Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Church of Beautiful Letdowns

I began working on this blog about 4 weeks ago. In that time, one blogger that I follow posted a blog in which she posed the question 'Have you found a congregation in which Jesus and his friends would be welcome?' Today's post has turned into my response.

Not long ago, I had to go to the doctor. I had not been able to taste food for 39 days and I finally figured that it was time to get it checked out. As I sat in the waiting room, there was a lot of sniffling, coughing, runny eyes and Kleenex. None of us were well; all of us were in need. We needed whatever the doctor could give.

The week after OBL was assassinated, the pastor at the church I am a part of spoke about how uneasy he felt with the celebrations that were taking place in the streets and the way facebook lit up with 'christians' encouraging OBL to enjoy hell, rotting and forever torment. His comments were not political. They were not about whether or not he personally believed bin Laden should have been killed or how he personally felt about bin Laden's meeting with death. His comments were in the context of his teaching about how those who are citizens of God's kingdom should be shaped by kingdom of heaven values and how we must fight against being shaped by our cultures values. He spoke about living in the tension of kingdom realities. He encouraged those who follow Jesus to be challenged by Jesus' teaching on loving our enemies, praying for them and blessing them as opposed to dancing in celebration that they may spend forever apart from the love and mercy, grace and beauty of the same Jesus who willingly gives those things to us, though we do not deserve them either.

Within days, people were leaving the church. Some even said that church is no place to be talking about that kind of stuff.

Fast forward 5 weeks in this same church. It was a pretty cool day as close to 40 people were being baptized, choosing to align their lives with God's kingdom. I walked up to one woman and asked her why she was being baptized. She said that she'd lived a horrible, horrific life and she didn't want that life anymore. She told me that she wanted a new life - one where she follows Jesus. She said that she found hope for this type of life in this particular church.

Her response was sobering and exhilarating. In the same month, I saw people who have it all figured out and are convinced that Jesus' love has limits, choose to walk away from the family, while others whose lives are a wreck choose to believe that maybe, just maybe, Jesus' love has no limits, so they walk into the family.

I got to thinking about the kind of church I want to be a part of. It's kind of crazy and it's pretty messy, but it seems right. It's the kind of church that stumbles and bumbles its way through life and to Jesus. It's the kind of church where people who live really crappy lives can find Jesus and experience new life. It's a group of complete letdowns who have been made beautiful by the love and mercy and grace of Jesus. Everyone there has a story; everyone has wounds, has bled and has scars. It's a place where you can belong before you believe. It's a family of ragtag screw-ups that have a few things in common. Our desire to know Jesus. To be like Jesus. And to see heaven invade earth in our everyday, ordinary lives. We also share a common desire to be challenged and changed.

I'm convinced that people like this don't eventually leave churches because the pastor (or anyone else) encourages them towards love or forgiveness or mercy or grace or beauty or kindness. I'm convinced that the people who are so acutely aware of their need for God are actually the ones who have the biggest hearts for change and the most outstretched arms to anyone else who wants in on it.

The church that I want to be a part of is a lot like the waiting room at my doctor's office. It's full of people who must see the doctor because if they don't their day or week or month or life will be miserable. And once we've seen the doctor and healing has come our way, we still walk with a limp, but our limp is our best friend, because our limp is our constant reminder that there was a time when we couldn't walk at all. It keeps us humble. It keeps us grounded. It keeps us real. It allows us to love as we live in the tension between kingdom realities.

That woman's story was one of many like it that I heard that weekend, which leads me to believe that the congregation that I am a part of is becoming one that I think Jesus and his friends would be welcome at. I pray that we continue to move in that direction. I pray that I continue to move in that direction. I pray that all of God's beautiful church would move in this direction.
"We are a beautiful let down,
Painfully uncool,
The church of the dropouts
The losers, the sinners, the failures and the fools
Oh what a beautiful letdown"
                                                     Beautiful Letdown by Switchfoot


athanasius said...

Kudos to your pastor for excellent leadership! None of us is more deserving of the Father's love and mercy. None of us has the right to lord it over another--even OBL.

Nathan Ayres said...

Powerful post. Thanks for the challenge and encouragement to be a community for all.

Laurie Matherne said...

Bravo, Brian! Excellent post. I was verbally harrassed online b/c of my stand about OBL, too. Hurrah for our pastor. And Switchfoot. I grew in the Lord in the Vineyard because it was a place that accepted people like me, a weirdo, a goofball, the kind no one really wanted. But Jesus had other plans. And thanks to a kind church, I am in a different place today.