Sunday, September 20, 2015

I Love Jesus, but I Don't HATE His Church

Image Source: hermanturnlp on Flicker

I love Jesus, but I don’t hate His Church.  It is popular to hate His Church, but I don’t.  The Church, she is filled with all sorts of fools, failures, and hypocrites, and I am proud to be numbered among them.


I think we expect some form of immediate prosperity when we join the Church. Sadly, we forget that God is doing a work in each and every one of us.  The Church is not a Toys-R-Us and we don’t come in with a high limit credit card.  The Church is the furnace where God does the work of forging His children into Jesus’ likeness.  This is a hard and hot process. 

We talk about the spiritual fire of the soul. You must understand that fire doesn’t come easy.  There is a lot of work and many burns involved with creating a fire. 

In the church we are going to hurt each other.  This is what we will do.  I don’t know why it has to be that way but it is.  We are imperfect and we bump into each other as we try hard to be holy as Jesus Christ is holy. 

My life is scarred by many burns, both perceived and real.  Typically, people seem to burn me the most by seeing no value in me.  When they won’t even give me a chance to do what, I believe, God has created me to do.  And through the past 20 some odd years of my Christian life I have grown in the midst of this crucible called the Church. 

When I was in Jr High and High School I wanted to participate in the direction and mission of my local church.  Being an extremely awkward teen, I did not know how to do that.  I enjoyed youth group but I also wanted to participate in Sunday morning services, and small groups, and church business meetings.  I wanted to matter to this organization that I loved.  The big thing was I wanted to grow in my relationship with God as others did as well.

Even as I, by my darndist effort, tried to develop a deeper spiritual life and be qualified to participate, others’ gifts were more favored.   Frustratingly, those who seemed to be pushed to the fore were often times spiteful gossips, and in other youth groups, drunkards and philanderers.  We held up the ones that looked right on the outside but had no internal relationship or spiritual walk.  I suspected at the time they were lifted up because they had publicly popular and useful gifts. 

Then I went to college.   In college my desire for more spiritual experience burned me quickly to the ground.  It is like trying to build a large fire with several big boxes of matches.  It may be impressive but only for one intense, fiery, moment.  I burned out fast and furious on a sloppy mess of spiritual songs.  Mine was a flame without good fuel. 

I would give all of my kingdom for anyone who would mentor me in that moment.  There was no one to walk with me, to say, "Fire without fuel will kill you. You need a solid understanding that God is the replenishing hard wood to your spiritual flame." 

The youth group concept further betrayed me and it betrayed many of my friends.  Despite its good intentions it emphasized fun over depth.  I saw more spiritual death from the youth group model than I did disciples made.  Those who went out to conquer the world, as I did, had no equipment or training to actually win a battle. And the world claimed the bodies.  

The pain I could have avoided if only a Spirit filled older man had taken me under his wing and told me how to maintain the fire of my soul.  How much time did I waste because I did not understand how to build a good fire? 

Image Source: Maarten Takens on FlickerAfter college, now married, the fire was gone.  My soul was a glowing ember faintly surviving. If not for the patient faith of my wife I would have put out the ember myself.  But, out of blessed obligation I continued to feed this ember. 

Then it happened.  Felix came into my life.  He walked beside me in my lowest moment.  He gave me ownership of the movement called the Church.  He threw small kindling and big logs onto my spiritual fire.  He breathed the breath of the Spirit into my life. 

The fire began to grow.  I learned to love God himself over the idea of God.  I learned what it took to make a useful fire.  You need heat not flame.  To heat metal, so that it can be folded into a proper blade, you need a bed of coals not high flames.  From Felix’s short ministry in my life, I began to build a furnace burning with heat, glowing bright, a fire breathing the wind of the Spirit. 

The road did not get easier.  I am now a pastor and a leader in the Church.  In my past several congregations I learned something important: pain is involved in building a mature fire.  The Church, being filled with broken people, is a great place to find pain.

The problem is that church people try to hide their brokenness. This causes unnecessary pain.  This is why my hurt was so bad in high school, when I was marginalized.  Life hurt because broken people were trying to hide their brokenness (and don’t think that I wasn’t one of them. I was the worst).

I think I see the spiritual life differently now.  I now see my brokenness and pain, and I now see my need for healing.  I see the tremendous wounds I inflicted on others and I see their wounds on me. 

That is why I love the Church, because she is broken, and so am I.  She still hurts me and I her.  But grace was given for just such a brokenness.  We like to say, "Jesus loves, and forgives," without ever acknowledging the pain involved.  He loves us in our brokenness.  Why are we so slow to do the same for each other? 

As a pastor I measure my success not by big programs, dollars in the plate, butts in the pews.  No, I measure my success by how many people see their brokenness for the first time.  Only after the tree falls, and is broken down, is it ready to produce a useful heat. 

I look back on my youth group, and college era wishing things were different.  But I now see my brokenness.  I see the brokenness of others and I love, truly love, those who gave me so much pain. 

Image Source: shehal joseph on FlickerMy pain was redeemed.  The fire of my soul now makes my youthful passions seem like a vapor.  The fire of my soul has never burned so hot.  My hope is that I can teach others how to build a good heat producing fire before their youthful zeal burns out. 

This is why I don’t hate Jesus’ Church, because without the church I would not have Jesus.  Without the painful walk of practiced grace I would not see Jesus healing me.  Without the other people trying to start a flame I would still be in the cold. 

Even though I have been hurt by the church (and I will be hurt by the church again) I love those who hurt me.  Jesus loved the ones who hurt him.  It took me years to forgive the people who wrote me off.  In the long endured pain of the cross I was able to sort my hurt and forgive.  And now my fire burns bright.  I love those who hurt me, and I pray that their fire will burn bright too. 

This world is messy.  To help us sort the mess Jesus gave us His Church.  His Church is a group of hurt, helpless, hapless, hypocrites just trying to figure out how to strike a match.  And I am proud to be counted in their numbers.


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