It never ceases to amaze me what walks through the doors of the Church. I get the opportunity to visit all kinds of churches when I speak: Baptist churches, Presbyterian churches, Pentecostal churches, non-denominational churches. They have different ways of doing communion, different styles of worship, different practices, and different preaching, but one thing is consistently the same: pain and brokenness walk through all church doors.
I preached recently at a church and was once again reminded of the stories of pain that sit present on your average Sunday. After just one service, I heard personal stories about suicide, molestation, divorce, drug addiction, and cancer. All I really know is that on any given week when those doors of the Church swing wide open, pain walks in. So can we just do us all a favor and stop acting like it doesn’t?
Let’s stop pretending. It’s the twenty first century, people. Can we all just stop acting like we are “fine” in the Church? Can we stop putting on our Sunday best and fooling ourselves, that it’s covering up what’s really going on? Can we stop trying to impress each other with what is fake instead of impressing upon each other what is real? Can we stop acting as though life is easy, we are good, and in need of no ones help?
I am just tired of pretending. I’m not even sure I am pretending, but sometimes carrying on while other people are pretending is so exhausting. And I bet you feel the same way. I often hear people who actually walk away refreshed from church experiences when people rip the mask off and just unveil the truth. When a pastor says “I don’t understand this about God and I don’t like it either, but I am going to rest in His mystery” we feel relieved like somehow our questions don’t make us faithless. When someone gets up with a mic and shares their “testimony” and what they share is “God’s not done with me. I’m still a mess and Jesus is still showing up in my mess” everyone else listening who feels a little messy walks away feeling hopeful. If we all just stop playing “church pretend” and instead play “life for real,” maybe God will feel real instead of made up.
Let’s stop composing ourselves. I asked a woman at church recently how was she was doing and she started bawling. So we sat down in a corner on some church chairs. She was so emotional that she couldn’t compose herself. When she was able to take several deep breaths and use words she said “Oh my gosh, I have to get ahold of myself.” She was so distraught, yet telling herself that she had to get herself together, calm down, not look like such a wreck. My response was “No, church is the last place you should feel you need to compose yourself.” Shouldn’t that be true? But it’s not. Why isn’t church the place you can come and say “I’m not doing ok.” Why isn’t church the place you feel you can start sobbing and share with your brothers and sisters why?
Church is the last place we should feel we have to be composed. Be composed at your sales meeting. Be composed when you meet your future in-laws. Be composed at a job interview. But when you walk into church, fall apart. Any church that can’t handle that, is not your church.
Let’s stop talking about things no one cares about. No one cares where the Valley of Jezreel is. If you are from the Valley of Jezreel, thank you for reading this, but I bet you could care less where Lake Whatcom’s location is (the lake by my house) if your family is being torn apart or you just lost your job. If thirty minutes of your Sunday morning is being taken up by perusing a map to best understand geographical matters near Jerusalem while you are literally sitting there trying to figure out where you are going to be living soon, what’s the point? No one cares what order the books of the Bible are in when they can’t get their life in order. People who have just declared bankruptcy don’t care how many cattle Job had, they just care that God met him in his loss.
I just want to come to church and talk about the things that matter. And thank God there are many churches doing this. And let’s keep doing it- let’s keep talking about things that matter to our lives. But there are some churches where people’s brokenness is killing them while they sit in pews listening to some sermon about Palestinian goat herding. There are some preachers preaching their hearts out on a sermon about the awesome ministry Paul had while people are sitting there and all they can think about is “Who is Paul and what does he have to do with my marriage that’s crumbling? ” Yes, context matters and so does history, but only because it can actually better help apply the Biblical text to our view of God, self and others. I often hear that we currently live in the most unchurched and de-churched generation there has ever been- could it be because we aren’t talking about the things that have any relevance to real life? Could it be that people are going elsewhere to have dialogue and discussion about the things that matter to their lives because they aren’t convinced that will happen when they walk in the doors of what some call “God’s house?”
Can we just start talking in church about the things that meet people where they are really at? Where a lot of people are really at is that they are anxious, they are drowning, they are insecure, they aren’t living the life they had always hoped for, and they have big dreams but are doubting they have the capabilities to make those dreams come true. What people really care about is their kids and living lives of purpose and feeling known and loved. I think Jesus cares about these things and wants to meet us in them. That’s what I love about Him.
I see Jesus meet people where they are at and He speaks their language all the time in the New Testament. Jesus met the get-around-girl at the well while she was drawing some water because she was thirsty. Jesus met the woman who had been bleeding for twelve long years on His way somewhere else. Jesus meets people where they are and He speaks their language. To fisherman, He talked fish. To farmers, He talked harvest. To lawyers, He talked law. Jesus met people in their stories and talked about life in a way that they could relate to. And Jesus still does that. Jesus is still relevant to our lives, more than relevant, Jesus is LIFE. So let’s not dumb Jesus down to things that matter little to life since Jesus claims He is the way to it.
That’s why it’s such a miss to me when we fail to have spiritual conversations around what is really going on in our lives. Jesus talked to the girl at the well about the pattern of men in her life that wasn’t quenching her thirst in the way she hoped because He cared about her life. Jesus collided with the woman hemorrhaging and as she recognized her brokenness, power went out from Him and healed her. Run- ins with Jesus always met brokenness with a healing collision that left people different than He found them. Jesus met people who were physically broken, spiritually broken and emotionally broken and He invited them to recognize their brokenness and it was then, that they would be open to His healing.
What I continue to see walk into the Church is brokenness. We can talk about it or we can keep pretending it’s not there and talk about if we should take communion with real wine or grape juice.
Let’s stop talking like “rescue” is something other people need. What is it with God’s people who talk as though they no longer need rescue? What is it about religious people who talk like the message is for everyone else but them? I’ll tell you what, God rescues me every day. Me needing a Savior was not a one-time thing. I need to be saved from my own negative self talk, my greed, my selfishness, my judgementalism, my fears that hold me back, and my brokenness that keeps telling me lies and I keep believing it. Needing a Savior is not just for big, bad sinners and people who just walked into the church for the first time ever. Needing saving is what we all need daily, and thank God it’s available to us.
So can we lose the language like…”Oh I sure hope Suzy hears this sermon. She really needs it.” or “I’m not broken because I gave my life to Christ.” Guess what? I gave my life to Christ too, almost 25 years ago, and that does not mean my life is perfect, the message doesn’t apply to me and I no longer need saving. What a flippin’ myth. Can you hear how passionate I feel today?
We all need rescue. Let’s just start there.
Let’s see church more like a doctor’s office for the sick, than a waiting room for people to tell God how great they are doing. I sometimes feel like people walk into church and look around and judge people like “Oh boy there is Scott. He just declared bankruptcy! What’s heeeee doing here?” or “Look, it’s Sally and she sleeps around with everyyyyybody and their brother now that she’s divorrrrrced.” It’s so odd that we do this for a few reasons. The very idea that we are surprised that sinners come to church weirds me out. Isn’t that the whole point? Sinners in need of a Savior? Where do you want Scott and Sally to be on a Sunday? Do you want them sleeping in and drinking mimosas? Or do you want them to walk in the doors of church and be greeted with welcome and walked to a seat where their shame and fear can be met with grace and love?
Sometimes I think we are like people who walk into a doctor’s office and look around at people with broken legs, bloody wounds and the need for emergency surgery and we are horrified at the sight of people at the doctor office in need of a doctor!
You know what Jesus said…no let’s not use that kind of language anymore, assuming everyone knows… Jesus said “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” The Church should be made up of people who are bruised, in need of stitches, have infections and have experienced wounded collisions and it should be freely known that the Church is where God bandages, mends, casts, stitches and heals those of us who are hurt.
The most beautiful Church I can imagine, is one where all of us can hobble in on crutches, roll in- in wheelchairs, barely making it, hunched over, helping each other by holding the doors, knowing we are all there to see the Doctor.
I know we are all hobbling in some way. I know we have broken parts. I know there are things hunching us over, but we often think we have to walk in those doors and look well so that we can keep pretending we aren’t in need of the doctor. This will just keep us more sick and in need of help. That is why healing is at bay in all of our lives because we keep pretending we don’t need it. You know it’s totally ok to say, “I’m sick and I need a doctor.” The greatest news on earth is that we have a Doctor who will touch any disease. In fact, He will even carry our infirmities. (Isaiah 53) This Doctor’s bedside manner is healing in and of itself. Just sitting in His presence will make you feel better. This Doctor sits with us, tends to our ailments, walks us toward health and reminds us that our sickness is why He went into medicine.
I’m going to keep being the voice in the doctor’s office (a.k.a. the Church) that says “Stop acting like you aren’t sick when you are. Stop acting like you’re not broken when you are. Stop pretending someone didn’t hurt you when they did. Stop pretending the abuse isn’t going on. Stop pretending you’re so tight with the Doctor that you’re just here to give Him a good pat on the ol’ back when in actuality He is looking right at you and saying “You need heart surgery.” I’ll be that voice and I will also be that girl, who sits in church a few rows over from you and weeps because she feels broken and in need of the Doctor, and she knows you do too. – Willow