An ancient manuscript compared the church to Noah's Ark. It declared: "If it weren't for the storm on the outside, we couldn't stand the stench on the inside." He was talking about the spiritual "body odor." The church is meant to be a divine beauty parlor in which hurting, ugly people come and are renewed by the Holy Spirit, loved by God's people, and are sent out in the world as attractive people for the Lord. But unfortunately, too often the divine beauty parlor smells and, thus, is not capable of producing Christians who reflect the sweet aroma of our Lord's grace and beauty. One person said it well:
"God has designed the local church family as the primary context in which the possession of His nature surfaces and becomes an observable, tangible phenomenon. The church is not only the display case for His love, it is the beauty parlor. But it cannot display what it does not possess. It cannot illustrate faithfulness and truth if its people are feuding and gossiping."
That's what our Lord meant when He said, "that you be one even as I and the Father are one, so that the world might know that the Father has sent me." Our Lord was emphasizing that how we relate to one another validates our message...or in some cases invalidates our message. In other words, how can we tell people about the love and grace of God if we do not flesh it out in our dealings with one another in the Body of Christ?
Spiritual body odor is present when there are rigid and judgmental attitudes prevalent in a body of believers. Nothing brings a stench faster than Christians who are constantly making others prisoners of their expectations through criticism and gossip. You see, in the context of theLord's beauty parlor there will be grace, love and acceptance. People will be given the benefit of the doubt, allowed to be their own individual selves, accepted as they are and where they are. There will be room for differing opinions, convictions and tastes. Grace recognizes that the Holy Spirit works uniquely and individually in each Christian's life. It is the Holy Spirit's job to change hearts, not ours.
I like the way Chuck Swindoll said it. "When you get a grasp on grace--when you begin to operate in a context of freedom--you become increasingly less petty. You will allow others room to make their own decisions in life, even though you may choose otherwise." (The Grace Awakening, p. 13)
Lee Iacocca once asked legendary football coach Vince Lombardi what it took to make a winning team. The book, entitled Iacocca, records Lombardi's answer:
"There are a lot of coaches with good ball clubs who know the fundamentals and have plenty of discipline but still don't win games. Then you come to the third ingredient: if you're going to play together as a team, you've got to care for one another. You've got to love each other...The difference between mediocrity and greatness is the feeling these guys have for each other."
In a healthy church, each Christian learns to love each other. Acceptance of one another's "differentness" is the rule of the day, not the exception. It takes seriously our Lord's statement: "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you have love one to another." A healthy church (and Christian) resists the temptation to stone throwing---judgement and gossip. Believers estimates one another at their best, not their worse.
Debbie and I will mark our 15 year anniversary at Mountain View Church in May. This past Sunday I shared, to a small degree, part of the journey it has been for us. These days are very encouraging at MVC but it was not that way in the beginning. I do, however, thank God for those difficult days as He used them to chisel off the pride in my life - and He is still chiseling. I am happy to say, that today Mountain View epitomizes much of what I have mentioned in the previous paragraphs. Are we a perfect church - no, absolutely not. Just as believers should continue to grow and progress in their spiritual journey, so should we as His church. Thankfully, we have come a long ways... and in the process we are becoming more and more a reflection of God's divine beauty and grace. Equally, I love shepherding this flock along with the leadership team God has put in place at MVC.
However, be assured Satan, our adversary, abhors divine beauty parlors. He majors in ugliness not beauty. He is allergic to love and acceptance. Therefore, as we witness seemingly a resurgence of His Spirit here at MVC, let us resolve individually to be an agent of grace. Corporately, let us resolve to resist the "grace killers" and cherish even more the divine beauty parlor whose beauticians are named grace, acceptance and forgiveness.