Re-entry for a missionary returning to their passport country is a strange process. I'm now into my 9th month walking on American soil again. Still, there are moments that my heart lags behind. I'm determined to press on toward the high call in Christ Jesus, dragging my longings until they come into step with His purposes. I'm well aware that the next phase of this journey may look entirely different than the previous, and that, is encouraging.
It is this current frame of time that breaks my heart and ignites my spirit. Like stirring the embers of a fire and throwing kerosene on the tiny flames that leap up, each new break of my heart allows the fuel to pour out. The sudden bursts create a roaring fire with a heat so intense it causes me to recoil for a moment. And yet, it is in this blaze that I feel more alive, and more free than I have felt in years. As if I've been placed in the fiery furnace, the things that kept me bound are gone and I'm walking free.
One of those experiences happened to me recently in a wonderful local church. The praise and worship is refined. The messenger is allowed a tight 30 minutes. And ministry is completed in a prompt manner so as to not delay the incoming crowd. I do sincerely appreciate what they have accomplished in ministering to a growing number of people. The truth is not sacrificed, the worship is pure, and miracles happen. They have some things very right. It's hard to argue with documented miracles and healings.
I'm a little sentimental for the church that is my history. I miss deep, intimate, praise and worship that takes me to the throne room by way of word pictures and allows the Father plenty of time to fully inhabit the praises of His people, complete with all the highs and lows and instrumental interludes. I'm hungry for fresh revelation that takes the messenger of God a while to unpack, and enables me to savor every morsel. I love the ministry time that is unhurried and everyone leaves knowing that they are valued in the Body. I'm finding that there are few who like those open ended (beginning and middle) services. Many find them to simply be too messy.
I like the messy church. It allows the babies to crawl around underfoot and the toddlers to toddle from one adult to the next, discovering that all these big people smile and wink with an accepting pat. Messy church encourages the budding worshipper to sing from the platform, even if every note isn't on key, so they will come to be assured that they're voice is important to us all. I like a messy church where a message in tongues might not get interpreted or a prophesy has to be judged as not quite right, but the person is valued and encouraged to step out again. I like messy church where it is safe to try, and safe to fail, and yes, safe to succeed.
In the Bush of Africa the musicians beat on plastic bottles and old tuna cans.The worshippers lead out in song and dance sometimes for hours. The children are in the mix and encouraged to enter in the celebration. The message is delivered with bold passion and much demonstration. The kids are up front eating unripe tangerines, dancing in the heat and the dirt. The little guys find their way to a smiling adult and climb up in a strangers lap with tangerine juice dripping from fingers and elbows. But, the joy of the Lord is present. In this place, there is no time constraint. Here, there is nothing more important than what Holy Ghost is saying. Here, church is a hot, sweaty, dirty mess ~ and God likes it.
I think God likes the neat and tidy church too. I wonder if He feels a little cramped by their style, but, I think He likes it, because they love Him, and He is all about them. What's nice in our modern western world is that we have options. "To each his own" can really be "To each of His own". God is the One Who created diversity. I'm guessing He likes it.
In all of this, I find my own sort of diverse desire. From praise and worship, to the preaching of the Word, to ministry time and fellowship, I'm like anyone else, I have an opinion ~ I have a desire that remains unfulfilled. It isn't fulfilled in the messy church. It isn't fulfilled in the neat church. It isn't fulfilled in the African Bush, the Midwest hometown, or it's New England counterpart. It's fulfillment is in the culmination of them all, where excellence and effort are blended together like red and blue, to make the purple robe that royalty longs to wear. It's the bringing of heaven to earth where the messenger and the recipient share the meal, and drink from the same cup. It's fulfilled when you know that I value you, and what you bring, and I know that you value me, and what I bring. It's fulfilled when I can receive your gift with joy and you can receive mine the same. It's fulfilled where there is no jealousy, no selfish ambition, only consideration one for another and honor for whom honor is due. Together we are the church, and together, we are messy.
I like messy church!
The church in the days of the Acts of the Apostles was a messy church. The apostles had to get a revelation of how to contain the mess. No doubt, for easier clean up. Those apostles understood the need to remain focused on prayer and the Word. So, some other guys that were just as full of the Holy Ghost, and character, were given a place to serve the masses, in the natural realm, without taking them out of the spiritual reality. Stephan was preaching while he was serving and oh, did he make a mess! Then, just about the time the apostles had things settled into a neat and tidy framework, Peter comes in with those dirty Gentiles fouling up the place.
From prostitutes pouring out precious oil to the blood of the martyrs being spilled, our carpets were never meant to be kept clean. Sincerity of heart and commitment to the One are sure to mess up the finest worship set and interrupt the best planned sermon. Those who have been forgiven much cannot help but pour out their love on the Master. And those with fire in their bones will give their very lives for the gospel they preach, leaving a bloody trail of soot in their path.
I believe church was meant to be messy. We are suppose to both give, and to receive. I believe we are expected to fight for our relationships above our personal preferences. It may be a greasy, dirty, bloody mess, but it'll be our mess, and the world will know that we belong to Jesus because of our love for one another!
With His Heart in the U.S.
Where there are no oxen the manger is clean;
but by the strength of the oxen is much revenue.