YOU Are the Church

Photo by Marcolm taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Marcolm taken from freedigitalphotos.net

There are numerous articles expounding on all that’s wrong with the church. They’re trying to be too contemporary, too relevant. They’re behind the times. They’re full of hypocrites, ran by hypocrites. They’re too judgmental, or too lenient, or too rigid, or to laxed…

I could go on, but I choose not to.

I’d rather remind us all that WE are the church. We are the ones whom Christ sent out, to help the poor, love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, to die to ourselves and “to find common ground with everyone, doing everything [we] can to save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22b).

Because let’s face it, our pastors are outnumbered. In a congregation of 500, in a given week, you’ll have those who are sick and in need of visitation, those who are struggling financially and in need of aid, single moms who are lonely and in need of a friend, and I could go on. And on. And on.

Sadly, there will likely always be more needs than resources to meet them. That benevolence fund created to help families in need eventually runs dry, and needs you and I to contribute to it. Because the funds for ministries aimed at showing Christ’s love and helping our communities come from you and I.

As I type this, I’m thinking of Jesus’ advice in Matthew 7:3-5

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye” (NLT).

The hypocrite, it seems, is the one who criticizes others without taking the time to evaluate themselves, without taking the time to zero in on and remove the plank that’s distorting their vision.

When I do this, when I focus on my vision-distorting plank, I suddenly remember all the times I chose to buy a latte rather than giving to a need. Or when I avoided that which was inconvenient or awkward–the reaching out to a new neighbor, or watching the children of a single mother, or cleaning the house of a shut-in–to do that which was most pleasurable.

Each day, I make selfish, non-loving choices. Each day, I get caught up in my agenda, or my schedule, or even the 5,000 thoughts swirling through my popcorn-kernelling brain. Leaving those I love and want to love hurt in my wake.

And each day, I must confess this selfish side of me to Christ, asking Him to help me do better, to love better, and to better Lovewithactionversereflect who He is.

So let’s drop our pointing fingers, set aside our debates, roll up our sleeves and get to work. Because there’s a big, hurting world out there, a world of incredible needs, and it’s going to take all of us, working together, to meet them. To love them. And to reach this generation for Christ.

Unity of the gospel is a powerful thing.

LivingbyGracepicLet’s talk about this! How do you feel about the points raised in this post? (If you disagree, that’s totally OK! 🙂 ) When have you been tempted to focus on another’s faults or weaknesses, either personally or in relation to their ministry? How did God bring you back to a place of unity? Why do you think people are often quick to point fingers at the church? What are the dangers in doing so?

Share your thoughts with me in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

And before you go, I wanted to introduce you to our newest addition to the Living by Grace team: Susan Aken! My regularly readers are probably fairly familiar with Susan and her writing by now, as I’ve had her on here numerous times. She has such a heart for Christ and such a sweet, humble way of presenting thought provoking truth. She’ll be hosting on Mondays. In the meantime, visit her blog (HERE) and tell her hello!

And, if you haven’t done so, I encourage you to sign up for my (our) free quarterly newsletter. When you do, not only will you receive great content (serial story segments, devotions, recipes, and more!), but you’ll also receive free e-copies of my two compilations: Sweet Freedom With a Slice of Peach Cobbler and Sweet Freedom Ala Mode. So sign up now! 🙂 (If you’ve already signed up but didn’t receive your free copy yet, please let me know! I’ve had some emails bounce back on me.)

 

Cancerous or Contagious

About a decade ago, the church we attended experienced a split. I don’t need to go into details, but before long, the entire congregation was a buzz of negativity and polarization. Lines were drawn that never should have been drawn and the cancer became contagious. What started as a difference in opinion between two leaders opened the door for criticism in every area of ministry. And for a moment, I grew confused. I wondered if perhaps God was calling my husband and I out of the church. Were we to join all the others following pastor B? As I took it to God in prayer, He helped me see the bigger issue and the root cause of our church’s disunity. Satan had wiggled his foot in and was working to throw the door wide open. How would Satan destroy the church? How would he weaken our witness? By getting us to lash out at one another.

I’ve written about this before, but it appears, it’s worth writing about again. Lately I’ve been bombarded by barbs hurled by Christians at other Christians and I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:25, …”Every kingdom divided against itself is destroyed, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” (NIV)

Now granted, I’m taking this verse out of context, but the principle applies just the same. In our home, the moment I start to bash my husband, I invite division. My heart turns against him, bitterness simmers, and my daughter is left to choose sides. And on my husband’s end, his effectiveness is hindered by turmoil and distrust. Not the ingredients for a happy household. But even worse is what it looks like to the onlooker.

We’ve all heard 1 Corinthians 13. This passage is so popular, it’s often quoted in secular media, and when witnessing to others, Christians use it to explain the love of God. Yet, sadly, we rarely live it out.

 1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Oh, we love our family. We love our friends. But that church down the street? We spew nasty comments so fast our tongues get whiplash. Then we justify our actions by thinking that’s not our family. Our family attends Holy Trinity.

Funny, I don’t think God has the same view of family. Nor do I think we understand the role of the body of Christ. Our family extends far beyond our church walls. As a writer for an international ministry, I’m often aware of my dependency and responsibility to the WHOLE body of Christ. Our pastor may give a sermon that influences my writing which in turn influences a believer in India who in turn influences another believer.

So when I bash another believer or their ministry, whether part of my immediate church family or the far-reaching body of Christ, I’m rebelling against 1 Corinthians 13 and proving myself a liar.

Perhaps you’d agree with what I’m saying, to a point…. But what happens when you disagree with someone else’s methods? Not message, mind you, but methods. There is a difference. And here’s the sad truth: we spend way too much time debating methods and way too little time sharing the message. What kind of music should we have? What kind of novels should Christians write? How should pastors lead their youth group?

That’s not to say there won’t be times to help initiate change. We live in a rapidly changing culture and therefore must continually adapt. However, a rule of thumb I’ve always followed: Don’t complain unless you a) have a solution to offer and b) are willing and ready to be part of the solution. Otherwise, you’re just part of the problem.

Before I go, I’m going to leave y’all with one more passage. Chew on it for a moment, and commit to honor God with your mouth. Commit to support your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world, looking beyond the pew in front or behind you. Commit to being the body–one body, one church, ruled by one Savior who died for us all.

James 3:9-12

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (NIV)

Here’s my parting question: Is your witness, verbal and behavioral, contagious or cancerous? The next time you’re tempted to bash another believer or their ministry, remember what’s at stake. We’re Christ’s ambassadors, entrusted with His soul-saving gospel. With so many people living in darkness, is there time to hurl insults at one another? Our time would be much better spent clamping our jaws shut and getting busy on those things that make an eternal difference.

(You may want to re-read a similar post published last December entitled A Venomous Tongue.)

A Venemous Tongue

Before I get too far, I’m going to send you over to  A Woman’s Voice where a dear friend posted one of my articles on marriage. I don’t remember when I originally wrote it. I took it down fairly quickly after Dolores sent me a request to use it on her site, but it was likely an expansion on the wonderful article Kevin Adams wrote for me on Reflections, A Christ-centered Marriage: A Priceless Original.

Hopefully all you subscribers aren’t getting bogged down with daily posts. Tomorrow, your email box will be Slattery free…I hope. (As long as the sermon doesn’t inspire another post. hahaha)

Yesterday I received an email that bothered me, for numerous reasons. It was one of those “as told to”, so there really isn’t anything I can do to address the problem, except pray, which is likely the best course of action anyway. But my dissapointment came down to two things I thought worth addressing:

1) The content in the email failed to acknowledge or understand the body of Christ.

2) It failed to protect the body of Christ.

Perhaps we are a bit too comfortable here in the US. No one’s hunting us down, ready to burn us at the stake for our faith. Our greatest persecution? Probably an email, or a negative fb post, or article. Occassionally someone may make a snide comment or two. So we really don’t need each other, right? Which means we can speak negatively of our brothers and sisters in Christ whenever we want. Oh, yeah, we’re a body. A family. But have you seen the way those believers down at Trinity United act? And what about our last prayer meeting? Only a handful of people showed. You know, I’ve been to many of our church members’ houses. Most of them have five televisions. I bet they spent the afternoon glued to the tv screen.

Yep, we’re a body of believers, united in Christ.

One thing I learned, or decided, early on in marriage: I would never, ever, put my husband down in public. Or to our daughter. Why? I protect him, which means protecting his image–defending his character, being his chearleader. You can’t be a chearleader and speak negatively about someone. It’s like talking out of both sides of your mouth.

I also do not speak negatively of our daughter. She gets concerned at times with all the “proud Momma” posts I write, and says people will think she’s an angel, which she’s not. (Well, she is in my eyes. grin) But do you really need to hear of her mistakes? That is between her and I.

Do we honor the body of Christ to the same extent, or are those just words we say on Sunday morning?

I think I am blessed that I have had to rely on the body on numerous occasions. I have been housed by fellow believers, prayed for, encouraged–loved, often by people I had never met previously. Numerous times throughout my life, through countless moves and difficulties, the body of Christ stepped up. They became my family, sealed by the blood of Christ. Which means, the same rules that apply to my nuclear family apply to them. I will defend them. I will protect their reputation and I will look for the best in them.

I will also recognize their unique position and gifting in the body. Each day I get numerous requests from fb friends and other ministries, for donations, to pray, to spread the word about their ministry. And they are all very good, very important, very Christ-centered ministries. But I cannot support them all and although I try to be diligent with my prayers, I cannot pray for them all. Nor can I go to every church function that is scheduled. Does that mean I am selfish? That I do not care about those ministries? Not at all, and likely most will never see or know many of the things our family does–which is as it should be. Which is where trust comes in–not in us, but in God, who forms the body as He wills, stirring each member to do their part.

Why do I say that? Not to defend the Slattery family, because we were not the ones under attack. My dear brothers and sisters in Christ were under attack, and because they did not participate in a ministry that one body member was very passionate about, they were judged as callus. And they were slandered.

And we are the body of Christ.

So here’s my admonition. Be very, very careful what you say about a fellow servant. Negative, judgemental comments divide the body and defame the name. It hurts more than our brothers and sisters. It hurts our witness. You cannot in one breath talk about Christ’s transforming power and in the next, slander another believer. The two statements contradict each other.

Be alert, and supportive, of our God-designed differences and do not expect God to place your passion in everyone else’s heart. Yes, your passion is important. If it weren’t, God woudln’t have given it to you. But there is a big, wide world out there with numerous people needing help. There are shelters needing food and food servers, churches needing ministers to train the food servers, sex-trafficking victims needing protectors, new believers needing disciplers, children needing caretakes, elderly needing comforters, the sick needing nurturers and healers.

Be slow to judge, as it says in Romans 14:4 “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

Who makes him stand? Who holds the body together? Who raises up ministries and trains workers for the harvest? The Lord. So my admonition to us all is that we would spend less time judging what we think is wrong and more time working toward what is right. Every time you are tempted to dishonor another member through words or actions, flip it, and find a way to bless them instead. Then, sit back and watch how God blesses your obedience. And never forget, there is power in unity.