Searching for the Perfect Church

They’re searching for the “perfect” church. They go from one congregation to another, desperately looking for that which – honestly – does not exist. Like others before them, they will eventually realize that their efforts are futile. They will not find such an idealistic congregation. Of course, we know that people can put on a good face for a while, but eventually the imperfections become obvious.

In his classic book about Christian community, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that Christian community can never meet idealistic expectations. “God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”

Because – this side of heaven – we will always be dealing with imperfect, sinful people, Christian community can never be perfect. There will be people – like you and me, for example – who sometimes put our own desires ahead of others. Or we get cranky. Or envious. Or mad. Or don’t measure up to whatever standard someone thinks we should.

Bonhoeffer continues: “Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight… The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. The community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.”

He’s right. If we harbor any notion that we might eventually find a fellowship of believers where there is no disagreement, no strife, no tension, we are grievously mistaken. The sooner we recognize that reality, the sooner we can get on with the life God has for us here and now.

Christian community must include the Biblical elements of forgiveness, repentance and self-sacrifice not self-fulfillment. It is about considering others better than self and considering others interests over our own. We walk in love with one another because we know the great love that has been lavished on us.

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In his letter to the Philippian church, the apostle Paul was attempting to cause two people who were apparently friends of his – Euodia and Syntyche – to become reconciled.

He said, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel…” (Philippians 4:2-3).

Please note that there is no indication in Scripture as to exactly what caused a rift in their relationship. Paul does not give any hint as to why these women were not walking in unity. We are not privy to the reason that they’re apparently upset with one another.

But we do know enough about Paul to know that this was not a doctrinal issue. If it had been he would have taught them. This was obviously something more trivial. Yet, at the same time, it was obviously important enough for Paul to want to address the issue.

It’s also important to recognize that in his request for them to be reconciled, Paul did not take sides. He pled with each woman to be in agreement. It apparently did not matter to Paul who was ultimately at fault; the matter needed to be cleared up.

I think these couple of verses were intentionally placed in Scripture for us to learn from. There’s an important lesson here for us about unity. No matter who is at fault, being reconciled to one another in love and unity is of utmost priority.

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Unity … or Not!

If only this wasn’t so true.

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The Swing, the Rescue, and God

We have a really big swing in our yard. Three grandkids and I can all get on it at the same time. Plus, it’s tethered to a really high crossbar, so it swings a long way.

The other day, two of the grandkids were on it, swinging happily, when another one almost walked right in front of their trajectory. I grabbed him just in time, but not before I startled him. Badly. He cried. Couldn’t understand why grandpa grabbed him. It was an unnerving moment for the little guy.

What I found amusing was that if I had let him go, he would have had serious reason to cry. The swing would have knocked him down … or worse. I was actually rescuing him, and he was upset about it.

And then it dawned on me. I couldn’t help but wonder how many times I’ve played out that same scenario with God. His hand swooped in and saved me from some sort of mishap, and how did I respond? Mad. Frustrated. Unhappy. Disgruntled.

And why? Because I didn’t see from His perspective.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Dare we trust Him even when we don’t get it?

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:25)

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Are You Listening?

If we’re not seeking God – if we’re not asking Him to lead us and guide us – we can have a tendency to miss what He is wanting in our lives. We can overlook His guidance when we’re not actually looking for it.

Think of the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts.

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. (Acts 16:6-8)

If you remember the story, this is when Paul had the vision of the guy from Macedonia saying, “Come over here and help us.”

So, my question is, why didn’t that vision come when they were in Phrygia or Galatia, earlier on? The truth is, we don’t know why. But we do know that God’s timing is always best.

So, for some reason, Paul and company were allowed to go through some situations and trying various doors, but because they were attuned to the Spirit, they didn’t try to shove through those doors.

My personal take is that it was part of God’s way of getting them to listen more closely to Him, of getting them to seek Him for direction and counsel. To not just rush out there on their own, but to seek the Lord.

It looks to me like Paul really wanted to go on into Asia or into Bithynia. Yet God was whispering, “No, don’t do it.” But that meant they needed to be listening.

And you don’t learn that kind of lesson unless you walk through those types of situations.

Are you listening today?

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The Jealous Leader

Have you ever encountered a Christian leader who was jealous of someone else’s position or prominence? Looking enviously at the way God has blessed another is never a good thing.

If you ever find yourself — as a Christian leader — motivated by envy or a desire to maintain your public persona, there’s a problem. If you’re thinking more about how you compare favorably with some other leader, your motivation is misplaced. If your hope is that people will like you, think you’re a great person, and want to emulate you, you’re already failing as a leader.

That scenario happened in the book of Acts. “But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison.” (Acts 5:17-18)

The high priest and his cohort weren’t trying to do the right thing or follow God’s heart. They were acting out of jealousy. The apostles had become more popular as religious leaders than even the high priest. Perhaps every person in the region knew the names of Peter and John, but they struggled with, “What’s the name of the guy who’s the high priest?” We don’t know that for sure, but we do know that the high priest was jealous.

The same thing happened again later in the book of Acts. Paul and Barnabas were at a synagogue in Antioch when the synagogue leaders became jealous. Paul and Barnabas drew an unprecedented crowd at the synagogue. “The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” (Acts 13:44) And what happened? The Jewish leaders “were filled with jealousy.” (Acts 13:45)

Jealousy — envy of what someone else has or is or does — is never a good motivator. It’s the twin brother of covetousness. It is an ugly, nasty mistress that will take you in a very wrong direction, to places you ultimately don’t want to go.

That’s why the writer of Proverbs tells us, “For jealousy makes a man furious, and he will not spare when he takes revenge.” (Proverbs 6:34)

Perhaps you need to examine your own motivation as a Christian leader.

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You’re Not Quarrelsome … Are You?

As a leader in the Church, I often feel as though I fall short. I am consistently convicted by God’s Word in areas where I simply don’t measure up.

This morning, the Apostle Paul slapped me. Hard. “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone…” (2 Timothy 2:24 )

I too often have a tendency to be argumentative. Too much knowledge coupled with a competitiveness pushes me in that direction. I can, at times, be quarrelsome.

Yet God’s Word says I shouldn’t be.

The fact of the matter is that nearly every Christian leader I’ve ever talked to said they were unworthy and/or not qualified. Any leader who thinks they are qualified – on their own merit – isn’t.

This is not an excuse to refuse to press forward. God wants us to grow and mature. However, we’ll never reach full perfection this side of eternity.

Don’t give up Christian leader. The Lord knows your inadequacies but has called you anyway.

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