Home At Last

Home At Last

In more than five years of looking for a Church family, I have seen every form of doctrinal rot, stained-glass masquerade, neglect (if not outright ostracism) of those in dire need of encouragement and worse. I’ll be honest. I despaired of ever finding a group of people who could honestly look me in the eye and say, “You’re not perfect, I’m not perfect, and to pretend otherwise robs Jesus of His glory in covering our brokenness. So, let’s be broken together, and lean, together, on Jesus.”

My search is over.

Lanier Hills Church – Duckett Mill Campus is truly the perfect church for people who aren’t.

That motto greeted me on a sign as we drove onto the campus for the first time, some four months ago. I did the Spock eyebrow and wondered if it could be true. I was, I admit, completely skeptical, but we’d been invited by a guy I had already decided I liked, and who, if he was comfortable here, was at least a signal I wouldn’t be theologically incompatible with the doctrine preached. (Bud Harris) We walked in with the kids, and were immediately greeted, warmly. The children’s director was nowhere to be found, but no matter, whomever was at hand was happy to guide us. It seemed a little scattered and hectic, but there were self-deprecating smiles and an obvious joy flowing from those who helped. I began to think, “these people don’t really do ‘high-church’ very well… this is a good sign.”

We settled in for the service. The music was enthusiastic and fervent, if a little different from what I normally enjoy. That might have bothered me more in the past, but I’ve grown up a little, and I was determined not to let it get in the way of worship for me. (It’s since grown on me quite a lot, to the point that I’ve joined the worship team to play Guitar/Bass and sing in the choir, but I get ahead of myself.)

Sermon time. This, generally, has been my Achilles heel, my stumbling block. I have a history of being ‘that guy’ who nitpicks sermons and wants to be sort of a doctrinal policeman, bulldogging the details. I had a definite tendency to turn my nose up at sermons whose content did not closely match my own theological leanings. That morning at the end of November I made a conscious effort to listen with an open mind, praying for God to give me His wisdom and patience, to listen with His ears and let me hear what He wanted me to hear.

God answers prayer, let me tell you.

Randall Popham is not a scholar of infinite, God-granted depth like John Piper. Nor is he Charles Spurgeon, an orator of limitless talent, able to spin phrases that capture the imagination and ignite the senses with flawless aplomb. I learned something that morning that to this day humbles me and shames me when I think back to my past behavior. One does not need to be either of those extremes in order to be an effective communicator of the Gospel, a shepherd of God’s church. Randall is the perfect pastor for this church because he shines the truth of that motto with every sermon, every phrase that comes out of his mouth. His brokenness is on display for all to see, and what struck me like lightning that morning was that the church loves this man despite (because of?) his flaws. He has an obvious, naked reliance on Jesus for every aspect of his ministry, and I find that so inspiring I really don’t even know how to relate it. I love that guy. He is one of my newer heroes. I grow more and more fond of him both as a pastor and a person every Sunday.

While I listened to that first sermon, I went from skepticism to disbelief and then astonished joy. It was, and is, true. It is the perfect church for people who aren’t; not because we deny the existence of sin or hide its consequences, or because we just declare unilaterally that “we’re all okay” despite our brokenness… but because there is a sense of freedom in this body of believers, that I can BE broken and healing, and lean on Jesus with the rest of them. I won’t be shunned. I won’t be thought less a man or ostracized, unable to make friends. On the contrary, I’m making them at a frightening rate, because everyone I meet seems to not care about my typical Bible Geek or Cool-Guy masks, but the real, actual guy I am underneath. If you don’t want to believe just MY opinion, take it from my wife, Karri. She has NEVER flet comfortable in a church before Lanier Hills. Ever. She is timid around large crowds and has social anxiety problems due to past abuse. As we drove away that first Sunday (and I sat in stunned silence in the driver’s seat), she said, “I REALLY enjoyed that. I’m REALLY looking forward to hearing next Sunday’s message!”

There IS no stained-glass masquerade here, folks. Everything you see is real. When we raise our hands in worship, it’s fervent and authentic. When we pray aloud before others, it’s halting and unrehearsed, just like we all pray behind closed doors. Things can often be disorganized and ad hoc, as if nobody really has the whole “church” thing completely figured out just yet. It’s okay, though, because a moment’s patient observation will reveal the joyous spirit that is the foundation of every ounce of service undertaken. The Holy Spirit is alive and active here in ways I have never before encountered.

So you who hurt, who bleed for your sins; you, who believe yourself unlovable and unworthy of salvation, let me invite you. Come to our church and let us share the love of Jesus with you. It’s a love that frees us from shame, from a need to hide our scars, our wounds. Let us reflect the love of Jesus on you, though we may do it imperfectly. We are, after all, just as broken and an in need of a savior as you, and that need never goes away, even on our best days.

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