May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whichthe world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14)
October has turned into such a pivotal month in my life. I’m not sure why – maybe it’s the return of normalcy to the school and work year after a hectic summer; maybe because the temperature is just beginning to chill; maybe it’s the gentle transition into the holiday season. I can’t put my finger on it, but clearly the last two Octobers have taught me an important lesson – never say never!
Take a brief walk with me! On October 18, 2007, my son and I were enjoying dinner and kid’s bingo at a local restaurant, when a chance encounter with a family from our church would soon change our lives. This family invited my son to visit Awana at their church. I knew of Awana at the time, as my aunt had spoken very highly of the program, but I never really understood the purpose of useless memorization. However, I was open to the possibility that my son could benefit from learning to memorize, since he had just begun kindergarten. As someone who struggles with memorization, I saw Awana as a purely academic endeavor.
I made it incredibly clear that night that my son was welcome to try Awana out, but I did not want people to try and ‘convert’ me. I was Catholic, and after years of falling in and out of favor with my faith, I knew there was no benefit to my attending church. Church was filled with hypocrites and spiritual people who would not understand me; God and I were doing just fine with our relationship, I reasoned.
My son attended Awana and loved it, so I registered him, reminding everyone my position about church had not changed. No one pushed me; they were friendly and great with my son, but never crossed the line with me. One month later, I found myself as a back-row church-goer when a friend of mine was going through a disastrous period that affected both of our lives. Shortly after, we met with our pastor and I re-articulated my feelings on church. Our pastor remained true to his beliefs, but never pushed me. The rest is history, as you can tell.
God continues to show me that church is not perfect, as it is made up of fallen humans, just like me. But, He has shown me that a few bad apples shouldn’t spoil the barrel. In other words, the benefits of attending church strongly outweigh the negatives. Fellowship with other believers, an organized, systematic way to keep studying the Bible to continue spiritual growth, an opportunity to serve, etc. – these are the reasons that I need and love church!
I wish I could say the story ends there, but last October, I allowed myself to fall a little. Granted, my personal standards had improved, and this particular altercation would never have bothered me in my non-church days. But, as a growing Christian, filled with the Holy Spirit – it was painful! To this day, I don’t know what happened, other than spiritual warfare at its finest. I was traveling on business, and my week was difficult. It was at a time where I was getting complacent in my faith; the novelty had worn off. I was starting to lose my enthusiasm and drive. It was a hard week and I remember saying to a colleague, “I am a Christian now and I would never…” Cockiness and pride at its best! Acting like I, little ol’ me, had any power in overcoming sin. Do you ever notice that the more you try to show someone that you’re different from who they think – the more you prove their case? I suspect you know where this story is going; the “I never” happened and the conviction the Holy Spirit sent my way was enough to last a lifetime.
Luckily God has a sense of humor, or rather purpose, in His plan. Last October, immediately after I was convicted like never before, the topic of my Bible study was faith. At a time when I wasn’t feeling like I had any, faith was our topic of discussion. Amazingly, God used this to show me that even mature Christians had similar struggles to mine. It was an eye-opening experience for sure! And those hypocrites I feared so much? I learned that while there are bad people in every organization, many of those hypocrites that I feared were no different than me – people trying their best to walk with God, but not always making the progress they’d like.
God’s even given me the perspective of those who mentored me, by allowing me to interact with people who have the same beliefs that I once had. I’ve even learned that memorization is not so terrible, and can help with spiritual warfare. As long as I remember to put God first in everything, I find that my walk is infinitely easier and my relationship with God is headed in the right direction. Being prideful and saying that dreaded word ‘never’ is simply an open invitation for temptation or for God to lovingly remind me who is in charge!