What I Now See

I love Sundays. Family time, long brunches, church... How good is church?! I feel like the word ‘church’ sounds so boring and antiquated at times. Many of us may think church is SO 1900's, so not current, so not relevant, so not applicable today. Not to this generation- no way. They wouldn't attend outdated religious organizations such as church. Haven’t we learned by now that religion causes war and not peace, that religion divides people, that it exists to keep the oppressed in their state of oppression? Haven't you heard all the shocking discoveries of inappropriate behaviors from religious leaders? Yes, I have. I've heard all of it, I agree with all of it and despise all of it. However, that is not the church that I now see.

When my friends first heard that I had been going to church, they were all shocked. “Wait, like ‘church’ church? Like God and such? It cannot be, maybe they just opened a cool new spot called ‘Church’. Surely Esther can’t be going to church; she is fun, educated, well travelled…” But nope! There was not a new spot in town called Church; I was really going to ‘church’ church- the God kind of church.

According to many people's preconceptions of church, it is where you go to ask for forgiveness if you've done something really, really bad. Like, killed someone type of bad. That is when people go to church in the movies anyway, after they're done killing two cousins and their pet. But I hadn't killed any cousins; as a matter of fact I hadn't killed anybody at all. So what was I doing at church if it wasn't guilt-driven?

Ah, maybe I was just going through a phase. Surely that wouldn't last. When people are lost and they go through a ‘bad phase’, they seek help from a ‘higher power’. So then, they encouraged me. “That's good, Es. God will help you through this, you will get past it, it will all be alright, have faith in God”. But then I never stopped going to church. So what was I doing in church if it wasn't seasonal?

If going to church wasn't guilt-driven or seasonal, then it must have been that I was confused. Maybe I just lost my mind! I had gone completely bonkers! I was getting fooled by brain-washing leaders with an agenda! Some L. Ron Hubbard type of nut job. My friends were concerned about my mental state. Someone had to save me from that! But then I married into it. It was too late for me, nothing they could do now. I was too far gone. I had completely lost it. But, interestingly, my life didn't fall apart; in fact, it was more together than ever. I had a good family, was stable and seemed to enjoy life. So what was I doing in church if it wasn’t out of confusion?

So, here is the thing. I don't think anyone should go about their life assuming that church is a place you go to be incredibly bored, feel guilt and self-inflict the unnecessary pain of religious condemnation on their lives… That is not even biblical; as a matter of fact that is the very opposite of what is biblical: “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ”. Nonetheless, that's the general notion, and that was my notion. I had seen how church had worked for my parents and grandparents and I was all for their faith. I wasn't against religion; I just wasn't for it. Indifferent. It didn't affect me.

I didn't understand why people would choose religion. According to me, God was only relevant if you chose to acknowledge Him. For example, if I wasn't religious, I'd be able to be my own boss. I would be able to decide what was right and wrong for me- my rules. Or if I didn't believe in hell, I wouldn't go to hell. I'd just die. And decompose into the ground. And become dirt, home to worms. Ew. No idea what would happen to my soul, I didn't think that far ahead. There was this thing I was told that “church is for the poor, the uneducated and the desperate” and maybe for a fraction of time I even partially believed it. However, this is not the church that I now see.

What I didn't know is that religion was a completely different thing from a relationship with God. One was bounding, the other was freeing. One was about living for acceptance, and one was about living from a place of acceptance. The other thing that I guess didn't resonate with me was grace. That sounded like weakness. Why would I want to be a doormat? Give people the benefit of the doubt and then again give them the benefit of the doubt… And then again… Even already knowing the outcome, but then doing it again… Nothing to gain. It made no sense.

Google alerts recently took me on a little trip down the Hillsong skeptics lane. Although I probably shouldn't waste my time reading such ridiculous junk as I clearly have better things to do, I was so entertained by the level of speculation and ignorance that I spent a couple of minutes checking it out. This stuff is so over the top we wouldn't have been able to come up with it ourselves! All these conspiracy theories so carefully put together... Linking mountain backdrops to illuminati, taking sentences out of context to apply a double meaning, talking about this plan for world domination. Somewhat amusing, but a waste of time. Forget baseless theories! Be certain of your convictions and go change the world! Go, go, go! We only live once-we've got ONE shot at this!

I find it so fascinating how people can be so ignorant and oblivious to the truth. I am not only referring to ridiculous allegations about our church, but just about churches and God in general. How can we be so blind? Actually, I know the answer to that: Unless we have a personal relationship with God, the entire world becomes distorted. Unless we have a personal relationship with God, nothing makes sense. Unless we have a personal relationship with God, life has no meaning. Life without love has no meaning; there is no real love in a life without God. I love what Erwin McManus so brilliantly said, “Without God, we lose our source of love but not our need for love”. 

The moment a human being separates himself from the presence and the reality of God, his world becomes distorted. For some reason, the way we tell the story is that we would be free without God and God is always here trying to put us in prison. The true story is that we were free with God and without Him we keep putting ourselves in prison. You cannot escape that historically, religions exist to control people through guilt and shame. You cannot deny that historically, the church has somehow managed to twist God’s love and desire for personal relationship and portray it as prison itself. But that is not the God I now see.

The truth is that without God, all we can do is manage sin. With God, we can actually overcome evil. Religion exists because without God, all we can do is try to manage our darkness. With God, we can actually become light. This is the God I now see. The God that frees and does not imprison, the God who saves and does not condemn, who teaches and does not judge, who loves and is not angry. A God who is fun, alive and has a sense of humor; not one that is boring, mean and unimpressed. 

The church is His house. The church consists of His people. The church loves and accepts, the church cares and cares for, the church is fun and lively. The church welcomes the poor and the successful, it unites the lonely and the hurt, it brings out laughter and dries up tears. It brings us into the presence of God, it creates community, it takes care of the community. This is the church I now see. 

The church I now see isn't where you go solely because of your guilt, your season or your confusion. The church I now see is HOME; one you belong in, one you can cry and laugh in, one that helps you grow closer to God. A loving God. An accepting and forgiving God, one that has been waiting for you to come HOME, one that hears you in your pain and gives you your heart’s desires. A God that brings you peace and joy, one that helps you in ALL seasons, one that empowers you to not solely exist, but to fully live. A God who knows you better than you know yourself and has accepted you regardless. His opinion of us isn't affected by our own insecurities and struggles with self-esteem. He’s already extended His hand, whether or not we choose to hold on to it. This is the God I now see.

The biggest mistake a person can make in life is not recognizing that THEY, too, need to see God. 

X Es