How to Find a Good Church
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:1-3 ESV)
“Do you know where I can find a good church?” Have you ever been asked that question, or asked it yourself? The fact that we have to even pose the question tells us that there is a problem. That there are not only good churches, but bad ones. In essence, what we are asking is, “can you tell me where I can find Jesus and His true people?” We have all had our fill of the Pharisee kind of religion. Like rain in Oregon, that stuff is all over the place.
This morning I was thinking about all of this and, sparked by an email interchange with one of our readers who had some right-on observations, I started to consider the kind of people Jesus rescued. Who did He primarily take His good news to? What kind of people received it? While there are some exceptions (like Saul of Tarsus), most commonly Jesus came not to call the righteous (i.e., the self-righteous), but sinners to repentance. Consider the description given in the Scripture above:
- the poor
- the brokenhearted
- those who are captives and who are bound
- the mourning
- the faint
Our friend Martin back in the mid-west has often told us on this blog about how much he has enjoyed working in rescue missions with these kinds of people. I remember him saying that once he and his wife were at a mission picnic and he looked at all of the people and realized, “this is my flock.” Oh, phonies can be found among these groups too, but nevertheless there is a difference between a flock like that and one formed out in suburbia, gathered in a large brick building with manicured lawns.
Listen some more to the same thing:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.
(John 7:37 ESV)
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
(Isaiah 55:1 ESV)
When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the LORD has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.
(Isaiah 41:17-20 ESV)
A good church, you see, is a true church. It is a group of people who have known what being thirsty in their very soul is like. People who have known real poverty and hunger in the deepest part of their being. And then, who have had that inner hunger and thirst met by Jesus. People who have tasted the manna and milk and honey and water that is a diet that the Bible calls, grace.
So don’t bother looking for a good church in Laodicea:
So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. (Revelation 3:16-17 ESV)
No, go to Smyrna:
“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:9-10 ESV)
There are not many reasons that an abuse victim can give thanks for the abuse he / she has suffered. Perhaps, however, here is one: “Thank you, Jesus, for making me poor and thirsty and hungry and needy. For letting me experience captivity and mourning. Now please, come, and bind up my broken heart. Give me Your manna and Your water, because I hunger and thirst for them.”
Find those kind of people, and you will find a good church.