If you’ve been around church life long enough, somewhere beyond six months or so, you’ll have experienced a few bumps and bruises from people not treating you as lovingly as they should! Usually, the pain subsides and we rise to live another day! That’s unless you get swallowed by the myth that such injustices should never happen and somewhere out there is a church where people are so lovely no one ever gets hurt.
If you find such a church, make sure you stay clear – it isn’t real! Even if it was, it would be so obsessed by not offending people that the whole place would be full of spoilt toddlers … miles away from the champion warriors needed to change our dying world!
Just as Fairy dishwashing liquid has become anti-bacterial, it would appear that we have created a doctrine that has produced a sanitised form of Christianity that involves avoiding being hurt, nurturing hurts, talking about hurts, and the ‘group hug’ style protection of hurt people. The end result is a boom in ‘house’ churches, not because they’re good but because they minimise the potential for ‘hurt’.
The word ‘hurt’ is an unusual word in that it is generally only found at the scene and time of injury. If a football player is hurt, it’s whilst being on or near the field of play where the injury took place. When in hospital, the language changes to ‘injured’ or ‘recovering’, but never continues as ‘hurt’. It is only in the church that we continue to use the word ‘hurt’ well after the injury takes place. And that is why you cannot heal ‘hurts’. Hurt is an emotive word that has a sting attached. That sting is directed to the one or the place that did the hurting! If ever there was a place where the word ‘hurt’ should be used sparingly – it’s in the church.
It is used liberally, however, not because people simply don’t want to forgive, but often because of a Nirvana type of Christianity that some people feel is their right to live out – it’s a myth of perfectionism: no bruises, no hard knocks, no immense difficulties, no rebukes, no corrections, no mistakes and no tension. On top of that, there’s a subtle pressure that one should be both financially dripping and brimming with one hundred percent health, creating the holy grail of the perfectionist movement. Now, before you brand me as a grumbling cynic who has a chip on his shoulder because everyone else is blessed except for him, I do drive a very nice car (thank you Jesus!), have been blessed with an Adonis body (as well as a good dose of healthy male deception), and love the life I’m living! I’m not bitter – honestly I’m not. I just know that there’s too many sacred cows in the field and they’re choking the view!
When the Bible says ‘How beautiful are the feet of him who brings good news’ (Romans 11:15) it is putting a lot of effort into being poetic. The quote in Romans was taken from Isaiah 52:7 which states, ‘How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him …’. It doesn’t matter where you stick those feet however – put them on a cushion of black velvet or on a crush of diamonds, they’re still not ‘beautiful’.
It’s talking about feet that have walked across rugged mountains, dry valleys and craggy outcrops in order to give someone some life changing ‘good news’. It’s talking about bleeding feet, bruised feet, battered feet and bloated feet – they aren’t beautiful in any shape or form. But just as a new born baby is pronounced beautiful (when most newborns look a little bit like an alien), so are the bloodied feet of a carrier of good news. It’s poetic, not descriptive. It’s what the baby represents that’s beautiful – a future life, a life of possibilities … It’s what the feet represent that’s beautiful – feet that have been prepared to walk on broken glass in order to touch a generation with the good news of Christ.
The Old Rugged Cross
There is a famous old hymn called ‘The Old Rugged Cross’. Even though the words of the hymn are powerful and contain the antidote for the curse of sin, it’s easy for songs and stories from old to become a tad quaint and sentimental. ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ can shift from the darkened hill of Golgotha to the romantic breeziness of a Mills and Boon simply through the sanitising of our 21st century culture. The cross was anything but romantic and sentimental. If Jesus had died by lethal injection, there would be a syringe on top of just about every church in the world. If He’d died by electric chair, people would be wearing little electric chairs around their necks. The cross was an implement of torture, yet – because of what it represents, it’s also very beautiful. Jesus’ blood is gruesome but every drop shed upon the cross is beautiful.
It’s the dichotomy of the Christian life. It’s tough, treacherous, difficult, costly, abrasive and abusive, yet … it’s beautiful! Its beauty is not in its soft feet that refuse to walk a road less travelled, but in its cracked feet that show how mighty the message must be to endure so much pain on its behalf. I suspect that heaven is full of photos of feet. Each foot tells a story of sacrifice and injury on behalf of the gospel of Christ. We shall all be rewarded according to the condition of our feet. Our feet tell our story.
In Revelation 5:6, John shares a revelation he had of Jesus – “There I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.” It amazes me that in the midst of a place of ultimate healing and perfection, there should be a bleeding lamb, not a fluffy lamb! Charles Haddon Spurgeon once asked rhetorically, ‘What are the wounds of Christ doing in the place of glory?’, to which he answered, ‘Because His wounds are His glory.’ His wounds are the wounds of a champion who endured such opposition – even death on a cross. His wounds tell a story of love and sacrifice that involves everyone who has ever lived.
Our wounds are not for removing but for remembrance. By them we remember what we’ve been through for both the enlarging of our hearts to become like the heart of our Saviour, as well as the carrying of the gospel to a world sliding into hell.
The feet of authenticity
It’s a paradox that when we hold in our hands the gospel to present it to the world, the first thing they do is look at our feet. Our feet are our mark of our authenticity. Clean feet show a life that hasn’t travelled far. Bruised feet are feet that prove that the gospel means more than personal comfort, personal protection and personal pampering. Bleeding feet show the world that you yourself reflect and mirror the love that brought heaven to earth. A stamp of authenticity makes the difference between worthlessness and ultimate worth. We know the value of the gospel, but the world values it according to the condition of our feet.
That scar of ’89 when you were on the cross for something you didn’t do carries with it the proof that you must love both God and the world a lot to have carried on regardless. That bruise that will not fade from ’95 when your best friend abandoned you when you needed them most in your time of sickness, expresses a powerful love for God in that you didn’t stop loving His sheep despite having every reason to abandon them for safer pastures. That limp from ’08 when the new minister ignored your talents and your history and gave the role to someone younger and much more inexperienced, is a beautiful limp. You refused to sulk, refused to leave the church for greener fields and refused to stop shining your light to the world. It’s beauty beyond description.
Every time we get hurt, turn hurt into injury, turn injury into healing and turn healing into movement, we end up being stronger, more anointed and more effective than ever before. Upon our weakness God places His strength (2 Corinthians 12:9). Our injury becomes another scar of a champion.
I so believe in what I’m saying that my reworking of ‘Footprints in the Sand’ is more than child’s play. God never leaves us but many times He refuses to carry us. That one set of footprints has looked remarkably like mine for many years as He’s attempted to create a man who knows God as well as a man who is becoming like his God. ‘Those that know their God shall be strong and do mighty exploits’ (Daniel 11:32) is a promise that needs to be experienced by more and more believers.
Out of all the quotes I have ever read, my favourite is by Theodore Roosevelt who was President of the USA from 1901 to 1909. He states,
“It is not the critic who counts,
Nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man in the Arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood,
who strives valiantly …
who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions,
who spends himself in a worthy cause,
who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails
while daring greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls
who have known neither victory nor defeat.”
It’s time for Christians to fly in the face of the sterilised, bland form of perfectionism that exists in the ranks of our churches. Let’s stop the nurturing of wounds and start healing them and then parading them. They are what make you. It’s time to move on, realising we shall be hurt many times again growing greater because of it. The more we know God, the greater we shall be. This is our true inheritance.