God’s Grace-Challenged Children

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When author and pastor Rob Bell was a teenager, he and his family attended a church service in a town they were visiting.
At the end of the service, they experienced a drama that is played out in a number of conservative congregations.  The pastor invited those present to make a first-time commitment to Christ.
He announced that if people repeated the prayer he was about to pray, they could be assured that heaven would be their eternal destination.  They wouldn’t end up in hell.  The pastor instructed everyone present to close their eyes.  He alone would look around the room.  He invited people to silently echo the salvation prayer that he offered.  Then he asked those who had just become Christians to raise their hands.
The pastor said, “I see that hand over there.  Thank you.  I see a hand in the back.  I see some young women in the front…”
Rob Bell’s eyes, however, were open the whole time.  He looked around the room.  Not one hand was in the air. 
Years later, Rob’s dad acknowledged that his eyes were open, too.  But he wasn’t watching the pastor, and he wasn’t watching for raised hands.  He was watching Rob.  Knowing the deception that was taking place in the name of Jesus, all he could think was, I’ve lost Rob, I’ve lost Rob.  He’s going to walk away from God because of moments like this.
Author and pastor Eugene Peterson remembers some Sunday morning happenings that also made him sigh deeply.
He was genuinely surprised to discover that some people just can’t stay awake past the first hymn.  An angry teenage boy, sitting apart from his parents, used to sit on the back pew every week and read comic books.  One of the men in the choir routinely passed stock tips and exchanged whispers with another choir member. 
“One woman gave me hope,” Peterson recalls in his book Christ Plays in 10,000 Places.  “She brought a stenographic notebook with her every Sunday and wrote down in shorthand everything I said.  At least one person was paying attention.  Then I learned that she was getting ready to leave her husband and was using the hour of worship to practice her shorthand so she could get a self-supporting job.” 
The amazing thing is that Peterson never gave up on the church.  And Bell never walked away from God. 
There will always be reasons to do both. 
It’s disturbingly easy to find spiritual leaders who aren’t on the level.  And we don’t have to look very far to find worship attenders whose lives seem unaffected by the God they claim to serve.   
At some point every spiritual searcher has to make a crucial decision – whether or not they will judge their Heavenly Father by some of his grace-challenged, integrity-defying, Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder children.  If we are always in the company of people who fall so miserably short, how can we ever get to know God?
The only way to get to know God is to get to know God.  Personally.  Prayerfully.  Patiently. 
Jesus promises that if we ask, seek, and knock, we will ultimately receive, find, and watch as the door of understanding swings open. 
And along the way we’ll discover that each of us, alarmingly, has always been numbered among those who fall miserably short.
And that God loves us anyway.