Saturday, July 15, 2017

Unraveling Wounds of the Church

Rachel received Christ as her Savior in her early twenties. Her husband prayed over her and loved her to Jesus. He had attended church since he was thirteen when he received Christ in the same church he was now taking her. Together they raised their family of five children inside this church. For over twenty years they served in many areas inside and outside of church. You could say that Rachel grew up in church. No, not in the way that most think of growing up in church from a tiny age until adulthood. In the second pew from the front row she attended each Sunday, taking steps toward becoming the girl God created her to be. 

It's here in the church where she found friendships and family that she thought would last a lifetime into the ages when they with gray hair would look back with laughter, love and a fullness that only comes from the Lord, reminiscing at how they grew over the years. 

Years of service in teaching would bring Rachel to grow in compassion and grace. She would give until she had nothing left to give. She enjoyed teaching and serving in many capacities. She was excited for Sunday and Wednesday to arrive. It's on these days she would return to the church she loved. 

When we are young in Christ we soak up everything. It's all so new to us. As we continue to grow God reveals more and more to us as we seek Him more. It's truly a journey. When we are youngsters in Christ, no matter what age we receive Him as Savior, we are dependent on pastors, teachers, leaders to guide us in our walk. We look to them for example. It is a great motivation when we see others who truly live out their life allowing Christ to be first in their lives. It is a mighty hope to see those leaders as they reach out to those inside the church and in how they serve outside the church doors, into the community. 

But what happens when growing with Christ you hear Him call you to another church? This is what happened with Rachel and her family. After twenty-something years it was time to leave the church that grew them. This wasn't an easy decision. She and her husband prayed, remaining in church, until they heard His answer. 

This was the only church Rachel had ever known. What is amazing is that Rachel didn't have friends outside of the church. She had always been taught to surround herself with believers, never allowing the outside world to have an influence in her life. She took this teaching to heart, keeping the outside world out. But Rachel began pondering just how she was to share Christ with the world around her if she wasn't to be a part of this world. This was growing on her heart and it was something she shared with the Lord. 

See, she was called to serve outside the church walls. She was called to share Jesus in using the gifts He had graciously given her. But there was a point where going to church was no longer exciting. This was something so unknown to her. Even though she hadn't been in church when she was young, after receiving Christ as Savior, she had been in church and to her it felt like she had known Jesus her whole life. She couldn't imagine not wanting to attend church, but this is what was happening. There were many reasons as to why she and her husband were feeling in such a way. Sometimes we hear the church say, "If you're having a problem, don't look at the church, but first look first to yourself." Sometimes, let's be really transparent here, the church we attend is the issue. Sometimes it is us. There are many reasons people leave church. There too are many reasons why people decide to remain inside a church they no longer want to attend. For me, I couldn't ignore the things I knew to be wrong. Sometimes there is just a feeling in your gut. Been there with Rachel? It's a feeling that something is just off, but you can't place your finger on just one thing. The Holy Spirit was speaking to Rachel and to her husband. It had come the time in her lives to explore other churches and see just what God had in store for them. 

What happens when you come to that point in life when you are no longer growing, but are feeling stagnant? We can either remain in the same pew or we can make the choice to bring change so that growth and excitement in attending church can continue. Let us always remember that what's most important is our relationship with Christ. 

It's been about five years since Rachel and her family left their home church. Over these last five years they have visited many churches. They have yet to find that 'home church'. Now, what is extraordinary, they began studying together and also on their own. There's nothing like just being at the feet of Jesus. In these past five years they have grown in ways they never knew possible. They know the decision they made was the right one for them. God is so good. 

Now, what's unusual is that over these last five years Rachel will see people, friends she had inside the church, and they act as if they never knew her. How can this be? It's heartbreaking to Rachel, this woman who walks with such grace and love for others. She truly loved those she attended church with. These very women she shared such intimate aspects of life with seem to have moved on with the idea that she never existed in their world. 

Rachel kept pondering as to why this was happening. Was she just assuming? It had to be her imagination. But it continued to happen as she would be out shopping and see friends she once held so dear just look at her and turn as if they never seen her standing before them. It happened when she was with her husband too. Did leaving the church mean that they would now be shunned for choosing to follow the leadership of the Lord? Did leaving the church mean they were no longer of value? These are questions they began asking in their alone time. It was evident something was off. 

These were families that Rachel and her husband were close to. They had not only attended church together, but raised their families together. They shared dinners out and weekend outings. Could this really be happening? 

Five years later and it is still happening to Rachel and her husband. Out for lunch they have seen people they attended church with and they will not even speak a simple hello. In one circumstance they seen a pastor from a sister church who was saying hello. Sitting next to him was a man from their church. He wouldn't even look up. He refused to acknowledge their presence. 

Just in the last four weeks or so Rachel has seen three different friends she use to share laughter with and in time in seeing these old friends, they chose to walk way, dash away, just pretend she wasn't there. In this last incident Rachel was with her granddaughter. Her granddaughter was excited over a doll house she had seen. Rachel seen the old friend, she took her granddaughter's hand to walk over to chat, but in the corner of Rachel's eye she seen this old friend look at her, dash away and leave the store. 

For this family leaving their home was never any indication they would have to say goodbye to the friends they had made over the years. They never imagined walking away from the people they loved so much and never again sharing such wondrous times. 

Over the years a few have asked them why they made the decision to explore other churches. But in those conversations, which were quickly extinguished, these people asking didn't seem to be asking because they truly cared, but in that they had their own gripes about the church and was wanting to vent their anger. They had no intention of being involved in such slander. They didn't want to be any part of this kind of want to know. In one circumstance it was a deacon and his wife caught them in an local store. Rachel and her husband stopped to say hello. They loved this couple and hadn't seen them in ages. This friend asked if Rachel had found a home church yet and then immediately shared that they didn't want to attend the church any longer, but since her husband was a deacon they didn't have a choice. 

Is this what we do? We come down to not listening to the Lord because of political aspects of the church? This is heartbreaking. Families are wanting to seek other opportunities of growth, but they feel trapped by worrying about what the church would think of them if they left. One husband and wife shared with us, "Good for you. You are much braver then we are. We would be scared to leave." Is this really what is happening inside our churches today? Are we following the Holy Spirit or our we too wrapped up in following the crowd? Over these last five years Rachel and her husband now understand those whispering comments of those who they met in the aisle of the grocer. 

In hearing Rachel's story is this something you can relate to? This has brought me to ponder some questions. How do we treat people outside of the church? Do we surround ourselves with only believers like Rachel? Or do we make room in our lives for those who have not made the decision to believe? If we do not allow the world into our world we are missing great opportunities in sharing who Jesus is in our life. You know, to make an impact in another's life we don't have to stand on the street corner, with Bible in hand, preaching the Word of God, (unless that is what God has called us to do. If so, they follow His leadership, cause He's got a blessing in store for you!). This world needs to witness pure and transparent love. It's one thing to love inside the church. A whole other to live it outside in the world around us when no one is looking. 

See, as the members of the 'church', God's people, if we are transparent, if we share our stories, we can come together in love and bring about change. The church is filled with extraordinary men and women, serving God with a willing heart, and reaching into this world and making a difference. We have more good experiences than bad, right? There's much good to share about the church, but if we don't share about those issues that are very real today we are doing nothing to grow His people. We all have such passionate stories to share. If we can share our experiences we can grow together and be the examples that God has called us to be. 

How do we treat members who have chosen to explore other options? As believers shouldn't we treat these families with respect and grace? Do we want our churches to simply be filled or do we want families to be where God is calling them to be? We should be loving all who enter our churches and all who exist the church. The opening or closing of a door shouldn't have any baring on how we love a brother or sister. 

Assuming there's a drama involved in why a family leaves. We do this, right? We wonder why people have left church but we never ask for the truth of the matter. So, we are left assuming that there was drama and anger. Did the family in fact do something? How could they turn their back on the church? Listening to the Spirit and truly living His calling isn't turning your back on the church. If anything this family needs the prayers and love of the church they have attended. They need encouragement and inspiration in their journey. I mean, how great to have this family return on a Sunday and share their faith journey? This is how we grow. 

In many cases this is what happens. Are you ready? It's a reality. We see a person who has left the church. We see them while we are out shopping and doing our weekend errands. We see them, but yet even as we are looking at them we dash away in hopes that we don't have to speak. Whew, what would we say to this woman? So, we have left the shop. Praise Jesus we got out of there without having to speak face to face. But as we leave we begin thinking of this person; How they looked, what they were doing, and who they were with. This is where it gets even more ugly. Although we didn't speak to the woman we attended church with we cannot wait to arrive in Sunday school. We sit at the table surrounded by others and there it unfolds. "You'll never guess who I seen today!" 

What in the world is wrong with us? See, it's an easy question really. Are we believers or not? Do we just speak about love inside the church or do we really act on that love outside the doors? It's easy to love those inside the church. But here's the thing. If we cannot love those who walk in faith, no matter what church they attend, how are we ever going to reach a world who doesn't know Jesus? The world already looks down upon the church. And why is that? Many have their own stories they can share. Wounds and questions that they have buried deep. They've been hurt, they see how believers act outside of church when they think no one sees. We gotta get our act together. Why? We are losing the battle. Oh, there's no battle too big for our God. But, Satan can distract those inside the church as well. We can get so caught up in the ugly that we lose the opportunities given to us daily to give way for the Spirit to move. 

There is so much about the church that is just amazing. Here's the thing. We cannot judge our God according to His people. We are imperfect. We are all learning as we go. We have His Word to guide us, but we too battle a flesh who wants to do things our way. We get in the way of Jesus living out love through us. Can we just get out of the way already??

Now, we don't have to be close friends with everyone we attend church with, but what we can be is friendly. We can give God the room He needs to move in our lives. Those very people outside of our circle might just be the people with a story that will change our lives. Sadly, if they are different from us we don't much give them a chance. 

We don't have to be fake. I don't much like that phrase, fake it until you believe it. God didn't intend for us to fake our love. Love is going beyond self. It's reaching into the uncomfortable. It's being excited about those moments we actually have an opportunity to share in another's story. Love is building a legacy. A living legacy of Christ. The more we turn from others, whether inside the church or outside, we are cheating ourselves of witnessing God doing something big. 

What has happened to compassion? Is it easier for us to reject people? See, when we do this is makes us look as if we think we are on a whole other level in our Christianity. We begin to think we are elite Christians. We need to value others, no matter how different we are. Let's get to the bottom line. We are ALL sinners. We are ALL imperfect. When we humble ourselves and realize just the mess we are it makes others feel more comfortable around us, we bond in an area, and there before we know it 
God has moved in an extraordinary way. 

Wounds greatly impact us. The choice in how we allow their impact is ours alone. I've chosen to open my wounds and let them bleed at the feet of Jesus. Only He can heal what others cannot even acknowledge. 

Healing comes not instantly. Sometimes those wounds open again. Once opened those open wounds then scab over. All it takes is another incident for that scab to be ripped off and there again that wound is bleeding. Our scars get bruised at times. But there's Jesus reminding us we are loved, we are valued, we are important. Let us never forget that being loved by Christ is enough. It's great to be surrounded by friends, but once we are alone, life becomes real and knowing that Jesus is there has to be enough. That is where growth in Christ comes. 

If we are transparent Jesus will shine through us. No matter what church we attend or what denomination we are, He can bring His people together. He has a way of using every circumstance to bring us to seeing Him in a new way. All we have to do is give Him the room He needs.  

I never want to make another person feel of lesser value, to feel as if they are invisible, and just don't matter enough to me to make time for them in my life. As believers we need to make time for those around us, whether friend or stranger. God's extraordinary lives in these moments where we are willing to give of self.

In my own experiences I have grown more compassionate and understanding. I reach out in a mighty love without expecting anything in return. That isn't always easy, but this is the love that God calls us to share. I want to experience Jesus in every word and act. Unless I learn to be uncomfortable I'm never going to grow beyond me right now. 

We all have a story worth sharing. In fact we are all of worth. We have value. We are loved. We are important. We are children of the King of kings. He doesn't love one more than He does another. In fact, He loves us ALL as if we were His only child. See, there's no one quite like you to God. 

So, when we see those who we know, make that first move. They may quickly dash away, but making the effort to smile, to wave, makes all the difference. Maybe not for them, but in our lives it will make all the difference. We don't have to talk for an hour. We can simply be friendly and wish them a beautiful day. Taking time for others makes them feel valued. Take that opportunity and open it up to Jesus. The possibilities are endless when we place Him before every circumstance we face. 

"Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the Prophets." 
Matthew 7:12

"For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect just as your Father in heaven is perfect." 
Matthew 5:46-48

"Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith." 
Galatians 6:10

"These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." 
Matthew 15:8-9

"But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourself." James 1:22

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law." 
Galatians 5:22-23

"And He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." 
Micah 6:8

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