There is an old joke that isn't far from reality. My son-in-law opened a sermon with it ... in my church ... at my expense. It goes like this:
Brother Joe died and went to heaven. When he got there, he noticed a line where people were being assigned their spouse in heaven. The first thing he saw was this really ugly man with this really beautiful woman. He asked the angel, "What's up with that?"
The angel replied, "The way you live your life determines how your spouse looks in heaven. She was a gossip and now everyday she will remember the ugliness of her sin."
"Wow!" he said.
Joe went a little farther and saw a man with a woman who was hideous. He looked inquisitive at the angel and heard, "He was a liar."
Then he saw Pastor Fred who was with this amazingly beautiful woman. Brother Joe thought, "Pastor Fred did things right."
The angel pointed out the lady with Pastor Fred and said, "See that lady? She really got it bad. She was unforgiving.
OK it is told better then it reads, but I told it to tell you this.
Have you heard folks say, "So and so blew it and he was a Christian?"
We all have experienced something similar, that inference of failure, that a person has fallen beneath a line. At times we have seen ministers and leaders drop below the line also. We have been shocked to see they were not what they said they were, or not what we at least thought they were. I have lived long enough to see the failure of large and small ministries, ministers, parishioners and individuals many times over.
We hear responses like: I knew there was something wrong." "You know how those Christians are." "See, that's what's wrong with the church." "That always happens."
I think there is a reason God hates gossip and tale bearing. Both amplify partial truth, exaggerate the loss, and they give praise to the enemy.
So here are a few thoughts:
Vicarious living - Many people live their Christianity through you or through their pastor or leader. When they realize a person's humanity or as in some cases, their sinfulness, they feel betrayed.
The Bible says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. When we idealize or idolize a person, we have put them in the place of God. We have also set them up for failure and ourselves for disappointment.
God simply states: "Don't let anything be more important to you then me."
When it comes to dealing with the reality of sin and sinners in the church, we should remember that the church was never meant to be a neutral place full of petrified perfection. Rather it was called to be a living organism full of people who need Jesus. We all need him whether we know it or not. There are standards for maturity and leadership. Please understand I am not excusing sin. I am just observing we should actually expect to see sin in the lives of people who are coming. Cemeteries are neat; they maintain their lines and their form well. Nurseries are messy and noisy but full of life.
Ever attend a wedding and hear the proverbial whisper of, what does he or she see in him or her? Obviously something in the inquirer does not. That's the way the church is. God loved the world so much that whoever would come, could. That is the miracle of his grace.
We need to learn not to judge the groom by his bride's behavior prior to the wedding day. For those not familiar with the reference, God calls the church Christ's bride. It is a Cinderella story and when the King comes we better make sure the shoe fits.
I hear the "that's what's wrong with the church" phrase from a lot of people. I ask, What? That it is full of humans? That it's messy? That it reaches out to many folks that most want to ignore? That it is an amalgamation of folks from every age, race and ethnicity around the world?
No, my friend, ignorance can literally kill you. You can look at one person and say, "There it is; that's the problem," but it is not the whole. We can hear of failure or see things that are wrong, but we really can miss the forest for the trees. The miracle of the church is that it exists in spite of itself. Sometimes it forgets what it is, or forgets why it's here. It even forgets who it serves, forgets where it's going.
And yet, it is still the temple of his presence. It is still spreading the good news; it is still serving the Lord by meeting the needs of people; and it is still bound for an eternal kingdom.
Our mistake is we see our little corner, the person we work with or the church we attend, and we think we have seen the whole church.
The church is every person who has met Jesus and has their name recorded in his book. You may see problems but they are just storms in a tea cup. I have chosen to see him. The view is better. The truth is, the church of Jesus Christ is alive and well.
Robert Reasner is senior pastor at Abundant Life Assembly of God, 32940 Sterling Highway in Sterling. He can be reached at 262-7266, or on-line at www.abundantlifealaska.org for a list of services.
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