I had three horrible dreams in a row last night. I rarely ever dream and even more seldom remember what I dreamed afterward. But these stuck with me.
The Lord has placed on my mind and heart the names and faces of several people that I haven’t seen in years but think of often. Names and faces that were once “connected” to our church family but are long, long gone…and that’s not even the grievous part. Forty-five years in the church has taught me…people come and people go. We thank God for the eternal investments made by people while they were there, but we can’t hold them hostage to the church family. But what truly grieved my heart in these dreams, and is still heavy on my heart this morning, is how many of them have no detectable relationship with Jesus; many, quite the contrary.
There were some bad actors involved along the way…people that should have never been in “leadership”, people that made poor decisions, or people that were not guided by Truth but rather by self-centered hearts filled with arrogance. I fell into one of those categories.
Now, I believe that God is sovereign. I know that several of those names and faces were never truly regenerated followers of Jesus. I wanted to believe they were, but in the Gospels, Jesus gives us indicators that point otherwise. I know that in some cases, God used what we were experiencing to purge and prune the church for the sake of His own glory, His Kingdom, and the good of His church family. Others have gone on to thrive in other churches and communities. Some have since found their way to Jesus through repentance and humility.
Regardless of the condition of the hearts who were either on the giving or the receiving end of the behaviors and motives that quenched the Spirit of God, I grieve for them today. I grieve the victories of the enemy in their hearts and minds. I grieve the wounds that took them out of a loving community of hope. I grieve the hearts of the children that grow up in homes whose parents and grandparents are burnt and jaded by divisions, self-centeredness, jealousy, anger, hate, and arrogance in the body of Christ. I grieve the path of unrighteousness that many have taken. I grieve for the lives that God has removed from our midst. I grieved my own stake for years. I self-deprecated with self-loathing for the activity that happened on my watch as the shepherd, my participation in it as well as my lack of action; I even questioned my fitness and call by the Lord, paralyzed in that for a few years.
But I celebrate today. I celebrate God’s forgiveness, His grace, and His mercy – in my own life and in the body of our church family. I celebrate the Sovereignty of God and the Truth of His Word. I celebrate generations of regenerated lives who have followed Jesus with reckless abandon. I celebrate beauty that comes from ashes. I celebrate the faithfulness and endurance of some good soldiers, who fought for the testimony of their Lord and the soul of their church through some very difficult and challenging times — and are stronger and more in love with Jesus because of it. I celebrate God’s wisdom and discernment that comes from experience. I celebrate that there is no room for offense, grudges, resentment, bitterness, or unforgiveness in the body of Jesus Christ. I celebrate the blessed bounty that God has set before us. I celebrate the plurality of godly Elders and a godly team of servant leaders who not only support the mission God has given to us, but do so with accountability, personal sacrifice, loving confrontation, and determination for godly resolution…that God’s will might be accomplished, that God may be glorified, and that His church might be ONE.
This is not the story of just one small, local church in the midwest. Hundreds of thousands have experienced the sting of gross humanity manifest in the church. Many have grown stronger and deeper in the Word and His Service through it. But, it has also shut and sealed, not only the doors of many physical church buildings but their testimonies as well. But we cling to this promise that even the gates of hell cannot prevail against Jesus’ church.
Would you join me in praying for the souls of those who have wounded the church and been wounded by the church?