I hadn’t intended to post two messages for today. This is a more spur of the moment, emotional posting – the kind that tend to get you in trouble and lose followers in a hurry. But I write late tonight, not to be read but to confess the heaviness of my heart. It is out of response to an article by fellow writer/blogger Casey Hobbs. Oh man… what a great word to the church. (Do yourself a favor. Follow him. At the very least, read his post entitled “From Idealization to Reality: The Church as a Body: http://t.co/LFRL8m8iOI via @caseyhobbs”) I won’t bastardize his work… just read it and let the chips fall where they may. I’ll try my best not to take anything he said out of context and stick with just how profoundly his eloquence hit me and what it caused me to reflect upon. Apologies in advance…
I’m not in the habit of responding to articles nor am I one to try piggy-backing on another persons inspired word or work. I’m not writing to add to what Casey said. I can’t. He said it too well. But it hit me. Hard. And in my own season of disillusionment and discontent with the “Universal Church” as a whole, I looked into a mirror and saw in my disgust and anger… a hypocrite. A Pharisee. A charlatan and a con. Listen, I never set out to be these things. I started out a sinner. Still am, last time I checked. I started out fully aware that I was a wretch and my goodness and good deeds were but filthy rags to God. But what a humble and willing (and grateful) sinner I was when Grace found me and saved me. I knew what I was but what Joy to know that even in this state… the Love of Christ wanted me so badly as to die for me. Profound. When faced with this Truth and it’s reality, how could I not follow? How could I not serve? How could I not love? Somewhere along the twenty year path… I lost sight of how to love. Not once have I lost sight of my wretchedness… but ironically, I lost the basic ability to love.
I travel to Africa because that’s an easy place to love and give myself to. I venture downtown to serve and assist others less fortunate because that’s an easy place to focus on others. I host a small, home group and lead weekly worship because these are easy places to use my talents and passions for people gathering together for short periods of time looking to be fed the table scraps of God’s Grace available. But I’ve forgotten that loving requires a measure of sacrifice and vulnerability. Loving means understanding that while in the midst of imperfection we aren’t meant to expect one group to be any less then they are… human. Even when we feel they should know better. I have forgotten to love Christians and that’s the most ironic thing of all… the very people I’ve been called to shepherd and lead have become the very people I’ve come to despise the most. I have far less Grace for anyone claiming to be a Christian then the worst, most obvious and blatant heathen. Why? I expect them to be better. And when this becomes the standard of my expectations… I have lost all meaning of Grace and what it has done for me. I have abused the precious gift Christ first bestowed upon me:
“The idealism that becomes jaded skepticism has a chance at finally embracing the reality of what God names. If the God who calls forth realities into being names the church the body of Christ, then a new reality exists, even apart from what can be seen. The church- this collection of prideful, sinful, faithless people- also holds an identity of being the place where Christ can be found” – Casey Hobbs
Wow. It’s not just accepting that humans (those saved and those not) make mistakes, it’s also accepting that believer and un-believer alike still share one commonality with each other… that BOTH are still at their core… sinner. I am that prideful, sinful, faithless person that will let you down. I will hurt you. I have harmed you – maybe intentionally, maybe on accident, maybe… well, it’s happened, hasn’t it. I am left to wonder that in my sinful state – as a minister, a pastor, a Christian brother – how many people have I caused to leave the church or even abandon the faith? Wow. That is a painful thought. But if God chose to use a broken vessel like me, then I am just as surely likely to be of some value to His plans and His great Will…in spite of this current state. For as Casey stated, I am just as capable tomorrow of being humble saint, faithful in all He asks of me even where I may have failed today. And that is the essence of His Grace, the Hope of what we can become despite what we currently may be even though we do not deserve any such consideration.
Like I said before, I can’t elaborate on Casey’s eloquent and profound message. It just stirred my soul and has caused me a great amount to think upon. I hate even posting this for fear that the very people I’ve served for twenty years may misread what I’m trying to say so let me make one final stab at this: the futility lies in the most fundamental human flaw of all… forgetting what God has done for me, personally. In forgetting that, I forget all I was originally called to do and all HE expects of me: to forgive, to love, to serve.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
Be imitators of Christ. As He loved us, so are we expected to do likewise. Man, it’s not that difficult to grasp. So I will try to get back to being the grungy little guy with the shrug and the goofy smile and not the grumpy, frowning, bitter, Joy-less, un-fun to be around guy I turned into somewhere along the way. I use to make people laugh, I use to have an endless amount of compassion and grace for people – all people, regardless of where they were in Christ. I’ve become discriminate and intolerant of believers and that saddens God as much as if I acted that way towards the biggest God-basher. He calls me to love… Even when that love isn’t reciprocated. I love my own church. I can love better. I love the body of Christ… but I recognize that I have become a product of the very body that I’ve come to despise… and that is something that I can hopefully mend and change, with the help of the Holy Spirit.
There is an apology that should probably go right here, in this spot. But actions must prove equal to my words or they will ultimately be found as hollow as this clay pot that attempts to hold the love of Christ. For any misunderstanding that lies here, within, well… heck. I’m actually – and finally – at a loss for words. In the end, my intentions have always been my very best. That’s not too comforting tonight, but as Casey stated, perhaps as God calls things into being, I can begin seeing things (including myself) NOT for what they are or for what they SHOULD be… but as they one day WILL be. Hmmm. And there’s that beautiful word again. Grace. Just a subtle reminder that we are, none of us, no where near where we ought to be… but in full awareness of His Grace, in Christ, we are certainly on our way.
A heart-felt and sincere thank you to Casey Hobbs for your incredible message, as well as to my own church family for allowing me to serve you (and often fail) in the midst of my own journey through my faith in Christ. My deepest ambition – even when flawed and misguided – has always been to be a Joy and a Light for His Love and His Grace for you. I am, and remain, your humble servant. Peace and blessings to you, today. Sean Gutteridge