1. Church is a living organism. Healthy living things grow. Healthy churches grow.
I have already recommended an article from Rich Tatum (The Blog Rodent). Here is a snippet. He said it better than I could.
If we’re honest about it, the idea that numeric growth reveals a church’s health and its members’ own spiritual health has infected the American church for decades. The idea is captured in this syllogism:
Healthy organisms grow
Churches are like organisms
Therefore, healthy churches grow
But what this three-step logical tango fails to take into account is that healthy organisms stop growing when they reach maturity and a size appropriate to their nature. In fact, an organism’s failure to experience a growth plateau is one evidence of sickness. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. (Think: obesity, cancer, acromegaly, gigantism, etc.)
It's not that I don't want the church to grow. I do. But I've been hearing this well-meaning phrase for a few years, always felt something was not quite correct, but couldn't quite express it. Rich did it for me, and a large weight fell off my shoulders.
I recommend "The Emotionally Healthy Church" by Peter Scazarro for excellent discussion of this and other issues.2. When the prayers go up, the blessings come down.
Scripture says, " Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results." James 5:16
I passionately believe this. Prayer is essential to the Christian life, is essential to spiritual health, is perhaps the most significant thing the Church can do--and without it everything else we do becomes our own efforts, empty of the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit. (We say this. We don't necessarily act like it.) But prayer does not automatically equal blessings--or at least not the kind the well-meaning sister who said this to me had in mind. Look at the first part of that verse! Are we willing to do the hard stuff first? Are we ready to admit our flaws and weaknesses to one another? To become "authentic" as the emerging church folk urge us? Are we willing to expose our own need for healing so that we can pray with greater power? Are we willing to pray with desperate honesty and then have all our superficial structures, our superficial spirituality, our superficial holiness revealed for what it is so that we can truly see "wonderful results?"
3. God will not take you where his grace cannot keep you.
This assumes a sort of Pollyanna-like Christian life. Do the right thing and everything will be all right. Am I discounting the grace of God? Oh, no! Just go to Bible Gateway and do a search for the word "grace" and after you read for a while you may well feel like dancing around the room, or at least thanking God! Grace is amazing, wonderful, marvellous and unfathomable. All that we have, all that we are, all that we will be is by the grace of God. How many times I have found it true that the grace of the Holy Spirit comes to me when I am most in need.
Here is just one passage, Eph. 1:6-8: So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. God gives us freedom, forgiveness, kindness, wisdom and understanding! What gifts! But are we guaranteed that things will always go well?
Take a look at Acts 13:49. "The word of the Lord spread through the whole region [Pisidian Antioch]. But the Jews incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region."
What? They stirred up problems? How can that be? Did God not bring Paul and Barnabas there? It is clear from the context of the chapter that the grace of God is indeed with Paul and Barnabas and yet they have to leave this place, not by choice, but because they were driven out. I did not say I could explain it, I just said that God's grace might indeed lead you somewhere that will end up being challenging and troubling and you even might have to leave.
4. God will never give you more than you can handle.
Once again, I did not say I could explain all this, but to blithely say this to someone who is broken hearted or depressed or feeling like a failure is a sort of cruelty that does not please God. It ignores the reality that we live in a sin-saturated, broken, twisted world. In the end, God is victor. But in the short term, people often do suffer under the stresses and strains of illness, grief, or disappointment. This will not be the case in our next life--praise God!
Another assumption here is that everything that happens comes from God. SO NOT TRUE! God does not "give" us sickness or death or rape or disaster, etc. God gives good things. Am I saying God cannot deliver, or heal, or make things right? By no means. I am just saying that as long as we live in this earthly place there will be things that we cannot understand and that will cause pain. God will be with us through it all. But bad things will happen. Sometimes bad things will happen in such an array and in such a short time that we "can't handle" it and our bodies or minds break under the strain. Even Elijah, the great prophet, experienced deep depression.
5. If you just love enough, all things are possible.
I believed this until recently, and I still believe it in part. After all, (see I Cor. 13) love hopes, endures and believes. I still believe that love works miracles. I think love is the most powerful thing we have and the most amazing gift God gives. I wish I could help everyone I know find the love of God. I'll probably die trying to do this! Love is transforming, redeeming, and eternal. Sometimes love transformes the impossible into something possible. But it will not break the heart of one who refuses to be broken. It will not reveal truth to the one who refuses to look. It will not speak healing to the one who continues, with hands over ears (figuratively speaking), to choose to listen to lies. Jesus was love incarnate. And we all know how some people reacted to him!
6. God's plans cannot be stopped.
In the end, God is Victor and the King, Eternal. But if God's plans (short term) cannot be stopped or hindered, why would Jesus instruct us to pray, "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven"? If God's plans are always going to succeed unhindered, why would Paul instruct us in Eph. 6 to put on the armor of God, and when we have done all we can, to stand? We are part of bringing God's plans to life. God may have a wonderful plan, but if the people of God do not walk in obedience and love and forgiveness and peace--lots of things can happen that bring misery and grief and death (not God's plans).
7. Someday it will all work out. It has to.
Okay, I agree with this. Sort of. I do not claim to understand the book of Revelation, but I understand these glorious words from chapter 19: Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting, "Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!" Christians do not believe that the battle in which we are engaged is some sort of tug o' war between equal and opposite powers, one good and one bad. God is Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, and God will be victorious in the end. The LIGHT will overcome darkness. But things in this life do not always "work out." Oh, they do change. Things resolve, one way or another, but not always happily. Hebrews 11 makes that clear, don't you think? Take a look:
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again.
Hey, I'm liking this a lot! Aren't you? Read on.
Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect
I am not liking this all that much. Destitute? Persecuted and mistreated? Wandering homeless?And my least favorite phrase, "...none of them received what had been promised." Too bad these folks were born too soon to read Joel Osteen's books. (Sorry! I couldn't help it!)
The words of hope here do ring out, in the middle of pain and heartbreak and loneliness. "Together with us they would be made perfect [complete and whole]." But do you suppose that when the faithful ones were about to be torn asunder someone said, "Don't worry. It will all work out"?
Yes, it will--glory be to God. But not usually in the way we think!
And, seriously, if I am missing something important, or I have it wrong, please comment. I promise not to whack you. I'd like to be wrong about some of this.