But first, one more, because the message at church this morning really smacked me between the eyes.
Our pastor began a sermon series through the book of 2 Corinthians, and the focus of today's message in the first chapter was on the ideals we have of the church VERSES the realities of how God is actually and already working in and through the church.
In other words, we all have ideals about what we want the church to be.... maybe the music is too traditional or maybe it's not led well, or the preacher doesn't compare to the great sermons found on the internet, or there's no real, genuine sense of community, or there's no diversity, or we're not doing enough to help the poor, or whatever it is, just insert your particular complaint __here___.
However, the reality is that God is at work in your church. He is accomplishing His purposes for His own glory. Sometimes as we take a look around, that's quite hard to believe.
Our pastor pointed out that there are alot of really great churches out there that are faithful to the Gospel and God's word, but because they don't live up to whatever our ideals and expectations are, we pass them by.
OR, if you're more like me, we commit to them, we love them, and we're faithful to them,
but we're always disappointed by them.
Of course, the reality is that even the best of churches will ultimately disappoint us.
There is no perfect church.
Christ's bride, the Church, is made up (and even run by!) messy, broken sinners. Why would I expect it, as an institution, not to be messy? God's grace takes away sin's power and penalty, but certainly not sin's presence. Thankfully, we can trust that Christ is the head of the Church, and though our churches won't often live up to our own expectations, they will always live up to His, as He alone knows the way and the works He will perform through each congregation.
As I hold onto so many hopes and ideals for the church, I was stabbed in the heart by this quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together:
God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own laws, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together.
When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.
Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by his call, by his forgiveness, and his promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what he does give us daily.
Ouch. He got me.
Full of the ideals and expectations, and full of longings that will never be met.
And yet it's THOSE very hopes and ideas that keep me from THE community that He has provided for me here and now. The visionary dreaming, as Bonhoeffer calls it, creates pride and demands. The hoping and longing for something better turns the DREAMER into the ACCUSER.
It will never be good enough. It will never be exactly what I want it to be.
And yet, God graciously provides us in the Church with a group of REAL, broken sinners who struggle themselves to understand grace. Christ has bound us together in the church, to share in Christ's afflictions, to comfort those who are being afflicted with the comfort that He has given to us, and to learn to rely upon a God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1)
When we get caught up in our disillusionment of the church, it's WE who are breaking the realities of Christian community. Bonhoeffer says it better:
Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more that the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.
It also didn't take long for me to realize my ideals and expectations
aren't limited only to those I place upon the church.
It's quite the common thread in my life...
...expectations I hold for those I'm closest to
...ideals for my house and my children
...goals I have for my own self-achievement
And if I'm honest, my expectations can get so high that Jesus himself wouldn't meet them.
I want things to always be better.
(When the reality is, God might have other purposes than being great.
He seems to use weakness an awful lot more than might and power.)
I want people to love me in the way that I feel truly loved.
(But the reality is, God has appointed these particular people in my life to care for me.
And the truth is, they're probably loving me in the way they know how.)
I want things to be the way I want them to be.
(And obviously I'm not God. And I'm not in control of everything.
If I were, I'd probably end up destroying myself.)
It's THOSE VERY HOPES and expectations, as sincere as they may be, that will choke my marriage, strain my relationship with my children, kill my relationships with family, prohibit my ministry to college students, and deny a sense of peace within my own heart.
Why can't I be satisfied in the reality instead of caught up in an ideal?
It's New Years, which means alot of us are reflecting on how we want to change in this upcoming year, whether we verbalize our resolutions or not. Usually the resolutions (at least for me) go like this:
I want to eat more healthy and shed a few pounds.
I want to get better about praying and reading my Bible.
I want to get my home de-cluttered, organized, and keep it clean.
I want to do better at my work.
I want to pour myself more into relationships and ministry.
But even as I type those things, I can feel the expectations upon myself and others mounting. I can hear the perfectionist's battle cry. I'm always seeking to get better and BETTER. It's a constant hoping, and longing, and trying harder to be amazing. (all the while, failing of course)
Maybe my real resolution doesn't need to be about getting BETTER. Maybe I need to be more comfortable with getting WORSE, if that makes any sense.
I need to trade my ideals for what's real.
I need to ask Jesus to please, please help me rid myself of all the expectations and just LOVE people.
I need the grace to be content with that which He's provided.
I need to quiet the accusing voices that tell me it's never good enough. And the accusing words which leave my mouth all too often.
I need to stop striving for MORE, and start enjoying the LESS.
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. -2 Corinthians 12:9