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So my friend James is a real God Save the Queen Brit. I worked with him at Sea World for 15 years. We were hired the same year. Over the years we had our share of knockdown, drag out, screaming matches. With his accent his arguing points always sound a bit more enlightened. Then in a few days, we’d both get our knickers unstuck and be on about the business of training animals. Though we had more than our fair share of misunderstandings, we also shared a great deal of laughter. I consider him one of the great takeaways of my Sea World career.   He frequently calls and shares a chat with me on his drive home. I always know James is about home, because Facetime shuts off and Siri quietly displays the words “poor connection”.

On the odd occasion when I get to see James again, it’s always with a big hug and grateful heart. He’s one of the most amazing animal trainers you’d ever hope to meet. James also happens to be a carpenter, a barber, a dancer, a pilot, a doting father, and a loving husband to Marie. In the emotional makeup of my life, James is a lifer.   But we’ve experienced a few other “poor connections” over the years.

I remember that there were times James would ask me religious questions. There were times when he stated his opinion about the church. One particular occasion I was eating lunch. I had microwaved my food, sat down at the table and prayed over my meal. When I finished, James looked across the table and said, “Doesn’t He know that your food is getting cold?” I think he then gestured toward the sky. I explained that a 30 second prayer wouldn’t be long enough for my food to go cold. We both had a good laugh over that one.

On another occasion, James begin asking me about my church and what we did for the homeless, the community, etc.. He voiced his opinion that it should be the churches role to help everyone in need. Although I was in complete agreement, I think I went on the defensive for the whole of Christianity. I felt like the church can’t solely be expected to provide everything to everyone. I felt it leaves a wide margin of error for the church to “disappoint” and “disillusion” one more person regarding God.

I am reminded of this conversation with James, because Illuminate Church, my church, is the kind of giving church that James spoke about. Heck, our church even gives out bibles on Sunday if people don’t have one and need one. Our church serves the community and the schools in the community where we are located. We attend homeless food and clothing drives. My church donates a monthly stipend to the ministry that I direct as well. The men and women of Illuminate Church are the hands and feet of God that my friend James was speaking of that day.   Once a year, the women of the church gather together with their friends to collect a bazillion gift cards for a benevolence fund for the following year. One of the ladies at church heads up a coat and shoe drive for impoverished kids up North. When it comes to serving people, we have people chomping at the bit to help.

I have attended this church for the better part of 10 years. What I love the most about the church is that we have a pastor and a pastoral staff that preach the word of God straight from the bible.   You might think, “Don’t all churches do that?” The honest answer would be no. Some are more like bars and restaurants where they cater to what the patrons want. Our church is more like a hospital where the sick come to meet Jesus and those who have been healed or helped are rolling up their sleeves and pitching in to imitate Jesus and be about their Father’s business.

I found hope, healing and community among good Christian men as I was continuing my walk towards Jesus and away from homosexuality. If you have an opinion about church that has kept you away from church, like my friend James, set that aside this week and join us at Illuminate Church. The decision to attend a little church in Celebration, Florida long ago, eventually became a church I have called home for 10 years.

My church is more than just a building. It’s a family of people who make sure that new people don’t feel new very long. My church is a hug and fun fact from my friends Linda and Doug. It’s a word of advice and encouragement from Judy. A worship experience led by people who worship even when they aren’t on stage. We give, so that we can give back. It’s pastors who write their sermons from the bible not from the headlines. It’s a place where Jesus is mentioned frequently and the Holy Spirit is welcome.   If God has been speaking to about church, find ours or start your search for the one nearest to you. Don’t let your emotions cheat you out of what your heart really needs.