Gasp! The church isn’t perfect?!

But… if the church isn’t perfect, then who is?!

A few weeks ago I found myself at a meeting in the church. Everything was going fine: we were praying, talking, taking prayer requests, offering our personal experiences, and sharing ideas about what the Lord was doing in our lives. All of the sudden something happened. An argument sprung up over how the voting of new officers should be done. Women were yelling, being snippy, acting stubborn, rolling their eyes, accusing one another, and attacking one another. It was out of the blue, and I wasn’t sure how to react.

Now, first let me preface that this church is my first church. I’ve gone to other churches before, yes, but I have never been an active member of the church nor have I been a follower of Christ for more than three years. This has been my only experience of what a church is and what people who belong to Christ do.

With this in mind, imagine my reaction to a mean-spirited argument arising out of a seemingly harmless church meeting. Some (who have perhaps been in the church a little longer) may expect as much, I mean, we are dealing with sinful people here. Some might join in the argument to defend the “Godly” side. Some may simply roll their eyes and begin praying a self-righteous prayer, thanking God that they are not like “those people”. Others may pray an earnest prayer that the Lord would intercede in this disagreement and peace would be restored via Christ’s will alone.

Now, what do you expect my reaction was?

Yep… I started crying. Big fat tears rolled down my face, my cheeks were red, my eyes puffy, my nose running.

Imagine a group of women arguing, then the youngest, whitest, newest member starts balling her eyes out like a little baby. I was extremely embarrassed to say the least. I ran into the bathroom with two other members trailing worriedly behind, the rest left in dismay, no doubt discussing what might have set off the new girl.

Between heaving sobs and behind the bathroom stall door, I explained in rather childish terms, what had made me so upset.

“I just (sob sob sob) don’t understand (snif sniff) why people of God (cry cry cry) are so (sniff sniff) mean to each other (uncontrollable sobbing)!”

Dramatic and laughable (and I do invite you to laugh at me as well!) as it is now, this rather mortifying experience taught me something very valuable. The church is not perfect.

Gasp! It’s not?!

I know. It’s taken me a while to digest as well.

Before this moment, and even a while afterwards, I had been under the impression that other people were either good or they were bad. I found this manifesting in the way I read the Bible as well. Stories like the book of Esther confused me. Is Esther good or is she bad? She presumably sleeps with a man before being married to him and she lies about her heritage until her people are being killed. She doesn’t sound like a super admirable gal, but God does use her to help save His people.

This “imperfection” is is way more than just the book of Esther too. David, after being declared a man after God’s heart, steals another man’s wife, gets her knocked up, then kills her hubby by putting him in the front line of battle. What the heck Dave!? And Solomon, the love child of David and Bathsheba, decided to leave his beautiful wife to go build temples to other gods for his millions of concubines. Even Jesus’ apostles do some pretty stupid petty stuff. So, my question is, how are these people the people of God? Shouldn’t these people be better than that?

My mentality was the same for people in my church. Why are they being so mean? Aren’t they here because of the Lord? If Christ is the leader of their life, why are they speaking to one another so disrespectfully? Shouldn’t these people be better than this?

The answer is yes, they should be better than that, but they aren’t.

And it’s not just them. I also should be better than I am, but I’m not. This answer seems oddly simple: we are, as humans, imperfect. We are not good. We are sinful.

Romans 7:15-20 says it best: I do not understand what I do... For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing...”

Keep in mind, this is Paul, arguably one of the most Christ-like examples in the New Testament besides Christ himself. If even he does not do the good he knows he wants to do, and he is extremely Christ-like, then how can I expect my fellow church members to be perfect at doing good?

This is not to say that we just allow people to do whatever they want, speak harshly, and live sinfully. By no means! But when sin happens, because believe God, it will happen, we need to respond as people who understand that only Christ is perfect. This allows us to be forgiving and merciful to those who disappoint us or leave us in dismay, and it also exalts the name of Jesus, His power, and His utter goodness.

To expect this kind of perfection from anyone else but Jesus takes away from God’s role in our lives, and it also leaves us continuously disheartened and dissatisfied in other people.

As you can see from my tearful reaction not but a few weeks ago, I am still learning this lesson each and everyday, especially since I have now become a member of a church. The Church is beautiful and I love mine, but we must not fool ourselves into thinking a group of sinful people will be perfect and holy simply because they gather in the name of Christ. Guard your hearts, have realistic expectations of people, and understand that Christ is the ONLY one who is good.

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From Crisis to Christ

Hello world,

Again I have neglected to update for a bit of time, but I assure you all that I have good reason.

Instead of reflecting on my convictions, I was packing up a life and moving to another location. Dennis and I just now got settled in our new home in Roseland, a community on the South Side of Chicago. It took us eleven hours to  pack  up in Bloomington, and a half an hour to get all of it moved into the house thanks to our Chicago neighbors across the street.

Cookie, Robert, and Dominique were the helping hands we needed back in Bloomington when we attempted to move heavy boxes full of books and oversized chairs down our steep staircase and into the U-Haul trailer.

It is a completely different world here. Our sense of community and our definition of neighbor has already changed quite a lot, and we have never been more aware of the fact that we are white and middle class.

In Bloomington, we definitely lived in a lower-income part of town, and crime (as in theft) was fairly high, but  it was not the same as Roseland. I am not even sure how many people live the house across the street, but it is enough that all have to share a room with at least one other person, if not more. I have already heard gun shots not too far away, and I know that most of the students I will be teaching have had at least one loved one lost due to the violence that has run rampant in Roseland.

Before anyone begins to worry about us or our safety (or sanity for that matter), I want to tell you that I truly am not afraid here. In fact, I have never felt braver, and it’s not because of me. No, not at all. God has called both Dennis and myself to this community and we have no doubt in our minds that this is where we will do His work. Now, on the other hand, our fearlessness will not cause us to loose our senses. I am quite aware that we must be much more aware and alert and cautious in a neighborhood such as ours. So don’t worry; we’re not eager to become martyrs out of stupidity.

Nevertheless, we have been met with some skepticism and raised eyebrows, but God has been so good in these past two days, which have been incredible!

Dennis and I were on a quest to get involved in a church. We had met and hung out with the neighbors and we had recently gotten prayer from our former church members, and were ready to get connected and tapped into what the Lord was doing in Roseland. We headed up to meet Ms. Pearl of the Roseland Community Day Care Center at Christ Temple Cathedral. The children were all supposed to be napping, but were rolling around on their cots making eyes at us and playing with their sheets. Ms. Pearl had to get up and scold them several times and one little girl even lost the privilege of having sheets on her cot!  Meanwhile, Ms. Pearl pointed us in the direction of Roseland Christian Ministries  as well as the Agape Center. She shooed us away to go meet Brad and Mark at the Agape Center, and we went on our way.

We were greeted at the Center with smiles and great advice once we introduced ourselves. Ms. Pearl was right when she said there were more than a handful of other white people living in Roseland (something she described as “amazingly enough”). She was also right in telling us that it would feel very familiar to us, but to not simply stop looking for a church home there. This place did seem familiar, and it wasn’t only because most of the people there looked like us; there was a sort of comforting and comfortable sense that I felt, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

Dennis and I were remembering one of our first conversations when had just met. We spoke about how neither of us ever wanted to get comfortable about our lives. I think we meant that we never wanted to settle or get complacent with our current situation to the point where we were never taking risks or pushing past routine.

Now, that has come to mean something completely different to both of us. It means living a life for Christ rather than for ourselves. We are called to die to ourselves so we can truly be God’s hands in whatever situation he puts us in.

One of the Pastors at Christ Temple said it really well:

In a community where crisis is everywhere, where death and destruction are common day occurrences, and we are pushed to the breaking point as a church, we must remember that God controls all and he even controls evil. He puts us in difficult situations for a reason because he knows that when we reach our breaking point, that’s when we have our break through and call upon Jesus to save us. When we reach our crisis, we push past and receive Christ. 

So many people in the Bible were pushed into crisis: Elijah, Moses, Job, Ester, Ruth, David, and especially Jesus. And they all were put there to display the Glory of God. See, many times, the Preacher said, we think of our troubles and crises as the Devil. We are going through temptation or struggle or hardship and we assume that the Devil is attacking us, that Satan is on our back and we’re pressed down by him.

But in reality, it’s all God. What Satan means for evil, God means for good. And we can be rest assured that it will always be this way for believers and followers of Christ Jesus.

So no, I am not afraid of this new life that we are thrust into. I am not afraid of this violent community nor the responsibility of being a full time teacher for the teens who live here.

When I have Christ to guide me, and God’s calling to keep me here, I have everything I need.