In a church this morning, somewhere, there was a 21 year old girl sitting all alone after a night of hard drinking and poor relational decision making. She woke up with the smell of guilt lingering all around her. In her bed, nursing a headache that served as a reminder, she contemplated her day. Everyone else was meeting up at the lake, but she had an inclination to drive down to the church on the edge of town that she had grown up in. Rumors had been circulating that the old dusty hymn books had been tossed a few months ago and, in their place, was music sung not by a choir of thirty, but a smaller, more talented "praise band." She had also heard that, since she stopped going to church two years before, the pastor who had been there since she was a child, and who she had prayed the sinners prayer with and been baptized by, was run off by some young families who had recently moved to town. She had liked him as a person, but felt alienated by his constant talk of sin and the blood of Jesus. She hated to see him and his family out of an income, but she assumed his ousters had good intentions and that the congregation would be a more comfortable place for her.
But still, she struggled. She knew who she was and she knew what she had done. She didn't feel deserving to be in a place with so many people who had spent their Saturday night pursuing more virtuous endeavors. But if she remembered anything positive from that old pastor of hers, it was his saying that God loves us just the way we are. That was something she could cling to, so she made the decision to believe that God was still available to her in that old, crumbling church building.
When she walked through the doors she was a little surprised that the service had already started. Growing up the opening hymn began promptly at 11:00 a.m., but the bulletin she had been handed by the young family standing together as ushers inthe foyer stated that worship now began at 10:45. She was also taken aback when she noticed the wooden pews with bright red upholstery had been replaced by individual seats covered by a purple, carpet-like fabric.
The congregation, about 300 strong in an auditorium that seats 400, were on their feet and the first praise chorus was just reaching it's final crescendo. She found an empty row toward the back. As she moved to the front of her seat, a young man in his mid-20's, wearing a sportscoat over a neatly pressed button-up shirt, untucked from his blue jeans, sans necktie, moved to the clear glass podium in front of the four singers, and gestured for people to have a seat, but encouraged the guitar player to keep strumming.
"Praise Jesus!" he exclaimed, with an echo from the crowd following immediately after.
"The Lord has been good to us, hasn't he? The spirit is moving through this place! The old, dead bones of dry religion are gone, and God is blessing us for it."
She marveled at how this place had moved beyond an order of service, but was a little weirded out by this young guy's overstated enthusiasm. But she was desperate, she knew she needed to somehow feel God, and perhaps this was now the place for that to happen.
"Because the Lord is blessing us, we have many new families hear today, praise God. We are happy you are hear, but I want to tell you something." His cadence slowed and his breathing became more deep. "Some of you are hear because you need a fresh word from God. And believe me, you will get that today. But some of you came because you think being in a new place with cool instruments and a different dress code is the easiest way for you to assuage your guilt for living a sinful life. Well, let me tell you something, if that's you, you need to check your motives," he pointed his finger in her general direction. "We aint here to be some place where you can come and go when you feel bad about what you did on Saturday night, we are hear for you to be CHANGED!"
He finished a few seconds later, as the praise band began their "slow set," but it might as well have been silent, for the girl didn't hear any of it. She sat in shame, in guilt. It was all she could do to get out of bed, just to perhaps somehow find God, yet her effort was demeaned and belittled.
And the words of grace cry out, begging to be spoken.
Yet even those who claim it most, believe it least.