The glow inside that rustic barn was almost magical… lights twinkled from barren trees that lined the room and gauzy gold curtains seemed to almost pour down the walls in glimmers of sweet light. The enchantedly beautiful bride and her nervous groom stood quietly holding each others hands at the end of an aisle covered in white rose petals. The groom stood almost a foot taller than her and looked down upon his bride with an unbearable love that showed anxiousness, excitement and unwavering grace in his watering eyes. She peeked up at him with unabashed love and excitement and they patiently waited for the minister to welcome everyone gathered. The crowd of family and close friends leaned forward in their wooden chairs, listening to the music swell and waiting in anticipation for the start of the ceremony to unite these two wonderful people, almost embarrassed to be witnesses of the intimacy of this time.
I sat with my purse in my lap, rows back and took in the intimacy of the situation. It brought tears to my eyes knowing the stories of these two great people my husband and I have had the privilege of getting to know over the last year. I watched as my husband officiated the ceremony and opened his Bible, smiling as he began speaking to the crowd of witnesses.
“Ephesians 5:22-33.”He cleared his throat and shot a look at the two in front of him.
“Oh, Lord… “I prayed quickly as a hush fell over the crowd. “Help those listening to understand what he’s about to explain to them…”
“ Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
I could tell that some people’s walls immediately went up when they heard the words, “Wives, submit…” and they were already tuning him out.
“Help them to listen and hear what You want them to hear…” I whispered to my God.
You could have heard a pin drop.
And then, I watched as my husband paused… smiled to the crowd and continued.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.“
After finishing the scripture, I listened as he continued; people leaned forward in their seats to try and figure out where he would go next. “See here’s the deal,” he said turning his attention to the crowd.
“So often this passage has received a bad rap because we forget to read the end of the passage.
You see, husbands are called to present their wives as Christ presents the Church. The church is messy. I mean, it’s filled with people like us!
(A chuckle swept over the crowd.)
We are people who don’t have it all together all the time. People who make mistakes and have bad days. People who sin. Even though we don’t deserve it or look good to others, Christ presents us, the Church, as holy and blameless.
We’ve talked about how it’s the groom’s role to love his new bride in the same way. And no matter what happens,…in sickness and in health… after shopping trips and long days at work… he is called to love his bride and present her as beautiful and blameless. When a bridegroom loves his bride this way, the natural response is for her to respect him.
This groom you see before you today is a man ready to be a husband his bride can respect. I look forward to seeing their marriage reflect Christ’s love for the church.”
Shoulders relaxed and light flooded the faces of those sitting around me. I could hear whispers of excitement and heads nodding along with him.
And then it hit me. The Holy Spirit convicted me in those moments and humbled my heart. I began to wipe tears from my eyes as I realized another side to this verse that I had never quite grasped.
We bash the bride of Christ (his Church) all the time. And we are the bride of Christ. How twisted is that? In my mind, I see a group of wedding dress clad women screaming at each other, pulling each other’s hair, clawing at each other’s dresses and hurling handfuls of mud at each other’s dresses. Pret-ty ugly.
We may all be imperfect churches. We might have a hard time getting along. But we are family. We are a kingdom. And we should at least TRY to work together and uplift each other.
Praise Jesus for those churches who do exactly that!
- Who step out in faith and help a church in need.
- Who send workers to help a struggling church with excitement and not frustration that they are losing members of their church to another.
- Who talk excitedly about another church in town that is GROWING!
- Who ask new plants what their needs are and scramble to help them fulfill them
- Who work together to reach the community around them that they share in order to bring the Gospel to those who haven’t heard it
Back to Love
- Being Exclusive within our churches (going back to Middle School)
- Church Jumping (Try staying and pushing through the challenge to experience health)
This one has been a long time simmering in the back of my heart and mind. And honestly, I try to ignore and wish away this ugly truth. It goes against everything that Jesus spoke of; it has no benefit to the advancement of the gospel; and it creates hypocrisy in our churches that non-believers notice.
So… pretty much… all negative. (And the inner peacekeeper in me screams, “Why can’t we just all get along????”)
I noticed it when I was just six years old, playing out in the yard with a neighbor boy. We were seriously discussing our churches (which is hilarious when remembering our age at the time) and I started to realize something strange. Anytime I mentioned something at our church, he would mention something better at his church. And when he mentioned something different at his church, I felt the need (and followed through on it) to one up him with something equally cool or more different at my church. I left that conversation feeling disappointed in myself; I still wish I could go back and change the way I talked with him. It was competition… plain and simple. And I knew (even at that young age) that we should have been encouraging each other in our differences instead of competing with each other.
Through our ministries, my Hubs and I have watched and regrettably listened as people use their own churches to compete against each other.
“We have an amazing children’s program! Seriously. I don’t know why families in our town go anywhere else!”
“That church only sings hymns. They are so out of touch with the rest of our society.”
“I could never attend a church that used drums in their worship.”
“We left our previous church because they had decided to do another building program. I mean… why? Aren’t they taking enough of our money?”
“That church is way too big. I like for my kids to sit with me and not feel judged when they are antsy during service.”
These comments make my heart ache. Like almost a depressing ache. Oh… and people… it gets worse. It gets worse when ministers, elders and leaders in churches speak these words or let their actions portray this to others. That breaks my heart. It makes me physically weak and pushes me to my knees. I don’t understand it.
I do understand that as humans, we feel the need to compete with each other: in our jobs, our friendships, our athletics, how we raise our children… But I wonder, is this what God created us for? From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus created a team (12 disciples). And then, at his ascension, he sent his team out to do ministry all over the world (while still working together.) They didn’t get it right all the time– (check out the book of Acts to see this in action)– but they tried to work together as best as they could.
I think a lot of the time, churches today get this wrong. We compete with each other: for people (most of them already believers), for fame (should we ever be seeking this?), for money (but it’s God’s money), for kids (create the best kids program in town), for teens (provide tons of food, games and loud music)… the list goes on and on. What I don’t understand is why we can’t all work together to accomplish the goal of Christ TOGETHER. Do we not understand how much more effective we would all be if we would be there to love and support each other as fellow churches?
At Thrive, we strive to work together with other churches. If someone comes through our doors and doesn’t click with Thrive- we support them in finding another Bible-teaching church that will push them in their walk with Christ that we couldn’t. We would rather them leave Thrive than never serve or use their gifts that God created them to use.
The Body of Christ
When reading through the book of 1 Corinthians, I have always loved chapter 12. The section I’m gonna focus on starts in verse 12:
12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.
14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?
18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”
22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, 24 while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.
27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. 28 Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:
first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.
29 Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? 30 Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! 31 So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.
But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.
Guys. Girls. What if the apostle Paul wasn’t just referring to a single body of believers (a single church) here. What if he was referring to the ENTIRE BODY of believers. Every church. Every nation. Everywhere. If we read this like that– I wonder if we would start acting as if we are on the same team instead of competing teams.
Why can’t we as churches work together to be the body of Christ to those around us who don’t know Christ? If one church has a need, why is it so hard for another church in the area to step in and help fill that need? Why do we always feel the need to compete with other churches? And again I think, “Why can’t we just all get along????”
In the realm of planting, I’ve been forced to learn a lot about forgiveness. In the past 2 and a half years, I’m positive that I’ve emotionally injured people… and I know that I’ve been hurt by several people as well. In fact, I’m wrestling with forgiveness right now. It’s a constant in my life now.
The following is a stab at trying to help me process through the forgiveness process. (Bear with me, please!)
I have to forgive myself. I need to forgive my family for words that cut and cling to me. I need to forgive those who walk through our church doors and hurt me unintentionally. I need to forgive my friends who forget to check in sometimes. I need to forgive those who gave our church “a chance” and then walked out the doors to look for “another church.” I need to forgive those who don’t make it to church every week even though many have given up several hours to prep the church, write the lessons, practice the songs and turn the heat on. (Which sometimes doesn’t happen in time…)
People are Imperfect. Us Included.
This is not a new concept. We all acknowledge that no human who has ever walked this planet (besides Jesus) is perfect. If we acknowledge our own imperfections (like my imperfection of feeling left out), we need to realize others have imperfections as well. They may be subtle or out in the open… imperfections can be sneaky (like ninjas… as my 6 year-old would tell you.)
C.S. Lewis was spot on in this:
“. . . you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart—every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out. The difference between this situation and the one in such you are asking God’s forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in other people’s we do not accept them easily enough.”
Knowing Lewis’ quote (and fully understanding it) should allow us to give each other the grace we need. Grace for their imperfections. Grace when they don’t call. Grace when they use words that seem harsh or ignorant to you. Grace when your church doesn’t measure up and lead enough bible studies. Which leads me into my next point…
Give Grace to Those Who’ve Hurt You
This part is what really scratches at you. When someone has walked away from me with frustration… my heart first becomes hard with anger… then quickly turns to sadness. I don’t last long in the anger stage… God has graced me at least with that. But the sadness sticks to me– for days, weeks or even months. Every time you hear their name or see them, your insides will bristle (and mine undoubtable crumbles. I usually run for the hills and hide from everyone so that they cannot see it written across my face. I evidently can hide nothing.).
This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life—to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son—how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night ‘forgive our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says. (C.S. Lewis)
We must forgive others, when we ask God to forgive us (Matthew 6:14). With the softness of forgiveness in our hearts (no matter how hard it was to forgive), God is able to mold His love back into our hearts to love others the way that He loves us.
Give God your depression or anger.
Ask Him to soothe your wounded heart and heal it wholly. This is something that you need to ask Him daily. Beg Him for forgiveness in the situation and allow Him to mold your heart into something that looks more like His.
With all this talk about forgiveness… I wonder. How could He, the God of the Universe, forgive us? Us- petty humans with self-righteous and self-interest at heart. And not just us– how could He forgive me? I mean, I’m “supposed” to be this woman of God who is standing by her man, bringing people to Christ and serving others with not a thought of myself. Ha! I am NOWHERE close to that… (as you saw earlier in my post.) I am guilty of being self-absorbed. I am guilty of laziness. I am guilty of not wanting to reach out to others and I am guilty of wanting to stay at home with my family when a church event is going on. I am guilty. But…
I am forgiven.
So, why is it so hard to forgive others? Maybe it’s because of everything that we are guilty of.
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
If we have the power to love within us… we must have the power to forgive.
I love the verse in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Why do I love this verse? The very first part: “Bear with each other...” It reminds me that we are not alone on this earth. Jesus established the Church before he left for heaven. The Church is here for us… it is our family… our connection… something to lean on. Something to help you press through the harder times.
“Mom.” My seven-year-old son’s voice broke through my pizza-eating revelry at our favorite pizza joint. Titus had whisked away my phone and was scrolling through photos of our local pound’s adoptable animal photos. He had been begging us for a pet for around a year now.
My husband, Michael and I had tried every excuse in the book to avoid the commitment of getting a dog. “You’ve just had another baby brother… we should wait until he’s older.” “Our house is too small… we need to wait until we move into another home.” “We’re not sure you’re ready for the responsibility of a dog, Titus.”
This time, there was a tone in his voice. Like he meant business. I looked up from my slice of pepperoni and across the table at him. He had a bright light in his eye and an excitement I had not seen on his face in a while. He handed my phone back to me with a photo of a very frustrated, older Huskie dog trying to jump the fence of the kennel at the pound, enlarged and prominent on the screen.
There was sadness in this dog’s face that I instantly understood. A sadness that words cannot define. I was struggling from post-partum depression after the birth of our third son… and that look in the dog’s eyes grabbed me. When I turned to my husband, he rolled his eyes, but made no dismissal. I immediately messaged the pound asking for details.
Within days, we met Dutch for the first time. He was a nine-year-old Siberian Husky, with one brown eye and one blue and he shared my birthday. His fur was so soft; you could not help but stroke his back every time he passed you. One of his ears was bent, while the other stood proud. It only took a half hour for our two older boys to fall in love with him. I was hesitant… who was this dog? Why had he been relinquished? Could he be trusted with my children? Was he a “good dog?”
Those questions and more were all answered by that evening. After laying our children down for the night, my husband and I prepared for bed. Dutch circled the rug next to my side of the bed and lay down. He seemed to wait for us patiently to finish our bedtime routines. As soon as we settled and turned the lights out, he got up and disappeared into the hallway. Worried to see where he was going, I reluctantly left my warm bed and went to look for him. I found Dutch, curled up next to our baby’s crib, sound asleep.
It only took a couple of days for him to flow into our family’s lifestyle. He began barking to sound the alarm whenever someone approached our home. He LOVED walks… so much so, we could not even SPELL the word out loud anymore. He became my vigilant running partner and would run beside the jogging stroller where my youngest was along for the ride. He lay in the kitchen while I cooked, waiting for crumbs to drop to the floor during the process. He was an extrovert and made sure to meet all the dogs in the neighborhood. Everyone remarked at what an amazing dog he was; he was well loved by our extended family and friends.
Of course, he wasn’t a perfect dog as he was terrified of fireworks and thunder. He had an obsession with cupcakes and hotdogs (when I left out two dozen lemon cupcakes to cool; he ate 10—including the wrappers.) We could never leave the front door open, or he would dart out to explore the countryside for hours. He would distract the cats and eat their food; later, his loud toots would clear the living room. He learned to sit patiently next to our baby’s seat at dinner… and the baby learned he could feed the dog anything he didn’t want to eat. Occasionally, when it rained, his arthritis would kick in and he would be pretty grumpy and impatient with the boys’ antics, but he never snapped or showed his teeth.
But no matter how imperfect he was- he was perfect for us… and me. On my dark days, when my husband was at work, he would lay next to the couch where I lay. He followed me around the house those days, making sure I was never alone. He would snooze when I would, and when I woke up, he would perk up his head at me and give me this look of understanding. When the baby would cry, he would gently nuzzle me with his cold nose to wake me up. He was my helper; and he slowly walked beside me until I was back to normal.
He wasn’t just my companion. Our boys began to want him to sleep in their rooms and they talked about sled dog adventures all winter, waiting for it to snow. They dressed him up in costumes, and he sat, participating, as long as his beautiful fluffy tail wasn’t pulled or stepped on. He sat, stayed, shook and rolled over on cue from them. Our middle son, Elliott, taught Dutch to catch popcorn in his mouth while lying on his back.
And finally, Dutch worked his way into my husband’s hesitant heart. One night, only months after his adoption, I heard my husband wrestling him in the living room. When the play was over, I looked over. Both my husband and Dutch were grinning at each other. I watched as Michael stuck his face into the fur on Dutch’s neck and mumbled, “I love you, Dutch.” My heart caught in my throat.
We had a wonderful year and a half with Dutch. I often think that God sent him to us when we needed him the most.
Suddenly, without warning, he got sick one night while my in-laws were visiting. My father-in-law, Pat, took care of him during the night, not even waking my husband and I. We went to church the next morning and he seemed fine. By nightfall, I began to worry again and told my husband to call the vet. But it was too late.
As I was getting ready for bed, my husband crashed into our bedroom, tears running down his face. “Dutch is gone….” was all I could understand. In our grief, my father-in-law decided that right then was the time to bury him. We followed him, numbly, picking a spot in the backyard to bury him (we had just had our utility lines marked in the yard for our new landscaping plans.)
In the chaos and grief of the night, as Pat began digging Dutch’s grave, he hit the gas line that ran into our home. We had to wake our children, call Source Gas and fire department and wait on the cold pavement next door, while our children cried for Dutch. It was awful.
Days later, after everything was fixed, the gas company sent out a man to double check and make sure we didn’t have any gas leaks leading into our home. After finding out we had just lost Dutch, he kindly said he would check our furnace and water heater as well, just to be nice. After tinkering around in our garage for several minutes, he called me into the garage.
“Ma’am, I wanted to let you know, that your water heater has been leaking carbon monoxide into your home since it was installed improperly.” I was stunned. He turned to me. “Not to be blunt, ma’am,” he began again. “But I think your dog’s passing saved your family’s lives.”
Suddenly, Dutch’s death made sense to me. He had always protected us from the time he was introduced into our family. It made complete sense that in his death, he would protect us as well. He was not just a good dog; he was our Dutch.