When I came to faith in late 1971, I thought the people in that little church in Queens, New York, where I met the Lord were exceptional saints. After all, they were real followers of the real Jesus, the same One who dramatically changed my life, and they seemed to be such incredible, godly examples. For my part, I was a starry-eyed 16-year-old kid full of ideals and dreams. I had found the truth, and I had found a special community of believers.
To be sure, there were real, godly, true-blue people of faith in that congregation, people who deeply impacted my life. They were people who prayed for me while I was still in rebellion and unbelief. People who forgave me when I blew it. People who were genuinely born-again and set good examples in many ways.
But as time went on, my idealistic bubble began to burst. These people were still human after all.
Just a couple of years before coming to faith, when I began to do drugs, I was introduced to some young hippies. Here, too, I thought I had found a special community, full of love and, in the midst of their drug use and immorality, full of integrity.
Yes, I still believe that the world will know that we belong to Jesus because of the love we have for each other.
I remember their reluctance to speak poorly of one of the teens who was not there the first night we hung out together. He had some problems, but they were giving him grace. What a special group of young people! As for their ideals, they were all about peace and love, all about community. They were so different than the older generation and so different than my other, pre-drug friends.
With Human Community Comes Immaturity and Sinfulness
Well, it didn’t take long at all to see the depth of human sinfulness in our midst. We were as rotten as everyone else. We just packaged our sins a little differently than others.
Since 1971, I’ve been a member of a number of different congregations, serving in leadership in most of them. I’ve also taught at or led a number of different ministry schools, as well as ministered extensively overseas.
I’ve been hurt by friends. I’ve been betrayed. I’ve been slandered. I’ve been misunderstood. I’ve been disappointed — badly.
Conversely, I’m sure others would say I hurt them or sinned against them or disappointed them — badly.
So much for the church being different than the world. So much for us shining like lights in dark places. So much for us standing out.
Yet that is only part of the story.
I Still Believe
The fact is that over these decades, I have served by side by side with exceptional men and women of God. I have known truly saintly people — not perfect, but saintly.
I have been blown away by the deep spiritual devotion of some of these people, by the quality of their love for others, by their sacrificial service, by the genuineness of their lives.
And I have experienced seasons of supernatural outpouring where it seemed the Lord brought all of us to a different level. The impossible became possible, the abnormal normal. The Spirit’s work was as deep as it was undeniable.
That’s why I still believe that God will take us, as a people, to a place we’ve never been. That’s why I believe that verses like these in 1 Peter will become real to us: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” And, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 1:22 and 4:8)
That’s why I believe we will walk in the reality of 1 Thessalonians 4:9, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.”
And that’s why I believe that these words spoken by Jesus, who surely knew our weaknesses and failings better than we do, will be fulfilled: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34–35)
Yes, I still believe that the world will know that we belong to Jesus because of the love we have for each other. I believe it!
I even believe that one day, in large numbers, we will live this out: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12–14)
I’m Dreaming Because of Belief in God’s Power to Accomplish His Will
In our own strength this could never happen. Not by a massive, long shot. Not a chance!
But the same God who changed so many of us in so many profound ways has not given up on us. He is the one who equips us and enables us, the one who transforms and empowers us. It is His love that is shed abroad in our hearts (see Romans 5:5, in a different context). And He is determined to get for His Son a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle (Ephesians 5:27). He will do it!
So I’m going to keep on dreaming. I’m going to keep trusting my brothers and sisters and giving the benefit of the doubt and believing for the best. I’m going to keep forgiving the way He forgives me, time and time again. I’m going to keep humbling myself when I fall short.
And I’m going to keep looking to the Lord to finish what He started among us, not expecting perfection but expecting to see a more beautiful community of believers than I’ve ever seen before, one that the lost will come flocking to. Is not our Father able to do this?
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is Why So Many Christians Have Left the Faith. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.
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