Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bodily Harm and the Body of Christ

Over the past couple months, I have been thinking a lot about, "church."  Recently, I had a hard conversation with a friend who left the church a few years ago (and I have a few other friends who have done likewise).  Her reasons were:

1.  She grew weary of all the hypocrites.  
2.  She became disillusioned from sitting there waiting for some big, "God-moment," that never occurred.
3.  She was tired of spending one of her only two days-off each week going to a place where she felt criticized and unloved.  

I was baffled. 
As someone who views, "church," pretty much with the completely opposite mindset, how did I change hers, or convince her that perhaps she just needed to do some church-shopping (or dare I say it, some honest, heart-wrenching, soul-searching and God-seeking)?  Her issues with the church are complex and multi-faceted, and I don't smugly pretend to fully grasp them all. 

My first reaction to this conversation was to remind my friend that we are ALL hypocrites, whether we go to church or not.  If she thinks the church is full of them, she sure won't find less of them in the world.  In my view, the difference between church-going hypocrites and non-church-going, worldly ones is, "EFFORT vs. APATHY."  We are ALL imperfect, sinful, flawed human beings trying to find our way in life.  My feeling is that overall, those in church are TRYING.  So I found myself thinking, "Does she really have a right to be so put-off with the church?" 

Then I recalled some church experiences from my own past that made me better appreciate some of what she was feeling.  Though rare, I have been through some things in the church that have caused me to want to run and hide, too.  Sometimes you just get to the point where you want to give-up.  Dealing with situations of jealousy, mockery, and false accusation are just a few of the things I have had to, "suck-it-up" and handle within the body of Christ.  It is easy to recall the enormous pain I felt when secretly over-hearing someone, who I thought liked and respected me (a, "friend" even), speak mockingly about me behind my back.  The even worse part was that those listening didn't defend me.  They went along with it and they, too, were supposedly good church, "friends."

I was also once given, "the bird," on the highway by a fellow believer who didn't know to whom they were flashing the finger (that was actually more funny than offensive to me--and honestly, I was tailgating a bit and in a hurry, so I actually deserved it)! Thank the Lord they didn't have the Jesus fish on the back of the car, if that's their normal mode of driving behavior.

I've had fellow believers ridicule my parenting decisions, my decision to stay home, my decision to work, my particular choice of profession, where my child went to school, how we spend our money, how we spend our time, the modest house in which we live, where we vacation, the clothes I wear, my hair length (yes, I am dead serious about that one), the number of children I have, the particular ministries I feel called and equipped to do (or not do)...you name it.  A few years ago, one "friend" of nearly twenty years, chose to drop our friendship after a disagreement we had about my daughter taking a job in Dallas as a recruiter for KSU upon her graduation.  This friend didn't think it was right of Matt and I to let our daughter live alone in a huge city (I laughed at her usage of the word, "let"--in my view, our daughter was 22-years old and old enough to make her own decisions)!  My friend used Scripture out of context and argued that we were sinning in our stewardship of raising Allie by letting her live alone in harms-way instead of protected under our roof until a Godly suitor asked for her hand in marriage.  She out-right insulted my faith and my parenting numerous times during the disagreement.  I felt maimed.  She then acted gloatingly shocked that I was hurt by her words.  But the friendship ended because she didn't, "win," and wasn't willing to, "agree to disagree."  Since Matt and I didn't rush down to Dallas with a U-Haul and bring Allie home upon this friend's profound and inspired instruction, she decided to grab a U-Haul and, "move on" herself!  Give yourself enough time and rub shoulders with enough people in the church, and somebody is going to have a problem with you--maybe even a big one.  Funny thing is, many times these same people will turn around and do the exact same thing YOU did once the tables are turned.  Interestingly, their microscopic, out-of-context-Scripture-usage flies out the window when they glance piously at their own lives.

But, as I've said before, it is easy to look at the sins that other commit against you and put your own through a nice filter.  If I am honest... 

It's not like I've NEVER spoken about anyone 
behind their back in my entire life.
It's not like I've NEVER hurt anyone.
It's not like I've NEVER flipped somebody, "the bird." 
(True story, people.  It's confession time!)!
It's not like I've NEVER given unwarranted advice.

Though I do not make it a habit to be critical of others, my church, or complain about others behind their backs, it isn't like I have never committed those sins.  When I have spoken about others behind their backs, it is typically when they have done something that has really hurt me (and I'm needing to, "vent," so to speak--this is my pathetic justification, anyway).  But I also know that on rare occasions, I have poked fun at others (and though this may have appeared to be well-received, what if it actually wasn't?  What is the real point in that really? Who is it really helping?)!  Ephesians 5:4 speaks to this, "coarse joking," and encourages us to speak with thanksgiving.  Another goodie is, Ephesians 4:29 which says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."  Like my sweet little Grandma used to say, "If you don't have anything nice to say, say nothing at all."  But to that old cliche' she would fondly add, "And there's ALWAYS something nice to say to EVERYONE."  She is so very right.

I recall a Sunday morning when someone jabbed me on a bad day--(can you say, "PMS?!").  It ticked me off.  Then a couple hours later, I caught myself casually poking fun at someone else.  The epiphany of my ironic hypocrisy came to me like a whiff of utter stink, and it was both humorous and disgusting to me how completely self-centered I really am.  Pass me a vomit bag, por favor.  We (ah hem, I) tend to get our feelings hurt way more easily than we hurt for the feelings of others.  That scale needs to start tipping the other way at some point.  We reap what we sow, and we need to be more aware of that truth.  God is just.  He will not be mocked (Gal. 6:7-8; Colossians 3:25).
That said,

I probably deserve every unkind thing 
anyone has ever said about me.  

We all do the same things that we despise in others if we're really honest with ourselves.  I recently had someone ridicule me for posting a selfie and literally two weeks later, up came a similar selfie on their page.  Really???!!!  None of us is without flaw--it may present itself differently, but the underlying sin issue is there.  Be careful what you complain and gripe about in others...you are more than likely about to commit the same error yourself and then some. 

So...why do YOU gossip, critically complain, or share too much about others??? (This includes hiding gossip under the guise of "prayer requests," too):

 Hidden jealousy?
Cleverly camouflaged competitive comparison?
(How's that for alliteration?!)!
Piety and legalism?
Self-promotion or self-preservation?
Compensation to make YOURSELF feel better?
Secret satisfaction that their issues aren't YOURS???

When we hurt each other with our words (hidden or direct) we are actually creating self-inflicted, bodily harm to ourselves and to the body of Christ.  The church is made up of many parts--we are ONE part in ONE body of believers.  We should honestly view each other in this way.  If you know Christ as your personal Savior and Lord, then you are a part of me and I am a part of you.  We are FAMILY.  We are BLOOD.  Like all families, we aren't perfect.  We have issues.  We have baggage, problems, insecurities, and struggles.  As one friend recently put it, "the church is a family and a dysfunctional one, at times" (nicely put, JB).  But we, as believers in the body of Christ, should not be so dysfunctional that other members (other "parts") of our body are running away from home.  There are two alternate and equal truths (or responsibilities) here:  1.  If you've given up on your church family, you've given up on God; and, 2.  We, the church, should be seriously troubled when others give up on us and God.

What do I believe to be the ultimate reason the body of Christ ends-up with missing body parts?  Because of one part of our individual bodies:  our mouths.  I want to give you a challenge (and more importantly, give MYSELF a challenge):  Before I complain to my husband (or anyone) about someone or something that is bugging me in the church, I will pray fervently, not flippantly, about that problem SEVEN TIMES before going to Matt or better yet, before going to the person directly related to the issue.  I have every confidence that God in His faithfulness will more times than not completely take care of the problem at hand before I ever feel the need to start down the winding, negative path of complaint and criticism. 

It really should trouble us that people are using the excuse of, "hypocrisy," to give-up on us and ultimately, on God.  Yes, the Bible says we ALL fall short of God's glory due to our sin nature (Romans 3:23).  But that, too, is no excuse.  No, people cannot blame the church for being full of hypocrites when all they have to do to be around a hypocrite is go look in the mirror.  But as Christians, we are called to a higher standard of living than the world's standard.  If people are leaving the church we better be asking why.  We better be chasing after them.  We are called to be the, family of God.  Church is supposed to be a safe-zone.  The church body is supposed to be a BETTER example of, "family," than the world's example.  We wouldn't let a member of our immediate family run away from home without chasing after them, so why do we let our church family members run away so easily?  We are supposed to be peculiar and different. We are called to stand-out and be attractive to others for the light we shine.  I like the King James Version of 1 Peter 2:9 which states, "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."  As a big Royals baseball fan, I like any Scripture that tells me I'm actually truly ROYAL.  But seriously, if we are no better than the world, then why would anyone want to give-up one of their only two days off a week to come spend time with us?  A green, lush golf course or peaceful, picturesque fishing pond WILL be a better alternative on Sunday mornings if we don't step-it-up a notch.  Every Christian church everywhere ought to be so different and so much better than the world that we are busting at the seams with people who can't wait to come be with God's people and be a part of a REAL family.  Yes, the church is full of imperfect people serving a perfect God.  And, yes, people need to come to church FOR God ultimately.  But the church can no longer afford to likewise make excuses for not living-up to the name, FAMILY OF GOD.

So the real question is:  Do we REALLY see ourselves as a ONE BODY and ONE FAMILY in the church?  Or do we view church as a place to get stuff for ourselves--to consume and be served?  To promote our gifts and talents?  To bolster our own egos and social popularity?  Do we truly view every other person in the church as OUR FAMILY MEMBER...as a soul linked deeply to ours that we should nurture and protect?  Or do we let jealousy, competition, comparison, spite, selfishness, malice, gossip, and pride rule?  The majority of us easily view our immediate family members, (those living under our own roof), as part of us.  We have a, "blood is thicker than water mentality," and would, "go to bat" for them for any reason as if our own flesh were at risk.  It should be no different in the church.  In fact,

...in God's family, the blood is that of Christ,
and it runs deeper and purer than any blood 
we have here on earth in our biological family.  

Most of us would lay down in traffic for our immediate earthly family members and defend them to the death. We stand up for them, accept them, love them, appreciate them, take joy in their successes, revel in their accomplishments, and value them as if we are guarding and caring for our own flesh.  It follows then that we should do the same in the family of God, and even more so.  God's Word says we are all brothers and sisters in Christ--children of Abraham (Gal. 3:7, 26-29; Ro. 8:29).  We are all grafted into the vine of Christ (Ro. 11).  If we don't "talk smack" on those living under our own roof, there should be no remote desire to mock, gossip, or defame anyone in the family of God.  The command in Matthew 18 of going to your brother in private during strife should be the rule, not the exception (versus telling everyone BUT that person)!  Love should be the basis for all we do and say (Heb. 13:1).  We should be easily and generously able to dole out forgiveness to each other, just as we do in our homes with the ones we claim to unconditionally love.  We all know the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31).  We're vastly familiar with the verse about, "that charity that covers a multitude of sins" (1 Pet. 4:8).  We know all about viewing others as better and viewing each other's gifts as better (Philip. 2:3).  So why do we struggle to keep our jealousy, pride, and selfishness (essentially, our hearts) in check?  I firmly believe that most gossip, criticism, belittlement, and malice in the church are derivative of those three sins.  (Again, notice how all of those sins come from one part of our bodies~our mouths)!

I once heard Beth Moore speak at a women's conference about FAMILY.  She shared a story about how when her daughters would fight and say awful things to each other that she would scold them severely, telling them that in their home there would be NONE of that!  She told them that life is hard enough and there would be plenty of people out in the world that would want to throw daggers at them and attack them.  The last thing they need is to be doing that to each other in their own home!  She told them, "We WILL have each other's backs in this family!  We WILL stick-up for one another and be there for each other!"  She made it a mission for her girls to recognize that God had made them a FAMILY...and FAMILY takes care of FAMILY.  Period.

So is it really any wonder why people leave the church or constantly jump from church to church?  We claim to be, "the family of God," but we treat each other more like strangers and rivals than family, at times.  Someone may be your Facebook friend and muster-up a fake smile at you on Sunday morning, but behind your back, they aren't your friend and you know it.  With all the various forms of social media out there, we now have many more avenues to either be offended or annoyed by each other.  This doesn't help the situation.  Truth is, if you are someone who gets easily offended or annoyed by people, you didn't need Facebook to bring it out.  It was already there long before social media, you just now have many more varietal ops to complain about others.  My advice to those who get riled-up about things on Facebook that have nothing to do with you:  Get off of social media.  Learn to let people be who they are and live their own lives.  You have no idea what battles they are fighting and what their situation is all about anyway.  Live your own life and let others live theirs.  If you can't be around someone without the green-eyed monster (or your tongue) rearing its ugly head, steer clear of that person so as not to set yourself up to sin against them and your Lord.  We aren't called to be best buds with everyone in the church.  But we are called to love and do good to everyone.  Sometimes the best way to do that is to leave some people (or branches in the vine) alone.

I hear this all the time:  Your gift is so much better than mine!  CORRECTION:  Any remote ability I may have with singing or leading worship isn't even important enough to be mentioned in Paul's inspired "gifts" list of 1 Corinthians 12!  Sometimes I wish that singers led worship behind a black curtain.  Worship is actually all about humility and laying it all down before the Father.  It isn't about the cool lighting and perfect pitch (thank God--I wouldn't be up there)!  Somehow the idea behind leading worship got twisted--like it's some glorified position in which to be.  Leading worship is actually the most humbling thing anyone can do in the church.  You are the person who is first in line to get on your face before God in your heart publicly.  Basically every time I stand-up in front of the church, I am putting myself at risk.  In my own frailty and sin I am attempting to lead others to the throne of grace, and that warrants serious humility.  It creates fear in my heart of the Lord.  Worship is a big deal, and yet I am so not.  That creates fear in me.  So I rely heavily on the Lord every time I lead knowing that He can take my gift the minute I get, "too big for my britches," and knowing that I could do something truly horrible on stage without His intervention and hand of mercy (like belch over the mic, totally forget a song, etc.).  Singers are a dime a dozen...and God can find a new and improved one anytime He wants very easily.  It is scary sometimes to realize that you could wreck the entire worship experience if you don't have the Lord's help and blessing.  Many Sundays, I have diarrhea in bathroom at church because I don't feel worthy of standing on any stage (how's that for glamorous?).  It is a strange paradox to love serving in some capacity and at the same time, honestly not have the hutsba on your own to do it.  My daughter's former church turned the lights down completely during worship--the only thing lit was the lyrics.  You could barely even make out the faces of the singers.  I loved that.  It takes a lot of courage to muster up the ability to stand before others and show them your vulnerabilities before the Lord.  Truth be known, I wish I could lay face down on that stage--that's the position in which I deserve to be.

Furthermore, any talent I have isn't really mine.  This is another mistaken myth.  It is God's and yours more than it is mine.  I owe my talents to you and ultimately, to God, and you owe yours to me.  We are supposed to use them to serve each other.  They aren't even about us individually.  In the church we all have different gifts, talents, abilities, and callings to be used to strengthen and advance the Kingdom of God, and to give God glory.  My gifts and talents are no better than yours.  We use them for each other, for the body of Christ, and for God.  We have to stop the comparison/competition game.  Again, I am a part of you and you are a part of me.  It's actually pretty cool stuff how God designed this.  You can't be envious of something that is a part of YOU...that belongs to YOU.

Viewing each other as part of our actual SELVES (an attached body part) is commanded.  We hear it all the time, but I don't think we really "get it."  We are ONE in Christ in the church, just as we are ONE in marriage.  Marriage is a symbol of oneness--it is a symbol of the bond between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:23).  If you are "one" with someone, the last thing you want to do is harm a part of your own flesh.  Obviously, when the Bible speaks to this oneness or compares the marriage union to the union between Christ and the "church," it is referring to ALL those who have believed and trusted in Christ, not just our own place of worship.  But our individual churches are where we live-out this unity stuff...this ONENESS.  I think sometimes we grow disillusioned with our church because we DO have high expectations for the people there, and for God--and things just don't always go the way we think they should.  People fail us and God allows it (and we self-righteously wonder what He's thinking or doing)!  But more than that, we are dealing with our own sin nature which thinks of, "ONE," as, "#1" or, "ME!"  It's a high calling to place the term, "ONE" on a body of sinful, self-concerned people.  We come to church expecting God to fill us and everyone else there to do the same.  But oneness and unity are more about what we give back to God and others than about what we receive.

I say this with much love in my heart:  You can't expect to have some grand, "God-moment," at church if you never spend time talking openly to God, reading His Words sincerely, singing His songs, and trusting and obeying His commands.  I would liken that to me spending every night at a hotel alone and wondering why my marriage is less than thrilling!  Likewise, you can't expect to feel loved, accepted, and understood by others in the church, when you aren't willing to sacrificially do the same for the other hypocrites there.  Giving...not just receiving.

One body...
One family...
One vine...
Joined together in Christ.

What are your expectations of church?  Are they about YOU or are they about God and others?  Our only reasons for coming to church should be:

1.  To worship and serve God.
2.  To love and serve others.

When we waiver outside of those two reasons, we will quickly become disillusioned with the church and our family there.  If you are at a point where Sunday mornings are a battle in your mind because you see the imperfections of your church family with great ease and feel like you just aren't receiving back the blessing you so deserve, I've been there, friend.  And my advice is the same for you as it is for myself:  Get over yourself.  Find someone sitting alone in the church and go talk to them.  Befriend the person that no one ever befriends.  Encourage someone you've never encouraged before now.  Assist someone who is elderly or disabled and give them some serious love.  Get busy about others and forget about yourself--God will look after you for you, and He does a much better job.

We need to accept the fact that there will be times, in our human flesh, when we simply don't like our church.  We WILL have times of dissatisfaction.  We are overly stimulated and therefore, easily bored people.  It is in those times that we must let our love for God, our desire to love others above ourselves, and our desire to obey God's command to worship corporately (Heb. 10:24-25; Matt. 12:30) spur us on to a better perspective of our church.   And we must pray like mad-dogs.  We can't expect things to always be perfect there if we throw up random prayers about our church family.  It's our HOME...and that warrants heavy prayers for protection, blessing, and unity.

We need each other.  I need to learn from you and be affirmed, challenged, and encouraged by you.  I also need to learn to support YOU, hurt with you, and rejoice in your joys and gifts.  And you need all that, as well.  If we say we are believers and that our life's purpose is to bring others to the faith and to bring glory to God, then that is how we should be living--for God and others.  Our best witness, example, and opportunity for doing this is how we take care of each other in the body of Christ.  In that purpose there is no room for pride, selfishness, jealousy, slander, ridicule, rudeness, arrogance, gossip, course-jesting, and belittlement.  There is just no room for bodily harm in the body of Christ.  Help us, Lord.

Thanks for reading, and please know that I sincerely prayed at this end of writing this for our individual church bodies and world-wide church body to be shielded, blessed and unified!  Much love to you all!

Related Scriptures (PLEASE don't brush over these~I'm begging you!  They are better than anything I've said above!):

Romans 15:6-7, "...So that with ONE mind and ONE voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God."

Romans 12:4-6a, "For just as we have many members in ONE BODY and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are ONE BODY in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly."

Romans 12:10, "Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves."

Romans 12:5, "...So in Christ we, though many, form ONE BODY, and each member BELONGS to all the

Romans 12:15, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep."

Ephesians 5:28-30, "So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their OWN BODIES. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his OWN FLESH, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the CHURCH, because we are members of HIS BODY."

Hebrews 10:24, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works..."

Galatians 6:10, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, ESPECIALLY to those who belong to the FAMILY of believers."

1 Thessalonians 5:11, "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."

Philippians 2:1-7, "So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of ONE mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus..."

James 4:1-2, "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask."

1 Corinthians 12:26, "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together."

1 Corinthians 12:27, "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is A PART of it. 

And the most fitting passage for this blog:
1 Corinthians 12:12-31, "The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up only ONE BODY. So it is with the BODY OF CHRISTSome of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into Christ's body by one Spirit, and we have all received the same Spirit.  Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part.   If the foot says, "I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand," that does not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear says, "I am not part of the body because I am only an ear and not an eye," would that make it any less a part of the body?  Suppose the whole body were an eye -- then how would you hear? Or if your whole body were just one big ear, how could you smell anything?  But God made our bodies with many parts, and He has put each part just where He wants it.  What a strange thing a body would be if it had only one part!   Yes, there are many parts, but only one body.   The eye can never say to the hand, "I don't need you." The head can't say to the feet, "I don't need you."  In fact, some of the parts that seem weakest and least important are really the most necessaryAnd the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect from the eyes of others those parts that should not be seen, while other parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together in such a way that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity.   This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other equally.  If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.  Now all of you together are CHRIST'S BODY, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.  Here is a list of some of the members that God has placed in the body of Christ: first are apostles, second are prophets, third are teachers, then those who do miracles, those who have the gift of healing, those who can help others, those who can get others to work together, those who speak in unknown languages.  Is everyone an apostle? Of course not. Is everyone a prophet? No. Are all teachers? Does everyone have the power to do miracles?  Does everyone have the gift of healing? Of course not. Does God give all of us the ability to speak in unknown languages? Can everyone interpret unknown languages? No!  And in any event, you should desire the most helpful gifts. First, however, let me tell you about something else that is better than any of them.
 (And it isn't being able to sing, people)!  ;)  

Much love to those of you who read this far!  I prayed a special blessing on your life!  God bless! 

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