Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ramblings - The Church

I would like to start this "Rambling" with a declaration. I LOVE the local "organized" church and everything it represents. Sadly, I see a negative attitude toward "organized" church is spreading among Christians today.

I must confess that I once too had a negative attitude toward the "organized" church. It was easy to pick apart and attack the weaknesses. I doubted the effectiveness and authenticity of the local church. It was this negative attitude that ultimately drove me to Costa Rica. I felt that I could better live out the gospel of Jesus Christ without being tied down to a local "organized" church. I'm happy to say that I was wrong! Now, more than ever, I believe in the direct connection between the local church and life-giving ministry. I've come to believe that an organized local church is the most effective way to truly live out the great commission and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

When we moved to Costa Rica we immediately started to build deep relationships the local people. As we fell in love with these people we naturally wanted to share our faith with them. We wanted to baptize and teach them about Christ. We also wanted our friends to experience the beauty of the being connected to the larger body of Christ. This created an obvious challenge for us. How could we really accomplish this alone? We could show them a glimpse of what could be, but our family alone could not provide a complete picture.

God orchestrated it so that I was soon asked to assist with planting a local church. After much prayer I decided to help. After all, it was a great opportunity for our new friends to be part a live-giving church body. I agreed to help from behind the scenes, but didn't want to become overly involved. Looks like God had a different plan!

As the church started I witnessed radical life transformation. The people I loved were finally being baptized, being taught the Bible, sharing in communion, and growing in their faith. For the first time since our arrival in Costa Rica I felt like we were truly carrying out the great commission! Please don't misunderstand me, before we were trying our best to love people like Jesus, but it was incomplete. There was no corporate worship, no communion, no baptisms, and no offerings. There were not any opportunities for people to learn to give of their resources and find the joy of giving. There was very little preaching or teaching. Mostly, it was gifts of love and acts of service by our family. Looking back it was mostly one-sided and almost a selfish approach to ministry. While we were growing by emulating Chris, it was not very effective form of discipleship for those we were trying to love.

Now there is a church full of our closest friends! We worship God together and celebrate communion and baptism. We all give to the church, and in turn we experience the joy of being used by God to help meet the needs of others. We listen to solid biblical preaching, and study God's word together. It's a beautiful experience, and it has caused me to fall madly in love with the "organized" church.

Recently, 6:8 Ministries decided to run most of the mercy ministries (clothes closet, food closet, and free medicines) through the local church. Now it's the local church meeting needs rather than the rich gringos. We have also started to use the local church to host ministry projects such as free medical clinics, ESL classes, and vacation bible school. Soon we decided to use the local church to host a community feeding center. I was blown away by the response from the church, dozens of people coming to serve. Many of these people physically have nothing, but yet they were excited to serve others who have even less than they do.

Therefore, I LOVE the local church and everything it represents! I'm not naive enough to think that our church is perfect. I recognize that the church is sometimes broken, immoral, and unfair...but weren't most of the churches in the New Testament? The church is full of sinners, always has been, and will be until Christ returns. However, rather than bash the church and discard it like a piece of trash; I say we try to build it up. Let's treat it as a priceless treasure. If it's broken let's work to repair it. If it's ugly and dysfunctional let's work to make it beautiful and functional again.

In closing I want to share what excites me most about our local church. Each and every Sunday I get to catch a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven. I worship alongside businessmen, teachers, cripples, widows, beggars, drunks, drug-addicts, prostitutes, and homeless people. We all sing praise the same God. We are all sinners in need of forgiveness. We all celebrate the same savior, and are empowered by the same Holy Spirit. It's a beautiful experience as we are all connected by our love for Christ. We truly are one body, and I'm excited and thankful to be part of it!

Love you guys,