The REAL Church

I love the church! That’s not a boast, it’s a fact.  BUT the catch is, I love the “real” church, not the “imaginary” one. 

The imaginary church is the one in my dreams where everybody gets along.  It’s the one where everybody loves me, and I love them!  It’s the church where everybody looks like they walked out of the same closet, read all the same books, love the same songs, and have all same favorite teachers.  The imaginary church is the one where I feel connected because I see myself reflected in the people with whom I worship. The imaginary church is the one that makes me feel “safe”. 

Now let me tell you about the real church where you actually belong.

The real church is messy, complicated and very often deeply frustrating.

The real church doesn’t offer all your favorite programs (unless of course you actually want to lead them).  

The real church doesn’t always make you feel “safe”.  Is it possible that God actually wants to take you out of your comfort zone?  (imagine that!)

It’s demanding.  You are more than just a seat warmer, you are there to make an actual difference. 

It’s different.  People aren’t supposed to look alike, talk alike, think alike. 

It’s challenging because it’s filled with saints who act more like sinners.

It’s full of complicated, interconnected, and weighty relationships.

It requires hard work to move the mission forward.  Serving in the real church can sometimes feel enormously futile in accomplishing the mission of Jesus (i.e. “make disciples of all nations”) because, more often than not, it’s three steps forward, two steps backward.  

But it is the church about which Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”  The real church has the power to overthrow the gates of hell. Do you know the story behind that famous quote?  Jesus took His disciples from their home base in the Galilee to Caesarea Philippi where there was a pagan shrine to every imaginable god in the ancient world.  Some actually called that spot, “the gates of hell”.  In effect Jesus wasn’t waiting for the devil to come after Him, He went after the strongholds of evil to “set the captives free”. That’s the real church.  Going where way too many saints are afraid to go. 

One of my mentors use to say to me,  “Bartlett, where would you rather be?  In a “safe” church populated by smiling saints who don’t’ really want to change.  Or in the one where people need real help with their messy lives?”  He was right.  I’m happier to be in a church made up of real people who are seeking after God in spite of their personal failures, who are trying to build community in a disconnected, busy world and that has the courage to follow Jesus to the very “gates of hell.” 

And oh, by the way, I’m OVER THE MOON to be part of a church community that has stayed connected and committed during a time of great crisis in the world. 

Shalom for another week church family.
Pastor Deric

Highs and Lows

Highs and lows.  That’s how I would explain the last 3 months.  

And the lows have been pretty low.  For 36 years April and I have been planning our lives around Sundays.  It is the Lord’s Day after all.  But more than that, we’ve been congregating with God’s people to worship the Lord in prayer, in singing, fellowship and the proclamation of God’s Word.  Sunday’s have been the fulcrum of our lives for a very long time.  And then all of a sudden, we were cut off from the hundreds of people we love as a church family.

I don’t need to state the obvious, but I will none-the-less.  We couldn’t even see our own family.  We were restricted to our homes basically.  Like you, we felt the isolation as a deep pain in our soul.  Just so you know.  Not seeing my grandchildren is the worst.  April and I even celebrated an anniversary during the pandemic but honestly it got overshadowed because we weren’t able to get away to honor the day.

Another low has been conducting funerals during the pandemic.  I’m used to grieving with families whose hearts are broken in the death of a loved one.  I’ve been organizing and leading funerals for a very long time.  But this has been unique.  There has been another traumatic layer of sadness added to the burden of loss.  I thought last week that I was not going to be able to hold it together long enough to help a family through their extreme grief.

Add to an already low time, the crisis within a pandemic and your heart can sink to levels you didn’t know were possible.  The darkest realities in our world have added to the low that most of us already feel. 

There are many other lows.   But there’s been highs too.

When the pandemic began, our family gathered online numerous times during the week to connect and to pray.  Although Facetime and Messenger and Zoom (etc.) has been a hidden blessing, it sure isn’t the same. 

I had the privilege of conducting a wedding during the COVID-19 crisis.  It wasn’t what the couple had been hoping for but it was still amazing.  With family looking on from the patio and watching via the internet from as far away as Idaho, the captivating and compelling love of Jesus Christ for His earthly bride once again beautifully highlighted in the exchange of sacred vows to “love and hold dear until death shall separate us.”  It gave me goosebumps!

Probably my greatest high was this past Sunday.  The church sponsored a drive through drop and greet.  It was two hours of bliss for us as pastor and wife.  We saw the church show its true colors once again.  It was a combined event of donations for the Eden Food Bank and a chance to say hi to each other from behind a mask while slowly driving through the church property.  We collected 460 bags and boxes of food items, or 5,650 pounds of food.  THANK-YOU church family and YEAH for Eden Food Bank.  But the high for April and me was to see your face and be closer than we have been allowed to be for three months.  I’m still flying high from it all.  Have a look on the church website and Facebook page for some of the great pictures of the event.

Another high for me has been the preaching of an unplanned teaching series simply called “Shalom.”  God’s Word is the hope and strength for born-again Christians.  And He is called the “God of Peace” numerous times in the Bible.  One of the earliest benedictions in the Bible includes the blessing of “shalom” (Numbers 6).  It’s been a high for me to park on this idea every week to remind you that God’s presence is with you and brings you shalom, peace. 

So in the end, life is filled with highs and lows.  But through it all He never leaves us nor forsakes us.  And His presence is all the shalom you need. 

Pastor Deric