When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave
I have heard people say before “if you find a church full of perfect people, don’t go there because you’ll mess it up.” That’s true and I get the meaning behind it, but in my heart I hear that as, “the perfect church doesn’t exist and you’re messed up too so suck it up and just go to a church!” In many ways, I have thought that way about the sin and messiness of relationships and living life in the church- it’s something that you kind of just have to live with and hope you survive through since the benefits of being in church outweigh the negative. I understand the struggle though of not wanting to get too “in” because relationships are messy. Conflict makes me anxious, sin makes me frustrated, and is there anyone who welcomes the possibility of being disappointed and hurt by other sinful people, especially those who profess to be Christians?
As God has been shifting my paradigm with regard to the local church, I am starting to experience the beauty of being in a Gospel-preaching and living local church with other sinner-saints still in the fight, still being sanctified. Here are a few blessings I’ve been learning to see:
1. I am welcome.
I am welcome into this community not because of my meeting certain religious prerequisites, but because by his grace, my eyes have also been open to see “I need Jesus!” I could say so much more about this, but maybe another time?
2. Each time sin is brought to light is an opportunity for the Gospel to shine forth.
Jeff says that some of his favorite times in our marriage has been after we fight and reconcile. He’s often said after fights, “there’s no one else I’d rather work through this with.” Me on the other hand, am conflict-avoidant and for a long time, didn’t get how that was supposed to be comforting.
When Jeff preached through Ephesians though, particularly Ephesians 3:10 on the manifold wisdom of God being displayed through the church, things got clearer for me. The church is God’s chosen means of displaying his glory to the universe with regard to his wisdom and power in redemption and the gospel. It is not only a display of redeemed individuals and families, but his Gospel is at work and displayed in our relationships when we work through our sinful conflicts. That means conflict and sins being surfaced (surfaced because sins were not created by circumstances; they were just uncovered by them) in Gospel-communities are opportunities to run together to the cross and see God’s power to redeem and change. Wow!
I know this is easier to say and terribly painful to experience. It’s not that we desire or look to be disappointed by people as we learn about them, hurt, sinned against, etc. And it’s not that we blindly trust anyone that says they are a Christian. But as sin inevitably comes out even in the most God-pleasing relationships, it is not something to be merely dreaded, but given over to God for an opportunity for the Gospel to be displayed for his glory. When I reflect on my own family (parents and siblings) and our particular history of sins and deep wrongs against one another, I see the grace of God so clearly to forgive and change us, heal and redeem. (He is still doing all this now.) I see the sweetness of the Gospel and how amazing and powerful God is. I praise him and want to share this testimony with others. I think, how much more are we also meant to see that in the Family of God?
3. When I see changed/changing lives, I am reminded that God is real and working.
I’ve shared often that the hardest thing for me to believe is God’s ability to change people. Heal someone’s terminal sickness? Of course he is able to do that. Make the world out of nothing? No problem, he’s God. Change someone so that they will walk with him til the end? “Well…Will you really do that, God? I’ve seen so many fall away.” This has been a defining struggle in my own walk with God- believing in his power to change me- and it has carried over into my life in the church. Partly, I think it has to do with how God has gifted me and given me a heart for shepherding. I’m always thinking, what will help this person continue to walk with Jesus? But it’s also something that keeps me humble and dependent on God who alone does work that lasts forever (Ecclesiastes 3:14).
When I see signs of his Spirit and work in the lives of brothers and sisters, knowing their struggles with sin and the flesh, I am astonished and amazed, reminded that Jesus is really alive and God is still working today. It’s different singing “I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save!” when you only know what God did in your own life versus thinking also about the work you’ve been privileged to witness and struggle in prayer for in the lives of those singing with you.
4. I learn to hope in Christ, walk by faith and live by his promises that one day, he will be victorious in our lives and we will no longer be struggling with sin.
It is amazing and refreshing to see lives changed and people walking in victory over sin and living for God. But backsliding Christians, half-hearted worshippers, hurting marriages, prodigal children, less-than-ideal church happenings…I wrestle so often with discouragement. It’s not that I think I am better than anyone else, but it is heartbreaking and difficult to be a witness of the devastating effects of sin in the lives of Christians. And yet, as the hope of the resurrection and final victory of Christ over sin and death became the greatest hope to me personally when I saw the hopelessness of my own sinfulness, I have come to hope in God this year in a greater way than I ever have seeing these things in the church. It’s different singing “Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood shall never lose its power/ till all the ransomed church of God be saved to sin no more!” when you are not only wrestling with your own sin, but with discouragement over the effects of the struggle against sin in the body of Christ. Through these disappointments and struggles, the hope of God’s ability to bring his ransomed home and one day perfect us completely is not just a truth I know or even a sweet comfort, but an anchor for my soul.
When I was younger, I used to just wish that I didn’t see the “bad things” so I could be blissfully happy. But the Christian joy is not the bliss of ignorance and glossing over of wrongs. It is looking straight at the hideousness and power of sin, being in the trenches of the fight where at times you say “God, are you even working? It feels like it will always be like this,” and having all the false hopes in people and self be stripped away. It’s looking at God who became a man, lived in the throes of sin, and in his death showed sin to be immeasurably worse than we ever feared. It’s marveling that he broke the terrible power of death and sin in his victorious resurrection. And it’s living in the promise that the victory in holiness we taste and strive for in part today will be ours in full measure when he comes again. And we need each other in the local church for this.
Walking with you as Christ walks with us,
Note: I wrote this after watching this short interview with David Powlison (“Can I Grow In Holiness Without The Local Church“) and being reminded of another reason why I am thankful for corporate worship. It’s only 7 minutes long, you should watch it! In it he said:
“There is nothing like singing with a passel of other believers who mean it…There’s points where you can’t even sing…and it’s so awesome what we are saying to the Lord and to each other.”