The sun sifted through the treetops, filtering its way through the new buds of leaves visible on slender branches. I walked the familiar trail, enjoying clean spring air. This walk is impressive during each season, swaying from green leaves and bright flowers to dazzling autumn splendor, from brown leaves crunching to the soft whispers of snow.
While looking upward at these enduring giants, whose limbs hang over the stillness of the pond, I tripped.
Catching myself, I glanced down at the worn path, where a massive root twisted its way along the trail, mostly embedded beneath the dirt, but occasionally rearing. My foot had tangled in it, causing me to stumble, but of course doing no harm to the tree itself. It is a behemoth of a beauty, which based on stature and breadth, is ancient. Old and anchored to this impressive patch of land.
I grew up watching our congregation receive the bread and wine on the first Sunday of each month. Our pastor grasped a freshly baked loaf of bread, each end wrapped in a white cloth napkin. He ripped the loaf in half, and careful to cradle each end in cloth, passed the broken halves to both sides of the congregation. Up and down the pews, each person tearing a small piece before passing. And then:
Jesus said, Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.
The rhythm of this unchanged Lord’s Supper, month by month, year by year, was a continual reminder of the broken body of Christ. The tearing of the loaf felt painful and beautiful; somber and hopeful.
One day, however, a church member grew offended. She and her husband had voiced their complaint over the lack of proper hygiene in the passing and plucking of the loaf, but to no avail. Nothing had changed in their favor, and growing incensed, they grabbed their marbles, plus a few other members, and marched to another church playground, never to return.
The seeds of division festered.
This world is full of many who are applauding each other for leaving their churches, taking a break, venturing to greener pastures, or staying home and nursing grievances. Everyone is offended at the injustices of this life, and sin in the body of Christ. While I am not condoning any sin, I ponder mostly the injustice done to Jesus, hanging nailed to the cross, the only perfect man and a perfect God. He died for the sins of his people, for his bride, the church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail (Matthew 16:18).
To those of you tempted to hop on this bandwagon named Departure, I ask you to please stay.
My husband is also my pastor, and most Sundays, after he preaches, and we walk to the back to greet people, I whisper: great message. And then we turn to converse with our congregation as they exit the sanctuary.
What I really mean by great message is this: Your words deeply offended me today. As you preached, I realized how often I sin, and then, as you read supporting Scriptures, my heart was pricked. I took notes and apologized to God, asking him to help me repent, obey, and delight in him. As I confessed, God softened my heart, and opened my ears to hear his truth. So although I might have stepped into the service worried about this, and annoyed by that, I have now spent an hour and a half upon the Great Surgeon’s operating table, and have become more overwhelmed with my own sin than I am with getting my own way.
Each one of us is prone to reverse this, swimming along the current of culture, feeling completely justified with our toddler approach of demanding our rights, and our way, and completely ignoring our sin.
I have discovered that there is only one thing destroyed by my repentance, and that is my pride.
Stay in your Bible preaching church with imperfect people, imperfect pastors and imperfect teachers. Stay and commit to hiding God’s word in your heart, reading and meditating every single day. Stay and humbly repent of your own sins. Stay and pray for others. Stay and serve. Stay and speak a kind word. Stay and confront a grievous sin. Stay and be confronted. Stay and forgive. Stay and encourage your pastor, who is often left alone to carry the weight of his calling and the weight of his flock. Stay and temper your complaints, placing them before the Almighty God in prayer before taking further action. Stay and put a hand on a discouraged shoulder, and in doing so encourage the entire church body to move towards unity. Stay and show forbearance and long-suffering; modeling commitment for your spouse, your children, and your grandchildren in the midst of this transient world. Stay and extend deference to the non-essential opinions of others. Stay and be the church without owning the church, because the church belongs to God.
Stay and be changed.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like the chaff that the wind drives away. (Psalm 1: 1-4 ESV)