Get a few hunters or fishermen together, and they will talk about hunting and fishing for hours. Get some bikers together and they will talk about their bikes and go riding with people they barely know.
These people, and others, get together and talk about what they have in common: hunting, fishing, cancer sticks, fishing, sports.......and the list goes on. A fellow Steelers fan will see someone wearing a Steeler's item of clothing and strike up a conversation about football. (Shouldn't sports teams pay people for advertising, instead of people buying the clothing??) A guy wearing ugly plaid shorts will see another guy wearing ugly plaid shorts and start talking golf. Whatever the interest, people get together and talk about it. They don't sit and discuss and argue what they differ on, but on what they agree on and have in common.
And then there is the Christian. In the days of the early church, the Christians had all things in common. There were no denominations, church splits or splinters. There was just the church, believers, Christians serving God and proclaiming the Gospel. If you read Paul's epistles, everything wasn't perfect and not everyone got along, but it still sounds like that was rare. I don't know my church history well enough to say what happened and when, but I would guess that people stopped focusing on what they had in common, and started focusing on what they disagreed on. Denominations formed where those who agreed with each other but not with others could go and worship together.....until they found something to disagree on, and another church or denomination was formed. And 2000 years later, we have more denominations than anyone can keep track of. Churches have split and splintered to form new churches and denominations over everything from the color of carpet to the style of music used for worship, and way more things than I could guess at to list. Unlike many other groups of people, such as sports fans or hunters, we continue to focus on what we disagree and differ on and are not united at all as a church.
I was just at a conference that had a lot of men and women dealing with the same struggles and issues I deal with. As far as I know, everyone there were Christians...and acted like it. There was a bond and brotherhood/sisterhood that you don't see in the average church. I sat and ate with guys I had just met and could be real with them as we talked about what was common. There was encouragement, hugs, pats on the back.... and no arguing. There were Catholics, charismatics, Baptists, Methodists, non-denominationals, and more all under one roof, all in one dining room, and we got along and helped to pray and lift each other up. There was no condemnation or arguing. When I left, I got hugs from guys I had just met.
And we talked about things that matter. No shallow stuff of "how are you", "I'm fine. How about those Seahawks?" kind of stuff.
Sadly, this is not the norm. Imagine if Christians across the country would band together and focus on what we have in common: Jesus. Jesus actually prayed that we would all be one, but we have failed miserably at that (John 17:21). We want to hang out with people who believe just like us, who go to the same church and like the same color of carpet in the church that we like. To get together with Christians who don't act like us, don't worship like us, don't look like us, is a foreign idea to us. It seems we are almost worshiping our doctrines and beliefs more than God.
And if our denomination or doctrinal beliefs are more important to us than our faith in Jesus Christ, then we are worshiping those over Jesus.
I have a Facebook friend who has a completely different theology than I do. And he isn't the only one of my friends who has these beliefs, but he is the only one to constantly be bragging about it. He will post Bible verses and put "This is why I am glad I am..... (insert denomination)". He recently put a link to a story about a man who had molested a young kid, and put "This is why I am glad I am.....".... it sounds like he is more proud to be the denomination and theology... and he isn't alone. There will be no denominations in Heaven. God didn't come up with something that divides, separates and focuses on our differences instead of what we have in common.
Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote a song several years ago titled The Family of God. The first verse goes:
"You will notice we say brother and sister 'round here
It's because we're a family and folks are so dear
When one has a heartache, we all share a tear
And rejoice in each victory in this family so dear."
That doesn't sound much like the church in general today. We are too busy disagreeing with people to share their victories and heartaches. We are too involved in our own little clique of people who believe like us to care about those outside of our clique. Christians are daily dying at the hands of Muslims. Young children of Christians are being taken from them and trained to be terrorists and others are used for sexual purposes, and we sit in our padded pews and fret about the preacher going too long or getting our usual seat in church. We watch the clock so we can chat with the usual people we chat with before heading home to have our Sunday meal.
I long for what I experienced back on June 3-7. Real conversation, people sharing their stories and struggles, honesty, transparency, and that feeling of belonging. Many of these men and women have "friended" me on Facebook, and I can keep in contact with them, but that isn't the same as sitting at a table with others on the same journey, of the same mind.... and not feeling left out, not fearing what they will think of you for struggling or dealing with THAT.
I could be wrong - I am fairly often, and I am sure some people think I am wrong more often than not.... but to me it seems churches in general - mine and yours - are so far from what God intended for the church to be. Church should be more than meeting once or twice a week, singing a few songs, putting money in the offering, listening to a sermon, talking to the same handful of people you always talk to, then going home.
I long for more. I long for what I just experienced to be the norm, not something I experience on rare occasions. I wish for people to see I am not the shallow, joking guy that most people most likely see when they look at me, but am real, with real issues that are tough, but that I have a belief that God loves me and will help me. I long to sit with people and not wear my mask. I long for church to be more than something I just go and sit in and take in for a few hours a week. I long for it to be more like a family, then pews full of almost strangers with a handful of people who really know me.
I want worship to be as real as what I saw at the conference. There were people worshiping God in ways I have never seen - flags and even a sword - and thought it seemed bizarre to me, they were doing more than I did. I long to be open and free in my worship, instead of fearing what people will think of me.
I long for my church, its people, and me to be real.... to be one, to be family, not just almost strangers that pass each other in the church foyer like ships passing in the night.
And I am not exempt from fault. For too many years, I have worn a mask. I have been afraid to reach out to people for fear they would reject me and not like the "real" me. I have been afraid to be real, been too insecure to build relationships. I have let treatment of bullies in my past cause me to exercise too much caution in letting people in. I have found it easier to joke and be shallow, then to talk about the the things that matter. I have focused on the things that won't last instead of the things that will. I have filled a pew and not really been involved in my church and its people.
What is the answer? I am only one person, and can't change a whole church, not to speak of a whole church world. I can pray and ask God to change me even in these areas. I can reach out, brave rejection instead of being so focused on self preservation.
I can be real, more loving, more like Jesus. It is a start.