Feed My Lambs? What I’m learning about Jesus and ministry after a few days raising one, little lamb

“Feed my lambs” took on a whole new meaning for me this week.

When Jesus restored Peter, following his famous denial, he called him to feed and care for his lambs and sheep three times. The metaphor of sheep permeates Scripture depicting God’s care for his people (see Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34 and John 10 for examples). By extension, shepherding is used as a metaphor for leadership among God’s people (1 Peter 5:2 and Acts 20:28-29).

On Sunday, we accepted an orphaned lamb from a friend.  At only a few days old, this little lamb needs constant feeding and care. Micah, our youngest, has taken nobly to the task, and we’ve been helping him. Micah with Shauna

With just a few days of care under our belts, I’ve already gained insight into why Jesus calls us his sheep, and why he’d use caring for sheep as a metaphor for ministry.

Here’s what I’m learning so far:

  1. Lambs can only handle small doses of milk at a time. In fact, over-feeding is a danger (it can kill them), so you need to make sure you are giving the right amount and not forcing them to eat too much.Tennille and Eve Feeding Shauna
  2. Because of the small doses, lambs need regular feeding. Every 2-3 hours (yes, including the night) this little lamb needs milk. You can’t just put a bunch out and let it drink when it’s hungry; you need to actually warm up some milk and bottle feed it, every few hours.
  3. Lambs need help both eating and pooping. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, and for you non-farmers out there, brace yourselves. When you feed the lamb, you also take a cloth and “stimulate” the “exit” with warm water, helping the lamb defecate as well as eat. And the instinctual connection is very strong. A mama sheep would lick the lamb, including . . . yes, including that, and this caring act of washing the lamb’s bum immediately gets her eagerly bunting and wiggling her tail and wanting milk. It’s magical!
  4. Lambs are fragile. They need to be kept warm and protected. If their body heat gets too low, they can die. We set up a heat lamp for her and have created an area in our barn that’s safe and cozy.
  5. And lambs follow the closest thing with legs.  Our little lamb will do anything to stay close to you. In fact, when Micah tears off at a run, she is right behind him, moving faster than you’d expect! She’s also fallen in love with one of our dogs (who is mutually enraptured), and she stays very close to her, moving in and out from under her, even nuzzling around for some teats to enjoy!

All of this made me reflect. Based on my very limited experience with lambs, I saw some interesting connections to how Jesus cares for us.

When we come to follow Jesus, he takes us as we are, knowing our fragility and recognizing our needs. Jesus doesn’t overwhelm people new into his care; rather, he feeds them in small doses, knowing that overfeeding is deadly. At the risk of using an image you’ve never wanted to think about, Jesus helps us eat and poop, giving us vital nutrition for our newly formed bodies and helping us get rid of the things we need to dump. In fact, intake and outflow goes hand in hand, and without both, we die. Small doses in, small doses out, all under the loving hand of Jesus. Wrapping us in community, Jesus keeps us protected and warm as we adjust to the regular life of following him. Jesus knows that newborns follow anything with legs, which makes us both ready to follow him, but also susceptible to anything else with legs, too. So he keeps us close, calls us to him, and watches over us as we grow. He knows that before long, even running hard won’t prevent us from clipping at his heels in our eager attempts to keep up.

And following our Good Shepherd, we need to care for new followers of Jesus in similar ways. There is no condescension meant here, and the metaphor breaks down if applied too heavily, but I see some practical reminders that help me care for new followers, offering smaller, regular doses, helping process what is coming in and what is needing to go out, walking closely and giving guidance to a way of life that will soon become second nature to a maturing follower of Jesus.

Jesus said “feed my lambs”. And I’m glad for this opportunity to actually feed a lamb and experience a little more of what he might have meant when he gave this call.

Oh, it’s been a few hours. Time to warm up some more milk.

The Rumours are True: Absolutely Anyone Can Come and Follow Jesus

When we love the people Jesus loved, we’ll get the criticism Jesus got. 

And what was that? When religious folk saw who Jesus spent his time with, they slandered his character, rejected his message and presumed him unfaithful to God. “Glutton, drunkard, friend of tax collectors and sinners”, they sneered. (Yes, do say it with a sneer so you can catch the tone).

The same is true for any church reaching people far away from Jesus. When you include the people Jesus included–women in “complicated” relationships, men with anger issues, the addicts, the rejects, the braggarts, the sick, people weeping deep within a hole of failed dreams and fractured lives–you earn the same reputation Jesus earned.

I’m getting used to it now. The word is out. Apparently the church I pastor is becoming known as “that” church, the kind of church where (horror of horrors) anyone can go.  Can you believe it?

Oh, that’s not quite how it’s said, no. Not nearly so nice. The kind of things said sound more like this:

  • “Anything goes at that church. They must be soft on sin.”
  • “They must not be preaching the truth over there or she wouldn’t be coming.” whisper-in-ear
  • “There’s people that sleep around at that church.” 
  • “Clearly, they are liberal. Have you seen who started going?”
  • “I met someone from that church, and they thought Jesus and Buddha were just both great teachers! They don’t preach the Gospel anymore.” 

I could go on. It’s funny, because I think that’s pretty much what the religious prissy, the cleaned-up schmuck, the “we’ve-got-it-all-right-and-yet-somehow-missed-Jesus” folks said when objecting to Jesus’ parties, too.  Rather than seeing the gathered people as signs of God’s kingdom breaking in, they slandered Jesus as unfaithful.  To these religious watchdogs, “faithfulness” meant keeping people out, the very people Jesus insisted on bringing in.

So what do you do with that? Quell the rumours? Speak out to assure clean coffins everywhere that “we’re all okay over here”? Try to assuage the fear that we might be “a little too inclusive”? Go on the defensive?

Not a chance. Because here’s the thing: if the rumours are out there that the church is open to anyone–and I mean, anyone–that’s a good thing. If the word on the street is that you don’t have to be straight or clean or smart or happening to come to the Jesus party, then let the rumours fly! Not only will these rumours keep the kind of folks away who won’t help us love more people, but it’ll hold the door wide open for all those who’ve been intrigued by the invitation and are willing to step toward Jesus, even if they aren’t sure where that’ll take them. Rumours speak louder than anything we post, online or on the lawn, about “everyone” being welcome. And these rumours? They are spreading Jesus’ invitation wider than we could imagine.

So, yes. The rumours are true. Jesus is in the house, the party’s on and everyone’s invited. Even her. Yes, them. And him, too.

 

Top 10 Excuses Christians Give For Not Making Disciples

You had one job. 

Have you seen these funny memes circulating through social media, featuring mistakes made doing one, clear job?

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I wonder sometimes if that’s what Jesus will say to us? Before Jesus left, he gave his peeps one job: make more disciples. Very clear. Not really up for debate. Jesus, possessing all authority in heaven and earth, tells people who are under his all-encompassing authority to do just one thing: Make More Disciples.

Every Jesus-follower agrees. Any church worth the name “church” hails Jesus’ Great Commission as their central mission.

But is that what we are doing? Are we making more disciples?

Sort of.

When I look around the church-scape, I am happy to say that “Yes, disciples are being made.” Men and women, boys and girls, are coming to follow Jesus, and I celebrate that! It’s amazing to see. But–and here’s my concern–making disciples seems to happen more by accident than intention. I’m thrilled for each person following Jesus, but can we do better? I think so.

When questioned about our one job, we often make more excuses than disciples. I’ve hear them from others; I hear them whispered in my own heart. Here’s the top 10 excuses I’ve heard. Do any of them sound familiar?

The Top 10 Excuses Christians Give For Not Making Disciples

  1. I can’t disciple someone because I still have faith struggles.  This one’s a classic. We think we must operate at some higher level of spirituality to make disciples.  Listen, we are not perfect saints; we are forgiven sinners. What matters is who we follow together–he’s got enough perfection for all of us. Don’t let this excuse keep you from obedience.
  2. I don’t know enough.  While teaching and learning are central to discipleship, we don’t need to know everything. Invite people into places where you are learning and praying and serving. And as you do tAccident or Intention?hat, your own learning will accelerate quickly.
  3. I don’t know what to do. Discipleship is not complicated; it’s not about a technique or methodology. Wondering what to do? Here’s my thing: just start. Invite a friend to discuss spiritual things. Take someone to church with you. Pray for a friend. Learn along the way. It’s not nearly as complicated as you think. It’s simply helping someone take the next step after Jesus.
  4. That’s the pastor’s job. I love this one. As a pastor, I want to laugh out loud, mostly because it’s so absurd. All disciples must make disciples. Pastors help us become better disciple-makers, so we can all do our one job.
  5. I don’t want to be presumptuous. Actually, it’s not called presumption to help someone follow Jesus–it’s called loving obedience. Remember: any trace of presumption or hierarchy is evidence that you’ve forgotten what’s going on: we are not making people our disciples but disciples of Jesus.
  6. I’m not an academic.  You don’t need to be. In some circles discipleship has, unfortunately, become a kind of rigorous academic program–read these 40 books, pray 2 hours a day, etc. Discipleship is not primarily academic, though it includes loving God with our whole mind, as well as heart, soul and strength. In the end, we are not becoming religious egg-heads who know stuff but passionate followers of Jesus who serve him in the world. Be who you are.
  7. I tried that once and it didn’t go well.  Yep. Sometimes things don’t go well. That’s just true. And we learn through it. But stopping because it didn’t work out well? I don’t think Jesus left us that option.
  8. I don’t have time. Then your priorities are wrong. At any job, how long would we last if we kept ignoring the one thing we had been tasked to do, claiming we don’t have the time for it?
  9. I don’t feel I have much to give. This one really shuts people down, and often includes a combination of excuses. Here’s the fact: none of us have that much to give, but by the Holy Spirit can give through us. Keep your relationship with Jesus in focus, and simply share where you are growing. Let Jesus be the giver.
  10. I don’t want to. This final one isn’t an excuse–it’s flat out disobedience. If we are honest, there are times when we hear Jesus’ commission to us and we reject it. We don’t want to. What do we do with that? We need to repent, reconnect with Jesus’ heart for people, and get on with the task at hand. Because in the end, we only have one job. Are we getting it done? 

What kind of excuses do you hear the most? Which ones do you use?

How can we become more intentional disciple-makers?

Are you planning to squander Easter this year? 3 Reasons Why Inviting Your Friends to Church at Easter Is Even Better than Christmas

Every Easter we celebrate the greatest event in history, when life broke through and death was defeated.

Can you think of a more perfect time for friends to join you at church?

I can’t. 

Now, I’ve long felt that churches under-utilize the outreach opportunities of their Christmas eve services; they are incredibly prime for reaching people unfamiliar with church and unsure about Jesus. Lights, candles, music, babies, kids in sheep costumes . . . it’s plain awesome. But Easter is even better.

Here are 3 reasons why Easter outranks Christmas when it comes to inviting a friend to church.

1. Easter is the point of it all.

Like Christmas, Easter is high on our cultural radar. Everyone hears about it, knows about it, and no amount of chocolate or fluffy, egg-laying rabbityness can obscure its ultimate reference point: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

At Christmas, you have to connect the baby Jesus in the stable with the God-man on the cross. That’s fine, but Easter is that connection. You don’t have to work yourself toward the main story–the trial, suffering, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is the story. That makes Easter the prime event of history, the main celebration for Christians, and the ultimate time for invitation.

2. Easter promises the new beginning we all want. empty-tomb

At Easter, we’re coming off the long, dark winter and are looking eagerly forward to spring. Easter, with its story of Jesus’ resurrection, makes new beginning its central message.

Unlike Christmas, which is forced to look forward to Easter for its hope, Easter is hope delivered. Easter declares that old will not determine new, that past cannot dictate future, that life has come and conquered death, period.

This promise of new beginnings resonates deeply within our own broken lives and the lives of our friends. And an invitation to celebrate the new beginning delivered at Easter can make more new beginnings possible.

3. Easter places our death in light of Jesus’ resurrection. 

I often consider our deaths. Does that sound morbid? As a pastor, I preside over funerals of the young and the old. I’m faced, with startling regularity, by the fact that we all die. And I’m also vividly reminded of how many people–many of your friends and mine–fear their impending deaths.

Get this: Easter kills death. Jesus, who took our death, defeated it through his own death and resurrection. This is the answer to both the fear of our death and the fact of our death. Easter makes life matter because now we can truly live. Easter invites us to take our death, be it imminent or a long ways off, and place it in the light of Jesus’ resurrection.

At Christmas, we bravely project forward to what Jesus will do. At Easter, we boldly declare what Jesus has done. And I can’t think of a more relevant message in our culture of fear. Death: Easter just kills it! 

So, who will you invite to church this Easter?

At the Erickson Covenant Church, we produced invitations for our folks to use, both in print and through social media. We challenged our peeps to pray for who they will invite to come with them and I’ve already heard great stories of invitation. I’ve promised to share a message designed for visitors: simple, clear, relevant and inviting. 12800365_975115065903879_1988922514545889446_n

But maybe you are a bit skeptical about inviting your friends to church? Read my thoughts on why your friends might be more ready to come to church than you think they are.

My challenge to you is this: Make the most of Easter’s place in our cultural calendar. Don’t squander the opportunity you’ve been given. Invite your friends, in the middle of a great celebration weekend, to consider the reason we celebrate at all.

 

 

Why Andy Stanley’s Big Church Vision Didn’t Offend This Small Church Pastor

Are parents who choose small churches over large ones being “selfish”? 

Last week, Andy Stanley said as much in a widely discussed vision message to his Atlanta churches. Apparently some folks got upset, taking it as a ugly shot at small churches.  I pastor a small church–I wasn’t offended.

Let me back up and explain.

andy-stanleyWhen Andy Stanley shares his vision for the church, I get fired up. Even though our ministry contexts are radically different, I resonate deeply with his passion for churches reaching unchurched people and leading them toward Jesus. His recent book Deep and Wide influenced my pastoral leadership, and my preaching has improved dramatically as I’ve learned from him, both through Communicating for a Change as well as regular listening to his messages. I’m a better pastor because of Andy Stanley.

Last week, on a road trip with my family, we listened to Andy’s latest vision message “Saved by the Church,” hot off the iTunes press and before I heard anything about it.  I was so pumped. We discussed it, argued about it, pushed it around as we cruised down the highway. As a kid who grew up in the church (a small one!), I related to all the ways the church saved him. I was challenged by his message about generosity, the cultural impact of Christianity, and his vision for churches willing to make tremendous sacrifices for the sake of the next generation. And yes, I heard him call parents who choose their own comfort over their kids’ needs “stinking selfish.”

I’m a pastor of a dynamic, growing and yet small church. When Andy got hot about the church planting vision of North Point in north Atlanta, he made his passionate and now infamous comment that parents who choose their own comfort over their kids’ salvation are “stinking selfish.” I didn’t get offended by that comment in the slightest, because I could hear what he was doing. He was speaking directly to parents who would actively choose a small church because it suits their needs rather than connecting into a larger church that offers what their kids need.  He was challenging their consumer mindset, trying to get them to see the picture of kids who stay connected to the church for a lifetime rather than checking out of the church in high school or college. It was way more about the parents choosing for the sake of their kids than the particular size of any church.

Now, maybe Andy got carried away. Maybe in the heat of the moment he overspoke. He says he did. He confessed his error on Twitter. He admits that he didn’t mean it the way he even said it, apologizing in full in this Christianity Today article. I admire his candor, his humility and his willingness to clarify what he said. He has tremendous influence and has to steward that influence.

But was I offended by it? No. What I heard was a man passionate for churches who love kids, willing to challenge the consumerism, the comfort, the self-centredness, the narrow way parents can often choose churches based on their needs rather than their kids’ needs.  His vision is clear, his passion white-hot, his context specific, and he is moving his people toward the vision God has given them to be a church that unchurched people, including unchurched youth, love to attend. More power to him.

I suspect many of the people who were offended heard the comment out of context, devoid of the larger message and the heart behind it. I even saw a meme circulating on Facebook, featuring a picture of Andy with the statement “if you choose a small church, you are stinking selfish.”  Folks, that kind of proof texting is sinful, misrepresenting what he said and what he meant and bringing disrepute to a leader with integrity.

Oh that we would have a vision for the church so passionate that we would offend some comfortable church people. Not offending for the sake of shock, not maligning people doing good ministry, not slighting folks who are slogging it out in difficult and small places. But offending people who have become too comfortable, choosing their needs over the needs of others, over the needs of outsiders, over the needs of the next generation. It strikes me that Jesus offended just these kinds of comfortable folks with his vision to “seek and save the lost.” I wonder if he might have even called them “stinking selfish”, too.

 

 

 

 

Every Martian Matters (even when there’s only one)

the-martianDo we believe every person counts? Not just our friends or the people we enjoy, but every single person? Jesus does, and he showed that in how he lived.

Religious people have never liked Jesus’ people priorities, considering certain people less desirable than others. One way Jesus pushed back against their bigotry was with stories about the value of people. Luke 15 relays three of these famous stories, each one featuring something, or someone, of value becoming lost and then being found.  And the point? Each person really matters to God, so much that they are worth searching for, taking personal risks, paying tremendous costs, doing whatever it takes to bring them home.

I love it when Hollywood shares a story that aligns with God’s heart for people. The recent Damon-Scott blockbuster The Martian, based on Weir’s book,  is a parable resonant with Jesus’ point about the incredible value of one human life, worth expending every effort for their rescue. Like the lost coin, sheep and sons, The Martian underscores the never-changing truth that everyone matters, that every life counts.

Inspired by the parable, I showed this trailer during our Sunday morning gathering to illustrate God’s conviction that every person counts. As Christians, what God cares about, we care about. Because people matter to God, they matter to us.

When I reflected on all four of these parables (ancient and modern), I realized that in each parable people were willing to take great personal risk and pay tremendous costs to restore the lost sheep, coin, son, and astronaut.  The shepherd left the 99 to risk a wilderness search; the woman worked feverishly to find her coin; the father disdained personal reputation and wealth to restore his sons. In The Martian, the crew of the Ares 3 put everything on the line, risking life, limb and legacy, to bring Mark home. Teams on the ground spared no expense to see him rescued. The world launched an all-out effort for one man, stranded far away, to make it back to earth. I love it. That’s the heart of God for people, and that’s our heart, too.

THE MARTIAN
The crew of Ares 3 was willing to take tremendous risk for one human life. Are we?

As members of the church Jesus leads, this is serious business. We want to be the kind of church where every person matters, and not just the “insider,” but those who are far away, out of touch, detached, disinterested, wandering, even lost. Churches often expend great energy to care for those who are present, who “show up,” knowing that they matter (and they do!). But it’s been too easy to forget our call to expend even more energy, more cost, more effort, more money to reach people who will never show up for the party unless someone seeks for them, works for their return, prays for their rescue, does whatever it takes to see them home. The church must become obsessed with finding people who think they’ve been forgotten, who do not know they matter, who are not even aware that an all-out search is being raised on their behalf.

Why? Because to God, every person counts. And if that’s God’s heart, then it’s ours.

How does this story change the way you see others?

Why does Jesus put so much emphasis on people who have been rejected by the religious?

(If you want to hear my original message, using The Martian to reinforce our vision at the Erickson Covenant Church, you can listen to it here.)

Want to invite your friends to church? Here’s 5 things you should know about them

Believe or not, you’ve got friends who’d come with you to church. You have only to ask.

And the #1 one way to invite others to your church is . . . wait for it . . . to simply ask them to come with you to church. That’s it. Yes, sometimes there’s a special event, such as Christmas Eve or Easter, making invitations easier.  Other times there might be a specially tailored program, such as the Alpha Course. But for most weeks of the year, we gather as a church with startling regularity, and you can invite your friend to come with you.1186739_512177192197671_802218542_n

Here’s how you can do it: “I was wondering if you’d be willing to come to church with me this Sunday?”  It’s that simple. And you’ll be surprised how many will come with you.

Because here’s 5 things you should know about your friends.

  1. You’ve got friends who’ve been waiting for your invitation (and they might not even know it). Recently, a friend of mine invited another friend, out of the blue, when they ran into each other in town. The invitation was exactly what was needed, and this friend is growing in their faith, connected into community. Beautiful.
  2. Your friends value your invitation. It really means something to them. Because they love you and respect you, your willingness to invite them to anything carries weight. Your relationship makes your invitation compelling. We often forget this: just the fact that you want them to come with you is an expression of friendship.
  3. Your friends might need time to respond but that doesn’t mean they won’t ever come. They might give reasons (wash the dog, walk the llama) for not joining you, for a while. Don’t be discouraged. Go light, make it easy. Zero pressure, just a simple invitation. A friend who puts you off might still be considering it, and there will come a weekend when they will suddenly (Holy Spirit work!) text you that they are coming. Life is busy. Things take time. And above all, they need to know that saying “no” to you doesn’t harm your friendship.
  4. Your friends will not be offended by your invitation, even if they don’t want to come and won’t ever come. This is a big one. We often shy away from a simple invitation because we are afraid of “offending” them. Really? You are their friend, so I’m assuming you invite them to your parties, your home-based business ventures–heck, you’ve probably even asked them to help you move. Do you think they’ll be offended by an invitation to something you love, prioritize, find consistently meaningful, and think they would enjoy? Very unlikely. The worst thing that will happen is . . . they’ll say “no” and you’ll get the signal that they aren’t ready. Worst case scenario. Think you can handle that? I know you can.
  5. Your friends want to know why you make church a part of your life, even if they think it’s strange. Okay, so they might not ask it like that, but if you are truly friends, then knowing each other’s loves and hates and passions is just part of the package. We know our friends who constantly run, or have a thing for chocolate, or love old cars, or never miss a hockey game — that’s part of being friends. Wouldn’t it be weird if you never mentioned your love for church, never invited them to come with you, even if for no other reason than so that they could know what you love about it?

What did I miss about your friends?

Who’s waiting for your invitation?

Why I haven’t quit the church (and why you shouldn’t either)

The church of Jesus is a marvelous mess, filled right up to overflowing with sinners and saints.  As a pastor, I hear my share of criticism about this mad collection of the Jesus-bought. Maybe you’ve heard it, too.

The church is . . . too inward-focused,  too liberal, too conservative, too spiritual, not spiritual enough, too performance-oriented, too shoddy and backward. Hypocritical, fake, needy, imperfect. Sinful. Broken.

Sigh. 

It’s all true. And believe me when I say that I ache over the mess.  The mess that eats away at people’s lives, the mess that happens when sinners forget their dearly won sainthood, and the saints forget their status as grace-covered sinners. But it’s in the midst of the mess of the church that I also worship Jesus. It’s in this messy, beautiful mix that I pray and give and serve and love and learn. It’s among these people I experience forgiveness, joining in wonder and worship, bearing for each other the burdens of life.

 

Why don’t I give up on the church? Why don’t I just quit?

Because Jesus refuses to give up on the church. Jesus loves his church — broken, sinful, beautiful and alive. Blood-won, Spirit-filled, lurching in grace toward God’s good future.

At the beginning of the book of Revelation, we receive a compelling vision of Jesus.  With vivid imagery, Jesus our High Priest stands with the white hair of wisdom and the bronze feet of strength, face shining like the sun and a voice like a waterfall. The focus is all on him, standing in splendor and wisdom and strength and love.

But, if you can stand back for just a moment, ask yourself: where is Jesus, when he first reveals himself to John in this vision? Where is he located, exactly?

I’m very struck by this fact: Jesus, in all of his brilliance and grace, is standing right in the middle of his church.  He’s not standing off to the side, he’s not somewhere in the distance, not on the outside looking in. Jesus is standing right in the middle of the church, depicted here as lampstands. And he’s not standing in the middle of some generic “church universal” either. Jesus is standing in the midst of the local church–seven local churches to be precise–churches with an identifiable address, meeting in a house just across the way, embedded within a city with a history, a mix of cultures, steeped in idolatry, with a story of where they’ve been and where they are going. A church made up of an odd menagerie of real and imperfect people, sinners and saints, people like you and I.

Lister Fun
Photo credit: Meme Prier

As the Revelation unfolds, Jesus has some challenging and comforting words for these particular churches, each message crafted for each unique congregation. Some of these churches are severely compromised; others are barely holding on. Some are affluent; some, poor. Some are well-known; some, backward and unfamiliar. And as Jesus speaks to his church words that are sometimes difficult to hear, let us not forget where he’s located when he speaks: right in the middle of the mess.  He speaks from the centre, not the periphery, of his people.

Jesus knows his church, situated in each community, each city, each block in the world. He knows my church; he knows yours. And he loves his church, and when he speaks to his church, he speaks right from the middle.

Jesus hasn’t quit his church.

I’m not either.

I love you, but I can’t stand your wife

Do you think you can love me and hate my wife?

Yeah . . . right.

Our friendship stands little chance if I hear you’ve been trash talking the love of my life.  If I hear things like:

“Tom’s a great guy, but why does he insist on bringing her?”

“I love hanging out with Tom, but his wife just bugs me.”

“I like Tom, but I can’t stand his wife.”

If I knew you were saying (or even thinking) that about her, do you think our friendship would grow? Do you think trust would develop between us? Do you think I’d invite you into my inner circle and allow you to influence my life?

Fat chance.

Lady Mary from Downton Abbey
Mary may be “damaged goods,” but Matthew’s love for her covers that as he plans to build the future of Downton Abbey with her as his wife. Matthew’s love for Mary is an image of Jesus’ love for his bride, the church.

But lots of supposed Jesus followers do exactly that when it comes to the church, the bride of the Jesus they claim to love.

You’ve heard it. Heck, maybe you’ve said it.

“I love Jesus, but I can’t stand the church.”

“I follow Jesus, but I don’t do the organized church thing.”

“I like you, Jesus, but I despise your wife.”

Good luck with that.

Let me be clear. I know many of you have been hurt by churches. I am truly sorry for the ways the bride of Jesus may have mistreated you or disregarded you or made you feel awkward or ashamed. The church has much to repent of, and I’ll be the first one to tell you that and line up to join the confessional booth.

But here’s the deal: As nasty and unlovable and wrong as we’ve been, Jesus hasn’t divorced the church. The church is still his, and he’s got a plan that involves the church in the restoration of the world. It may be hard to believe, but that wife you can’t stand is the very means through which God is restoring relationships and renewing righteousness in his creation (Ephesians 3:7-11).

Don’t dis the church if you want to hang out with Jesus. They come as a package deal.