What shall we do with the church?

Posted: September 7, 2020 in Uncategorized

To listen instead…

Belong. It’s such a deep and primal word. We all resonate with the desire to belong. We all have a longing for a home and a sense of belonging. We are creatures made to belong. I find it so interesting that Jesus responded to a man trying to sign up to follow Him with these words:

Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. (Matt. 8:20)

Creation yearns for nests and home – but Jesus (and therefore those who journey with him) gave up those rights and desires so core to who I am as a human. Carrie loves to make her home into a nest wherever she is; and she loves the concept of a cozy safe place to weather the storms of life. To willingly lay that down feels like one of the biggest sacrifices I could make. 

It’s not just physical homes and nests we long for – we also yearn for permanent and cozy relational homes. Indeed, God Himself has said,

It is not good for man to be alone. (Gen. 2:18)

This is a core and right and valid desire, to have meaningful human connection. Our initial means of finding that is through family – but due to sin’s effects many families become sources of hurt, lies, and unfaithfulness. Many families fracture.

They say, “blood’s thicker than water,” meaning family has your highest loyalty. But Jesus did not consider his biological family his true family. When informed that they were outside asking for him, he replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” He then pointed to the disciples around him, saying,

Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my mother and sister and brothers. (Matt. 12:48-9)

“Well then!!” Our hearts rise up with fresh hope. “If not my biological family, then my church family!!” We think, “I can find home and safety within the figurative walls of a church community!” And then we seek out a church family where we feel loved and safe, and attempt to build our nest there…

But we eventually discover the truth that the other people that make up the church are often as flawed as we are! Church families, like our biological families, are imperfect gifts. They are gifts. But they are imperfect.

Unmet expectations are the source of most disappointment. This is one reason so many people drift from participation in everyday, run-of-the-mill churches. These “de-churched saints” are filled to the brim with hurt and disappointment precisely because they had high expectations for the church.

To effectively crush people with despair you must first raise their hopes as high as you possibly can, and nobody does that better than charismatic churches, because we Spirit-filled believers actually think we have all the power of the resurrection available NOW. That opens up so many possibilities. And opportunities for despair when it doesn’t happen like we prayed. “THIS CHURCH was going to be my source of life and love…THIS CHURCH was going to complete me. But it didn’t.” And in the aftermath cynicism with the entire enterprise of doing life together is a profoundly alluring conclusion. “What good is ANY church? Nothing but pain and social obligation.”

Here are two true statements.

#1. Nobody has hurt me like the church.

#2. Nobody has loved me like the church.

What do you do with that?

Hebrews 11 says that we believers live in this world as strangers in a foreign country, as heirs of a promise who welcome those promises from a distance. It says, 

People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own…longing for a better country – a heavenly one.

There it is again, the longing for a home that comes from our very core, our very marrow. We will get there…but not yet. It goes on to say,

Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace Jesus bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. 

Here we have no lasting city. And yet…our hearts cry out within us – “But why not the church?! Isn’t the church to be a microcosm of heaven, filled with life and power and love, where we can find safety and peace?” To that I would say, “Yes. And sometimes she is. Sometimes she is.”

John 17. I have been fascinated with Jesus’ prayers for the church, prayed in those intense hours in the garden of Gethsemane, because his dream and prayer for what the church can and should be seems so far from who the church has been, riddled with strife and fracture by resentments.

I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)

This is Jesus’ heart for the church; that the unity and love among us would make us a revelation of God’s love to the world. When I pair that prayer with my experience I feel baffled as to how we fall so short. We bite and devour one another publicly, doing the work of the devil as the world looks on, shaking their heads in derision, and rightly so. Like Romans 2:24 says, “God’s name is blasphemed among the nations”…because of us.

And yet. This prayer of Jesus remains, while it is still called “Today.” So let’s not harden our hearts to it, this thing called “the church” and her elusive calling. So how do we put her in her rightful place in our affections and avoid the jadedness and cynicism that seeks to sweep us away from her in a wave of derision and scorn?

So what shall we do?

  1. Pray to see the church the way Jesus does. Return to the truth that despite her many flaws, the church is the single greatest treasure of Jesus, and is essential to his purposes in the world. The church, indwelt by Christ himself, is plan A and there is no plan B. Ask the Father to give you His love for her, and view her how He views her, as is spelled out in Scripture, as his beloved bride. Ask for forgiveness as to how you have been part of those flaws yourself.
  1. Don’t naively expect church to be a pain-free zone. When Jesus called Paul to come serve the church, the invitation was, “I will show you how much you must suffer for my name (Acts 9:16).” That, my friends, is the calling. Death at work in you so that life can be at work through you to others (2 Cor 4:12). Expect that, and stop looking to the church to be the warm hot tub of comfort. She’s a boot camp where the expansive love of Jesus often puts us face to face with the people we like the least. It’s a school where our sin is exposed so it can be put to death, and we can come more fully to life.
  1. Learn the joy of fellowship with Jesus in the hard things. Jesus tells us that suffering in the path of obedience is our calling. It is how we are formed and shaped into Christ’s image, as we learn not just to surrender to the Father, but to do so with joy! The writers of the New Testament, over and over calls us to (outlandishly, absurdly) REJOICE in our trials and suffering and pain, not because we’re masochistic but because we have the certainty of knowing we are becoming more like Jesus through those very things as they are surrendered to Him, and as we are freed from needing to be loved and released into becoming love. Indeed, conflict and pain flushes out and reveals the idols of our hearts which stand in opposition to truth. Every pain is an opportunity for new life and deeper joy.
  1. Knowing that we all commit sin against each other, consider what practices we need to build into our lives to counteract it with God’s grace.

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (Hebrews 12:15 ESV).

We must not continue to allow our enemy opportunity to sow offense and bitterness, which reap destruction in the believer and in the body. Instead we must…

  1. Go to the person that has offended us as soon as we realize we are holding onto hurt or offense.
  2. Be vulnerable and don’t attack. Be vulnerable about how you are experiencing them, but DO NOT attack, label, or judge what is going on inside of them. Our vulnerability does not guarantee that they will respond as we wish, but it does keep us in the place of openness to hear their heart without judgement of their motivations and intents, which Scripture tells us are not ours to know, but God’s.
  3. Forgive from the heart, as the Lord forgave you.
  4. Draw healthy boundaries without rudeness or judgment. Sometimes relationships don’t work out like we hope, and resolution and reconciliation are elusive. Surrender the person and the situation and your feelings about it to God and measure your words about the situation to be those that don’t damage the forward spread of the gospel. (Obviously, if the person with whom you have issues is a physical or predatory danger to others, you are required by law to let the appropriate people know – I’m simply speaking of normal human conflict.)
  1. Renounce ownership of yourself and your life. “You are not your own. You were bought at a price (1 Cor 6:19-20).” We have laid down our rights when we follow Jesus. We lay down the right to be treated fairly, and our calling is to bless and not curse no matter the circumstances. We recognize that our hope is not in an earthly dwelling or group, but in Jesus, who wants us to love those around us well. Take this attitude toward people, “They aren’t here to love me; I’m here to love THEM. All my love needs are met in Jesus so I have an overflow! They might not.” We have laid down our rights to be loved well and justly, and we seek to love well and be just in our dealings with others. This perspective requires a realignment of our naturally self-centered and self-focused thinking and processing. It’s not natural, it’s supernatural.
  1. Repent. Jesus’ heart for the church is that she radiates unity and love, so the world will recognize that he’s real and he’s Lord. For that to happen, we need our eyes opened, and our hearts softened. We need Jesus. Not they. We. Jesus wants to save Christians. Not those Christians. This one. Me. Say it with me, ME.

I have sinned. I need to change. I need a softer heart. I need more love. I need the grace and strength to do what I have left undone and to stop doing what I should not.

  1. LOVE is our goal. Let’s realize that we love God as much as the person we love the least. If we’re willing to let go of our self-justifications and allow the Holy Spirit to show us our hearts, I suspect divine love will set us on a path of forgiveness every time, and reconciliation whenever possible.
  1. Commit. Be willing to lay your life down for God’s Bride, because Jesus did. Paul and others followed suit. You and I have the privilege of spending our lives to make her more glorious than we found her. The price may be high, but the payoff is far higher.

More on this next time…

But for now let me just finish by asking you three questions.

  1. How do YOU feel about Jesus’ bride, the church?
  2. How does Jesus feel about his bride?
  3. How do you think Jesus feels about how you feel about his bride?

Risky business

Posted: June 18, 2020 in Uncategorized

Jesus has called us to give away to others what we have come to know in our relationship with him…this is risky. The temptation is to “bury the talent.”

Gospel Community

Posted: June 11, 2020 in Uncategorized

“God, if that’s what it means to follow You, I want no part of it.”

1700 years ago a pastor named Augustine saw something I bet you and I also experience: people can disappoint us to the point of wanting to throw away our faith.

Biblical Forgiveness

Posted: June 4, 2020 in Uncategorized

Why he talked funny

Posted: May 31, 2020 in Uncategorized

A guitar post for a change

Posted: May 29, 2020 in Uncategorized