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I know, just as well as the next person, that the church has had her share of embarrassing moments…moments that make us maybe wish we could stand aloof from her and say that she is on someone else’s team. But I am here to say that, even through her ups and downs, I still love the church and this is my attempt to help you see her in a better light.

The church is a living organism made up of followers of Jesus Christ. We assemble in buildings we often call “churches” but most of us know that we are the church and the building only represents the living pieces that are fitted together, the people. Most of us know that the church extends beyond the members of our own local gatherings. But it is in our own local gatherings that we actually get to practice the love that our Savior so clearly demonstrated for us. That is why we cherish our little tribes. It is where the rubber meets the road in regard to our faith. It is where we gain strength to be victorious, to accomplish our mission to light up the world.

I have gone from Southern Baptist to Charismatic and much searching in between, but there are a few things I have found unchanged in the church as I experienced it.

1. The church is where I so often felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. Yes, I have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in times alone. But there is something about being in the presence of other worshippers, lovers of God, that God begins to make himself know and felt in powerful ways. I have been overcome with emotion, I have seen visions, heard His Voice, and I have felt love that was beyond my ability. I feel sorry for those who have never experienced the anointing of the gathering of the saints.

2. The church taught me a lot of truth that I could stand on. Jesus loves me, this I know. These were some of the first words I heard in church. These words have brought me courage, comfort, and strength. I have gained wisdom for pursuing my dreams, for making lasting friendships, for finding love, for growing a healthy family, all as a result of the work of the church. Perhaps not every word that was spoken from the church was correct or edifying, but much of it was. And that stuff that was, stuck inside me and took root. For that I am thankful!

3. The church was there for me in some of my hardest times. Admittedly, my times have not been as hard as some. But the church was there for me when I forgot who I was, when I thought I might lose my father, when dramatic changes occurred in my life. Of course, being so close to the church has also been the source of some of my hardest times. But I look at it this way. Would I, as a parent, say I regret parenting just because it put me through some of my hardest times in my life? Not at all. In the same way, anything I have suffered as a result of the church was worth what I have gained.

4. The church helped me discover and grow in my gifts. The church gave me a chance: a chance to try and fail, a chance to experiment and develop, a chance to spread my wings and take a plunge. If I had only had school or clubs or workplaces, I would have missed the rich experiences that I have gained in the church. I’ve had the opportunity to create true meaning in my life. I have been able to participate in so many things that I believe have had eternal impact. I can’t wait to see the fruit of it all in eternity!

5. The church has encouraged me to be better. Would I be walking with the Lord right now if I had dropped off the radar of the church several years back? It is impossible to say. I only know that my relationship with the church is so often indicative of my relationship to God. Jesus once said to Peter, “If you love me, then feed my lambs.” Who are God’s lambs? The church. Dumb at times? Yes. Precious in his sight? Absolutely. I don’t think I will ever figure out a way to love God and not love those sheep of his. In the same way, I can’t love God and dis on his bride.

One thing we need to understand is that the church is human. Sometimes I get the feeling that the people who make the most noise against the church forget that, if they are Christ-followers, then they are a part of it. I can just imagine Paul looking at our modern culture saying, “Shall the hand say to the foot, ‘You stink and I doubt if you are really part of my body at all.'” If the foot is rebelling or wrong or sick, you nurture it back to health. You ask yourself, “What did I do to injure the foot? How has my lifestyle contributed to its demise? Do I need some athlete’s foot spray or wart remover?” We can’t disown our brothers and sisters just because we don’t like what they do or how they do it. As a response to the critics within, I must ask myself, “How can this be? How have I contributed to the pain that makes you act this way?”

To quote my brother in Christ, Bill Hybels, “the church is the hope of the world.” Don’t like the prospect that the church is our only hope? Sorry, it was God’s plan to work through the church, not mine. With this in mind, I want to make the church the strongest, most vibrant, and life giving organism I can so that it can do what it was created to do: bring hope to the world. Who will join me?

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