Sunday, February 23, 2014

MY STORY: EARLY CHURCH EXPERIENCE

As I share about my early weeks visiting church, I've decided not to mention the church's name because although my baby steps there were difficult, it was those challenges that made me pray and seek the Lord all the more. The church has since completely changed from legalism to a house of worship. It took many years for this to happen. It is not my desire to put anyone on the spot, so I have kept names out as well. If you find that you are part of this story, know that I forgave it all years ago. Our experiences, painful as they are many times, can be helpful for others. God loves us so much and I pray that your church is not a place of rejection for new believers or anyone that walks in for the first time.


I was very young when I became a Christian. It was a choice of my heart that no one pushed me into. There was a tugging at my heart to seek the Lord from a very early age. Having gone through struggles, like many of you have as well, I finally felt at home when I laid down my cares, my hurts and anger at the foot of the cross.

Part of my next steps in my new life were finding and connecting with a church family. I was going to a Street Outreach at the time called Challenge Center on Scholes Street in Williamsburg. They had weekly bible studies and I quickly had a desire to join the work I saw them do, reaching out to the homeless, the youth in the streets and in the high schools. A platform was given to me to share my story and soon I was in school groups sharing and praying with teenagers as well as joining in their street ministry. But, they didn't have an official church. During this times myy mom had also begun this new life in Christ and she had become part of a church. So, I just followed.

My early church experiences were negative. Had I not truly gone to seek God's presence, I would have either walked out or gone mad punching a few on the way out. I remember walking in and seeing a youth group in the first room having Sunday school. As I walked on by, their welcome was, "There goes Madonna. No, she's Cyndi Lauper. Nope, 
 Boy George. Oh my goodness, the dead come back to life." At the time I attended Art and Design High School and my fashion style mimicked my life in Art and Dance. I loved black because I felt it made me invisible. I blended in with the nobodies and I could express myself without having to look like everyone else's designer, magazine look. My brother's long, curly hair and dress style was also different than everyone else's and we really seemed to not fit in. Jesus had said, "Come as you are." And it seemed the church was not ready to agree with that message.



With my heart beating, anger rising, and fists squeezed tightly, I walked in the main sanctuary with my mom hoping the Jesus that had begun a work in my heart in the streets, on a rainy night, was present. I joined my mom, with the adults and was over joyed with the discussions going on in regards to scripture. Finally, a place where I could listen to what I needed. I felt my heart be filled with such joy as I listened. As I sat there, I identified the difference between the youth in their Sunday School class and me. They were there because their parents had brought them or made them go, and although they had most likely been born in the Christian atmosphere, they hadn't had a heart changing experience with the Lord. It took a few weeks for this to make sense in my mind, but I soon felt sad for them, compassion and began to ask the Lord to use my life to help them. Not, that I was better. In no way am I implying this. I realized that if they truly knew Jesus as their Lord, they would have received me with love. They automatically assumed I didn't have God in my heart because of my appearance. 

In time, I put aside my black, Gothic or crazy look so that I could fit in a little better and show that I truly wanted to be someone they could trust with standing on a pulpit and sharing God's word.  I allowed myself to accept the rules of dress, although I didn't agree with them. I was soon taught that holiness was shown in the way we dressed. No makeup, no pants, no nail polish, no hair cut, no movies. It was funny because many of the leader's children did all the things I was told not to do. But, my heart wanted to please the Lord, grow and be used of the Lord. My friends in other Christian circles began to show me that God was not into legalism but into loving people, holiness that comes from a life surrendered to God from the inside, not from the outside first. Because of the leadership and ministry opportunities I was given, I submitted to dress codes that were not me in any way and although I loved God and serving his people, I struggled with not being able to be me, still loving art and dance. It wasn't until I married and had my baby girl that I finally took the step to return to that fist place I had heard about God's love. 




I returned to the street outreach that had now grown into a church. I had always kept the things I learned there. "God looks at your heart and that you have separated your life to live in a way that him, not only in your outward look, but starting with your heart." "God is seeking the lost. God changes lives." I wanted my children to grow up experiencing God, not feeling the bondage of legalism, man made rules, and being forced to be a church goer. I wanted my children to experience God's love, being filled with His presence, and wanting to serve Him as they discovered their purpose and call. 

Why did I continue to go to that church after such negative beginnings? God used those early challenges to mold me, teach me to pray, forgive and trust Him. First, I gave my heart to God, not the church or the people there. Second, my commitment was to honor the Lord and learn his ways, and seek His will for my life. Third, something had happened inside my heart and my mind that I couldn't explain and all of a sudden I wanted everyone to have what I had, including those young people in the church. I decided to win them for the Lord and not give them the coldness they had offered me. Lastly, God showed me my life was not in the the church, but to be a living church wherever I went, representing Him. 

My words here are not to criticize or judge church people or Christians but to show that we are all just people. There is not one person that has it all together, that is perfect or without room for error. People in church are still growing, changing and learning how to live for the Lord. Yes, some people choose to be stumbling blocks, gossip and make you feel unwanted. But, don't we experience that in school, at work, in our neighborhoods and even in our family gatherings sometimes. We're going to be in a house of worship with people that have come out of being abused, people that are hurt, people that are going through problems and sickness, couples that are facing divorce, teenagers addicted to what the world offers, and people who at one point or another will have to make a choice to either believe and follow Christ or recognize they're wasting their time just sitting there. 

Well, I think this about sums up my early weeks in the church. Many of you might have walked out and never returned. My challenge to you is this, Go back and start again.  Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of you heart. This means that if you seek God, truly seek him, you're going to find him and He's going to do something great in your life. No negative experience in church can keep you away. No one can cause you to blame God for how others react to your presence in the sanctuary. Close your eyes and concentrate on the Lord. Open your mouth to sing and praise Him. Focus on what your heart needs and surrender to the Lord. I guarantee, your life will never be the same.

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