When Church Just isn't Enough

I can understand why Christians have been labeled hypocrites.

I understand why someone from the outside looking in can scroll social media for about 3 minutes and decide they want no part of Christianity. 

I understand why we are accused of picking and choosing what parts of the Bible we strongly adhere to and which parts we seem to glance over. 

I believe that it is our own faults as Christians that we haven't done more to love others and show the transforming truth of Christ to a world that is confused. I think part of this is because we have not done a good job of teaching others to read Scripture for themselves nor have we allowed them the opportunity to be transformed by God's Word in their time.

Our voices are so loud and overpowering that we can't even give others the opportunity to experience personal conviction for themselves by a Holy Spirit that is much more powerful than our rhetoric. 

We mistakenly cite our own personal convictions as the truth and when we are questioned about it we judge, we yell, and we become self-righteous. We use the Bible as a weapon instead of as a love story of God's redemptive love for us.

Some of the questions that our world has about Christianity comes from the fact that they are trying to reconcile between a God who is judgemental and a God who is loving. A God who is Holy and a God who is near. The dichotomy is very difficult to understand even for someone who has been taught Scripture her entire life. I still find myself coming across Scriptures that don't make any sense to me on the surface. I have to question others opinions, read commentaries, and then ask God to help me understand and discern it. 

I truly believe with all my heart that there are many people who are living a life apart from Christ not because they are hell-bent on sin, but because they are just unsure. Think about it from the perspective of someone who has never stepped foot in a church. Jesus giving up his life for me and loving me unconditionally sounds really good, but having this relationship means that I now have to belong to a community of people that just don't seem too loving.

I have identified myself as a Christian and a follower of Christ for almost 30 years. I have been raised as an evangelical Christian for my entire life. So much of my life has centered around so many good memories of my church, the times I learned and grew in my faith, and the relationships that I developed for a lifetime. My church was my community and my social network for most of my youth and I never questioned much of anything that I was taught from pulpit. 

However, I was also deeply hurt by the same people who once taught me in Sunday School and were part of my faith family. I was hurt by those who were not very loving. I was hurt by a church that splintered and turned on each other. I learned that not everything that I was taught in Christian circles was good, sound doctrine. I learned that Christians could be very unloving, very self-righteous, and very hurtful. It was a harsh reality.

And I do want to clarify that I did have some good examples of Christian love including those in my own family, and I truly believe that those who taught me their personal convictions as truth were doing so with the right motives and a pure heart. I think they were sometimes just as confused.

I needed more. I needed to be taught how to dig in to God's Word for myself. I needed help growing spiritually by being allowed to question the status quo. I needed to be taught the difference between rule versus relationships and condemnation versus conviction. I needed to hear just as much about God's Love as I did about God's Wrath and my sinfulness. I needed to know that others struggled just like me. 

I spent many years away from church because I was so done with it all. I was tired of the hypocrisy, tired of the hurt, and tired of trying to live up to standards that I could not maintain. I lived with so much shame that it just led to more sin. I truly wanted to be able to please God and live "my life as an offering to Him," but I had no idea what to do with the side of myself that really loved living life in full color.

I was terrified of 1 Peter 3:3-5. "Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful." I loved beautiful clothes, my hair, lots of jewelry and I haven't had a quiet spirit since the day I was born. I didn't understand the context of this Scripture. I was never going to be beautiful or precious or holy.

So I just became comfortable with being labeled a "backslidden" Christian which according to some was just the same as not being a Christian at all. On more than one occasion my own salvation was questioned and I often questioned it myself. 

It wasn't until I truly began to grow up, seek out my own personal relationship with Christ, and read the Bible for myself that I began to question my own personal truths and the Truth of God's Word. 

I imagine that some of you who are reading this blog can relate. You look back on some of the good memories that you have from a Christian friend, family member or church family. You are grateful for the faith that was a part of your heritage but you are not sure how that plays a part in your life today. You are drawn to the idea of a real, loving God who knows every hair on your head and promises to never leave you nor forsake you.

You wish that you had experienced the prodigal's son parable where no matter how far you have gone away, how much you have been disgraced, and how much you have turned your back on the chance for real relationships, there is a loving Father running to meet you just like you are. Full of love, full of kindness, full of mercy and grace and forgiveness. Let me be the one to say it...

This is the God of Christianity. 

But you don't see that in the church or in the Christian community too often. You hear a lot about God's judgement but very little about God's grace. You hear a lot about what is approved and what is disapproved, but not much about God's Love.

There is a time and a place for us as Christians to speak the truth but to always speak it in love. A lot of truth without much love leads to legalism. A lot of love without much truth leads to permissiveness. We have to do a better job to find the balance.  

We are all looking for peace in a broken world.
We are all looking for hope in an uncertain future.
We all need truth but not apart from grace and mercy.
We all need to make a connection between the love of Christ and the love in our church.
We all need to make a connection between the love in our church and a love that spreads across our community and transforms our world.
We are all desperate for real, genuine, authentic love, but I am afraid that many of us don't really know how to show it.
We are so bent on speaking our version of truth that we are no longer relatable to a world that needs True Love. 

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:1-8

God is LOVE. 1 John 4:16

"For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up."
Romans 14:17-19

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22:37-40

For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law." Romans 13:9-10

"Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others."
Colossians 3:12-13


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