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This is going to be my last "Thoughts From Teresa" for a while. A new course will be announced next week and will start the week after that. I have very much enjoyed this series, which has felt sort of like writing a weekly column. It is more challenging than writing a teaching series on a given topic because I have to hear from God each week to get something fresh for that week. But in a way, that is what Christianity is all about.. it is about having regular and ongoing personal encounters with God. It is about hearing His voice and being led by Him day by day.
I wanted to end this series with something spectacular and deep, but God seems to be taking me a different direction. So I am going to talk about something that has been going on in my life this past week and what God has been saying to me about it.
Should We Belong To A Church?
I am on a rather large revival email list and this past week there has been a lot of discussion about whether or not the Church should be abolished. This discussion has included a lot of complaints and criticisms of the church (as an institution). A lot of people have been sharing their stories of "spiritual abuse" at the hands of the church. (There is some true spiritual abuse going on in some Churches, but there are also a lot of accusations of spiritual abuse that turn out to be more along the lines of emotionally wounded people who don't have very good interpersonal skills causing themselves relational problems with others.)
My initial response to this discussion was "I don't want to touch this with a ten-foot pole" and I could hardly wait for all of this negative discussion to wind down. But I did stop and pray and ask the Lord what He thought about all of this. His response was to show me His grief over this. I was so overwhelmed with His grief that I could hardly bare it. In fact, I could not sleep that night, so I spent some time asking God about His opinion of Church.
He started talking to me about relationship. Christianity is about good and loving relationship -- first with God and then with each other. Jesus said in Matthew 22:37-39, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"
Jesus constantly commanded us to love one another. Let's look at just a few. John 13:34: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another." John 13:35: "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." John 15:12 "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." John 15:17 "These things I command you, that you love one another."
Our love for one another is supposed to be the "sign" to show the world that we are His disciples. Sadly, most believers are not doing a good job of walking in that. In fact, there some believers who can't get along with much of anyone -- their families, their friends, their bosses, their coworkers, other believers, unsaved people. Why? Because instead of walking in love, they are walking in their own hurt and woundedness. God's solution to that problem is that He wants to heal us and fill us with His love. But we need to let Him do this, and it usually takes a period of time for God to do it-- months and sometimes even years. This type of healing is best done in the context of relationship, such as at a healthy church or loving Christian community.
I believe that we all have areas of woundedness that impacts our ability to love one another, and most of us are in need of some measure or another of His healing touch. Some of us have been unfairly treated, hurt or wounded at church. But that should not drive us out of the churches. Why? Because God has ordained them and He expects us to be a part of them.
Paul, under the Holy Spirit's unction, wrote in Hebrews 10:25, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another -- and all the more as you see the day approaching." He was talking about going to church.
Many of the New Testament books are written, not to individuals, but to Churches. When Jesus appeared to John in the Book Of Revelation, He dictated letters to seven different Churches. In fact, when Jesus walked on the earth, He went to and even preached at the local synagogues, (which is the equivalent of "church" in His time). The simple fact is that God works with and through Churches.
Churches are not just institutions that you attend on Sunday and pay your tithe to. Churches are the people who "make up" that institution. They are a community and a living organism, where we are in relationship with each other and love one another. 1 John 4:7-8 tells us that if we belong to God, we need to love (and get along with) each other, and if we can't love each other, then we don't really belong to God. This is said in the context of "church."
If we look at some of the "big stuff" that God is doing today, we see that is also in the context of moving through the Church. Yes, we are to get out of the four walls to go to the lost (instead of expecting them to come to us). But we also need a place where we come together to worship, fellowship, encourage one another and build each other up in the faith. And that place is Church.
If you look at some of the major parachurch ministries that God is using today in power (revival and/or healing), they all seem to acknowledge the importance of the local church and our need to be tied into it. I have personally been on teams for some of these ministries, such as Global Awakening (Randy Clark) and Catch The Fire Ministries (John and Carol Arnott), and I have friends who have traveled on the ministry team with Todd Bentley's team. In ALL cases, these ministries do not allow someone to become a member of one of their teams (for ministry trips or conferences) if they are not members in good standing of a local church and have a personal reference from their pastor. And that is the way it should be. God has established the churches, He worked through them in His word and addressed them directly in His word. He still works through them today. We need to obey Hebrews 10:25 and "Let us not give up meeting together."
What About Dysfunctional Churches?
Some people say that the Church is dysfunctional and that is why we should abolish it. They suggest we should each do our own thing to worship the Lord in our own way -- either individually or in small groups. My response to that is to look at Jesus and His response to the Temple.
It had been very corrupted in Jesus time, and was about as dysfunctional as it could be. It has ceased to be about prayer and had become all about profit. Scripture commanded people to give financial offerings for certain things -- and the priests would not allow people give money in any currency except the official temple currency. Most people would have to buy money in the "right currency" -- and the exchange rate was outrageous. They might have to pay two or even three times what the money was worth, and they were forced to buy the temple money at this outrageous exchange rate if they wanted to give an offering.
If they wanted to make a sacrifice to the Lord as per the law, they were not allowed to bring their own sheep or oxen or dove. They had to purchase "approved sacramental animals" at the temple -- and they had to pay top dollar for them. Talk about taking financial advantage of people! That was an extreme example of church corruption.
Did God like that? Obviously not! But Jesus' reaction to this corruption was not to abolish the temple. Instead He defended the temple and He dealt with those who were corrupting it. John 2:15 tells us that He "made a whip of cords, [and] He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen, and poured out the changers' money and overturned the tables."
God's solution to corruption or dysfunction in the Church is not to abolish the church, but to purge the corruption and dysfunction out of it. If you are in a dysfunctional church, then seek Him for direction. He will do either of two things with you. Either He will tell you to leave that church and go to a different one, or He will use you to transform that church.
If God has you leave that church, He will send you to a different one, He won't pull you out of church all together. In some cases, God might not want you to leave the dysfunctional church -- He might want to use you to bring healing and rightness to it. If you are an intercessor, He might use you in prayer and spiritual warfare. If you are a leader, He might use you to make changes to policy. If you are a person of influence, He might you use to change people's perspective and help better line up with His ways.
What If I have Been Hurt By The Church?
If you have been hurt by the church, then I am very sorry that this happened to you and I pray the Lord will heal you and bind up any wounds. But He still expects you to obey Him.
I can relate to how this feels because I was wrongly treated and hurt by the church myself. In my case I was falsely accused (someone went to the pastors and lied about me) and their response was to rip me out of leadership without even talking to me or telling me what I was accused of or allowing me to defend myself. Furthermore, they instructed the other leaders (my friends) not to talk to me or fellowship with me. I was not kicked out of the church per sae, just ostracized and removed from leadership, all based on a false accusation, and they never even asked me for my side of the story. I was mad, I was hurt, I wanted to leave and I wanted God to vindicate me and undo the false damage to my reputation. In fact, I was so upset that I could not sleep at night and struggled with resentment and unforgiveness. I was wrongly treated.
God would not allow me to leave and insisted that I stay with a good attitude. He made me forgive -- one of the hardest lessons that I ever had to learn. Then He asked me to pray and intercede for the pastors and for the church. He told me that I had an added measure of authority in my prayers for the church because I had forgiven the offenses committed by them against me. Over time, I was vindicated (God's doing, not mine) and restored to leadership. I was not allowed to leave that church until after I'd been restored, and it took a long time (a few years) for God to restore me.
If you have been hurt by the church, I can relate to how you feel, because I have experienced it myself. But guess what? You are expected to obey God because you love Him. You are not excused from obeying Him because someone hurts you or wrongs you. You don't go to church for you, you go for God.
Worship And The Church
Most Sundays I look forward to going to church and can hardly wait for the service to begin. I can hardly wait to get into God's presence because I love to encounter Him. That is my primary motivation in going to service, to worship and encounter God. The reason I love our Sunday worship times is because God shows up tangibly at them.
Someone once told me that praise invites the presence of God. I think that is true -- because He usually shows up at our services in response to our worship and praise, and many of us have a direct and personal encounter with the True and Living God. He allows us to come into in His presence and He gives us little glimpses of His glory. That is, by far, the best part of church! By the way, we Christians are not the only ones who come to church to worship -- the angels show up as well. Various people at our church (including myself) have seen angels during the worship service from time to time. Angels love to worship God too, and they can't seem to resist joining us for a good worship service.
When worship first starts, I use the first song or two to focus on God and brush off any distractions from the week/day. As I focus on Him, God's sweetness begins to surround me and I begin to sense His nearness. His presence is so wonderful and I love lingering in it. Sometime I see the angels and sometimes I get physical sensations, like a warmth or gentle tingling. Sometimes God's power hits me, and I find myself shaking. Sometimes I get caught up into a vision, as if I left the service and went into the Heavenlies. Sometimes God begins speaking to me so clearly and directly that I forget I am at church with a bunch of my brothers and sisters, and I am "alone" having a personal conversation with Him.
When God shows up, good things happen. I have seen Him sovereignly minister deep healing into people's hearts as they worship Him. Sometimes sick people are physically healed spontaneously during worship. Many of God's people have personal encounters with Him, and many of us end up kneeling or on our face the floor before Him.
This is where I get my "life" -- from encountering God. That is where I get filled and refreshed. So many times I come to Him tired and worn out and empty and exhausted. But as I soak in His nearness, His river of life begins to flow through me. I get invigorated, I get refreshed, I get energized, I get recharged. We were never meant to exist or live or work apart from Him. That is why Jesus said, in John 15:5-6, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."
Abiding in God means coming into His presence, waiting before Him, spending time with Him and worshipping Him. In other words, abiding in Him is encountering Him in a deeply personal and loving and intimate way. It is possible to encounter Him at home by yourself alone in your quiet time. But it is usually easier to encounter Him in corporate worship, because God inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3). When we come together as a body and worship God, He shows up. That is why Jesus said, in Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them."
It is an awesome thing to come into His very presence! Corporate worship is the easiest way I know to get there, because we can come into His throne room and have a personal encounter with Him during that worship. We can seek Him in corporate worship -- and find Him! That is why I love church and look forward to service each week, so I can come and encounter God.
My prayer for you is that you will begin to encounter Him more and more and at deeper and deeper levels. May you be tangibly enveloped in His love, His nearness, His glory and His goodness as you worship Him and draw near to Him. May your prayer and intercession raise out of that place of abiding in Him. May He draw you closer and closer to Himself and show you more and more of His heart. May you hear His voice more clearly and may you be filled with more and more of His love. May He bless you and anoint you and cause you to rise up mighty in Him! Amen.