2000-09-20 - A Safe Place
1 Corinthians 13:2 (NIV) If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
He was once a proud man, in a good way. He fought for his country. He came back shell-shocked and never the same physically or mentally. Yet he was still a man. A human. He was still one of us, a valuable child of God. Working odd jobs, he managed to rent a three-room house. The only source of heat was a freestanding kerosene heater. He saved money by heating only the bathroom. As a boy, he went with his family to church. He learned about needing a Savior and as a teenager, he found that Savior in Christ. In that church, he learned about love and acceptance. As his jobs and money ran low, he returned to the one place that he remembered was full of love.
He wore tattered clothes and a scraggly beard. His head hung low, as his feet shuffled along. His eyes scanned the floor, afraid of making contact with the other eyes in the room. One of the church deacons gasped as the man walked in his direction. He quickly and loudly told the man that this was a church and not a place for bums like him. The other deacons ushered the man into a nearby classroom and lectured him on wandering into "their" church looking the way he looked. The broken man simply apologized and said, "all I was looking for was a little bit of the love and hope that I felt as a child and some money to buy food and kerosene." The deacons ushered him out a side door, telling him not to come back. They gave him nothing -- no money, no love, and certainly no hope.
My story may sound like fiction, but sadly it is true. A good friend recently told it to me. My friend was within earshot when the deacons were lecturing this down-and-out man. He, his wife and baby were waiting for the service to begin. Their child was being baptized that morning. My friend had eight dollars in his pocket. He ran out the door and gave it to the dejected man.
The story does not end here. This happened three years ago. My friend has not been back to church and I highly doubt the man he gave the money to has either. There were many victims that Sunday morning: the hopeless man seeking hope, my friend seeking an authentic church that cared about God and people, and my friend's wife as she now goes alone with their son on Sundays. Other victims are the ones who may be thinking about checking out this thing called Christianity, but who will be warned by my friend that the church is just full of hypocrites, as he repeats this story over and over. The cause of Christ is the biggest loser. Ironically it was not a group of "pagans" trying to keep God and prayer out of public gatherings and buildings, but rather a group of "Christians" keeping the lost out of "their" church.
Most churches are not destroyed from the outside, but rather from the inside. Paul was stressing this to the church in Corinth nearly two thousand years ago. He was telling them that all the programs, teaching and even faith are worthless if you do not have love. I urge you to take a good look at yourself and the church you attend, and see if you have it all, yet lack love. Jesus said it best when asked what was the greatest commandment of all. My paraphrase of His answer is, "Love God; love people." (Matthew 26:36-39). Perhaps you do not attend church because of not experiencing true fellowship or seeing another person mistreated, as my friend saw. Maybe you, too, feel like the church is only a place full of hypocrites. The local church is the hope of the world, and it needs people like you to make a difference.
If you are like my friend and do not go to church because of some wrongs that you have seen, your local church needs you. It needs people who have the courage and love to stand up and say, "wait a minute; don't lecture that man -- show him the love of Christ." If a church has rejected you in the past, search for another church that is doing church right. No church is perfect. It is just a building full of sinners. I guess by the strictest definitions, we "church people" are all hypocrites. I am not perfect, but the One I worship is perfect. Jesus is not a hypocrite. He is the Author and Perfector of our faith. He is love. And that, my friend, is all we need. Love God; love people. Every time you enter a church service, remember that God may have sent someone to whom only you can make a difference. Don't miss your chance. We as a church have to get this one right.
Father, I pray for all the people who have been hurt by churches. I pray that they will come back and find a church that is doing church right. I pray they will find the love that they need. Help the people who just don't grasp the simple commandment to love You and love people. In Christ's name, Amen.