The Imperfect Church

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

They’re out there you know.  Hiding in the shadows. Lurking just where we can’t see or acknowledge them.  No it’s not the new M. Night Shamalayan screenplay, although it would probably make a pretty good movie.

We are being invaded. Not by aliens, monsters or ghosts. No we are being invaded by secret worshipers.  It’s a strategy many denominations and even local churches are beginning to engage in. They are employing people to come, sneak in and report back what they experienced in worship that Sunday.

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It’s a great strategy really. Many businesses have used secret shoppers for years. A company hires someone to go to a store and shop.  They then report on their experience.  Where the people helpful? what seemed odd? Would you come back?  It’s a great way to have someone on the outside bring back some objective data.

The church is now beginning to use secret worshipers to do the same thing. Come to a church, worship and report on what they experienced. We all know what we think people experience. But to have someone on the outside come and share from their point of view what they experienced can be eye opening.

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Last week a friend told me their District was sending out secret worshipers to churches.  He asked “Does your district use secret worshipers?” I thought for a moment and said,”I have no idea.  I mean, if they are secret I’d have no idea they are there.  If we have them no one has told me about it.

That same week my wife showed me an article about a company that uses secret worshipers. They pay $45.00 a service, so if you worship three times on a Sunday you can pick up some good money all before noon. Apparently the business is doing well because they were recruiting more people to work for them.

But what struck me was the comment made by a secret worshiper.  He isn’t a believer. He’s been doing this job for several months now. And he commented I really haven’t seen anything or experienced anything that would make me want to join a  particular church.”

When I first read this my knee jerk reaction was the church isn’t doing it’s job. How could he worship that much and not want to be a Christian. He went to church sometimes more than once every Sunday. I have church members who don’t do that.  He must have not been to church that takes Jesus’ words at the top of this blog seriously. They must not have been lifting up Jesus.

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But the more I thought about it, the more unfair that seemed to me. I’m sure most of the churches he visited were full of good, Jesus loving Christians.  I hope he heard a Biblical sermon sharing the truth of Christ every single week, maybe more than once a Sunday.

The problem was not in the church’s witness as much as in the objective of the secret worshiper. In truth, he isn’t a worshiper. he didn’t come to lift up Jesus. He didn’t come to find answers for his life, to be made whole. he didn’t come knowing there was a need in his life only Christ could fill. No, he came to see how well he was welcomed. To see if he “liked” the music.  How good was the choir or the band? Did anyone shake his hand? Was he overwhelmed or underwhelmed with attention?  In short his day, was about him , not God.

Thankfully, I believe in Prevenient Grace. So I fully hope that while this man doesn’t plan on it, at some point Jesus is going to break into his life. And I don’t disparage what he does. he ask some important questions. We do need to make church a high quality, welcoming place.  But while they are important questions, I’m not sure they are the most relevant ones.

The more relevant question would be how can I lift up God and praise Him this morning? What does Jesus want to do in my life and am I willing to let Him do it? What does God have to say to me today? How can this body of Christ bring me closer to Jesus? How can  I bring them closer to Jesus?

As I said I don’t want to be too harsh with the secret worshiper. Mostly because I see too much of him in me when I worship somewhere.  What about you? When we come to church what is our goal? Do we let too long a line for coffee, or the fact somebody took the last maple bacon donut (You know who you are, and so does God…just saying) deter us from what worship should be? Do we complain because a baby was too loud, or we sang an unfamiliar song?  Do we leave disgruntled because the communion bread wasn’t to our liking?

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Truth be told the church and worship are never perfect. But that’s the beauty of  it. So many little things go awry, and yet, some how God still comes. His Holy Spirit still blesses.  In an imperfect moment a perfect savior shines.  I’m glad.  Because in my moment of imperfection, I need to know God still uses me.  He still has a place for me.

As we enter into the season of Lent, We come to a time of introspection and reflection. Perhaps this year we should take time to reflect and marvel at the imperfection of the church and how God still uses her, as well as marvel at how God uses an imperfect us.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Brian Jones <><

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Worship or Experience?

“The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” (Isaiah 29:13 NIV)

 

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As I write this, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching.  Hopefully, for those of you who have a significant other, I hope that doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to you. But naturally, at this time of year our hearts do turn to thoughts of love. We take time to let those we love know how much we care for them and how precious they are to us. And hopefully begin to set a pattern for how we live outside of the Holiday.

And its a good and right thing we do.  It’s reflective of how God loves us. We often make God’s love a very sterile thing, when the Bible shows us it full of passion and intimacy. The passion and intimacy we show each other is a pale reflection of just how much God loves us.  After all, the church is called the Bride of Christ. The book of Revelation ends at the wedding banquet of the Groom (Christ) and the Bride (the church).

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I love that image of the church being the bride of Christ. Not only does it remind me how passionately  Jesus loves us, but it also serves as a reminder that we are to cherish the church and one another. I’ve made a concerted effort to be careful in how I speak of the church to make sure I am honoring the bride.

All of which is a long preamble to me saying I want to be careful how I walk through the rest of this blog. Please know I have no desire to cast any aspirations on nay other part of the bride of Christ.  And I, of all people,  don’t want to appear I am standing in judgment over any other church.

Ok, now that I’ve over explained and protected myself, the other day we received a flyer from a local church inviting us to worship.  The flyer had been sent out to, I imagine, most of the residents in our community.  And it was very well done. Obviously they aren’t trying to be the church for everyone and they are marketing to their niche.  I commend them on reaching out to the community.

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But what caught my eye is that the flyer noted they are changing their times for worship.  However worship was not the word they used. Rather, it noted, Our experience times have changed.  Not worship, but experience.

I’ve no  interest in wondering about their reasoning to use the word experience instead of worship, but it did get me to thinking. What are you looking for? When you come to church, or maybe in your own devotional times, are you looking for an experience or are you looking for worship.

It’s a more critical question than you may think. Experience is about us. It’s about what We feel, what we come away with.  When we come to church looking for an experience our litmus test becomes our won emotions and feelings. We find ourselves asking, “What did I get out of this? Did I like it? Did it touch me? And it’s not that those aren’t legitimate questions. But when they are the only questions we ask we can find ourselves slowly slipping into the center of things.  So in a very real way, it’s still worship. It’s just the worship of the self.

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Real worship clearly puts Jesus into the center of all things. It’s about adoring, thinking and centering ourselves upon Him.   The more we truly worship the less the “self” matters. And yet ironically, its when we worship and are allowed to let go of ourselves that we find our true self emerging. We were created not for the experience, but for worship.  Worship is freeing. Living by the experience and needing to be self satisfied is a terrible burden.

If I have to choose between worship and experience, i want to choose worship every time.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

 

Is It Impossible?

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? (James 2:14-16 NLT)

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This is Sir. Nicholas Winton.  He was a successful stock broker and an excellent fencer in his day.  In fact, he at one time had hoped to represent Great Britain in the Olympics.  He was that good.

But if you’ve heard of him at all, and don’t be surprised if you haven’t, it’s not because of his success as a stock broker or his athletic prowess.  Nicholas Winton’s life took a dramatic turn in 1939, all because of one decision.  He was slated to go on a ski trip in Switzerland over a holiday, when he received an invitation to come to Czechoslovakia to help a friend who was working with Jewish refugees. Czechoslovakia was about to fall to Nazi Germany and many Jewish families were not only being displaced, but rounded up  and headed to camps. Soon they would realize they were headed for such camps as Auschwitz, never to be heard of again.

Winton was moved by what he saw and wanted to do all he could to help the Jewish people escape a horrible fate. But he knew that getting everyone out would be impossible. However Great Britain had instituted a policy that while the adults could not all come children would be received if they had the money to pay to register and if there were homes for them to go to.

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Winton stole some office paper from the British EMbassy, had Children’s Division printed on it and became an unofficial Official of the government. He printed papers for the children. He raised the money and he found families to care for them.  All on his own and all under the nose of both Nazi Germany and his own English government.

Before the country fell, Winton had rescued 667 Jewish children from a fate in the death camps. There would have been more, but one of the transport trains broke down and they couldn’t get to the children.

It’s a remarkable story. And for this reason, Winton has been called the British Oscar Schindler.  But what truly makes the story remarkable is that he never told anyone. Not even his wife. In 1988, as she was cleaning out an old trunk in the attic, she discovered the old records of the rescued children. Only then, when confronted, did Nicholas Winton tell the story.  “Why didn’t you tell anyone?”, his wife asked? “Well, I moved on to the next thing. I did that and then it was time when it was over to do something else.”

After the story got out Nicholas was reunited with the now middle-aged children he saved.  A little research revealed those 667 children now have over 5,000 chidlren and grandchildren. All who owe their very existence to Nicholas Winton.

Later he was interviewed and they asked him how he did it? His reply was simply this: “I’ve always operated  my life by this principle. If it’s not blatantly  impossible, it can be done.  And then I went and did it.”

If it’s not blatantly impossible, it can be done.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to read the words in James at the top of the post without hearing that phrase. This is James reminder that faith ought to change our actions. What we believe about Jesus ought to directly translate out into how we love and serve others. In fact James will go so far as to say the litmus test of the depth of our relationship with Jesus lies in our actions.

And while I think most of us are in agreement with James, how often do those words translate out in our lives?  How often is the simple admonition to do good met with the excuse “It’s impossible”?  I’d love to help with this ministry, but I simply don’t have the time.  I’d love to help them, but I’m just not gifted in that area.   Yes, I know that the need is great, but I really can’t spare any time or certainly not any  finances to help.  What good can one person do anyway?

Time after time we come up with a reason why it’s simply impossible to do good. Or we are swamped by the futility of it all when there is so much need.  Please understand, I fully agree that we are to be good stewards of our time and talents. None of us can do everything.  And there are times we must legitimately say no.   But those times are probably pretty infrequent. Often the reason we don’t do good is we simply see it as impossible.

Sir. Nick embodied what James is talking about.  Allowing  one’s faith to flow through their actions always asserting that it’s almost never impossible to do good.  Are there some things in your life God has brought before you and you automatically wrote them off? Would you consider going back to them , praying and asking,  “Is it blatantly impossible? If not, God how will you use me?”

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And when you get caught up in the futility of it all, remember  Nicholas Winton. One man reaching out to help just a few children, changes over 5,000 lives. What could God do with us when we see doing good is never impossible and always life changing?

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><