Except in the air around me...
You see, this past Sunday, I was a perfect example of what is wrong with so many churches today. This past Sunday, our guests at church bothered me.
Of course, being Easter, this past Sunday we had quite a few guests at church. I finished my responsibilities during our early Sunday School hour and made my way over to the Worship Center to take my seat. After some schmoozing, I sat down next to Resa as service began. What happened next deeply shames me now.
Even though service starts at 9:30am, we had quite a few people coming in late. A lot of them would make their way to the sides of the Worship Center to sit. A family made their way to the row behind me. They were a large family whose grandmother is a regular attendee of our church and were visiting with her. They were talking to each other quite loudly as they came in, filing one by one into the row. I immediately picked up the strong scent of one of their perfumes (something with berry and vanilla in it). This forced some of the people who usually sit near me at church to switch rows and sit next to me. One of these people has Tourette's Syndrome, so he has lots of physical and audible ticks.
As the service went on, all of these things began to overload my senses. And, I began to get angry. Not outwardly, mind you. But internally, I was upset. How could they come into the service being so loud? How could they not respect those around them? Why would you wear so much perfume to such a crowded place? I wish they wouldn't have sat here. I wish that this guy wouldn't have come up to sit next to me. I wish they'd just be quiet so I could engage in worship! On the outside, I was fine. But inside, I was italicizing all of these thoughts.
I left the service and went home. I changed clothes and sat down to relax a little before our family meal. And that's when God spoke to me. He showed me the evilness in my attitude. The blackness of my heart. The lack of compassion, hospitality, and generosity that, when left to grow, turns so many people off to the Gospel.
I was bothered by all of these people. And, because of being bothered, I didn't bother to help them feel welcome in our church family. And that is shameful.
I've spent time this week repenting over this. I needed to first confess it to God, then ask His forgiveness. I feel like this is one of many reasons why people turn away from church. Even if they're willing to come and check it out, and even if they're not directly turned away, they're indirectly turned away by being froze out.
Just because someone doesn't fit into my "church culture" or doesn't allow me the amount of personal space I'm accustomed to, doesn't mean they don't deserve to be loved by me. Just because they sit in the wrong seat or wear (what I think is) too much perfume, doesn't mean that God isn't calling me to minister to them. After all, there was a time when I didn't know. There was a time when I was loud. There was a time when I didn't know how to "behave correctly" or where to sit. There was a time when I was late. And, you know what? I probably bothered some people.
But I'm so thankful that someone bothered to reach out to me. I'm so thankful that someone opened their arms and their heart to welcome me. It's because of that, that I'm serving in my church now.
My prayer moving forward is that God will help me to always keep this in mind: I have to bother to reach out to everyone and help them feel welcome and loved. Even if they bother me! And I do this because I am loved by a great God who bothered to love me...