Real Life Faith When Real Life Hurts
Last week our family, nearly 30 of us, spent the week together in the same beach house. It was hectic, messy, loud and lots of fun. We did all the normal beach stuff: building castles; playing in the ocean; playing putt-putt; eating tons of food; talking about politics, sports and theology; refereeing arguments between the kids; playing games; and, for the first time, watching three of the Littles take on surfing.
Having all My People together is truly one of my favorite things. But having that many people together in one house for a week means things won’t always go well. Kids grab toys and accuse each other and become whiny and throw tantrums. Adults take competition too far and sometimes air our opinions arrogantly and leave the serving to others. And this year two beach canopies had to be retrieved from the ocean after a sudden storm claimed them while most of us were napping.
Any time family is together the good, the bad and the ugly will be on display.
This doesn’t just happen with families. It also happens with churches.
The church isn’t a building with beautiful windows and a steeple. The church is people. Flawed people. Sick people. Joyful people. Broken people. Gifted people. Abused people. Distressed, sad, sinful, angry, selfish, pained people. Called, productive, growing, prayerful, dependent people. The church is people who have been declared not guilty for every past, present and future sin who remain in a fallen world with fellow broken, weak saints who still sin.
Charles Spurgeon called the church “the dearest place on earth.” How can a place so dear be so hard to live in so often? Why is it that the closer we get to those in our church, the more likely it is we will hurt and be hurt? Can the church really become a place of safety where critical judgement is seen as a source of pain and the mercy that flowed from the cross is shared face to face?
Last week there was a fiery altercation between two of my grandchildren that included an accidental scrape on the face with a plastic sand rake, angry accusations, hurt feelings and hot tears. With most of the adults out for dinner, Uncle Jakey had the “privilege” of attempting to mediate the incident. He invited honesty from the kids and coached them to be humble. The result was two children asking each other’s forgiveness for their wrongs and finishing the evening without incident. Two wrongs and two humble responses all because Christ’s death on the cross made it possible for peace between God and man…and peace between two cousins who were mad at and hurt by each other.
Our church is just like yours. It’s made up of imperfect people. But the church is the place for sins to be forgiven, mistakes to be understood and compassion to be extended. Find a perfect church and you’ll be among those who are acting as if they’re not the limping, hurting, sinning saints they really are. Perfect churches don’t exist and we all know it. So why are we disillusioned and discouraged when our and others imperfections get squeezed out of our sinful hearts, mouths and actions? Yes, sometimes it’s time to leave a church when wrong things happen, especially when those wrongs are excused, pushed under the carpet or denied. But when sin, weakness and flaws are admitted and humble confession takes place, why leave only to find another imperfect group of fellow weak travelers?
My grandchildren are cousins. They love each other. They’ve endured countless arguments, hurt feelings, unkind words and unloving interactions. But through each hard place they’re learning what it’s like to ask for and extend forgiveness — and to try to see things through the other kid’s eyes.
I have a lot to learn from my grandchildren.
And I’m grateful for Redeemer Church, where we can walk through life together, sin against each other, rejoice with one another when great things happen, disappoint one another, realize we’re letting others do all the serving and then chip in to help, and become a spiritual family where face to face mercy can be enjoyed.
If you haven’t found a church family where brokenness is admitted and mercy is on display, I pray you won’t give up the search. Once you find that place, stay long enough to hurt others and be hurt by them. It will happen, and when it does ask God for help and find an Uncle Jakey to mediate the process with you. Try to put yourself into the position of the person who has offended you, be willing to ask forgiveness for your part, be honest about your hurt or confusion, and watch the reconciling work of the Spirit in your life take place.
The same reconciling work that helped two cousins to honestly communicate and ask forgiveness where needed is yours and mine.
Lord, please let us have the faith of children.
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