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The Ugly Side of Church….

Yep. The church can be just awful. It can be hurtful. It can cause great division. It can create chaos.

So, now that I have your attention. Let’s get real here. We don’t like to talk about it but we need to start talking about it more. But not with more ugliness. With more grace.

We need to create more grace in the conversation because “the church” is not a building. It is me. It is you. It is all of us who call ourselves Christians. It is all of us who confess that Jesus is Lord. It is all of us who declare that we are followers of Christ.

We are the church. And we can behave ugly.

But what kind of church are we being. I mean, really…what kind of church are we representing every time we walk out our front door? Or even when we are staying inside our home with our family. What are we showing in our life to those around us?

The past few months, I’ve been asking myself these questions a lot. Mostly because of a lot of stuff that has been happening at the church I attend, but also because God has been asking me to step out of my comfort zone in a lot of different ways.

But let’s get back to the fact that we are the church….and the church gets ugly sometimes.  And I’m talking about the church as the community of believers but also the church as the individual. I believe in Jesus and and asked Him to be the Lord of my life. In this, He lives in my heart. He is a part of me and I am a part of Him. Just as I do not conduct myself with the love of Jesus every single second of every single minute of every single day, I would venture to say that there are a lot of folks out there, who make up the church community, who struggle as well and this is how that community can sometimes be considered ugly at times.

** SPOILER ALERT **

The “church” is made up of….people!

Imperfect, hurt, sad, anxious, flawed people. So if you are searching for the perfect church community to belong to, good luck. This side of heaven…it’s not gonna be found. And this is why we actually need each other.

I Peter 4:8 is a fairly well-known (or at least well-quoted) verse in the Bible. The Amplified Version says, “Above all, have fervent and unfailing love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins [it overlooks unkindness and unselfishly seeks the best of others].”

~ ABOVE ALL ~

Literally, to have nothing higher than what is being asked of us. What is Peter talking about in this verse? Is he really asking us to not hold anything above ourselves? He is indeed.

Don’t stop here. Don’t get discouraged. No one can do this perfectly, but we can humble ourselves before the Lord and ask Him to guide us in this task of loving others.

To pursue the task of loving each other, this is what the “body of Christ” (another one of those often used “christian-ese” phrases.) is called to do. To be a whole body, we must recognize all the parts. I doubt that you’ve been walking somewhere and all of a sudden, without you realizing, your arms decide they want to be the ones propelling you forward and takes over for your legs and feet. That just doesn’t happen. You may be adept in walking on your hands or doing cartwheels, but that is because you have actively engaged your brain to work in conjunction with your arms to do something new. Your feet and legs and still helping to keep you balanced and when you are done walking on your hands, it is your feet that catch your fall (usually!) and assist you in becoming upright again.

I recently heard a great interpretation of what it means to be the “body of Christ”. For an individual human body to function and stand upright, they must have a spine that works. All the muscles, ligaments, discs, nervous system, and a bunch of other bodily stuff (yeah…that’s my catch all phrase for medical terminology!) has to be in harmony with each other to support the body.  If you don’t have a healthy spine, you won’t be able to walk through life very easily. This translates to the body of Believers perfectly. As men and women, young and older, long in the faith or brand new ~ we have to work in harmony with each other so that we promote a healthy spine so we can walk in a way that is honoring to the Lord.

As we read in the verse in 1 Peter above, LOVE is what covers a multitude of sins ~ so what is it that deteriorates the body? What is it that promotes the ugly side of church?

The answer is very simple ~ it’s when we have an offense-able spirit.

Whatever you think is wrong with the church community, I guarantee you it will 99% of the time be due to feeling offended.

“I’m offended.” + “You’re wrong and I’m not.” = Bitterness + Unforgiveness

Listen, I’m truly not on a soap box here ~ if you have known me for a few decades or more, you know that I have lived according to an “offense-able spirit” for A LOT of my life. I know first hand that it does not take long for offense to turn into bitterness. I  know that I have hurt others with my bitterness towards them. My heart aches for those that I held a grudge towards. My spirit within me is saddened when I realize all the arguments that could have been avoided had I let go of being offended and worked toward reconciliation. I am convicted of the ways I held others to a standard of living that I myself couldn’t achieve.

{If you are one of those people that I have hurt by harboring bitterness against you in the past, I truly ask your forgiveness. I pray that the Holy Spirit will minister to your heart even now and that you are released from anything in our past that  was hurtful to you.}

We all get offended at some point in our life, it’s what we choose to do with that offense that matters.

But I also know the absolute glory of being delivered from an offense-able spirit. This doesn’t mean that I don’t get offended by things every now and then. It means that I don’t let that rule over me. It means I’m much more in tune with the Holy Spirit and I can hear His still small voice, “Whoa sister…you’re slipping into bitterness here.  Let’s get a course-correct going so we don’t fall off edge of sanity and grace.”

I know this is real because on Tuesday night, March 13, 2018, the Lord delivered me from offense-able spirit. I was at a YWAM (Youth With A Mission) worship night in Kona, HI and the person speaking said, “If you feel the Holy Spirit prompting you to ask for deliverance from something, come forward now.” Even as I was thinking, “Nope, I don’t think I have anything to be delivered from; I’m in a great place in my life.”, I realized I was walking toward the front of the room. I literally couldn’t stop myself. The Holy Spirit was in charge of my feet that night. With tears streaming down my face, I raised my hands and without knowing what I would say, out of my mouth came the words, “Lord. I don’t want to be offended anymore. Please take away the bitterness I’ve held on to because I have allowed an offense to take root in my heart instead of forgiveness and  Your grace.”

I stood there and bawled. Like the “where are these tears coming from and how much snot is coming out of my nose right now” kind of cry’s. What I felt next is almost indescribable, but I felt like the hand of God had reached into my heart and began to massage it. The kind of thing that doctors have to do in open heart surgery sometimes;  manual cpr ~ their hand on the heart of the patient, gently massaging it and coaxing it to start beating again…to come back to life again.  That’s what I felt. I felt God bringing me back to life again. And it was glorious! The joy that I was able to experience in that moment has been a constant reminder to me to not allow an offense to stick.

Have I been perfect at this? Um, no. Have I allowed myself to become offended by something that someone did or said, and then feel justified that I’m “allowed” to be angry and offended? Sadly, yes. But thankfully, these moments do not last for very long. What used to last days (or years) now only takes a short time to deal with and dissipate. Because the Lord restored my heart for Him and with His grace, I am bound to recognize what’s happening and deal with it right then. Sometimes it has meant that I have to speak up and confront the person who has offended me, but even in the uncomfortable-ness of confrontation, the end result is much better than hanging onto the offense. I’ve also been able to walk through an offense by someone, with the Lord ~ which usually starts out with me ranting to the Him but it ends with me being able to forgive that person and bring them to the Lord in prayer.

I share all of this not to pat myself on the back, because I’m not perfect. I mess up. I make mistakes. But after living for so long with what I felt I had “the right to feel” and now walking in true grace from the Lord ~ wow!  It’s so much better to live this way.

And now we make our way back to the ugly side of church: the individual and the community. If it’s ugly due to walking around offended all the time, how do we bring wholeness and healing and beauty back to the Body of Christ?

We Overlook Offense.

We Forgive.

We look past unkindness.

We show Love.

We look beyond selfishness.

We extend Grace.

We remain UnOffended.

So if/when you get offended ~ go talk to THAT person you have an issue with.

When someone begins to vent to you about an offense they are experiencing, encourage them to stop and take it to the Lord first, then go to THAT person they are having an issue with.

Don’t get caught up in the river of bitterness that can quickly uproot the sturdiest of church bodies. Like the torrential rains of a Category 5 hurricane, you don’t really know the extent of the damage until the storm is over. The longer the storm lasts, the worse the damage is and the more extension the clean up will be to restore order.

Let’s stop being ugly. Let’s start being more grace-filled. Let’s be who Jesus calls us to be as His followers ~ salt and light to the world, filled with grace and mercy; because He showers us with His grace and mercy and undeservedly so…simply because He loves us.

Blessings,

René

*************************************************************************************Here’s some verses on why it’s so important not to have an offense-able spirit:

When there are many words, transgression and offense are unavoidable, But he who controls his lips and keeps thoughtful silence is wise.
He who covers and forgives an offense seeks love, But he who repeats or gossips about a matter separates intimate friends.
Good sense and discretion make a man slow to anger, And it is his honor and glory to overlook a transgression or an offense [without seeking revenge and harboring resentment].
If the temper of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your post [showing resistance], because composure and calmness prevent great offenses.
Even if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him [that is, give up resentment and consider the offense recalled and annulled].”
Therefore, confess your sins to one another [your false steps, your offenses], and pray for one another, that you may be healed and restored. The heartfelt and persistent prayer of a righteous man (believer) can accomplish much [when put into action and made effective by God—it is dynamic and can have tremendous power].
The one who loves and unselfishly seeks the best for his [believing] brother lives in the Light, and in him there is no occasion for stumbling or offense [he does not hurt the cause of Christ or lead others to sin].
*************************************************************************************

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