Lessons from a Stranger

In the summer of 1992, a very unusual woman came into our midst. I’m not going to probe this nerve too deeply, but I’ll just recount some of the major events of the drama in a general way.

If I was ever tempted to say that the devil sent someone to us, it would have been in the case of this woman. She was probably in her mid-50’s. She told us that her husband and daughter had been killed in a car accident. One of the brothers in the church, a well-respected man, took her into his home. She quickly won his trust.

Slowly . . . and quite cleverly I might add . . . this woman began constructing wedges between some of the brothers and sisters. There is a Scripture in Proverbs that warns against those who sow seeds of discord among brethren. En. Proverbs 6:19. This woman had a Ph.D. in this type of sowing.

Her pattern became predictable. She would go to someone’s house, and then complain about another brother or sister to them. Her tactic was to clothe the gossip with an “I’m-concerned-so-I-want-you-to-pray-for-them” garment.

She would make people feel that she was “confiding” in them out of genuine concern. She had the act down to a fine science. A negative seed would be planted in the listener, and not long afterwards, there would be hard feelings between brothers and sisters who formerly had no issues with one another.

It was during her time with us that we learned the horrible art of pushing one another’s buttons. Misunderstandings turned into impugning motives, and it devolved into something even more cruel. Her influence continued to spread. As a result, some of the brothers locked horns and went after one another tooth and claw.

A few of the saints expressed grave concern and suspicion about this woman. Unfortunately, however, little could be done because some would rise to her defense whenever she was questioned. No one had any hard proof that something was amiss.

This threw a number of us, including myself, into a snit and a blue funk.

God is very good at building tailor-made crosses. Jesus Christ was a carpenter, and He knows how to build them quite well. This woman created much harm in the church. But we were powerless to do anything about it because opinions were divided over her.

I learned two valuable lessons through this experience. The first is that if a stranger comes into your church and someone sniffs that something is amiss, trace where that person came from. The early Christians had a practice of writing letters of commendation. I’ve always thought there was great wisdom in that.

The second lesson I learned is unalterable. It will not move. Those who exalt others tend to be the same ones who end up slaying them. Beware of the person who lauds you with high praises and flowery compliments. For it is those same people who have the capacity to destroy you with slander and criticism. Fail to meet their expectations, and watch how they react.

Recall that the people who wanted to worship Paul and Barnabas were the same ones who in an unmercifully short period of time later picked up stones to kill them. En. Acts 14:11-19. This woman was a master at flattery. She used it quite effectively. Yet if the victim of her flattering words didn’t meet her expectation in some way, she headed for the warpath. With venom dripping from her lips, should would begin slandering them behind their back.

After struggling through this particular thicket of church life for exactly one year, the woman was exposed. In July of 1993, we discovered that she had lied about her husband and her child. They had never been killed in a car accident. She left them.

After she was confronted with what we discovered, she took off to parts unknown. In the final analysis, this painful piece of history proved to be both profitable and necessary to my spiritual development. It taught me a great deal about myself and about God’s transcendent ways. I had learned something of the invaluable lesson of suffering with the Lord and bearing the spirit of the Lamb in the midst of criticism and false accusation. And I wasn’t the only one.

It was at this time that the Lord taught me the little-known lesson of never defending oneself. Jesus Himself was silent in the face of attack, and He encourages His sheep to react the same way. En – Matthew 27:13-14; Mark 15:3-5; 1 Peter 2:23.

Jesus didn’t counterattack nor did He retreat. He stood . . . quietly.

I observed the following words of Watchman Nee’s to be all too true: “If people trust us, there is no need to explain; if people do not trust us, there is no use in explaining.”

What I’m about to tell you is beyond bloodless research and analysis. It’s a lesson from experience. If you gather with Christians outside the traditional church, there is a very good chance that the Lord will see to it that you have your own personally designed, tailor-fitted cross to bear. This is especially true if you are called to His work.

What is God’s will for you when the heat is turned up? It’s for you to die instead of fight. To lose instead of win. To lay your life down instead of insisting on your own way. To let go instead of seizing the reins.

These lessons were learned over and over again in the church. Which leads me to a very simple assertion. If you have authentic Body life, there is a cross right in the center of it.

On a positive note, God often gives His children tests. But you can never fail them. If you fail the first time, He’ll simply give you the same test over and over again until you pass.

I look back at that experience and I thank the Lord for the crosses He placed in my life. Each person who I had a difficult time with were Divine instruments that God used to bring brokenness into certain areas of my life.

Church life can get so intense and so agonizing that every fiber in one’s being wishes to retreat in relief. Thankfully, I never threw in the towel. And today, I’m grateful that I didn’t. For I believe the Lord was able to gain something in me during those years. Even if it was something small.

At the heart of it, the main reason why I didn’t leave is because I didn’t have any options. I was out of options. This was one of critical lessons the Lord taught me through the dream I had in 1989.

I couldn’t go back to the traditional church . . . not with the light that I had been given. My conscience would not allow it. In addition, after tasting the sweetness of open-participatory meetings, the wisdom of decision-making by consensus, the joy of community, and the freedom and life that I knew outside traditional church structures, there was nothing in me that wanted to return to what I had left.

By the way, if the traditional church doesn’t bother you, don’t worry about it. Just know that some of us had no choice but to leave. (At the time of this writing, at least five million adults are meeting outside the traditional church. And thirteen to fifteen million born-again Christians do not attend church at all.)

If you have options, you will probably leave the group that you’re with when the going gets rough. This is why most groups who gather outside the traditional church disintegrate. It’s because people still have options. Or so they think they do.

The fact of the matter is, from heaven’s viewpoint, the church of the living God is not optional for you as a Christian. You and I belong in the counter-cultural community called the ekklesia. Unfortunately, we live in day where selecting a church is like trying on bathing suits. There are fifty-seven (or more) varieties from which to choose. Consequently, many contemporary Christians are church-hoppers and sermon-sippers. There’s little to no commitment or devotion to the Body of Christ in a given place.

Paul bemoaned the apathy among Christians in his day toward God’s passion for His church saying, “For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” En. Philippians 2:21.

I’ll say it again: The church of Jesus Christ is not optional. As a child of the living God, it’s your responsibility to discover from Scripture what the church after His own heart looks like. And then search for it until you find it. To do any less is not only to miss out on the blessings of God. It’s also to find yourself in direct conflict with His revealed will.

God doesn’t lead you or me by our comfort zones nor by what feels good to us. He leads us in line with His will.

In John 6, we are told that many of Jesus’ disciples stopped following Him when they discovered that being a disciple was far more than what they had signed up for. The Lord then turned to the Twelve and said, “Will you leave also?” Peter’s response nicely sums up my sentiments about organic church life. He replied, “There’s no where else to go.”

      Peter was a man out of options.  

Perhaps the real lesson here is that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only real option for us Christians. Everything else is a poor choice.

As Christians, we are spiritual creatures. We possess God’s life. As such, we have biological instincts. That’s the meaning of the new birth. Birth is the impartation of life. The new birth is the impartation of Divine life. God in Christ dwells in you and me by the Holy Spirit. To quote Peter, “we are partakers of the Divine nature.” En. 1 Peter 1:4

Because the Lord dwells inside of us, we have new instincts, new longings, and new urgings that the unregenerate do not have. These instincts, longings, and urges are biological. They are in us because God lives in us.

Before we met the Lord, there was a hollowing emptiness inside each of us. When we found Christ, that hallowing emptiness was filled. It was filled by Christ Himself. You’ve heard the popular evangelistic pitch that we all have a God-shaped hole deep within us, and only Christ can fill that God-shaped hole. Nothing else will satisfy it. That’s true. But it’s not the whole truth.

When I met the Lord Jesus Christ, one half of my being was fulfilled. But because I live in a day when Jesus Christ has been “split up” so to speak, there’s another half of me that went unfulfilled for years.

You see, when I got saved, I met the Head. But . . . I didn’t know the Body.

In the first century, the Head and the Body were not separated. When you met Christ, you met His Body, and you were immediately immersed into the experience of the Body of Christ.

In other words, when you were added to Christ, you were added to His church. When you found Christ, you found the community of the believers at the same time.

Today, however, the Head and the Body have been separated. Many know the Lord, but they do not know the experience of His Body.

Instead, they have adopted the Puritan covenantal view that the church is a voluntary association that helps Christians live a better individual Christian life. The New Testament, however, envisions the church to be the very Body of Christ wherein we live out our Christian lives together with other believers. A profoundly different view.

In the former view, church attendance is optional, though it’s encouraged. In the latter view, the church is not optional at all. And it’s not just about meetings. The church is a community. It’s a brotherhood, a sisterhood, a family . . . the very context in which we live our Christian life.

Augustine rightly called the Head and the Body the totus Christus, which means “the whole Christ.” In the words of N.T. Wright, “The gospel creates, not a bunch of individual Christians, but a community.”

Sadly, the Biblical idea of church represents little more than a footnote in the modern evangelical gospel. Yet if one surveys the topography of Paul’s thought in the New Testament, they will discover that the church fills the whole volume and appears on every page.

So at my conversion, I met half of the Lord—I met the Head. But I didn’t know the Body until thirteen years later. And for that reason there was a deep longing inside me that yearned for spiritual fulfillment.

Based on my travels . . . as well as the mail I receive . . . scores of Christians who are in the traditional church experience this same unfulfillment. There is a longing, a tugging, a spiritual urge deep within that seeks fulfillment. Could it be that it’s the longing for the other half of Christ—the experience of His Body?

Methinks that it very well may be.

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