Last Friday, I went home to help our kids decorate the house for Christmas. I love Christmas! It is definitely my favorite of year. I love the music (right now I’m chillin’ to the smooth jazz sounds of Vince Guaraldi on “A Charlie Brown Christmas” soundtrack), I love the candy 🙂 , the decorations, the Advent season where we can focus on the true meaning with our kids (our family reads the “Jotham’s Journey” advent series every night as a family devotion each year), the giving of gifts (my wife always says I go overboard 🙂 I get it from my mom!), the cool/cold weather (hopefully), I love EVERYTHING about it!
Well, we realized that the lifespan of a pre-lit Christmas tree is 6 years. It was 6 Christmases ago that we realized that my then one year old was allergic to the real Christmas tree and we had to break down and buy an artificial one. Since it was the week before Christmas, we got one for half price. Well, as I said, the lifespan of the lights is 5-6 years. Last year our tree by Christmas day had large black sections. No matter how many bulbs and fuses were changed, the strings that were supposed to light even if a bulb goes out, just had finally given up. Well, I thought that I could take the old strings off and just restring the tree with new lights. Easier said than done. Let’s just say that I have a new respect for the little ladies in China that string these things for probably $1 an hour. After an hour of trying to get one string off of just the top section, I decided to give trimming the tree a whole new meaning. I got some wire cutters and just started snipping the lights strands. They finally came off in dozens of pieces. Needless to say, I just left the rest of the tree with burned out lights and strung new ones over them. My 6 year old son kept looking around the tree saying, “Daddy, here’s one that’s burned out…and another one! Oh, and another one!” I said, “I know, I know. Just don’t look too close and you won’t notice the burned out ones. The lit ones will shine and you won’t notice.”
As I thought about this, I thought there is an analogy there somewhere. Well, this week I have talked with 2 ministers that I know in other states that are being forced out or are on the verge of being forced out of their churches after 10 and 13 years respectively. Both of them are godly men who have fallen victim to people who don’t get it when it comes to what the church is supposed to be. They have trumped up lies and innuendo about these faithful men and are trying to get rid of them because of their own selfish agendas or as in at least one case, to cover their own sin before they are found out. Knowing what I know about these situations it appears that these people who are stirring up so much trouble may not even be Christians. I think it was Billy Graham who supposedly said that the majority of the people in churches in America may not really saved. Maybe. That can be a good thing, because we are supposed to be about reaching the lost. That is our mission after all! We WANT the unchurched and lost in our church gatherings so that they can experience Christ and life-change. But they aren’t the church. We’ve confused an institution with the Body. The church is to GO and make disciples, not just invite people to join an organization. The problems in most “churches” are the result of seeing them and managing them and running them as an organization or business. People making decisions for themselves and voting on things rather than seeking God, being on mission and trusting the God called leadership. Its kinda like mixing in those burned out bulbs with the lit ones. If you really look close enough, you’ll see them…and the world sees it too.
The problem comes when we don’t proclaim boldly the gospel and challenge people to take a faith step into a relationship with Jesus. If we just want to “get people to come back” so we are afraid of offending a non-believer, then we are missing the point. The gospel is what it is and we must proclaim it in a way that is relevant and clear without shoving it down someone’s throat. It is a delicate balance.
Don’t get me wrong, we WANT and NEED to bring into our gatherings unchurched, lost, non-believing people who need to hear the hope of the Gospel. But the CHURCH is a group of Christ followers on mission. When we let the CHURCH be anything less, we are risking compromising the mission. When we allow the church to become an institution rather than a people rescued by God’s Grace, we can let non-Christ followers into leadership and control. In that sense we have let the enemy dilute us and cause division and destruction to what is supposed to be the body of Christ.
Maybe it isn’t such a bad idea to allow the tree of our lives and the church to be “trimmed” by God sometimes. Jesus talked about that HERE. Maybe that is why there is such a surge in church planting today. Maybe that was what Jesus was really about.
With that said, I DO know that the church is still alive and well and God is still using imperfect people like you and I to accomplish His mission. Thankfully HE’S doing it, because we would certainly screw it up if it were just us.