Three years ago when I started this blog I couldn’t have imagined where it would take me, the lives I would have the honor of intersecting with, and the strangers I would come to call friends. Nor could I have imagined that I would ever write such a vulnerable piece about God and church. I was so tentative and self-focused, fumbling around figuring out my own journey, I thought: Who am I to say anything? Believe me, I know sin, shame, disobedience and struggle as surely as I see my own reflection in the mirror. But God saw a willing heart and an open mind and He asked me to walk through an open door, and teach.
Did I mention I was terrified to teach? Terrified to stand before a group of women and open myself to ridicule, judgment, gossip and my particular brand of insecurity that reminds me I am never enough. With utter reluctance, shaky faith, and full dependence on Him: I said yes.
In the fall I started teaching a group of women called Abide. A group of women navigating marriage, raising children and seeking Jesus with their whole heart. It’s a diverse community where every woman is welcome to come as she is, and not only meet a God who loves her measurelessly, but a flesh and blood community of women that does too.
Through a simple yes God began breaking down my own barriers toward women, healing my heart, and cultivating my passion. And surprise, surprise: I’m not afraid anymore. Through the actual process of studying His word and getting to know who He is, I’m finding out how much He loves us.
Last week I taught on 1 Timothy 2 and if you’r familiar with it, it’s a tough portion of scripture. Still widely disputed, it has been used to grasp hold of and wield power, and to create false hierarchies among men and women. The passage itself is instructional; prescribing order and function rather than hierarchy or worthiness. And while this isn’t a debate on which perspective is right, there are people who could do that far better and more eloquent than me, it is a comment on how beautifully it can be done.
There aren’t adequate words to describe what I just had the honor of sitting through this morning. Today I had the awesome privilege of watching the pastoral staff of my own church sit before our group of women and answer questions not only pertaining to 1 Timothy 2, and the role of women in the church, but also difficult, painful questions about marriage, divorce, pornography and sin.
It was touching to hear the heart of our church, the humble posture of our pastors before us and one another, and the sincere love for each of us who desperately need Jesus and His love. It was powerful to see women bravely standing up in obedience to God’s prompting, offering other women a friend to walk with down a road they have already traveled. Extending hope into hopeless because in their own broken story they found healing, reconciliation, and redemption.
I sat in the audience with tears rolling down my cheeks not because our church is perfect or amazing, or our leaders have all the right answers. I am certain they know their own sin just as clearly as I know mine. My tears came from knowing the truth, that THIS is the CHURCH.
Today that same woman, who three years ago was so afraid wondering “who am I to say anything?” is finding her courage to live into the radical truth: who am I not to say something?
The corporate church has messed it up so many times. I have friends and family members who have walked through pornography, addiction, homosexuality, affairs and divorce who’ve been met by the church and it’s people with shame, judgment, self-righteousness and arrogance so many times instead of love. That’s not the church. That brand of church in no way reflects the compassionate, merciful, tender heart of the God that I know. A God who adores us. Men and women. He loves us so much.
This morning I was reminded that we walk together through the sometimes uncomfortable realities of our lives that are messy and broken and threadbare — and yet full. Full, because we know Jesus. Full, because we are loved with an everlasting love. That because of Him, we can be washed clean; we don’t have to suffer in silence or solitude; but that there are open hands, open arms, open minds, and open hearts IN THE CHURCH.
The church following the life of Jesus welcomes the wanderer, embraces the outcast, forgives the fool and died for the sinner. We don’t find that in places where people jockey for power or position or proving their place. We find it among people who simply love Jesus.
We were made for community. We were made to live our actual lives in community with other people. People who’ve gone before us, stand beside us, and come up behind us. If we’re going to run this race keeping our eyes on Jesus, it’s not going to happen by accident or in isolation. We need to be brave.
We need to say yes to God. Yes, where He is leading us. Yes, what He is asking us to leave behind. Yes to truth. Yes to being transparent and honest and humble. Yes to the fact that we need each other. Yes. We need honest, whole-hearted, humble, Christ-dependent people in our lives who offer their own imperfect stories so we know we are never alone. So we can be accountable, interdependent and committed to living our lives as an over pouring of His amazing grace, mercy and undying love.
In so many ways we need to stop. Stop judging. Stop fighting. Stop seeing who’s wrong, who’s to blame or how to be right, and simply BE the Church.
Jesus said in John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
By this everyone will know. Not by how big your church is; how large your platform can grow; how impressive your things are; or how perfect you pretend to be. By your love.
To see additional images by Kristof Vrancken of the incredible see-through church Belgian architects Pieterjan Gijs and Arnout Van Vaerenbergh have completed in Limburg, Belgium or read it’s story, you can click here.