Why I Love the Church

From my earliest days, I was in church. Not only am I a PK (preacher’s kid), I’m a CK (church kid). For me, that means church has always been a part of my life. So, I guess it’s fitting that I drive a Buick, for I am a Brought uichurch kid.

I had lunch this week with Ben, who preaches at the Shively church here in Louisville. And as I was talking to him, it occurred to me that the church where Ben serves would have been my first church. When I was a baby, my family lived in Shively, and would have gone to that church.  It was in that nursery where, no doubt, I first spit up on church carpet; it was probably there that I first tested the patience of kind old ladies (though, no doubt, I have tested their patience ever since). While living in Shively, my dad was also involved in an African-American church, Prentice Street Christian. Even so, I was too young to remember any of that.

Dad at the church in Newark, NJ
Dad at the church in Newark, NJ

My first memory of church, however, takes me to East Orange, New Jersey, where we moved after my family left Louisville. My dad was preaching at 2 churches then — in East Orange, and in nearby Newark. And it’s at Newark that my synapses bring to mind my first real personal memory of church.

I wish I could say it was something deeply spiritual — like a sermon by my father, or a first-grade lesson where the light bulb went off above my head. Instead, my first memory of church is … playing ping pong in the basement at Newark.

Funny thing, though: ever since, I have loved ping pong — and the Church. In a day when it is fashionable to point out the Church’s flaws, or say that It’s day is past, I feel extremely grateful to be a part of God’s Great Family. In the Church, I have learned about life, and love, and family, and grace, and Jesus. In the Church I have learned that people are difficult — but Jesus loves them, and so should I. For Church is where I learn that I am difficult — and Jesus, and His people, love me anyway.

The Church has taught me how much we need each other. With all our flaws, and failures, and foibles — it’s easy to make fun of the Church. And sometimes, if we’re honest, we do some pretty goofy stuff that makes the world just roll their eyes.

But that’s exactly why we need each other. Because we are messy, and bumbling, and we don’t have all our Stuff together. The reason the Church is belittled is exactly the reason we need each other — because we are so messy. And so, we need a place to bring our mess. And find hope. And family. And grace. And Jesus.

I know that there are many PKs and BUICKs who run from Church when they turn 18; I was never one of them. In fact, I feel incredibly blessed to have grown up in church; to have watched my dad serve the church; and to have learned from him and my mom and so many others how important the church is, despite our many weaknesses.

I love the Church! And I want everyone who doesn’t know what Church can be, should be, must be — I want them to experience the grace that overflows among a bunch of simple, sinful, struggling people. For that’s who we are; and that’s why we come. And together, we find the grace of God that is big enough for all of us — and all of us together.

Thank God for the Church! May we become all that God calls us to be, as we experience, and share with each other, His Grace.

A Family Challenge: Prayer & 40 Bucks

We have had a five-year-old living with us for the past five months. He’s a cousin who needed a place to live; and for now, he is a part of our family. I’m learning what I once knew when my kids were younger: five-year-olds change things.

Before he came, everyone in our family was pretty self-sufficient. Our family — two adults and three teenagers — was a place where everyone was able to take care of themselves (most of the time). Then we added a preschooler.

One of my favorite things about having our cousin is knowing that at the end of the day (no matter how long it’s been; despite whatever challenges we have faced), bedtime is almost always a joyful experience. He loves reading from a kids Bible story book. He loves to sing a song. He loves to snuggle. The other night, my teenage girls helped put him to bed — and the four of us had a fun time just being together, and enjoying each other as another day came to an end.

This is family. No matter what the day has brought — no matter the challenges or stresses that life has brought — we can end the day with joy, knowing that we share the love of family.

In a way, every night I get to experience what I think God has in store for us — for all of us. To be family, no matter what we face. And to open our family life to others who need it.

In fact, I think this is a huge part of what Church is about. We are a family, no matter what we face. And having experienced the love of God, we open ourselves to share that love with others. If there is a door into God’s family, then I believe that on it hangs a sign that reads: “Always open.”

This past Sunday, I challenged our church to put family into practice in two ways. Between now and Easter (a traditional 40-day journey the Church has called Lent), let me encourage you to do these two things to help us be family — and extend family:

  1. Pray for someone in our church family who is different from you. If you are 50-plus, you might choose to pray for a child, or a student, or a young adult. If you are in college, you might pray for someone who is retired. If you are single, you might pray for someone who is married — and vice versa. If your primary language is English, you might pray for someone who speaks Spanish — and vice versa. Whoever it is, would you commit to praying, every day, for someone in the church who is different from you? If you do, I believe God will use your prayers, and you, to extend the unity he longs for us to have as a family.
  2. On Sunday, I gave $40 to four different kids in our church, and challenged them to take that money — and with their families — bless someone. Let me extend that challenge to everyone in our church family: set aside $40 to bless someone else. What would it look like if our whole church did that? What if every family in our church family set aside $40, beyond your normal giving, and as a family, put it to work for someone else? If you can’t do $40, do less. If $40 is too small, do more. But do something; bless someone else this Easter season. The only limit to how you do this is the creativity of your family. The key isn’t what you do, but that you do it. And do it together, with your family, or whoever you share life with.

Family takes work. Anybody who has ever lived in family knows that. Church is no different. Are you doing the hard work of building up our church? Are you looking for ways to extend church family to those who need it? This Easter, let’s do that. Together.

Family: Becoming What We Are

Imagine learning you have a sister you didn’t know you had. Imagine the realization that your family is bigger than you imagined.

How would you react if you found out you had a sibling you had never met? Most of us, I assume, would want to meet her. Get to know her. See what you have in common. Learn her story. And find all the ways her story has led her path to finally intersect with yours.

If just yesterday, she had cut you off in traffic, you would have been angry at this unknown person. If she had approached you at the store, and randomly asked for help — you would likely have either just given her a few bucks, or politely declined.

But that was yesterday, when she was just another face in the crowd. Today, you have learned, she is family.

The writer Mark Galli had just this kind of experience. Fifteen years ago, he got a phone call out of the blue from a private detective, telling him: I work for a woman who says she is your sister. This began a journey where Mark and his wife got to know Betty, the sister he never knew he had. They began to share time, and experiences, and memories together — and to make new memories along the way. And as all of that happened, Galli uses this wonderful line that describes their relationship: “We’ve become what we discovered we were: family.”

How different things become when we learn we are family. When you are my sister, or my brother, you are not just another person. You are not someone I can avoid or overlook or disregard. If we disagree, we are still family. If I make choices you don’t like, we are still family. Through the good and the bad, this one truth remains above all other: We Are Family. And we learn to become what we really are.

Can the Church be that kind of place? Can we do the hard work of becoming what we really are? We won’t agree on everything. No family does. We will get frustrated, and sometimes wish we could start over with a new family. There will be times we simply don’t like each other very much. All of those feelings are normal; every family feels them.

But family is also a place where we stand together, even when times are tough. Especially when times are tough. In short, we learn to become what we are: Family.

Mark Galli tells the story of his newly-discovered sister in the context of an article about the racial divisions we see in many churches. And his point is simply this: we are family. Though black, white, or brown, in Jesus, we are family. And it’s time for us to do the hard work of becoming what we really are.

This Sunday, at Fern Creek Christian, we will focus on our calling as family — in our homes, but even more, in our church. That we are family together — family formed by our common identity in Christ. That we belong to him. Are grounded in him. And guided by His Spirit. And because of that, whatever differences or disagreements we might have are secondary to who we are. And whose we are.

This Sunday, let’s celebrate that we are family. And let’s do the hard work, daily, of becoming what we are.