You know, when I was a little girl, I always figured I would marry a pastor - It was all I ever knew. Church was familiar. And I won't kid you, I loved it. Warts and all. But at the same time, the warts were many. Church is messy.
If I could fix any one thing, I would make church a pretty place - a happy place. Because, let's be honest: Christians can be ugly. They say the wrong things at times. They make poor choices. And sometimes, they don't live very Christ-like. It's enough to make even the most stalwart of Christians cringe at time. Not all the time, but sometimes.
Jesus once called the Pharisees "White Washed Tombs." They looked great on the outside, but inside, they were rotting.
If you show up to church on any given Sunday, you're bound to see at least 100 people, if not more, dressed in nice clothes, smiling and shaking hands. They're going to ask how your grandmother is doing and if your brother/son/grandchild likes college. The junior high girls are going to find their church friends and sit together in the same row - and more likely than not, they're going to doodle on offering envelopes with a little wooden pencil (only one of them will have a fine point).
But that church lady who asked you about your relative is probably arthritic and had a not-so-great doctor's appointment for her husband yesterday. The young woman teaching Sunday School is terrified because she feels like a hypocrite, teaching right and wrong when she can't follow the rules herself all the time. And the pastor's sermon only seems poignant because the very thing he's preaching on is something he learned the hard way this week - God has great timing like that.
Church is messy.
And sometimes, it hurts like crazy.
With all the best intentions in the world those "White-Washed Tombs," will inflict some pretty nasty wounds. I grew up in the church - I know. I've seen the church in some pretty ugly moods. It has an underbelly that sometimes we're ashamed to admit exists. Because if we admit it exists, then maybe Jesus isn't enough. Christians are supposed to be made new and healed, right?
Actually, Christians are pretty messy. But that doesn't mean Christianity is a dud.
The church is a hospital and sin is the diagnosis. Healthy people have no reason to enter a hospital. If finding Christ made us perfect, we could do this "life" thing alone. But we can't because the simple fact is that we're all in process.
Finding Christ is like finding out what's wrong with us and then comes the treatment process - the refiner's fire. God molds and shapes us into his likeness. But truth be told, we aren't completely healed until we make it to the other side.
And in the meantime, God does some of his best work using broken people.
Do you remember Saul? or Paul? That's his new name. Saul was a guy who's primary endeavor was a crusade against Christians. He sought them out, arrested and put them to death. He did this for most of his young adult life. This is the guy God sent to southern Europe and the Mediterranean to spread the gospel. And once God got ahold of him, the persecution turned on him. It seems ironic that when he wasn't serving God, he had it easy, and when he was, the trouble started.
Instead, Saul was a guy with a messy life who was used for some incredible purposes.
Sometimes I look at my experiences in the church, and I blame all my problems on that mess. If God really wanted a good story for his followers, he would make our lives more attractive to outsiders. But he doesn't. He allows us to go through some very rough situations. Then I realize, because of Saul/Paul's unique story, it made him uniquely qualified to do the work set before him. God took that mess and brought something beautiful out of it.
So when I look at my mess and feel out of control and frustrated, I remind myself of that - There's a bigger picture that I can't see yet. Church isn't perfect, and neither am I. It's a mess. But God is bigger than the mess, and he has this funny habit of using mess for something bigger.
Mess doesn't mean God has failed. It means He's working. What you have is a trust issue. I know I do.