This is something that's been on my heart for the majority of my Christian walk in some form or fashion. I was raised in the Catholic Church, but I understood absolutely nothing about Jesus, God, the Bible, or anything else related to faith. When I was 26 years old, I heard the Gospel for the first time in my life and I met my Savior, hand in hand with my hubby. We were still fairly newlyweds, only having been married a year before Christ wrecked us in the very best way!!! Will had been raised by parents who were agnostic and really couldn't stand Christians and I already briefly told you about my experience with religion, so what we had in common was a very poor understanding of Who God was and who we were in relation to Him. But when we surrendered our lives, our marriage, and our blended family to Him that day in 2007, all of these pieces started to fall into place as He began a journey of revealing Himself to us and taking the brokenness of who we were (both individually and as a couple) and molding us into something beautiful for His glory.
We live in the "Bible Belt," in southeast Texas on the Louisiana border. We have a church building on literally every corner. Our city is actually published in some magazine for having the most church houses per capita or something like that. Crazy. Because with so many churches, you'd sure expect a holier people. And changed atmosphere. A light beaming over this town so brightly it couldn't be extinguished by the darkness. But sadly, that is NOT what we see. We see drugs and alcohol, abuse and neglect, homelessness and poverty...we hear sirens all hours of day and night, just as if we lived in a big city. People are aimless and hopeless. But they ALL claim to know Jesus. They've all been baptized, they are all on a church roster somewhere, they all said a magical prayer at some moment in time, they were all raised in church or have family that has assured them of their right-standing with God.
What we also don't see is any kind of unity whatsoever. This church talks about that church (openly, from the pulpit, as a part of their sermon story), they all refuse to join together for fear of losing "their people," and they compete in outreach events to see who can bring in the most visitors (numbers to add to the roll). During these events, what's missing is Jesus. He's never invited and His Good News is left out too, for fear of offending those who are dropping by.
If this sounds harsh or judgmental, please understand that it's not my intention to come across this way. It breaks my heart that this is the state of the churches in our area today. I can't imagine that it doesn't grieve the heart of our Father. It is my hope and prayer that wherever you live, things are different. I'm only sharing the struggles we face here and I do have hope that it isn't this way everywhere. I know that Jesus last told His disciples that the world would know us by the love we have for one another... No wonder the world can't tell us apart from itself. We have missed the mark in the "love one another" department. 33,000 denominations says that loud and clear. We can't agree on much of anything.
During the first ten years of our walk with the Lord, He brought us through so many experiences I could literally write a book (and may one day). He had SO much to show us and allow us to endure for our growth and maturity, I believe, and of course He's not done! But during this time, as we went to different churches, different denominations, sat under different doctrines and teachings, the one thing that was common among ALL of them, I would sadly have to say, was disunity. Rarely do I remember fellowshiping with people who fellowshiped with people who didn't belong to their church building. And if you did belong to the same one and then left, you never heard from those people again. No matter how long you'd been there or how close you thought you were. Not being a "member" of the same "local church" automatically cut you off from that part of the Body once you stopped attending there. It is so sad to me as I write this and reflect back on so many experiences just like this. And it isn't just our story... We've heard it time and time again. Brothers and sisters, this is not what God intended for us.
The past six years, God has taken us through a time of sifting, purging, pruning, healing, and birthing in us His vision of what He wants us to do, in returning to the example we see in the early church in the book of Acts. Before this time, we were never content with what we experienced in our faith walk--a shallow, Sunday morning, cultural kind of faith (religious tradition). We always desired and longed for more but we could never find it. So God said, "become it. Y'ALL do it." (Okay, well I'm not sure if God says "y'all" or not, but that's what we say here in Texas). So we've opened our home and our hearts and our lives and we have tried in every way possible to invite people in. Our heart's cry is discipleship...obedience to the Lord's command to us to reach all with the Gospel and then show them HOW to walk out this journey in close community with others. You would think it would come easy and be a blessing to all. We'd have given anything to have had someone do this with us. But we didn't... the Holy Spirit Himself though has truly been the best Teacher we could have had. Now we just try to do what we believe He's leading us to do.
He made it so simple; we've made it so complicated. He wanted it to be intimate; we've made it ritualistic. He gave us a family; we'd rather a business model. Can't we see through this?? Just because something's been done a certain way for a long time doesn't make it right. So many people never question WHY we do things one way. And when it's not written in Scripture, why are we so quick to just assume it's the right way?? The enemy has blinded the Body of Christ and stolen what God designed and blessed us with. The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. Divide us, distract us, and make us think we're doing something good for God when we are compromising and settling for a counterfeit version of what He wants us to experience--unity with each other. Familial bonds that strengthen, encourage, and embolden us in our faith to be all that God has called us to be. Fellow soldiers on a battlefield, not vacationers on a cruise ship.
Ephesians 4 (please go read it) is all about the necessity of unity in the Body, and it explains that unity brings about maturity. All parts of the Body need the other parts to survive and thrive. We all brings different gifts, talents, and abilities to the table and like a puzzle, each piece fits together perfectly and if even one is missing, the puzzle isn't complete. Jesus isn't returning for a weak, spiritually impoverished, me-centered church, but for a spotless Bride who has prepared herself and is ready to meet her King. To me, this seems like a far cry from where we stand today.
But there is hope! We know that God always has a remnant, we know that in these last days He is going to pour out His Spirit in power and might, and we know that the gates of hell will not prevail again the true Church. And each of us has the ability to make a change in our own little circle of influence. This is true with the Gospel message and our testimony, being faithful to shine the light of Christ in any given opportunity, and it's also true in how we love others. If we take the focus off ourselves and abide in Christ, allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us and change our hearts, renew our minds, and put us to action...we can become a force to be reckoned with against the kingdom of darkness. And this is what each of us is called to be and do! Go OUT, reach out, seek and save the lost (tell them about the One Who can!), and love the hell out of people!!! Literally!!!
We have so many opportunities. We can go out and invite people into our lives, into our homes, into our hearts. Share a meal, share the Bible, share our faith, share our hearts. It's all about the heart. Always has been, always will be.
Does your heart cry out for unity? Mine does. Let's do something about it, y'all. Pray about it and see where God leads you.
God bless you all!