I grew up going to church… and pretty much every church related activity my parents were aware of. We went to Sunday School, Wednesday evening service, Vacation Bible School, Church Camp (special thanks for that one, Mom and Dad! *grin*), youth group… if you can name a church function, I bet I have attended.
No one’s childhood or family are perfect, but my parents gave my siblings and I wonderful opportunities to connect with Jesus and those who love Him.
I am not sure how it happened, since by and large my church experiences were positive, but when I got to college I became very disillusioned with “the Church”. The more I “learned”, the more books I read, the more I became convinced that “the Church” was beyond dysfunctional. I became critical of pastors I knew and then pastors in general. I could pick out all of the hypocrisy in the conservative Christians I had grown up around and before I knew it, I generally thought most (if not all) “Christians” were hypocrites.
It really wasn’t long before I started to think about “the Church” and “those Christians” as something that was separate from me; something I wasn’t aligned with or apart of.
I sympathized with those who disliked Jesus because of “Christians”- I would nod my head in agreement as they verbally filleted “the Church”. I understood my friends who took the I-Am-An-Island approach “Church” and met in barns to talk about life and Jesus with a few like-minded others. Hey, that was “Church”, right? I myself committed to an organization on campus and floated from church to church in the Dayton area depending on the music and where my friends were going that Sunday. I even made and took and quantified a survey on campus about what students thought was wrong with modern Christianity and “the Church” and those hypocritical “Christians”. I wanted to have all the data because…
…At one point, I came up with a list of chapter titles for the book I was going to write about all of the things that were wrong with “the Church”.
Because I was very enlightened after 20 years of living.
At one point I actually said to someone that I wouldn’t really identify myself as a “Christian” because of the negative connotation. Though of course I loved Jesus and all that, I just was very unsure about “the Church”… and especially the people in it who just didn’t understand and get it like I did.
At age 20.
That’s probably why it caught my attention when someone I follow on twitter, posted this:
“I have been pressed by some to come out & deny the faith. so here’s as close as I can come:I admit it folks, I don’t love Christians”
and then tried to make it better by following it with:
“ok, how about ‘I like some individual Christians, but as a group I don’t love Christians’- better?”
[Before this post goes further, some of you may know this person also and have read those tweets, but I do NOT want the person’s name posted here or ANY derogatory comments about the person or their faith… no nonsense, ok? I am not posting this because I want to go on the attack or because I want to even highlight the person. I just feel there’s something here to address…]
Having some years ago been a person who could have and probably would have penned those same tweets, it stuck in my heart and has been on repeat in my mind over the past couple of days.
Last Sunday at church, our visiting Pastor made an off-handed comment near the end of his message that the Lord has brought back to my mind a lot as I have been mulling over all of this. He said something to the effect of,
“The Church is the Bride of Christ… now She might have some smudges on Her face and Her dress might have some rips and tears, but make no mistake, She’s the Bride.”
As the parent of a little guy, I am always concerned that he will unknowingly say something out of turn in public. Children just don’t know how not to say the obvious. If someone looks funny, they point. If they don’t know why someone is in a wheelchair, they will just flat out ask. Once, just after Cohen had just learned that a pregnant belly contains a baby, he asked a woman who was carrying a few extra pounds if she had a baby in her belly? I hoped she didn’t catch it, but as the case would be, that was the clearest sentence he’d said all day.
One of my jobs as his mom is to teach him those life lessons…
-You never ask a woman her age.
-You never assume a woman is pregnant unless she’s wearing on of those “I love my Bump” t-shirts
-You don’t point.
-You don’t stare.
-You don’t insult someone’s family. Ever.
Growing up, I could complain about my brothers and even my sister…but just let someone outside of the Adelsberger clan call my brother a name or treat my sister unkindly! If I remembered his name, I would tell you to ask the kid on the bus in the 4th grade who called my brother “four eyes”! (the one and only time I was sent to the principal’s office) He learned that last lesson that day… you don’t mess with someone’s family. Period.
Can you imagine going to a wedding and catching a glimpse of the bride and then whispering to the groom before he made his way down the aisle,
“Dude, are you sure about this one? She’s not as pretty as the picture on the wedding invitation…I mean she looks almost uncomfortable in that dress… Are you sure she can wear white and really mean it? Know what mean?”As you go in for that dude-to-due elbow to the ribs, you might as well expect to be drop kicked into next week.
Now let’s add a piece to the story… what if that groom had literally darkened death’s door to save the bride’s life? What if he loved her SO MUCH that he jumped in front of car for her, died on the table after multiple surgeries and come back to life after 3 days in a drug induced coma. The wedding had to be put off because of the accident, but now after a long time of recovery, the blessed day had come. He’s about to walk down the aisle to wait for his bride who will soon walk the same aisle, eyes on her beloved… her rescuer… the one who had so proven his affection.
If you were sitting at that wedding, would you even notice if the bride had gained some weight or would you be thinking about her past indiscretions? OR would you just be so moved by the story of his great love for her that you didn’t even pay attention to those things? After all, you’re there to see the commencement of a marriage not just a wedding. The dress will soon be put away with all of the old things that something completely new will begin.
What if you were that bride? Would you really be concerned about the temporal parts of the wedding? Would you be a bridezilla or would you be so THANKFUL to walk to that man that everything else just faded into oblivion? Could you even be insecure about your mistakes and flaws when the one who sacrificed himself to save you was waiting at the altar, moved to tears at the sight of you?
Here’s the problem with Believers removing themselves from “the Church” and “those Christians” and acting like Simon Cowell at the American Idol try-outs. When you insult Her, roll your eyes at Her, dismiss Her, criticize Her, and tell Her she’s just not special enough…
You’re insulting another One’s BRIDE.
In His Presence.
While He anxiously awaits His wedding day.
And I think we established what kind WWF behavior follows a social misstep of that kind of massive proportion, right?
Does The Church have faults? flaws? sin? misunderstanding? You bet She does.
Should Believers take sin seriously? address issues? stand up for what is right and oppose what is wrong? Yes, yes YES
But we have to remember She’s not our Bride.
We have to walk in truth and love. We have to deal with issues the way we would with our family; with the ones we love.
A friend of mine from college got married and gained a substantial amount of weight. She was insecure about it, unhappy with herself, and married to a thin man. She recounted this story to me and it brought tears to my eyes. He bought her a treadmill for Christmas, which could have been the precursor to a big fight, except for the fact that he loved her. He sat her down and told her all of the things he loved about her and then gently told her that he knew she was unhappy and that she felt defeated by her weight. He told her he wanted to help because he wanted her to feel good about herself and be healthy so that they could have children and live long lives together.
He loved her well.
One of my cousins went through a really dark time in college. He left his faith and delved into a lifestyle of sin that included heavy drug use. Though he pushed everyone away and was angry at the drop of a hat, his mother saw the good in him; she saw the little boy with the big blue eyes who had loved to pretend he was Indiana Jones. So she prayed for him. She believed for him. She took the insults and hurts and the sorrow and never stopped loving him. She clung to the words of Sara Grove’s song “You Cannot Lose My Love”. (parental warning: you need tissues handy before reading that link)
She loved him well.
My friends husband would have never tolerated someone else calling his wife “fat” and nor would he call her that. My aunt would have died before believing someday her son would be anything but whole (and he is, praise Jesus).
It doesn’t mean the husband ignored a health issue, it doesn’t mean my aunt pretended like her son wasn’t doing drugs. Love isn’t like that.
And if a sinless Jesus, who would have every exemption from associating with anything imperfect, felt compelled to the love The Church, give His life for Her, and take Her as His Bride...
…then who are we to cast the first stone?
When that glorious wedding commences and time ends and the Groom comes back to raise up His Bride, I want to be Her. I want to be called into the sky to the One who loved me well in my weakest places. I know I won’t wear the white as well I want, but He will make me new and He will mend every tattered piece and wipe every tear. I won’t feel shame at being in His gaze, I will only feel deep satisfaction that soon we shall be one.
When He comes back there won’t be: the Enlightened Bride Who REALLY Gets It and the Bride Who Missed the Point, there will just those who are His Bride and those who are not.
There will only be those who loved and obeyed Him and those who thought they knew better.
So when the Bible reminds us time and time again that Jesus’ family isn’t necessarily the beautiful and the intellectual and the ones with star potential (too many references to even link), and when I read Jesus’ words about His great Love for His undeserving Bride, and His instructions about how to treat Her
[again- many links! here are a few:
– just to name a few]
… I am reminded I want to be counted in the group that loved Her well, served Her well, and obeyed Him even when I didn’t get it.
I don’t want to be found throwing stones, voicing concerns outside of the context of Great Love, separating myself from His Beloved Bride, or deceiving myself into believing I can love Him without loving Her.
“If anyone says “I love God”, yet hates his brother, he is liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)