You’re Not Too Good for The Church

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Every family has that one embarrassing member. Well, every family has at least one embarrassing member.

— A sister who snorts when she laughs and seems to laugh more than any normal person should.
— The uncle who has that terrible facial condition known as Unconscious Glare. He thinks he’s glancing around innocently, but he’s accidentally glowering at friends and strangers. The people near you at the restaurant move tables.
— The grandma who gave up on regular clothes some decades ago and now only wears muumuus. Even to your graduation.

But some families have people in them who aren’t just embarrassing to bring to pool parties, but members who bring shame to the family.

— How do you think it felt to be Anthony Weiner’s wife?
— How do you think it felt to be Richard Nixon’s brother?
— Or Jerry Sandusky’s mother?

When someone that you’re connected with does something great, you feel a sense of pride. It’s not you out there on the basketball court, but when your team wins the championship you cheer as if it were a personal accomplishment. When you see your kid brother walk across the stage to get his college diploma, when your dad earns a special award at work, when your best friend becomes a parent, your heart is aglow with pride in their accomplishments. Even though these are their accomplishments, it’s your heart that is smiling inside.

Shame works the other way. Even though it’s someone else’s notorious deed––abusing, cheating, lying, sexting––it’s your heart aching with disappointment and grief and humiliation.

After all that God has done to love us, save us, and sanctify us, it’s not hard to imagine how He feels when we tread over His will in order to fulfill our own. It’s not hard to imagine that God’s heart hurts when, in that split-second of decision, we ignore His voice and we act as if He weren’t there or didn’t care about us.

And since God has risked it all in front of an attentive, intelligent universe (Eph 3:10), it’s not hard to imagine that God would be ashamed of us faulty, twisted, rebellious, ungrateful, inglorious sinners. Anyone who acts the way we act would be someone that a holy God should be ashamed of, someone God rightfully wouldn’t want to be associated with, someone God would want some distance from, someone God would avoid committing Himself to. And how much more shame does it cause God when those unkind, ungrateful, unloving, unrighteous people are those who take His name and call themselves Christians.

In the gospel according to Hebrews, the amazing news is this: the divine and majestic Son (Hebrews 1) was made low, “lower than the angels,” made a real and true human being, and He was subjected to temptation, suffering, and death (Hebrews 2). And then this:

Both the one who makes people holy
and those who are being made holy are of the same family.
So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
(Hebrews 2:11)

WHAT? Not in spite of the fact that Jesus took on our humanity, not in spite of the fact that the Trinity took up our humanity into Their unspoiled fellowship, but because God made us part of His family Jesus is not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters, even though we are not perfect in holiness.

So here’s the amazing thing: Jesus is not ashamed to call you His. Jesus is not ashamed to claim you, to wrap His arm around you and call you part of the family. Jesus is not ashamed to publicly commit Himself to you and love you lavishly in front of all the watching worlds. You’re messed up, but Jesus is not ashamed of you. What a Savior! What a God!

*moment of praise and awestruck wonder*

Now here’s the challenging thing: If Jesus doesn’t consider himself too good to be our brother, we dare not consider ourselves too good for His other brothers and sisters.

We’re waaaayyyyy too quick to dismiss the church because it doesn’t live up to our standards (wait… Do you even live up to your own standards??) and because church-y people are disagreeable to us, making comments we don’t like, holding opinions we don’t like, and voting in ways that we don’t like. Some of us have even given the church ultimatums: Start acting better or I’ll leave you and then you’ll really be sorry!

No one has higher ideals for His church than Jesus does, and even though no one has more of a right to walk out on the disappointing Gomer that we call the church, no one loves it more passionately or with more commitment than Jesus (Eph 5:25-27).

We’re an inglorious group of sinners-made-saints. And in His mercy, Jesus let you in. So don’t walk out. Don’t be ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. Jesus isn’t.
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Take Me To Church

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“Take Me To Church. I’ll Worship Like a Dog at the Shrine of Your Lies. I’ll Tell You My Sins so You Can Sharpen Your Knife. Offer Me My Deathless Death. Good God, Let Me Give You My Life.” – Hozier

I remember a bright green carpet – bright light slanting in through the window, dappling the floor.  A sunny day – the ends of church pews that shone like white lime tombstones in the flecks of dust hovering in the light.  I remember the feeling of stiff pants and a suffocating stiff shirt.  I remember the stress on my arm – a sidelong pressure of being pulled by the elbow.  I remember the sensation of my pants being pulled down, the fusion kiss of our star’s heat on my bare rump as if it were a priest blessing an infant for some sacrament.  I remember the lump in my throat and the heat in my ears.  I remember worrying what my friends would think of me – what the church people would think of me.  Then I remember succumbing to the purge.  This is my earliest memory of church.  I was 4 or 5.

Take Me To Church

The brush leaves scratch the amber windows as I make my way along the flower bed outside the red brick sanctuary.  My 19 year-old hands had opened desks, doors to classrooms, backpacks, and car doors.  Now they know a secret unto themselves – a vulnerability wrought by their own design.  I find a slit where metal frames meet alongside of one of the ragged panes of glass.  The unlatched window slides forward and gives me entry.  I come to the house of God in the evening like a thief in the night, breaking and entering in.  I scramble through the opening and make my way to the back to find the awaiting ecstasy.  This ecstasy lays casually on an old piano cover in the corner.  My friends’ possession, perhaps, but this evening it is mine.  A sacred music fills the wooden rafters and bounces off the bent beams.  I strum a full-bodied ovation balladeer and sing broken worship psalms to a room filled with empty pews and growing shadows.

Take Me To Church

I watch as one of my recently-graduated students steps down behind a white wall.  She is nervous, but she smiles as she speaks.  It rains from without and within.  Outside a parade passes celebrating an old saint and people wave green flags and duck under rainbow umbrellas.  Inside we await the arrival of a new saint.  The hand raises and the old familiar phrase washes over us.  “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit…”  She disappears for a split second and she rises back, still the girl that I am so proud of for being who she is, but now with something new, something added: a commitment.  I remember when I stepped out to make my commitment.  I still feel mid-stride.  I wonder if she will feel the same.  Will she sit in front of a pulpit someday when all of a sudden an unbidden smugness washes down to her from a preacher who does not wish to acknowledge how complicated a narrative can be?  Will she know what it’s like to feel called to a position for which God designed her soul, but that man has barred her from with a subtle condescension and a deft turn of chapter and verse in 1 Timothy?  Will she watch as women, who have made a solemn oath to have and hold each other until death, bring their children in the front door, only to find that citizenship in some corners of the Kingdom means being barred from any task of service until oaths are broken and families torn?  Will she be accused of not giving scripture a plain reading in Leviticus 20:13, by people who liberally interpret Leviticus 25:44?  Will she be denied recognition because someone walked by her window on Sabbath and saw something other than 3ABN on the TV?  Where will her path with the church lead?

Take Me To Church

Church means so many things to so many people.  The church has so very many faces.  I often find it so diverse and varied as to defy description or definition.  I never know what I think of the church.  When I’m around church people who are captivated by the mystery – the search – the chase, I find no more exhilarating company, and no higher passion.  When I’m among people who whisper of secrets and numbers that they divined from ancient works of art, but speak about these numbers as if they were observed in a mathematics times tables chart, I feel the walls closing in and I feel as though I have to get out.

I’ve been the “giggle at a funeral” and “[known] everybody’s disapproval” (ll. 1,2 – song lyrics below).  I’ve “heard them say it” (l. 9).  I’ve heard lips throw the accusation of sickness on those walking a fragile path to healing as if the intention was to turn them from the path.  I’ve heard voices whisper of the shaking with more reverence than they speak of the resurrection.  I’ve seen people who would have me “worship like a dog at the shrine of [their] lies” (l. 18).  Are they lies?  Or are their opponents the liars?  Is the inclusivity of love the lie or is the exclusivity of it?  Is it the Church leaders in Acts 21:25 that hold the last word or is it Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:8?  Or is it Matthew 15:11?

As Mary, Queen of Scotts once asked: “Ye interpret the Scriptures in one manner, and they in another. Whom shall I believe? Who shall be judge?”  Wouldn’t the easy answer be Knox’s answer: “Ye shall believe God, that plainly speaketh in His Word; and further than the Word teacheth you, ye shall believe neither the one nor the other. The Word of God is plain in itself. If there appear any obscurity in one place, the Holy Ghost, which is never contrarious to Himself, explaineth the same more clearly in other places; so that there can remain no doubt, but unto such as obstinately will remain ignorant.”

So there you have it: The splinters divide and divide again.  Denomination after denomination declaring over and over again: “They are the ones obstinately ignorant!”  Who is obstinately ignorant?  “They are!”  Who?  “ALL OF THEM!” and their voices say it again and again of person who disagrees with their positions.  “If they would only see that ours is exegesis and theirs is eisegesis.  If they would only see that our way of seeing it is right and their way is wrong.”  I am right.  Who is right?  Me – right now.  Not me when I’m eventually convinced of something differently in the future, and not me when I wasn’t yet convinced of the way I think right now.  Me – right now.  No… Now.  No…  NOW.

Take Me To Church

And this is when Jesus shows up.  There is a knock on the door.  I stumble forward.  It’s hard being a new dad.  I’m wearing a fluffy blue bathrobe and smile groggily.  Here I find a casserole and a friendly face ready to take care of my wife and me as we struggle through our fatigue to care for a new family member.  We mimic and repeat for a friend, for a stranger and on. Lights light lights again and again and the full beauty of the church stretches out before me.  Waves of simple caring bounce from person to person, hand to hand, heart to heart.  “We’ve a lot of starving faithful / That looks tasty / That looks plenty / This is hungry work” (ll. 36-39).

Take Me To Church

The light from the sun in that earliest of church memories dims by comparison.  That first picture of church dims by comparison to the church – HIS church.

Take Me To Church

Photo Credit: Hozier

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My lover’s got humour
She’s the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody’s disapproval
I should’ve worshipped her sooner
If the Heavens ever did speak 5
She is the last true mouthpiece
Every Sunday’s getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week
‘We were born sick,’ you heard them say it
My church offers no absolutes 10
She tells me ‘worship in the bedroom’
The only heaven I’ll be sent to
Is when I’m alone with you
I was born sick, but I love it
Command me to be well 15
Amen. Amen. Amen

Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death 20
Good God, let me give you my life

Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death 25
Good God, let me give you my life

If I’m a pagan of the good times
My lover’s the sunlight
To keep the Goddess on my side
She demands a sacrifice 30
To drain the whole sea
Get something shiny
Something meaty for the main course
That’s a fine looking high horse
What you got in the stable? 35
We’ve a lot of starving faithful
That looks tasty
That looks plenty
This is hungry work

Take me to church 40
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

Take me to church 45
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

No masters or kings when the ritual begins 50
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin
In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene
Only then I am human
Only then I am clean
Amen. Amen. Amen 55

Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life 60

Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life 65

– Hozier, Take Me To Church

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Dear Church

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Let’s talk about BLESSED. No, not #blessed—hot boyfriends and beauty vacations and big screen TVs. Let’s talk about the supernatural riches that God decided to give you just because you’re His.

God’s servants, Paul & Sosthenes, write:

I always give thanks to God for you
because of His grace that He gave you in Messiah Jesus.
Because in Him you have been enriched
in every way—
in all your speech and in all your knowledge—
because our testimony about the Messiah
was shown to be true in you.
Therefore
you do not lack any spiritual gift
while you wait eagerly
for our Lord Jesus, Messiah, to be revealed.

He will keep you
strong to the end,
so that you will be blameless
on the day of our Lord Jesus, Messiah.
Faithful is God, who has called you
into fellowship with His Son,
Jesus, Messiah, our Lord.*

If I were God and saw my church acting like a bunch of wild hypocrites, legalists, libertines, and quarreling hot heads, I’d probably greet them with something like, “Knock it off, you ungrateful dummies!”

But when God wanted to send a message to His church in Corinth in the first century—a church where members were sleeping with prostitutes and shrugging off participation in idol worship, where people got drunk at communion, where people were all about status and celebrity pastors, where worship services were a bit like madhouses—the first thing He said was, “I’m blessing you.”

God’s love letter to His church:

Dear Church,

In Jesus I gave you grace.
In Jesus I have enriched you in every way.
I have enriched your collective speaking.
I have enriched your collective knowing.
I showed that the good news about Jesus is true by making it true in all of you.
I made sure that together you had every spiritual gift.
I am committed to keeping you strong until the end.
I invited you into intimate friendship with Me through My Son.
I am faithful.

Love, the Father.

 

*1 Corinthians 1:4-9
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