I really wanted to bring in the New Year by inspiring our Newsong community with a monumental message on the “Church of my Dreams.” My plan was to open it up by asking our members the question, “What does the church of your dreams look like?” I was really excited about the answers and discussion that would ensue. Together we would then map out something futuristic and beautiful to strive towards aka ‘the perfect church.’ Cutting edge stuff! And then I realized my stupidity, just in time. How consumerist and selfish this question and exercise could actually be. Everybody’s idea of their perfect dream church would soon clash. Maybe even lead to affirm that cynical view that all churches have no inability at all to be ah … perfect. Maybe I am overstating this, but the potential was there at least, to be more unsatisfied than satisfied with the present state of our Newsong church experience.
So this week I had a complete change of thought direction and my mind started playing with the idea that maybe the church of our dreams is the place we are in right now in the present. Maybe Newsong is already the perfect church where God has planted us in order to transform us and grow us more and more into the image and example of Jesus Christ. Ponder that one!
This year Newsong is officially going into it’s sixth year in Bangkok. Patricia and I have had the joy of leading this for three years now. And as the reluctant pastor I must say we have learned a lot, seen a lot, and been through a lot. More good than bad, I must add! But what happens often as we do life together over the years is that is becomes easy to become inward focused. Like a marriage that’s souring, we begin to see the negative aspects of a church more than the positive ones that we so enjoyed at the beginning of our relationship. We may even feel duped that our hope was so high and experience was so low. Then we click on virus scan almost weekly to confirm that our community has been contaminated! What a waste of time. The problem with over scanning anything, especially computers, is that is nothing gets done when the computer or church is in scan mode.
Let me return to the idea of a perfect marriage. Too many of us who have a vision of the perfect marriage seldom learn to live joyfully with the mate they’re married to! That may very well be my biggest obstacle of living out a happy married life. I bought up the idea of finding the perfect marriage partner and marrying her before she got away. In my school we called it “Third Year Rush.” I had to hurry, rush to find my perfect mate before I finished my studies. I was all of twenty when I married Patricia Livingstone. I really believed that this tall cheerful Patricia was the image of perfection. She had a wonderful caring personality, played the piano, laughed at all my silly jokes, did my laundry and put love notes in my pockets and did I mention that God gave her a great figure to boot! She was everything I was dreaming of. So I thought once married to her she would complete my life. But after a short while of married life I had this sinking ‘oh oh’ feeling take root in my gut. It was evident how opposite we could be and I was just not experiencing that continual “happy completed feeling” I was expecting! Deep down a negative thought pattern began to take root. And I nurtured it. I began to wish she was more the way I wanted her to be! “If only she could be more of “this” and a little more of “that” then my life would be a lot happier! I wished she could do things my way or see things my way more often! Because, after all, my approach to life was obviously better!
But what I did not understand was how “my approach” and my cherished idea of the ‘perfect dream girl’ were detrimental to us living together happily. “My way” was getting in the way to a better married life! Instead of the dream relationship that I was wanting, some nightmarish things began to erode our happiness. The results being moments where I became either passive and silent (my natural tendency was to hide at work) or once in awhile I’d sprout my macho man and positioned myself for confrontation. While Patricia’s tendency would be to continually confront and control akin to seek and destroy; you’d never guess it, but we had many of those cat-and-dog-thrown into-the-same-dryer moments. Bow wow! I braced myself to be a martyr in my marriage. Afterall I promised before God, “Till death do us part!” I sincerely believed that our relationship would not have a fairy tale ending “and they lived happily ever after.”
But let me reassure you that we are living out a true love story. True love stories are all about character flaws and transformation. Patricia and I have both have had to learn and relearn something important and that is a ‘perfect marriage’ begins with the ability to live happily with the partner who is the way he or she is and not always hoping and wishing and trying to change him or her into our dream partner! Sometimes opposites attract for a reason and that is to transform our own broken and selfish character traits.
Likewise if we keep on dreaming of the perfect church and what we think it should be and do and provide then we may in the end get very unhappy, critical and even cynical and then finally leave our church for the proverbial “greener pastures.”
If I can describe finding the perfect church in Bangkok, (maybe its the same pursuit in your town?) I would say it is equivalent to trying to find the perfect road in Bangkok. Gotcha! The rosad here always seem to be in the process of being fixed up, enlarged, putting in a new fly-over or under=pass, or getting some old potholes repaired. They never seem to be quite right, quite safe or quite smooth. But somehow we still get to our destination! Uh-huh, its true. And though the church is flawed with our brokenness and sinfulness, Jesus is building new avenues of mercy into our lives and we will get to our preferred destination!
William Cowper once said of England, “England, with all thy faults, I love thee still!” Can we say that of our Newsong church?
Can we say that about today’s church? Or better yet, can we say it about our own church?
“Newsong, with all your faults, I still love you!”
Now I think I am starting to see that God has me in an imperfect place with imperfect people which is just perfect for me… to grow me and transform me. I need it! Like a spouse learning how to accept and grow with
his or her mate, I am committed to you oh community of flawed and changing people of faith.