Growing up, two things were certain — waking up early for Saturday Morning cartoons and waking up early Sunday morning for church.
Growing up in the church was interesting to say the least, especially when you add into the equation the experience of a predominantly Black Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.
From praise and worship and the harmonic sound of the music and the choir, to the presentation of the message from a fiery and passionate preacher, theirs much to grasp and appreciate about the Black church experience, and church period when you grow up to understand what all of it really adds up too.
I recall, when I was younger, playing around with my mom and dad’s record player was a great time for me. would be by myself, going through those old records of old school Jazz and R&B and would stumble onto tons of Black Gospel music, records featuring The O’Neal Twins and Mahalia Jackson.
Going into my teen years, I would find myself still listening to that same music and the messages driving deeper and deeper all the while listening to the music and imagining a compilation of my writings, my characters and my drawings being a part of the worship experience. It was as if I was being invited to worship God with what little I had … even if the little that I had was what I had created just moments ago in my mind or on paper.
As I listened to the music over and over, songs like “Jesus dropped the Charges” by The O’Neal Twins, “Total Praise” by Richard Smallwood and “Stand” by Donnie McClurkin drove the Gospel message home to me more and more.
I didn’t really understand why people cried, shouted and got so excited about all that God and Christ had done for them. I would later understand why and to this day I’m still getting a spiritual crash course on it all.
During some pretty rough, emotionally destructive times in my teen years, I would put on my headphones and be moved to tears by some of the Gospel songs that would play and the theatrical movement that would be unfolding in my mind. The same would happen with a moving score by my favorite composers like John Williams or James Horner.
The church is so much a part of my life that it influenced and shaped my creative expression as well as helped me to grow more comfortably into who I truly am.
I was dealing with some personal issues and a big identity crisis, things that I felt totally uncomfortable with approaching the church with. But, I still kept coming to church, even after college. It wasn’t every single Sunday, though. From time to time, I would make sure to continue with Bible studying and prayer. I was still trying to understand and learn how my personal faith walk in God and Christ supposed to be like.
With the challenges of church were people … imperfect people who were professing believers in Jesus. I would learn that not everyone in church is a Christian. I would learn that not every Christian comes to church, though I believe they should because of the importance of fellowship and connection with other like-minded believers. I would also learn that a lot of people who were Christian were also not properly equipped with dealing with some of the junk I had to face, and sometimes would even lack compassion and love, something clearly taught in scripture.
Fortunately, my relationship with God and the opportunity to worship with music and other creative expressions, I survived what was a pretty cruel period of time.
In my late 20’s, I would soon find out that some really amazing people were Christians, and that everyone is still trying to grow up as well. No one is perfect. No one but Jesus that is.
I would run into people who actually cared and people who may not have fully understood my struggles, but at least showed compassion and love and support in spite of what I was dealing with: anger, confusion, frustration, loneliness, depression and the list went on.
The journey to grow THIS close to God and His Son has not been easy.
Over the years, I have observed Christian believers line up with ideas and beliefs that were obviously not Christ-like nor Biblical. I have seen people decide to live a lifestyle that was contrary to God’s Word because they believe their was no other way to live. I have seen people destroyed by their pessimism, skepticism, racism and prejudice. I’ve seen political matters become the Gospel for some who proclaim to love God but show little or no love for humanity.
And then … there was me.
I saw how prideful I was. I saw how I still let self-hatred, anger about the past and desire for vengeance cloud my mind and my heart. I saw how I was willfully trying to have it my way but claim that I’m letting the Lord take complete control. I was faced with the harsh reality that I was trying to avoid things in life in order to have the life I wanted, not the life that God had already purposed for me. For half a decade, there were times I yelled at God. Changed careers, opportunities that fell through, inability to fit-in and a want for certain things in my life caused me to go through a period where I was bitter, sad, angry and almost numb to life. I wasn’t sure if I could go on … I needed help.
My relationship with God was one of an irate teenager yelling at a Dad whom he thinks just doesn’t get it! And that made sense … I was hurting … but God was very, very, very patient with me.
I saw how my view of God and His Son, Jesus, was not quite right. So, I sought out to get a better understanding.
Between a consistent, daily study of the Bible, time in church, time with friends and family who are Christian believers and counseling, I learned to draw closer to God and to try to understand without overanalyzing a matter.
I’m still learning!
I had to learn to listen, to humble myself and to let God speak to me and touch the issues that I felt so incredibly ashamed about.
Again … still learning.
I’m still in the church because it is where I have grown and continue to grow.
I’m still in the church so I can be amongst other fellow believers.
But, I’m also in the church because like anything else I need that recharge and connection with other followers.
The scripture that always comes to mind for me regarding fellowship with other believers is Hebrews 10:25 (NKJV):
not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
I also came to further understand that Christians, the body of believers, are the church and that Christ is the head of the church. Theologically speaking, this is the universal church as a whole. The local church, or the local congregation, with Christ still being the head, has a overseer or undershephard, that is, the Pastor.
I also came to understand that the body believers are not perfect … but in Christ, being perfected.
And THAT is why I’m still in the church!