Messy Church

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The story has been told for years of a church that split over an argument of whether or not Adam had a belly button. It would seem a local artist painted a mural in the church of Adam in the Garden of Eden. He didn’t paint a belly button on him. The church people began to discuss, then debate, and then fight over the issue until there was actually a church split. The group that believed he had a belly button left mad and started the First Christian Naval Academy. (Okay, I made that last part up, but that’s funny!)

We admit it: Lincoln Christian Church isn’t perfect. We’re full of messy people. Our volunteers, staff members, and leaders don’t have it all together. In fact, every one of us is a sinner. Each of us has a story about how Jesus met us in our mess and has been changing us from the inside out ever since. And the people who attend here are sinners, too.

Jesus didn’t seem to mind messy people. He spent time with many messy people and messy situations. He didn’t isolate Himself from messy. The same way a doctor is moved to heal the sick, Jesus came to bring healing to us (Matthew 9:10-13).

I guess the biggest difference between Jesus’ day and ours is that being a mess was still unacceptable then and now is widely acceptable. Just because the world tells you to be tolerant of people’s mess doesn’t give us permission to go against God’s word. That kind of open acceptance is only adding to the world’s messiness.

However, it’s messy people and messy ministry that Jesus came to work with. He had the hardest time trying to get the religious of his day to understand that. One way he tried was in parables.
Take the parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15). Like so many of Jesus’ parables, this one was told in the presence of two groups of people—people who understood their lives were a mess and people who were convinced their lives weren’t. And in this case, Jesus was speaking primarily to those good and religious people.

The parable is simple: a sheep has wandered off and the shepherd will not rest until he has found it. What a mess the sheep had made of his life! How will the shepherd react when he finds it?
•“You stupid sheep. How dare you wander off from me?” No, he doesn’t rebuke it.

•“You dumb, disobedient sheep. I’ll teach you to wander off!” No, he doesn’t punish it.

• “You filthy sheep! Clean yourself up right now.” No, he doesn’t make it clean itself up.

• “I can’t have a sheep like you polluting my flock. You will have to go now!” No, he doesn’t get rid of it.

Big shock. He hoists that heavy, dirty sheep onto his shoulders and carries it home, rejoicing all the way, and then He throws a party to celebrate?!

The point? God isn’t put off by messy people. He loves to save sinners. He doesn’t save those who are righteous and whose lives are all put together, he saves those who are a mess. “I came for the sick,” He said.

Since God is in the business of saving sinners, we are a church full of sinners—those who are still wandering and those who have only just been found. If our church has the heart of God for messy people, then we will be a church full of people with problems, full of people showing the consequences of a life of wandering.

Our church isn’t perfect. It is a place where people don’t have everything together. It is messy. And thank God it is.

[Ron Otto, preaching minister of Lincoln Christian Church]


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