Have I mentioned that I love our church here in the North Pole?  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not perfect.  No church is, since it’s made up of people.  People are messy.  But the mess is why the church was created.  You can help me with my mess, and maybe I can help you with yours.  And together we can show the world that it is possible for the mess to get cleaned up.  The only One without the mess is Jesus, and thank goodness He’s the Head of it all (Eph. 4:15-16).  Otherwise we would really be in a mess. 

I digress. 

I grew up in a wonderful and huge church.  I love my home church, and I always will.  It’s home.  But I’m grateful that God is teaching me some new things through being a part of a small church in a small town. 

One of the things that you can’t really do in a big church is open up prayer time during the service to everyone in the congregation.  There’s just too many people, and most of those people would probably be too afraid of praying in front of everyone else anyway.  And you probably couldn’t hear them either.  And that’s okay.  But in a small church, those things aren’t really obstacles, so you can allow the Body to pray together in a different way.  I really enjoy hearing others throughout that sanctuary stand up and petition God before their brothers and sisters.  There is something very humbling about it. 

Our pastor always makes announcements just before we pray during the Sunday worship service.  The bulletin calls it “Sharing Our Life Together.”  Sometimes the time consists of meeting reminders, but it also often consists of congregational prayer concerns and praises.  Sometimes we even note anniversaries and birthdays.  People cease to be nameless faces in the pews.

So this Sunday our pastor was making announcements, and then he paused and mentioned one particular woman sitting in the congregation.  He said, “We want to congratulate you on being seven weeks smoke-free.”  It was obvious that the woman was surprised, but she didn’t seem embarrassed he mentioned it.  And as the congregation broke into applause, I thought I was witnessing one of the most vivid pictures of how the Body is meant to function.  I was almost taken aback by how strange the experience was for me.  During the prayer time, our pastor prayed that God’s Spirit would continue to empower her to live victoriously in this area of her life every day.  And I am not sure I heard anything else. 

Somewhere along the way, we got the impression that church is where we’re supposed to make it look like we’ve got our act together (despite the fact that we clearly do not).  And we would prefer it if everyone else would please act the same way.  It could get awkward otherwise.  It would force us to acknowledge that we are fragile humans in need of a touch from a mighty God.  It’s easier if we just don’t go there.  In fact, it’s really nice when we can make it out of there with a few conversations about our various Sunday afternoon plans and not have to mention anything about what’s really going on in our lives.  It’s okay to talk about sin from the pulpit, but confession among the pews is just not what we’re looking for.  We’ll humble ourselves in private – thank you very much.

The thing that I found most beautiful about what happened in our church yesterday was that there was no condemnation.  There was no finger pointing.  No stone throwing.  The point was not the stronghold.  The point was that the Spirit of God was empowering a sister to overcome it.  It was an act of worship really.

I do not know anything about the woman I was clapping for yesterday.  But I know that she was humble enough to depend on Jesus to help her overcome something she couldn’t on her own.  And along the way, her brothers and sisters encouraged her by celebrating the victory God is giving her day by day.  It bolstered my own faith that God can do the same thing in my life with other strongholds.  And it reminded me that we will cease to be the church of Jesus Christ if we don’t minister to people right where they are.  Making everyone pretend that they have their act together is just that – pretending.  And Jesus did not come so that we could put on a well-produced show.

But the father said to his servants, “Quick!  Bring the best robe and put it on him.  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it.  Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”  (Luke 15:22-24)

May we have the courage to live transparently with each other in our struggles, so that we may be able to truly celebrate with each other in our victories. 

I think that Jesus would host that party.