PASTOR COLUMN - Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good

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Why are there so many churches?" It's a great question and one I get asked often. It's not very theological, but my question in response is, "Why are there so many restaurants?" The answer to both is simple - flavor. Before you think I'm suggesting we all spend our summer sampling the flavor of the month, rest assured, I'm not. The fact is that not all churches sound the same, look the same and express their beliefs in like manner.

Why should they, and why would we want them to? If every restaurant were a McDonalds - enough said. Cookie-cutter churches, and Christians for that matter, turn me off. I believe God loves diversity. Give me some flavor, please.

Diversity. Ah, that great social and sometimes controversial word. Diversity is what makes the church so beautiful. Different flavors in the Christian community is a strongly biblical concept. The Apostle Paul frames it differently. His analogy compares the church to a body. "The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the church - the body of Christ." 1 Corinthians 12:12. As a Christian community we are one. I say one, because when we all stand before God he's not going to ask us for our church membership card. Like any family, we aren't perfect. If you are looking for a perfect gathering of people who never fall short of their ideals, I guarantee disappointment.

Let me clarify for those in the Christian community who bristle at the word diversity: Diversity - in the biblical context - is not code for tolerance at the expense of holiness. I believe in grace, not tolerance. Grace embraces every soul, no matter how toxic or broken it is, and offers healing, moral clarity through biblical teaching, love and eternal freedom. Grace doesn't tolerate people. Grace frees people and offers them hope.

Who wants to be tolerated anyway? The term seems like an insult to me. If I told someone that I would tolerate him or her, how would that person feel? My guess is not very loved and probably marginalized - the very thing our politically correct culture is attempting to rid from society. Instead of tolerance, how about grace, which extends love, acceptance and belonging? Grace listens, and then draws the searching, hungry soul to a place called Calvary.

The power of the cross of Christ is found at a level place. It is a place where there is no race, no gender, no politics, no denomination, only seekers - those looking for forgiveness, hope and a second chance at life. In a divine twist, what makes us diverse melts away, and only an eternal spirit is found kneeling at the crossroads of heaven and earth. How people label you, what you look like, what you've done, how you define yourself fades, and the mercy of God is poured out in the greatest act of love ever known to mankind - that moment Jesus gave his life for you. This belief is what makes the church one.

When you walk away from Calvary believing that Jesus died for you, forgives you and offers you hope for a better life, an amazing thing happens. From a place where grace pours past political and social labels and God accepts every penitent heart, a new identity is born. Earthy definitions, good, bad and ugly, no longer matter. A new identity of amazing flavor and beauty is born.

Look at creation with all of its facets and you'll be reminded how amazing and diverse God is. Those born again at that place called Calvary are never bland or boring. When what is offered through Jesus Christ is fully embraced, the power of a unified and forgiven people explodes with color and variety.

So, if you look at the church as a building or institution and wonder why there are so many, I encourage you to look a bit deeper. Jesus didn't come to build edifices with denominational names chiseled above doors that only open to those who look the same, talk the same and think the same. If that is what you find, you've only found a building and religion, not a moving, breathing and born-again church.

Religion? It's not really for me. I often find my heart wandering back to that level, nondenominational ground at Calvary. Get me out of stone buildings and give me some variety, give me something fresh, that's the kind of church I love. So look past the brands and look for a place where there is a born-again expression of Jesus. In that place, I think you'll find a difference, some grace and certainly flavor.

The Rev. Tim Johnson is senior pastor of New Joy Foursquare Church, 3 S. Colville. in Walla Walla. 509-525-0733 • www.newjoychurch.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at catherinehicks@wwub.com.
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