I thought I would start off today's post with a question. What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word "church"?
I will share with you my own experience and it may be quite different from yours, or you may be able to say "me too". As a child I know my family attended church when I was younger, but after about the age of five years old or so, we stopped attending...if I recall correctly, at least on a regular basis. My family was of the Presbyterian religion at that time. Frankly, growing up, I couldn't tell you what that meant and have come to look more at the Word of God and what He says than a label on a religion (so to speak) when discerning such matters.
Fast forward to the time I was saved, which was at the age of 21. I may have shared this with you before, but I was saved as a result of reading a book titled Confessions of a Happy Christian by Zig Ziglar. The back of the book laid out the plan of salvation. I had never heard it before, or if I did it did not "click" with me. Well, that time I "got it" and I accepted Christ as my Savior. So I figured the first thing I needed to do was find a church and in a short time I did find one.
There was so much about church and naturally God's Word and what being a Christian really means that I had no clue about. But, I figured if you're a Christian you go to church and you get baptized and give your tithes and you do everything else you're told to do, because after all, you have to act and be and say and do all the right things...otherwise you (I) would be a bad Christian. Or maybe a bad girl, same difference I guess. It was and sometimes still is very hard to accept the law of grace which has been bestowed on such a wretch like me (as the song goes).
Since I came to accept Christ at the age of 21 and was not in church a good part of my life, I did not face some of the challenges that someone growing up in the church may have to face. That is a good thing, because I have been good at creating enough of them on my own!
I believe, this all has to do more with our perception of God than with our perception of the church. I believe my thought processes at the time of my salvation reveal my thought processes concerning God at that time. I had this perception that I brought into my relationship with God that I still had to prove myself to gain His acceptance. I knew full well in my head that the price had already been paid for my past, present and future sins. But, it did not resonate with me because I had this subconscious perception that God was angry at me. Angry at what, I don't know. All I know is I dealt with it through my actions.
So, what is the solution? How does someone go from feeling as if they can never gain acceptance from an angry God to running into His arms in times of great joy and in times of great distress? Come to find out, it has been way less about me and way more about Him...go figure! He pursues us as His Word says in John 6:44 NKJV, not the other way around! Blows my mind to think about it! He loves us so much that He made a way of escape for all who believe by this love 1 John 4:10 NKJV, AMAZING!
I think His love for us is the key to our acceptance of who He is. When we are able to start accepting His love, our whole perception changes. It did for me, anyway. To realize He isn't who I thought He was, first off, what a RELIEF! But then to realize He is so much more and still loves us, WHOA! We who are believers have been reconciled with God. Not because of anything else but the willing, loving sacrifice Jesus Christ gave on our behalf!
You might think that God has taken a big risk on bestowing His love upon a creation that turned their back on Him. In fact a creation that is at enmity with Him. You would think. I have thought that myself in the past, but I have come to believe that there is absolutely no risk involved when it comes to God loving His creation. I am speaking from His stand point. He is God...what is He risking?...His reputation? I've learned the hard way that God can take care of Himself and His reputation without my interference...in other words, if I act on faith and trust He will do what His Word tells me in a given situation, then He is plenty capable of taking it from there! He has proven Himself time and time again to me...when I let Him...OUCH.
On the other hand, us humans (at least me) have been guilty and still am guilty at times of making a choice away from love, just because I think the risk is too high. It might be the price of the investment it takes (time or resources), or of rejection, of being hurt...again, being judged by others, etc., etc.
We do not have to be afraid to love others! 1 John 4:17-19 NKJV says this: Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.
You may know the testimony of my marriage being reconciled, if not, my post dated Sept. 5, 2012 titled "Voice of Truth" shares a portion of it. If so, then you may recall that the above scripture was given to me by God almost immediately when our marriage was in crisis. God was (is) teaching me to love as He loves me. He chose my marriage relationship in 1992 to be a lesson of His love in a way I had never experienced.
At a time when others would have said the risk was too great, my God told me there was no risk involved when I placed my trust in Him...He was right by the way! An amazing thing happened when I made the choice to love back in 1992...my perception started changing in every relationship I had.
I view the "church" differently since then as well. God's Word tells us in Ephesians 5 NKJV that Christ is the bridegroom and we, His church are the bride...not only that, because He loved the church so much, He laid down His life for her. The church, therefore, in my eyes is sacred and cherished and loved by God. If that be so, I have an obligation to treat her as such.
How do we live that out? My hubby and I have a saying we try to live by, which is that we would rather "err on the side of grace" than choose not to bestow kindness and love toward someone who may not seem to be "deserving" of that love. Risky? I don't think so.
..."and blessed is he who is not offended because of Me"...Jesus Matthew 11:6 NKJV\