Tuesday, February 21, 2012

opting out isn't an option

Conducting an experiment today ... hoping it draws honest responses.

I am going to say type two words.  In response to the two words you'll need to honestly reflect the first words that came to your mind.

Here we go.

What are the first things that first pop into your head when I say-

"the church" ?

When I did this exercise myself I admit that "fakers" and "liars" are words that pop up for me. When I asked Troy he said, "judgment".

I love Jesus, I am trying to live a life seeking after him even though I jack it up fairly regularly.  I am married to a man that has spent the last 15 years coming to know Jesus without all the strings attached to his former understanding. We think of ourselves and our faith very much in terms of "we were saved, we are currently being made new, currently being saved, and we will be saved".

We confess that thinking of and seeing the church in a positive way has been challenging for us in our adult lives. We've felt rebellious and angry toward the church, toward Christians. I admit that at times I've been unfair and immature in my response to pain caused by 'the church' and by other Christians.

The church I spent a lot of my youth attending was pastored by a pedophile. When it finally came out that he was abusing boys there were people who wanted to cover it up. He was a 20+ year pastor that had destroyed many lives before it all blew up and everyone found out. The response of a handful of people and that pastor was mind-boggling and dishonest. I know my knee-jerk reaction and thoughts stem from my experiences at that church.

Troy grew up filled with fear about what would happen if he stepped out of bounds. He was taught that salvation had to be earned and maintained - legalism prevailed." Certain things made him "good" other things made him "bad". Mostly he lived feeling bad. When we first met and began dating he suffered from occasional panic attacks that were based on his struggle to find peace with himself as he began to love and know Jesus outside of the box in which he had always lived.

Because we're a jacked-up fallen mess of humanity we can always count on the fact that we will let each other down and say and do hurtful things. Spiritual abuse is commonplace. The ways in which Christians abuse and judge each other can be mind-numbing and the fact that so many reject our faith and mock us shouldn't surprise us based on our own behavior and judgement of one another.  Using God to control, shame, manipulate, or dominate people or arguments is called spiritual abuse, and it's not cool.  Jesus didn't win arguments or change minds that way. I'm thinking we shouldn't either.

Making giant sweeping statements about "the church" based on our personal experiences isn't really fair. However, it seems to us that a lot of believers (and of course non-believers) have similar negative memories, images and thoughts. I don't know where others in our generation fall, I would venture to guess a lot of us are uncomfortable with the things "the church" has done in our own history, let alone hundreds of years ago.

It is totally up to us to change this.  It is totally up to us to "be the church" we wish the church of our past had been. Our bitterness and rejection won't change lives, but our participation and forgiveness could. (writing this to myself as much or more than to you)

I listened to the sermon below while I ran Monday. I don't post sermons often, I recognize that I have no idea who reads and what biases and distrust readers may bring. I don't think of Troy or I as in your face kind-of-people.  We're more interested in just sharing the ways the love and forgiveness of Jesus in our own lives has compelled us to try to love a little better ourselves.

With that said, please know I wouldn't post any old sermon and ask you to consider listening to it. If you struggle to let go of past hurt or even refuse to go into any church setting at all because of your history with the church, I think you'll find some true and convicting things here. If there is any way you can listen to it start to finish, I'd encourage you to do so.  Listening to only the first half wouldn't give you the core message, so only listen if you can give up the full 49 minutes. You'll also need to be willing to overlook the giant head of puffy hair Greg is sporting. That was no issue for us, we stare at ridiculously large John McHoul hair every day.

Click this link for options to listen or download.
This is an MP3 link.
Attempting to embed video below as well ...

We found it helped us confirm that "opting out isn't an option" (as much as we tried that avenue for many years, we kinda always knew it was a cop-out) and it helped us see Christ and His Church in another way. My cynicism and disgust over things we've experienced doesn't draw anyone to Jesus or change anything.
It is a big ole mess, but God is kinda sorta really awesome at working in the middle of our big messes.

The Church is the body and bride of Christ. And while Paul says that we are holy in Christ’s sight, we don’t always act like it. In this sermon, Greg talks about how difficult it is to hope in the Church, and how we can still strive to be the Bride of Christ.