Tag Archives: Church

A Love-Hate Relationship With the Church

17 Sep

There are some things I have a love-hate relationship with.  For example, I really love to eat pizza and ice cream, but I hate what they do to my thighs.  I really hate vacuuming my house, but I love the way it looks when I’m all done.  I think those instances are fairly typical, and not especially problematic for my life with Jesus.  However, there are some “love-hate” relationships that I’m finding God is less okay with.  One such relationship is with the church.

 

Everywhere I look, I encounter yet another critique of the American church.  In fact, I can’t discuss the church with anyone without hearing about how off-course we’ve gotten. And believe me, it isn’t just the “other people” who are guilty of this.  I have just as many complaints about North American Christianity as the next post-modern.   Sometimes I feel like my entire generation is overwhelmed with an intense sense of dissatisfaction with the church.  More often than not, I share in that dissatisfaction.  The church in American is overrun with consumerism, nationalism, and sin.  Our reputation with people outside the faith is terrible, but not for the reasons it ought to be.  Early Christians were despised by the ruling populace because they advocated a way of life which went against the forces of empire at every turn.  Somewhere along the way, sadly, Christianity took hold of the empire, so that the two have become inseparable.  The world no longer hates us because we refuse to worship Caesar, advocate peace over war, or fight for the humane treatment of the marginalized.  The world hates us because we’re pushy in the political realm, homophobic, judgmental, hypocritical, and old-fashioned (this information was taken from Unchristian by David Kinnimen and the Barna Group).  As an “insider,” I have been deeply discouraged (and often frustrated) by the lack of discipleship and mission within our churches- not to mention the inordinate amount hatefulness that can be unleashed when conflict arises.

 

All over North America, believers are calling out in the prophetic voice, and naming the sins of the Church.  I thank God for such prophets because these messages are necessary for the sanctification of the church.  However, I’m beginning to sense that this generation of prophets (of which I feel apart), is also treading in dangerous waters.   We’re on the precipice of doing great harm to the body of Christ.  You see, all this sin-naming has fostered more than a righteous anger or holy discontent.

 

I think it’s making us love the church less.

 

To be clear, I get it.  I get the frustration and the dissatisfaction.  I also long to be part of a community that reflects Scripture in every way.  But calling out all the ways the church fails, isn’t enough to precipitate change. After all, the dissatisfaction of other people (many of whom look, dress and worship differently) is rarely sufficient motivation to evaluate or change our own ways.  Thus, we aren’t going to change the church, unless we give people a good reason to.  Those of us in leadership are going to have to step up and show people what church can be.  Yes, we must name the sins.  BUT it is equally imperative that we present another way of life- where the church is fully surrendered to the love of God and fellow humans. 

 

In order to do that, we have to be surrendered to God’s love ourselves.  That means we have to love- and I mean REALLY love -the church, regardless of how messy it is right now.  After all, how much grace and mercy does God extend to each of us in our messy walk with him?  God’s grace in my life isn’t even quantifiable, and so I suspect that our grace towards those in the church should be just as long-suffering. 

I know, first-hand, that this kind of love is ridiculously difficult.  But I also know that loving the poor, the addicted, the imprisoned, the atheist, and the terrorists isn’t enough. 

 

We also have to love the people of God who don’t seem to get what God is all about.

 

We have to love the cranky person who calls every Monday to complain about the sermon, the bulletin, the song choices, the temperature, or the color of the carpet.

 

We have to love the missions committee who would never dream of stepping foot inside a homeless shelter.

 

We have to love the people who think contemporary music is just entertainment, along with those who think hymns are outdated.

 

We have to love the republican who questions the salvation of democrats, and the democrat who thinks republicans are all fascists.

 

We have to love the people whose addiction is alcohol, or porn, or shopping, or gossip- because we know all addictions are an attempt to fill voids which God has yet to be welcomed into.

 

We have to love the church, despite its immense flaws, because that’s the way God loves us.  The body of Christ is sick.  We’ve lost our way, and we’re in serious danger of completely losing sight of the radical discipleship to which Jesus has called us.  But the church will never change unless we give her something more than a bad report card or an angry blog post.  We’ve got to love her, sin and all.  And in that love we will convey a message- a call- to another way of life; where Jesus is Lord and we are all more like him.

God Gets His Hands Dirty

7 Mar

I’m going to break from my typical posts on biblical womanhood.  Instead, I’d like to make some reflections from the sermon I gave last week.  Our text was Mark 7:31-37.  I also need to credit the president of Asbury Theological Seminary.  He preached a sermon on this text, which significantly shaped my understanding of it.  To be honest, if it were ethical to plagiarize all of Dr. T’s sermons I would do it.  You can find his messages on iTunes through Asbury Theological Seminary’s chapel uploads.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.  They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.  He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.  Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

This text depicts Jesus healing in a way that is a tad unusual.  In other texts Jesus is shown healing with a simple touch or even a word.  Yet in this passage, Jesus sticks his fingers in a man’s ears, and puts his spit on the man’s tongue.  I’m not going to lie- that’s a little gross.  Why did Jesus do that?  Why did Jesus choose to heal in such a way?  As Dr. Tennent says, this little question begs a larger one.  Why did Jesus come at all?  Why did the Lord of heaven leave his throne to be rejected and despised on earth?  Why did the uncreated, creator of everything we see, choose to take the form of a helpless infant, who spent his first hours in a feeding troth?  Why did the Holy God of Israel, choose to walk amongst the broken, the sick, the ignorant, and the depraved?  We can respond by simply saying, “God loves us.”  That is true, but Emmanuel did not come because of some sentimental, happy feeling or attachment.  Jesus came because his desire to love, to redeem, and to heal, is such that he was willing to get his hands dirty in the process.

Healing is a dirty business.  When we care for people, we see things we’d rather not see.  We smell odors we’d prefer to cover up with candles or air fresheners.  Sometimes we touch people who are contagious.  Every good parent gives their sick child a hug- knowing full well Mommy or Daddy will likely be sick next.  Mental and emotional illness presents its own kind of mess.  Consider the counselor who walks through all the muck and mire of memories and circumstance with their patients.  And then there is the minister; who attempts to share God’s healing love and truth amidst the brokenness of this fallen world.  Again, healing is a dirty business.

Yet we see Jesus reaching out to people and reaching into lives over and over again.  This is apparent in practically every healing narrative of the Gospels, but I especially love the passages where Jesus interacts with lepers.  Instead of shunning the “unclean” (and contagious) person, Jesus takes their hands.  He looks over the dead white skin and ignores the putrid smell of rotting flesh.  He offers them healing to be sure, but Jesus also offers the gift of touch.  He proves to them-and to us- that the Living God is willing to get his hands dirty in order to heal us. No illness is too dirty.  No lifestyle is too sordid.  No human being is too far gone to save.

Last week, my preaching professor reminded me that the church fathers interpreted the Parable of the Good Samaritan differently than we do now.  We tend to look at that text and wonder whether we would be like the Samaritan (who loved his neighbor) or like the Levites (who ignored a man in great need).  The church fathers, however, placed themselves in the shoes of the man who was robbed and beaten.  It was Jesus who was the Good Samaritan.

Imagine, if you will, that you were the one lying on the side of the road after being beaten, stripped and robbed of everything you had.   It is Jesus then, who checks your broken body for signs of life.  It is Jesus who chases away the hovering buzzards- impatient for their supper.  It is Jesus who lifts your filthy body, busted and bloody, onto his own animal.  It is Jesus who pays the price for your healing.  The priests and the Levites may have walked by your needy frame- assuming you were nothing but a corpse, but Jesus did no such thing.   He sullied himself with your mess in order to save and to heal.

Our God is willing to get his hands dirty so that we can be healed.

When I ended my sermon, I asked my congregation to consider their own need for healing, because we serve a God who is able and willing to heal in a myriad of ways.  Today I am asking two different questions:

Where does our world need healing? 

Am I willing to partner with God and get my own hands dirty?

Though I consistently fall short, I want to be like Jesus.  I want to be willing to get my hands dirty so that I can be an instrument of God in the healing of this broken world.  That means I cannot shy away from people because their lives are messy.  I can’t turn away from those who seem too broken or too sinful.  I cannot deny the gift of touch to those whom our society has deemed untouchable.  There’s a song which says, “no one too lost for me to love and no one too low for me to serve.”  That’s my heart’s cry this morning, and I pray it will be the heart’s cry of the church.