The other night I was in a bar with a group of my high school classmates celebrating 25 years since we graduated. We gave hugs and caught up and talked about things we remembered from years ago and after a while, an old friend crossed over the room to me and asked me a question: "You go to Lakeland, don't you?"
Lakeland (or, Lakeland Community Church, as it's more formally known) is where I physically go to worship Christ each and every Sunday.
I grew up on Sunday School and bedtime prayers and I knew there was a God in heaven that just had to have been awfully disappointed in me because I never did seem to get things just right. I was way too sensitive and argued back way too much. But I knew that if people got really sick or really scared you could pray.
What I didn't know was this God I had heard so much about was actually one of my greatest fans - I just couldn't wrap my head around it. There were so many better people in the world than me - people who let puppies lick their faces and who generously donated homemade baked goods to every sale; people who eagerly awoke in the early morning light and sipped coffee while reading their Bible before heading off to volunteer at the local old folks home. I wasn't any of that - I'm still not, and probably never will be -- but I learned that God loves me anyway.
This friend and I talked in a bar about God and church. She's seen my Facebook posts and started going to the early service. (Which means I'll never see her because I'm a late service gal.) And when one of our other friends asked what it was about this particular church, she thought about it for a minute before explaining, "I don't know.... I like the music and I feel good when I leave."
I thought about how I started going to Lakeland... numb, confused, grieving... full of a sorrow so thick and heavy I didn't think I'd ever work my way out. I would come in and sit not even knowing why I was there exactly, just that I needed to be somewhere and hoping I wouldn't feel worse when I left.
It was the music that got me. Maybe more correctly a voice. I had heard people sing church songs before but I had never heard someone worship Jesus while letting a bunch of people watch as they did it. There was a pureness I had never experienced before.
The sermons I heard were ones that tugged at my soul: fear, restoration, prayer, attracting heaven. Words that explained, helped make sense and calmed me.
And more than that I saw an example being lived out in front of me about what a relationship with Christ looks like. And that included the fact that not a single person in that entire church judged me. Not a single one.
I went to a church and sat in a chair and when I left, I felt full, hopeful, renewed, refreshed and unspeakably loved by Christ.
I want everyone in my life to experience a love without judgement. A love that has no strings and no conditions. Just love being showered on them simply because they are loved.
I want the people in my community to be less worried about whether or not church is for them and more interested in finding out who this Jesus guy is.
I want the people who sit in my church to not give a rip about what others are wearing but instead take the time to smile, say hello and make someone feel welcome and encourage them to come back.
Lakeland Church is responding to a need in Walworth County in an exciting way. At 9:15 am on Sundays you're invited to meet Jesus at the old Belfry Theatre (just down the road from Lakeland's big church building.)
The Belfry is a super cool, historic site that's warm and inviting. And there's a worship band and coffee and people who overflow in their faith. Their love and compassion is contagious.
And you don't have to wear fancy shoes or know where every book in the Bible is found. And you don't need to quote scripture or sing old hymns from memory. All you need to do is come and sit.... just like I did. Because, trust me, God will do the rest.
For more information: follow Lakeland - Belfry on Facebook.