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Being Church

Greetings All,

This weeks 'thought' comes from a pastor named Jud Wilhite who planted a church in "Sin City'" or Las Vegas, though he now affectionately calls it "Grace City." In fact, that's what his book is about -- God's grace reaching down to people caught up in sin. It's title is: "Stripped -- Uncensored Grace on the Streets of Vegas."

The book was handed to me by a person in my church who said: "I think you'll like it. This is what you've been trying to tell us since you came." She had placed a little book mark at the spot where this quote occurs.

I offer it to you as one who, like the author, believes that the church of Jesus Christ is the world's hope -- the Body through which He ministers His extravagant grace in word and deed. I send it out with the earnest hope that maybe Jud (to a small degree) will convince you of the fact that the world really does need the church -- something I often find it harder to convince Christians of than unbelievers.

The world doesn't simply need Jesus (in a private individualistic way, though that is obviously tantamount). The world also needs the church to be the community of faith and grace it was intended by Him to be, thus enabling people to experience through us, and see in us, the grace of Jesus they so desperately need.

If you're looking for a good easy read, I highly recommend his book. Enjoy.

"I believe with all my heart that the church is the world's hope. Government can't change the heart. Education, as important as it is, can't change the heart. Healthcare and Social Security reform won't change the heart. Only God can do that. And he uses people -- the church -- to reach out and impact others.

Many people are cynical and skeptical about the church. And who can deny all the scandals and hypocrisy that occur in the name of God? It is truly awful. Yet, for every scandal there are thousands and thousands of churches making a real difference and doing their best to help others. Critiques and cynicism without solutions don't help anyone. I get weary of idealistic visions of a church community so perfect and pompous that the person telling me of this church wouldn't even fit in -- they'd have too many issues!

My mother always said: 'The church would be a perfect place if there weren't any people in it.' People -- people like you and me -- are the problem. Some think the answer is in the size of a church -- from a house church to a midsize church to a megachurch. Others think the secret is the style of ministry, from traditional to emerging. No matter how you view it, every church community will be messy because it is filled with imperfect people, imperfectly following Jesus. These people may be the problem -- but they can also be the solution. Yes, life is messy. Church is messy. Faith is messy. But let's get over it and get on with helping people experience God's grace.

Many churches, in an attempt to deal with this messiness head-on, have come to value a sense of belonging as primary. Some churches taught (and still teach) that first you believe, then you behave, and finally you belong. For these churches belief in Christ is the first step in being part of the church, but you do not really belong until you behave. But many churches are reversing this order out of a love for people far from God. Their philosophy is first you belong, then you believe, and finally you behave. Sometimes a person belongs for months or even years before they believe. On any given weekend at Central [Christian Church], there are hundreds of people who would not identify themselves as Christians if you asked them. I have friends who attend every weekend who are Jewish and do not yet place faith in Jesus. Or they are agnostic, but like the music. They may be a mix of religions, but they sense the place is real. They are searching. They belong first, and my prayer is one day they will believe. We are honest and straightforward about sin and salvation through the person of Jesus. We do not water down the Bible or the teachings of Christ, but we do accommodate in every other way possible. We love people no matter where they are. Out of that love, life-change will eventually occur...

What should we do to have an impact on the people around us? We need look no further than Christ, our perfect Teacher. The greatest commandments according to Jesus are to love God and 'love your neighbor as yourself' (Mark 12:31). He did not say to love your neighbor if you are in the mood, or if she likes the same hobbies, or if he believes the same things you do. He just says love them. Period. Irrespective of their background and history, Jesus loves them and so should we.

I know of a woman who relocated to Vegas with her husband, only to find her happiness slipping away six months after they arrived. She felt that her marriage, along with the rest of her life, was falling apart. It all came to a head one afternoon, and she sat in a grocery store parking lot with her head down and wept. Suddenly a stranger knocked on her window and said, 'Ma'am, I don't know what is wrong, but I can tell that you are hurting. You should go to my church. They will help you there.'

The woman got directions and drove from the grocery store to Central. What changed her life was not the building, but the people inside. They led her that day into a relationship with Jesus. She was back that weekend with her husband, and as the months went on they credited the people of the church for significantly turning their life and relationship around. This is the church at its best, helping and loving people one at a time."

With Prayers that we might do the same, Pastor Jeff