Wal-Mart isn’t safe. It isn’t safe from competition, hurtful talk or impatience. I say that because, well I’ve been there, but this particular week I became more aware of the difference between the community of faith and the community of the mega-store when my daughter and I were grabbing some things after church. Who knew the lines would be so long on a Sunday? I mean there were at least seven people in each line, so when I found what looked like a short line, I raced to get into it, leaving my cast wearing daughter limping along behind me.
I just hate waiting, even on little limpy.
But when the competition for that particular line started to escalate into pushing and shouting, I told little limpy to turn around and we slid out of the fray to find a less coveted cashier. I really wanted to get checked out fast, and we were two carts away from the cashier, but with Jesus’ words, “they will know you are my disciples by your love” on my mind I cheerfully pulled out of the fight for fast service and skedaddled to find another potentially longer but emotionally safer line. As faith friendly as Wal-Mart is it isn’t a community of faith and so it will never be safe from hurtful words, competition and impatience, but thank God the family a faith is safe.
Do you belong to a safe faith community? Is your church a safe place for your soul? It should be. The church is meant to be a safe place where everyone is welcome. It is meant to be a safe place for your soul but not your sin. So many times we think that the safest place is where we can be ourselves, where everyone accepts us just the way we are, even if we are short tempered, or impatient and no change is ever asked of us, but life in community isn’t that easy. Personality differences, sin choices, and communication styles all run the risk of conflict, but it’s what we do in conflict that determines if we are a safe community or an unsafe one. This week at Friendship Community Church PastorHoney talked about living in a safe community of faith, and I thought the points he shared would be great to share with you, my friends. So here is how church is meant to be safe:
- It is safe because of our love for one another (see Ephesians 4:1-3)
- It is safe from a culture of hurtful talk (see Psalm 34:13-14)
- It is safe because we share forgiveness and patience (see Colossians 3:12-13)
- It is safe for your soul but not for your sin (see Proverbs 27:5-6)
It was a good reminder that sometimes living in community is meant to help us learn to love difficult people and to speak from kindness instead of anger or frustration. Life in community gives us the chance to be quick to forgive and to offer patience when it’s quicker to just scream and storm out. Because that’s the thing, all the fruit of the Spirit, love, kindness, faithfulness, etc. is the hardest to offer when faced with difficult people, and life in community is full of difficult people.
In 2009 Michael and I wrote a couple of books, God Girl and God Guy, and as I’ve been going through God Girl with my 11-year-old I realized that there is some good stuff in there for us older folks living in the community of believers. So I thought I’d give you a little excerpt that you can read and replace God Girl with “believer,” “church member,” or whatever you want, just don’t miss the point, that living life together is hard, but it’s hard, in part, so that we can learn to rely on the power of the Spirit instead of the flesh. So without further adieu, here we go:
“Sometimes the hardest people to love can be the ones who are closest to you. I know that I don’t get as frustrated with my acquaintances as I do with my family. And I bet the same is true for you. But the God Girl [church member] has to make an amazing effort to bring peace to the home [or the church body].
In Jesus’s parable of the vine and the branches (see John 15:1-8), he tells us how each one of us who belongs to him are part of the vine. Can you imagine the branch of a plant lashing out and trying to hurt the branch right next to it? It would be like hurting itself. And that’s what we do when we fight with our [church] family. We are a part of one another, and we must love each other.
Home [and church] should not be a war zone but a refuge. When you love your [church] family, you help it to be that for them, but also for yourself. The God Girl loves her family, no matter how crazy or how bad they are, because she knows that God purposed her for this exact family and that her role in it is crucial. She can either be a change agent in their lives and her own, or she can resign herself to misery and despair. The God Girl always chooses hope, faith and love. And those choices demand a love that never gives up and always believes. Love your family and you will find love for yourself.
But how does loving your [church] family look? You’ve probably heard this before, but have still had your share of family drama. So how about some help. Here are some things to think about when it comes to your family:
1. Ask yourself what God wants to teach you through this person or problem. Be Real: if the same problems happen over and over again, what leads up to them? Trace your steps. Then see if God doesn’t want to change something. Your life will never advance and you will never grow if you aren’t willing to look at your problems and take some of the blame – or at least take some action towards making them better.
2. Apologize. An apology covers up a lot of problems. When you fight with your family, apologize. You can surely find something you did wrong. It will help soften the situation.
3. Don’t escalate the conflict. Think about your relationship with God. How does he want you to react? This doesn’t depend on how others are acting but on what would please God.
4. Be willing to be wronged. Jesus never fought back when people accused him of things. He didn’t argue. So why do you have to? Be willing to be wrong in someone’s eyes, knowing that God knows your heart.”
Living in a family, whether a biological family or a church family, brings with it all kinds of challenges. The closer you get to people the more you see each others flaws, and flaws can make us weak, and in our weakness we can either self-protect, or trust God to be our strength. But until we let go of our need to defend ourselves, our sin and our reputation we will continue to feel alone in the crowd. When we let others see us for who we really are, knowing that we are loved by God and certain that pleasing Him is our most important desire, even over our own personality, predispositions, and favorite sins then living in community with others will become what it is meant to be – a conduit for the power and glory of the Holy Spirit.
AW Tozer reminds us that living in community isn’t about us all being the same but about us all looking to God for our unity. “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”
We will never be the same as everyone in our congregation, but if we were all wanted to become more like Christ our differences wouldn’t chaff as much and our problems wouldn’t be unsurmountable. I pray that your church body would desire the mission of God over the mission of me, and that the body would grow in love that the world would know Him more.
This week I’m going to be quick to apologize, and be willing to be wronged. I’m going to choose to serve God over myself and to take the longest line if it means that I will grown in the fruit of the Spirit over the fruit of the flesh.
For more on this topic take a listen to: