Therefore, encourage and comfort one another and build up one another, just as you are doing. (I Thessalonians 5: 11 AMP)
Once a week, I meet with a group of people that many in society would prefer not to deal with. They have sketchy pasts. Some had/have issues with addiction, promiscuity, criminal offenses, victimization, abuse and a variety of other unseen problems. When we meet, we sometimes share personal experiences and other times we just listen. Others in our culture prefer not to interact with this group. At times their demeanor and speech are different than the norm of society, and they don’t always dress in ways that are currently socially acceptable. The fact that these people laugh for seemingly no reason at all and have conversation with people that others don’t see has also made them targets for mockery. Yet I find that these are my people. Yep, this is my church.
So if you thought I was describing a hot mess of individuals, you’d be right! I love these perfectly-flawed people that God has brought together to shine and glitter like diamonds. Many people stay away from church because they feel like “church people” have it all together. Maybe they’ll go to church when they get some of their issues under control. Perhaps they won’t come at all because they’re embarrassed by some secret sin others may never see, but he/she knows exists. Those are just lies from the enemy. The truth is that none of us is perfect, and we all need the love of Christ to restore us to our heavenly Father. I’ve been going to church consistently for 22 years. I have yet to find a perfect person, a sinless person, or a person no longer in need of Jesus Christ. Just the opposite is true.
My fellow believers are just as messed up as me. Like most devoted Christ followers, we’re not nearly as messed up as we used to be and we’re not as “fixed” as we’re gonna be. We are all works in progress. We’re all still in need of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness each and every day. I used to think that God couldn’t use me because I had sinned after my salvation. How could He use me if, even after knowing His love and grace, I still lacked the love, discipline, and strength not to sin? The reason is that God knows that we’re still works in progress. Also, as we grow into a deeper relationship with Him, we’re less ignorant of hidden sins. We lay ourselves bare before Him and allow Him to transform us. We allow Him to reveal the secret parts of our lives that others may not see, but He wants nonetheless. Because we allow Him to turn our souls upside down, it may feel like we’re taking one step forward and three steps back. However, the truth is God is pleased that we’ve given Him the gift of our hearts and allowed Him to shine His light in our dark places. So although it may feel like we’ve fallen deeper into sin, what we’re really doing is allowing God to probe deeper into our hearts to restore the broken parts left behind by sins of the past.
Once these hidden and unhidden sins are brought to our attention, we repent and turn away from these sins. But for many of us, it isn’t always that easy. We struggle with our flesh and our emotions. Our struggles are at times evident to others and sometimes they are just evident to ourselves. The enemy that roams to and fro, seeking whom he may devour, is constantly waiting to find our moments of weakness. Then, he lies. He lies and says that we can no longer be used by God. He tells us that we can’t go to church with those “good” people, they will surely judge us. They won’t understand why we’re still battling sin after so many years….lie, after lie, after lie.
I’ve struggled with the lies for so long. I allowed the enemy to steal my joy through guilt and shame. After 22 years of being a “churchgoer”, I still remind myself daily of God’s mercy and grace that chase away all guilt and shame. You see, if I stayed away from those messed-up people we call the church, I couldn’t mute the lies of the enemy. Those wonderfully messed-up people are generous enough to share their wonderfully messed-up lives with me. They remind me that we’re all in this boat together. At times, they hear the lies of the enemy too. They hear, “you can’t, you aren’t good enough.” But I look at their perfectly flawed lives and feel the overwhelming depth of God’s love and mercy for them, so much so, that I’m crying as I write this. I love these people so much. I wish I could rescue each one from the battles they face. I wish I could deliver justice to the injustices in each of their lives. I wish I could erase the haunting pasts of those that have suffered so much. I can’t. But I know the One who can. I know the One who did.
Sometimes, Christ followers are mocked for believing in the unseen. We are mocked because we hear God and know He speaks. Yet it’s by hearing His voice that I can laugh for no reason at all with a joy that bubbles up from deep within my spirit, with a peace that surpasses all understanding. That’s how I could tell people I had cancer while wearing a smile on my face, because God told me the end at the beginning. Thinking like that makes you sound a little crazy. So we are mocked. At times, our demeanor is different. Sometimes we speak of things like blessings, grace, prayer, favor, promises, Jesus, Holy Spirit, His Will…and many other terms and phrases that are peculiar. I’ve often heard people say that they don’t want to go to church because they feel they wouldn’t fit in. They’re under the mistaken impression that those in church have no problems; therefore, the churchgoers would judge them for their life choices and circumstances. Nothing could be further from the truth! We gather not because we have it together, but gather to get it together.
Each Sunday, I meet with a group of people that have chosen to come together to lift one another up in love and encouragement. This group has humbly come before the throne of God and said, “I can’t do it without You, God.” They have acknowledged the sins of addiction, promiscuity, immorality and unforgiveness and have asked God to deliver them from these sins. They know — for not by the grace of God. there go I. They are so aware of their imperfections but so aware of the Perfect One. The church is at times shunned by society because they act and speak differently. They are different. Each individual is different than he/she used to be. They have allowed God to change them from the inside out. These people inspire me. They encourage me. They accept me. They pray with me. They support me through my journey with God. They love me as Christ loves me. They are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). These struggling, Christ-loving misfits are my people. They are my church.