On Sunday, I witnessed two separate moments that reminded me exactly why we still need the Church.
It wasn’t even my home church. Of course, that doesn’t really matter. I strongly believe in the big “C” Church. The global Church that every Jesus follower belongs to. I love my home church. I have experienced some amazing moments at my church. But yesterday went next level. It had nothing to do with the building, the style of worship, or how well the pastor could speak. These two moments went way deeper than any of that. All I could do was sit back, wipe the tears from my eyes, and think, “Wow. This is what Church is all about.”
What Church is NOT
Before I share these stories with you, let’s do a quick review of a few things that the Church should NOT be about. We’ve all heard the horror stories.
- Church members fighting over the color of the new carpet
- People walking out of church when the music started to play
- Faithful Sunday school members who leave before the main worship service because they don’t care for the pastor.
- Walking past new guests to talk to your friend during the greeting time. (“We’re such a friendly church, here!“)
Those aren’t made up. I have experienced (or been guilty of) each of these. I was in an all-church “town hall” meeting once and church membership was the hot topic. One member stood up with a doggie bag from a local fast food restaurant (Did he really pack his own lunch?) As he approached the head table where the board members were sitting, he pulled a large rock from the bag, placed it on the table, and with all the drama he could muster said, “He who is without sin should cast the first stone!” (Think: Leo Dicaprio in a blockbuster thriller about church board meetings. Michael Bay would direct. Just imagine the sweeping camera angles!)
Yes, there’s a lot we could be sad about when it comes to church. Sometimes, I hold my head in shame over what I see happening today. Yet, I still love the Church because Jesus loves the Church. That is why we need to hear the stories I’m about to share. They remind us why we meet together. They remind us that Jesus is alive and there is still glorious power in the cross. His grace is as fresh and new as it has ever been.
Are you frustrated with the Church? Do you love Jesus but sometimes wonder if we have gotten just a little bit too far off balance? I’m with you. I love the Church and yet, She still frustrates me. She saddens me. When I think about what Jesus had in store for the Church (“The gates of hell will not overcome it.” –Matthew 16:18), I can’t help but wonder if we will ever get there. Will the Church finally be the source of Hope and Grace and Love that God intended for this world?
Based on what I saw Sunday… Yes!
What Church is
Years ago, Bill Hybels said, “The local church is the hope of the world.” I still believe that. When we look at the Church today, especially in the US, that doesn’t seem like a great description, does it?
Hypocritical? Of course.
Close-minded? Not if you see it our way!
But just because we don’t always live up to our expectations, that doesn’t mean there isn’t still potential. With all its brokenness, the Church still operates with the power of Christ at its core. With all that has gone wrong and will go wrong, there is still Hope. There is still Power. There is still Forgiveness. There is still Grace.
If only we would turn our eyes from the temporary cares of this world and allow them to drift to where they naturally wish to gaze: The awesome and holy power of Jesus.
Last Sunday, I had a front row seat to the God-potential of the Church.
In one glorious service, I saw the celebration of three different lives that have been transformed by the loving power of God’s Grace. These are their stories:
Gary and Brandy
I met Gary and Brandy just a few months ago, but we hit it off pretty quickly. Kristen and I had just moved back to Indiana and we were praying about what church to attend. For a few months, we attended a church close to us. Kristen’s niece had sung with the worship band a few times, so we had a small personal connection. We grew to love this church and looked for opportunities to get plugged in. I am a big believer in small groups (spiritual growth takes place in circles not rows! -paraphrase of Andy Stanley), so we started there. We met Gary and Brand during the small group launch. We were grouped together based on our basic life phase. We were all young couples with children. Over the next 6 weeks, we shared life with each other.
While Brandy was the quiet one, Gary would talk for days. I liked him immediately. Nothing was off topic with Gary and nothing was off limits. Again, I liked him immediately. Brandy had more church background than Gary, but that was a long time ago. Over the past several years, God was not on their radar. Gary was honest about the fact that they were living for themselves in every way. Drinking, partying, and surrounding themselves with poor influences simply became a way of life.
One day, Gary and Brandy looked in the eyes of their children and realized something needed to happen. They began to talk about the importance of raising their children in church. But they didn’t act on it. Weeks went by. More conversations, but no action. Brandy tells what happened next, “My grandpa who always talked to us about the importance of attending church was diagnosed with cancer and passed a few weeks later.” It was at that point they knew they couldn’t wait any longer.
Like anything Gary does, he dove in with all he had. They quickly chose a church and attended every week. Soon, he was serving on Sundays and became a lead usher. In our small group, they would tell stories of how their entire life was changing: their marriage, their children, their language, and lifestyle. It wasn’t forced. It was a beautiful transformation that only the grace of Jesus can cause.
On Sunday, I visited our “old” church because Gary and Brandy were being baptized. (Again, we love this church. We simply chose to attend a different church where we have a lot of old friends. Hey, we missed them while we were in Alabama!) Tears came to my eyes as Gary entered the water and showed thousands of people that he was a follower of Jesus. My tears continued as Gary watched his wife do the same.
Brandy told me later, “My dad baptized me. He wore my grandpa’s belt during the baptism so he could be there as well! It was very special and my grandpa would have been ecstatic!” How long had her father prayed for his daughter and her husband? And in this moment, he was able to physically see his prayers answered! (I may start crying in Starbucks as I write this!)
Jesus is alive. God is still at work. And the Church is still the hope of the world.
I knew God had better plans for Chad. I’ve prayed for this boy for years. Chad is the best friend of my brother-in-law. (My brother-best-friend-in-law?) I’ve seen this guy at many a concert as he and Nick were in a small band that had some pretty good local chops. I’ve seen them pack out a few local venues on several occasions, and everyone has a blast at their shows. Chad is a loveable dude. He makes me smile every time I see him. You’d never know how rough his life has actually been. That’s a story he would need to tell you, but it’s been heartbreaking at times.
Chad grew up Jehovah’s Witness. He was born into it. Kristen and I have a few friends that are JW’s and I have to tell you, it’s not an easy thing to leave. Their beliefs run deep. But I knew God was working in Chad’s life. I can’t explain it. I remember having a deep conversation about life a few years ago over pancakes and coffee at Perkins of all places. (Actually, I’ve had a lot of deep conversations at Perkins in my life. I should go there more often.) I remember leaving that night, looking at Kristen in the car and saying, “God’s not done with that boy. I don’t know how. I don’t know when. But Chad is going to turn to Jesus. I hope I’m a part of it.”
Well, I don’t know if I was a part of it, but it happened! Maybe our conversations helped to plant a few seeds. That doesn’t really matter. I don’t need any praise or glory in this story. That all belongs to God. Because it happened. It came true. A year or two ago, Chad made a radical move and trusted in Christ.
Fast forward to Sunday. How does Chad’s story fit in with Gary and Brandy’s? Chad works at their church. I came to church that day to support my friends and celebrate what God had done in their lives. That was incredible. But God is so good, He threw another surprise my way. There is Chad, playing in the worship band. And the kid’s flat gettin’ it! A smile from ear to ear as he shreds his guitar in front of thousands of people praising Jesus.
And then I hear him. Chad was running background vocals. Now here’s something you need to know about Chad. He half sings, half yells his lyrics. In a good way. In a good way. And on that stage, like there was no one else in the room, Chad raised his hand to the heavens and belted out the fill-in vocals to “This I Believe” by Hillsong.
I believe in God our Father
I believe in Christ the Son
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Our God is three in one
I believe in the resurrection
That we will rise again
For I believe in the name of Jesus
THAT is what Church is all about. THAT is the power of the cross. THAT is the Grace and the Love and the Hope of an Almighty Savior.
Have you experienced this power?
When was the last time you witnessed a scene like this? When was the last time a tear came to your eye because of the Love of God? Isn’t this what Church is supposed to be like?
Can we let go of our selfish pride and personal agendas? Can we step away from the busyness of our lives (that we created ourselves) and invest in the life of someone who is hurting or far from God? Can we PLEASE love others first before trying to tell them how to vote? Can we stop treating the church as a building, made of brick and mortar, and reclaim our calling to partner with Jesus in His mission to save this world?
We are not a building. We are not separated.
We are a Chosen People.
We are the Church.
We are called to Love, Forgive, and offer Grace to any and all who will receive it.
Thank you, Jesus, for reminding me of this on Sunday.
And thank you for what You are doing in the lives of my friends.