His Beautiful Bride.

((from Kate))

It was there in the bulletin: “We’re leaving soon! After the bake sale to raise funds for fuel!” The rocket is ready, and we’re going to take our church to the moon. There’ll be no one there to tell us we’re odd, no one to change our opinions of God, just lots of rocks and the dusty sod. We know our liberties, we know our rights, we know how to fight a very good fight. Just grab that last bag there and turn out the light – we’re taking our church to the moon. We’ll be leaving soon.

I didn’t put those words in italics or sandwich them between quotation marks, so that maybe for just a minute the wheels in your brain would spin thinking “Wait, what? Is she serious?”

Those are, in actuality, song lyrics from one of the greatest ministers to my soul, Sara Groves. I remember when her words and their melody ribboned through my ears for the first time, back when I still raced to our mall’s Christian bookstore to snag her CDs ((and to flirt with the dark-haired cashier who was going to be a pastor, oh swoon.)) I didn’t understand the allegory. Why would she put a song not even two minutes long on her album about moving her church to the moon?

More than a decade later – and being deeply vested in three different churches while serving alongside others, as well as seeing the hate & hurt stirred up by even more – I think I get it.

This week, your Hopers are going to be talking about “church“.
I have and will cry if you ask how I feel about her. She is called Christ’s bride for a reason… oh her beauty.
The first time I saw “church” done the way I think He intended it, I was 24, and it poured a kind of healing into my very marrow that my bones and heart and soul had never known and were parched with thirst for.

There have been seasons where different facets of her have nourished, disciplined, and grown me. There have also been seasons of deep grief when broken people handicap her goodness and the picture we’ve painted of “church” pales in comparison to the glorious illustration of her in God’s word. I have cried tears of gratitude from worship and rescue, and I have sobbed and sobbed from the hurts inflicted – all in the name of ‘church’.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with The Word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
Ephesians 5:25-37

That. THAT! That is God’s heartbeat and whole cry for her, for us! Because my friends, we are the church.

As a wedding aficionado ((been to 80+ and been in probably close to 30, not to mention the dozens of brides whose hair, makeup, dresses, flowers, shoes, and grooms I’ve consulted on)) no matter their style – from boho to Valentino, be it on the steps of a courthouse or cathedral, every single bride I’ve known has been meticulous with every detail. I’ve yet to meet a bride who rolled outta bed, skipped the shower, thought an off-white pair of sweatpants was probably good enough and said “I do.”
Do you?

Yet we, well some of us, give our church-going about as much thought as that fictitious slob with yesterday’s eyeliner probably still on her face.

We refuse to shoulder the responsibility of God’s ideal vision for church because hey – we aren’t pastors! We only go an hour a week, maybe only on Easter and Christmas! We don’t volunteer in the nursery or go on the mission trips. We don’t pray for our people. We don’t work side-by-side to serve the community. We certainly don’t engage with the sermons… in fact, the fluffier the message, the less guilt we feel – so bring on the warm fuzzies and dial down the truth would ya?

Sometimes it gets much worse, we take up too much responsibility and we deify ourselves above God. We use the Bibles in our hands out of context and keep out those we deem unworthy – all the while ignoring that we are more unworthy than any other. We like how things have ‘always’ been done so we shirk change and we cover our eyes to the mess we might incur from diving in to where Christ is calling us.

But sometimes, oh sometimes, when God in all of His trinitarian glory is seated rightly on the throne in our hearts, when we are bent low in humility and prayer, when our leaders  are healthy and our insides are hungry to learn and love… oh sometimes there’s a glimpse of just what He’d hoped for here on earth and it’s gorgeous!

I’ve sat in the sickly darkness of a church with liars for pastors and I’ve been embraced while I cried so hard I couldn’t stand by pastors who truly loved their Lord, their families and their congregation. There’s no mistaking who was really doing the good hard work of ironing out the wrinkles and scrubbing out the spots to make the Bride worth her Groom.

But friend, I see your sloped shoulders and discouraged eyes. I am with you. Even when our church family is beautiful, this ugly chapter of nasty politics and self-worship, of war and fear and selfishness and hurt – a day where any newsfeed or scroll through social media will show words and images that knot our stomachs and cringe our spirits … even if our church is doing her best, it doesn’t seem to be enough.

I’m not writing right now to sound pithy, my insides feel sick as I think about all that we’re up against – I just prayed “Help God. It’s so much. It’s too much. Please help.” There isn’t an easy equation on this side of heaven … and I think that’s the notion Ms. Groves was alluding to. We can’t move to the moon. We can’t escape the heat of hate that’s thrown like a grenade our way the minute someone who assumes our politics or our purpose hears that we are “Christians” … we’ve been fighting this good fight for a long while and we’ll just have to keep at it, because until Christ’s return, there simply won’t be an end.

We’ll be looked at as odd. We’ll be called much worse. But we can’t run away.

Sussing out the infection of sin in our own hearts and laying flat in confession before our God. Reading our Bibles. Discerning the truth. Listening for it from the pulpit and wanting more. Having hard conversations with our friends and family and church leaders that build connection and offer accountability. Flinging the doors open wide and ushering in anyone who needs to hear the Truth (which, pssst, is everyone.) Worshipping to send our praise heavenward not to keep ourselves enthroned on idolatrous pedestals. Giving our money, our time, our energies. Sitting in the darkness with those who grieve in the valley. Celebrating in the confetti showers of those who stand mountaintop. Serving the needs He shows us, big or small. Going out into the world so that He can make us uncomfortable and widen our lens. Living our lives outside of church walls with the same purity and presence as we do inside. Praying for healing! for hope! for help! Telling the world around us that indeed there is goodness, not because of a building or by broken people but because of a very good God! That the ‘church’ is everywhere and will never be limited by a denomination or address. Fighting against the one who seeks to kill and destroy. Loving with the force so powerful that the world who can sometimes assume the worst of us has no choice but to feel what’s best in us – God Himself in all His glory and the splendor of His bride.

That’s what we can do!

Don’t pack up, don’t turn off the lights, don’t fuel up the rocketship.
Stay and be encouraged – she is beautiful and her beauty will change the world. 
But take it very seriously, and when you think of yourself and your role in all of this world’s ugliness and seeming impossiblity, imagine yourself preparing for your wedding day. Be intentional and meticulous- because that radiant beauty that takes time and effort is time-consuming and oh-so worth it … that beauty is simply elbow grease and effort, shining ourselves up enough to reflect HIM.
Because it is HIS beauty.
It is HIS heart that will change the world through HIS church.

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