Every Sunday, seekers enter churches across the country. Many are seeking an understanding of what it means to believe. Some are seeking to have a closer relationship with Christ. Others are seeking a place to feel welcome, a place to belong. A few, maybe more, are seeking an excuse.
For many years I was part of the last group. I would go to church with a friend, a family member, or on my own. I would tell myself I was seeking understanding or truth. I would say to whomever I accompanied that I was looking for a church. Mostly, I was looking for an excuse.
I was looking for a reason to criticize. I was looking for a reason to condemn. I was looking for hypocrisy. Primarily, I was looking for a reason to continue leading the life I chose instead of the life Christ wanted me to live. I was seldom disappointed.
One Sunday, I might see a local businessman glad-handing everyone around with a fake smile and firm handshake. The week before, I might have seen him stagger out of a bar after drinking all evening and hitting on a waitress young enough to be his daughter. Another Sunday, I might overhear two matrons of the church gossiping about the businessman’s shenanigans and his poor long-suffering wife.
On any Sunday, I could see people who were more interested in what someone else was wearing than what the minister was saying. In other cases, they might be more interested in what their neighbor was saying than the sermon. In either case, their conduct could be perceived as disrespectful and, in my mind, far from Christian.
Today I am still seeking, but I am seeking a better understanding and a closer walk with my Lord. Now, the shoe is on the other foot. Every Sunday, or almost every Sunday, I am in church, and I often wonder if I will be someone’s excuse.
I am human. I make mistakes. I can become distracted and pay more attention to what is going on around me than I do the pastor’s message. I may see a friend sitting in another section and feel I must get his or her attention, without regard for the worshipers around me or the worship in which I am supposed to be engaged. I no longer participate in the kind of Friday night lifestyle that would make me a hypocrite on Sunday morning, but I am no saint. Have I done something during the week that someone might use as their excuse?
Some will read this and say, “Don’t worry!” “You cannot control what others think.” Others will say, “God must prepare the seeker’s heart and make it receptive. If He has not prepared the heart, nothing you do will make any difference.” Of course, they are correct, but does that mean I have no responsibility in the matter?
Does that mean that I have no obligation to present the best face I can to visitors and other seekers? Does that mean I can act one way on Friday night and behave differently on Sunday without worrying about real or apparent conflicts? Does that mean I can gossip and whisper while others are trying to worship? Does that mean my harmful or inconsiderate actions do not make me appear hypocritical?
Every Sunday, seekers come to my church. Every Sunday, some are seeking an excuse. I pray I am doing my best to avoid giving them one.
© S.E. Jackson – 2011