When we tell our kids we are off to Grandma’s house, a trip that will take us “over the mountain and through the woods,” a trip we have completed numerous times, it takes but 17.5 seconds before one of the kids asks, “Are we there yet?” And then what follows is something like this: “How much longer?” “This is taking forever!” “I need to go to the bathroom.” “My sister is making fun of me.” “I don’t even want to go to Grandma’s house, can we just go home?”
The truth is that every one of my kids wants to go to Grandma’s house. It is not the destination that brings this frustration, angry or impatient — it is the journey.
Each of us are on a journey each day. There are those, perhaps even you, that state something like, “I love God, but not the church.” And then, much like the car ride to Grandma’s house, what follows are numerous statements that speak to one’s hurts and disappointments, their frustration and even anger toward the church.
Now, I have never told my kids this — but I am not always a fan of the long car ride, either. I enjoy traveling. I love crossing over the Sierra Nevadas during the various seasons. However, there are times that it takes way too long because of construction, weather, too many bathroom breaks — or sometimes because of those traveling with me on the journey.
We are humans, created in the image of God the father — filled with the very breath of God himself. Not only were we created on purpose for God’s glorious works, we were created by him to fellowship together. So, those who claim to be followers of Christ, who say “I love the Lord, I just don’t love the church,” they have come to believe something that is actually impossible, and some have justified their choices that are actually unbiblical. We cannot experience the final destination without the journey.
1 John 5:1 says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the father loves his children, too.” When we say that we love the Lord, then God’s holy word is clear: We have to love his children, his family, his church. Not because it is a perfect place, after all, we are a part of it. Our journey in life is often far from perfect, but if we don’t love God’s children — his church — then do we really love him?
A church family won’t be perfect, but we have to remember how God views his church: as his holy bride. You want to disagree with me — talk me down. OK. But say something against my wife and buddy, it’s on like Donkey Kong! A sure way to offend me, is to come against my wife, my bride. The church is the bride of Christ. It means we belong to him and he loves us — he does so perfectly, faithfully, and despite ourselves, our hang-ups, our frustrations, our angry or our impatience. He loves us, fully and completely — and we are to love his family, his church. Ephesians 5:25-26 says, “For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.”
We have to stop making excuses for ourselves about why we refuse to participate in a church family. We can no longer justify why we believe that one can love the Lord but not his holy bride, the church. And merely attending a church is very similar. We all know we can show up to something and still be a thousand miles away emotionally, still be present, but choose to not participate or help or serve or give.
We must purpose to speak with honest integrity when it comes to problems within the family of God. For those within the church, we must serve and giving and in obedience to God in this journey, continually demonstrating a love for the father that is genuine as we reflect our hearts of obedience to Lord and his word we must love God and others, in spite of our impatience, frustration and imperfections.
Like a long car ride, it is easier to get frustrated, to criticize, to find fault with everything in the present moment: “It’s too hot. Too cold. He smells. I’m hungry.” We do this with church as well, so understand that when you do, it is insulting God and you are speaking critically of someone whom Jesus loves. His church is not a building. It is those who belong to him. It is his beloved. His church is meant to be filled with people who have surrendered their lives to the lordship of Jesus Christ and who live to make him known — to make much of him in and through their lives.
Nick Emery is lead pastor of Hope Crossing Community Church in Carson City.