Friday, October 07, 2005

Asking for Trouble

I'm told it's an old joke, but I had never heard it before. I stumbled across it a month or two ago on somebody's blog, I don't remember whose. Anyway, it was about a man who had been lost at sea twenty years previous. Miraculously, the man had managed to build a radio and contact authorities to come rescue him.

When the rescue party arrived, they marvelled at what they saw. This man who had been stranded all alone for twenty years had built himself an incredible city! Three large, beautiful buildings and many small ones were situated along tree-lined streets. The head of the rescue party asked the castaway how he had been able to do all of this wonderful work.

"I had learned how to build as a young man, and with all the time I've had on the island I was able to make all of this. Like this building here. It's my house."

The party looked at it. It was a large Cape Cod styled home with a huge front porch and a swing. They were amazed. Curious, the leader of the search party asked, "What's that big building down there with the huge steeple and the beautiful windows?"

"Oh," said the man, "That's my church. Isn't is great?"

"It certainly is," remarked the party leader. The others in the search party nodded their agreement.

But one member of the party had a confused look on his face. "If that's your church, then what is that other big building over there?" he asked.

The look on the castaway's face turned sour. "Oh, that?" he replied. "That's the church I used to go to!"

That joke rings true for many of us. We can find fault in a church, even if there's no one else to blame the problems on but us. What a shame. We long for a perfect church and find that human beings are prone to messing it up.

As a pastor, there is always the temptation to look at the problems in my church and say, "Wouldn't it be nice if I was pastor at Last Memorial Church? That church has such a great ministry already, the people are friendly, the facilities are top notch..." and the thoughts continue. Yet if one would goin and talk to the pastor of Last Memorial Church, he'd likely have a different perspective on the matter. You see, he'd know about the infighting and backbiting. He would be aware of the leaky roof and the lazy janitor. He is already fed up with the choir director's complaints and the board members who threaten to leave the church whenever the order of service is even slightly altered.

We seek a church which will cater to us. Whether pastor or attender, we want our church to be perfect for us. No problems. Nothing that rubs us the wrong way. And none of us can find such an animal.

I've often been pointed to the First Church -- the one described in the Book of Acts -- as the perfect church. "Why can't our church be more like that church?" they cry. "Why can't our church be perfect like that one?"

It's interesting that when I read through the book of Acts and see the details of the First Church, I see chapter five where a couple try to look like big patrons while actually skimming money off the top. I see chapter six where the members were having a big fight over the Meals on Wheels program for senior citizens, which threatened to divide the church by language. I see chapter eleven where Peter is being criticized for associating with sinners. And I see chapter fifteen where a Council has to be called to settle a major dispute. Is this really the perfect church? Of course not. There are sinful human beings involved. Yet the First Church grew and pleased God in spite of those problems. Perhaps even because of them.

We tend to deny problems. Or we think we can get the good without the bad. If I want a piece of chocolate cake with zero calories, then I'm out of luck. In the same way, if I desire a church body with no problems, then I'll never be happy. But not only that. Problems are useful in helping us grow and mature as believers.

It has often been pointed out that a person needs to be broken before they turn to Christ. Their confidence in self must be replaced by the realization of just how puny and selfish we are, left to our own devices. When we have little difficulties we have the potential for little growth. When we have major difficulties we have the potential for major growth. And if that is true, shouldn't our prayer be, "Lord, bring me more trouble!"? But when was the last time you prayed that prayer?

The fact is simple. Whether in church shopping or in everyday life, we beseech God for the Garden of Eden. Instead we get the Garden of Gethsemene. Why would God allow that? So we can grow and mature -- as believers and as a church.

As Paul writes in Romans 5:3-5:
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.

Even in our suffering and our problems, God is conforming us to the image of Christ Jesus. Why then, would we seek to avoid problems?

"Lord bring me trouble!"

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