Wednesday, July 24, 2013
LET'S TALK CHURCH
(She said goodbye to her sweet little kids Sunday School Class this past Sunday! She will miss those little boogers.) She and her husband have been active, vital members of their church here in Tulsa. Their pastor is grieving this loss!
Church! The subject comes up regularly, with all kinds of friends, not necessarily those moving out of the area. Sometimes people just want to talk "church" with me. I listen and learn much.
Some of our friends are deliriously happy at their church, others struggling, some not attending anymore for all kinds of reasons. I understand the range of emotions on display during this type of discussion. There are SO many interesting stories of people and their church history.
Because I/we have been members of 12 different churches in several different cities as we've moved around the past 40 years. I, of course, have an opinion!
I think we have just about seen it ALL!
Here's my take:
In the purest sense, the TRUE Christian church (many denominations) is formed by a group of individuals that believe Jesus is the Son of God, Deity on earth, the Holy One that willingly sacrificed Himself for the sins of the world and that HE alone is the bridge between sinful man and the Holy God. They believe HE alone gives power, comfort, guidance and joy now and that after their physical death they will be united with Him and other believers eternally. They meet together, pray together, worship, forgive, and sacrifice much for the well being of their fellow believers and mankind. In other words, they offer grace and help wherever needed as Jesus would. They study the Bible, believing it is the inerrant living Word of the Creator and Sovereign God. They humbly admit mistakes, realize their own tendencies to take things into their own hands, make apologies and tell the truth in love. They realize the holiness of God but also their own sinfulness. Yes, believers are forgiven and delivered from the power of sin, yet still acutely aware of it's presence in their own dark thougths, words and deeds.
God in HIS perfect wisdom has placed true believers in EVERY church, every one that teaches these important doctrines anyway.
Sounds perfect, doesn't it? All loving and kind, focused and grace-filled.
So what's the problem and source of many conversations?
Well, along with those people that embrace and live the doctrines listed above are those that CLAIM the title of Christian as well, claim being the operative word. So many folks heard someone say that ALL they need to do is whisper a few prescribed words, shake hands with the preacher, be baptized, pray every day at 5:30 a.m., ry to lead a good life, put a little money into the offering plate, go to church EVERY Sunday for years and host a visiting missionary that happens to come to town. (All those things are wonderful, but the MAIN ELEMENT is missing.)
The whole issue is not even their fault, for SOMEONE told them that's what its' all about! Just say the prayer and you're IN!
Those folks BELIEVE the lie ("just repeat these words after me") and call themselves Christian but truly are not! They sit in the same pews, sing the same songs and smile the same smile. They look just like those of the REAL DEAL on Sundays! (Important reminder: No one can see inside the heart of anyone, you know, nor should we presume to try!) When a conflict arises (usually not of eternal value) these folks are the most vocal, the most judgemental, the most unkind, the most demanding! A haughty spirit rears it's ugly head and terrible things are said and done. (I hate to put it in print BUT, the greatest mission field is the church pew.)
When those folks AND the true Christians are put in a gunny sack together, anything is possible!! It's worse than a sack full of cats on their way to the river.
They sometimes try to communicate, unsuccessfully, because usually no one is listening!
I believe and have it written on my eyelids, "I and everyone else is capable of any type of sin given the right set of circumstances."
Things happen all the time that challenge the sweetest believer's ability to forgive.
We have seen every imaginable and unimaginable scenario in those 12 different churches. We have seen fabulous, life changing events as a result of faith. We have witnessed marriages healed, relationships restored, unspeakable joy and shared grief. But we have also seen terrible devastation as cruelty has left people in it's dust. (Have you heard the true story of the Texas deacon that got into an argument with the pastor and SHOT HIM? DEAD!)
When things are going fine, the church can be the finest place in the world to be. When things are awry it can be simply dreadful!
Some folks say that the church is critical in a person's life because of the support of the people, the friendships, the work that can be done when arms are joined. All that is true!! BUT....you know, deep friendships and support can be developed at the local bar, shared tragedies, the workplace, and the center of a common cause as well.
I'm writing to say that attending, belonging and supporting a local church body is a WONDERFUL experience (and commanded by God) but the heartbeat of the congregation MUST BE all about God, knowing, loving and obeying Him. Trouble, hurt feelings and deep-seated pain happens when people go to their local church meetings expecting people to be HOLY, and expecting GOD to be the one out to "get them." I'm calling that "backwards theology."
Only God is HOLY and PERFECT. People are not! And in spite of all good intentions, ALL people make mistakes either intentionally or by sheer ignorance.
There is a line in an old hymn, "I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name."
Love people, yes....Love God, more! Then and only then will you love ALL people for whom He died.
Jesus thinks the church is very important. It is called HIS BRIDE. Sometimes the bride is bloodied and wears a tattered gown, barely alive from all the skirmishes.
BUT, we can't dismiss it. Rather than blame the hypocrites (of which there are many) we must admit we get hurt when WE focus on the wrong PERSON. Perfection is WAY too much pressure to put on any mere mortal!
I/we need to adjust our vision and expectations from time to time.
God is the only ONE that is ETERNALLY FAITHFUL, KIND AND TRUE!
Sometimes it's very hard, but we must give people a break and forgive.
I've read that "unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die."
Another hymn, "Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart."
God, help us forgive, have mercy upon us.