I’ve played music in churches and bars all my life. In many ways,
these two gatherings are very similar. Both sets of “regulars” are
looking for meaning, carrying out a ritual of sorts—hoping to find
purpose, something that makes sense of the pain.
At first glance, it might seem the Church is a better place to look
for hope than the bottom of a bottle. Every day, alcoholism and drug
abuse destroy families, ruin careers and wreck communities. On the other
hand, theological beliefs and misunderstandings have been blamed for
divisions, divorces and wars around the world. The trouble with each
institution lies within us. True, alcohol feeds a different fire than
pietism, but neither a drunk nor a hypocrite look very good in the
We carry our problems into the church the same way we carry them into
a bar—they just react differently in each location. Unfortunately, the
sins that exist within the walls of the Church are harder to spot.
Pride, for example, can hide incredibly well in the religious
community. I rarely hear the words “I don’t know” uttered at church. And
yet the triune Creator of time and space will always be wrapped in
mystery and holiness. Why not start in the seat of humility? Surely all
of us have gotten a few things wrong in our attempts at Christianity.
Isn’t it pride that causes divisions among us? When we begin to
slander other believers in the name of God, we know we’ve gotten off
course. Did our Master’s words fall on deaf ears? “Love each other as I
have loved you.” “Let them be one, Father, even as we are one.” These
are not optional thoughts on how things could be done, but rather
prerequisites for entrance into Kingdom of Heaven life. Unity is serious
business. The Church is called to be one even as the triune God is one.
The comprehensive salvation of our planet is built on the final unity
of the Church and her God: the bride and her Savior.
Unfortunately, unity within the ecclesial community is the exception,
not the rule. It’s to our shame many folks looking for hope find more
grace at the local bar than the local church. When we speak with a fire
and anger that burns differently than the fresh air of the cross, we do
the Gospel a disservice. We know deep down something is wrong. So we
revolt against those fiery speeches. We say the method needs to change.
We call the old model irrelevant. And yes! The fresh winds of the Spirit
are ready to blow upon us, let us pray for new tongues of the same
And yet if I speak with the tongues of angels and of men but have not
love, it profits me nothing. If I rise up against the cheesy Christian
T-shirts but have not love, it helps no one. If I hate the legalistic
hatred but have not love, it builds nothing. Has the enemy tricked us
into a new form of legalism? Is not our judgment committing the same
offense? Ah, we may have found a way, but it is not love.
Walking the line between the clubs and the Church, I’ve been
misunderstood by both sides. I’m sure you’ve felt the same thing: people
throw rocks at the things they don’t understand. But it hurts worst
when it comes from well-intending brothers and sisters, the folks who
are purportedly filled with the love of Christ. Our knee-jerk response
is to retaliate, to fight back. And the cycle begins again. An eye for
an eye, a tooth for a tooth. God will take care of the speck in my
neighbor’s eye. The more faith I have in Him and His strong voice, the
less I have to yell. The more faith I have in Him, the freer my hands
become to serve those around me.
Washing feet is not extra credit. We are called to bear each other’s
burdens. Unity is a miraculous achievement, but it’s intended for this
side of the grave. Unity is the transforming work of the power of the
cross in our lives. In the dark, blood-stained shadow of the cross, our
boasting is laughable. Our differences are minute. Take another look at
the cross. Look at how much He loves you. Look at His surrender, His
sacrifice. Unity comes into focus only when we realize the magnificent
grace of the Savior.
Let us acknowledge our neediness, our beautiful desperation. Yes, our
unanswerable, aching, longing poverty is a prerequisite for the balm of
salvation. We, the people—the failures, the losers, the outsiders—we
have found our King. Christ, the King of the fools; the Lord of the
sick, broken souls like us. Let us remain in continual awe of the love
we have been shown. And let us love! Let us celebrate the reckless love
of the one who risked all that we might be loved. And let us follow in
the path of a God who loves us. The tax collectors and the rabbis. The
prostitutes and the Sadducees. In the bars and in the churches. Yes, God
even loves Christians.