She literally beamed as we left the building. She and my granddaughter skipped out to the car together, new bff’s. Eyes glittering like Christmas lights and a smile that spread from ear to ear, she excitedly exclaimed “Church is the best thing that ever happened to me!!! I LOVE CHURCH!!!” Having no memories of ever having been to church, the experience has already had a profound effect on this young life. My heart was deeply blessed to share in this moment of her joy, both for the sheer delight she was proclaiming to all who could hear and the knowledge that this will be so much more than a memory that will fade into nothing as she grows older. God is in this.
I remember when I felt the same way. I was a young woman in a very difficult situation struggling to keep my head above the emotional ocean that threatened to suck me under with each new wave. I was as James wrote, “like the billowing surge out at sea that is blown hither and thither and tossed by the wind.*” Unlike my precious little neighbor, I had spent most of my life as a part of a local church, but I had fallen away as life’s troubles had taken me places I had not planned to go. Then one day, seemingly out of the blue, a co-worker invited me to a new church that had just formed. She was so kind and tender to my situation, I knew God had heard my cries and had sent her to me. After only a few short months, I had found fellowship with a group of young women my age that stirred in me such a hunger for God. Church was the best thing that had ever happened to me.
The organized church takes a lot of hits. It is very often vilified in the news reports, criticized by outsiders, and trivialized by its own members. Its mistakes are broadcast widely and vehement voices of correction cry out for change. Perhaps this is necessary. I don’t know. But I believe there are thousands upon thousands of churches that are getting it right. God’s people gathering together for the purpose of loving others and sharing the message of salvation. Multiplied thousands of children are hearing the gospel week after week and seeds of faith are planted deep in their little hearts. Men and women are finding refuge from the pains of this world as they come together with others that are willing to love them and serve them. The lost are being saved, the poor are being fed, the needy are being supplied, and the hurting are finding comfort through the hands and voices of the church.
My new little friend’s exuberance reminded me that while we, the leaders of last night’s program, had to overcome some confusion about which lesson plan we were on, and we were making some moment by moment adjustments to a new evening format, and we may have been a few minutes late in dismissing them, we still got it right. She left the building knowing that church is where she found new friends and teachers and a pastor that welcomed her with open arms of love, and heard the truth that God loves her, too.
We are the church. You and me and millions of others who have put our faith in Jesus Christ. We are God’s children, humans that make mistakes and sometimes get caught up in the act of having church rather than being the church. Yet when we gather in His name, seeking to worship and serve Him the best we know how, He promises to show up. And lives are changed.
If this is not what you experience when you gather with other believers, I challenge you to make it your experience. Walk across to your neighbor and invite them to go with you. Look for someone you can love and serve. Tell someone how much God loves them. Who knows? They may walk out into the parking lot and happily proclaim “Church is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I LOVE CHURCH!”