Like you, I’ve had some experiences in church. Some were good and some were bad. Now, I know the old caveat about there being “no perfect churches”, but in the same way our sinful nature is no excuse for continuing in sin without repentance, an imperfect church is no excuse not to strive to be a better church. With that said, I have had experiences and seen others experience things in church that have made me sad. This is not an indictment on churches or on church life itself. It may sound like I’m doing a “hatchet job”, but I know the buck stops with me in my many sins and sordid struggles. These are my observations and things I’ve learned in church and maybe some of the things that could be better.
1. I’ve learned that forgiving people 70×7 only applies if people think you’re really sincerely sorry as opposed to whether or not you actually are sorry.
This is all on me. I own this one completely. I know my struggles and one of the worst ones involve my mouth. I have at times had to repent and apologize for something I’ve said or typed. I was sincere, but like any besetting sin, it’s a struggle for me. Not in a “seven days a week” way, but in a “every so often my mouth runs ahead of me” way and I have to rein it in. What it doesn’t mean is, when I have to repent again, I really didn’t mean it the first time and it doesn’t mean that when I make that same mistake I wasn’t really sorry. It means it’s a struggle and whether you see it physically or not, God is working in me. There is a struggle against the flesh. What I and others need the most is not, three strikes and you’re out or 7 tips to tame the tongue. If we screw up and we are sorry, what I and others need from you is to pull out one of those “infinite forgiveness” coupons.
2. I’ve learned that weeping publicly sometimes raises eyebrows from people instead of hope.
It might become a broken record before long, but this one is also all me. During an indirect incident involving church leadership, I became visibly upset. I don’t do a lot of “public display of emotions” but this was something that affected me and brought me back to my childhood. I openly wept and nearly felt like wailing. I got a nice hug and a “we’ll get together soon to talk” which never happened, and I was sent on my merry way. I learned quite a bit later that my weeping freaked someone out and they wanted me supervised under certain conditions. Simply put, I needed grace then, not condemnation. I needed hope, not turned-up eyebrows. You can say it’s all about me, and I’m being a crybaby. Maybe I am, I don’t know. But I’m not a guy that asks for much. I crack jokes and usually do what’s asked. You already know I have an occasional mouth on me, but I’m also aware of it, which doesn’t mean I’m making excuses for my sin, but on the contrary, I’m extremely aware of my imperfections and how much I need God. I guess it’s a sinful nature that turns an eyebrow at, out of character behavior. What’s funny is that in a different setting, me crying for the first time, say maybe after a sermon, would be considered some kind of “breakthrough”. People need compassion and hope. I know I’m guilty of not loving people enough. We probably all are. I guess this is just something to be aware of.
3. I’ve learned that when you openly admit sin, people will be more eager to tell you how to be fixed than forgiven.
Yup, more me. This is pretty straightforward. I had a sin, as if I don’t have more, or the same one still, that I felt the need to openly admit to. In hindsight, I’m both glad I did and sometimes regret it. I learned through this that dealing with sin becomes more about fixing the problem instead of affirming that Jesus paid for it. Now, I was a willing participant. I wanted to stop sinning. I still do. More than that, I want and NEED to know that I’m forgiven when I don’t. It is so central to christianity, but it’s talked about so little, except in passing, or in a short sermon series. I guess I just know differently now. So maybe this was more my ignorance than anyone else’s fault.
My hope is that when a brother or sister confides to me or someone else of some struggle with sin, before a plan is set, the gospel is preached and that person is reminded over and over again that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. It’s that grace given to us in our weaknesses that strengthens us to come to terms with our struggles and gives us more victories than losses, but even more than that, a steady, never-ceasing knowledge that if we are God’s, nothing can separate us from His love.
4. I’ve learned that the only sure problem “spiritually speaking” is that you’re not reading, praying, or meditating enough.
This is a general observation, but I’ve heard it locally as well as across a variety of media sources. If something is wrong, if you’re “dry” or you’re not hearing from God, then check your devotional life. It seems like the blanket answer for all things God-related. Struggling with sin? Are you reading enough? Not sure what God wants you to do? Are you meditating regularly? This is Christianity’s answer to counseling. It’s a default statement that is used way too much. My counter question is always, “what’s enough?” Until you get an answer? Well, sometimes God doesn’t give one right away, so how long before we decide we don’t have one? It’s not to say those things aren’t important, but let’s not make them the blanket statement for all problems. Some people need more relational care than others. Let’s be more aware of an individual before we start telling them how to “fix everything”. This brings me to my next one
5. I’ve learned it’s more about getting your blessing than recognizing how blessed you’ve already been by Christ.
Prosperity gospel, name and claim it, believe to receive or sun stand still/Jabez/circle making prayers. Call them whatever you want, the gist of all of it is to get your blessing from God. If I do something for God, God will do this for me. This is so utterly frustrating for me, because there will be NO GREATER BLESSING than what God has done for us in Christ Jesus when he took our sins and bore them to death on the cross. We have been saved and are now called the righteousness of Christ. To even hint that we have to continually do things to gain His favor, blessings or gifts is absolutely preposterous.
How about simply serve Him because he served us best? Crazy idea, huh? I have a friend whose faith was shipwrecked when he was told to forgive his mother, not because he has been forgiven by God of so much more, but so it doesn’t hinder God’s blessings in his life. I honestly get angry just thinking about it. Even if we add it as a caveat at the end of the real reason for forgiveness, it lessens the work of the cross. IT IS FINISHED and that should always be what motivates us. Anything else God does for us, even every prayer answered after “SAVE ME”, is just gravy on top of our salvation. Let it sink in, please.. You’ve been blessed immeasurably by your salvation, let everything else you do flow from that.
To be continued…