Today I picked an old book up off the shelf and started reading it - Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Initially there was something in the preface that struck me, when Chan said ... "'How many of you have read the New Testament and wondered if we in the church are missing it?' When almost every hand went up, I felt comforted. At least I'm not crazy." And then there was a bigger statement that was made near the end of the preface when speaking of the common phrase "I believe in God, just not organized religion." - Chan replied "I don't think people would say that if the church truly lived like we are called to live. The expression would change to 'I can't deny what the church does, but I don't believe in their God.'"
Now... sit and think on both of those statements...
First of all... they are in the preface - two outstanding, mind-blowing, shake you up statements that most people don't even read because they skip right over the forward and preface to chapter one of a book. As a literary major, I have grown to love and appreciate the forward and preface - it's there for a reason and I want to know why - So I have grown to not skip over it as most people do. This has led me to these two golden nuggets.
"How many of you have read the New Testament and wondered if we in the church are missing it?"
I would beg of you the same question... I know that I have been struggling with this myself my entire life. Being the daughter of a pastor and having the privilege of experiencing many different churches, settings, belief systems, and the reality of it all - I can say that I am puzzled as well. I have been a part of churches who had full disclosure (nothing to hide) and I have been a part of churches who had minimal disclosure or no disclosure (something to hide). I have been a part of churches who did not want change and wanted to keep their pews and hymnals. I have also been a part of a place that is okay with gymnasiums and electric guitars. I think there are a lot of different versions of churches out there, but the problem is that there should not be.
A church with a little "c" is the single location where services are held - a congregation of people - or a building used for worship. The Church with a big "C" is the group of little “c” churches that make up the body of Christ. We generally refer to that as the family of Christ, the body of Christ, the Christians around the world. The Church includes everyone that believes in Jesus no matter where they are, where they meet, how they meet, or what they call themselves.
Ultimately we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves and love God with our whole heart (Matthew 22:37-39). We are called to pick up our crosses and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). We are called to love and do as He does.
Simple? Sure. Except it’s not so simple when the Church is so jumbled because it can’t keep track of what all the churches are doing, how they are behaving, and how they should be.
There are churches who are more concerned about hiding their financial interests, pocketing the tithes that should be going to greater things, and making good impressions. This is not about the surface – God has never been about the surface!!!
God has always been about what is in our hearts and how we are showing that to others. Have you ever loved someone so radically that they had to take a step back and really ask you why you were doing that? Have you ever loved someone so radically that they did not understand and think it was outside the norm? Isn’t this the kind of love we are called to have for everyone, no matter what?! What happened? When did we become a people that were complacent and accepting of being subpar to what God is calling us to do and be?
"I believe in God, just not organized religion."
I have said this – Can you believe that?! There were times in my own life that I was discouraged by the Church and I did not want to associate with it. I believe in God with all my heart, I always have, but that does not mean that I agree with the way things are being handled by others. But, a church is made up of people and you and I are both one of those people. We are one of many, but we still have a say. Churches do not get to change the rules, they do not get to play it safe, and they certainly do not get to tell you anything but the truth that is in the Bible. One of those truths is that God labeled the first and second greatest commandments around love! Can it be that Jesus was saying there is nothing more important than loving God and loving others?! I think so!
So, stop trying to show face to everyone else out there when we all know that our hearts are not the same as what we try to make everyone else think they are. We are murky, dirty, tainted human beings and we are just called to love each other. There is sin in this world and that will not change, but that does not give us excuse to not strive to be better! When was the last time you chose love over hate? Love over bitterness? Love over despair? When was the last time you chose love over jealousy, judgment, or scorn?
"I can't deny what the church does, but I don't believe in their God."
What would the world really look like if we were the people God called us to be? What would it look like if we were half the people God called us to be? Honestly, I don’t think we are even there yet; myself included. What if the people of today could actually give us the name “Christian” as the people in ancient times actually did. Did you know that? Christians did not name themselves; they were named. They acted on this commandment of God and were Christ-like in nature. The people were so radically different that they were singled out, labeled, called upon by others for being “Christian” and everyone knew what that meant.
Today, we would likely have to tell people that we were Christians. What we believed and why, but we would be really hard pressed to prove to them that we believed this because our actions do not show it!
I think of myself – every day I am home, at work, at school, in the car, doing whatever it is that I’m doing. When do I choose love? When is my love so radical that attention is drawn to it? When has there ever been a point in my life that someone has questioned me because I was too loving? Okay, there may have been once or twice… but we are talking in my 28 years of life. Shouldn’t this be happening daily? Shouldn’t that number at least look like 10,000 times? Even then, I feel like I am selling myself short. I have lived more than 10,000 days and yet I could count the number of people who have questioned my love on one hand.
When will we be a people that shows crazy, radical, unexpected love?! Not just to our significant other, our kids, our coworkers, but also to strangers, enemies and God!
Life is a whirlwind and you can get caught up in it. When was the last time you were intentional about loving God? When was the last time you were intentional about loving someone hard? I know there are things coming to mind, but God knows our thoughts before we even think them, our actions long before we act on them. He knows where we are and how we are really feeling. We cannot hide even in the darkness from him. So, why are you so afraid to admit it – when he already knows?!
You haven’t failed until you have given up and stop trying! I am completely challenged to love radically today – and every day. But, I challenge you the same. Get rid of the negativity, the distractions, and the temptations. Charge forward on your journey through love!
Love yourself as God loves you, love others as God has called us to, and let others love you as you deserve to be loved. This can and will change things. What’s holding you back?