiful collage of people from varied walks and backgrounds all converging in one place to raise their voices to praise the God who unites us as a family.
But there were several people who weren’t there.
There are those who, like my dad and my former pastor, have already gone to be with the Lord. There were also those missing who had only recently passed away, the wounds still raw from their sudden and early departure. There were those, too, who are coming to the end of their days, their health preventing them from making the trip to join us for such an occasion.
It was a beautiful picture of the Now and the Not Yet.
It was a reminder of the faithfulness of our God who unabashedly pursues us.
I was 7 years old when I asked Jesus to come into my heart and take me to Heaven if I died. I had no idea what I was signing up for. All I knew was that the people around me seemed different and I wanted what they had. I didn’t know it then, but it was hope and joy. They had a confidence that drew me in, wrapping me up in its warm embrace.
In the years that followed that child’s prayer, I continued to watch the older kids and adults that filled my days. I listened to their conversations about their faith and understanding of who God is; I watched as they struggled to put into practice the ideals that the Bible teaches. I saw God’s characteristics being manifested in my family, my youth leaders, my mentors and people who didn’t even know I was watching them.
And little by little, my own faith began to take shape and grow. I had my own struggles and battles to overcome, along with shining moments and clear victories. All the while, there were a handful of adults, wiser and more generous than I, who remained faithful to pray for me as I learned to spread my wings. They came along quietly but boldly, challenging my thinking and encouraging my faith.
In ways big and small, they helped me become the woman I am today. They were gentle and compassionate, full of grace and truth. Without their prayers and willingness to invest in a spiritually clumsy, selfish, and often impetuous kid, it’s impossible to say where I might be now!
As we sang together on Sunday, I closed my eyes and let the music wash over everything. The little church was packed tight and the voices filled it to the rafters with a sweet, sweet sound. And as I looked around afterward and saw the faces of the young and the old, families who were all together from the tiniest babe to the grayest of grays, it was evident that God has indeed been faithful through the generations.
I walked away that day with a sense of awe at how loved by God I am. He has welcomed us each to the table and calls us sons and daughters. He has lavished us with His love and grace. He has gifted us with people to share life with; people that can cheer us on and prod us forward. He has called us to be the same for somebody else.
We are the luckiest people in the world! We are part of the biggest, most inclusive, mixed up, eclectic family. How cool is that?
Who are you investing in? Is there someone in your sphere who needs a spiritual big brother or sister? What are you doing to show them Jesus? If there isn’t anyone like this in your life, why?
I’m just saying…somebody’s watching you. Whether you know it (or want it) or not, if you’ve publicly called yourself a follower of Christ, you are being observed. What are people seeing?
I don’t know about you, but I want to keep this cycle going. I want to sit in church someday with my own children’s children on my lap, knowing that they, too, are being taught the love and truth of a faithful God.
(P.S. To my mountain church family, I’m pretty positive that Dad, Stan, Grandma and Grandpa Wall, Jack, Jason, Ed and all the others who have gone before us were joining in the singing. There were angels in the rafters, I’m sure.)
“…be of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit,
intent on one purpose.”
– Philippians 2:2
It’s never easy, is it, coming to others to ask for help?
What will they think if they know my need is this great? Will their opinion change once they know just how dark my heart and thoughts can be? Or, will they think I’m silly; wasting their time with my needs which seem so insignificant?
I’ve had these thoughts on more than one occasion. Yet, at every turn I am amazed by the response I’m met with when I take a deep breath and share my heart.
Sometimes it’s a prayer need, sometimes a thought I’ve been mulling over for days and need to talk through. Other times it’s a sin that I keep finding myself struggling with. Often it’s the critical thoughts that tend to take up residence in my head, shoving aside God’s words of truth and bring me to tears and of guilt, shame, fear and overwhelm.
Consistently though, God has met me in those places of need as I’ve turned to someone at church and bared my burden. I’m met with encouraging words, reminders of God’s promises and faithfulness, prayer and often a hug.
Likewise, I’ve been met with gratitude for my willingness to be vulnerable and broken in front of others. Because, honestly, that’s just not a thing you see all the time.
These kinds of relationships are born in and grown through fellowship in and around church.
Three years ago, our little congregation of less than 50 merged with another local small church. A majority of church merges fail. Ours has been a story of success. And in that place, I’ve gotten to know a whole new group of people; people I’d never have met otherwise.
Some are well into their grandparenting years, enjoying traveling the world. Others are just starting out, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their first baby. And there’s everyone in between. We’ve got nerds, geeks, intellectuals, blue collar, white collar, scrubs, lab coats, graduation caps, Bermuda shorts and button downs with a tie. And every single one of those people has impacted me, whether they know it or not.
You see, going to church is really good. You learn a lot about God. You sing some good songs full of good words and truths. You hear things that encourage you and maybe even challenge you.
But being the church…that’s even better.
Because then you get to rub elbows with people who are just like you and nothing like you at all. You get to see the vast array of people who God calls His own. Sometimes things get a little messy, but hopefully, as Christ stays the focus, even the messy is made clean again.
Being the church you can speak into one another’s lives. You can experience that ‘iron sharpening iron’ accountability and growth that’s talked about in Proverbs 27:17. You become invested in something that is so much bigger than yourself and it reminds you just how incredibly generous our God is.
Going to church is really good. Being the church is the best.
What about you? Do you just go to church on Sunday, letting the message slough off you as you walk out to your car, while the music fades in the background? Or do you take the church with you, presenting Christ to a broken and hurting land, recognizing that left on your own, you’d be just as broken, too?
It had been years since I’d stepped into a church. If not literally, then certainly in my heart. I’d been apart from God for a long time, rejecting Him and His word at every turn. Living life on my terms was way more fun.
Until it wasn’t.
When my lies finally caught up with me, I could see my surroundings more clearly. I hadn’t been living large, I wasn’t in control and all my feelings of grandiosity and self-assurance were just a facade for the absolute fear I felt. Fear of being found out, fear of my own depravity, fear of who I’d become and fear of the dark and lonely pit I found myself in.
But there I was. At the threshold of a new start. Beyond those double doors was a world that I’d known and grown up in but somehow seemed foreign and frightening.
It was a new church. A big church. One where I could get lost in the crowd. I didn’t want to be seen, even by strangers. I was certain that my sin was palpable; that by merely looking at me, people would know immediately that I was among the worst of the worst. In Old Testament times, I’d be stoned to death for my sin. And though it was 2010 AD, I was pretty sure, the response I’d get from others wouldn’t be far from that Old Testament notion.
Beyond that, what would God do to me, a sinner, a harlot stepping foot onto holy ground? His holy ground. I’d never heard of anyone getting struck down by lightning for walking into a church, but it seemed possible.
With a deep breath and holding the hand of my daughter, I walked in, my husband and son by my side. No lightning. Not even the rumble of thunder in the distance. So far, so good.
My daughter, upset by the fact that we weren’t going to be returning to our old church, the only one she’d known, had been given the important job of choosing our seats. Somewhere in the back seemed good. That way, I wouldn’t have to make eye contact with anyone and we could leave the second the service was done.
Nope. My sweet baby angel decided that we needed to be front and center. And I do mean front. And center.
With a little coaxing, we managed to get her to move one row back. So now we were second front and center. Right in everybody’s line of sight. And I mean everybody.
Thousands of people come to this church every week. They had no less than 5 pastors on staff at the time, in addition to the worship pastor and the youth pastor. And there I was, with my sin oozing out of me, right where everyone could see and point and judge and either feel pity for or be repulsed by me. But my daughter wouldn’t budge. We were not moving seats when I’d already made her move to a new church.
Okay. If sitting there would make my daughter feel better about life, I’d do it. I’d just keep my head down and try not to draw attention our way.
Then the music started. Piano, guitar, the rhythm of the drums. It all came together into a beautiful melody of praise, making much of Christ and His great love for us, sinners through and through.
I don’t remember what songs we sang. I didn’t know most of them. What I do remember is the worship pastor, sitting at the piano and looking at me as he sang about a God who loves his people, who calls us His sons and daughters. He sang about God’s goodness and glory, his redemption, and grace. And it seemed to me, his eyes never left my face as the tears streamed down my cheeks.
The house lights were low, the stage lights bright. It’s entirely possible that he didn’t see me at all, but everything about that moment pierced my heart and dropped me to my knees.
I was a wretch. I was broken. I’d hurt the people I loved the most and lied to them for years. I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. But here was this man I didn’t know, singing God’s word over me, assuring me of His love and forgiveness.
And I began to heal.
Every week we returned to those same seats. Every week we sang and praised God. Every week my husband and I cried out to God asking for His grace to wash over us and to heal our brokenness and save our marriage. Every. Single. Week.
And He did.
God met us right there. He met us in song and in the teaching. He met us in the people we started to meet. He met me at the Bible studies and recovery groups I attended. He met me in the kindness of a stranger offering words of encouragement. He healed us. He restored us. He turned our ashes into garlands of praise and redeemed our days.
And it all started with a small step. It didn’t take much to get my foot over the threshold of that church, and yet, it took everything. It required that I admit that without God, I am a mess. I can’t do life apart from the Creator of life. I need Him desperately, especially when I think I don’t need Him at all. Left to my own devices I will wreck havoc on myself and everyone in my path. But with God, anything is possible.
He can even take a broken, messed up, guilt-ridden sinner like me and create something new.
Go to church, Beloved. You need it. Trust me.