Country Club Church

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Many churches, particularly the ones that televise their services, make a habit of inviting only those whose lives are going well at the moment to share what Christ means to them.  The message is consistent: comfort and commitment, both are available.  Trust God to change whatever makes you uncomfortable while you choose to follow Him.

I have often wondered how much crippling guilt and soul-wracking pain those testimonies provoke in those who have committed themselves to Christ as best they can but whose lives are filled with terrible discomfort.  As the speakers tell their stories of warm family reunions, children preparing for missionary service, relational tensions that have been replaced by joyful reconciliation, and financial losses that God has miraculously turned around, how many hearts rejoice in God’s goodness?

What does the woman feel whose husband of thirty years left her three years ago and is now openly living with a girl half his age?  Hope?  Confusion?  Bitterness?  What do the grandparents feel who can’t spend time with their grandchildren because the girl their son married has taken an unexplained disliking to them?  Or what about the single person who’s sick of the fun-and-games mentality of her church’s single group and yearns for meaningful adult relationships?  Is she blessed by the testimonies of people who praise God for their personal comforts and humbly thank Him for winning them to strong commitments?  Or does she quietly give up hope of finding real joy?

Most of us, even people like me who do enjoy many legitimate pleasures and who are sincerely committed to pursuing Christ, must admit to a host of unanswered questions, real disappointments, and a nagging emptiness that even our best relationship never relieves.  Are we to ignore these internal realities and focus instead on the blessings of personal comfort as we work to honor our Christian commitment?  I fear that most people whose lives provide enough pleasures to escape having to think about those troubling questions and emotions do precisely that.  And those folks whose struggles are more pressing — broken marriages, rebellious kids, aching loneliness — well, we can only pray that God will restore their personal comforts as they continue to trust in Him.

This kind of response turns church into a country club offering its benefits to those who are fortunate enough and well-mannered enough to qualify for membership.  We sit Sunday after Sunday enjoying the fellowship of others who are comfortable and committed while the brokenhearted and poor press their noses against the window, looking in at us with resentment, envy, and despair.

If we are to become a community of deeply changed people, we must not only admit to our thirst, we must also carefully explore what Christ promised to do about that thirst.  Did He promise to bring us comfort through enjoyable relationships, rewarding careers, and pleasurable activities — provided, of course, that we honor some level of commitment to Him?  Or is the abundant life of bubbling springs a very different matter?  Is it possible to have absolutely no rich communication with your husband, yet still taste those cool waters?  Can a parent whose young adult son is far from the Lord know something real about peace and rest?

Our Lord has promised to flood our innermost being with springs of living water.  If His words do not guarantee our personal comfort in exchange for spiritual commitment — and I don’t think they do — then what is He saying?  If He’s promised springs of living water to all who come, then why do many sincere Christians live lives filled with pain?

Larry Crabb, Inside Out

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23 responses »

  1. this is similiar to what I wrote yesterday morning..ans the bottom line is…do we desire HIM? and are we picking up our cross?

    I really need to read this book some more,,, I was kind of waiting on the badguy to move on..love him too!

    have a good day! love ya

  2. Hey, Darla. I just read your post from yesterday and thought the same thing. We must be on similar wavelengths…

    Bad did post something more yesterday. I need to go answer the questions. By the time I read it last night, I couldn’t come up with any coherent thought. It’s an excellent book…so far.

    Hope your day is blessed with His tender mercies…it will be…love you, too. 😉

  3. This is a great (though sad) quote that reminded me of Bob Kauflin’s ‘Worship Matters’ blog post a while back. He was quoting excerpts from “When God Comes to Church” by Ray Ortland.

    I haven’t read Orland’s book yet, but really want to soon. I think these quotes really ‘speak to’ Larry’s thoughts here, and should convict us of ‘having it all under our control’ ,yet, despite all our good intentions, succeeding only in damming up the flow of God’s Spirit in our midst (the only source of real satisfaction for any of us no matter our life situations):

    Here are the Orland quotes:

    We can settle into a routine of activities at church and in our small groups and Bible studies, with little expectation of anything new. The familiar becomes the predictable, and everything from here on out will be more of the same. We dip our teaspoon into the vast ocean of the living God. Holding that teaspoon in our hand, we say, “This is God.” We pour it out into our lives, and we say, “This is the Christian Experience.”

    God is not limited to our past experiences, our traditions, or what we think the church’s next step should be. We must leave room for divine mystery, for surprise. God never acts out of character but he does exceed our expectations.

    (Eph. 3:20-21 = ) !!,
    D-

  4. Hey, Ric. Crabb makes so much sense to me. Possibly because I fit within the group of people wondering why the creature comforts aren’t part of the plan as I was told. “Just commit this way and He’ll move that way…” It does turn the gospel on its head. It is a poisonous corruption to the purity of living waters…I think. I still need to get to Bad’s site. 😳

    Exactly, Laz! Thanks for sharing Ortland’s words:

    “We dip our teaspoon into the vast ocean of the living God. Holding that teaspoon in our hand, we say, ‘This is God.’ We pour it out into our lives, and we say, ‘This is the Christian Experience.'”

    I think I need to memorize those words.
    Love Ephesians 3:20-21!!

  5. Wow, I liked that.

    Personally, it brought back for me the image of people telling me I should go to Medjagory in hopes for healing… telling me of all the amazing stories of health restored.

    And all I can ever wonder about are the ones who stand next to the person being healed. The ones who come broken and leave broken without their miracles… what is THEIR story?

  6. I don’t know how to respond …… I can understand (to whatever extent I may without living it) these feelings … I question whether the point is about the Church truly reaching out to the hurting, helpless, confused, lonely, and broken (which I wholeheartedly agree with) or if it’s pointing arrows at the use of testimonies as a means of encouragement. I do think it’s the former … but some of it did seem to be a bit the latter. Faith is built by what we hear. “Faith comes by hearing …” That verse is instructing the believer how to increase in faith, but it also presents a universal truth – whatever you hear the most of will build your world. You will see it as real and true, and therefore have faith that that reality will be your future reality. Testimonies (such as Nor’s Storm Stories) do exactly that thing: build our hope for freedom, deliverance, comfort, peace, etc … in our own lives. I know this is why churches do this. There is a third perspective here which is that of those who do not feel the sun or the break in the storms. Those who hear testimonies of God’s faithfulness, and instead of feeling encouraged, feel even more despair that it will never happen to them. And in that … I don’t know what to think. I think on the one hand that Satan will attack wherever he finds an opening. And that would seem to be an attack (the increasing discouragement when hearing of the goodness of God, rather than an increase of faith), yet on the other hand, there is a very definite human emotional element (which is often talked about in the Bible even), and on another hand there is the church perhaps ignoring or ignorant of these in their own midst who are in desperate need for the church to be the church, and ‘bear one another’s burdens.’ So … There are so many sides to this excerpt, that … to me it would take careful dissecting and perhaps understanding the perspective or intent for me to understand what is being said. I’m sorry if I’m making this too complicated! I don’t mean to. And I’m SO not trying to downplay the truly hard times and emotions so many people go through. I don’t know. Back to the top … I guess I don’t know how to respond. :] Love you, Michaela!

  7. Hey, Gitz. So many times I feel the same way. I am thrilled for those who have been healed and deeply saddened for those who have not. I know that it is all up to the Lord’s sovereign will and so I leave it there. If it will be best for me…for you…to experience healing…He will do just that. But somewhere in the way He has chosen to work with us, He has allowed us to remain in a weakened state. And when I read scripture, I see the consistency of our testimonies with the Truth: When I am weak, then He is strong.

    Hey, Sparkle. For someone who doesn’t know how to respond, you sure do respond!! 😆 I’m not sure how to respond to your non-response. 😉

    Crabb also says,

    “Preachers all across America are building huge congregations on the promise of unblemished happiness now. Our modern understanding of Christian joy envisions an eager excitement as we face each day, yielding to a serene warmth in older years, capped off with the bliss of heaven forever.

    The biblical writers see things differently. Faith is required because life can be overwhelmingly confusing. Hope for a better day is all we can cling to in those honest moments of facing life’s disappointments. And love is the only approach to life that achieves God’s purposes and gives us a sense of relationship with Christ and others. Faith, hope, and love in the midst of a difficult world — that’s a different understanding of what to expect from life than the view that promises we can always feel good.

    But our Lord did speak of springs of living water bubbling up in the souls of people who come to Him. What did He mean? Apparently there’s more to Christian living than well-handled pain.”

    His words make so much sense to me. I’m not even a quarter of the way into the book, but I do get him…so far.

    Love you, Sparkle!

  8. lol – I know. After I posted, I was like “wow! I wrote a lot!” haha. Thanks for your response. I’m definitely glad it’s ministering to you. 🙂 Love you!

  9. Hi Michelle. Hmm… I can relate to this because I didn’t grow up in church and when I did come into church I came very wounded from my past. I am still processing not letting myself become a part of Country Club church even if that means rejection. That is hard because my biggest fear is abandonment and rejection. I just reread today 1 Samuel 16:7 and those words are healing. Man looks at outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.

  10. You know, Tracie Jane, when I am completely misunderstood, I am so grateful for that verse. So many times I have been told what I’m thinking by someone not living in my skin. God knows my heart…I needed that reminder today. Being wounded makes being wounded again stifling…if we could only begin to understand one another’s weaknesses…

    …makes heaven that much more hopeful.

  11. You know, church is supposed to be a place where the “whosoever will” can come and be ministered to while ministering to the Lord. In our small church, everyone is welcome, and there are plenty of wounds that need balm.

    I’ve never had the privilege of pastoring a large congregation; my experience is with the 50 – 80 range. Our prayer is to affect the lives of those around us who do hurt and need help. It’s not always an easy task, though.

    Thanks for your excellent post.

  12. Hey, Preacher. I attend a large congregation with many programs available for small group interaction. You know, it’s there, in the small groups that we minister to one another. It’s there we share our hurts, our victories, our lives. I think being the pastor of a small congregation is an amazing privilege…to be one-on-one with those you are shepherding. To truly get to know the flock you are leading. What a blessing!

  13. You really need to read Crabb in order, but one of his later books is about the church and called “The Safest Place on Earth: Where People Connect and Are Forever Changed.”

    Church isn’t so much a place; it’s a collective of like-minded people that are earnestly seeking authentic and real relationship with each other and with our Lord.

  14. I may need to get that book too. Thanks for the suggestion, Bad. The definition of church…can that be an online community? We really can’t get as close as necessary in this venue. I know that, now that I’ve met bloggers in 3-D.

    Heaven will be AMAZING!!!

  15. “‘If He’s promised springs of living water to all who come, then why do many sincere Christians live lives filled with pain?'”

    How else would we know that we need Him?

  16. “How else would we know that we need Him?”

    I think that’s Crabb’s point. We wouldn’t know or understand our need of something more, if the pain were not palpable.

    I sure don’t like feeling it, though.
    I do desire the “springs of living water” to gush. I don’t want to “quench” the Holy Spirit in my life through unconfessed sin. I think Crabb will be making that point soon. I gotta keep reading. 😉

  17. If there is one thing I have learned with a great deal of certainty about this

    …God does NOT take away our pain. But He can, and does, help us through the fires of santification.

    I got the skin grafts to prove it.

  18. Just Nor Will Do, skin grafts. Sounds quite painful…His sancitifying work.
    But when we’ve been tested with the fire, we will come out as pure gold.
    ♥ U! 😉

  19. What is your opinion about what happens to us when we break trust in our marriage?

  20. What happens to us when we break trust in our marriage…

    The same thing that happens when we break trust in any covenant. It depends upon how strong the covenant promises were to both parties. We will break trust because we’re human. Only God is completely trustworthy. And, unfortunately, the little things whittle away over time as much as the big things cut out huge chunks of the bond. How strong is the bond? How much are both parties committed to the promises made? That will determine if reconciliation is doable.

    To be determined to work out the problems, the issues, the sins…that’s the stuff of Christianity. We have Jesus as our example…and the Father through Hosea speaks volumes of what true committment in the face of unfaithfulness looks like. Unconditional love…not based on the other’s performance, but on the choice we make to love, regardless…that’s what we’ve been called to do.

    We sin all the time. Therefore, we are constantly breaking trust. Only God can bring the parties back together and heal the broken bonds. He calls us to humility and submission toward one another. No one lives perfectly with another…and in the process of living together, we need to see our own crud. If we’re constantly looking at what the other needs to do to make the relationship better, then we are not taking responsibility for ourselves.

    We must seek forgiveness…and work toward reconciliation. However, forgiveness only takes one person. Reconciliation takes two.

    I have held onto the words Paul spoke to Timothy:
    If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself.

    If both parties are committed to walk through the valley of the shadow of death (of the marriage), then it is possible to come out on the other side into new life of the relationship. I’ve seen it happen. Unfortunately, many of us give up too soon.

    Oh…and a great Christian counselor is essential! Especially if it has become too hard to talk…they have a way of cutting through the crud and getting to the root of the problems.

    Just some thoughts…my opinion.

  21. I think I can answer on a more personal level…however…

    I grieve. I grieve day in an day out. I know what I did was a terrible sin against my husband, my children, and God. I feel a constant ache of disbelief that I am where I am…today. And I did it. I chose to commit adultery. Unfortunately, that broken trust was at an irreparable level in my husband’s eyes.

    What happens to us when we break trust? We either harden or soften. We can choose to stand firm in the hardness of our hearts and refuse to believe we ever did anything to cause the bond to break. Or, we can see our sin and seek forgiveness from the other person, knowing we have been forgiven from God. We repent…in dust and ashes…recognizing the death, the pain caused. And then, we hope. We pray that God will allow our marriage to remain.

    Personally, I pray that hearts will soften and understanding will grow in all our lives. That each of the people I’ve hurt so deeply would come to the realization of what sin can do to relationships. And if they must use me as their example for the remainder of their lives…so be it.

    I continue to look to God for love and acceptance. Only He gives it perfectly.

    Oh. And…thanks for making me think this afternoon…
    “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

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