“Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:8)
Whenever I tell an appalling church story, I am sure to be scolded.
“Not all churches are like this!” is the general response. “You shouldn’t be so harsh on churches because people need them.”
(No, actually, they don’t: people need God, and He is not confined to buildings.)
So, before I continue this story, I’ll add the caveat:
Not all churches, or the people within them, are like the one I will shortly be describing. But some are — and this story is for those who have been damaged by them. If your church is not like this, thank God — and do your part to make sure that it doesn’t become this way.
The Appalling Story
Now, to the story:
A woman was having family problems. It doesn’t matter what they are: what matters is that she was in emotional pain, under constant anxiety, and aching with a hurt that just wouldn’t go away.
Though it is many years since she has been in church — because her experiences there, long ago, were never fulfilling or meaningful — she wants God, and the most logical place to find Him, she reasons, is church.
So one Sunday, she assembles the children and shows up at service. Not being well versed or trained in church etiquette, the family doesn’t look, or act like, church people. But they are seated, given a bulletin, and the song service starts.
And then the woman commits the unpardonable sin: she allows her toddler, a child who loves to dance, to do so in the aisles of the sanctuary. After all, it’s hard for a 2-year-old to sit still, and this child dances to music at home.
Home is not church, however (fortunately), and one church member, offended at this breach of church etiquette, marches the child over to the woman and scolds, admonishing the woman — a visitor looking for love, apparently, in the wrong place — about her lack of parenting skills.
The ending is predictable, and it goes without saying that the woman did not stay for the sermon. And she sure didn’t find God where she was looking for Him.
God Is Not Confined to Church Buildings
This story has two purposes:
One: for the people who associate God with religion in any form: He’s not there. But the good news is, you don’t have to leave your home to come near to God — because where it matters for Him to be, right next to you, He already is.
Come near to Him by crying out to Him with your pain, and He will show Himself to you, in the oddest, most unexpected ways.
We Focus on the Wrong Things
Two: for those of us who fall into the trap of being overly-concerned about church etiquette, and dressing and acting a certain way in “God’s house”:
“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'” (Matthew 9:13)
If we want people who don’t know God to find Him, then we’ll have to deal with inappropriate church behavior, not the least of which is looking at the externals of a person, and being more concerned about that than what lies inside.
While this particular incident is so outlandish it belies believing, thankfully, most church people can say, “Our church wouldn’t do this!” (Quite unfortunately, however, because these incidents do happen in their various forms, all of us calling ourselves Christians have to live with the impression that this is what Christianity is: harsh, unfeeling, regulated, concerned with rules, and judgmental.)
But the incidents don’t have to be this outlandish to hurt: when we maintain a healthy distance between ourselves and that person who talks too loudly; or give a stern look to the teen with the short, short skirt; or comment, sotto voce, to our neighbor, “They live a rough life, bless their hearts,” we are in danger of driving away the very people who need Christ most: other human beings.
We Can’t Do This on Our Own
It’s not easy being a Christian, and loving others the way Christ does, but thank God, He doesn’t expect us to do it without Him. While it is true that some people will actively and aggressively reject God because their hearts are hard and their desires for money and fame and power are so overpowering that these elements rule their very existence, there are far too many others who are angry and hurt because they looked for that love, and where they thought they could find it, they were repulsed.
So that verse at the top? “Come near to God and he will come near to you,” — it’s for us, my brothers and sisters, to daily walk with our Father and ask Him to show, and teach us, His love, so that we can pour it onto others.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.