Saturday, April 22, 2017

Absent from the Bride

In a dream I had recently, my husband, son and I are attending the wedding reception of my childhood friend, who in reality was unmarried and has recently gone home to be with the Lord. The reception is held in the meeting room of a hotel, which looks more suitable for a business convention than a celebration. 

There are no decorations, music, or special lighting, and no signs of the bride, groom or wedding party. At each seat, instead of wedding favors, are clear plastic bags containing a mismatched assortment of advertising trinkets – a key chain, shoe shine cloth, pen and matches each bearing the slogan of a different company. There is a printed program, also containing ads, with an announcement stating “If anyone wishes to toast the wedding couple, they may do so for $15, payable in advance.”

A woman I don’t recognize comes over to our table and acts like we are long-lost friends, claiming that we worked together when I was Director of Nursing at a VA hospital, which I never was, nor did I ever even work as a nurse or an administrator. She says she is looking forward to my husband and I performing a solo dance in honor of the wedding couple, which is news to us, and we look at each other in surprise.

Before I can answer her, another woman comes over, carrying a sheet of pictures with my photo on it and photos of four other people, saying “Oh, you’re obviously the best person to do a toast.” Apparently she thought flattery would work on me when it hadn’t on the other four on her list, and it didn’t seem that she knew anything about any of us, even our names. She had been given the sheet of photos to identify the most likely suspects who might pay to give a toast to the wedding couple.

On the one hand, I think it is wrong for the host to ask for money from those who want the opportunity to publicly honor the bride, and I am even having second thoughts about the whole affair, which seems far more commercial than festive. But on the other hand, I want to publicly praise and honor the bride and groom, who, oddly, are still nowhere in sight, and I am concerned that they will be hurt if I forego the toast.

So I agree to do the toast, advance payment and all, and excuse myself to freshen up before I am called to the podium. As I stand up, I realize in horror that my gown is a mess. It is bright pink taffeta, the color of bubble gum, and way too long, so that I’m afraid I’ll trip over it. Even worse, there is a large, dark stain across the bodice.

As I awaken in a panic I begin to consider the meaning of the dream, which I believe was warning me about the need for a right spirit within the church, or bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:23-32). One day, I hope and believe very soon, all those who are saved by trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6) will attend the most important wedding celebration of all time. 

At the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), we will celebrate the eternal union of Christ the Bridegroom with His bride, namely the called-out assembly of born-again believers (John 3:3-8), or the church. This will occur in Heaven after the Rapture of the church, when Jesus calls us home and meets with us in the air, along with the Old Testament saints who were saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) before Jesus’ resurrection, and those New Testament saints who went home to be with Him before the Rapture. 

These two groups will be resurrected into glorified bodies and ascend to meet Jesus in the air. Immediately thereafter, those believers who are still living will be instantly transformed into glorified bodies and also rise to meet Jesus and the resurrected saints (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17).

When Jesus had His last Passover meal with His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion, He said that He would not drink the fruit of the vine again until He drank it with them in the kingdom of God (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25). I believe He was referring to that Marriage Supper of the Lamb, where Jesus Christ will be united with His bride the church, and all the Old Testament and Tribulation period saints will be in attendance.

In the meantime, He commanded His apostles to remember the promise of salvation through His shed blood and broken body each time they shared a meal or Communion together (Luke 22:19-20). Communion therefore remembers the past, completed sacrifice Jesus made to pay for all our sins; honors the present fellowship of the bride of Christ with Him and with one another; and anticipates the future Marriage Supper of the Lamb (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

Communion with fellow members of the bride of Christ should be filled with service to and love for one another, and remembrance, love and honor for Jesus Who paid our sin debt in full (Hebrews 10:10) so that we can eagerly look forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and blissful eternity to follow.

The apostle Paul warned the church at Corinth not to take part in communion lightly, and to reflect on our relationship with Christ and with one another to restore any wrong attitudes before we partake in this fellowship (1 Corinthians 11:16-22,27-34). I believe that the dream was warning me that if we’re not careful, individual churches can lose sight of the Church, the dearly beloved Bride of Christ for whom He died (Ephesians 5:25), and even of Christ Himself (Revelation 2:4).

My husband and I are blessed to be part of a loving, Bible-based, Christ-honoring church that prays for and ministers to our members, visitors, community, and global missions. The precious Name of Jesus is exalted at every service and His Word is preached, taught and sung. But there is a disturbing trend among many churches to forget their identity as part of the bride of Christ, and to incorporate worldly traditions and ideals in their services, meetings, and community interactions (1 Corinthians 11:16-22).

The strangest part of my dream was the absence of the bride and groom at their own wedding celebration. Christ, the Bridegroom, has promised that if two or more are gathered in His Name, He will be in their midst (Matthew 18:20). But if churches honor others instead of Him, His Spirit may no longer grace their meetings with His presence.

I was shocked and saddened recently to see a large, expensive advertisement for a church Easter celebration that not once mentioned the Name of Jesus, His Resurrection, or plan of salvation. Instead, it spoke of “celebrating the new you” and featured a large head shot and name of the musical guest artist. It boasted “no ticket needed,” for in fact this service seemed to be more about a concert honoring a singer, than a worship service praising our risen Savior.

In my dream, even the bride was absent. If churches are not careful, their meetings will become little more than social networks to catch up on the latest news, fashion and gossip, rather than to strengthen fellow believers in their faith and understanding of Scripture (Hebrews 10:25) and to bear their burdens (Galatians 6:2) and share their joys. In such meetings, the true Bride of Christ is missing, for the “church” members are relating to one another as they would to unsaved acquaintances, focusing on worldly things and not on Jesus.

Some churches today are so large that most of the members do not know one another, which may deprive the members of accountability and opportunity for Christian friendship. In my dream, even the hostess appeared to lack any genuine relationship with or even knowledge of the guests.  

Not surprisingly,  the atmosphere in my dream was impersonal, drab, lifeless, and lacking the joy (Psalm 21:1; 35:9) and hope (1 Peter 1:3) that should perfume the air (Hebrews 1:9) at any wedding celebration, and especially one honoring the union of Christ and His bride. As is common in the world, commercialism prevailed, with advertising gimmicks and even fees charged to honor the bride and groom.

Many “Christian” organizations charge dues or require “suggested” donations, and many churches not only regularly sell merchandise, beverages and food but have become meccas of multi-level marketing. I wonder, if Jesus were walking the earth today, if He would throw down the sales racks, cash registers and catalogs and chastise the churches for becoming a den of thieves instead of a house of prayer (Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46).

Sadly, some church budgets seem to prioritize branding, giveaways and worldly entertainment to draw in large numbers, preferably the wealthy. Meanwhile, they neglect the poor and hurting in the community whom Jesus has called us to serve (James 1:27; 2:1-9); they overlook sound doctrinal teaching (2 Peter 2); and they omit the Name of Jesus (Acts 4:12) and His shed blood from their music, which is designed to soothe itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3) rather than to glorify Him (Psalm 95:1).

Those who attempt to serve at such world-oriented churches may find that they have to pay for the privilege, or that the churches are hiring paid musicians and denying their own members service or even giving opportunities. I heard of someone who joined a megachurch and reported excitedly, “They’re so rich that we don’t even have to tithe!”

How sad that “church” members would be led to miss out on the blessing God has promised (Malachi 3:8-12) to those who faithfully obey His Word, including the tithe! But much of today’s “church” has become like the church at Laodicea, rich in goods but poor in spirit, causing Jesus to be nauseated by their lukewarm attitude and wrongly placed self-sufficiency (Revelation 3:14-22).

In such a setting, the lost are unlikely to be saved, and even saved believers will not thrive spiritually. Every believer should be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, shining and spotless as a wedding garment (Isaiah 61:10). But many at such churches will be left behind when Christ returns for His bride, and they will be ashamed at their ill-fitting, inappropriate, sin-stained garment (Matthew 22:1-14).

May we not forget our first love! May our hearts burn with passion for Him and for one another, honoring Christ and His bride until He comes again! 
© 2017 Laurie Collett
Womanhood With Purpose
Adorned From Above
No Ordinary Blog Hop


Brenda said...

I say 'Amen' to every word you have written here, and I agree with you on your interpretation of your dream.
The Lord has led me and my friend to a church gathering that we attended years ago, and last Sunday I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit so strongly there. The believers were coming together as many parts of the body, each bringing what they felt the Lord was encouraging them to bring - and it was powerful even though it was not a huge gathering.

The only way we can all be part of the body of Christ is to have the mind of Christ, and allow the Holy Spirit to be in charge when we gather together.
God bless you Laurie for this lovely post.

Laurie Collett said...

Thank you, Brenda, for your encouragement. Praise God that His Spirit still moves through church gatherings where He is not grieved nor quenched. May we yield to Him, and in so doing access the mind of Christ.
God bless you too!

Frank E. Blasi said...

Dear Laurie,
The previous church I used to attend, spanning a period between 1975 to 1990 was at first a modest Baptist Church serving our town. Its Pastor and Elders made sure that it remained God-centred.
Then over the years, new hi-tech companies moved into our town to trade here. These companies employed University graduates, many of them coming into our church, causing it to expand rapidly.
As for giving, we at first gave what we called "Freewill Offerings". I was happy with that, for it allowed me to give what I was able to give, with no form of judgement. But the influx of high-earning graduates coming in meant that the time arrived for the need of a new and larger building, and the concept of the tithe was introduced, using a few verses from the prophet Malachi to add Scriptural support for the move.
To tell the truth, I have found tithing (including double-tithing to finance the construction of the new building) uncomfortable, because with this came the sense of condemnation if I did not keep up with the giving, even if the elders did not verbally condemn. Instead, I was told that I was "robbing God" if I failed to tithe, leaving me under the burden of the Mosaic Law. The end result was that the church became so money-centred, to the extent that Jesus was squeezed out of our Sunday services. Furthermore, there have been some complaints from the congregation over how our Pastor was abusing our offerings by taking frequent long-haul flights to attend various conventions held halfway round the world. By the end of the day I had to leave in disgust, I no longer felt at home there.
To be truthful, I much prefer to give to a Christian charity which ministers to the genuine poor and needy than to give to a church where full-time Elders can enjoy a longer or more exotic vacation. I have come to realise what Paul the Apostle was talking about when he wrote that whatever he has, let him give according to his ability - 2 Corinthians 8:12.
This is very liberating, and by giving what I'm willing and able lies within the grace of God rather than under the Law. So if anyone asks me about giving, I'll would say this:
"Listen to what the Holy Spirit with you is telling you. If you want to tithe regularly, then indeed tithe, but you must not judge the person next to you if he doesn't tithe. Likewise, if God is telling you to give much more, or even to give everything, then do so without looking down on anyone. But if you feel that the tithe is far too much, than give what you feel comfortable with, for God will still be honoured."
I apologise if this comment is so long and rambling. Once again, thank you for your encouraging blog, and may God bless you richly.

Laurie Collett said...

Dear Frank,
Thank you again for sharing your experience, insights and Biblical perspective. Churches and televangelists that emphasize money and giving above all else cannot be sharing God's love. God loves a cheerful giver, and no one should be coerced into giving, or even worse, duped when funds given as "seed money," presumably to spread the Word, are actually supporting the selfish extravagance of the leaders. Many televangelists and megachurch leaders have been found out and shut down over this.
My husband, whose mother was a single parent on welfare with four children, still remembers wincing when the priest used to visit and demand a tithe, even though they lived in poverty and barely had food on the table. Where is the love in that?
That being said, I believe that God still honors tithing, which he commanded before He gave the Mosaic law, as well as grace giving, to which you refer. You can't outgive God, as I have seen over and over in my own experience, in that of others, and documented in Scripture.
Thanks again for your thorough comment and encouraging words.
God bless you and Alex,

Winkel's Crazy Ideas said...

Thank you, important focus. God bless, Pam in Norway

Donald Fishgrab said...

Great post Laurie. Some time ago, I read a study about why some churches were so much larget than others. The Authors concluded the difference resulted from the difference in focus of the leaders. Leaders of churches less than 200 people tended to focus on relationships. Leaders of medium churches, with between 200 to 500 people tended to focus on programs such as the youth program or the music program. Leaders of large churches tended to focus on organization so that everything worked efficiently. They concluded that the way to grow a larger church was to change the focus of the ministry.

I found their conclusion interesting, because Christianity is supposed to be about building a relationship with christ which results in relationships with other Christians. If their conclusion is accurate, the attitudes of most leaders of medium and large churches are in fact antithetical to developing strong Christians. Fortunately not all leaders have those attitudes.

Laurie Collett said...

Thank you, Pam! May God bless you too!


Laurie Collett said...

Thanks so much, Donald, for sharing this interesting and relevant study! Ironic that the most "successful" churches, at least in terms of numbers, have drifted furthest from being Christ-centered. May all churches and their leaders and members keep our eyes fixed on Him.
God bless,