Today was quite the scary day for me. Today I spoke in front of my church. As someone who shakes and stutters through school presentations, this was quite the feat for me. But why would I do this?
Some background: I became friends with a couple, one of whom happens to be a pastor. Our pastor. On the one hand, it’s absolutely amazing because they are incredibly sweet and their kids are just the cutest and I think the whole family is so wonderful. There actually isn’t another hand. I just really like these people.
So when the pastor asked me to write a letter to the church, I had to say yes. I was flattered, I mean, I’m a writer. So when you ask me to write something, obviously I’m gonna do it. But reading it was a little more nerve wracking. So we came to today where I read my letter in front of like 200 people.
The sermon was on the prodigal son. You know the story, I’m sure. Our pastor talked about the behaviour of the younger son and then turned the parable around and talked about the self-righteous gate-keeping of the older son. It was one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard and, let me tell you, I’ve heard a lot. So at the end of this sermon, here I came, trundling up to the stage to shakily read a letter about Christian gate-keeping and how it can change your heart when someone opens the door instead.
Apparently, my letter touched some hearts and so I thought, maybe this would be a good place to share it. So here we go, Rebecca’s letter to her church (note: I’ve removed the names of the church and those involved for privacy reasons):
To my church in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
Yes, that’s how Paul began his first letter to the Thessalonians and how I begin my letter to you today. I’m no Paul. In fact, when our pastor asked me to do this, I compared myself closer to Moses. Not the chosen, obedient, plague-wielding Moses, but the one who stuttered and stumbled when he was asked to speak to Pharaoh.
I’m not Paul, but in a way, I mirror his story. I grew up a Christian. Here, actually. I went through Sunday School, youth group, Awana—I still have my Sparkies plaque—before being released into our unforgiving world as an adult. My faith was untested and proud because, like many young adults, I knew everything. I learned very quickly that wasn’t true.
The past ten years have been a boat ride on a stormy sea. Life tipped me over and nearly drowned me. I’d had this idea that if you live the right way, God would protect you from everything except persecution. That bad things only happened to good people that screwed up. So when some of the darkest things happened to me, I was angry and afraid.
Angry that God didn’t intervene when someone was hurting me. Angry that I’d believed a lie for so long. Angry that Jesus promised in John 16:33 that “he has overcome the world.” What a load of garbage, I thought. If you can be raped and murdered and abused and abandoned in this world, how has he overcome anything?
I wasn’t just angry. I was afraid. Afraid that I had become everything my youth pastor warned me about. In my heart of hearts, I still believed there was a God, but He was cold, distant, disinterested. That He’d saved the world from Hell and then washed His hands of Earth with an “I regret everything.” I was afraid to negotiate with this world without the surety that I could be safe. But more than anything, I was afraid that there was no place for me in any church, especially this one.
Dear church, I was afraid of you because I didn’t think I was like you anymore. I thought you naive and judgmental. You know that dreaded phrase: holier-than-thou.
Still, I attended this church for the past two years without really being here. I wanted my children to have the same foundation I had, though I couldn’t tell anyone why. I was asked to do music and I like music, so I figured why not. On the outside, I did the good Christian thing. I pretended. That’s what you do on Sundays, right?
In January, a few careless words nearly sunk my boat. It was at that point that I quit. It felt like an official “Keep Out!” sign had been placed on these glass doors. No Rebeccas allowed. No sinners allowed. No one who disagrees allowed. Maybe I wasn’t through with God, I thought, but I was definitely through with the church. Maybe all churches. The problem, though, was that I was committed to doing music. I couldn’t just not show up anymore. So I sent a message to the worship ministry coordinator politely asking her to remove me from the worship team and from the schedules.
The response, basically, was that coffee was required to quit music. I dreaded the coffee date for the whole week. She was obliged to meet with me, I thought. She can’t willingly just let a church attendee stop coming. But we met anyways. I was ready to spill out the entirety of my heart from the last ten years because I figured I wouldn’t see her again anyways and she’d be more willing to not pressure me to stay in church with the sheer amount of baggage I was carrying.
Acts 9 recounts Paul’s conversion to Christianity. The English Standard Version says in verse 1 that Saul was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” And while I wasn’t breathing literal murder, my heart was so full of hurt and anger that I might as well have been. My coffee date listened to my story and everything that came with it. I half expected her to just get up and walk away. I didn’t know I was asking the same question as Saul: “Who are you, Lord?”
And He answered me.
I remember in one of my Sunday School classes as a little girl, we would often recite: “God is love.” It didn’t mean much, especially compared to the stickers I’d get after saying it. And as I grew up, I’d learned a different phrase: “God is rules.” But sitting in Starbucks late that night, I learned again that God is love. He showed me that through this new friend. It was as if she looked over all the trash I’d laid out from my past and she said, “Cool, but it doesn’t matter. Your value to God, your value to the church isn’t here. You are loved regardless.”
Like Saul, I was blinded. While preparing for all the worst circumstances, I hadn’t taken account of the best. I was invited to a small group and promised I’d be welcome there, no matter what. She wasn’t lying. Not only was I welcome there, I was wanted.
When I went to small group, it was like the scales that covered my eyes were removed. Like Paul in Acts 9:19, I was strengthened.
Dear church, it was this act of love that brought me back. A love that has made we want to jump into this place with both feet, the way my son jumps into puddles. And like Paul says in Ephesians, “For this reason,… I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.”
It was not an argument, a confrontation, or a challenge that has me writing this to you. It was not condemnation or a call for me to change my ways. It was love. It was grace. It was a reminder that brokenness is Jesus’ specialty.
So I end this letter to you with encouragement using the words Paul used in closing to the Galations: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
So that’s it. That’s the letter.If you want to hear the context for my letter as well as me shakily reading it, click here.
I’d love to hear your responses, good or bad. So feel free to comment below!