I just got back from a breakfast meeting with a good friend of mine from church. His name is Doug. The reason we were meeting (besides the obvious, I love a delicious omelet breakfast) was for me to find out more about Doug’s conversion. I knew generally how Doug came to know Jesus Christ as his own Savior, but I was uncertain about some of the details.
He told me he came to Christ when he was age 52. He was living a good life, with a good job, he had children and grandchildren and he volunteered at the church he attended about 90 hours a week; well, not exactly, it just felt like that. In other words, he was going along, living life just as so many others had before him and certainly after. There are people in our churches who know everything there is to know about their church: they know when the next board meeting is, they know who is married, who isn’t, and who is unhappy in either state; they know the attendance has been slipping the past few years and they know that Mrs. Smith has been coming to church by herself while her husband has been conspicuously absent. They know a lot about the people in the church, but unfortunately, they don’t personally know much about Christ. They don’t know about the forgiveness there is in Jesus Christ, and that is what took Doug on his search for answers.
It was a sermon on forgiveness that seemed to rattle Doug’s heart. It got him thinking of himself and how that fit into his own life. And then, there was that incident at work. One of his good friends was sharing with another fellow as they sat in their work truck. Doug noticed some tears running down his friend’s face. It didn’t seem too unusual but in Doug’s mind it continued to raise questions, causing reflection and introspection. But the Holy Spirit didn’t stop there! That same friend invited Doug to church, specifically to the Men’s Ministry. That experience opened a whole new world for Doug. Seeing men leading, praying, sharing and studying the Word of God together. They were lifting up Christ through worship, thanking Him for the forgiveness that only came through a personal relationship with Him. It was then that Doug realized that the difference between what he had and what he wanted was the difference between religion and a relationship! Doug had played the religion card for 52 years; now he realized that was never going to work. That is what God gives us when He accepts us into His family. He forgives us of all our sins, as He told us in John 3:16, but He doesn’t stop there. No. there’s more.
Not only did God save us and bring us into His church (his body) but he equipped us to function and participate in that body of believers. He told us in Ephesians 4:11-13. “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Now there is an awful lot to digest from those few verses, but let’s get one thing clear, God not only saves us, but he also equips us. We all have different abilities, but we all have the same goal, to be a mature church, a mature body of believers. In Doug’s previous life he wanted to serve because he thought he was helping the church. Now he serves out of love for Christ. Maturity comes through serving Christ, not by doing service for a local church.
My heart breaks for all the Dougs that are still out there. People who have gone to church all their lives (even for 52 years), have been wonderful workers in the church (for the most part), faithful attenders, yet they are still holding on to that which they’ve done and are praised for it. They may attend your church or mine (Grace Community), they may be wonderful people, but being wonderful does not give you an invitation into the Kingdom, forgiveness does: God’s forgiveness.