Saturday, March 21, 2009

Family, or Strangers?

We have sung it for years: "You will notice we say brother and sister 'round here. It's because wer'e a family, and these folks are so dear. When has a heartache, we all shed a tear......." But do we really mean it?

John Trent & Gary Smalley related a story in their great book, "The Blessing". A Christian woman had a non-believing husband. He spent most of his spare time at the local bar until the day he finally became a Christian. Sadly, he didn't last. He missed the companionship of his fellow drinkers, and no one made a move to befriend him at the church.

A friend of mine was complaining to me about people on facebook, and people in general. He pointed out that if you post something dumb/funny on your facebook, you get tons of comments. But post you are having a rough time, or post a prayer request, and you're lucky if you get one or two comments.

I don't know if we are too busy, or what all the reasons are, but it seems that in too many churches, regardless of the size, we really aren't a family. We don't really bear each other's burdens. If someone testifies and comments they are discouraged, how many of us pray for that person, and even better, tell them we are praying for them?

I believe we are too self-absorbed in today's world. We go to church and worship and leave without making contact with many people outside of our little clique. We don't make visitors welcome. We don't really care how the people are doing outside of the clique we are in. Down deep, most of us only want people there who conform to what we want.

The church should be somewhat of a hospital. A place where people can come for help, but I' afraid that the worst among us wouldn't feel comfortable in most of our churches. You should act and look a certain way to be there, and you certainly should only have "nice" sins. None of that really bad stuff.

I came across something that echoed some of my thoughts. The article is about Ted Haggard - the minister who was caught up in acts of homosexuality. A man named Alan Chambers wrote an article on
" What Ted Haggard Can Still Teach The Church" . There was a paragraph that holds oh so much truth:

"The truth is that most Christians struggle with a particular sin in their lives. It might be an uncontrolled temper. Maybe it's substance abuse or even a secret grudge harbored toward someone. Or maybe, like Ted Haggard and me, it's a struggle with lust and sexual brokenness. While there is freedom through the power of Christ, the sad truth remains that there is still something terribly wrong in many of our congregations, something that all of the marriage protection laws and constitutional amendments cannot fix. Many of our churches are not safe places for us to be vulnerable and seek help and so many continue to suffer in silence. The choice of committing sin and disobeying God has always been our personal responsibility, but we in the church desperately need each other. And yet, in many churches, people are still donning masks and ignoring the very hurts and struggles that God instructs us to be open about. If we are to make any progress in reaching a hurting world, our churches need to be a place of healing and accountability. This starts by every one of us, including our leadership admitting to our struggles and asking fellow Christians for help."

Part of the problem may be that we have set the standard so high that we leave no room for people who are struggling. Even the word "struggling" brings judgemental looks and thoughts. I almost get the idea that most Christians I know believe you come to Christ, become a Christian, and then get "sanctified" - a term my church uses that pretty much means total surrender - and then you shouldn't have any "struggle". Meanwhile, there is a world of hurting people in our churches afraid to confess their struggles & battles. They fear condemnation, judgement, even being ostracized in some cases. The best case scenario, they will be told they just need to "pray more".

I could be wrong, but I feel if the church was truly like the song Jesus wants the church to be, that no matter what issue a Christian brother or sister struggles with, they could let it be known and be met with love, concern, prayer.

A while back, some things were said that just crushed me. The people who said them had no idea how badly they hurt me, and maybe they wouldn't care, but if it were their family member, I hope they would have had a different attitude, yet is it any less wrong to treat fellow Christian brothers & sisters in ways that hurt, than we would our blood family?

I need to choose my words carefully here, but there are issues that I struggle with that a handful of people in my church - and out of the church know. I have been back close to a year now from living in Indiana for 2 years, and not one of those people have pulled me aside and asked how I am doing. Part of me knows I cannot depend on others, and whether I walk this journey completely alone, or have tons of help, it is ultimately up to me whether I stay on the right path - not others. Yet, I have to wonder, if it was their biological brother or sister, would they do differently?

We all need each other. I have been to a couple of places lately to eat and play games, and really enjoyed myself. Back in the days of the early church, they lived with each other, took care of each other. We need more of that - and no, I am not seeking invites - we all, myself included, need to reach out more not to just the visitors and sinners who come through our church doors, but to the ones who are there every service.

We shouldn't just pray for our loved ones, but for those we attend church with, and their loved ones. If someone is going through a rough time, we should help in any way we can, even if it is by encouraging words and prayer.

We need to love each other, and somehow make the church a place where our hurting brothers and sisters can step up, admit their need, and receive help, not judgement.

Family Of God (Bill & Gloria Gaither)

You will notice we say "brother and sister" 'round here,
It's because we're a family and these are so near;
When one has a heartache, we all share the tears,
And rejoice in each victory in this family so dear.

I'm so glad I'm a part of the Family of God,
I've been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His Blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod,
For I'm part of the family,
The Family of God

From the door of an orphanage to the house of the King,
No longer an outcast, a new song I sing;
From rags unto riches, from the weak to the strong,
I'm not worthy to be here, but PRAISE GOD! I belong!


The Pastor of a Small Rural Church said...

Wow. I guess we are truly blessed. The church we are currently pastoring is very much just like family to not only us but to each other. That is one thing that makes this church so incredibly special. I would also add that the Bible Methodist group is very very much like one big family. Very deeply concerned and involved in each other's lives. Especially the leadership with the pastor's. It's very rare and notable.


Kim M. said...

I think we could all use this type of exhortation.

A good thing to do to help us remember those who have struggles (emotional or physical) is to either write down the prayer requests or take the sheet home (our church hands out lists) and pray for people. Then we need to send them cards, etc.

I struggle with remembering and this has helped me a lot

Craig and Heather said...

Craig and I have been discussing this sort of thing.

On the one hand we see "holiness" obsessed types who fail to reach out in love to those who need it so badly. Unfortunately, I've been there and often it is due to an underlying fear of becoming "contaminated" by associating with another Christian who has certain weaknesses.

On the other hand, there are the types who see that error but over-correct the other way as they focus on "love and acceptance" to the point where sin becomes just another "lifestyle choice".

Both extremes are wrong. It IS possible to hate sin and yet lovingly encourage those who already hate sin...yet are having to war daily against their flesh.

I don't tell too many people that I have issues with gluttony. Strangely, many Christians don't seem to see that as a "real" sin. But to me it is just as bad as idolatry or prostitution. It is not easy to get sympathy from someone who doesn't have "that" problem. They don't understand the daily fight to remain pure.

Those who recognize the depth of personal depravity--and see that we have absolutely NOTHING of value to offer God --are able to find this balance in Jesus Christ. Those who think they are "okay" have a hard time extending mercy to others.

Luke 7:47 "Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little."

1 John is one of my favorite books. We've been studying it with family.

1John 4:20-21 "If any one says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also."

Sobering words.

I understand "hate" to have a broader meaning than "open hostility"--it can simply mean "I don't care about your problems". John says as much: 1John 3:17 "But if any one has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?"

Many Christians do not understand love simply because they are immature. Others do not love because they have not actually been changed themselves. It isn't my job to decide who is and is not saved--but we are told that there are goats among the sheep and tares among the wheat.

Praying the Lord will lift you up as you continue in His strength and grace.