I was raised that way…
I was a scholarship collegiate athlete, and it was the first weekend our Coach had required us to stay on campus for the weekend to train and to practice. We were instructed not to leave the college campus. Sunday morning rolled around and I was confronted with one of my first real predicaments as an independent adult. My body woke itself up early that Sunday morning, just as it had been doing all of my life up until that point.
At this time in history, unlike today, Sunday morning still had a little bit of reverence with regard to Church and worship. Stores were closed and no team practices or sporting events were scheduled. We had the morning free. I rolled out of my bed, and as my feet hit the ground, the first thought that popped in my head was literally, “Am I going to go worship in a church today?” I had been brought up in one, single, solitary church my entire life. I had been raised to believe that if you were in town, it was important to be in church. Honestly, until I left for college, the decision was generally made for me. I would be in church, end of story. I was raised that way.
But all of a sudden, for the first time in my life, it was my decision, and my decision alone to make. No one else was around to influence, encourage, or convince me to go. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had the freedom to make the choice. Ah, sweet freedom! It would be so easy to just roll back over in my bed. I was tired from the weekend’s workouts. Besides, college students like me don’t go to church.
I ducked back under the covers. “No one will know, and I could get used to this” I told myself. As soon as my head hit the pillow, a voice very subtly rang in my head in response to my thought, “But Jesus will know, and He won’t let you get used to it.” The conversation continued in my head as I shot back. “Jesus will know what!? What, is He Mr. legalistic attendance taker now!?” The voice came back, “It has nothing to do with attendance or legalism. It’s the posture you are about to let yourself get comfortable with. The Church still matters, and you’re still part of it, college student or not.”
By now, if you’re a Christian, you’ll understand that I was not having a schizophrenic moment of talking to myself. When you come to faith in Jesus, He imparts His Holy Spirit on the inside of you in order to comfort, convict, guide, and lead you into the truth of your relationship with God. I’m so thankful He spoke up that day. No, the voice was not audible, but it was clearly engaging my spirit, my mind, and my heart. As much as I wanted the voice to go away and the Spirit to stop talking, it would not.
I sat back up and told myself, “Well, I can’t get in my car and leave campus, and there’s only one church on campus. So, Wingate Baptist Church it is!” And that’s what I did that Sunday morning. I was raised that way. I made a choice to go worship with church folk. As I sat in the pew that morning, I thought to myself, “Isn’t the true mark of coming into adulthood measured by how many wild parties you attend, how much beer you drink, or how many sexual escapades you can have? Wasn’t that supposed to mark my coming of age and newfound freedom of making decisions on my own? Congratulations Carnes, you marked yours by putting on khaki pants and going to church. How lame.”
I thought it, but strangely, I didn’t feel that way. I actually felt free for the first time. As I walked back to my campus dorm that day after the worship service, it was the most freedom I had ever felt in my life. For the first time, I think I understood 2 Corinthians 3:17 which says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
True freedom is having the choice to choose between what is right and wrong, and choosing what is right, in spite of what you’d prefer to do, even if it costs you something. But sometimes, true freedom may have very little to do with what is right and what is wrong. Sometimes it may be as simple as choosing between what benefits you most and what benefits the collective or those around you most. True freedom is when you make a decision that doesn’t put you in the king’s chair or put your preferences out in front. I was raised that way.
Did I choose to go to church out of guilt that day? Absolutely not. That would have been the wrong reason to go. Did I choose to go to church out of obligation that day? In part, yes, and that has value. I do a lot of things in my life out of obligation, and it’s made me and the people around me better. Did I choose to go to church out of duty and sacrifice that day? In part, yes, and that has value. Duty and sacrifice have always made me better when I apply them to my life. But mostly, I chose to go to church that day because of love. I love Jesus because He rescued me and changed my life. I love God’s people and I love to worship with them, even in spite of our imperfections. I love the church and its mission. I believe that I’m called to it, and that it’s the greatest mission on earth. What a privilege!
It was Sunday morning, I was in town, and I was in church worshiping with other believers. I was raised this way. Wait a minute, wasn’t I supposed to rebel against this at some point in my life? Wasn’t I supposed to make some type of public pronouncement against the church at some point? Did I miss something? No, actually a thousand little weekly choices each Sunday, by my parents, over the first 18 years of my life, all led to this one significant choice in my life when I drew a line in the sand for the Bride of Christ, and I haven’t been the same since.
Accountability pushed me that day. Duty and sacrifice raised my expectations that day. But above all else, love compelled me that day, and I was as free as I’d ever been. I was raised that way. As I look across the landscape of Sunday mornings these days, I’m not sure many are being raised this way anymore. For those who are…stay the course and persevere. It’s worth it. Every battle, every choice, every stand matters. They did for me.