During the month of January I’ve been preaching a series of sermons called Loving Well. In the second of those sermons, I preached on loving the church well. The church is not in good report with many in our day, even many who claim to follow Jesus. “I love Jesus,” some say, “but I can’t stand the church.” If, as the New Testament teaches, the church is both the body and bride of Christ, how a person can love Jesus and refuse to be part of the church. Can an arm say to the body, “I don’t need you; I’ll go it on my own”? And that arm would go on its own to its death. Would a wife say to her husband just before they’re married, “Okay, here’s the deal: I want to marry you, but I want to live my own life. I want to be free to date around and only come home when I feel like it.” Ridiculous! And yet some Christians say such things to the church.
I know the church has problems. It’s far from perfect and never will be this side of heaven. But I can’t help it—I love the church. And I stated so in my sermon on loving the church well. I had enough folks comment on it that I thought I’d post that testimony in my blog. Here it is:
And can I just go on record this morning by saying that I love the church—the church in general and this church in particular. The church has always been a part of my life. I can’t remember when I was not connected to the church—worship, Sunday School, Bible School, pot-luck suppers, choir, youth group, college group, camps and retreats. As a kid I didn’t always find it interesting and I haven’t always loved every minute I’ve been involved, but I always knew I was loved, I knew I belonged there among that particular group of people at that particular time.
I love the church. It was the church that introduced me to the exploits of these larger than life characters named Abraham and Moses and David and Elijah and Peter and Paul. They told me that somehow they were in my family tree. It was the church that taught me that I was part of something larger than myself and my town and my country; I was a citizen in the kingdom of God that stretches around the whole wide world and from here to eternity.
I love the church. That’s where I first saw a cross and learned about a Savior who loved me and died for me and rose from the dead for me too. That’s the one place I could be assured that even if I hadn’t given God much thought on Monday through Saturday, my attention would be brought back to Him on Sunday with words as simple as “Let’s pray … open your Bible … hear the Word of the Lord.”
I love the church. It was the church that gave me my song and taught me to sing it:
- Amazing grace, how sweet the sound / that saved a wretch like me
- Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty / God in three persons, blessed Trinity
- A mighty fortress is our God / a bulwark never failing
- Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nations / Son of God and Son of Man
- All the way my Savior leads me / what have I to ask beside / Can I doubt his tender mercy who through life has been my guide?
- We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord / And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
- Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine
- At the cross, at the cross / where I first saw the light
- Up from the grave he arose / with a mighty triumph o'er his foes
- When we all get to heaven / what a day of rejoicing that will be
How many times have the songs I learned from the church gave voice to my praise, words to my sorrow, hope to my fear, faith to my doubts, and carried me when I was weak!
I love the church. The church has helped me see the world—and not to see it with the eyes of a tourist, but with the eyes of God: eyes of compassion and love, eyes of concern for the lost and the poor and the people on the edges. And the church has helped me do my part in sharing God's love with the nations.
I love the church. When my family fell apart, the church was there. When I went off to college, the church was there. When my kids were born, the church was there. When there’s been sickness or surgery, the church was there. When my parents died, the church was there. In good times and bad, in times of rejoicing and times of grief, the church has been there for me. Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything and a season for everything under the sun, and the church has been there for me in every time and every season.
I love the church. That’s not to say that the church hasn’t broken my heart along the way, that the church has never let me down, or that the church has always lived up to my expectations. But that’s okay: I don’t love a perfect church and never have. I don’t love the church as I wish her to be; I love the church as she is—with her warts and her wrinkles, with her saints and her sinners, with her allies and her critics. I love the church when she’s swung and missed and when she’s knocked it out of the park, when she’s soared like an eagle and when she’s limped like a cripple. Someone once likened the church to Noah's ark: if it weren’t for the storm without, you could never stand the smell within. But in spite of the fact that the church stinks it up from time to time, I love the church.
I love the church because the church has always love me and because Christ has loved me through His church. Christ has always loved me enough to challenge me and forgive me and encourage me and stick with me no matter what. And Christ does just that through His church. I love the church.
Do you love the church? If not, let me encourage you to give her a first try or another try if she somehow hurt you in the past. Like it or not, Jesus dwells in the midst of His church. I encourage you to meet Him there.