I’m starting to understand that I need to go to church more often. More to the point, I need to go to what I consider to be “my” church more often, not just for the sound preaching and the purely selfless worshiping. Those are great reasons, but what my spirit needs, is crying out for, is the reminder that God can work out any and all situations for His good no matter what the situation looks like to you or anyone else. And one of the my fondest examples of God’s faithfulness is in the life of my dear friend … let’s just call him Jay.

I love seeing how God has worked things out for Jay, and the character with which he has carried himself through it all, especially since I know, at least in part, the road that he has traveled in recent years. Though I’ve known him for over 20 years, I only got to know him in the past 4 years when we were both at Jonestown Revisited. God has absolutely gifted him with more talents than most people could ever handle, and it’s a blessing to watch his natural use of those gifts. His incredible musical talent coupled with his bizarre sense of humor and comedic timing are only out-shined by his unashamed expressive love for Christ.

It is, however, something else about my friend that has inspired my writing today.  He, like myself and far too many others, was a casualty of the madness of Jonestown Revisited. His selfless ministry was usurped by his fellow ministry team members to satisfy one talented but dreadfully insecure woman’s desperate need for accolades and attention. His talents were misused and exploited at the expense of the people sincerely trying to learn how to worship. He was lied to and about by his peers until the Lord saw fit to lead him to an actual church where his ministry could continue and expand, and his future could begin. Despite the treatment he endured, he has managed, at least from all appearances, to have moved without any sense of bitterness to a personal space where no remnants of Jonestown exist. He has managed, somehow, not to become jaded by the unpleasantness of his past experiences but instead he continues to excel in the blessings that are provided him each day. Jay is one of my favorite people on earth, and I love seeing the pure joy in his face, the freedom in his worship, the peace in his heart. Still, I am convicted every time I see him at his church because there is a part of me that’s truly envious because I am, sad to say, quite jaded when it comes to church and all that the word connotes.

Webster’s Dictionary defines jaded  as “made dull or insensitive as by excess…” and “cynically callous”, and let me assure you, that’s an unfortunate space in which to live. I used to love going to church, serving weekly and seeing people who I considered to be my extended family and friends for life. Now, getting to church, even one I like, is quite a chore and personal struggle for me.  And make no mistake, I know in my heart that the only one suffering in this jaded state is yours truly. That’s the trouble with being jaded. It only hurts you.

I carry all the memories of the wrongs I’ve experienced at the hands of church folk, and given what I experienced, I think I’m justified.

–My closest friend in the church turned out to be a missionary in training who was sleeping with several married men in the church and was using my home as the rendezvous spot while I was at work. Why would I ever want to make friends again at church?

–The tithe money was used to fund iPhones and studio time to record personal R&B CDs and, of course, to pay  legal fees for the philandering pastor who was sleeping around and making passes at married women who came to him for counseling. Why would I ever write another tithe check to a church?

–A womanizing man who hit his girlfriend and impregnated several single women in the church was made the sole male ministry leader of a single women’s group after his violent behavior was reported. Why would I ever trust church leadership to appoint godly men and women over ministries?

–The broken, bruised, disgraced loyal parishioners and leaders were left to fend for themselves after being slandered for not supporting the rampant infidelity and mismanagement of funds and spiritual gifts. Why should I ever want to be a part of a church again?

This is what I know from church. My recent past has taught me that church is a dangerous place that rejects truth, blurs the lines, condemns values, encourages moral compromise, and disregards the word of God in favor of assimilation and popularity. Jonestown Revisited taught me that people were expendable and the godly leaders were unimportant, but the truth I’m learning through Jay is that what I think I know about church is not the end of the story. With faith and submission to God, old things pass away.

Jay didn’t carry what I carried away from that place, and God has shown much favor to him. Shortly after he relocated to his new church, he met the woman that he has since married. She is selfless and funny and kind and supportive and everything I would have ever hoped my friend would find, and none of it would have happened had he let himself become jaded. They recently had a beautiful baby (who, whether he likes it or not, now has a chocolate Auntie) and a ministry that is thriving and drawing people to God.

The lesson here, and forgive me for stating the painfully obvious, is that the only ones who lose are those who choose to be jaded. Those of us who choose to believe that the evil we have seen is all that’s available to be seen are missing a world of beautiful possibilities and opportunities. We limit our experiences, we stunt our growth, we reduce our opportunities to witness the truly awesome power of God and what He can do through circumstance.

I often hear about the idea of second chances, and it’s easy to digest the cliché as nothing more than just that, a trite expression that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse. But there is a need for second chances, and not necessarily just for the benefit of those who’ve wrong us, but also for the benefit of ourselves, which is equally as important.  The story does not have to end with what went wrong; it doesn’t have to end with the hurt and the pain; it doesn’t have to leave one jaded.

In truth, when I think about things, my time at Jonestown R brought me many wonderful things, including a great hat that makes me look clever, a virtually free trip to the most beautiful country on earth, 3 years with the most precious little boy I’ve ever known (and miss terribly) and a Hottie nickname to boot,  the opportunity to meet the man of the dreams I never even knew I could dream, and a handful of rich friendly relationships, none more supportive of my writing than Laura and none more entertained by my writing than Jay himself.  With all of these wonderful gifts, I have to question the advantage of allowing myself to be jaded at all.

Perhaps it’s time to open up to what a good church might actually be like. Perhaps it’s time for all of us who are jaded for whatever reasons, however valid, to take a chance, a second chance and let ourselves be surprised by the possibilities.

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