Wednesday, April 18, 2012

#30 The Church

Something has been percolating in my mind recently - and that is the church.  [For use in this blog I mean, "church" to be the visible gathering of believers in the institution of church - while I of course recognize that the church is an invisible body of believers scattered throughout the world.]  Specifically, people's expectation of the church.  What got my mind on this subject were two articles that I recently read - the first from Andrew Sullivan in Newsweek. Here is the link to that article if you are interested:

The other was written by Mark Galli as a response.  Here is his article:

Both of these articles got me thinking heavily.  One of my biggest laments actually can be reflected in both of these articles.  I get saddened by the many who expect the church to be, well, perfect.  They expect that the people of the church will act above reproach in all things.  They expect that the church's kindness, grace, love, and discipline will simply be obvious to all.  And those that feel this way are right about one thing - the church's behavior should be that.  Absolutely.  Lest we forget that Paul's admonition to the Ephesians was, "be imitators of God therefore..."  Jesus Himself said, "Be perfect therefore as my Heavenly Father is perfect...."

Yet, as human beings we have never met that standard.  A cursory examination of the Pauline Epistles showcases that the church was beset with divisions, factions, and envy.  My goodness, if you read 1st Corinthians you see that they had huge sexual immorality problems, discipline problems, and their use of the Sacrament was downright ghastly.

My point in writing all this is simply this - people abandon the institution of church because of failed expectations.  Yet, I do not believe this is a good enough reason to abandon the institution of church.  I simply don't.  Because while we will meet sinners at church - and those sinners will sometimes act out of sin - Jesus has chosen to work through this organism.  It has never failed.  Through the early years, the middle ages, and yes -the 21st century - Jesus works through His church.

What do we believe happens when we go to church?  We meet with God.  He inhabits the praises of His people.  He comes down - He comes down - and with the bread and wine enters into us through His body and blood.  He forgives sins.  He gives us the sweet words of absolution.

When one abandons the church, one abandons the very presence of the people where we are called to exhibit our love of neighbor [and yes, even our love for enemies].  The church is filled with people - sinners -who do dumb things.  And they need forgiveness.

Should the sin of the church appall us?  Absolutely.  It was appalling to Paul - and even more appalling to Jesus.  But should it surprise us?  No.  If your expectation of church is that you can meet with the Lord, praise Him, hear His Word, and receive His Sacrament, then perhaps you will not be disappointed.  But if it is to find people that are so amazingly godly that you see the perfection you so will be consistently disappointed and disillusioned.

Furthermore, I have met many that gave up on the church - only to realize that being a lone ranger Christian really is no better.  Furthermore, if you do leave the church and continue to evangelize, well....then maybe people will want to gather in your home.  Enough gather and you'll have to get some kind of organization.  Don't worry - as soon as you do that you'll get some bitterness, anger, etc....

This is not to excuse the church.  She should be ashamed of her sins - repent - and receive forgiveness.  I should too.  And yes, so should you.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

#29 Failure.  "For we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."  [Romans 3:23]

Well....I have to admit something.  I will not get to 40 devotionals by the time of Easter.  I am at 29 - and there is only a few days left until Easter.  Now, I can tell you this - I will get to forty - but it will be after Easter that I finish.

This fact, and some other things happening in my life have led me to this subject matter - failure.  I must admit something to myself - I, in and of myself, am indeed a failure.  Morally and otherwise.  To quote the  famous Apostle Paul, "I do not understand what I do...the good I want to do I do not do - no the evil I do not want to do, this I end up doing!"  I speak when I should be silent.  I am silent when I should speak.  I find myself too often a failure.

And reading books nowadays concerning righteousness simply makes me feel all the more of a failure.  I read a book the other day where a pastor was writing that he had said a swear word because something fell on his foot - and that sent him into a depressed tailspin for a week.  One swear word.  Now, I am not legitimizing a curse - the Bible is very clear on this subject matter.  We should only speak those things that are fitting the calling we received.  Yet, having said that, if one swear word sent me into a tailspin [and I rightly realize that even things thought are as guilty as those things said] ....well....then I would have crash landed a long time ago.

What I mean by this is that even the books written in Christian bookstores I find do not often address my problem.  They talk about failure - and they talk about what I would consider, "minor" things.  When I talk of failure I talk of pride.  I talk of anger.  I talk about the secret things and motions of the heart that you do not want to share with anyone.  And when it comes to things like this - I am a failure.  I too often find myself always looking at things and how they affect me personally instead of how they affect my neighbor.  I too often find myself quantifying what I do and measuring it against what others' do.  Now, I am smart enough to know how bad this is so I do not often act it out - but inwardly I know that it is there. Inwardly, I know the old man in me is simply itching to get out.  Inwardly, I know I am evil.  I know I am a failure.  I know I can do nothing on my own.

Now, what do I do with this failure?  Do I quit?  Do I run?  Do I hide?  Do I pretend that I am a success - even when I am a failure?  What do I do?   I confess.  I admit.  I readily acknowledge.  And then I lay the load of dreck that is mine and lay it at the foot of the cross.

Maundy Thursday is coming up.  Good Friday is coming up.  I recently put a BC cartoon on my wall detailing why they call the beating, whipping, flogging, murder of Jesus, "good" friday.  They call it good because He took my place.  It is not lip service from me to say I really do indeed deserve what He took.  I, like the thief that hung next to Jesus on His left can readily admit, "We are receiving our punishment justly...but He is hanging innocent."  I believe this - not only because the Scripture says it - but I truly feel and know that it is so.  I am guilty.  He is innocent.  He took my place.  He is good.  He is victor.  I am failure.

And the joy comes here - He has given me His victory.  This love - this matchless love - is understood by me most when I truly get a glimpse into my soul - recognize what is truly there - and know I am forgiven - because of Good Friday.  Amen.