I did not grow up as a Christian. I became a Christian because I noticed that my Christian friends had a different home life than the rest of the kids in my class, and I wanted what they had.
Let me explain, in third grade at Flatirons Elementary School in Boulder Colorado, the teacher asked, “How many of you live in homes of divorced families?” Almost every hand went up. So the teacher said, “Wow! Let me ask the question differently, how many of you still live with your mom and your dad who are married to each other?” Out of 53 students, only three hands went up. And all three of those kids were boys. And all three of those boys went to the same church. And about a year before this question was asked I started going to church with one of those boys.
Why did I start spending all my time with these Christian kids instead of all the others? Because I realized how crazy life was in everyone else’s home and how different it was in the Christians’ homes.
My mom had the philosophy that I needed to grow up by spreading my wings early; and so starting in kindergarten I would walk to a baby-sitter’s house three blocks from school for after school care. During soccer season, in the first grade (age 7), I would walk a half mile to my mom’s office and then a mile to soccer practice. This was all before the era of cell phones, and so my mom had great trust in my and the citizens of Boulder to not touch me. The crazy thing was, at times, my mom would be late picking me up after practice and I would sit on the curb a full hour after practice waiting for her to come pick me up.
My mom thought it was important to buddy up with other kids for protection. And so she would talk to other parents and often I would walk with other kids in the same predicament and we would stop off at their house on the way (usually to go to the bathroom or get a snack), but often their parents weren’t home either. And so I was exposed to some pretty crazy things: Playboy magazines, kids stealing stuff from stores, kids inappropriately acting out (sexually) with other kids in as early as second grade, etc. I had a knife drawn on me by a “friend’s” older brother, I saw drunkenness by some mom’s and dad’s as early as 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I saw drug use, and I was exposed to crazy ideas through MTV, all before 1984 (I was nine years old). And this……….was “normal.”
I literally was rescued from this over the next seven years. I started spending almost every day after school with one of the three children whose parents were still married, and who went to church. I noticed something different in all three of those homes: their moms were home waiting for them and they were loved. A majority of the time I went to my best friend’s house (we lived in the same neighborhood) and there were tremendous benefits by going there as opposed to my own home or someone else’s after school. My best friend’s mom would always feed us a snack, and then make sure we did our homework. After that we were free to do what we wanted as long as we were near the house.
Let’s compare that to my house: my mom’s rule was, “Call me after school to tell me where you are and I will be home at 5:30pm, see you then.” When I went home alone, there was no one to ask questions about my homework, no accountability about what I did, basically I was a latchkey kid. So I watched a lot of TV and just did my own thing. Needless to say I almost failed out of school. I was held back in second grade (I had to repeat first grade), because I couldn’t read (in fact I could barely write my own name). But this was one of the best things that could have happened to me because I met my best friend and his Christian family. Here’s the changed I noticed in myself by hanging out with their family:
- I was safe after school.
- I started doing my homework.
- I was protected from exposure to Playboy and such.
- I realized arguing, physical abuse, drugs, and drunkenness was chaotic and undesirable.
- I realized this family had peace and love, which was desirable.
- I stopped cussing.
- I stopped throwing things at cars and getting in trouble.
- I started learning that the reason this family was different was because they followed Jesus Christ as Lord (which affected their attitudes, morals, ethics, and choices – and mine).
My life was being dramatically altered in the most positive way imaginable. And then tragedy struck. My mom was killed in a bike accident (hit by a car) after Labor Day weekend in 1991. I faced a crossroads: move in with my father who lives in another town, or remain in Boulder with my church friends and family.
I chose to remain in Boulder for one more year. And even though my mom had died, it was one of the best and most stabilizing years of my life. Why? Because my church youth group and their families became my family. They rallied around me and I felt loved and supported, like I could make it through anything. And then I moved.
The most difficult two years of my life was when I left my church family to live with my dad during my Junior and Senior year of high school. Why was this so hard? Because I had no church, no youth group, and no support. I was completely alone and had to make new friends. I did make friends, primarily through my baseball team. But their friendship was vastly different from what I had with my Christian community in Boulder. My new “friends” were aggressively sarcastic, backstabbers, swore a lot to cut each other down, they were physically violent, and wanted to experiment with just about everything. One night I found myself in a car with four guys who wanted to go find a rave. I had no idea what that meant. We looked and looked for the place and as they talked about it I realized what a rave was and I said, “Guys, if there’s gonna be drugs and drinking, please drop me off at my car. First, it’s illegal. Second, drugs are terrible for you.” That was pretty much the end of my relationships with those four “friends”. All four of those guys got into some crazy addictions. One of them actually tried to run me over as I crossed the street one day after school. This way of living is chaotic and pain-filled compared to the Christian life and spending time with Christians in Christian community.
During those last two years of public education I began to realize what I had in the church in Boulder. And when I re-dedicated my life to Christ in 1994, I vowed to be part of church and have ever since. And now I am a pastor.
I hear from people all the time, as a pastor, who complain about church and ultimately decide to take a “break” from church, sometimes for years. I try to convince them to come back, but they don’t see the point. They think the church is either boring, irrelevant, judgmental, or that they have heard it all before and so they want to do their own form of “church.” But often this means hiking on a mountain-top or meeting for “fellowship” without any kind of study or worship, and this often devolves into doing nothing.
Some people have tried to make a go of it, and really focus on their and their family’s devotions, but refuse to be part of a formalized congregation. And so they are kinda doing it alone.
Why bring this up? Because I am convinced that you were never meant to do life alone. You were never meant to be a solo Christian. “Church” is God’s idea. It means “assembly” for worship. And church is about “fellowship” which specifically means “sharing in Christ-centered community.” Sharing our faith with one another, sharing in prayers with one another, sharing in worship together, sharing emotionally with one another, sharing support for one another, sharing our physical possessions with one another, etc. And it is all “Christ-centered” or it is not Christian fellowship. So being Christ-centered means we need to hear words from the New Testament, that this is our baseline to be read and talked about in community.
So…why bring this up? Because the church is the answer to many of your problems. And my deepest desire is to create a Christian community that is biblical and supports you as you walk through the pains and joys of life.
Join us, this Sunday 10:00am at Grace Church Seattle as we talk about how the gospel bears on the above resulting in forgiveness. Join us as we talk about why church is so important.