Just how much does God really want us?
And, just how far would God go to bring someone back to him?
I think that these are two crucial questions to ask when interacting with those who would identify themselves as Christians.
A few weeks ago, while in the process of searching for a local church to call my home, I found myself attending a little baptist church down the road from my home.
It's a small one.
I can literally count the congregation attendance on any given Sunday on my fingers and toes. I have some friends who go to this place, and really enjoy it. They say that the "community" there is unmatched, and that the people are great.
I saw my friend Heidi there, who I hadn't seen in quite awhile, so we sat down on the couches in they foyer, and started catching up. I told her that I was still in the process of finding a church in this town, and that none had really come close to my church back home...
It was while I was sharing this with her, that one of her church friends sat down with us. He had long flowing hair, and a beard. He wore jeans and, I later learned, plays bass during worship at this church sometimes.
He seemed pretty rock 'n roll, and I immediately liked him.
I went on and shared a little bit about what my church was like back home.
It is a larger church, and they have several services on Sunday. One service on Saturday night. There is a fairly large worship team that plays on stage, and it's generally a pretty upbeat time of worship! There is even one guy, who has a ZZ Top-esque beard, who occasionally shreds guitar solos during the songs.
I'm not kidding. He shreds guitar solos...in church.
I swear he is the ghost of some old rock star, freshly reincarnated, and newly converted. Now he's sending using his licks to glorify the good God above!
My old church has coffee and a donut buffet that is made available to the congregation between services. It's tasty.
They hold rock concerts and comedy nights in their auditorium for the local community, and those who might not be comfortable coming to church on any given Sunday.
There is also a thriving kids program, which is bursting with young ones who are learning about God's love on a weekly basis.
The services are generally themed, or done in a series style. They are posted online so that those who aren't in the area can follow along, if they choose to.
But all of these things aren't the point...
The point is that this church is the gathering place of some of the most genuine, real, authentic people I know. The pastors, despite their large congregation, know you by name.
The worship is energetic and real, not forced. The messages deal with real issues, and they aim to help people apply the Bible in relevant, tangible ways in every day life.
This place welcomes all. It doesn't ask for people to wear a certain kind of clothes, or to carry a Bible with them. They don't ask for membership. They don't ask for money.
There is a love that fills this church. Something living.
Something of God.
This is the first church that I've ever been able to call my "home" in life. I've never connected with a church before this one.
I was sharing this with Heidi and, to my surprise, the bass player kind of dismissed my enthusiasm.
He actually went on to say that he feels churches like that are too "showy" and that worshiping God shouldn't be a "production."
Then he said that churches like that are much too focused on being relevant and "seeker-friendly."
I immediately found my that I was liking him less and less, the more he talked.
He might as well have slapped me in the face and, to be perfectly honest with you, I was astounded by the arrogance of his statement.
Heidi agreed with the bass player guy to an extent, though she did so more diplomatically.
It was at that point that I decided I wasn't coming back to this particular church.
Please understand, I don't hold anything personal against this guy.
I'm quite sure that he is completely genuine in his belief of how church, and worship of God should look. I'm sure that the church that he and my friend Heidi attend works for them. That they can connect in that church, as I did with my own home church...
But, to pick on a church because a lot of people happen to go there, or because they like doing a light show with their worship, or because they have a coffee bar is just plain rude and, as I said before, arrogant.
It brings me back to the questions that were posed at the beginning of this post:
Just how much does God really want us?
And, just how far would God go to bring an individual back to him?
I believe in a God that loves humanity with a blinding passion.
I believe in a God who desperately wants relationship with his creation, despite their rebellious attitudes.
I believe in a God who felt this conviction so deeply, he came himself, to make a way for those who had chosen their way over his.
This God was a servant to the ungrateful.
This God endured ridicule, humiliation, and torture all because he wanted his creation to understand what love was.
This God is a seeker-friendly God.
He will spare nothing to show his children that he loves them.
I'm beginning to see that in the modern religious system we know as Christianity today, there is a class of elite.
A group of people that think that there is a "right way" to worship.
A right way to pray.
A right way to evangelize.
A right way to share God's love in a sermon.
This group believes, that the more people are flocking to an ideal, the further from the truth this ideal must be.
After all, if many people are finding the love of Jesus at a megachurch, then the pastors must not have taught everything they needed to. They must have made God way to simplistic for these people!
The message of Jesus isn't that simple....is it?
Their idea is that God's way is narrow, and that only a few select individuals will inherit God's love and pardon.
As for the rest...
Well... they just must not have done, or believed the "right" things. They must have attended a church which induced an "emotional high" rather than a genuine church experience. They couldn't possibly have experienced God in a mature, rational way...
This kind of thinking is wrong.
One of my oldest friends, Theresa, is what I would call a devout Catholic. She loves Catholicism. She feels very connected with God through the practices of her particular church. I love hearing her talk about her faith and her religion, because it is real!
My friends Holly and Hailey both attend different Pentecostal churches. Churches where speaking in tongues and dancing around spontaneously aren't uncommon. Both have experienced God in real, true ways in their church homes.
There are several friends of mine who attended the church that I went to on this particular day, and have felt God there, even though I personally haven't.
There are people who don't go to church at all, and feel God more strongly than some church-goers do!
Some meet in buildings, others go to mosh pits. Some host small groups in their homes. Some drink coffee, some smoke cigarettes, some wear Abercrombie and Fitch.
It doesn't matter, how or where or when or what. We are all God's children.
Church buildings, institutions and specialized communities aren't the point.
God is not confined to a particular denomination.
God isn't confined to a certain religion.
God isn't confined to a certain set of practices.
God doesn't care about the trim and trappings, or lack thereof, at each different church.
God wants our hearts.
God wants our love.
Perhaps there is something to "seeker-friendly" churches. Perhaps, there is more of God in these particular congregations, than in a church that tries to make it as difficult as possible for someone to swallow, what should be, a simple message of love, and hope...
So, why don't we just stop bashing a particular style of worship, church, or sermon and let God do his thing. He's much better at it than we are.
No matter where you are currently in life, no matter what you've been through, or are going through...
I pray with everything that I am, that you will experience the God who seeks and loves fully, and unconditionally.
His love is for all, not just for some.
He is a seeker-friendly God.