God formed the body of Christ from His deep love for His children, and they have been trying to recreate it ever since. Intentions are good, but they don’t always lead in a positive direction. Peter had the same intentions in Matthew 17:4.
“Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.'” (NASB)
Our love for Christ makes us want to do something or create something that will show Him how very much we love Him. I’m sure He appreciates the efforts, but I’m also sure He wonders at where we get the notion it’s what He desires. Christ was crystal clear when it came to His desire, but His simple message of love gets lost in ornate organizations and messy erections built to honor Him. Whether we build a cathedral or put up a tent, it is still our design. There are 33,000+ Christian denominations in 238 countries. (World Christian Encyclopedia) All are trying to get it right, and I admire their determination. I understand Peter’s desire to build something for Jesus and want to do the same.
I’ve attended seven churches from five different denominations. All offered a place to learn and love, and I grew in each. I’m thankful for my experiences and still have friends from all seven. The pope’s visit last week made me think about church. I haven’t been in an organized church for four months, and it has been very uncomfortable for me. It is difficult not to feel guilty because all of my experiences with church have fostered guilt in me. I do not blame them for that because the guilt was instilled in my heart long before I attended any of them.
The Catholic church is known for its beautiful cathedrals, and seeing the splendor wowed me more than once as I followed the coverage of the pope’s visit. I was struck by Pope Francis because he seemed to be a very simple man surrounded splendor and extravagance. His simple messages and sweet gestures showed a man trying to live out the lessons in love that Jesus still teaches, but the pomp and circumstance buried him at times. I cannot imagine Jesus being comfortable in that setting, but I also cannot imagine Him being comfortable in many of the churches we have built for Him. Agendas, boards, meetings, committees, and all else that go with an institution get in the way of His simple message of love.
My experience has been varied when it comes to churches and denominations, but the same desire to serve has been at the heart of each. That desire gets twisted and turned by those who have the need to control either quietly in the background or obviously in the forefront. The building becomes important. It can’t be too fancy, or it must be as ornate as possible. Programs, visions, mission statements, and agendas take on a life of their own. Both ends of the spectrum share the goal of reaching out to others to spread the gospel, and I admire those who persevere; but I’ve been torn and worn out trying to find my way to the center over the years. Perhaps there isn’t one, and that’s okay. I know Who is at the center of my worship, and that’s all that matters.
I love the body of Christ, and I know Jesus loves it too. People are imperfect, and no one would say amen more quickly to that statement than Peter himself. We are all in the process of transformation, and I am thankful for the learning, living, listening, and loving I found in each of the churches I’ve attended. I’m also thankful for this time of transition because it is an important part of the transformation God has in mind for my heart. I wanted the church to meet my needs, and I believe that is what most people want. I felt so alone and lost four months ago, but God has been faithful to fill the void in ways I could never have imagined.
I’ve had more time for Him lately, and that’s been a beautiful blessing. Like a couple who never find time for one another until they go away, God and I have renewed our vows in a sweet and powerful way during this time together. He is always sitting at the center with His Son, and His Holy Spirit helped me find my way back to where this journey began fifty years ago. That has been a beautiful blessing.
God’s kingdom is more suited to children, and that has been a powerful part of the learning this week. I’m beginning a study of Mark 10, and verses 13-16 helped me understand a powerful truth.
“And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, ‘Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.’ And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them.” (NASB)
Paul J. Nuechterlein’s sermon, “A Heart-Warming Text,” gave a new perspective on those verses and helped me see that seeing others as my sisters and brothers and loving as a little child changes the very nature of all my relationships, including the one I have with Christ.
“Entering God’s kingdom as a little child means that Jesus offers us freedom from relationships that ensnare us and harden our hearts. He instead offers us the choice to relate to one another as beloved children of one loving God. It’s a new way of relationships, of new and abundant life.” (October 8, 2006)
Mark 10 is not always used in a heart-warming way, but God showed me this week that His Word is always meant to warm the heart. It’s the only way to soften those hardened by the relationships to which Nuechterlien refers. God never ceases to amaze me when it comes to knowing what I need just when I need it, but then He reminds me to remember Who He is and how He feels about me. Then, it makes perfect sense.