“20/20” featured a story about Mary who murdered her husband Matthew, a pastor in Tennessee. There was a lot of media attention because you don’t expect anything like this from a minister’s family. What led Mary to do such a thing? I think the answer reveals a lot of why so many people believe in God but no longer feel it is important to be a part of a church. On the surface, Matthew was a good pastor, loved by church members. He seemed to have the ideal family, but the trial revealed a darker side behind the closed doors of the parsonage.
“20/20” media treated this as an “Ah Ha” moment suggesting that no one who is Christian and certainly not a minister’s family could ever do something like this. This was news and evidence that proves Ministers are not perfect. Church people are not perfect. I could have told them that.
If pastors and churches, try to live by this message we are setting ourselves up for failure. Sooner or later, we will all get caught in an “Ah-ha” moment. Our imperfections will show and people’s image of us will be justified, and even fewer people will bother with church.
Is this what defines a church? Of course not! The Bible is full of people who have personal flaws. Jesus teaches us to live a life of humility and service recognizing we are imperfect human beings who need God. We attend church to connect with God and support each other. We work to find God’s purpose for us and then to seek to carry out our purpose as disciples of Christ.
We are Christians because God loves us. How much? Here are three examples from Luke 15:
A shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one is lost. He leaves ninety-nine others to search for one. And when he finds it there is a celebration. A woman has ten silver coins and loses one. She tears the house apart until she finds that coin. And when she finds it, she will rejoice and party.
A father has two sons. One son asks for his inheritance early which is an insult to the father but he gives in and the son then goes on a grand shopping spree. Soon, the money is gone, the son is caring for pigs and he’s so hungry, he’s dipping into their food. The son realizes that his proper place is at home, so he returns hoping dad will forgive him and give him a job and a place to live.
But, instead of receiving condemnation, we witness a poignant moment of Dad running towards his lost son with arms open wide. The son received a kindness he did not deserve, and the father shows us what it really means to genuinely love and forgive.
One chapter – three stories – three are lost, then found. A lesson on unconditional love:
- Love is going out of your way, leaving the crowd to look for one.
- Love is tearing the place apart to find the one that is lost.
- Love is a willingness to put the past behind, then forgive and restore.
We come to church to learn how to love God, love our neighbor, and love ourselves. This is what should happen when you visit a church. You should not be discouraged but rather encouraged with a fresh dose of love and hope.
I received this email: “I never thought I would be excited about going to church. I am not even sure how I ended up here. 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.”
Love is the lesson of the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine to rescue the one and love is the lesson of the woman doggedly searching for the lost coin. And love is the lesson of a father, willing to forgive the unforgiveable and to then celebrate and welcome his son who was lost. What the church accomplishes, you will never see on “20/20.”
There is little news in a day-to-day habit of loving lost sheep, finding lost coins and forgiving prodigal sons. But that’s God’s way. It won’t provide easy answers or make headlines but your willingness to model God’s love as a disciple of Jesus Christ will make a difference.