I often reflect on the first church my husband and I attended as a family. Our son was ten and he wanted to pursue the Boy Scout religion merit badge, so off we went a few blocks away to a local community church. It is one of those "God has a sense of humor" stories because I thought we were going to help our son fill up his green boy scout sash. Literally, six weeks later God saved me. Sitting in a pew on a June Sunday morning something happened. I did not grow up in the church and I would have had no idea what you were talking about if you had asked me, "Did you pray the sinners prayer?" or, "Did you ask Jesus into your heart?" I had absolutely no clue what had or was happening to me. None of my friends were Christians. No one in my family was a Christian.
A Gentle Disagreement
Fast forward a few years. I was learning the Bible and loving every piece of it. I was involved in my new church and one of the studies I attended was in my pastor's study on Wednesday evenings. Through that study I came to learn that my pastor did not believe something that I held to be a vital part of the Christian faith and sound doctrine. I was incredulous and sad. For days I poured over scripture and commentaries. What took place next was shocking. I called my pastor on a Saturday morning. He was driving back from the Keys and had some time to talk while his wife took the wheel. He spent three patient hours with me while we talked and compared Scripture. It was a gentle and caring conversation. Here I was, a new Christian, going at it with a pastor of forty years. Ha! And yet, he was patient, loving and kind with me. We agreed to disagree, but my love and respect for him never wavered.
A Crazy Question
...Fast forward three more years. I became more involved in this community of believers and unbelievers - all tousled together under this one roof. I served in bible studies and prayer meetings and on church committees. It was becoming increasingly clear that it was time for us to change churches. We loved the people, the pastor and all. However, our son was entering high school and not connected where we were. He became involved with some guys at a nearby church and he boldly made the decision to leave and go to a place he felt suited him. My husband and I were happy to see his commitment. Upon making that decision, I called our pastor to make an appointment. I could not bear to leave without telling him. We sat in his study and laughed, cried and talked. He took his time with me not wanting to rush the conversation. I explained that we were leaving and as best I could told him why. All he really wanted to know was how we were doing. How was my husband? How was our son? Towards the end of our time together, I told him I would be considering options for alternate locations of a prayer group I met with each Friday morning in the church library. I was considering moving it to my home or to another church in the area.
He listened, then asked, "Lori, do you have a key?"
I replied, "No."
He smiled, and said, "Let's get you a key."
My response? Tears. Uncontrollable tears. Who does that?
A Crazier, Bigger God
I have shared that story countless times and each time I do, tears well up. Each time I remember the kindness of that man, I am struck again with the bigness of God. The further on down the road I get in this Christian life, I am convinced like Paul;
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 1 Cor 13:1-3I am forever grateful to that pastor. He showed me unconditional love, patience and kindness that looked a lot like Jesus.
"Do you want to know what God is like? Then look at Jesus. If you want to know how God reacts to people, look at how Jesus reacted to people." Steve BrownHe gave me a key. Not just to the library, but what I later understood to be, a key to the kingdom. A pathway to view the freedom of the gospel.
I think that's why people leave the church. I think that explains what is going on in Christianity. We are more about locking the door and throwing away the key. We are less about extending the keys to worn out, left out and burned out people.
This one thing, I am coming to learn.
The gospel is way bigger than I thought it was.
The gospel is way more inclusive than I thought it was.
The gospel is way more welcoming, inviting, loving and receiving than I thought it was.
...the gospel isn't about a lock anymore.
We don't have to have the perfectly cut key to open a locked door.
The door is open. The old keys are piled up inside, as a reminder. A bunch of old keys used to keep people out are now sitting in a heap on the floor next to the open door. This is what freedom looks like.
Come on in...the door is open.