Napkin Theology | The Church

Sometimes we may not have the best experiences with "church people." Maybe you've been hurt by talk about mental health or politics in church. But how is the church actually supposed to work? Pastor Mike talks about all of that in this episode of Napkin Theology.
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The Church is a complicated group of humans trying to live out the ways of Jesus together. But the Church isn't perfect and can be confusing or even hurtful sometimes. If you're trying to understand why the Church is necessary, and how to live with these facts of the Body of Christ, this week of Napkin Theology is for you.

Big Questions

  • There's really some Christians out there that suck. Why do Christians suck sometimes?
  • From a Christian perspective, how would you personally handle things like mental illness? The first instance of when I came to my father and told him that I was officially diagnosed with depression and anxiety, he just immediately shunned me away. And it reminded me of back when I was in high school and I would express my frustrations, my anxieties. In the church, it was more so "you're possessed by a demon. You just have to pray it away type of."
  • In the last few years, politics has really, I believe, invasively moved into the Church. And it's not that we can't sit together and enjoy different views. Do the people we're sitting with in church with really hate us for having different politics?

Pastor Mike's Answer:

First of all, let me just validate your statement. There's no doubt. Frankly, I can't tell you how many times I've wished more Christians would act as nice as bartenders do. Not that I've sat at a lot of bars. I just see them from a distance. But I get it. But they seem nice. They seem happy. They seem glad you're there. Engaged. I go to churches sometimes and they're not at all glad I'm there.

Let me address this a different way. What has your experience been from the church when you express that you have a diagnosed issue? Has the church reacted to your diagnosis in any way, shape or form or Christians in general? The introduction of politics and church is never helpful, no matter which side it comes from. Without a doubt.

Here's what I think. I don't know that I'm going to give a satisfactory answer. I think that people just don't think through what we're doing. I mean, the church is not here. Just to be blunt, the church is not here to get anybody elected. The church is not here to get any political or social activism done. But the church is here to preach Jesus and take care of people, love God, love people. That's what we do. That's what the church has got to do.

I think when the church gets into politics, it messes up. Let me show you what I think the church is for and what I think they're missing in their minds when Christians just suck, because quite often they do.

Let's do it this way. Let's draw this circle and let's say this is you. Now, you've asked me why do Christians suck sometimes, so I'm going to make you the one. Okay? Sorry. But let's say that's you. Then here, let's say this is God. Now, the thing that is true about Christians, even the ones that aren't nice, even the ones that are the problem, is that they clearly, it's obvious that they see God. They know God.

There's a lot of Christians out there that I know are going to heaven, but I have no desire to hang out with them until we get there. I'm just keeping it real. I've been around them. I don't think they're nice. I don't think they're easy to be with. But I know they're saved because I've talked to them, I've listened to them. They see God. They know God. They see Him.

But somehow that's the only relationship they're taking care of. I think sometimes Christians that are mean are so focused on their own spirituality. There's an old phrase that says "they become so heavenly minded, they're no earthly good". And so they lose perspective.

Now, some people only want this in their lives, and they forget to look out. And when that happens, then anything that they see out here that they can't quite square up here, they'll call it demon possession. They'll call it demonic. They'll call it wrong. The problem is out here is I'm going to use the word "them", and I'm only going to use the word them to say anybody that's not me. So anybody that's not in the Church with me ends up being a "them".

Well, when I look at them and all I can see is the devil, then I'm messing up. Here's the problem. You look back in and they see me seeing God. And when they see me seeing God and that God seems hateful because I'm hateful, or that God seems to be calling them devil possessed because that's what I'm calling them, then they're never actually going to look at God.

If I'm spending all my time talking my own personal political stuff, it's not even about God. But they think they see me seeing God. They suddenly attach my God to whatever political position I've taken. When they do that, they don't actually see a God worth following. They never actually look up to see Him. If they see something in you that is worthwhile, then and only then will they look up and they see God.

I think Christians that suck forget that's there. I really do. I think a lot of mean spirited Christians have forgotten that this whole part exists, that there's a whole world of people out there that are staring at them.

When they're mean spirited or when they're ugly, they have no desire to look up at their God. They're just looking at me and I'm not showing them a Jesus that's worth following. They're not going to find anything. But if they look at me and they see a Jesus that's worth following and gets it and accepts them for who they are and what's going on in their lives, they'll look to God and God can actually heal them. I can't, but God can.

Ultimately, what I want to see the church do is understand. That there's a spiritual, there's a physical, there's an emotional. What we're trying to do is bring balance to all three, which means we've got to understand the mental health side of this thing and understand it for what it is and not be so quick to just call everything a devil problem.

Instead, I think we need to understand that God can bring healing. And if we can show the world that kind of a relationship with God, they'll look to God and find it for themselves. So I hope that's helpful. And let me say in this setting as the pastor in this setting. When you're prescribed a medication for something, that's not a sign of weakness.

If somebody gives you medication for cancer, that's not a sign of weakness. That's a sign of strength. You're fighting it. Same thing with mental illness. If you need a medication to get you through it, this medication is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength because you're fighting it. I don't personally know Christians right now that would reject the idea of medicine or reject the idea of mental health within the Christian community, but I knew some. I got to tell you, a lot of Christians throughout history have gone there. It's damaging. It's very damaging.

I often say this, you're the only God some people will ever see. And if you're the only God some people are ever seeing, what God are they looking at? Are they looking at a God that's Republican or a God that's Democrat or God that's rich or a God that's poor or a God that's white or a God that's black? They can't be looking at a God that's any of those things. They got to be looking at a God that rises above all those things, that has the capacity to rise above all those things.

One of the things that is beautiful about New Life is the diversity in the Church. We have people from all over the place. We have people that are not American born. We have people that are born in the US. We have people that are white, people that are black, people that are Asian, people that are Latino. You have all of this inside the Church. But we don't worship a God that is any of that. We worship a God that is entirely other.

We talked about that in the Trinity. We worship a God that is entirely other than us. When we focus on Him, all the rest of this can melt away. Now, in an American cultural context, right now, I don't know how we fix the political problem. I'm just going to be honest, I don't know how we ever get to the point that we can have an actual political conversation again.

None of that is acceptable:  biblically acceptable or culturally acceptable inside of the church. The church, you must love God and love people. And you can't love people by demeaning them or calling for their death. There's no love in that. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. You got to love God and love people.

If the church and the pastor is doing everything they can to accomplish this with everybody that's sitting there, but we got a few people that are pushing it over here toward politics. You decide because this makes you uncomfortable, you're not going to come. Who's going to support the pastor in trying to make people do that?

We've got to keep focusing on the church. What we've got to focus on. Yeah, there are some people doing this political distraction. You and I both could sit here and we could talk about it. But the truth is, this is not what it's about. It's like going to the gym. If somebody goes to the gym and they walk in the middle of the gym and try to give a political speech, it's not going to work. We all have our headphones on.

You know full well, I've had politicians that want to preach at the church live, and I'm like, "no, you can't do that". And as people outside the church watch us, they have to see us looking at God. Not some politician or not some program or something. They've got to see us looking at God. We've got to keep God at the center of the whole thing. And if we don't, we're done.

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