My husband and I love to host parties! Whether it’s a birthday or holiday, there’s always a reason for us to celebrate with friends or family. Bringing people together is a source of joy for us, and folks really seem to enjoy our hospitality.
So, naturally, we like to see people having a good time, getting together, talking about mutual shared memories or making new memories. Sometimes people gather together in small groups to converse. And other times, in good weather, they congregate outdoors. Most of these folks already have mutual, shared experiences that go back in time, but others who do not, have found common ground on which to strike up conversations.
All, that is, except one: A bystander. He hasn’t been a part of our general circle of friends for a long time, but he’s been to many of our parties. It’s almost as if he comes to the party out of habit, or maybe for the food—or beer. But a part of me intensely wishes he would open himself to the joy of the group at large. That he would be moved by something he hears, something he sees among the others in the group and finally join the party.
But on Easter Sunday, it was if a light bulb went on and I made the connection between what this party bystander must feel and my own journey as a Christian.
For many, many years, I was taken to church by my parents—not only on Easter and Christmas, but almost every Sunday. I went “through the motions” because it made my parents happy--and I saw all those other happy people at church sharing stories and talking with one other. As a teen, I even joined the choir in the church where my Dad played the organ, but even then, never felt I was on the "inside track" with the others who seemed to have a certain something--which I could never really identify. I felt like an outsider, a bystander. Then, as a young adult, I left the church.
But by the time I had a child of my own, I figured it was time to “get with it” and “get this kid some Religion!” So my husband and I returned to the church where my Dad had played the organ, because it was a known and comfortable place. But like me as a child, her church experience simply wasn’t resonating with her.
After being asked at least three times by a friend of mine to attend “this great, and alive church with wonderful music and kids’ programs,” we gave our daughter the choice of Sunday School in our current church or in a new church—and she selected the “new church.” The new church just happened to be HOPE Church!
One Sunday after dropping her off at HOPE's Sunday School, to kill time before the worship service started, I decided to attend an adult Sunday School class called “An Ordinary Day With Jesus.” It was there that God started to work on my heart. As I watched the videos with tears streaming down my face, I finally understood that I really was only a Christian in name, one who “went through the motions,” one who said, “ Jesus is just alright with me.” I realized I had been a bystander--just like that man at our parties.
I revel in and am so grateful to join the party called life with joy surrounding me every day. But it’s a daily journey to fully grasp and understand God’s amazing glory and grace, love and acceptance. It's still difficult for me to believe that God loves me that much to allow his son Jesus to suffer through the most horrific and yet the most significant event in history not only so that I could live a full, joyous life, but also experience eternity with him. And yet, I joyfully continue the journey--and know now why Easter matters.
So, what about that guy at our party? I'll continue to show him hospitality, love and acceptance. Maybe one day, he too will feel comfortable enough to join in all the fun of our party group--and even grow to know the larger loving group of the family of Jesus.
Ephesians 3: 18-19: And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.