The other night my family and I went out to Ediz Hook after dinner to enjoy one of the last warm evenings of summer. The drill in the northwest as fall approaches is to soak up enough sun to get you through the next nine months! My daughter chose to wear some sandals, and as she was running around on the beach, the small piece between her toes decided to pop out. Anyone who has ever owned a cheap pair of flip-flops knows exactly what I’m talking about. As I watched her trying to make-do with one sandal barely clinging to her foot, I remembered one of those “life hacks” that you see come across Facebook every once in a while. All you have to do is poke the piece that goes between the toes back through the sole and pop a bread clip around it to keep it from pulling back through. It was a perfect solution, but where was I going to find a bread clip?
We had parked at one of the busier sections of the hook near a wayside park, and after thinking for a moment, I was confident I was going to be able to find a bread clip on the ground just by looking around for a bit. After all, this was a place that many people come and bring a meal to enjoy the views of both the ocean and mountains. In my mind the probability was high that someone in this very spot had left evidence of their meal. My daughter and I walked around for a few moments, venturing just a short distance from where we had been playing, and sure enough she found one. I worked my McGyver magic and had her sandal temporarily fixed in no time, and the whole incident was quite entertaining.
One of the ways God speaks to me is through experiences. Anytime I have something occur that is a bit out of the ordinary, I know He is calling me to pay attention. This had been a weird experience because I honestly had no doubt that we would find what we were looking for if we just searched enough of the area. As we drove away, I began thinking about why I was so sure that the bread clip we needed was going to be found. The conclusion that I came to was that anytime you have a place where people come regularly to eat, there will be evidence. Ediz Hook is chosen by so many because of its sweeping views, and I bet you’d be hard pressed to find someone in Port Angeles who has never taken a meal there. After a bit more conversing with God, I realized He was beginning to point out a striking correlation to His church.
The church of Jesus Christ consists of all people who confess faith in him worldwide. Within this global church are numerous smaller churches, broken into different denominations, and referred to as local congregations. We are all familiar with them because they literally exist in nearly every city, town, or village no matter where you go. The Bible is clear that the church was built by God (Matthew 16:18) and designed with a purpose. That purpose is to carry the message of Christ and his love to all the world (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:8), gather and encourage one another in this effort (Hebrews 10:24-25), and honor and glorify God both individually and collectively (Matthew 5:14-16, Philippians 1:9-11). When this is being done, there will be evidence of it, a byproduct the Bible refers to as fruit. In the following passage, Christ directly contrasts those who uphold and pursue the purposes of the church with those who “look the part” but don’t:
“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:16-20
In other words, if people comprising a church are truly feasting on and handing out the sustenance of God – which is Christ, the bread of life (John 6:35) – you should be able to find evidence all over the place. That “bread clip” should be easy to find!
I have a deep-seeded concern for the churches, specifically in America. I’m afraid the path of lethargy that had defined much of what we do as a nation has crept into our congregations. This message is not directed towards the thousands of dedicated church leaders and members that work selflessly to uphold the tenants that Christ laid out for us. Instead, I’m more concerned with those who are seeking to explore a relationship with God, but have a hesitation to begin that journey in church. To that person I would say that the church is the place to begin, but you must see evidence of fruit first. As a church leader, this is my obligation, and I cannot expect anyone to enter my doors or follow my lead without it. Therefore, I’ve come up with three questions that parallel the biblical purposes of the church, which a person can ask themselves before getting involved.
One: Is there a clear representation that Jesus is the foundation and driving force behind what the church does? Something I know is hard for those who are not involved in a church to understand is why people within the church do what they do. In a word, it’s Jesus. Unfortunately, we often get caught up in the way a person or church chooses to express their devotion to Christ: singing, dancing, meditative prayer, fervent preaching…whatever. Regardless of the outward appearance, of the hundreds if not thousands of people that I’ve encountered in my life who have a relationship with Jesus, every single one would say that he intervened with his love and changed the direction of their life. When a person realizes that perfect love does exist and that someone gave selflessly of their own life in order for them to live to the fullest, they want to share that truth with others.
“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.” 1 Thessalonians 3:12
This should be the heartbeat of the church, not personal gain or position. If there is pure motive to show and spread the message of Christ, the fruit of this will be an atmosphere of open arms where all can experience his love.
Number two: Does the church pursue, embrace, and support partnerships with other organizations/churches within their community, or do they exist for themselves? A former pastor of mine once said that the church is not a cruise ship, meant for our exclusive pleasure. I couldn’t agree more, and I took the analogy one step further, saying the church is more like an aircraft carrier. It has a distinct purpose and direction, yet everyone on board has a unique and different role that is crucial for the overall success. It serves as a safe place to return to and heal if you were out on a tough mission, and it works in conjunction with other ships in the fleet. I believe local congregations and larger denominations should be at the top of the list for truly selfless community support, partnership, and financial giving.
And three: Does the church take a reverent position relative to God, always shifting the focus to Him and not themselves? I can’t help but think of John the Baptist, redirecting the attention from himself onto Christ when he humbly proclaimed that the One who was coming after him, whose sandals he wasn’t fit to carry, was more powerful than he (Matthew 3:11). Outward focus is an absolute essential indicator of the presence of God within a person and church. The most honoring way we can love God is by loving His people.
It’s important to note here that often times the evidence of a meal, or even fruit that is dropped from a tree for that matter, is messy. A church that is actively pursuing the purpose God has put before them will undoubtedly leave traces behind. The choice to love people who society has written off as unlovable comes at a cost. Undoubtedly there will be off-handed comments, accusations, rumors, and raised eyebrows. These pale in comparison to the price Jesus paid, but it’s par for the course when you get down to the nitty-gritty of who people truly are. If a church that is regularly visited is all polished up like it’s never been used, it raises questions in my mind about their focus.
At Mended, we routinely ask ourselves these questions in an effort to “stay the course,” and we have a vision of all the churches in our community doing the same and working together. I realize not everyone hearing this may be searching for a church to draw closer to God, and many may already belong to one they call home. My prayer is that you’ve found that place, and when applied to the church you are at, each of the questions we’ve addressed can be answered with a resounding “yes!” Is Christ the center? Is God honored and put first? Are active community partnerships being formed? If not, there is a challenge that lies before you in the form of one final question: What can you do to turn that “no” into a “yes?” Your answer, and the evidence you leave, just may be the bread clip someone is looking for.