This essay also appears on the Relevant Magazine blog. Price and I are members of a sweet little church that we've called home now for almost 5 years.
Being a mid-twenties, lifelong Christian is a funny thing. We've waded through the weak theology and emotional highs of youth groups. We've forged and fought our way through college, which stretched and tested and renewed our faith in both spiritual and academic ways.
But this mid-twenties thing is so much harder. Youth group is gone. College ministry is over. Church isn't handed to me on a silver platter, just a ride with my parents or a walk across the quad with my best friends. It's harder now. And it feels like everywhere I turn, the Church (with a capital "c") is hated, distrusted, over-trusted, mocked, angry, sad, naive, unforgiving, judgemental. Broken (with a capital "b"). It's all of the sudden really cool to love Jesus but hate the church.
In a lot of ways, I still feel like a spiritual infant - and perhaps I will always be. I tend to be quick to anger, slow to listen. I rise up on my theological high horse, repeating the arguments of people I trust more than taking the time to formulate my own ideas on really complicated things. Thinking about those complicated things is a scary exercise. The Church has been really ugly in the past. The Church is really ugly today.
But the Church is also beautiful, ordained and beloved by the Creator.
I see the ugly. I see the hypocrisy and the politics and the judgement. But I choose to see grace. I choose to see mercy. I choose to stay in the Church, to ask hard questions and think about complicated things. I choose because I love my God, I love my church - and I love the Church.
When I'm outside the walls of our sweet little church - with its whitewashed exterior and bright red doors - it's really hard to believe. My world is full of questions, temptations, adversaries - things that make me forget the truth of Gospel grace and just how much I am beloved by my Creator - who sees my ugly. My hypocrisy. My judgement and fear. And who loves me anyway. Who am I to do anything different?
But when I step inside those bright doors, it's easy to believe. When our voices swell as one and my eyes glisten with tears like stars, it's easy to believe. When I feel the presence of the Lord dwelling among His faithful servants, it feels like all is right in the world, for just a few minutes. Because it is.
Church isn't easy. Church isn't all the answers. But it works for me, because it helps me to forget me and focus on something bigger, better and more beautiful.
Our pastor (Russ Ramsey) this morning said something that I just can't get over. It is ringing through my head, convicting and encouraging me at the same time. He was talking about praise, which in many ways is a vital spiritual discipline. We praise because of the joy of the Gospel. And he said, "the joy of the Gospel is going to war against your fears and self-absorption." I'm letting it fight for me. I'm letting it win. And I can't do that alone.
So on Sunday mornings, we fight out of bed. We get to church a few minutes late. And then we praise together with a room full of strangers who have become friends, and friends who have become family, and we are knit and bound and promised to each other to death and past death. And that is why Church is still necessary. And beautiful.
When we arrive at Eternity's shore, where death is just a memory and tears are no more, We'll enter in as the wedding bells ring - Your bride will come together and sing
"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." [Hebrews 10:24-25]