It turns out that I was wrong to mock those who claim church is a scary place. I am here to admit this as publicly as I can:
Church is scary.
It is frightening. In fact, church can scare the hell out of you...or you out of hell...literally.
Just take the last two church services I attended. During the music part of the worship, I was already having to face the overwhelming, intimidating, downright frightening reality of how holy and perfect God is --- and how imperfect and flawed I am. In the face of such a righteous God, I am undone...a woman of unclean lips, unclean thoughts, and unclean deeds.
No one can see God and live.
That is scary stuff indeed.
Oh...but wait --- there is good news! God hasn't just left me to wallow in my scary brokenness; He has, of course, provided a way over the chasm that is between us. Impossible as it seems, God and I are no longer separated by my inadequacies, my selfishness, my numerous failings. When He looks at me, He no longer sees those things. He sees me as His daughter. Incredible. He sees what Jesus has done for me.
Hey, church is the most glorious happy place! What good news I am reminded of there every Sunday! I'm saved from ruin, free to worship such a gracious and loving God!
What a mess-up I still am. How quickly I forget all of what God has done for me. How quickly I take Jesus for granted. Every song, every word of the sermon reminds me of how much more I should love to practice God's Presence, how much more I should long for fellowship with Him. Do I love Him more than I love myself? Do I love Him more than my stuff? Do I love Him more than my family?
Do I really live as if I believed the Bible? I mean, really. Or do I live as if I believed my own thoughts, desires, whims, and quirks were more important than what the God of the Universe has communicated in His written word?
I don't like to face these sorts of questions about myself. I don't like to face what a flake I am.
The good news, of course, is that I don't have to live this Christian life on my own power. The same grace that saved me from hell is also working in my life even now, changing me. But that process isn't always as speedy as I'd like, or as painless.
That makes church a scary place.
Church becomes even more scary when the pastor dares preach about anything that I prefer not to think about. I don't want to hear sermons about anything remotely unpleasant. Please don't quote any verses about sharing in the fellowship of Christ's suffering. I'd rather hear uplifting sermons about how all of our problems will immediately vanish if we just follow three easy steps, and how we will be living on easy street for the rest of our lives, joyous and carefree, with lots of money. Please let me continue in my denial of the cost of discipleship. Don't remind me of how Christians elsewhere in the world are being persecuted and martyred for the sake of Christ. Don't remind me that God is not some sort of great cosmic Santa Claus, or that He doesn't exist merely to grant my every wish. Don't remind me that Christians suffer and die. That just makes me feel uncomfortable and scared. And, whatever you do, dear pastors, don't ever say "radical discipleship" in a sermon. It just makes me feel bad.
I've heard two different pastors the last two Sundays, and both of them refused to stick to preaching but instead got down to meddling, as the old joke goes. One of them dared insist that we should give of our lives and possessions as an act of joyous celebration with God. All his celebration talk seemed out of place for me on a Sunday when I was feeling rather melancholy and would have preferred to mope, rather than be reminded of all those pesky "rejoice" verses.
The next Sunday was even worse in some ways. This pastor seemed to be enamored with the notion that church was supposed to be more about God than about us. Somehow, despite my resistance, he even succeeded in getting my jumbled, rather frantic, thoughts off of my worries about my mother and onto God. How weird is that?
Church --- what a scary place! I don't want to have to face the truth about God and about myself every single Sunday.
And I haven't even started in on having to face the truth about what my relationship should be with all of those other people in the church...