My husband and I have been talking about church and ministry and all-that-stuff a fair bit lately. The conversations are not always simple and we aren’t really sure what we’re getting at most of the time. You could say we feel a tad thrown off.
This summer I decided to read the New Testament again, but with an eye toward the church. On account of all the “thrown off” feelings. I wanted God to show me WHY He loves the church and WHY it has to be part of the divine plan for humanity’s salvation, because WOW does the church (and I include MY OWN SELF in that generalization) mess it up a lot. God reminded me that we wouldn’t have half the New Testament if the church wasn’t a mess so I guess it’s been this way since Pentecost and it’s not changing. Big sigh. Okay then, but now what? Do I really have to be part of this?
I have a sum total of zero answers but the questions won’t leave me alone, which is a kind of answer isn’t it? I have the following verse taped onto my dresser mirror in case anyone wants to know how my faith is lately:
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51:12 (#notfine#itsfinethough)
Anyway. Glenn and I talk about this stuff a lot and it’s helpful to me because he grew up in church and in ministry which I sure as hell-in-a-handbasket did NOT. I appreciate his perspective. This week we got on the topic of the lost sheep. How the shepherd leaves the 99 to go find that 1 sheep who wandered off and bring it home. Often that passage is communicated as being evangelistic. “Go seek the lost” and all that. I’m not saying that’s bad, because evangelism is obviously something I am here for even though the joy in my own salvation is MIA according to my mirror. BUT that passage is about bringing back a lost sheep who was already part of the flock. The shepherd is going after the one who already belonged and got away. Oh hey church, who’s gotten away lately that might need someone to carry them back so they don’t DIE in the wilderness? (Literally people have done this for me this year so I am talking from half-dead experience here. Baaaa)
In the same chapter (Luke 15) is the story of the prodigal son, who also already belonged to his father, but who willfully took off and the father had to let him make that choice. I mean kids growing up and wanting to live their own life thanks anyway? That’s nothing new under the sun. And in other true stories – that father waited expectantly for his son to come home, as fathers and mothers do. I think somehow he knew the whole time that his son would return someday – that’s how he saw him when he was still a long way off. The joy of my salvation is a long way off somewhere communing with pigs probably, but it’s coming back. I’m waiting for it. (Funny story: I have a school retreat this week with the theme of Joy. I’m sure I will fall over and need to be resuscitated. Someone kill the fatted calf or order in pizza for this moment.)
As pastors, ministers, leaders, shepherds, mothers, fathers, friends, people who give a care – whatever role we find ourselves in or however we define it, we have both kinds of people around us. People who get lost and need to be found, rescued, delivered home, and maybe put on a leash or something? (<— that was a joke, but for real someone RESTRAIN ME if I get that wandering look in my eye.) We also have people who leave us no matter how badly we want them to stay, and we keep a place for them in hopes that they’ll return. There is nothing like being welcomed home. It is sometimes a blurry thing to tell which is which.
So I have been pondering how to tell the difference especially because I am all of the people at all of the angles in those stories, and find myself convicted over how much I care or don’t care depending on where I stand. I need some kind of slow-to-get-it special grace for discernment in all this being the church with God’s people. Who needs to be sought after and rescued, and who needs to come home and be rehabbed? Can someone be both or is this an either/or situation? I need discernment to know who is lost or lead astray, and who needs a time out in a pig pen. Discernment to know when to go looking and when to keep a look out. And discernment to see which paths will bring life vs death in whatever circumstances I navigate among the people God surrounds me with.
Apparently asking God to show you His love for the church while you re-read the New Testament is an effective prayer that God wants to answer in your life. The conversations with my husband about church and ministry and stuff are to be continued, I guess.
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