Why I Believe in the Local Church

This week, in our discussion of church, we’re hearing from a fiend, Robin Lee, at Brighten a Corner. I hope you enjoy her words as much as I did.

The mention of the word “church” makes some (including some of my dearest and most precious friends) feel like this:

DSCN1578

 

When I say, “I get this feeling,” those are not light words with no experience behind them.

I know the imperfection of church.

I AM the imperfection of church.

I have been kicked out of Bible Study (many, many years ago), had places of ministry that were precious to me end (much more recently), and had to repent and apologize more times than I can count in relationships in church.

But in spite of all this, or because of all this, I still believe emphatically in the local church.

I often say that the governing verse of Brighten A Corner is Zephaniah 3:9, “For then I will give the peoples purified lips, That all of them may call on the name of the Lord, to serve Him shoulder to shoulder.” It does not say denomination to denomination OR congregation to congregation, but it says clearly shoulder to shoulder.

823_10200310819160050_1667372954_nThe UNIVERSAL church–Christian to Christian–is supposed to be linked together through a love for Jesus. This Universal Church is often–I TOTALLY get this and I AM this–a horrible example because many are passionate about and focused on many things, and we often come to radically different conclusions on these subjects.

I have said many times, “How can people call themselves Christian and believe _________________.” You can fill in the blank.

I am relatively certain people have said the same thing about me.

I desperately want all of us to learn to connect the dots in life. For a Christian that means connecting the dots of the Bible to the dots of our lives. For all of us it means connecting the dots of our decisions to the dots of our results.

And it is through church that I overcome my natural tendency to be harsh and slowly learn to connect the dots of truth and the dots of grace.

It begins with extending grace to the church I attend, the people in it and the people who lead it.  Church puts into the rhythm of my life the willingness to show up once a week and say, “Okay God, what do you have for me?”

My part is to be open and show up.

Recently I have reenergized my desire to honor the sabbath. The Fourth Commandment in Exodus says: Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. What I realize as I study this in the Bible and what I am trying to practice is two things…to remember the sabbath means what I do on the sabbath matters. Also, and possibly more importantly, what I do to prepare for sabbath matters.

IMG_6704For those of you struggling for balance, who always feel too busy, I ask you: Do you go to church regularly? If yes, and you still struggle, I exhort you to shift perspective and begin to honor the sabbath. It will help you find peace.

It will set you on the path to abundance.

NOT BECAUSE church people are perfect and every pastor without flaw. That is never. going. to. happen. Yes, church can be one of the loneliest places on the face of the planet, when we are spending our time at church looking around. But if you set aside all the imperfection and show up weekly to say, “God, what do YOU have to teach me today?” Life. Can. Change.

Hard edges can be knocked off. Connections can be found. Peace will come closer.

Perhaps you will have to do an extra load of laundry on Saturday. Maybe you will have to plan your meals a bit better, so that gathering is possible.

Join me in this quest?

I believe in the local church because I believe it is what God has created for me. And because I believe my children’s lives will be richer if they are part of it as well. And because I believe the only way to a life that doesn’t feel spun-crazy-out-of-control is to anchor that life with a holy sabbath built around family, friends, food, fun (we are trying to spend lots of this time outside with our kids) and, YES, church.

Family Fights Fair (But oh does it fight)

IMG_1693

A funny thing has been happening the last couple years. People come up to me and tell me they are envious of our family. They want what we have—namely, the apparent closeness we have with our kids. It’s true—our offspring choose to hang around us. They can often be found having serious conversation with us. We laugh together. A lot.

We do not force this on them. We have not held their tuition bills or their cell phone contract renewals as hostages in filial negotiations. It just happened somewhere along the way. We like each other. We binge watch the same British TV.

IMG_5287

This is quite a jump from a mere ten years ago, when friends (and random strangers) would let me know our kids ought to be the stars of Monkey Thieves, and they had to tell me (as a Christian kindness) that the two oldest would likely end up in the state prison system before they were twenty-five.

And they would probably not even put me on the visitor list.

No one aspired to a family like ours ten years ago. But it appears many do now. What happened?

Most of the time, I smile and thank these people. But sometimes, sometimes, I want to make eye contact, get their attention, and say, “You have no idea.”

Because we fought for this family. Hard. Every member—all five of us—fought like those monkeys for what we have. Hurt happened. Searing pain was forgiven. Those who nearly got left behind were picked up and carried. Sometimes kicking and screaming. Love hung on by its fingernails, and the hard work of repentance and restoration was undertaken.

Implosion averted. But not by much. It took tough slogging by five people in armpit-deep mud to pull it all out.

And now we look (and are) so happy to be together. We take genuine, deep joy in one another. It came at a price, because genuine deep joy always does.

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 11.18.17 AM

That’s what I sometimes want to tell people who want the joy but don’t really want the struggle. You don’t become real family until you’ve been through that mud and come out of it with no man left behind.

Church is the same way. In case you didn’t know I was getting to that.

  • 28% of people surveyed leave a church because they don’t feel “fed” spiritually.
  • 21% go because they don’t feel connected.
  • 20% look elsewhere because they don’t believe they are doing meaningful work.
  • 30% don’t like the leadership or other members.
  • 42% leave because another church appears more attractive.

Hear me on this—there are valid reasons to leave a church. Churches that cause pain are prevalent, and too often collective repentance is not. However—this list implies we are thinking along a fault line. Our criteria list for remaining a part of a family is not about the family at all. It is about us. Our reasons point to personal fulfillment as the goal of churchgoing. We have lost the notion that gathering is for the purpose of supporting, empowering, and growing the family.

We are not willing to slog through the mud to fight for our family. Yet we still want the smiling picture in the hallway.

Fighting for our family is countercultural. We live in a culture that accepts relationships as functional props rather than permanent pillars in our lives. When one’s optimal use is over? We move on. We unfriend. We go shopping for new family as easily as we shop for a new purse. The old has lost its use to us. Or maybe its attractiveness.

Fighting has to be a new word in our vocabulary. A new concept in our retinue.

Why do we fight? We fight because we see what we’re fighting for. We know the end we’ve been promised.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7.9)

A family together, from every nationality, language, color, political party, and denomination. Can you put that picture in your mind’s eye—the tapestry of beauty God will see surrounding His throne? It’s what He wants to see. It’s what He will see. But He would prefer to see it now, as a sort of prequel.

Like Star Wars and The Hobbit, the prequel will not be nearly as awesome as what it leads up to. Nevertheless, it’s worth blowing the budget on, in this case.

Because we know what will be, we fight for what can be. We get down in the mud and muck and go through, not around. It’s much easier to go around, but it does not create a family.

How does a family fight?

A family looks you in the eye and promises not to give up on you.

A family pledges to do whatever it takes to get you through.

A family refuses to let personal annoyances, arguments, or offenses keep them from standing side by side in kingdom work.

A family says I will sacrifice, I will swallow offense, I will agree to disagree, I will see your heart and your burdens before I see your mistakes. I will always give you the benefit of the doubt.

I will love you as I would love myself.

Even if it means mud and blood and tears. Jesus is well-acquainted with all three.

One thing more. The world will notice a family like that. 

dreams, diplomas, and shenanigans

One more replay. Since I am busily beginning my own schooling again (a doctorate that will require a residency in June), and since it’s graduation season, I thought you or someone in your life could use some words for a graduate. Here were mine, two years ago.

 

Our family celebrated a first yesterday. Child #2 graduated from college—our first college grad. 
 
In a blindingly short time, child #3 will pack up and begin her college years. 
 
I have enjoyed having a kid at college a ten-minute drive away, and it is completely not cool that Child #3 is not being as cooperative. Not cool—but it is right.
 
Yesterday we watched that raven-haired toddler with the adorable curls and the insatiable need to take things apart stand tall and accept her diploma—a paper validating her need to explore, take apart ideas, and put together her own worldview. 
 
There have been bumps, bridges, tears, and peals of laughter on the journey of this young woman becoming a force to be reckoned with. I can’t think of one thing I would add to make the person I saw cross the stage better. Time, experience, and God will do their work in refining her. But at this moment, there are not many a-few-days-shy-of-twenty-two-year-old women like her. At least, that’s my personal belief.
 
So on the day after your college graduation, Thing 2 (aka Shenanigan girl), here is what your mother wishes for you:
 
  • I want for you a joy in being independent and loving the life you create with God. Maybe Prince Charming will walk in, and maybe he won’t. Either way, make a life you love. Look forward to what you can do, not backward to what you didn’t get.

  • I want for you a simple life that knows it isn’t the things but the experience. It will be so difficult, especially if you join the suburban-house-with-kids merry-go-round, to keep that focus. Resist the urge to be like everyone else and have all that they have and do all they do. They do not have it all.

 

  • I want for you a recognition every day that time is fast and people grow up or disappear from your life. Don’t be so busy you forget that. Don’t watch kids grow up or parents get old or friends move away while you’re concentrating on cleaning a house or forwarding a career. There is always time for people.

 

 
  • I want for you the joy of being a mom. Plus, I want to get my revenge for all the kitchen cooking “projects” and grocery store meltdowns. But if that doesn’t happen, I want the joy of throwing yourself into the lives of other children who need someone like you. The willingness to forget caution and toss unconditional love at someone who hasn’t experienced it. You’ll get hurt. All lovers do. Just do it anyway.

 

 

  • I want for you a quiet faith that there is One who loves you beyond what even I can do, and He has your life and your heart in his hand. I want this bedrock to be your refuge no matter what life throws at you. I want it to be your launching pad to venture out into the scary world and do whatever it is He calls you to do. I want it to be your first thought on waking and your last thought on going to sleep. Jesus loves me. This I know. With that, you can do anything.

 


Not bad for a kid who still, technically, does not have a high school diploma.