Come Back, Please

Following up on last week’s post, Shepherds False and True, I want to focus on one aspect of that piece. I want to talk about love that pursues.

In my previous post, I referenced the passage of Scripture that describes the man with one hundred sheep, the one who left the 99 to go after the one that was missing. This story ended in rejoicing that after a search, the sheep had been found. The man loved the sheep enough to go after it. He pursued it.

For many of us, the thought of being pursued in love, and I’m not talking about some sick control thing, by any church when there is a problem is beyond comprehension. These institutions are so used to having traffic go both ways on a regular basis that one more family out the door means nothing.

If a family is struggling with something at the church, it is far easier, a relief even, for these leaders to just wave good-bye  than to actually face the issues at hand. Doing so might reveal deep problems, sin, real issues at the church, and “ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Love that pursues.  Think of what these words below would mean when you are having to walk away in a seemingly unsolvable situation:

“Wait, would you come back? We value you. We love you and your family. You are important to us. Can we talk this over one more time? Please don’t leave yet.”

Think how healing these words, spoken in sincerity, would be! Think how beautiful to know that your presence, your family’s presence, matters. That all is not lost.

Imagine this scenario. A church has serious issues going on. Gossip is rampant, families are leaving in droves. Hearts are broken everywhere, as the environment deteriorates and families see no other choice but to drive away.

What if the pastor(s), rather than circling the wagons, meeting with lawyers, holding stern congregational meetings with threats about gossip and slander, stopped everything planned.

What if every meeting, every Bible class, every Sunday School class, every youth group event, every small group get-together, every single thing on the schedule came to a halt? And for as long as it took, they held prayer meetings inside the church sanctuary. Sackcloth and ashes time. A call to reconciliation and confession of pride and everything else. Pastors on their faces rather than lecturing against gossip. Imagine a congregation following the leadership’s model of humility and love.

What if apologies were sent out to pursue wronged and departed members, letters of contrition, letters of love and requested reconciliation to those families forced to leave by arrogance, pride and cold hearts at the top on down?

No slick “revivals”, no professional seminars, no programmatic anything. Just seeking the Jesus so often talked about, and yet so rarely present.

Would this change things? Yes, it would change everything if cold, unfeeling hearts were replaced by the Holy Spirit with new ones, tender and easily broken.  It would change things very quickly if callous indifference were replaced with love, the love that pursues and doesn’t give up.

Maybe this has happened in our time, somewhere in America. I have never heard of it if it has. I do know of countless Christians who have been forced to leave churches they once loved, churches where they hoped to raise their families. This is the terrible reality many know. Meanwhile, the church show must go on.

On a related note, there is general concern expressed in many places about the departure of Millennials from churches. I’ve read countless articles from various Christian news sources about how this demographic is walking away from evangelical and fundamentalist churches.

I’ve also read all the suggested fixes for this, ranging from the usual “cool church” makeovers of formerly staid and conservative congregations to denying cardinal doctrine.  It’s all a howling joke, people. It won’t work.

Some young people will leave church, because the message of the Gospel is offensive and they prefer the world. But who is to answer for the many others  who have walked away, because they have never, ever seen any reality of Jesus in the professing Christians in the churches where they were raised, and theyhave ceased to believe Jesus even exists? Who will give an account for the church politics (I could tell so many stories about that one), the obsession with image over reality, the false fronts, the play acting, the egos, the fraud and the total absence of power in the lives of the “believers” they knew from earliest childhood? Absence of power? What power? The power of forgiveness and reconciliation from Jesus Christ as seen in relationships! The power that can cause a hard heart to grow soft — a miracle only God can achieve. The power that causes change, not just empty talk.

This is what young people need to see. It’s what all of us need to see, more than ever in these times when the “love of many has grown cold.” It’s what we need to show in our own lives.

We may have nobody who pursues us in love, especially from any institution calling itself church. But we must be the church and pursue others in love when there are problems. Pride shuts the door and locks it on those with whom there is a problem. Churches like this are citadels of pride. We can all be citadels of pride. But where pride reigns, it ruins. It ruins people, and it ruins churches as a result.

“Please don’t go. You and your family matter to us. Come back, won’t you? Let’s talk this out. We love you.”

Those beautiful words, so rarely spoken in sincerity.  What wonders they could accomplish.

Shepherds False and True

A shepherd tended a flock of sheep on the hills  At night, they were herded into a sturdy sheep pen made of field stone. The pen was solid and protected them all from predators. The shepherd made perfunctory checks on the sheep each night and went through the motions of his job each day. No one could fault him  for not carrying out the basic tasks that he went through like clockwork. Every day, the same routines without fail. That was the job he got paid for.

At dawn one morning, an injured sheep showed up at the door of the pen, waking him with pitiful bleating. It was not his. He had no way to know where the sheep had come from. It was limping and blood was coming out of a wound.

The shepherd was annoyed.  He didn’t have time to deal with it. The animal looked like it was dying anyway and probably would wander off shortly into the trees. What was the point? The shepherd left the sheep lying against the stone wall and herded the rest of the flock briskly out of the pen to the water and grass on the hillsides. He realized he was already behind schedule.

Hours later when he got back to the pen with the sheep for the night, the injured sheep was still there, barely. The animal weakly lifted its head.  Its eyes implored the shepherd to help.

In disgust, the shepherd turned away.  He’d have to get rid of that mess soon or the carcass would draw wolves and vultures, not to mention flies.

Some of the other sheep looked curiously at the sick one as they filed into their safe, clean pen for the night. A couple stopped with sheeply concern, but the shepherd impatiently flicked them with his rod to get moving.

The shepherd was tired and decided to leave the bloody sheep to die outside the wall of the pen. He would deal with it in the morning. He completely forgot about the animal and dozed off immediately.

In the morning, the injured sheep was gone. Surprised, the shepherd looked around. He hadn’t thought the sheep could move enough to get away.  There was a trail of blood behind that led to a grove of trees down the road. What relief. He hadn’t had to deal with the mess. The sun was rising in the eastern sky. It looked like a beautiful day ahead.

He was leaning against a leafy tree while his flock was grazing later that day when he spotted a dark cloud in the sky some distance away. It moved a bit closer, and he could see they were vultures. One by one they dropped down into a grove of trees. Probably the dead sheep, he thought. Good riddance. He looked with complacent eyes on the sheep from his fold, grazing on the hills. Time for a little nap, he thought, as the gentle breeze caressed his face.


Over the years of working in Christian radio, the various types of churches in America became evident. For many years, the seeker, church-growth, Peter Drucker-influenced model changed the landscape. Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, years ago, developed associations that smaller churches could join to help them imitate the supposedly successful Willow Creek and Saddleback models. Seminars by satellite are still beamed all over the country, as bright-eyed young pastors dream about church greatness and big crowds. That’s one type of American church.

I also addressed the dying mainline churches, churches that long ago abandoned the faith once delivered to the saints and replaced it with a form of baptized anthropology. They exchanged the truth for a lie. The stench of embalming fluid fills these places.  That’s another kind of church.

But there is yet another type of church that I didn’t address much on the program. I should have. These churches have highly biblical doctrinal statements, maintain their commitment to orthodoxy and root out even the slightest growth of false teaching. They are known for not compromising. They outwardly have  a look of health. Their parking lots are full on Sunday with committed parishioners. But there is a problem, and that problem flows from shepherds on down.

If I had to characterize the issue with this kind of problem church, I could do so easily.  No love. The shepherds of these churches can be seen above in the small illustration. They are utterly committed to their churches in the sense that no church service, program, no church sponsored event will be neglected or done in a half-baked fashion. The sheep are herded in, and herded out, like clockwork. The floors are polished. These pastors and churches are not given to change, ridiculous fads or innovation. They are always on time.

But there is a problem. Shepherds in these churches can be so committed to the sustaining of a schedule, to programs, to upcoming this and upcoming that, they can miss the trail of blood in their foyers where “sheep”, deeply wounded and desperately asking for help, have come in and gone out, without it.

Complacent eyes take on a type of blindness. It’s not that they can’t see anything. It’s that they cannot see those who matter most.  These “shepherds” cannot see the hemorrhaging sheep in front of them, asking for help, as their responsibility before God who is the owner of the flock.

They see programs, conferences, schedules, administrative things, opportunities, but the desperation in the face of a hurting person who does not fit the plan? No. That disrupts order. That requires something beyond what they are willing to give.  They have places to go and things to do.

Contrast this with the picture of the caring shepherd that our LORD gives in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 15.

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ ”

I have heard from so many through the years whose experiences are not primarily in circus churches with three rings and a trapeze in their ceilings, or mainline spiritual mortuaries. They are limping away, terribly wounded, from the third type of church—the ones that value doctrinal correctness and will not tolerate compromise, but they lack the one needful thing – the thing that is supposed to set them apart in the eyes of the world, the thing that heals and gives life to those who need extra care, because they have suffered terrible injuries. What’s missing is real love.

Shepherds in these places not only won’t leave the fold and  to locate a wandering “sheep”, they can’t be bothered with the bleeding “sheep”  right in front of them. The bleeding and wounded bring nothing but work. Their care is tedious. These sheep don’t nicely fit into a program, an activity, an orderly slot. So the shepherd looks away, progressively blind and deaf to the terrible need in front of him. Not only does he not care for them, he will not so much as call on an assistant to do so.

These shepherds may not even notice the dark cloud of vultures off in the distance, descending on the spiritual carcasses of  the sheep that slowly walked away.  They are busy with an itinerary their secretaries just ran off on the printer. Another opportunity awaits. There is no time for the wounded. No time.

My heart goes out to every single one who has come to what they thought was help, only to be ignored, neglected and passed by. Even a cursory reading of the Scriptures show that this model of “shepherd” is false in every respect.

Jesus Christ is the GOOD Shepherd. Again and again, we see the compassion and care of our Savior who heard the call of the blind, the beggar, the oppressed, the sick and the cripple. He touched the “untouchables” and healed them. The touch of love.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” cried the man by the side of the road. Unwashed, alone and in darkness, Jesus was his only hope. People told him to shut up, but he only cried louder, hoping against all hope that Jesus would hear.

What did the Good Shepherd do when he heard this man? Listen to the urging of his handlers to move on, as he had a scheduled appointment for teaching in Galilee? Did He head to an august council of great theologians and scholars to discuss fine points of the Law?

Here is what happened.

“When Jesus heard him, he stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him. As the man came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said, “All right, receive your sight! Your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus, praising God. And all who saw it praised God, too.” (Gospel of Luke, chapter 18)

The Lord heard the cry first, and then he responded. That cry was heard and acted upon. This is the example of a true shepherd.

I am sorry if any reading this have been injured by false shepherds. False shepherds are far more than those teaching erroneous doctrine or self-help, feel good messages. Any shepherd who does not have compassion that acts in the face of pain and injury is false.

All we can do, and we all need reminding of this in these brutal times of coldness and callous disregard in churches, is look to the Good Shepherd above by faith—the One who never fails, who hears our cries in mercy, and who tends to our wounds in love.

The Good Shepherd shows his love to us by sending other concerned “sheep” in our direction, people, those who encourage and who walk with us on the rough terrain on the winding path to the Celestial City.  We can urge each other on and help untangle things when some get caught in the brambles and minister to those who are sick.

May the Good Shepherd tend to your heart today if you are hurting. The LORD Jesus Christ is His name. Call on Him, the One who always hears.

 

 

Follow-up: Lonely in a (Church) Crowd Pt. 2

My post, Lonely in a (Church) Crowd, clearly  hit a nerve. There is no question that there is a problem with this issue in churches today. In this follow-up post, I wanted to address a few things based on messages and comments I have received.

My own experiences with this problem, as everyone’s experiences are, are made up of a unique history and set of circumstances.  I do bring to the subject matter, due to my age, more than a little experience. I have a lifetime of living this, including those experiences of my childhood in various churches, and also the added insights gained by talking with countless people through my 23 years in Christian radio.  I know that which I am addressing.

There are some things I am not saying in my comments about the subject. I received a message from a new church elder from a denomination I am personally familiar with. The message, in essence, put blame and responsibility on me, dismissed the importance of what I mentioned and then went a step farther to say that Tom and I should start a home church, so the imperfections of the average church wouldn’t make their way in. It was pure sarcasm, of course. Duly noted. (I would add that this man has no knowledge of my husband or me and our lives.)

So what wasn’t I saying in my first post? I wasn’t saying that churches must reach a state of perfection before they are good enough for me or others.  Hardly.  I do have a problem with a church where a pastor’s wife can walk up to tithing members of many years and ask them their names and  if they are visiting.   (True story from a family member.)  I do have a problem with churches where people shuffle in, week in and week out, nodding politely at people whose names they don’t even know, and that’s OK with them. For decades.

I do have a problem with pastors  (or elders) who can make trips for the sake of teaching those in other states or countries and yet seem unable to drive 2 minutes down the road to visit those with clear spiritual struggles, or just visit them at all.  There isn’t much glory in that kind of thing, visiting those who can’t do much for you. It is, however, where real ministry begins.

I have a problem with loveless places of worship and loveless faces, and women who can talk endlessly with their BFF’s, while all the stranger gets is the sight of their backs in the Narthex (lobby, or whatever you call it in your church.)

I also have a problem with elders like the one who wrote who dismiss, callously, the concerns of a Christian woman like me who writes of something that is a reality, a tragic reality, for many. What’s missing? Loving concern. It’s amazing how far that goes in staunching the bleeding in hearts, it’s amazing how that balm of kindness can heal wounds. Suggesting that it is a woman thing, with hysterical females sobbing into their hankies at not being liked, is exactly the spirit that drives many from the church entirely. And I have another bit of news:  The experiences I have written about are not just those of women, as evidenced by the comments on social media to this article and here at the blog. I spoke with someone last week who described the treatment her  husband receives from others in the church. They’ve been there for several years, but he’s quiet and humble. The kind nobody notices or bothers with.  No, it is not just women experiencing the problem in churches that are too busy with their church programs, activities, etc.  to notice their own right in front of them.

It’s a lack of love. That’s the real problem.  Not public relations or manipulation towards the end of membership growth, but love. That kind of love has to be placed in hearts by God, the one supposedly being worshiped in church each Sunday. If you can’t reflect that in the house of God of all places, something is terribly off.

Additionally, for those who recommend trying to find others in the same boat within a church, that’s one suggestion, and a good one. But realize that not everyone is equipped physically or emotionally or spiritually to continue to try in the face of ongoing failure to break in.  Some will just give up.

I always believed that “church” was supposed to mean more than an hour on Sunday morning, a brief crush in a crowded hallway and then the car. A family should mean more than that, or am I wrong? After the preaching of the Word, shouldn’t it mean relationships, shared burdens, shared rejoicing over things, a place to serve and a place to find help when you are in need?  If so, than why are so many not finding that?

Anyone can slide in and out of a pew or seat each week. Whether “church” in the fullest sense goes beyond that takes more than a lonely person wishing things were otherwise. I commend those with the tenacity to keep trying. Not everyone can do that. Do we care about those who can’t or even recognize them?

The elder who wrote to me insisted that “Word and Sacrament” were all that was needed. Stuff and mortify your hurt  and shut up. But Word and Sacrament are given in a context. When that context is unloving, uncaring, and it functions  like an assembly line in a factory, (here’s Communion, you’re good to go for another week) when Christ’s love for us is the whole point of the Sacred Meal, you create stumbling blocks spiritually. Rather than open hearts to God’s Word, you shut them down. The elder who wrote to me doesn’t have to like that fact, but it’s the truth.  And God help those in clerical clothes and professing Christian leaders who put stumbling blocks where there don’t have to be any.

A lack of love is the hallmark of our dark times. It’s no surprise that the church is this way as well, as it seems to take its clues from the culture, rather than from the Scriptures.  And yes, Orthodoxy is crucial, but putting that into practice in our lives is where ministry begins.

We can only try to run counter to that spirit in how we treat those we meet in a church and out of it, for those who have no church.  Program heavy institutions calling themselves “churches” can do what they want. The real ministry of the church – meaning the people –  is still one on one, person to person, in good times and bad. God seems to be using many of us outside the institutional church in various ways.  Small lights out there where there aren’t any. And it’s a shame that these things even have to be said. Consider it said.

“No Man Cares for My Soul”

This below was originally posted in August of 2013. My friend Teeky in the UK put up the attached video in conjunction with the Sanctuary Conference they held that year. I listened again to the audio of the pastor speaking, and all I can say is, yes. This is the entire root of our problems among Christians who are content to carry on without real love for anybody but themselves. This is it. Here’s the post from 2013:

Since posting on the subject of the love missing among Christians, I have heard from several people who are really hurting. One woman in our area has health problems that now keep her from her large, bustling Baptist church that she had been a part of for years. In the several months that have passed since she has had to stop attending church, not one on the large pastoral “team” has bothered to call on her. There is every program you can create at church, but no shepherd has visited and inquired how she is doing physically, let alone spiritually. This is the reality of institutional churches that have everything, but they lack the most important thing of all, the real Jesus.

This clip from Richard Owen Roberts (sent by my UK friend, Teeky,) really gripped me. We have to be the love or there won’t be any. We can’t look to spiritual leadership today, much of which is bankrupt and obsessed with programs and growth and image. We have to each be the love to each other. That’s all of our job in the body of Christ.

Reconcile or Turn out the Lights

I don’t believe in prayers for revival on some big scale. Any spiritual awakening starts with individual hearts. If we can’t even love our neighbors and our own families, why in the world would some magical event take place where everybody overnight is just passionate for God? The one nobody has ever seen.

Quit your claims of praying and braying about moral issues, and call up the person you offended and apologize. Give back what you stole from them, and if it’s their good name, make a public statement retracting the slander.

That’s what revival will look like. That’s where Jesus will be, where love makes a showing, when sincere apologies get made and forgiveness extended. So turn off the lights at your Big Church or your Big Media Ministry if there are outstanding interpersonal issues. And don’t turn the lights back on until all has been reconciled. Otherwise you’re just plain noise.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,b but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. ~ I Corinthians 13

The Christians As They Were

The philosopher Aristides, author of these words (written in A.D. 125), describes the Christianity that then was.

They walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another. They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan. He that hast distributeth liberally to him that hath not. If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof, and rejoice over him as if he were their own brother: for they call themselves brethren, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit of God; but when one of their poor passes away from the world, and any of them see him, he provides for his burial according to his ability; and if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs. . . .

“And if there is among them a man that is needy and poor, and they have not an abundance of necessaries, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.”

Nothing else needs to be said.