“20/20” featured a story about Mary who confessed to murdering Matthew, a pastor in Tennessee. According to the media, this was no ordinary murder. Why? Because this was no ordinary family. When something went horribly wrong, there was an “Ah-ha” moment where media and public magnified a family issue into another flaw with churches and Christians. Why?
- Because churches are for people who are already good Christians.
- Because a minister and family are supposed to be the most perfect of all.
If pastors and churches, try to live by this message we are setting ourselves up for failure. Sooner or later, we will get caught in our own “Ah-ha” moment. Our imperfections will show and people’s image of us will be shattered, and even fewer people will bother with churches or with God.
Is this what being a Christian is all about? Of course not! The Bible is full of people with numerous issues and problems! Our faith encourages living a life of humility and service, recognizing we are flawed human beings who need God. We attend church to better connect with God and support each other. We work to find the purpose God has for our lives and we seek to carry out that purpose as disciples of Jesus Christ.
So, what is God’s message for us and for the world? Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Luke is about love, specifically God’s love for us. Max Lucado writes: “At some point in life, God’s love must move from being a concept we wonder about to a conscious experience that transforms us. God’s love deserves better than a half-hearted acknowledgement!”
How much does God love you? A father has two sons… We know this story. One son asks for his inheritance early which is a gigantic slap in the face to the father and to the family but the father gives-in and off the son goes on a grand spending spree.
Soon, the money is gone, the son is starving and dipping into pig food. For a Jew this is the lowest of the low. No good Jew will come near a pig. The son has a transformation and realizes that his proper place is at home so he returns hoping dear old dad will forgive him and at least give him a job and a place to sleep.
But instead of receiving condemnation from the father, daddy runs towards the prodigal son with arms open wide. The son receives a kindness he did not deserve, and the father shows us what it really means to love and forgive.
Personally, I identify with the other brother, left behind to clean up the mess. “How dare that good-for-nothing show his face around here after what he did.”
But it’s the father who teaches unconditional love: He says, ‘Look, dear son, you always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We have to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’” (Luke 15:31-32)
So, what does a healthy church do to demonstrate God’s love?
- Empowering leadership that involves everyone as we seek to follow God’s will.
- Gift-oriented ministry that says each one of us is vital, each one of us matters.
- Spiritual passion smothered in genuine humility that points to God, not us.
- Inspiring worship that teaches God’s love while offering encouragement and comfort.
Email: “I never thought I would be excited about going to church. I am not even sure how I ended up going here. I hate to say it but the fact that I wasn’t pressured for money made me not afraid to come back after that first day. I left that day with an indescribable feeling. I wanted to break into tears the entire service. Not for any particular reason, just an overwhelming feeling of love, purpose and joy. Your church reunited me not only with Jesus Christ but also with my sense of self and humanity. My faith is greater than ever.”
- If couples and friends set love as priority, they will enjoy a not-so-perfect but growing relationship.
- If I set love as my priority as pastor, you won’t see perfection but a leadership of service.
- If our church sets love as priority, you will see ordinary people on fire for serving God.
- If we set love as our priority, then others will want to be with us because deep down, we all want to be loved.
An accountant working late receives an unexpected visit from a young man who recently had his taxes done. It seemed strange but the young man wanted to talk about career possibilities. The accountant listened and gave some advice and even helped him secure a few introductions. Years later, he received a note: “I wanted to thank you for caring about me that night. I don’t think you ever knew but I felt so terrible, I planned to kill myself. Everything in my life seemed bad. I noticed the light on in your office and for some reason felt compelled to talk to you. All that talking and your listening made me realize that a lot of things in my life were good. Thank you for saving my life.”
It’s the young man who graduates from college and has wonderful career possibilities but passes them up to accept a job close to home to take care of his mom struggling with Leukemia and finish raising his four brothers and sisters. Life is hard but as he sees all four children grow strong, he knows God put him there on earth for a reason.
You will seldom see what most Christians and churches do on “20/20.” A day-to-day habit of loving others the way God loves us seldom gets featured in the news. But there is a large population outside our door that needs to see, feel, hear, taste, and smell that kind of love. They need the love only you led by the spirit and awesome love of God can give.