Read Ephesians 5:3-14.
To say I was “naive” would be an understatement. But having come from an unchurched background, I entered my relationship with Christ and God’s people, the church, expecting quite a bit. What few extended family members among my kin who were Christians, I could plainly see were quite serious about what they believed and were obviously committed to living for Jesus Christ in every way. They were like shafts of light into the dark world of my heart. So, when I entered a church building for the first time as a teenager, I had this vision of a building filled with people who were like those rays of light in my family – people totally sold out to God.
However, what I received when I walked in the church house door that first time, walking hand-in-hand with the preacher’s daughter, mind you, was the biggest hit my young heart had ever taken before. I still remember it as clearly now – thirty plus years later – as if it happened just now. It was like someone had punched me in my mental “gut” and kicked me in my emotional “groin.” And every time I walked through those doors for months thereafter, “going to church” meant receiving this beating.
For here, the place where I had expected to find the cream of humanity, were no small number of people who were not a Christian by any stretch of the imagination, yet well integrated into the life of the congregation as “Christians.” Here and now, all around me, were people who called into question with their lives everything I had ever believed about Christians and Christian faith.
That man who greeted me in the foyer, I knew to be a man who had left many bills outstanding with my father – not because he couldn’t pay them, but simply because he didn’t. Here on the same pew with me were people who clearly had no use for me, it was written all over their faces, their looks of disdain not hidden at all. There, across the room, was a couple I knew to be living lives of total immorality. That man who just led the prayer, why, I had overheard him talk many times about how much money he was going to make, what a nice house he had just built and the new car he was about to purchase – greedy to the core. And there, there’s that school acquaintance of mine who was always telling me, and everyone else, dirty jokes.
Blows they were I tell you, like from an iron fist. I was devestated.
For here I was expecting a people who were different from the world’s darkness, yet here they were, a part of it, all the while proclaiming “light.” I had expected to find here people vastly different from the world I was open to leaving, yet here were people among them – in abundance! – who were apparently living something like doubles lives – one way in the world and another way when with Christians at church. And worst of all, these people were not like me – a curious visitor, an inquisitive guest – but were clearly considered part of the heart and soul of what was going on with the life of this congregation!
Well, I say all that to say this – by God’s good grace I survived that pummeling. And I came to learn that church is not a museum for saints, but a hospital for sinners; there are no perfect people, myself being the greatest evidence to that fact. But still, I have never forgotten the equally important truth, the message that must be ever shouted from the rooftops, the one drilled into me that day the first time I walked through those church house doors:
“… among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for the Lord’s people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Eph. 5:3-5)
Holiness. It’s not something I can do alone. But without it, I’ll never see the Lord. And may blind many others to him.
Holy Father in heaven, in Christ’s name forgive me of my failings and empower me today with your Spirit for living for you. May I be a bit of reflected light from you today and contribute nothing to the further darkening of anyone’s heart. May my ways reveal you, rather than conceal you, I pray. Give me, I pray, as I’ve sung many times, “more strivings within,” rather than complacency as to what I am right now. Amen.