This week, my wife saw Spotlight for the first time. Spotlight, of course, is the 2015 film about the team Boston Globe reporters who exposed the epidemic of pedophilia among Catholic priests in 2002. It was named Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards. I had seen the movie when it first came out, but Carrie hadn’t. It appeared on our Netflix queue recently, and I suggested that she watch it with me. It’s an excellent movie in every way: Fantastic acting, a well-written script, a powerful story. Still, when it was over, Carrie said, “Well, that was depressing.”
And so it was. The things that were done by people acting in the name of Jesus–and just as importantly, enabled by the people who oversaw them–were horrifying. The Lord Himself only knows how many souls were damaged, driven away from Him. He knows, and He weeps…and He will someday provide justice. I wish I could say that’s the only time the Church has disappointed me, but it’s not. It seems like I read a story per day of a pastor abandoning his wife, or a church spewing hateful rhetoric, or a prominent Christian walking away from his faith. It can get awfully discouraging sometimes.
But when we stop to really look at what God is doing in and through His people, everything changes. This week, I’ve seen some amazing things that happen when the church behaves like the people of God; in other words, when the church is THE CHURCH as God intended. Three quick stories:
A week ago today, I visited our teenagers at youth camp, deep in the East Texas Pineywoods. I saw a group of young men and women who exhibited the irresistible presence of God. That night, after worship, we were supposed to spend a few minutes in “church group time,” debriefing what had happened in worship, before releasing the kids to a special late-night recreation event, where they could eat, drink, and zipline (if that’s a verb) the night away. Instead, our church group time broke out into spontaneous prayer, as kids confessed their struggles and sins, and prayed and wept with each other. One of our young men gave his life to Jesus a few days before leaving for camp; when I saw him, he was planning to drive home to work a 5 AM- 1PM shift at his job, then drive back up for the rest of camp. The next night, after I had left, the speaker (Mike Satterfield, an old friend of mine who is an outstanding preacher) didn’t even get to speak; the worship event became a massive prayer meeting instead. Three more of our kids gave their lives to Christ before the week was done. This Sunday (July 31) at 6 PM, the youth group will lead a prayer meeting for our entire church. If you’re hoping for a fresh touch of God on our church, or if you want to know more about what He is doing among our teenagers, please be there. Actually, be there no matter what. Trust me, you need this.
Sunday, a woman and her kids visited our 8:30 worship service. A couple of our ladies asked me to pray with her afterwards. Without disclosing details, this woman is facing problems that would break your heart if I shared more. Though I wanted to help in more tangible ways, I was expected upstairs at that very moment for a meeting with a Lifegroup. I sent a quick text message to Alan Armstrong, who came down to help our ladies determine how best to help this family. I felt a strong sense of guilt afterwards about not doing more. Eventually, I got in touch with one of the ladies, and found out the rest of the story. They had taken this family to lunch, and thanks to a collection taken up by their Life Group, were able to assist this family with their needs.
After the 11:00 service, I met with a man who has visited our church recently. His living conditions are deplorable, to say the least. I asked him to come see me next week. Later, I found out that one of our college students had taken him out to lunch after our conversation. Today, he came to see me. I was expecting for him to ask me for money (we get many such requests, and it’s often hard to know how to handle them). Instead, he told me that he was thinking of entering a six-month program through Over-Under, a ministry supported by FBC. This program will offer him housing and life skills, hopefully leading to a better, more stable and self-sufficient life. His only drawback was that he wouldn’t be able to attend FBC, since part of the program is attending Over-Under services on Sunday mornings. “I’ve never been to a church before that was so loving. I don’t want to leave.” He asked for my advice. I told him to see if he could come to our Wednesday night Bible studies, and that when the six months are over, we’ll still be here, ready to have him back on Sunday mornings. Meanwhile, he needs what that ministry can offer.
All three of these events represent EXACTLY what the people of God should be about: Working together, putting others first, glorifying God. The best thing about these stories: I didn’t initiate any of them. Trust me, as much as I’d love to be the guy who wrote a best-selling book, or the guy whose sermon clips went viral on Youtube, that’s mostly my ego talking. I’d much rather be the guy in a church that does God-honoring things on a regular basis without me lifting a finger or speaking a word. And get this: I know that these sorts of things are happening in churches of various denominations, in cities all over the world, every day. The scandals are rare enough that they are big news when they happen, but stories like this–which outnumber the shameful events by a magnitude of thousands–rarely get mentioned at all. Even we in the Church don’t seem to acknowledge all the good God is doing. Day by day, soul by soul, the Kingdom of God is advancing. And there is nothing…NOTHING that can stop it.