Two Churches, My Mirror, One Love

Two churches. Just miles between them. Yet a world apart. I visited both last Sunday and couldn’t believe the difference between the two. What I was able afterward to put my finger on as what may account for the difference between the two churches has made me take a good hard look at myself in the mirror. And it just may make you do the same.

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The first church had a quiet, almost somber, death-like feel to it. The second church seemed vibrant, joyful, alive. Both pastors preached the Word of God. But the first pastor has a reputation of knowing the Bible absolutely inside and out, verse by verse, history, context, forward, backward, absolutely anything and everything. I cannot even fathom ever having that degree of knowledge, let alone memory.

The second pastor, meanwhile, preached a simple message. Perhaps he, too, knows an exceedingly extraordinarily phenomenal amount about the Bible. But his message was so very simple. And it was vibrant, like the congregation. The first congregation? The worship seemed so somber that I shouldn’t have been surprised to see the worship leader despite the large size of the crowd staring – and smiling – right at me. I believe he was looking at me because my hand was raised heavenward and my face was filled with joy and a smile beyond measure. I had a sense he does not see that very often in the congregation.

But why would a big church with a pastor who knows virtually everything there is to know about the Bible seem so sober and lifeless while a church down the road with a pastor who preaches so simply be so full of life? And why did the difference between the two cause me to take a good look at myself in the mirror?

Because I have to ask myself this question. Am I so filled with knowledge that I have made no room for love? Am I so consumed with words that I fail to see the power behind them? Am I so focused on studying that I lose sight of the magnitude of what I’m studying? Am I so committed to studying that I have forgotten His mercy, His grace, and the infinite message and blessings within His Word? Am I so distracted by how other people preach and write for the Lord that I lose track of the love I need to receive, and to convey, and to share that goes with His Word? Am I so bound in the law of the Bible that I have neglected to remember God’s New Covenant of promise and forgiveness for those who come to him through repentance and faith in Christ?

Am I so well versed in speaking the truth that I can’t see in the mirror when I forget once again to speak it in love? Am I so wrapped up in my educational and worldly background that taught me that knowledge is power when the only real, eternal, holy power is God’s? Am I just like the religious Pharisees who tried to know everything and brag about it that they missed what really mattered? Am I like the pastor who seems to know so much but who preaches to a congregation that seems like perhaps it needs a resurrection? Or am I like the pastor who preaches a simple message and knows the power is not in him, but in the Lord? Or am I bouncing back and forth between the two? Where exactly do I stand?

Am I so still deceived that I think I am a failure at preaching and writing for the Lord because I don’t do anything in my life that is fancy and frilly? Am I still caught up in one of the reasons I told God years ago I couldn’t fulfill His calling on my life because I don’t have a good memory? Am I still measuring myself against the world’s measuring stick that is based on resumes and accomplishments and corporate ladders and sizes of churches and numbers of Facebook Likes? Or, do I remember that my life is in Christ? And that I can have all the knowledge in the world, and serve God for every breath of the rest of my life, and have it all be utterly meaningless if I have not an ounce of His love in my heart?

God doesn’t have such good things to say in the Bible about the wise, the proud, the arrogant, the religious, the exceedingly knowledgeable who live their lives so much by the letter of the law that they end up puffed up with knowledge and empty of His love. And I have been every one of these at one time or another. Wise, proud, arrogant, religious, knowledgeable – and empty of love. I wish I could say I am now completely free of any of this, and that I am filled 24-7 with His love and everything wonderful that goes with it. But I am not. I am a far cry from where I was, but I still have a ways to go. Before I came to know the Lord, I was raised and trained and influenced and taught and prepared to live a life of knowledge and accomplishments and works and worldly success. I failed. And now I see this is a good thing. For God does not measure a life based on having all the knowledge in the world. Yet this is exactly how I have measured myself – against the measuring stick of the world. Always falling short, of course. And I always will when it comes to the world. For I was not created to be a Pharisee who has all the knowledge in the world. I was created in the image of my God – to love.

Does this mean I am not called to study, to live, and to teach the Bible? Of course not. But it does mean that any of this without love is meaningless. Does this mean I am not called to serve God? Of course not. But it does mean that serving God without love is worthless – not to mention dangerous and potentially deadly. Does this mean there is anything wrong with someone who does have exceeding knowledge of the Bible? Of course not. But what does knowledge accomplish without love? What am I without the love of God? Nothing. And yet the world teaches me I am nothing without knowledge. And the world does not teach of God. The world teaches that strength is in the human. Oh, how far the world is from God’s truth. How far the world is from God – even while He reaches out His arms to this broken world and beckons it to fall before His throne of grace with repentant hearts.

Oh, how I repent even now for believing I cannot succeed in ministry because I do not know enough. So which church am I? The somber one, the one that seemed so devoid of life but that is led by someone who may have all the knowledge in the world? Or the vibrant, alive one, that is full of God’s love? I can only stress that I know little of either church I visited. I could be wrong about anything I felt I saw, sensed, or felt. But I can say the seeming difference between the two churches caused me to look in the mirror. And to see that I am an utter failure in the world’s eyes. For I have not the successes and material belongings the world teaches me to have. Nor do I have the memory and exceeding knowledge to know the Bible inside and out.

I am only sorry I still believe I am supposed to have all this knowledge to do what God has called me to do. Because, at the end of the day, buried beneath all the rubble of my failures according to the world’s ways is the one thing that matters above all else. I have the love of Jesus Christ. And if I preach, and write, nothing else than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with a heart full of love for the Lord and my neighbor, I may have failed in the world’s eyes. But I will have lived out my life’s calling – to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ while ministering the Lord’s love to a world in need. A simple message, eh? But a message of life. The life of Christ. A message of love. The love of Christ. The message of salvation. Of eternal life. Of freedom. Of love. His love. Forever.

“About food offered to idols: We know that “we all have knowledge.” Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up.” 1 Cor. 8:1 HCSB

“Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18 HCSB

“He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit produces life.” 2 Cor. 3:6 HCSB

 1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NASB

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