I have told this story before; however, there are a few people that I really hope will read this and take it to heart...
When I was 17 years old, I LEFT the church. I had been offended by some of my "friends" in the church and segregated from a lot of their activities because I wasn't in the "cool kid" group.
I gave up. I knew my Bible very well I thought. I decided that I could live my life the way that I wanted to, and that there would be no consequence to that. I had been baptized right at the age of 10. I was in a "future preacher's" class by the time I was 11. I went to Short Mountain Bible Cam every summer. I didn't cuss. I didn't disobey my parents (much). I didn't do the things that seemed to be bad. I just didn't do them!
I was a Christian. And, I loved God!
At 17 years old, I could have lost it all. It was MY desire that was taking precedence over God's. I quit attending Bible study first (since I could drive and had a job...I even asked to be scheduled so that I couldn't possibly be there). Then it was Wednesday night services that became non-existent in my prerogative. Then it was Sunday night worship services. Then this discrimination happened in my own youth group...even some by a "youth 'minister'". And...that was it!
I knew that I was my own person and that "I knew best" about how I could get to heaven. After all, I wasn't going to attend with those hypocrites; nor subject myself to such embarrassment and personal persecution. It just didn't have to happen. Me and God had it right. We were working together. I DID NOT need the church, anyone in the church, and certainly not these people that wanted to tell me how to live my life, when I knew better!
I knew God. I knew Jesus. I loved them both. I still read my Bible. (Notice I did not say study) I prayed...sometimes. I thought about what would happen if I were to die that particular day...many days. And, I answered myself...."You will go to heaven! You love God. You have been baptized. You have..." Well, YOU get it. There was no way that God would be so cruel to "make me go to church." I could do just as well on my own.
I don't remember exactly how long this lie lasted, but it became bigger, and bigger, and bigger. I began to tell my parents that I was attending worship services at different congregations (so they couldn't check up on me). But, when I would leave the house early on Sunday mornings, I would take two changes of clothing. One was what I would wear to work that afternoon. The other was my "when I get clear of the house I am wearing" outfit to fish in, hang out with some friends with, etc.
It was getting tough. I was getting rough. At 17 years old, I was trading my skills that I had acquired through my non-church "friends" of tinting windows and installing car stereos/speakers, etc. for cigarettes, liquor, beer, wine coolers, and living a life that was full of satan and sin!
I was LOST!
Now...go back to where I started. Remember - I was a young Christian. I had read my Bible. I had prayed sometimes. I had faithfully attended worship services AND Bible study assemblies for years! I even went on youth retreats and waited on the Lord's table, and thought I was bringing my friends to Christ.
It all changed. I was now living a lie that satan had created. He was winning. I was losing. My lie? "I don't have to 'go to church' to get to heaven."
While this subject is a much deeper one than most will give time or credence to reading, it is a very serious problem. God says that He wants us to worship Him. The Hebrew writer tells us WHY we come together in 10:24-25. Jesus says that we MUST worship in spirit and truth - giving a priority to worshiping Him in John 4:23-24. It was so important in the time of the early church that many LOST THEIR LIVES for the church and the ability to worship God.
Way back when I was 17, I thought I knew it all. I thought I knew what was best. I thought I knew more than God. I thought my life was more important...than my soul.
I am so thankful that there were those that saw my condition...and pulled me out of the fire. They were and remain my true friends. My brothers and sisters. They showed me what life in Jesus Christ was supposed to be like....not what I thought.
A dear friend kept inviting me to come with her and some of our mutual friends to worship with them. I finally did...one Sunday night. That night was the first time that I had ever met Tony Lawrence, my mentor and friend. He held out his hand to greet me, asked my name, remembered my name, and showed me that he cared about me. Another dear friend and several others that attended there welcomed me as their friend...and brother in Christ.
You see...it was never about me. It was always, and will always be about God. When I put "I" in front of God, I become less dependent on God, and more dependent on satan. Not something that I am proud of, but it happened.
I have repented of these things both publicly and privately. That is what the Bible tells me that I needed to do. I cannot say that I have lived the most faithful life every day since these days; however, I can say that with the wonderful blood of Christ that continually cleanses sinners like me that repent, I now understand more about why I was wrong, I was ignorant through satan, and I was LOST.
Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but NOW I am found...was blind, but now I see.
Please don't be blind. Please don't be lost.