Let’s go ahead and start this blog post with the ugly truth.
I tried to get out of writing this post.
No, really. I did.
When I saw my name assigned to “be thankful for THE CHURCH,” I felt sick.
“NO WAY. I don’t want to do this, God. I’m not going to do it. In fact, I’m going to write Kate, and I’m going to tell her that I can’t do it and should probably be switched to another topic. I can’t force thankfulness, and I can’t fake gratefulness. Nope. Ain’t doin’ it, can’t do it, and won’t do it.”
And though I can’t exactly remember her words, Kate (our Spirit-led, truth-speaking, “hold-your-feet-and-heart-to-the-fire” leader) responded with something along the awfully true lines of: “NOPE, the Spirit told me you need to write about this…sometimes the good is found in the wrestling with God.”
As soon as I read the text, I knew she and HE were exactly right.
THIS was the very topic I needed–a topic the Lord knew I needed to address in the part of my heart that is labeled, “annoyed at THE CHURCH.”
See, if I’m being really honest, I’m a little disenchanted with THE CHURCH. And if I’m being really, really honest, typing those words feels really crappy for me. I HATE that I feel this way; I HATE that this is where I am right now; and I HATE the ugly feelings I have for THE CHURCH.
Since I can remember, I’ve grown up in THE CHURCH. For all I know, I was birthed right in the middle of that sanctuary with the wood pews. Every Sunday morning, every Sunday night, and every Wednesday night I could be found in that church. And guess what?
I LOVED it! I loved the people; I loved the community; and I loved that little, old building. Genuinely, I had no hang-ups with THE CHURCH.
In fact, I went to a small, Bible college in the middle of the cornfields, worked at that small college for several years, and attended church each step of the way…. and STILL, I had no junk in the trunk with THE CHURCH.
I was excited to go on Sunday; I loved being a part of the ministries; and I was grateful for the body around me.
But then I hit my 30s and something changed.
Sure, my husband and I had struggled to find a “good fit,” a “good size,” and a “good balance” for our church needs, but it was more than that.
I was tired of HIS PEOPLE…the ones who belonged to HIS CHURCH.
I was tired of the hypocrisy; I was weary of the hair-splitting; I was exhausted by the half-hearted engagement with the Word of God; I was downright tired of the hidden agendasof BIG programs, BIG shows, and BIG numbers; and I was absolutely saddened by the humiliating ways HIS PEOPLE were and weren’t engaging with the culture around it.
In fact, I still am.
Which is EXACTLY why this whole exercise in being thankful for THE CHURCH makes me want to run.
I don’t want to search for gratefulness.
Because it’s hard right now.
And why is it hard?
Because I’m so stinkin’ focused on noting the WRONG, the BROKEN, and the HARD, which to be perfectly honest, is a whole lot easier than making an active choice to find gratitude.
You read it right.
It’s hard to find thankfulness when you’ve got a chip on your shoulder and a burr in your butt, and it’s hard to have a spirit of gratitude when you’ve got a heart with attitude.
And it wasn’t until a few days after I had consented to stick with my unwanted prompt when the Lord showed up, right in the middle of Romans 1:8:
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.”
I’ve been studying this book for almost two years (no joke), and I never saw it. NEVER.
The very book where Paul is writing to the church in Rome, confronting and addressing their issues with arrogance and their divisions over racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds, is the very book in which he starts with the words, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you…”
He doesn’t haul off and blast them for their judgmental spirits; he doesn’t start by criticizing their unloving hearts; and he doesn’t begin by ripping them a new one for their “stumbling block” barricades.
No; Paul starts with gratitude.
He thanks them for their faith–a faith that is being proclaimed in all the world.
So how is it that he starts on a note of thankfulness?
It says, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you…”
Paul is able to start the letter with a thankful Spirit because of Jesus.
Because of His grace, and because of His sacrifice, and because of His work on the cross, Paul can be grateful for THE CHURCH in Rome.
And guess what?
He does the same thing in 1 Corinthians 1:4, Ephesians 1:7, Philippians 1:3-4, Colossians 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:2, and in 1 Thessalonians 1:3.
In some variation or another, Paul begins every letter with a note of THANKFULNESS for THE CHURCH, highlighting their good and noting their strengths. Sure, he goes on to address a myriad of issues he sees within THE CHURCH, but he starts with an attitude of gratitude.
So this Thanksgiving, though it’s easy to spot the frustrations and note the weaknesses of THE CHURCH (myself included in that imperfect bunch of believers), I want take a play from Paul’s playbook and make the harder, more purposeful choice to begin my list with a salutation of thankfulness.
And with that, I am grateful THE CHURCH is filled with many, many saints who graciously and generously give of their time and their talents, serving behind the scenes…being the heart and engine of our congregations and its programs.
I am grateful for THE CHURCH and its servants who lovingly and patiently work with our children, teaching their tiny souls the big Truths!
I am grateful for THE CHURCH and its shepherds who are continuously looking for ways to gently point out the sin of their sheep, calling and challenging them to live out their faith beyond the four walls of the church building.
I’m grateful for THE CHURCH and its brothers and sisters who are standing in the foyers of our church buildings, who are gathering in the living rooms of others, and who are meeting in the the nooks and crannies of public spaces with other believers…doing life together, vulnerably sharing, and attempting to spur one another on toward good works and godliness.
I’m grateful for THE CHURCH and its members who are taking the Word and His love to their frequented restaurants, their jobs, their families, their ball fields, their social media accounts, and their neighborhoods… spreading LIGHT and living LOVE.
And I’m grateful for THE CHURCH and its people who are continually looking for ways to be a part of His work (both locally and abroad)… raising monies, investing time, organizing events, and planning for opportunities to share the Gospel and advance His kingdom.
Truly, this grace-needing sister has a multitude of reasons to be thankful for THE CHURCH.
“We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3