Thursday, August 21, 2008

ode to larry

The fun part about being in the ministry is that complete strangers tell me their life story a couple times a week. Last night I heard Larry’s story. And Larry struck me as a good man. Here is the gist of what Larry told me.

He’s trying to make a fresh start in a new town. His wife of 25 years ran off with someone else. At the time, Larry was a worship leader at his church. But when the “scandal broke,” Larry was asked to step down – to stop leading worship at his church. Though it caused Larry’s pastor pain, a verdict was reached. Larry’s “house was no longer in order.”

Here’s what upsets me: no one’s house is in order. That’s why we need a savior. And that’s why we have a savior. Augustine once said that the church was a “hospital for sinners.” Of course, Augustine’s idea was totally plagiarized. Augustine stole Jesus’ material. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Mt 9:12-13).

Back to Larry – here is the message that is subtly conveyed by the church’s verdict to remove Larry from musical leadership. If Larry could somehow “pull things back together,” only then would he be ready to build for God’s kingdom again by putting his musical gifts to work.

And a lot of people feel this way. Like I said, I hear a lot of stories. And people say the same thing. “I just need to get my life together and then I’ll start going to church.” I’m not sure how it’s happened, but we’ve completely reversed the order of the business the church should be about. Whatever happened to just going to church, or to joyfully and confidently running to God, and then trusting Him to put our life back together?

The “clean up first and then worship God” view is problematic for two reasons. First, we can’t put our own lives back together. We might as well try and give ourselves a heart transplant. Not even the best surgeon in the world can do that. We need someone else. We can’t be our own doctor. We need another physician.

Second, God delights in putting his people back together. To think that God will only love us when we’re whole and put together is to miss the wonder of the Gospel. “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son” (Rom 5:10). “While we were weak … Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6). The church is a hospital. Not a gymnasium for well oiled power lifters.

That being said, people are healed in God’s hospital. They don’t just stay sick. They leave the hospital with “their house in order.” But let’s not be so arrogant to think that we’re completely healed yet. We may see wonderful signs of healing from time to time. But we mess up. Things happen. Our house falls back down. And my hope, my prayer, is that the church will be a place where the sickest of people can worship God with the most passion, where people like Larry can find grace and acceptance, not because they are whole, but because the God we worship is.

Like Paul, we’re all given thorns in the flesh from time to time – things that cripple us and cause us pain and put us in touch with how “out of order” our house actually is. Rather than stepping aside, let the saints cling to God’s promise: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).

FOR THE WEEKEND: Look for a “Larry” in your own life and bring them to church. If nothing else, remind them that the Gospel is all about God’s house being in order – and has very little to do with whether or not ours is. And acknowledge the Larry in you. Be reminded that God’s grace is sufficient, for God’s power is made perfect in weakness.


Anonymous said...

I feel like I am always chasing my tail.

Anonymous said...

This is so right on, John, and thanks for being so articulate. I have had times when I wanted to stay away from church (and from God, really) until I felt better or more faithful. And it was never the right thing for me.

I hope this isn't becoming an anchor because I'm really enjoying this blog.

Karen M.

keely and andrew said...

very well put...

Lindsey H. said...

Great post. I feel for "Larry". However, and perhaps this issue falls under a separate heading, but I feel the hypocrisy that exists behind the walls of some churches is what turns some of us off from organized religion in general. I find it distasteful and repulsive that Larry’s house be judged by those to whom he turned in such a time of need. How can an individual trust the Church- any Church- when we are faced with so many examples like Larry’s? I understand that one bad apple can’t be the example that ruins the bushel, but I find this happening across the religious spectrum, in each sect, and in varying extremes. The common thread is that God’s children are flawed, and when those flaws aren’t accepted as just that, and instead are used to alienate or extradite someone from their own House of Worship, I blame the leadership of the establishment.