I remember walking into a Seventh-day Adventist Church for the first time. I had not been in a church for 12 years. As I parked our car, my wife and two daughters were smiling and seemed so happy that Daddy had decided to attend church with them this particular Saturday. As we approached the front door, I was nervous. I felt out of place, thinking to myself, People like me don’t attend church.
When we got into the foyer, I was approached by a woman smiling from ear to ear who said, “Happy Sabbath” and gave me a bear hug. I was shocked; my arms lay limp at my side. I tried to make eye contact with my wife, hoping she would save me from this woman, but she was busy being hugged by another person. Everybody seemed so happy that I was suspicious immediately. Where I came from, nobody was happy.
I cannot tell you what the sermon was about or name any hymn that was sung. The entire time I sat in that pew, I was thinking about how I could get out of there without being hugged again. Once the service was over, the ushers (deacons) were letting people out of the pews one row at a time. My wife and daughters got up and headed toward the center aisle. I went in the opposite direction and headed toward a door located off to the side of the sanctuary.
As I entered a small hallway, I met a gray-haired woman. She stopped me with a smile that appeared to be genuine and extended her hand. I thought to myself, She appears safe. She said, “You must be Teresa’s husband. I’ve been praying for you, and I hope you will come back again.” In all honesty, I returned to that church the next Sabbath because I did not want to disappoint that gray-haired woman. It turned out that she played a very important role in my spiritual journey. She and her husband became wonderful friends and mentors to my wife and me.
In Romans 12, there is a subtitle in the English Standard Version called, “Marks of the True Christian.” Then the Bible goes on, in part, to say: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (vv. 9–14).
Before Christ came into my life, this kind of behavior would never have crossed my mind. When I stepped into that church on that Sabbath day, I needed resocialization. I needed to learn all over again what was really important in life. I not only had to hear about Christ but also needed to see Him and what He had done in other peoples’ lives. That happened in the local church. There is no place on earth as important as the local church. I’ve heard it said that it is the hope of the world. I believe that with all my heart. The local church taught me what it meant to be a man, husband, and father. They taught me how to pray and read my Bible, seeking life change. It would be a place of encouragement and challenge to my way of thinking and living. It was a place where hope was reborn. The church was the very definition of a “safe place.”
We need each other
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to attend church. So many of us have stayed away from gathering together on Sabbath. We thankfully have many church services online. That is a good thing. But may I send up a serious warning to all of us? We all need resocialization, and we need it every week. We need those genuine smiles and, OK, maybe we need hugs too. I know we need each other. We need to be challenged through God’s Word every week. We need to be held accountable through encouragement and prayer. We need to love and respect everyone, beginning with those gray-haired ladies in the church who, so many times through their prayers, kindness, and gentleness, change us hard and bitter men into Christians. Together, we need the local church.