When Joe and I first came to Vintage21 Church in 2002, there was great hope. As the body grew and the church gained momentum, we felt a part of something larger than ourselves. People gave selflessly of their time and resources. Community was easy, on some levels at least, because it was fun. But as with all relationships, newness wore off. People made mistakes. Feelings got hurt. At times they got really hurt and people left. There were times seeing our friends crushed that Joe and I questioned whether we should leave.
At some point several years ago, our glamorized view of our church shattered. It’s as if the local church body was admiring itself in the mirror when it took a closer look and saw flaws and nakedness. We saw that our leaders were people who could hurt us. And then we saw that people we trusted should have never been given a place of authority over our lives. We saw unbearable brokenness that made us weep and want to hold each other closer and yet feel dirty for doing so. No matter what good and lovely pieces remained, no matter how the gospel continued to carry forth all around us, all I could feel was my personal disillusionment with the church and people who claimed to follow Jesus.
As followers of Jesus, when our eyes are opened to darkness, when simply being in the presence of people we loved brings a little death to our souls, there are several options. We can try to cover up the embarrassing parts as Adam and Eve did, yet there just aren’t fig leaves large enough, we will be exposed. We can run to a new place – of course given a few years those seeds of doubt and rebellion will only resurface. Or we can throw it all at Jesus feet. Ugly cry it all out, confess that we just didn’t get it, that we made it about us and not about Him. We made it about a feeling rather than truth. We made it about image rather than love. We made it about safety and comfort rather than having our hearts laid open to the Great Redeemer.
When this happens, we have to be honest and admit that what we worshiped was not Jesus but what Jesus was building. When we take Jesus out of the body, it becomes nothing but a rotting, stinking corpse. We become a group of people wanting to be something more, to do big things, but who have lost their heart. When we take Jesus out of our marriage, no amount of date nights or effort will save it. When we take Jesus out of our families, we can never love our kids enough. It has to be about, for, and because of Jesus Christ – nothing added, nothing less.
When we worship the building, He graciously tears it down before our eyes and will do so over and over until we get it right – whether it is our church, our marriage, our role as parent or friend. Here’s the deal. When you scrape away the layers of filth, the callouses, the years of rebellion and bitterness, our hearts long for heaven. They long to be reunited with the Father. They were created for that perfect relationship, open and honest communication, being whispered to with words of love.
Graciously, He gives us a glimpse of that here on earth through marriage, children and through church community, but these can never fulfill what our souls were created for. And the moment we place these as the epicenter of our hope, and we center our lives around these, that is the moment we go off course. These other relationships were given as tools to draw us in closer to Jesus and to bring his redemption to the world, but they are not our salvation. Jesus is.
Looking back over the years at the times I played the sick-kid-card to avoid seeing those who had hurt me and then slumped into the back row of the Sunday night service without my family although I had intended to make a grocery run, the times I felt lost in my own darkness thinking that maybe God had written me off, I now see that Jesus never left me. My God, oh how He loved me! He bore my depression, my broken heart, my sin, and though I never knew He was doing so, He comforted me and quieted me with His love.
Beloved friends, don’t walk away from Jesus. Don’t hide. Don’t close your eyes. See the ugly. Feel the pain. Show the brokenness. And then rejoice that Jesus does NOT leave us this way. We see dirt, He sees fertile ground. Love your spouse. Love your children. Love the local church. Love your neighbors. But love Jesus first so that it is His love pouring back out through you. His love that will leave no corners left without light.