Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Church: Developing A Culture Of Forgiveness

Yesterday I wrote candidly about the things we do in the dark. I stated that the Church is as weak as it is because these things rob us of our spiritual power and authority. I also stated that the only way that we can deal with them is to bring them into the light of God, letting them be exposed and removed. This sounds all well and good and pretty simple but I didn't mention something yesterday that complicates the whole matter. Most people do not keep the hidden things hidden because of their fear of God; they do it because of their fear of man.

The Church is a wonderful place for music and casual friendships. There is a nice feeling to belonging somewhere, being part of something. Church can be interesting and exciting and it can be dull and boring, depending on your level of involvement. But one thing the Church should never be is superficial, unaccepting, and unforgiving, yet that is mostly what it is and why many times nothing real happens there. It is the reason the vast majority of people sitting in the congregations have things they have never dealt with in the light of God, choosing to keep it hidden away.

Long ago, at the very beginning, the Church actually dealt with sin. If a person refused to deal with it they were removed from the assembly. Note that: if the person refused to deal with it, not if they sinned. We are a bunch of hypocrites for judging anyone who sins because we are there ourselves. We shouldn't be but those things that we have kept hidden are keeping us spiritually weak. We feel have to keep up appearances and so we turn on anyone who's sin becomes exposed. We make the law more important than grace. We make the rules the center of things instead of God's mercy. We love those who are good at hiding their sins and abhor those who desperately want healing. 

Maybe it's not that bad in your congregation or maybe people are really good at keeping things hidden. All I know is a congregation that really understands healing and restoration is a congregation that is not afraid of getting messy. It gets messy when we start dealing with the hidden things, when we actually move into the ministry of restoration. As long as a congregation is going to turn on people who are dragging their hidden things into God's light, there will be no restoration for anyone because people will remain in the darkness.

The Church has to develop a culture of forgiveness because that is key to everything we believe. The cross, the central symbol of our faith is all about forgiveness. People who have a hard time forgiving are people who have not experienced God's forgiveness because once we have experienced the forgiveness of all our offences there is no possible way we cannot forgive the little things people do to us. Jesus told parables to convey this and he warned that if we do not learn to forgive then we cannot be forgiven. That is how important this matter is. It is key to a healthy life and a healthy congregation and to the health of the Church.

A person cannot be healed if the wound they have been hiding remains hidden. A person cannot be restored if the wall that separates remains in the dark. A person cannot find forgiveness in a culture of justice. The Church should have no part in seeking vengeance or justice, in action or attitude, against a person who has offended and wants to deal with it. Justice has no place in a nation that was founded on God's forgiveness, mercy and grace. We are that nation, a people who were not a people until we were called by Jesus. We have missed the entire point when we refuse to take part in the restoration of a sinner or of a fallen comrade. What are we teaching our children?

I'll tell you what we are teaching them; we are teaching them to never deal with what they have done in the dark. We are teaching them that we are more interested in punishment than we are in seeing them made whole. We are teaching them to be like most adults in the congregation, burying their sin, remaining rob of our spiritual strength and power, never rising up to the greatness God has called us to, living plastic lives. That is what I see in the Church today, people too afraid of people to live a real life in Jesus Christ.

Love does not mean everything is perfect in the Church; love means that we never give up on each other, that we are patience and kind even in the face of the ugliness of sin, that we are not afraid to be real with each other, that we are secure in our commitment to each other. All relationships get messy from time to time, how much more relationships that allow for the ugliness of the hidden things to be revealed? God's love allows for these things and then it burns the ugliness away. His love is jam packed full of forgiveness and grace. This is what the Church was called to, not some pristine marble structure of perfection but more like a military field hospital where the wounded and the dead are brought. The Church is all about miraculous healing and resurrections but it has to start with you and me.

The only way a culture develops is when a few people start acting upon it, when we teach it, demonstrate it, stick our necks out and do it. If we want a culture of forgiveness and restoration to exist in the Church because that is the Father's will then it has to start with you and me. We have to but in all the structure that supports this culture. We have to be brave enough to talk about the hidden things, to expose them to the light. We have to be able to tolerate the confessions of others, to be patience and kind, to push aside our own feelings and thoughts and allow the love of Jesus to overwhelm the moment. We must sacrifice our natural need for justice to permit God's forgiveness and ours to take the lead. We must be willing to cradle the person who has offended us, to hold them to our bosom as they seek forgiveness and allow God's forgiveness and love to flow through us to provoke restoration in the situation. That is the Church I long to know; that is the Bride of Christ I want to be part of; that is God's desire for his children. It's time for the real Church to rise up. It's time to allow the light to reveal the hidden things. It's time for the healing to begin!

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